Infobox Ethnic group
group = Iyer
1901:415,931 2004:~ 2,400,000 (Estimated) [Accurate statistics on the population of Iyers are unavailable. This is due to the fact that the practice of conducting caste-based population census have been stopped since independence. The statistics given here are mainly based on estimates from unofficial sources]
popplace = Indian states of
Tamil Nadu, Keralaand Andhra Pradesh|langs = Mother tongueis Tamil with unique Iyer dialects. Knowledge of Sanskritfor religious reasons.
related = Pancha-Dravida Brahmins,
Tamil people, Iyengar, Madhwa
Iyer (pronounced|aiʝar Tamil : அய்யர் Malayalam:അയ്യര) (variously spelt as Iyer, Ayyar, Aiyar, Ayer or Aiyer) also called Sāstricite book | title=Encyclopedia Britannica, śāstrī | url=http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/524792/sastri#tab=active~checked%2Citems~checked&title=%C5%9B%C4%81str%C4%AB%20--%20Britannica%20Online%20Encyclopedia] , Sarma or BhattarCastes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 354] Cochin, Its past and present, Pg 300] is the name given to
Hindu Brahminsof Tamil or Telugu origin who are followers of the "Advaita" philosophy propounded by Adi Shankara.Cite web|url=http://www.4dham.com/go2/Iyer.html|title=Iyer|accessdate=2008-08-07|publisher=Uttarakhand Information Centre] cite book | title=The Imperial Gazetteer of India, Volume XVI| last=| first=| year=1908| publisher=Clarendon Press| location=London, Pg 267] An Universal History, Pg 109] An Universal History, Pg 110] Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 269] Folk Songs of Southern India, Pg 3] They are found mostly in Tamil Nadu as they are generally native to the Tamil country. But they are also found in significant numbers in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka.
The name 'Iyer' originated in the medieval period when different sects of Brahmins residing in the then Tamil country organized themselves as a single community. A breakaway sect of Sri Vaishnavas later formed a new community called "Iyengars".Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 334] Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 348] Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 349]
As per popular tradition, Iyers are the descendants of
Indo-Aryanmigrants from North India. However, genetic researches have found little difference in genetic patterns with the rest of the Tamil populace. Iyers are sub-divided into various sub-sects based on their individual functions or duties. They are also classified based on the Veda they follow or according to their gotra.
Iyers fall under the Pancha Dravida Brahmin sub-classification of India's Brahmin community and follow the same customs and traditions as other Brahmins.Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 268] In recent times, they have been affected by reservation policies cite news | last=Vishwanath | first=Rohit | title= BRIEF CASE: Tambram's Grouse | date=
June 23, 2007| url =http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Tambrams_Grouse/articleshow/2142389.cms | work =The Times of India | accessdate = 2008-08-19] and the Self-Respect Movementin the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
South Indian Brahmins who reside in the states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradeshand Karnataka. Iyers are predominantly Smarthas or followers of the Smrititexts.cite book | title=Maharashtra| last=Suresh Singh| first=Kumar| coauthors=B. V. Bhanu, B. R. Bhatnagar, D. K. Bose, V. S. Kulkarni, J. Sreenath| year=2004| pages=1873| publisher=Popular Prakashan| id=ISBN 8179911020]
The word Iyer is derived from the title "Ayyā" which is often used by Tamils to designate respectable people. There are number of etymologies for the word "Ayyā", generally it is thought to be derived from
Proto-Dravidianterm denoting an elder brother. It is used in that meaning in Tamil, Teluguand Malayalam.cite book | title=The evolution of an ethnic identity: The Tamils in Sri Lanka C. 300 BCE to C. 1200 CE| last=Indrapala| first=K.| pages=374| year=2007| publisher=Vijitha Yapa| id=ISBN 978-955-1266-72-1] Yet others derive theword Ayya as a Prakritversion of the Sanskrit word "Aryā" which means ' noble'.Cite web|url=http://starling.rinet.ru/cgi-bin/response.cgi?single=1&basename=datadravsdret&text_recno=175&root=config|title=The "Ayya"|accessdate=2008-08-27|publisher=Starling Database|author=] Cite web|url=http://www.keralaiyers.com/history?PHPSESSID=4935ec87b8f426ff0233383ea3ad5de3|title=History of Kerala Iyers|accessdate=2008-08-19|publisher=keralaiyers.com] [Cite web|url=http://www.hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/concepts/arya.asp|title=The Concepts of Hinduism - Arya|accessdate=2008-08-19|publisher=hinduwebsite.com|author=V. Jayaram] "Ayar" is also the name of a Tamil Yadava sub-caste.Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 63] During the British Raj, Christian clergymen were also occasionally given the honorific surname "Ayyar".Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 19]
In ancient times, Iyers were also called "Anthanar"cite book | title=Educational System of the Ancient Tamils| last=Pillai| first=Jaya Kothai| year=1972| pages=54| publisher=South India Saiva Siddhanta Works Pub. Society| location=Tinnevelly] cite book | title=Tales and poems of South India| last=Robinson| first=Edward Jewitt| year=1885| pages=67| publisher=T. Woolmer] or "Pārppān",cite book | title=Naccinarkkiniyar's Conception of Phonology| url=http://books.google.co.in/books?id=moUOAAAAYAAJ&lr=&pgis=1| last=Caṇmukam| first=Ce. Vai.| year=1967| pages=212| publisher=Annamalai University] cite book | title=The Journal [afterw.] The Madras journal of literature and science, ed. by J.C. Morris| year=1880| pages=90| publisher=Madras Literary Society] cite book | title=The Eight Anthologies: A Study in Early Tamil Literature| last=Marr| first=John Ralston| year=1985| pages=114| publisher=Institute of Asian Studies] though the usage of the word "Pārppān" is considered derogatory in modern times.cite book | title=The Asiatic Review| last=East India Asssociation| year=1914| pages=457| publisher=Westminster Chamber] Until recent times, Kerala Iyers were called Pattars.cite book | title=A Collection of Treaties, Engagements, and Other Papers of Importance Relating to British Affairs in Malabar| last=Logan| first=William| date=1989| pages=154| publisher=Asian Educational Services| id=ISBN 8120604490, ISBN 9788120604490] Like the term "pārppān", the word "Pattar" too is considered derogatory.cite book | title=Communism in Kerala: A Study in Political Adaptation| last=Nossiter| first=Thomas Johnson| date=1982| pages=27| publisher=C. Hurst & Co. Publishers| id=ISBN 0905838408, ISBN 9780905838403]
