Articles- THE HINDU —



Last time we talked about the wide streets and the huge houses of the eighteenth century Pappankuzhi, laid out in front of the picturesque location of the Adikesava Perumal. And we also tried to convey some sense of the beauty and prosperity of the new Pappankuzhi that the Vanniars of the village seem to have rebuilt in the image of the old. But the Pappankuzhi of the eighteenth century had something more than the big houses and the wide streets. From the palm-leaf records it seems that Pappankuzhi then was almost a state in itself, budgeting for and managing all its affairs on its own.

Papppankuzhi of the 1770’s maintained an extensive establishment consisting of political functionaries, like the nattar; militia and police persons, like the palayakkarar and the taliar; the accountancy people, like the kanakkupillai and the alavukkarar; the irrigation men, like the kambukatti; the cultural institutions and functionaries, like the temples, the devadasis, the pandarams, the musicians, the teachers, and the village doctors; the artisan households, like those of the carpenter, the black-smith, and the gold-smith; and other service households, like those of the barber, and the washerman.

Not all these functionaries were actually residing in Pappankuzhi. As we have seen, besides the 8 brahman, 5 vanniar, 5 harijan, 4 idaiyar, and 2 tookery households, Pappankuzhi had only a barber, a washerman, a carpenter, a gold-smith, a kambukatti and 4 postmen. But the village budgeted and paid for the services of many other functionaries, whose services were probably shared with other villages in the neighbourhood.

A quarter of the considerable taxable produce of Pappankuzhi was set aside for maintenance of this establishment, and also for participation in the cultural life of the region, through contributions for the upkeep of the larger temples, and important scholars of the region. Requirements of all these functions were budgeted in detail and for each of them a fixed proportion of the produce was deducted from the harvest.

From the produce of Pappankuzhi, which amounted to about 300 tonnes of paddy per annum on the average, as much as 3.5 percent was deducted towards her contribution to the major temples of the region, and another 1 percent for the local temples of the village. About 2.5 percent of the produce was set aside for the kanakkupillai, who did not reside in Pappankuzhi but had a house-site there; 2.6 percent went for the kanugo and the deshmukh, who probably were part of the extra-local political authority. The palayakkarar, the taliar and the nattar got 0.7 percent each.

There was a deduction of 1.6 percent for the artisans, and another 0.65 percent for the gold-smith. The kambukatti responsible for the upkeep of the ery got 0.6 percent. The barber and the cow-keeper got 0.3 percent each. The washerman and the grain-measurer got 0.2. Then there were small deductions of 0.09 percent each for the potter, the vedavritti, the panjangam brahman, and also the doctor, but all these functionaries almost certainly got deductions from other villages also, since none of them was actually resident in Pappankuzhi. In addition to these there was a large deduction of 8.35 percent for agricultural labourers, who probably included some outsiders helping with cultivation in the village.

Besides the deductions from the produce, the various functionaries of the village establishment also enjoyed pieces of revenue-free lands, known as the maniyam. About 1/3rd of the cultivated lands of Pappankuzhi were maniyam lands, and each of the functionaries mentioned above had some share in them. Thus about 100 tonnes of the 300 tonnes of the annual produce of Pappankuzhi came from revenue free maniyam lands, and this also contributed towards the various services and functions of the village, besides about 75 tonnes of produce which was deducted for this purpose.

The village of Pappankuzhi thus maintained an establishment that performed all the functions that are supposed to be performed by the state. It does not mean that Pappankuzhi was a self-sufficient republic, complete in itself, and without any concern for the larger polity of the region. As we have seen, Pappankuzhi in fact had to share many of the administrative and welfare functionaries with her neighbours. It also made substantial contributions towards the upkeep of the cultural life of the region. Varadaraja Perumal of Kanchipuram, Narsimha Perumal of Singaperumal Kovil, Bhashyakarar of Sriperumbudur, Vedagirishwarar of Thirukkalugukunram, and Marundishwarar of Thirukkacchiyur, all received a significant share from the produce of Pappankuzhi. Pappankuzhi consequently must have retained serious interest in the larger polity of the region. But Pappankuzhi was certainly self-sufficient unto itself in the sense that her people budgeted and arranged for all the administrative, cultural and welfare services that they needed.

Much of this budgeting and provisioning had perhaps become customary in a polity that had been structured long ago in the past. And, it is possible that the people of Pappankuzhi had no control on how much they paid for what functions, and to whom, all this being pre-determined by long-standing custom. But even then, the fact of providing for the various state functions, and arranging for them from their immediate neighbourhood, would have given the people of Pappankuzhi definite control on the quality of services they obtained.


The new Pappankuzhi retains the custom of supporting village functionaries through deductions from the produce of the village. Today 2 washermen, 1 barber, 1 wocchun, a temple functionary, 1 carpenter, 1 vettiyan, who looks after the irrigation, and 1 taliar are being supported, to some extent, through contributions from the cultivating families of the village. But these contributions are largely nominal. Thus the washermen get 1 marakkal of grain from each cultivating family of the village, the barber gets 1.5 marakkal, the wocchun gets just 3 padis from the families that can afford it. A marakkal is 1/12 th of a kalam, which measure in 1770’s perhaps equaled 1.25 quintals of today, and 1 padi is 1/8th of a marakkal. The vettiyan and taliar both get one bundle of unthreshed harvest from every acre of cultivated land. The carpenter gets relatively larger contribution, he is paid 8 marakkals per plough per year. This is all that remains of the system of deductions which in 1770’s totaled up to more than 75 tonnes of grains in an average year, in addition to the contributions of the maniyam lands.

But the village functionaries of Pappankuzhi probably do not get even this reduced share in the harvest of the village. These contributions now are largely voluntary, the villagers say that those families who can afford it do so, in the years of relative prosperity. The deductions of 1770’s, on the other hand, were part of the political economy of the village, and there was no element of voluntarism involved in them.

Though Pappankuzhi looks rather prosperous when compared to other villages of the region, it does not have the richness of life of the Pappankuzhi of 1770’s. With the hard-working ways of the Vanniars, and the new inputs of modern agriculture, Pappankuzhi of today is probably able to generate a total income which is equivalent to the 300 tonnes of produce of the 1770’s. But perhaps the material resources alone are not enough to regenerate the self-confidence, self-sufficiency, and the grandeur of the Pappankuzhi of old.

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