Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

Rituals of Life: A Study of the People of Kalvarayan Hills

Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

Rituals of Life: A Study of the People of Kalvarayan Hills

Article excerpt

The author describes the rituals that the people of the Kalvarayan Hills in Southern India perform after the birth of a child, at childhood, at the age of puberty, on the occasion of marriage, and at death. He also seeks to show the extent to which these are changing as the people of that district are influenced by modern media and by increased contact with the wider Tamil society that inhabits the plains at the foot of the Hills.

Key Words: Kalvarayan Hills; Tamil Nadu; India; rituals and culture; Marriage customs; Childbirth rituals; Puberty rituals; Death rituals.

Introduction

The objective of the paper is to present the rituals that the people of Kalvarayan Hills, situated in the Eastern Ghats in Tamil Nadu, Southern India, perform at different phases of the life of their individuals.2 The rituals performed before and after the birth of a child, at childhood, at the age of puberty, on the occasion of marriage and at the death of a person how this particular society understands life, the interrelatedness between the society and its individuals and the relationship between the nature and the society. For the uninformed, these rituals may appear to be a meaningless set of actions of an illiterate society, but for perceptive eyes they are celebrations of life in its various dimensions, a set of symbolic actions manifesting how their culture is lived by the individuals and handed on from generation to generation as a bond that shapes and strengthens the identity of its members as well as their society.

The life of the people of Kalvarayan Hills has special significance due to their relative isolation from the mainstream society in South India for a few centuries; their habitat amidst mountains, hills, forests and valleys, and the lack of transport facilities, electricity and other advantages of technological development in their geographical area until the recent past.

There are only two scholarly researches available to the academic world about the people of Kalvarayan Hills. The first is the unpublished dissertation of a post-graduate student3 from the University of Poona in 1976, and the other a detailed study published in Tamil4, one of the languages in South India, in 1992. Unfortunately the latter study has not yet been translated into English. Therefore, the aim of this article is threefold:

a. to bring the life and culture of the people of Kalvarayan Hills into international scholarly academic discussion;

b. to highlight how far the older practices have survived, and the extent to which they have been modified or dropped altogether over the last three or four decades due to increased contact with the mainstream of the society and to the influence of modern technologies; and

c. more significantly, to show how their rituals of life affirm their historical claim that they originally belonged to the mainstream society of Dravidian culture.

The first section here describes briefly the people of Kalvarayan Hills. The second section focuses on rituals in general and their significance in human society, and the final section attempts from an ethnographic perspective to present an elaborate account of the rituals of the people of Kalvarayan Hills.

1. The People of Kalvarayan Hills (Malayalis)

This section deals very briefly with the people and their land, their economy and their historical background.

1. 1. Land and the People

Kalvarayan Hills is one part of the Eastern Ghats and lies on the western side of the Kallakurichi taluk in Tamil Nadu in South India. This area is spread over an area of 600 sq. kms., approximately with a height ranging from 1000 to 3800 ft above sea level. It forms one block in the Tamil Nadu Hills. The Kalvarayan Hills run through Athur taluk in the Salem District, Chengam taluk in the Thiruvanamalai District and Sankarapuram taluk in the Villupuram District. There are a number of streams and rivulets flowing in the Kalvarayan Hills. …

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