Thursday, December 17, 2009

Kammas Customs and Traditions before 1915 (Madras Presidency)

Writing collectively concerning the Kammas, Kapus or Reddis, Velamas, and Telagas, Mr.W.Francis states that " all four of these large castes closely resemble one another in appearance and customs, and seem to have branched off from one and the same Dravidian stock. Originally soldiers by profession, they are now mainly agriculturists and traders, and some of them in the north are zamindars (land-owners).

The Razus, who now claim to be Kshatriyas, were probably descended from Kapus, Kammas, and Velamas. The Kammas and Kapus of the Madura and Tinnevelly districts seem to have followed the Vijayanagar army south, and settled in these districts when the Nayak Governors were established there. Their women are less strict in their deportment than those of the same castes further north, the latter of whom are very careful of their reputations, and, in the case of one section of the Kammas, are actually gosha (kept in seclusion) like Musalmanis."

The word Kamma in Telugu means the ear-ornament, such as is worn by women. According to one legend "the Rishis, being troubled by Rakshasas, applied to Vishnu for protection, and he referred them to Lakshmi. The goddess gave them a casket containing one of her ear ornaments (kamma), and enjoined them to worship it for a hundred years. At the expiry of that period, a band of five hundred armed warriors sprang up from the casket, who, at the request of the Rishis, attacked and destroyed the giants. After this they were directed to engage in agriculture, being promised extensive estates, and the consideration paid to Kshatriyas. They accordingly became possessed of large territories, such as Amravati and others in the Kistna, Nellore and other districts, and have always been most successful agriculturists."

Some Kammas, when questioned by Mr. F. R. Hemingway in the Godavari district, stated that they were originally Kshatriyas, but were long ago persecuted by a king of the family of Parikshat, because one of them called him a bastard. They sought refuge with the Kapus, who took them in, and they adopted the customs of their protectors. According to another legend, a valuable ear ornament, belonging to Raja Pratapa Rudra, fell into the hands of an enemy, whom a section of the Kapus boldly attacked, and recovered the jewel. This feat earned for them and their descendants the title Kamma.

Some of the Kapus ran away, and they are reputed to be the ancestors of the Velamas (veli, away). At the time when the Kammas and Velamas formed a single caste, they observed the Muhammadan gosha system, whereby the women are kept in seclusion. This was, however, found to be very inconvenient for their agricultural pursuits. They accordingly determined to abandon it, and an agreement was drawn up on a palm-leaf scroll. Those who signed it are said to have become Kammas, and those who declined to do so Velamas, or outsiders. One meaning of the word kamma is the palm-leaf roll, such as is used to produce dilatation of the lobes of the ears. According to another story, there once lived a king, Belthi Reddi by name, who had a large number of wives, the favourite among whom he appointed Rani. The other wives, being jealous, induced their sons to steal all the jewels of the Rani, but they were caught in the act by the king, who on the following day asked his wife for her jewels, which she could not produce. Some of the sons ran away, and gave origin to the Velamas ; others restored the Kamma, and became Kammas.

Yet one more story. Pratapa Rudra's wife lost her ear ornament, and four of the king's captains were sent in search of it. Of these, one restored the jewel, and his descendants became Kammas ; the second attacked the thieves, and gave origin to the Velamas ; the third ran away, and so his children became the ancestors of the Pakanatis ; and the fourth disappeared.

According to the Census Report, 1891, the main sub- divisions of the Kammas are Gampa, Illuvellani, Godajati, Kavali, Vaduga, Pedda, and Bangaru. It would seem that there are two main endogamous sections, Gampa (basket) Chatu, and Goda (wall) Chatu. Chatu is said to mean a screen or hiding place. Concerning the origin of these sections, the following story is told. Two sisters were bathing in a tank (pond), when a king happened to pass by. To hide themselves, one of the girls hid behind a basket, and the other behind a wall. The descendants of the two sisters became the Gampa and Goda Chatu Kammas, who may not intermarry by reason of their original close relationship.

According to another legend, after a desperate battle, some members of the caste escaped by hiding behind baskets, others behind a wall. The terms Illuvellani and Pedda seem to be synonymous with Godachatu. The women of this section were gosha, and not allowed to appear in public, and even at the present day they do not go out and work freely in the fields. The name Illuvellani indicates those who do not go (vellani) out of the house (illu). The name Pedda (great) refers to the superiority of the section.