It has also been recorded that in the past, the Nayak kings of Madurai have held the title "Aiyar" while Brahmins have borne titles as Pillai or Mudali.cite book | title=Castes and Tribes of Southern India Volume VI| last=Thurston| first=Edgar| authorlink= Edgar Thurston|coauthors=K. Rangachari| year=1909| pages=368|publisher=Government Press| location=Madras]
The origin of Iyers, like other South-Indian Brahmin communities, is shrouded in mystery. There have been evidences of Brahmin presence in the southern states even prior to the Sangam Age. However, it is generally believed that they were few in number and that most Iyers migrated from other parts of India at a later stage. According to some sources, these early inhabitants comprised mostly of
priestswho ministered in temples known as "Gurukkals". Large scale migrations are generally believed to have occurred between 200 and 1600 AD and most Iyers are believed to have descended from these migrants.Cite web|url=http://www.chennaionline.com/columns/DownMemoryLane/diary169.asp|title=The Brahmins of South India - Ayyars|accessdate=2008-08-19|publisher=chennaionline.com|author=Chander Kanta Gariyali, I. A. S] Cite web|url=http://tamilartsacademy.com/journals/volume3/articles/Vedas%20and%20Vedic%20Saivas%20in%20TN.html|title=Nataraja and Vedic concepts as revealed by Sekkilar|accessdate=2008-08-19|publisher=Tamil Arts Academy|author=R. Nagaswamy] Cite web|url=http://www.chennaionline.com/columns/DownMemoryLane/diary172.asp|title=Dikshitars|accessdate=2008-08-19|publisher=chennaionline.com|author=Chander Kanta Gariyali, I. A. S] cite journal | author=K. D. Abhyankar| title=Folklore and Astronomy: Agastya a sage and a star| journal=Current Science| year=2005| volume=29| issue=12| url=http://www.iisc.ernet.in/currsci/dec252005/2174.pdf] G. S. Ghurye, p 360] However, this theory has come under attack in recent times from historians and anthropologists who question the validity of this theory due to lack of evidence.Cite web|url=http://micheldanino.voiceofdharma.com/tamilculture.html|title=Vedic Roots of Early Tamil Culture|accessdate=2008-08-19|publisher=Voice of Dharma|author=Michael Danino] Cite web|url=http://koenraadelst.bharatvani.org/articles/aid/aryanpolitics.html|title=The Politics of the Aryan Invasion Debate|accessdate=2008-08-19|publisher=Voice of India|year=2003|author=Dr. Koenraad Elst] P.V.Manickam Naicker, writes in 'The Tamil Alphabet and its Mystic Aspect', 1917,Pg 74-75: "Even should Dutt's description of the aryanisation be true, the real Aryan "corpus" in South-India came to nothing. A "cranial study" of the various classes will also confirm the same. The lecturer, being a non-Brahmin, wishes to leave nothing to be misunderstood. His best and tried friends are mostly Brahmins and he is a sincere admirer of them. There is no denying the fact that the ancestors of the present Brahmins were the most cultured among the South-Indians at the time the said Aryanisation took place and got crystallized into a class revered by the people. As the cultured sons of the common mother Tamil, is it not their legitimate duty to own their kinsmen and to cooperate and uplift their less lucky brethern, if they have real patriotism for the welfare of the country? On the contrary, the general disposition of many a Brahmin is to disown his kinship with the rest of the Tamil brethern, to disown his very mother Tamil and to comstruct an imaginary untainted Aryan pedigree as if the Aryan alone is heaven-born] Slater, Pg 158] Companion Studies to the History of Tamil Literature,Pg 260] During the early medieval period, when Ramanujafounded Vaishnavismmany Iyers adopted the new philosophical affiliation and were called Iyengars.Cite web|url=http://www.salagram.net/parishad6.htm|title=Sripada Ramanujacharya|accessdate=2008-08-19|publisher=New Zealand Hare Krishna Spiritual Resource Network] The Valluvars are believed to be the descendants of the earliest priests of the Tamil country.cite book | title=Castes and Tribes of Southern India Volume VII| last=Thurston| first=Edgar| authorlink= Edgar Thurston|coauthors=K. Rangachari| year=1909| pages=303|publisher=Government Press| location=Madras]
There is also ample evidence to suggest that a large number of individuals of non-Brahmin communities could have been invested with the sacred thread and ordained as temple priests.Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Introduction, Pg lii] Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Introduction, Pg liv]
Though, Iyers have been classified as a left-hand caste in ancient times, Schoebel, in his book "History of the Origin and Development of Indian Castes" published in 1884, spoke of Tamil Brahmins as "Mahajanam" and regarded them, along with foreign migrants, as outside the dual left and right-hand caste divisions of Tamil Nadu.
Ethnicity and genetics
Iyer men and women are slightly different in physical makeup and complexion to the average Tamilian cite book | title=Madras in the olden time| last=Wheeler| first=J. T.| authorlink= |coauthors=| year=1861| pages=22|publisher=Graves & Co.| location=Madras] and this, along with the social practices and customs of Iyers are regarded as evidences of an "Aryan origin" for Tamil Brahmins.Cite web|url=http://www.shelterbelt.com/KJ/kharyans.html|title=The Coming of Aryans and Brahmins into Kerala|accessdate=2008-08-27|publisher=Kerala Journal|author=Dr. Zacharias Thundy] P. T. Srinivasa Iyengar, Pg 55] P. T. Srinivasa Iyengar, Pg 56] Moreover, some Iyer communities pay homage to the river Narmada instead of the South Indian river Cauvery in their rituals and revere legends proposing a northern origin for their community.cite book | title=Journal of the Asiatic Society| date=1832| publisher=Indian Asiatic Society] Iyer marriage rites, especially, are a mixture of some customs regarded Aryan and some considered Dravidian. P. T. Srinivasa Iyengar, Pg 57] P. T. Srinivasa Iyengar, Pg 58] This issue is still being debated and researched by anthropologists, linguists and archaeologists alike. However, regardless of whether the "Aryan theory" of origin for Iyers is true or not, still it has often been a burning political issue in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
