Articles- THE HINDU —



In the eighteenth century, Reddys were the kaniatchis share-holders of Nattarsampattu. Today, they have almost completely deserted the village. Perhaps they found the village to be an unattractive habitat once its fertility started declining. Or, may be it happened the other way round. The Reddys and other resourceful people of the village left first, either pushed by the disastrous revenue policies of the British administration, or tempted by the lure of the growing towns, and this desertion by the people with resources led to the neglect of the erys and decline of the region. In any case, the impression of decay is felt most strongly in the Reddy street of the village.

This east-west street lying on the north bank of the ery had 8 Reddy houses, most of which today can be recognised only in their massive ruins. Only 2 Reddy houses are occupied today, and many of the earning members of these 2 households also work in the cities. Some of the descendants of the Reddys of Nattarsampattu still retain an interest in the village, and occasionally a Reddy family can be seen coming to the village, to offer prayers to their ancestral deity in the Amman temple, or to have a look at their ancestral abode. But this absentee interest of the Reddys is hardly any use to the village, and could possibly be a further drain on its limited resources.

(click on map to enlarge)

The Kanakkupillai and the Tookery also had their houses on the Reddy street. Nobody knows what happened to the Tookery. But the Kanakkupillai, who is apparently a descendant of the Kanakkupillai family of the eighteenth century, still lives in his ancestral house. The house, however, has degenerated to a dilapidated small hut of perhaps 12 feet by 30 feet dimensions. This hut, which stands on the original extensive site stretching over 1,824 square yards, today does not even have a proper roof, and is covered largely with waste plastics. This is the condition of a person whose office used to fetch 3.04 percent of the gross produce of Nattarsampattu for his ancestors, and also entailed a maniyam of more than 4 hectares.

On the ancient site of the Pallikudam, on the head of the Reddy street, there now stands a fairly big shed, which serves as the school, and the centre for the preparation and distribution of the mid-day meals under the nutrition programmes of the Tamil Nadu government. Opposite the school is the tiny building of the Perumal temple, which seems to be permanently locked.


The other street of the village, the Pettai street, lies a little south of the Reddy street, below the ery, and runs east to west, parallel but opposite to the former. In the eighteenth century, it must have accommodated the houses of the Idaiyars, the Chettys, the artisans, and also of the Vannan, the Navitan and the Panisevar. This street, which thus must have hummed with all sorts of industrial and professional activities, today looks only slightly less deserted than the street of the Reddys.

Most of the Chettys would have left the village long ago. The villagers know of only one Chetty house, which lies deserted on the eastern end of the street. The Idaiyars are still there, living in a number of huts on the southern side of the street. The houses of the carpenter, the goldsmith, the washerman and the Navitan can still be recognised. The goldsmith, it seems, was around till recently. His relatively big and better constructed house stands deserted next to the Chetty house.

In the eighteenth century, the Navitan had the biggest house-site on the Pettai street, occupying an area of more than 2,000 square yards. The house on this site was small even then, covering only about a hundred square yards. But today the house has shrunk to almost nothing, consisting of merely four poles stuck on four corners of a small patch, and covered with some sacks. A fairly big area around this covered patch, however, still remains in the name of the Navitan. The washerman had a relatively smaller house-site, of only 208 square yards. The condition of his house today is as bad as that of the Navitan.

The only house on this street which seems to have resisted decay and desolation is that of the carpenter. The extended family of the carpenter has diversified into a variety of smithy activities. Besides carpentry, the family also does some blacksmithy. And, one of the members of the family has started making bronze castings. This diversity of activities and interaction with the town have probably been instrumental in making possible the continued stay of this skilled family within the village. In the eighteenth century the carpenter’s house had 164 square yards of covered area, and a backyard of 576 square yards. The backyard has now been covered with a number of small sheds which are used as workshops for the varied activities of the family. Except for this one family, the village of Nattarsampattu today would have looked completely deserted. Yet, in the eighteenth century, the whole of Nattarsampattu, and especially this Pettai street, would have given the impression of a busy workshop, that the carpenter house alone manages to give today.

The major industrial people of Nattarsampattu, the 13 kaikkolar weavers, seem to have vanished without a trace. People in the village are frankly surprised on being told that once upon a time there used to be so many weavers here. They have no idea on what street they could have lived. They are not even willing to hazard a guess as to where the weavers would live if they were to settle now in the village.

It seems that the weavers and other skilled industrial people like the Chunnambukkaran had to desert in the immediate wake of the British onslaught on the village life of south India. It is known that till the end of the eighteenth century, people involved in various kinds of industrial activities constituted between 25 to 30 percent of the population. However, this percentage dropped to just around 10 percent within a few decades of the conquest of any area by the British. The weavers of Nattarsampattu became victims of this particularly deleterious impact of the British administration on industrially occupied Indians. This perhaps explains why Nattarsampattu today looks much more desolate and deserted than purely agricultural villages like Ullavur and Pappankuzhi.


Nattarsampattu survives today only on the strength of its Harijan population. They are the ones who look after the lands and thus carry out most of the productive work of the village. In the eighteenth century, the 10 Harijan households inhabited 2.5 acres of land on the banks of the main ery, south-east of the Reddy street, near the Amman temple and the mandaiveli. Today, however, they seem to have been pushed over the banks of the ery, out of their original habitation, which was next to the Oor and the temple.

This new colony has two north-south streets, with almost a hundred households. It is the most vibrant part of the village today. All around the colony can be seen men and women busily involved in various activities connected with cultivation and harvesting. Given the poor state of the erys, and lack of any other sources of irrigation, the lands of Nattarsampattu these days could not be producing much of anything. But, in spite of this scarcity of produce and resources, the colony looks neat and alive, untouched by the sense of decay that pervades the rest of the village.

Streets in the colony are clean and wide, and most of the houses, made of mud and thatch, are laid out on a fairly grand scale. A typical house consists of two to three rooms, with a thatched roof, which slopes down to almost 3 feet above the ground. This low roof would make the interior comfortable in the hot and dusty summers. Outside the rooms, there is invariably a narrow verandah, covered by the low roof, running all along the length of the house. The wide courtyard often has another small thatch for the cattle, and occasionally one more for the implements. These carefully planned and neatly kept houses, along with the bright gleam in the eyes of most of the women in the colony, give rise to a hope that all is not yet lost in the villages.

Among these thatched houses of the Harijans the government is now building some brick houses, as a measure of welfare. These poorly constructed box-like structures look incongruous in the otherwise neat and grand Colony. These structures can of course be of no use to the inhabitants. But they take them, and promptly extend them on all sides with their usual thatched structures, to convert these boxes into livable houses. Instead of burdening these people with these unseemly buildings, which are an insult to the ingenuity of the Nattarsampattu villager, who not so long ago created an oasis in the wilderness, it would have been much more appropriate to explore ways of restoring their resource base so that their ingenuity may find fresh avenues of expression. It is the resourceful ingenuity of its people that created the prosperity of the Nattarsampattu of the eighteenth century. This alone can recreate Nattarsampattu again.

J. K. Bajaj and T. M. Mukundan
Centre for Policy Studies
April 1991