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Nadar History

The origin of Nadars as a social group is uncertain. Hardgrave states that the Teri palmrya forests around today’s Tiruchendur must have been their original abode. Samuel Sarugunar claimed that they are the descendants of those who ruled the Cheran, Cholan and Pandyan kingdoms and that when Nayak rulers captured the Pandya country, it was divided into several Palayams (divisions) for each of which Palaiyakkars were appointed as rulers. Sarugunar believes that the Nayak rulers of Tamil Nadu imposed Deshaprashtam (ostracism) on the ancient Pandyas (Nadars) to ensure that they would not rise. The traditions followed by the Nelamaikkarars and the existence of the ruins beneath the Teri palmrya forests of Tiruchendur and the Pandyan capital city of Korkai, where the Nadar population is predominant, suggest they could very well be the heirs of the Early Pandyas. Two inscriptions at Kalladaikurichi suggest that in medieval times the Nadars served as administrators and accountants in both the Chera and Pandya countries. However, there is little evidence to support the community's claim to be descendants of the later Pandya rulers.The identity or caste of the Pandyan kings remains a mystery. This belief, that the Nadars had been the kings of Tamil Nadu, became the dogma of the Nadar community in the 19th century.

Nadars of the 19th century
In the early nineteenth century, the Nadars were a community mostly engaged in the palmyra industry, including the production of toddy. However, there were a few subsects comprising wealthy landlords and money lenders. At this time, the majority of Nadars lived south of the Thamirabarani River, and formed 80 - 90 per cent of the population between there and Cape Comorin. Although numerically dominant in the area, the Nadars had a minimal interaction with other communities and they were themselves divided by their various endogamous subcastes, and thus lacked communal cohesion.

While the majority of the Nadar population of the region were poor, landless laborers, there also existed a small endogamous group of the aristocratic Nelamaikkarars (Nadans) who owned vast tracts of land. Historical records and accounts indicate that they possibly worked as tax collectors under the Pandyas. These Nadans either held their position directly under Nayak rulers in the Tiruchendur area or as petty lords under the Palaiyakkarar. They commanded high respect among the population, including from groups such as the Nadar climbers, the minority Vellalars and the Brahmins. Nadan men rode horses and their women rode in covered palanquins.

Nadar climbers were also to be found in other regions of Tamil Nadu where a few palmyra trees grew. In areas where the Nadar climber population consisted of only a few families in a village, they faced discrimination from the majority caste. Due to their association with toddy, the Nadars were considered lower than other middle castes, but relatively higher than the low castes, and were also prohibited to enter temples built by higher ranked castes. Although associated with toddy, the Nadars did not themselves consume it. The Nadars were schismatic about their position in the caste hierarchy and firmly claimed that they were wrongly placed in the caste system due to the Nayak invasion. They were also very caste conscious.

Nadars of Travancore
Hardgrave conjectures that the Nadars of Southern Travancore migrated there from Tirunelveli in the 16th century after the invasion of Tirunelveli by the Raja of Travancore. Like their Tirunelveli counterparts, the Nadars of Travancore were mostly palmrya climbers, although a significant number subtenants to Nair or Vellalar landlords. These Nadar tenants called themselves Nadans and some had direct control over their lands. The Nadans enjoyed special privileges under the Raja and claimed that they were superior to the climbers. The climbers of Travancore fared a little better than their Tirunelveli counterparts, but suffered severe social disabilities not found in Tirunelveli due to Travancore's rigid caste hierarchy. As Swami Vivekananda stated, the Keralite hierarchy was a lunatic asylum of castes. One example of the social disabilities was that Nadar climber women were not allowed to cover their bosoms, as most of the non- Brahmin women of Kerala, to punctuate their low status. However, the Nadan women of the region were exempted from this restriction.

Discontented with their social status, a large number of Nadar climbers embraced Christianity and became upwardly mobile. Although they improved their status with the aid of Christian missionaries, the outcome of their conversion did not conform to the intent of those missionaries. Both the Christian and Hindu Nadar climber women wore the upper jacket in the manner of upper class women and also their Tamil counterparts, in order to improve their social status. In turn, upper class men abused and discriminated against them. One Nadan family of Agastheeswaram, instead of supporting their depressed counterparts, supported the upper class men and claimed that only their women had the right to wear an upper cloth. The situation became known as the Upper cloth controversy and became violent. Eventually, with assistance from the Travancore authorities, British Christian Missionaries and Vaikunta Swamy, the depressed Nadar climber women won the right to wear their upper cloth in the manner of their Nadan counterparts.