geneticstudies amongst Iyers of Maduraireveal close proximity to populations from Eurasian steppesof Central Asia.Cite web|url=http://www.geocities.com/tokyo/5220/brahmin_dna_study1.htm|title=HLA affinities of Iyers, a Brahmin population of Tamil Nadu, South India.|accessdate=2008-08-19|publisher=Wayne State University Press|year=1996|author=K. Balakrishnan, R. M. Pitchappan, K. Suzuki, U. Sankar Kumar, K. Tokunaga] cite journal | author=Michael Bamshad, Toomas Kivisild, W. Scott Watkins, Mary E. Dixon, Chris E. Ricker, Baskara B.Rao, J. Mastan Naidu, B. V. Ravi Prasad, P. Govinda Reddy, Arani Rasanayagam, Surinder S. Papiha, Richard Villems, Alan J. Redd, Michael F. Hammer, Son V. Nguyen, Marion L. Carroll, Mark A. Batzer, Lynn B. Jorde| title=Genetic Evidence on the Origins of Indian Caste Populations| journal=Genome Research| year=2001| volume=11| issue=6| url=http://genome.cshlp.org/cgi/content/full/11/6/994] Other genetic researches have found close similarities between recent migrants and Bengali Brahmins. cite journal | author=S. KANTHIMATHI, M. VIJAYA, A. RAMESH| title=Genetic study of Dravidian castes of Tamil Nadu| journal=Indian Academy of Sciences Journal of Genetics| volume=87| issue=2| page=175-179|url=http://www.ias.ac.in/jgenet/Vol87No2/175.pdf] However, the sharing of some haplotypes between the Iyers and some Southeast Asian populations suggests a migration through Southeast Asia to India. When genetic analysis of South Asians was performed while discarding caste-based ramifications, it was observed that South Indians, in general had lesser genetic affinity with Central Asian people than the inhabitants of North India overall and the mitochondrial DNA( maternal) of Indian caste and tribalpopulations all emerged from the same source.cite journal | author=T. Kivisild,1, S. Rootsi, M. Metspalu, S. Mastana, K. Kaldma, J. Parik, E. Metspalu, M. Adojaan, H.-V. Tolk, V. Stepanov, M. Go¨lge, E. Usanga, S. S. Papiha, C. Cinniog˘lu, R. King, L. Cavalli-Sforza, P. A. Underhill, and R. Villems| title=The Genetic Heritage of the Earliest Settlers Persists Both in Indian Tribal and Caste Populations| journal=American Journal of Human Genetics| year=2003| volume=72| page=313-332| url=http://hpgl.stanford.edu/publications/AJHG_2003_v72_p313-332.pdf] cite news | last= Ranganna| first=T.S. | title= People in north and south India belong to the same gene pool: ICHR Chairman | date= June 24, 2006| url=http://www.hinduonnet.com/2006/06/24/stories/2006062412870400.htm | work =The Hindu: Karnataka | accessdate = 2008-08-27]
Edgar Thurston classified Iyers as mesocephalic with an average
cephalic indexof 74.2Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Introduction, Pg lxiii] and an average nasal index of 95.1 based on the anthropological survey he had conducted in the Madras Presidency.Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Introduction, Pg li] Kerala Iyers were found to have an average cephalic index of 74.5 and nasal index of 92.9.
Population and distribution
Today, Iyers live all over
South India, but an overwhelming majority of Iyers continue to thrive in Tamil Nadu. Tamil Brahmins form an estimated 3% of the state's total population and are distributed all over the state.cite journal | author=Sreenivasarao Vepachedu| title=Brahmins| journal=Mana Sanskriti (Our Culture)| year=2003| issue=69| url=http://www.vedah.net/manasanskriti/Brahmins.html#Brahmin_Population] However, accurate statistics on the population of the Iyer community is unavailable.
They are concentrated mainly along the
CauveryDelta districtsof Mayiladuthurai, Thanjavur cite book | title=The Imperial Gazetteer of India, Volume XVI| last=| first=| year=1908| pages=260| publisher=Clarendon Press| location=London] cite book | title=The Imperial Gazetteer of India, Volume XVI| last=| first=| year=1908| pages=20| publisher=Clarendon Press| location=London] and Tiruchirapalli where they form almost 10% of the total population.G. S. Ghurye, Pg 393] Migration and Urbanization among Tamil Brahmans, Pg 5] In Northern Tamil Nadu they are found in the urban areas of Chennai,cite book | title=The Imperial Gazetteer of India, Volume XVI| last=| first=| year=1908| pages=272| publisher=Clarendon Press| location=London] Migration and Urbanization among Tamil Brahmans, Pg 15] Kanchipuram, Chengalpattu, Sriperumbudurand Vellore. They are almost non-existent in ruralparts.cite book | title=Madura District Gazetteer Vol 1| last=Francis| first=W.| date=1906| pages=84| publisher=Government of Madras| location=Madras]
Iyers are also found in fairly appreciable number in Western and Southern districts of Tamil Nadu.Folk Songs of Southern India, Pg 6] Iyers of the far south are called
TirunelveliIyerscite book | title=Manual of the Tinnevelly District in the Presidency of Madras| last=Stuart| first=A. J.| year=1879| pages=15|publisher=Government of Madras|id=] and speak the Tirunelveli Brahmin dialect. The most prominent Tirunelveli Iyer was Subramanya Bharathi, often regarded as the " national poetof Tamil Nadu". In Coimbatore, there are a large number of Kerala Iyers from Palakkad.cite news | last= Prabhakaran| first=G. | title= A colourful festival from a hoary past | date= Nov 12, 2005| url=http://www.hinduonnet.com/thehindu/mp/2005/11/12/stories/2005111200510400.htm | work =The Hindu Metro Plus:Coimbatore | accessdate = 2008-08-27]
Iyers have many sub-sects among them, such as
Vadama, Brahacharnam or Brahatcharanam, Vāthima, Sholiyaror Chozhiar , Ashtasahasram, Mukkāni, Gurukkal, Kāniyālar and Prathamasāki.Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 333] Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 334] Cite web|url=http://www.kamat.com/kalranga/people/brahmins/list.htm|title=List of Brahmin communities|accessdate=2008-08-27|publisher=Kamat's Potpourri|author=Vikas Kamat] cite book | title=Aspects of caste in south India, Ceylon, and north-west Pakistan. Cambridge [Eng.] | last=Leach| first=E. R.| authorlink= |coauthors=| year=1960| pages=368|publisher=Published for the Dept. of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University Press| location=Madras] Each sub-sect is further subdivided according to the village or region of origin.
The Vadamas (Tamil : வடமா) regard themselves the most superior of Smartha Brahmins.cite book | title=Peasant State and Society in Medieval South India| last=Stein| first=Burton| year=1980| pages=210| publisher=Oxford University Press] The word "Vadama" is derived from the Tamil word "Vadakku" meaning North.cite book | title=Early South Indian Paleography| last=Mahalingam| first=T. V. | year=1967| pages=296| publisher=University of Madras] Due to this reason, it is widely speculated that the Vadamas could have been the latest of the Brahmin settlers of the Tamil country. At the same time, however, the honorific title "Vadama" could also be used simply to denote the level of Sanskritization and cultural affiliation and not as evidence for a migration at all.cite book | title=Bulletin of the Institute of Traditional Cultures| year=1957| pages=141| publisher=Institute of Traditional Cultures]
Vadamas follow a number of Vaishnavite religious beliefs and practices. They sport the "urdhvapundram" mark on their forehead unlike other sects of Iyers. A large section of the Iyengar community is believed to be made of converted Vadamas.
