Category Archives: Fieldwork

Workshop invitation distribution

The first  Clac experimental workshop, which will take place on the 14th and 15th of November in Pondicherry University, is bringing together 21 men from various villages and localities to dicuss village judiciary practices and customary law.

As per local custom regarding invitation, we had to pay a personal visit to each of the men in order to hand over by hand the invitation, doing otherwise would have been considered careless and even rude.

Here are a few photos from the invitation tour which was done by the members of the team (Krishnasami, Selva Kumar, Muthu Kumar and Chandran)

Tavamani Tevar in front of his house © EAP 458
Tavamani Tevar receiving the workshop invitation © EAP 458
Virumandhi Tevar in his shop © EAP 458
Virumandhi Tevar's shop in Karumathur© EAP 458
Thangapandi receiving invitation © EAP 458
On the road to the next panchatattar© EAP 458
Meeting with Manirasu on the side of the road© EAP 458
Manirasu receiving invitation © EAP 458
Inside Servaikkarar Tevar's house© EAP 458
Servaikkarar Tevar receiving invitation© EAP 458
Solaimalai Maravar receiving invitation© EAP 458

Collection 11 in progress


Krishnasamy examining letters to be digitized with the document holder in his living room. Our "home-made" portable photo stand is in the lower right hand corner

We are presently working on a large collection belonging to the family of an Anuppa Goundar Zamin family in Madurai district. The documents we are digitizing will eventually become “collection 11”.

The Zamin’s documents have been stored in a relatively neat and orderly fashion, unlike some collections where the documents were balled up together, which is making the digitization process less complicated and time consuming.

One of the two chest holding the family documents being opened for us....

So far we are not able to estimate the number of documents kept in the two wooden chests. During the first set of digitization around 1 000 photos have been taken. As is often the case in our project, the document holder is not quite sure of the contents of many of his documents.

...and the contents dispersed on the floor...

This first set of digitized documents is being painstakingly identified by Selvakumar, Muthukumar and Chandran who joined the project a month ago. The collection contains a vast majority of paper documents.  Among these a fair amount of land related documents (village leases, land sales, rentals, auctions, etc.), dispute documents (complaints, judgments, legal notices, etc.).

Though there are very few documents in English, the earliest document among those identified so far is a handwritten notice in English from dating from 1802 . A notebook dated from 1867 presented by the Madurai District Collector contains a number of handwritten copies of copperplates which were apparently lent by the Zamin to the British officer for the purpose of reproduction. The copperplates reproduced are said to have been issued by Tirumalai Nayakkar arounf the 1660s, thus latter that the copperplates of Collection 1 (which have been authenticated by the Archaeological Survey).

The second phase of the digitization process should be completed by the end of the month of October.

Here are a few more samples from the fieldwork and the collection:




A taste of golden rice …

Straying somewhat from the purpose of this research project, but delightful nonetheless, here is an appetizing artifact photographed among a vast collection of objects and documents dating from the golden years of the former Palayakkarar (later Zamindar) family of Uttukuli which we met last week during a document field search in Kongu Nadu :


Front side....



... et bon appetit !


Several gold leaves still remained in the leaflet, not so tasty after all…


Harvest time in Kallar Nadu

Kallar Nadu, one of our two target regions for this project, is largely a rural area wedged between two urban centers: the temple city of Madurai and the town of Usilampatti.

Map of Kallar Nadu. Source: Zoe E. Headley (2007) Les Voleurs d'Indra: Perceptions, Reseaux et Enjeux Identitaires d'une sous-caste tamoule. Unpublished Phd Dissertation.
MAP OF KALLAR NADU. Source: Zoe E. Headley (2007) Les Voleurs d’Indra: Perceptions, Reseaux et Enjeux Identitaires d’une sous-caste tamoule. Unpublished Phd Dissertation.

For many of the documents holders, their main source of wages and/or revenue comes from agriculture.  The main crops in this region are paddy, millets and pulses as well as some oilseeds, cotton and sugarcane.

In Tidien-February 2010 © Zoe Headley

It is not uncommon for us to have to adapt our timetable to the constraints imposed by harvesting,

In Tidien © Zoe E. Headley 03/02/2010


Digital proof of trust

Most of the time we digitise a collection directly in the house of its owner. However, on one occasion the document holder allowed us to take his forefathers’ documents back the the IFP in Puducherry. The importance this document holder gave to our project was particularly gratifying. This was, however, not so surprising as Tavamani Tevar’s documents, which have been digitized as Collection 1, were at the very inception of the project.


From left to right: V. Krishnasamy, Zoe Headley, Tavamani Tevar and the late R.K. Kannan, © EAP 314


Though he insisted we take all documents with us, we declined to take the three 17th century copperplates with us, lest something should happen to them while in our custody. The paper, notebooks and palm-leave documents were in such a bad state that we thought it best to work on them in the IFP itself.  Though the document holder was prepared to lend s the documents unconditionally, we did not want to just walk out with them and thought it best to leave with him some kind of proof or acknowledgment that we had borrewed over 600 of his documents. The simplest way we found was to photograph the passing of the documents from Tavamani Tevar to ourselves, take a print of the photos in the nearby town, and return these to him before leaving his village.