Vaduga simply means Telugu, and is probably a name given by Tamilians to the Kammas who live amongst them. The name Bangaru is said to refer to the custom of the women of this sub-division wearing only gold nose ornaments (bangaramu). The Godajati sub-division is said to be most numerously represented in North Arcot and Chingleput, the Illuvellani in Krishna, Nellore and Anantapur. The Kavali sub-division is practically confined to the Godavari, and the Pedda to the Krishna district.

The Vaduga Kammas are found chiefly in Coimbatore. In his note on the Kammas of the Godavari district, Mr. Hemingway writes that " in this district they are divided into Kavitis, Eredis, Gampas or Gudas, Uggams, and Rachas. These names are, according to local accounts, derived from curious household customs, generally from traditional methods of carrying water. Thus, the Kavitis will not ordinarily carry water except in pots on a kavidi, the Eredis except on a pack-bullock, the Uggams except in pots held in the hand, and not on the hip or head, the Rachas except in a pot carried by two persons. The Gampa women, when they first go to their husbands' houses, take the customary presents in a basket. It is said that these practices are generally observed at the present day."

Writing concerning the Iluvedalani (Illuvellani) Kammas, the editor of the Kurnool Manual (1886) states that " a few families only exist in the district. The women are kept in strict gosha. They consider it beneath them to spin thread, or to do other work.

A sub-division of this caste lives in Pullalcheruvu, whose families, also gosha, work at the spindles, like other women of the country. Another class of indoor Kammas resides about Owk, They are apparently descendants of the Kammas, who followed the Naiks from Guntur to Gandikota in the sixteenth century. They are now reduced, and the females work, like Kapus, in the field.

The Gampas are distinguished from the indoor Kammas by their women wearing the cloth over the right, instead of the left shoulder." As with other Telugu castes, there are, among the Kammas, a number of exogamous septs or intiperu, of which the following are examples : —

Palakala, planks.
Kasturi, musk.
Baththala, rice.
Karnam, accountant.
Irpina, combs.
Gali, wind.
Dhaniala, coriander.
Anumolu, Dolichos Lablab.
Tsanda, tax or subscription.
Jasthi, too much.
Mallela, jasmine.
Lanka, island.
Thota kura, Amarantus gangeticus.
Komma, horn, or branch of a tree.
Cheni, dry field.
The Kammas also have gotras such as Chittipoola,
Kurunollu, Kulakala, Uppala, Cheruku (sugar-cane),
Vallotla, and Yenamalla.

When matters affecting the community have to be decided, a council of the leading members thereof assembles. But, in some places, there is a permanent headman, called Mannemantri or Chowdari.

The Kammas will work as coolies in the fields, but will, on no account, engage themselves as domestic servants. " They are," the Rev. J. Cain writes,* " as a rule a fine well-built class of cultivators, very proud and exclusive, and have a great aversion to town life. Many of them never allow their wives to leave their compounds, and it is said that many never do field work on Sundays, but confine themselves on that day to their house-work."

" If," a correspondent writes from the Kistna district, " you ask in a village whether so-and-so is a Brahman, and they say ' No. He is an asami (ordinary man),' he will be a Kamma or Kapu. If you ask how many pay income-tax in a village, they may tell you two Baniyas (merchants), and two Samsari-vallu, i.e., two prosperous Kamma ryots."

The Kammas are stated by Mr. H. A. Stuart to be " most industrious and intelligent cultivators, who, now that gosha has been generally abandoned, beat all rivals out of the field — a fact which is recognised by several proverbs, such as

Kamma vani chetulu kattina nilavadu (though you tie a Kamma's hands, he will not be quiet) ;
Kamma vandlu cherite kadama jatula vellunu (if Kammas come in, other castes go out) ;
Kamma variki bhumi bhayapadu tunnadi (the earth fears the Kammas), and many others to the same effect.

In addition to being industrious and well-to-do they are very proud, an instance of which occurred in the Kistna district, when the Revenue Settlement Officer offered them pattas,
in which they were simply called Chowdari without the honorific ending garu. They refused on this account to accept them, and finally the desired alteration was made, as they proved that all of their caste were considered entitled to the distinction.

In North Arcot, however, they are not so particular, though some refuse to have their head shaved, because they scruple to bow down before a barber. Besides Vishnu the Kammas worship Ganga, because they say that long ago they fled from Northern India, to avoid the anger of a certain Raja, who had been refused a bride from among them. They were pursued, but their women, on reaching the Mahanadi, prayed for a passage to Ganga, who opened a dry path for them through the river. Crossing, they all hid themselves in a dholl [Cajanus indicus) field, and thus escaped from their pursuers. For this reason, at their marriages, they tie a bunch of dholl leaves to the north- eastern post of the wedding booth, and worship Ganga before tying the tali."