Vadamas have also significantly contributed towards popularizing and propagating the worship of Lord Shiva and Devi.cite news | last= | first= | title= A Kali Yuga woman saint | date=
November 30, 2003| url =http://chennaionline.com/musicnew/Devotional/aavadai.asp | work =Chennai Online | accessdate = 2008-09-11] cite web | last= | first= | title= A Genius of Syama Sastri | date= April 17, 2002| url =http://www.carnatica.net/composer/syama1.htm | work =www.carnatica.net | accessdate = 2008-09-11]
The Vāthimas (Tamil : வாத்திமா) are few in number and are confined mostly to eighteen villages in
Thanjavur district. They are sub-divided into Pathinettu Gramathu Vāthima or Vāthima of the eighteen villages, Udayalur, Nannilam and Rathamangalam.Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 337]
Brahacharnam is a corruption of the Sanskrit word "Brahatcharnam"(
Sanskrit:ब्रहतचरनम्) means "the great sect".Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 335] Brahacharnams are more Saivite than Vadamas and are sub-divided into Kandramaicka, Milanganur, Mangudi, Pazhamaneri, Musanadu, Kolathur, Marudancheri,Sathyamangalam and Puthur Dravida.
Sanskrit:अष्टसहश्रम) are, like the Brahacharnams, more Saivite than the Vadamas.Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 338] They are further sub-divided into Aththiyur, Arivarpade, Nandivadi and Shatkulam.
The Dīkshitars (Tamil : தீக்ஷிதர்) are based mainly in the town of
Chidambaramand according to legend, have descended from three thousands individuals who migrated from Varanasi. They wear their kudumiin front of their head like the Nairsand Namboothiris of Kerala.
Chozhiar or Sholiyar
The Sholiyars (Tamil : சோழியர்்) serve as priests, cooks or decorate idols in Hindu temples.Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 341] According to legend, they are believed to have descended from
Chanakya, the minister of Chandragupta Maurya.Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 342] They are divided into Tirukattiur, Madalur, Visalur, Puthalur, Senganur, Avadiyar Koil.Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 340]
The sect of Sivāchārya or Gurukkal (Tamil : குருக்கள்்்) form the hereditary priesthood or in the Siva and Sakthi temples in Tamil Nadu.Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 347] They are Saivites and adhere to the philosophy of
Shaiva Siddhanta. They are well versed in Agama Sasthras and follow the Agamic rituals of these temples.
The Mukkāni(Tamil:முக்கானீ) sub-sect of Iyers are traditionally helpers to the priests in the temples of
Thiruchendur.Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 342] Legend has it that the Mukkānis were the "Bhootaganas", the demon bodyguards of Lord Sivaand that they were given the responsibility for guarding Subrahmanya's shrines by Siva.Cite web|url=http://www.keralaiyers.com/subsects|title=Subsects|accessdate=2008-08-27|publisher=keralaiyers.com|author=] . The Mukkanis predominantly subscribe to the Rig Veda.
The Kāniyālar(Tamil:காநியாளர்) are a little known sub-sect of Iyers. A large number of Kāniyālars serve as cooks and menial servants in Vaishnavite temples. Hence, they sport the "nāmam" like Vaishnavite
The Prathamasākis form another little-known sub-sect of Iyers. They follow the White Yajur Veda.Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 344] According to Hindu legend, in remote antiquity, the Prathamasākis were cursed by God to spend one hour every day as ParayarsCastes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 345] and hence they are known as "Madhyana Paraiyans" in Tanjore district and are regarded inferior by other sects of Brahmins.
Edgar Thurston also mentions another sect of Iyers called "Kesigal" or "Hiranyakesigal".Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 335] However, this sub-sect appears to have disappeared or merged into the larger Vadama community with the passage of time.
Iyers, just like other Brahmins were required to learn the Vedas. Iyers are also divided into different sects based on the Veda they follow.Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 267] Iyers belonging to the
Yajur Vedasect usually follow the teachings of the Krishna Yajur Veda.Cite web|url=http://www.keralaiyers.com/subsects|title=Subsects|accessdate=2008-08-19|publisher=keralaiyers.com]
"Gotrās" and "Shākhas"
Iyers, like all other Brahmins, trace their paternal ancestry to one of the eight "
rishis" or sages.Cite web|url=http://vedabase.net/g/gotra|title=Definition of the word "gotra"|accessdate=2008-08-19] Cite web|url=http://www.gurjari.net/ico/Mystica/html/gotra.htm|title=Gotra|accessdate=2008-08-19|publisher=gurjari.net] Accordingly they are classified into eight "gotrās" based on the "rishi" they have descended from. A maiden in the family belongs to gotra of her father, but upon marriage takes the "gotrā" of her husband.
The Vedas are further sub-divided into "shākhās" or "branches" and followers of each Veda are further sub-divided based on the "shākhā" they adhere to. However, only a few of the "shākhās" are extant, the vast majority of them having disappeared.The different Vedas and the corresponding "shākhās" that exist today in Tamil Nadu are:Cite web|url=http://www.dharmicscriptures.org/Vedic_SB_Intro.doc|title=Shakha|accessdate=2008-09-10|publisher=www.dharmicscriptures.org]
Over the last few centuries, a large number of Iyers have also migrated and settled in parts of
Karnataka. During the rule of the Mysore Maharajahs, a large number of Iyers from the then Madras province migrated to Mysore. The Ashtagrama Iyers are also a prominent group of Iyers in Karnataka.Cite web|url=http://www.ashtagrama.com/wst_page2.html|title=Brief history of "Ashtagrama"|accessdate=2008-08-27|publisher=Ashtagrama Iyer community website|author=]
A series of large-scale migrations of Iyers from the Tamil country into Kerala over the past few centuries has created a 'Kerala Iyer' community.Cite web|url=http://www.keralaiyers.com/migrationtheories|title=Migration Theories|accessdate=2008-08-19|publisher=keralaiyers.com] According to
anthropologists, two streams of migration actually took place:
* A wave of migrations from
Tirunelveliand Ramnad districtsof Tamil Nadu first to the erstwhile princely statesof Travancoreand Cochinand later to Palakkadand Kozhikodedistricts have resulted in the origin of an Iyer community in the Travancore and Cochin regions.
* There were also migrations rom
Tanjoredistrict of Tamil Nadu to Palakkad. Their descendants are known today as Palakkad Iyers.Cochin, Its past and present, Pg 308]
Travancore and Cochin regions
During the 18th century, a large number of Iyers migrated from Southern Tamil Nadu and settled in the erstwhile princely states of
Travancoreand CochinCite web|url=http://www.kuzhalmannamagraharam.info/articles/kerala-iyer-history.html|title=History of Kerala iyers and Agraharams|accessdate=2008-08-27|publisher=Kuzhalmanna Agraharam website|author=] Cite web|url=http://www.keralaiyers.com/migration|title=Migration Theories|accessdate=2008-08-19|publisher=keralaiyers.com] However, Iyers were neither considered eligible nor allowed to officiate as priests in the temples of Keralaas the priests in these parts practised 'Tantra Vidhi'- a very complex system of Tantricrites monopolized by the Namboothris.
