Motivations for the Tamil Brahmin migration to Kerala during the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries

Arjun Venkat interview with Shri. Narayanamurti

1. During which period or era did your ancestors come to Kerala?

I have heard from my father who himself heard from his father, that the Josier Clan (specialist astrologers and astronomers) came to Kerala during the 15-16th century.

2. What was the route taken for this migration? What were some of the other possibilities?

I have not been able to come with some specific detail on this point, but they could have come through the Palghat Walayar Pass on the Western Ghats or the Pollachi-Palghat pathway, which was then not a road. My reason for identifying these is that the Kalpathy group of villages is in between the two paths. The river flows through the village

3. What was the trade of your ancestors?

They were specialist astrologers/astronomers, who had an adorable status in the Brahmin society. They have been learned authors on these subjects amongst my ancestors.

4. How can you establish that your ancestors were among the first to move into the region?

Once I claim that the Kalpathy group of villages could have been the obvious first, settlement site for these migrants, I understand that my village, selected by my ancestors and the two adjoining villages in the region, are most strategically preferred because of the proximity to the bank of the river, and the civilization of this community has been built around the river.

5. What were the prime motivations of the people in your ancestor’s trade?

The prime motivation was to serve society by making the benefits of our learning available to the community for their religious and other pursuits. When people go on travel, build a house, hold a function, for casting horoscopes, these astrologers were needed. In that sense, we were agents of social change.

6. Why could they not simply stay in Tamil Nadu?

Firstly, Tamil Nadu was reeling under the pressure of protecting itself from the Muslim invasion of the North. There was also a fear of people being forcibly converted into Islam. Another important point is that the Tamil Brahmin community was not prepared to take up arms against the Muslims and fight in a war.

7. How were other traders in the Tamil Brahmin community relevant to the economic boom in Kerala?

Not only were Tamil Brahmins invited into Kerala as priests, there were also several textile workers that were called for. Kerala did not have any textile industry. Material had to be brought from the mills of Madurai. Merchants were often seen carrying these goods on their head, on their way to Kerala.

8. How did the benefits of this migration compare with the negative aspects?

I have not been able to see any negative aspect of the migration. If anything it helped to enrich the already civilized Kerala society. It also provided the much needed intellectual and commercial support to the trading opportunities that arose along the Malabar Coast, due to the visits from traders such as the Dutch, French, Portuguese and Arabs. I have not been able to come across any specific reason prompting this migration, but the evidcnce collected by me in conversations with knowledgeable people has helped me to infer thatn religious persecution was surely not a cause for the migration. I believe it could have been motivated by the fact that the new land offered them better commercial opportunities of sustenance and livelihood, without their having to sacrifice any of their comforts. They were not losing anything from this migration.

9. What were some of the qualities of the settlements in Kerala, such as Palghat?

First of all, it is important to note that the villages such as Palghat were nothing before the entrance of the Tamil Brahmins. Today, these villages still have the same structures as those from the early migrations. Each house has an equal area and the settlements were expanded outwards from the Kalpathy River. Over two to three years, the full town of Palghat was extablished, consisting of 96 villages, and roughly 5000 families. That population has remained relatively static as no new settlements were created. The Tamil Brahmins simply moved from Palghat to other cities in Kerala or other parts of India and the world for more opportunities. The traders and people of the service sector, such as educated scribes, intellectuals and merchants, who had come in the initial migration, merely used Palghat as a stepping stone before traveling on to the bustling cities of Calicut and Cochin.

Motivations for the Tamil Brahmin migration to Kerala during the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries

Paper by

Arjun Venkat

All contents in this website are original work of Shri Narayanmurti and any use of the contents,
either in part or, whole needs written permission from the author.

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