Among the Kammas of the Tamil country, the bride- groom is said to be sometimes much younger than the bride, and a case is on record of a wife of twenty-two years of age, who used to carry her boy-husband on her hip, as a mother carries her child.* A parallel is to be found in Russia, where not very long ago grown-up women were to be seen carrying about boys of six, to whom they were betrothed, f Widow remarriage is not permitted. Widows of the Goda chatu section wear white, and those of the Gampa chatu section coloured cloths.

Prior to the betrothal ceremony, female ancestors, Vigneswara, and the Grama Devata (village deities) are worshipped. A near relation of the future bridegroom proceeds, with a party, to the home of the future bride. On their way thither, they look for omens, such as the crossing of birds in an auspicious direction. Immediately on the occurrence of a favourable omen, they burn camphor, and break a cocoanut, which must split in two with clean edoes. One half is sent to the would-be bridegroom, and the other taken to the bride's house. If the first cocoanut does not split properly, others are broken till the wished-for result is obtained. When the girl's house is reached, she demands the sagunam (omen) cocoanut. Her lap is filled with flowers, cocoanuts, turmeric, plantains, betel leaves and areca nuts, combs, sandal paste, and coloured powder (kunkumam). The wedding day is then fixed.

Marriage is generally celebrated at the house of the bridegroom, but, if it is a case of kannikadhanam (presenting the girl without claiming the bride's price), at the house of the bride. The bride-price is highest in the Gampa section. On the first day of the marriage rites, the petta mugada sangyam, or box-lid ceremony is performed. The new cloths for the bridal couple, five plantains, nuts, and pieces of turmeric, one or two combs, four rupees, and the bride-price in money or jewels, are placed in a box, which is placed near the parents of the contracting couple. The contents of the box are then laid out on the lid, and examined by the sammandhis (new relations by marriage). The bride's father gives betel leaves and areca nuts to the father of the bride groom, saying " The girl is yours, and the money mine." The bridegroom's father hands them back, saying " The girl is mine, and the money yours." This is repeated three times. The officiating purohit (priest) then announces that the man's daughter is to be given in marriage to so-and-so, and the promise is made before the assembled Deva Brahmanas, and in the presence of light, Agni, and the Devatas. This ceremony is binding, and, should the bridegroom per-chance die before the bottu (marriage badge) is tied, she becomes, and remains a widow. The milk-post is next set up, the marriage pots are arranged, and the nalagu ceremony is performed. This consists of the annointing of the bridal couple with oil, and smearing the shoulders with turmeric flour, or Acacia Concinna paste. A barber pares the nails of the bridegroom, and simply touches those of the bride with a mango leaf dipped in milk.

In some places this rite is omitted by the Gampa section. A small wooden framework, called dhornam, with cotton threads wound round it, is generally tied to the marriage pandal (booth) by a Tsakali (washerman) not only at a marriage among the Kammas, but also among the Balijas, Kapus, and Velamas.

After the return of the bridal couple from bathing, the bridegroom is decorated, and taken to a specially prepared place within or outside the house, to perform Vira-gudi- mokkadam, or worship of heroes in their temple. At the spot selected a pandal has been erected, and beneath it three or five bricks, representing the heroes (viralu), are set up. The bricks are smeared with turmeric paste, and painted with red dots. In front of the bricks an equal number of pots are placed, and they are worshipped by breaking a cocoanut, and burning camphor and incense.

The bridegroom then prostrates himself before the bricks, and, taking up a sword, cuts some lime fruits, and touches the pots three times. In former days, a goat or sheep was sacrificed. The hero worship, as performed by the Goda section, differs from the above rite as practiced by the Gampa section. Instead of erecting a pandal, the Godas go to a pipal (Fiats i^eligiosa) tree, near which one or more daggers are placed. A yellow cotton thread is wound three or five times round the tree, which is worshipped. As a substitute for animal sacrifice, lime fruits are cut. The hero worship concluded, the wrist- threads of cotton and wool (kankanam) are tied on the bride and bridegroom, who is taken to the temple after he has bathed and dressed himself in new clothes. On his return to the booth, the purohit Hghts the sacred fire, and the contracting couple sit side by side on a plank. They then stand, with a screen spread between them, and the bridegroom, with his right big toe on that of the bride, ties the bottu round her neck. They then go three times round the dais, with the ends of their cloths knotted together. The bottu of the Gampas is a concave disc of gold, that of the Godas a larger flat disc. On the following day, the usual nagavali, or sacrifice to the Devas is offered, and a nagavali bottu (small gold disc) tied.

