As you move further into the village of Siruvanjur, beyond the houses of the Muslim and the Valluvan, you come across the house of the Navitan. This was another of the relatively bigger houses of the village. According to the palm-leaf records, it covered an area of 208 square yards and, in addition, had a backyard of 840 square yards. This rather big site is now neatly fenced around with thorny vegetation, and is still occupied by the Navitan family. In front of the house there is a big unlined pond, which the villagers refer to as the Ambattan Kuttai. This is the first of the 9 kulams and kuttais, which lie within and around the residential areas of the village.
The Ambattan Kuttai is one of the bigger kuttais inside the village, but it seems to be relatively shallower. It had no water when we visited the village, but even the empty pond provided a certain dignity and sense of affluence to the isolated houses around it. On the west of the Ambattan Kuttai is the Mandaiveli, the cattle ground, which in the eighteenth century occupied more than two and half acres of land. There is a small temple, known as the Mandaiveli Amman Koil, in this vast open space. A few houses have sprung up in this area. Behind the Mandaiveli Amman Koil, there is another big kuttai, which also is lying dry now.
To the south of the Mandaiveli, there is a small North-South Street with relatively small houses. Amongst these is the house of the Vannan, the washerman, and through the Vannan house, one reaches the Vannan Kuttai. This kuttai, located in an area which seems to form the backyard of the Vannan Street, is small but unusually deep, and is now completely overgrown with bushes.
Besides the Valluvan, the Navitan, the Kudumi and the Vannan, eighteenth century Siruvanjur also had a carpenter, a goldsmith and a blacksmith, all of whom probably had their households in this area around the Ambattan and the Vannan kuttais. All these artisans, however, have left the village, and their houses can no more be located. Similarly, the houses of the 2 Kanakkupillais and the 3 Tookery Taliars â€“ who provided the accountancy and militia services â€“ are not traceable now. It is the Nattarsampattu Kanakkupillai who used to keep the Siruvanjur revenue records till a few years back. Now of course the job has been taken over by the new cadre of village administrative officers.
Like Nattarsampattu, Siruvanjur also had a large number of non-agricultural households, who specialised in industrial, trading and service activities of various kinds. In terms of the availability of various services Siruvanjur was in fact richer than most of its neighbours. But it also had 8 households of Vettaikkarans, who are listed in the English records as the wood-cutters, and who probably engaged in various industrial and trading activities connected with the forest produce of Siruvanjur. Then there were 13 households of the Kaikkolar weavers, and one of the Vaniyan, who produced and dealt in oil. There was also a Chetty household in the village. All these industrial and trading people have disappeared, leaving no traces of the houses or the streets in which they lived.
Another group of people who have completely deserted the village are the Brahmans. As you walk up the south-north street along the Ambattan Kuttai, and turn a little east, you reach a small Pillaiyar temple in the centre of the village. Opposite this temple lie the ruins of the Agraharam, where the 3 Telugu Brahmans, the 2 Siva Brahmans, the 1 Vishnu Brahman, and 1 Vaddiar Brahman teacher used to live. The Agraharam today is a jungle of Velikattan. Inside this jungle you can however still see the remains of the foundations of the Brahman houses, some of which were rather big, though none was as big as that of the Valluvan, or the Kudumi. Walking through the thorny bushes you can also see the occasional well, and sometimes a lonely idol still sitting on a raised platform. This is all that remains of the Agraharam, which at some time was probably one of the major centres of activity in the village.
Unlike the Agraharam, the colony, the street of the Harijans has survived the ruination of the past two hundred years. Lying south of the Pillaiyar Koil, and east of the Ambattan Kuttai, the colony is surrounded on all sides by a hedge of Velikattan. To enter the colony from the side of the temple you also have to cross a small shallow irrigation channel, which separates the colony from the Oor.
This part of the village, thus isolated from the rest, happens to be the only part completely untouched by the hands of decay and destruction. In the eighteenth century there were only 10 Harijan households on more than two and a half acres of land of the colony. Today, on the same land there are probably more than 60 houses. But in spite of this increase in the number of the households, the houses in the colony do not seem to be congested. The only houses in Siruvanjur which convey an impression of congestion and haphazardness are the houses of relative newcomers on the outskirts of the village and on the Vannan Street on the south of the Mandaiveli. The Siruvanjur colony, however, like most other colonies in the region, looks rather neat and well-kept. This in fact is the only street in the village which looks vigorously alive, though not prosperously flourishing.
Further north from the Pillaiyar koil is the Vellala Street. Most of the houses on this street also are in ruins. But three of the Vellalas are still living on this street. They have reasonably big houses, and seem to exude a certain sense of sufficiency and prosperity. From the end of this street you can walk across a small cultivated field to the Thamaraikkeni kulam, a beautiful lotus pond, dug into almost a perfect circle, and surrounded by huge trees with thick foliage. This kulam was filled to the brim with water, and its surface was thickly covered with lotus flowers, when we saw it.
To the east of the Vellala Street, there is another lotus pond, this time a square and a relatively bigger one, which forms the centre of another Vellala mohalla. All the houses around this pond except one are in ruins. The remains of these houses, however, seem to indicate that this was the locality of relatively more prosperous people of the village. The one Vellala house that still stands is also rather large in its dimensions, and many children from the village gather in the evenings around the television set in the vast backyard of the house. In front of the house on the east bank of the pond there is a threshing ground.
A backyard filled with children, intense activity in the threshing ground in the front, and beauteous environs of the large lotus pond, make this lonely Vellala house look like another centre of the village. When other houses around the pond were also inhabited, then this place must have been an important focus of life in Siruvanjur. Today however the place has a somewhat haunted look, and this impression is enhanced by the extra-ordinary beauty of the surroundings, and the demeanour of timelessness of the old Vellala head of the household, who seems to be a little bent by the passage of time, and who tells us that in his long life of many decades he has seen many changes and many new things, but his lands have always been producing the same 20 to 25 bags of paddy per acre over all these years.
As you move further north on the main north-south street, which now becomes a dusty passage, with waste lands on both sides, you come across another depression in the land, which the villagers call the Kusavan Kulam, the pottersâ€™ pond. A little beyond, on the left and a little above the level of the land, lie the ruins of what must have been another centre of village life, the complex of Easwaran and Pidari temples, with their kulams.
The Easwaran Kulam is a big tank elaborately lined with stone. On its west bank is Easwaran Koil, which looks vast and imposing even in its present stage of neglect and decay. On the north bank of the Easwaran Kulam there is the Pidari Amman temple, a small structure with carvings of the fierce Kali. In front of this temple there is another small kulam, known as the Pidari Kulam. Like much else in the village, this complex of temples and tanks is also covered with thorny Velikattan bushes, and these bushes make the approach to the temples difficult. But the place still retains an aura of sacredness and concentrated power of raw nature. That is what probably makes an occasional couple negotiate the Velikattan bushes and the broken down banks of the Easwaran Kulam to offer prayers to the Siruvanjur Easwaran and the Pidari Amman.
J. K. Bajaj and T. M. Mukundan
Centre for Policy Studies