Northern Nadars Some petty Nadar traders migrated from southern Tirunelveli to northern Tirunelveli and Virudhunagar. Over time they became commercially skilled and by the late 19th century were socially aspirant. Mercantilism played a crucial role in facilitating their upward mobility but religion was also perceived as a vehicle. Around 10 percent of the community converted to Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant.

British rule in the southern districts introduced new opportunities for trade and commerce, of which the Nadars took advantage. They established sophisticated pettais (fortified compounds) and urvinmurais (local caste associations) to ensure safety for their goods. Members of the uravinmurai, who were known as muraikkarars, would contribute a portion of their income to the association as mahimai (literally, to glorify oneself), in order to use the facilities of the pettais and to improve the common good.[32] As the wealth of the Northern Nadars increased they began also to adopt the customs of the North Indian Kshatriyas in order to improve their social status, in a process now known as Sanskritisation. Many tried to disassociate themselves from their Nadar climber counterparts and the term Shanar (the term generally used to call a Tamil palmrya climber). They adopted the title of Nadan, previously used only by the Nelamaikkarars.

To demonstrate their wealthy and powerful social position, the Nadars of Sivakasi hired Maravar palanquin bearers.[41] The upward mobility and kshatriya pretensions of the Nadars of the six towns of Ramanad caused resentment among both the Vellalar and the Maravar castes, who were ritually ranked above the Nadars.[42] The outcome was a series of caste conflicts, including the Sivakasi riots of 1899. However, the Sankritisation movement was a failure initially and the Nadar climbers, who lived as minorities, were still discriminated by the majority castes.[43] However these confrontations aided the community to protest for the required rights and privileges, with integrity, and also test how much other communities were willing to accept the Nadar claims of high status. The Northern Nadar leaders then sought to unite their community by encouraging intermarriages within the five major Nadar subcastes and also uplift the depressed palmrya Nadar climbers. They also sought to maintain amiable relationships with other communities. This led to the formation of the Nadar Mahajana Sangam in 1910.

Nadars of the 20th century
Nadar Mahajana Sangam
The separate Nadar associations of the six Ramanad towns were unable to support a community that was becoming more dispersed as many began to migrate to other parts of Madras Presidency. With the rise of the politically ambitious T. Rattinasami Nadar, a wealthy Nadar of Porayar in Thanjavur district, a new association was formed.[44] This resulted from Rattinasami Nadar inviting prominent community leaders to attend a plenary session in February 1910, with the intent of establishing an organization to represent the entire community. Rattinasami Nadar's uncle, V. Ponnusami Nadar, was elected to become the first president of the association, which was called the Nadar Mahajana Sangam. The association was open to any Nadar male of any subcaste or religion, and had as its general purpose the upliftment of the community. The early Sangam conferences were dominated by the Northern Nadars.

Nadars today
The social and economical development achieved by Nadars in independent India have evoked academic interest and appreciation across the world.[9] The Nadar caste entered many professions in the 20th century, from "high-tech entreprenuer" to owner of a large dairy company.[9] Nadar businessmen and Professor Varshney all pointed to educational opportunities that allowed Nadars to enter high-class professions.[9] The Nadars, who were once not allowed to enter Hindu temples built by castes above them, now occupy respected positions as Trustees in many Hindu temples of Tamil Nadu.[11][59] The Nadars today are a powerful community.[14] They are financially very strong and are also politically influential in the Southern Tirunelveli regions of Nanguneri, Srivaikuntam, Tiruchendur, Tuticorin and Kaniyakumari. There is a Nadar in almost every political party. The community also has influential Tamil media houses, such as Dina Thanthi.

Latest News img The Nadars are an entrepreneurial south Indian caste and constitute 12% of Tamil Nadu's population. It is classified and listed as a Other Backward Class by the governments of both Tamil Nadu and India. The Nadar community was not a singular caste, but an assortment of sub-castes and classes of different origins, which in course of time, came under the