Due to their skill in
culinaryart, Iyers were initially employed mostly as cooks. They are generally credited with having introduced Tamil delicacies as " idli", " sambhar", " dosa" and " vadai" in Kerala. However, with the passage of time, Iyers entered administrative and commercial professions as well.The first prominent member of the Iyer community in Kerala was Ramayyan Dalawa, who was the Prime Minister ("Dewan" or "Dalawa") of Travancore State during the reign of Raja Marthanda Varma. Other prominent Iyers from Kerala include Ulloor S. Parameswara Iyer, Malayattoor Ramakrishnan, V. R. Krishna Iyerand T. N. Seshan.
Tamil Brahmins have fully integrated into Kerala society even while retaining their ancestral traditions. Their mother tongue is a dialect of Tamil heavily influenced by
Malayalamvocabulary. During the 19th century, Iyers, like Malayali Nambudhiris, even adopted the Malayali practice of " sambandham" though the numbers contacting such alliances were very low. Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 355]
Iyers who migrated to the
Palakkad districtfrom the Cholakingdom to serve in the temples of Kerala are known as Palakkad Iyers. From the very beginning, the Palakkad Iyers were endowed with grants of land and were pretty well-off compared to the Travancore and Cochin Iyers. They also officiated in templesas priests. The Palakkad Iyers resided in "agrahārams".Cite web|url=http://kbspalakkad.org/palakkad/palakkad.htm|title=Palakkad District|accessdate=2008-08-27|publisher=Kerala Brahmana Sabha|author=] Those who established themselves in the interior parts of Kerala lived in houses known as "Madom".Cite web|url=http://www.samooham.com/|title=Ernakulam Gramajana Samooham Home Page|accessdate=2008-08-27|publisher=Ernakulam Gramajana Samooham|author=]
The Palakkad Iyers were greatly affected by the
Kerala Agrarian Relations Bill, 1957(repealed in 1961 and substituted by The Kerala Land Reforms Act, 1963) which abolished the tenancysystem.Cite web|url=http://niyamasabha.org/codes/bus_1_1.htm|title=Landmark Legislations - Land Reforms|accessdate=2008-08-27|publisher=Kerala Legislative Assembly|author=]
According to the Buddhist scripture
Mahavamsa, the presence of Brahmins have been recorded in Sri Lankaas early as 500BC when the first migrations from the Indian mainland supposedly took place. Currently, Brahmins are an important constituent of the Sri Lankan Tamilminority.cite book | title=Sri Lankan Tamil society and politics| last=Civattampi| first=K.| year=1995| pages=3| publisher=New Century Book House| location=Madras| id=ISBN 812340395X ] Ritualizing on the Boundaries, Pg 3] Tamil Brahmins are believed to have played a historic role in the formation of the Jaffna Kingdom.cite book | title=A critical history of Jaffna| last=Gnanaprakasar| first=S.|year=1928|pages=96| publisher=Gnanaprakasa Yantra Salai|id=ISBN 8120616863, ISBN 9788120616868] Pathmanathan, Pg 1-13]
South India, Iyers have also migrated to and settled in places in North India. There are significantly large Iyer communities in Mumbai,Ritualizing on the Boundaries, Pg 86] Ritualizing on the Boundaries, Pg 12] Kolkata, Orissaand Delhi.Migration and Urbanization among Tamil Brahmans, Pg 16] Migration and Urbanization among Tamil Brahmans, Pg 17] These migrations, which commenced during the British rule, were often undertaken in search of better prospects and contributed to the prosperity of the community.
In recent times Iyers have also migrated in significant numbers to the
United Kingdom, Europeand the U.S. in search of better fortune.Migration and Urbanization among Tamil Brahmans, Pg 18] Migration and Urbanization among Tamil Brahmans, Pg 19] Migration and Urbanization among Tamil Brahmans, Pg 20] Migration and Urbanization among Tamil Brahmans, Pg 21]
Religious practices, ceremonies and festivals
Iyer rituals comprise rites as described in
Hindu scriptures such as Apastamba Sutra attributed to the Hindu sage Apastamba.Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 268] The most important rites are the "Shodasa Samaskāras" or the 16 duties.Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 270] Although many of the rites and rituals followed in antiquity are no longer practised, some have been retained.Cite web|date= August 8, 2003|url=http://www.commsp.ee.ic.ac.uk/~pancham/Articles/The%20Sixteen%20Samskaras.pdf|title=The Sixteen Samskaras Part-I|accessdate=2008-08-27|publisher=|author=.] Cite web|url=http://www.kamakoti.org/hindudharma/part16/chap8.htm|title=Names of Samskaras|accessdate=2008-08-27|publisher=kamakoti.org|author=]
South Indiaperforming the Sandhya Vandhanam, 1913]
Iyers are initiated into rituals at the time of birth. In ancient times, rituals used to be performed when the baby was being separated from mother's umbilical cord. This ceremony is known as "Jātakarma".Cite web|url=http://www.subhakariam.com/samskara/jatakarma.htm|title=Jatha karma|accessdate=2008-09-02|publisher=|author=Rajagopala Ghanapatigal] Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 272] However, this practice is no longer observed. At birth, a
horoscopeis made for the child based on the position of the stars. The child is then given a ritual name.cite news | last= Austin| first=Lisette | title= Welcoming baby; Birth rituals provide children with a sense of community, culture | date= May 21, 2005| url=http://www.parentmap.com/content/view/498/276/ | work =Parentmap | accessdate = 2008-08-27] On the child's birthday, a ritual is performed to ensure longevity. This ritual is known as " Ayushya Homam". This ceremony is held on the child's birthday reckoned as per the Tamil calendar based on the position of the " nakshatras" or stars and not the Gregorian calendar. The child's first birthday is the most important and is the time when the baby is formally initiated by piercing the ears of the boy or girl. From that day onwards a girl is expected to wear earrings.
