Records of Slavery in Palm Leaf Manuscripts [Kallar Nadu]


Central Archaeological department, Delhi

 Working Paper 2              [February 2018]


The evidence of the existence of slavery in the Tamil region goes back to Bhakti literature. In the Tevaram, Lord Siva in an avatar of a Brahmin claims ownership of ‘Sundarar’. To prove his claim he provides a palm-leaf manuscript to Nattar who declare Sundarar his slave.”

The records of slave trade that flourished around the 15th century in the region show that the practice was carried out on the basis of proper “sale agreements” and that it was not uncommon for lower caste parents to pledge their children to be bonded labour several years.

This working paper examines 37 palm leaf manuscripts on slave trade transactions found in the DATAH archive that had occurred from the year 1448 to as late as 1910. Of the 37 palm leaf manuscripts, 30 are servitude agreements (adimai utanbatikai/muri/sasanam) and the remaining seven documented are on the (mortgage) pledging of slaves (adimai otti muri/utanbatikkai — slave mortgage agreement) for a period of 5 to 10 years.

The conditions of sale were recorded in these palm leaf manuscripts: the seller had to ensure that if the slave escaped, he would bring him back or work as a slave himself; if a person wanted to free his child or relative who had been pledged to a zamindar earlier than the stipulated time, he had to pay thrice the amount of money he had received.

Though slavery was abolished in India by the Indian Slavery Act of 1843, it was prevalent as some palm-leaves demonstrate till 1910.

Keywords: Slavery, Archival data, Temple accounts

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