Of Dangerous Guardians and Contested Hierarchies [Kallar Nadu]

Of Dangerous Guardians and Contested Hierarchies: An Ethnographic Reading of a South Indian Copperplate

Abstract:

This contribution sets out to examine a copper plate inscription of great interest for the social history of a Tamil subcaste, the Pramalai Kallars, well known in the ethnographic literature of South India. Besides the central matter of the inscription, which is to establish a contract for the construction of a new hall in a local temple, two essential concerns emerge when reading this copper plate in a context-sensitive manner. On the one hand, details regarding the professional trade of a certain number of the men mentioned in the inscription, the now-defunct traditional occupation of guardianship (kāval), reflect the literary and social figure of the ‘dangerous guardian’, a stereotype that still clings to the Pramalai Kallars today. On the other hand, the terms of the contract, which concerns the order of distribution of honours (mutalmai) within the temple, brings to the fore a concern still highly pertinent to our understanding of social interaction at the village level, that is, the ongoing competition for precedence among lineages of a single locality.

Full reference:

Headley, E.Z. 2012 « Of Dangerous Guardians and Contested Hierarchies: An Ethnographic Reading of a South Indian Copperplate », in Murugaiyan, A., (éd.)  New Dimensions in Tamil Epigraphy: A Multidisciplinary Approach. Cre-A Publishers, Chennai. pp. 211-239.

Read the article in full:  Headley_Dangerous Guardians.