A second initiation (for the male child in particular) follows when the child crosses the age of seven.An Universal History, Pg 107] Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 273] This is the "
Upanayana" ceremony during which a Brahmana is said to be reborn.Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 277] A three-piece cotton thread is installed around the torsoof the child encompassing the whole length of his body from the left shoulderto the right hip.Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 274] Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 278] The Upanayana ceremony of initiation is solely performed for the members of the " dvija" or twice-born castes, generally when the individual is between 7 and 16 years of age.Cite web|url=http://www.gurjari.net/ico/Mystica/html/upanayanam.htm|title=Upanayanam|accessdate=2008-09-02|publisher=gurjari.net|author=] Cite web|url=http://www.boloji.com/hinduism/047.htm|title=Customs and Classes of Hinduism|date= March 2, 2003|accessdate=2008-09-02|publisher=Boloji Media Inc.|author=Neria Harish Hebbar] In ancient times, the Upanayana was often considered as the ritual which marked the commencement of a boy's education, Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 276] which in those days, comprised mostly of the study of the Vedas. However, with the Brahmins taking to other vocationsthan priesthood, this initiation has become more of a symbolic ritual. The neophytewas expected to perform the " Sandhya Vandanam" on a regular basisCastes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 313] and utter a prescribed set of prayers, three times a day: dawn, mid-day, and dusk. The most sacred and prominent of the prescribed set of prayers is the Gayatri Mantra,Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 312] which is as sacred to the Hindus as the Kalimato the Muslimsand Ahunwar to the Zoroastrians. Once a year, Iyers change their sacred thread. This ritual is exclusive to South Indian Brahmins and the day is commemorated in Tamil Nadu as "Āvani Avittam".cite book | title=South Indian Hindu festivals and traditions| last=Jagannathan| first=Maithily| date=2005| pages=93| publisher=Abhinav Publications| id=ISBN 8170174155, 9788170174158] cite book | title=Fasts and Festivals of India| last=Verma| first=Manish| date=2002| pages=41| publisher=Diamond Pocket Books (P) Ltd.| id=ISBN 817182076X, ISBN 9788171820764]
Other important ceremonies for Iyers include the rites for the deceased. Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 299] Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 300] Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 301] All Iyers are cremated according to Vedic rites, usually within a day of the individual's death.Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 298] Cite web|url=http://www.beliefnet.com/story/78/story_7894_2.html|title=Transition Rituals|accessdate=2008-09-02|publisher=Beliefnet Inc.|author=] The death rites include a 13-day ceremony, and regular "
Tarpanam"Cite web|url=http://www.vadhyar.com/Tarpanam.php|title=Tharpanam|accessdate=2008-09-02|publisher=vadhyar.com|author=] (performed every month thereafter, on Amavasyaday, or New Moon Day), for the ancestors.Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 303] Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 304] There is also a yearly "shrārddha", that must be performed.Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 305] These rituals are expected to be performed only by male descendants of the deceased. Married men who perform this ritual must be accompanied by their wives. The women are symbolically important in the ritual to give a "consent" to all the proceedings in it.Cite web|url=http://www.hindugateway.com/library/rituals/|title=The Journey of a Lifebody|accessdate=2008-08-27|publisher=Hindu Gateway|author=David M. Knipe]
Iyers celebrate almost all Hindu festivals like
Deepavali, Navratri, Pongal, Vinayaka Chathurthi, Janmaashtami, Tamil New Year, Sivarathriand Karthika Deepam. However, the most important festival which is exclusive to Brahmins of South India is the "Āvani Avittam" festival.Cite web|url=http://www.panchangam.com/avani.htm|title=Avani Avittam|accessdate=2008-08-27|publisher=K.G.Corporate Consultants|author=]
A typical Iyer wedding consists of "Sumangali Prārthanai" (Hindu prayers for prosperous married life) , "Nāndi" (homage to ancestors), "Nischayadhārtham" (Engagement) and "Mangalyadharanam" (tying the knot).Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 285] The main events of an Iyer marriage include "Vratam" (fasting), "Kasi Yatra" (pilgrimage to Kasi), "Oonjal" (Swing), "Kanyadanam" (placing the bride in the groom's care), "Mangalyadharanam", "Pānigrahanam" Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 286] and "Saptapathi" (or "seven steps" - the final and most important stage wherein the bride takes seven steps supported by the groom's palms thereby finalizing their union). This is usually followed by "Nalangu", which is a casual and informal event. Cite web|url=http://www.sawnet.org/weddings/tamil_vedic.html|title=A South Indian Wedding – The Rituals and the Rationale|accessdate=2008-08-27|publisher=Sawnet|author=Padma Vaidyanath] Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 290]
Lifestyle and culture
Iyers generally lead orthodox lives and adhere steadfastly to their customs and traditions. However, of recent, they have started abandoning their traditional duties as temple priests for more secular vocations, causing contemporary Iyers to be more flexible than their ancestors.Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 308] Iyers follow the Grihya Sutras of
Apastambaand Baudhayanaapart from the Manusmriti. The society is patriarchal but not feudal.cite book | title=Yajur-Veda: Apastamba-Grhya-Sutra| last=Pandey| first=U. C. | date=1971]
Iyers are generally
vegetarian. Some abjure onion and garlic on the grounds that they activate certain base senses.Cite web|url=http://www.icsi.berkeley.edu/~snarayan/anthro-pap/subsection3_4_1.html|title=The Practice of "madi"|accessdate=2008-08-27|publisher=ICSI Berkeley|author=] Cow milk and milk products were approved.An Universal History, Pg 104] They were required to avoid alcohol and tobacco.cite book | title=The Laws of Manu| last=Doniger| first=Wendy| coauthors=Brian K. Smith| date=1991| publisher=Penguin Books]
Iyers follow elaborate purification rituals, both of self and the house. Men are forbidden from performing their "sixteen duties" while Women are forbidden from cooking food without having a purificatory bath in the morning. Food is to be consumed only after making an offering to the deities.Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 323] The bathing was considered sufficiently purifying only if it confirmed to the rules of "madi".Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Pg 309] The word "
madi" is used by Tamil Brahmins to indicate that a person is bodily pure.In order to practice madi, the brahmin had to wear only clothes which had been recently washed and dried, and the clothes should remain untouched by any person who was not "madi". Only after taking bath in cold water, and after wearing such clothes, would the person be in a state of "madi".cite book | title=Living Traditions in Contemporary Contexts: The Madhva Matha of Udipi| last=Rao| first=Vasudeva| pages=66| publisher=Orient Longman] This practice of "madi" is followed by Iyers even in modern times, before participating in any kind of religious ceremony.
Until the turn of the last century, an Iyer widow was never allowed to remarry.Home Life in India, Pg 65] Once her husband dies, an Iyer woman had to tonsure her head.Home Life in India, Pg 66] She had to remove the "kunkumam" or the vermilion mark on her forehead, and was required to smear her forehead with the
sacred ashes. All these practices have, however, greatly dimimished with the enactment of reforms.Brahmin Women, Pg 171]
Iyer men traditionally wear "veshtis" or "
dhotis" which cover them from waist to foot. These are made of cottonand sometimes silk. "Veshtis" are worn in different styles. Those worn in typical brahminical style are known as "panchakacham"(from the sanskritterms "pancha" and "gajam" meaning "five yards" as the length of the "panchakacham" is five yards in contrast to the "veshtis" used in daily life which are four or eight cubits long). They sometimes wrap their shoulders with a single piece of cloth known as "angavastram" (body-garment). In earlier times, Iyer men who performed austerities also draped their waist or chests with deer skin or grass.