All the relations make presents to the bridal pair, who indulge in a mock representation of domestic life. On the third day, pongal (rice) is offered to the pots, and the wrist- threads are removed. Like the Palli bridegroom, the Kamma bridegroom performs a mimic ploughing cere-
mony, but at the house instead of at a tank (pond). He goes to a basket filled with earth, carrying the iron bar of a ploughshare, an ox-goad, and rope, accompanied by the bride carrying in her lap seeds or seedlings. While he pretends to be ploughing, his sister stops him, and will not let him continue till he has promised to give his first born daughter to her son in marriage. The marriage pots are presented to the sisters of the bridegroom. During the marriage celebration, meat must not be cooked. 

Among the Kammas, consummation does not take place till three months after the marriage ceremony, as it is considered unlucky to have three heads of a family in a household during the first year of marriage. By the delay, the birth of a child should take place only in the second year, so that, during the first year, there will be only two heads, husband and wife. In like manner, it is noted by Mr. Francis * that, among the Gangimakkulu and Madigas, the marriage is not consummated till three months after its celebration.

When a pregnant woman is delivered, twigs of Balanites Roxburghii are placed round the house. The dead are usually cremated. As the moment of death approaches, a cocoanut is broken, and camphor burnt. The thumbs and great toes of the corpse are tied together. A woman, who is left a widow, exchanges betel with her dead husband, and the women put rice into his mouth. The corpse is carried to the burning-ground on a bier, with the head towards the house. When it approaches a spot called Arichandra's temple, the bier is placed on the ground, and food is placed at the four corners. Then a Paraiyan or Mala repeats the formula " I am the first born i.e., the representative of the oldest caste). I wore the sacred thread at the outset. I am Sangu Paraiyan (or Reddi ;Mala). I was the patron of Arichandra. Lift the corpse, and turn it round with its head towards the smasanam (burning-ground), and feet towards the house." When the corpse has been laid on the pyre, the relations throw rice over it, and the chief mourner goes three times round the pyre, carrying on his shoulder a pot of water, in which a barber makes holes. During the third turn he lights the pyre, and throwing down the pot, goes off to bathe. On the following day, a stone is placed on the spot where the deceased breathed his last, and his clothes are put close to it. The women pour milk over the stone, and offer milk, cocoanuts, cooked rice, betel, etc., to it. These are taken by the males to the burning-ground. When Arichandra's temple is reached, they place there a small quantity of food on a leaf. At the burning-ground, the fire is extinguished, and the charred bones are collected, and placed on a plantain leaf. Out of the ashes they make an effigy on the ground, to which food is offered on four leaves, one of which is placed on the abdomen of the figure, and the other three are set by the side of it. The first of these is taken by the Paraiyan, and the others are given to a barber, washerman, and Panisavan (a mendicant caste). The final death ceremonies (karmandhiram) are performed on the sixteenth day. They commence with the punyaham, or purificatory ceremony, and the giving of presents to Brahmans. Inside the house, the dead person's clothes are worshipped by the women. The widow is taken to a tank or well, where her nagavali bottu is removed. This usually wears out in a very short time, so a new one is worn for the purpose of the death ceremony. The males proceed to a tank, and make an effigy on the ground, near which three small stones are set up. On these libations of water are poured, and cooked rice, vegetables, etc., are offered. The chief mourner then goes into the water, carrying the effigy, which is thrown in, and dives as many times as there have been days between the funeral and the karmandhiram. The ceremony closes with the making of presents to the Brahmans and agnates. Towards evening, the widow sits on a small quantity of rice on the ground, and her marriage bottu is removed. The Kammas perform a first annual ceremony, but not a regular sradh afterwards.

As regards their religion, some Kammas are Saivites, others Vaishnavites. Most of the Saivites are disciples of Aradhya Brahmans, and the Vaishnavites of Vaishnava Brahmans or Satanis. The Gampas reverence Draupadi, Mannarsami, Gangamma, Ankamma, and Padavetiamma; the Godas Poleramma, Veikandla Thalli (the thousand- eyed goddess) and Padavetiamma.
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