Tanjavur and Migration of Brahmins to South India
|Tanjavur and Migration of Brahmins to South India|
Since numerous temples were built in Tanjavur, many Brahmins were invited to migrate and settle down in Tanjavur especially in and around Kumbakonam. In Tamil Nadu normally, we see two sects of Brahmins called Ayyars and Ayyangars. Ayyars are Shaivites and Ayyangars are the worshippers of Vishnu. The Ayyangars are fewer in number compared to Ayyars and were usually confined mainly to Vaishnavite centres like Srirangam, Kancheepuram, Srivalliputur, Alwarthirunagari and so on. The reason being that Shaivism took greater roots in Tamil Nadu. It was possible to merge the concept of Shiva as Rudra with the South Indian God Ishwara in Tamil Nadu which in turn resulted in the merger of the Tamil popular deity, Lord Muruga with Kumara, the son of Shiva. Tamil Nadu has always been strong in the principle of Shiva and has its own native philosophy of Shaiva Sidhanta.
Among the Vaishnavites two sub-sects of Brahmins arose in Tamil Nadu called Vadagalai and Tengalai Ayyangars. As the words suggest the Vadagalai are supposed to be from North India and the Tengalai from South India. This segmentation significantly suggests the possible migration of some Ayyangar Brahmins from North India. Apart from these two sects there are Ayyangar Brahmins settled in Karnataka known as Mysore Ayyangars. In fact most of the Ayyangar Brahmins believe themselves to have migrated into Tamil Nadu from the other Vaishnavite center of India. (though it all seems to have happened in the past, no one knows from where or how). A very exclusive group of Indian Brahmins, the Ayyangars have strictly tried to marry within themselves for centuries in an attempt to maintain the purity of the sect. As a result Ayyangar women are some of the most beautiful found in any part of the world. For example, great beauties like Jayalalithaa, Vaijayanthimala and Hemamalini were all born into Ayyangar families. The women of the TVS family are also supposed to be very charming and good-looking.
On the other hand it is also believed that Saint Ramanuja initiated a lot of non-Brahmins as Vaishnavites and got them involved into the bhakti cult propounded by him. These people have also got eventually amalgamated with the present day Tengalai Ayyangars. The devotional poetry of Saint Ramanujam is still sung in all the Vaishnavite centers of Tamil Nadu. The Saint spent the early part of his life at Sriperumpudur and the later part at Srirangam where his body is preserved. He can be bodily seen, sitting in the lotus position, at Srirangam temple, by the devotees, even after eight hundred years of his attaining nirvana. All the Brahmins traditionally wore a cast mark on their foreheads. The Ayyars put three lines of Ash on their forehead to indicate that they were the worshippers of Shiva the Lord. He covers his body with nothing but the ash of the cremation ground to show that life is nothing but the dance of death.
The Ayyangars on the other hand wear a long red caste mark made of vermilion. There is a slight difference in the caste mark worn by the Vadagalai Ayyangars and Tengalai Ayyangars to emphasize their different identities. The mark worn by one group resembles the English alphabet ‘U’ whereas the one worn by the other group resembles the English alphabet ‘Y’. There is a famous court case, which was fought by the two sects of Ayyangars in Kancheepuram. The dispute rose over the issue if the temple elephant of the famous Varadharaja Perumal temple should wear a caste mark of Vadagalai Ayyangars or Tengalai Ayyangars during the annual temple festival. The matter perhaps went up to the Supreme Court and finally it was decided that the elephant would wear Vadagalai and Tengalai caste mark on alternate years on the day of the festival. In this manner the Vadagalai and the Tengalais have a history of competing with each other over the supremacy and precedence in matters relating to the temple functions and rituals.
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