The traditional Iyer woman is draped in a nine yard saree, also known as "madisār".Justice Party.Cite web|url=http://www.tamilnation.org/caste/nambi.htm|title=Caste & the Tamil Nation:The Origin of the Non-Brahmin Movement, 1905-1920|accessdate=2008-09-03|publisher=Koodal Publishers|year=1980|author=K. Nambi Arooran|work=Tamil renaissance and Dravidian nationalism 1905-1944] In the early days,the Justice Party functioned on a principled high-ground as a representative organization of non-Brahmins of the
Madras Presidencyand campaigning for their grievances to be addressed and for the fulfillment of their education and monetary needs. However, with the passage of time, the movement soon led to a power struggle between the Brahmins and other upper castes like the Mudaliars, Pillais and Chettiars. Periyar, who took over as Justice Party President in the 1940s, changed its name to Dravida Kazhagam, and formulated the view that Tamil Brahminswere Aryansas opposed to a majority of Tamils who were Dravidianbased on Robert Caldwell's writings. cite news | last= Selvaraj| first= Sreeram | title= 'Periyar was against Brahminism, not Brahmins' | date= April 30, 2007| url =| work =Rediff News | accessdate = 2008-08-19] The ensuing anti-Brahmin propaganda and the rising unpopularity of the RajajiGovernment left an indelible mark on the Tamil Brahmin community ending their political aspirations forever. In the 1960s the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam(roughly translated as "Organisation for Progress of Dravidians") and its subgroups gained political ground on this platform forming state ministries, thereby wrenching control from the Indian National Congress, in which Iyers at that time were holding important party positions. Today, apart from a few exceptions, Iyers have virtually disappeared from the political arena.cite book | title=Towards a Non-Brahmin Millennium: From Iyothee Thass to Periyar | last=Geetha| first=V.| date=2001| publisher=Bhatkal & Sen| id=ISBN 8185604371,ISBN 978-8185604374] cite news | last= Lal| first= Amrith | title= Rise of caste in Dravida land | date= May 7, 2001| url =| work = Indian Express | accessdate = 2008-08-19] cite news | last= Gautier| first= Francois | title= Are Brahmins the Dalits of today? | date= May 23, 2006| url =http://in.rediff.com/news/2006/may/23franc.htm | work =Rediff News | accessdate = 2008-08-19] Cite web|url=http://www.ambedkar.org/News/hl/Brahmins%20and%20Eelamists.htm|title=Brahmins and Eelamists|accessdate=2008-08-19|publisher=ambedkar.org|author=V. Thangavelu] cite book | title=Dalit Visions: The Anti-caste Movement and the Construction of an Indian Identity| last=Omvedt| first=Gail| year=2006| pages=95| publisher=Orient Longman| id=ISBN 8125028951, ISBN 9788125028956] cite journal | author=Lloyd I. Rudolph| title=Urban Life and Populist Radicalism: Dravidian Politics in Madras| journal=The Journal of Asian Studies| year=1961| volume=20| issue=3| page=283-297] cite book | title=The Modernity of Tradition: political development in India| last=I. Rudolph| first=Lloyd| second author=Suzanne Hoeber Rudolph| date=1969| pages=78| publisher=University of Chicago| id=ISBN 0226731375] cite book | title=The Renewal of the Priesthood: Modernity and Traditionalism in a South Indian Temple| last=Fuller| first=C. J.| date=2003| pages=117| publisher=Princeton University Press| id=ISBN 0691116571]
In 2006, the Tamil Nadu government took the decision to appoint non-Brahmin priests in Hindu temples in order to curb Brahmin ecclesiastical domination.cite news | last= | first= | title= Tamil Nadu breaks caste barrier | date=
May 16, 2006| url =http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/4986616.stm | work =BBC News | accessdate = 2008-09-06] . This created a huge controversy. Violence broke out in March 2008 when a non-Brahmin "oduvar" or reciter of Tamil idylls, empowered by the Government of Tamil Nadu, tried to make his way into the "sanctum sanctorum" of the Nataraja temple at Chidambaram. cite news | last= | first= | title= Tension at Chidambaram temple | date= March 2, 2008| url =http://news.webindia123.com/news/Articles/India/20080302/899005.html | work =Web India 123 | accessdate = 2008-09-06]
Relations with other communities
The legacy of Iyers have often been marred by accusations of
racismand counter-racism against them by non-Brahmins and vice versa.
Quotation|It was found that prior to Independence, the Pallars were never allowed to enter the residential areas of the caste Hindus particularly of the Brahmins. Whenever a Brahmin came out of his house, no Scheduled Caste person was expected to come in his vicinity as it would pollute his sanctity and if it happened by mistake, he would go back home cursing the latter. He would come out once again only after taking a bath and making sure that no such thing would be repeated.
However, as a mark of protest a few Pallars of this village deliberately used to appear before the Brahmin again and again. By doing so the Pallars forced the Brahmin to get back home once again to take a bath drawing water from deep well.Cite web|url=http://www.tamilnation.org/caste/ramaiah.htm#Untouchability_in_villages|title=Untouchability in villages|accessdate=2008-08-19|publisher=tamilnation.org|author=A. Ramiah|work=Untouchability and Inter Caste Relations in Rural India: The Case of Southern Tamil villages]
Sir T. Muthuswamy Iyer, the first Indian judge of the
Madras High Court, once made the controversially casteist remark:
Grievances and alleged instances of
discriminationby Brahmins are believed to be the main factors which fuelled the Dravidian Movement. With the dawn of the 20th century, and the rapid penetration of western education and western ideas, there was a rise in consciousness amongst the lower castes who felt that rightswhich were legitimately theirs were being denied to them. This, in combination with the depressed economicand socialconditions of non-Brahmins, led the non-Brahmins to agitate and form the Justice Partyin 1916, which later became the Dravidar Kazhagam. The Justice Party banked on vehement anti-Hindu and anti-Brahmin propaganda to ease Brahmins out of their privileged positions. Gradually, the non-Brahmin replaced the Brahmin in every sphere and destroyed the monopolyover educationand the administrative services which the Brahmin had previously held.cite news | last= Warrier | first= Shobha | title= 'Education is the means of social mobility' | date= May 30, 2006| url =http://in.rediff.com/news/2006/may/30spec.htm | work =Rediff News | accessdate = 2008-08-19]
However, with the destruction of Brahmin monopoly over the services and introduction of adequate
representationfor other communities, anti-Brahmin feelings did not subside. On the contrary, they were fully exploited by politicians, who often indulged in anti-Brahmin rhetoricprimarily in order to get non-Brahmin votes.cite news | last= | first= | title= Drive out anti-Tamil evil forces: DMK | date= February 16, 2008| url =http://chennaionline.com/colnewsnew/newsitem.asp?NEWSID=%7B78F9F6AF-607D-44B3-8E54-C7D3152CA09F%7D&CATEGORYNAME=Chennai | work =Chennai Online News | accessdate = 2008-08-19] Cite web|url=http://www.blogs.ivarta.com/india-usa-blog-column42.htm|title= Aryan vs Dravidian — Lord Rama vs E V Ramaswamy ??? |accessdate=2008-08-19|publisher=India Varta|year=2007|author=V. Sundaram, I. A. S., Retd.] With the passage of time, they reached such a pitch that even individuals who had previously been a part of the Dravidian Movement began to cry foul. Deprived of opportunities, Tamil Brahminsbegan to migrate en masse to other states in India and foreign countries in search of livelihood.There were frequent allegations of casteism and racism against Brahmins very similar to the ones made by the lower castes against them in the decades before independence.
However, the very concept of "Brahmin atrocities" is refuted by some Tamil Brahmin historians who are keen to dismiss it as fictitious. They argue that allegations of casteism against Tamil Brahmins have been exaggerated and that even prior to the rise of the Dravida Kazhagam, a significant section of Tamil Brahmin society was liberal and anti-casteist. The
Temple Entry Proclamationpassed by the princely state of Travancore which gave people of all castes the right to enter Hindu temples in the princely state was due to the efforts of the Dewan of Travancore, Sir C. P. Ramaswamy Iyer who was an Iyer.cite book | title=RSS and Hindu Nationalism | url=| last=Jayaprasad| first=K.| year=1991| pages=138| publisher=Deep & Deep Publications| id=] Dalitleader and founder of political party Pudiya Tamizhagam, Dr.Krishnasamy admits that the Anti-Brahmin Movement had not succeeded up to the expectations and that there continues to be as much discrimination of Dalits as had been before.
Contemptuous attitude towards Tamil language and culture
Another important accusation hurled upon Iyers was that they were Sanskritists who entertained a distorted and contemptuous atitude towards Tamil language, culture and civilization.Zvelebil, Pg 197] [P.V.Manickam Naicker, in his "The Tamil Alphabet and its Mystic Aspect" writes: "At least one of them is explicit in his endeavour to establish page after page and chapter after chapter, untainted Aryan pedigree for the Brahmins and Brahmins alone among the South-Indians. As such, he has naturally no scruples to say that the Tamils have nothing excellent or high which can be claimed as their own. Whatever is bad in them is their heritage and whatever good in them they owe to Sanskrit]
However, a detailed study of the history of Tamil literature proves this accusation wrong.Companion Studies to the History of Tamil Literature,Pg 216] The renowned
Dravidologist Kamil Zvelebil, in his book "Companion Studies to the History of Tamil Literature", even goes to the extent of saying that the Brahmin was chosen as a scapegoat to answer for the decline of Tamil civilization and culture in the medieval and post-medieval periods. Companion Studies to the History of Tamil Literature,Pg 212] Companion Studies to the History of Tamil Literature,Pg 213] Agathiar, usually identified with the legendary Vedic sage Agastyais credited with compiling the first rules of grammar of the Tamil language.Companion Studies to the History of Tamil Literature,Appendix III, The Case of Akattiyam; Sanskrit and Tamil;Kankam, Pg 235 - 260] . Tolkappiar who wrote Tolkappiam, the oldest extant literary work in Tamil is believed to be a Tamil Brahmin and a disciple of Agathiar.The Tamil Plutarch, Pg 107] Moreover, individuals like U. V. Swaminatha Iyerand Subramanya Bharathihave made invaluable contributions to the Dravidian Movement.cite book | title=Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India| url=http://books.google.co.in/books?id=6OacVAwJsSAC&pg=PA143&lpg=PA143&source=web&ots=4CsUJ5fPk3&sig=bHz5LW3zHkEexvYri2K36Lu8sLg&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=9&ct=result| last=B. Dirks| first=Nicholas| year=1996| pages=143| publisher=Orient Longman| id=ISBN 8178240726] cite book | title=Conversion to Modernities: The Globalization of Christianity | url=http://books.google.co.in/books?id=P6BhSU8DbMcC&pg=PA131&lpg=PA131&source=web&ots=7ffpIk0YDk&sig=SMoakg6Ih6NSym7jnR7lxr0GdoE&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=3&ct=result| last=van der Veer| first=Peter| year=1996| pages=131| publisher=Routledge| id=ISBN 0415912741] Parithimar Kalaignarwas the first to campaign for the recognition of Tamil as a classical language. cite news | last= Saravanan | first= T. | title= Tamil scholar's house to be made a memorial | date= September 12, 2006| url=http://www.hindu.com/2006/09/12/stories/2006091207860200.htm | work =The Hindu: Tamil Nadu | accessdate = 2008-08-10]
George L. Hartin a speech in 1997 on Tamil, Brahmins, & Sanskrit rubbishes the claims of anti Brahmins that Brahmins favored Sanskrit to Tamil.Cite web|url=http://www.tamilnation.org/forum/aryan/index.htm|title=Caste and the Tamil Nation|accessdate=2008-09-03|publisher=tamilnation.org]
quote|Here are some facts:
1. Brahmins are only 2% of the population, yet they have contributed much more to Tamil literature than their number would indicate.
2. The purest (i.e. least Sanskritized) Tamil was written by the medieval Saiva Brahmin commentators on Tamil. For example, Parimelazakar translates the yoga asanas into Tamil, and the only way anyone can figure out what he is saying is to read the sub commentary (by Gopalakrishnamachari), who gives the original Sanskrit terms. You will find no Tamil any purer than that of Naccinarkkiniyar et al.
3. Brahmins have contributed to Tamil from Sangam times. Kapilar is one of the greatest Tamil poets.
4. Yes, of course Brahmins have had their own political agenda to push. They have been responsible for many things that I feel are entirely unconscionable. But is this any different from the other high castes? I have heard many many stories of high non-Brahmin castes killing and abusing Dalits. You can't blame the Brahmins for this.
5. You cannot blame the Brahmins for Sanskritizing Tamil. Tenkalai Aiyengars often use Tamil words where most non-Brahmins use Sanskrit ones. The Sanskrtization of Tamil is a very old process and cannot be understood except in an all-South-Asian context. The Bengali used in Bangladesh is highly Sanskritized, and the Muslims are quite proud of their language. The fact is, Sanskrit was the lingua franca of South Asia for intellectual purposes, much as Latin was in Europe. Buddhists used it, Jains used it, much as Spinoza, a Jew, wrote his philosophical treatises in Latin. The Tamil of Ramalinga Swamigal, a non-Brahmin, is highly Sanskritized.
Portrayal in popular media
Papanasam Sivan) who launches a crusade against untouchability and campaigns for social reform in his 1939 film "Thyagabhoomi"|thumb|right|150px]
There have been extensive portrayals of Iyers in popular media, most of them, positive and a few negative.Fact|date=September 2008 This is because despite the fact that Tamil Brahmins form just 3% of the Tamil population their distinct culture and unique practices and strange habits make them strong targets of criticism,both positive and negative.
Brahmins have been mentioned for the first time in the works of Sangam poets.Krishnaswami Aiyangar, Pg 47] During the early Christian era, Brahmin saints have been frequently praised for their efforts in combating