During the course of our year-long survey during the pilot project EAP 737 in two traditional territories (Kallar Nadu and Kongu Nadu), the villagers we met have shown us a number of different ‘old’ documents. Though we were searching primarily for documents relating to customary law, our respondents showed us all documents handed down by their forefathers. These documents covering a wider scope of interest inform not only the transformation and continuity of customary law but also land tenures and revenue collection, kinship patterns, caste relations and power structures. The documents include: genealogical charts, land transactions, religious tax collection, folk tales, loans agreements, honour struggles, temple records, marriage announcements, etc… Hence a follow-up project, EAP 458 “Constituting a Digital Archive of Tamil Agrarian History (1650-1950)” was initiated to further expand the scope and number of documents in our archive with the continuing support and collaboration of the EAP and of the IFP.
The project succeeded in digitising the collections of 28 document holders. The size of the collections varied from between one single document to over a 1,000 documents. This created a digital archive of 36 774 images, corresponding to 2,709 paper documents, 185 notebooks, 4 copperplates, 21 books, 26 diaries, and 710 palm-leaf manuscripts. The documents cover a wide range of issues, such as land act notices, land leases, land sales, village leases, land deeds, auctions, loans, legal documents and judgments related to conflicts (theft, murder, ritual status, irrigation, etc), petitions, tax receipts, appointment of village headmen, ritual tax collection, East India Company records and also documents relating to astrology, palmistry, folk medicine, folktales, genealogical charts, and marriage invitations.
In the course of the project, the scope of the project objectives was broadened in three interesting ways.
Firstly regarding the time scale, originally it was hoped to go only as far back as the 1860s. However, copperplate documents were located going back to the 1650s as well as paper documents dating from the first decades of the 1800s, and palm-leaf manuscripts that have yet to be accurately dated.
Secondly, the project originally set out to collect documents relating ‘only’ to customary law. While examining the collections that were shown to the project team, it appeared that a certain number of documents pertaining to issues such a land management and ritual jurisdictions could not be discarded from the project and in fact contributed significantly to understanding the structure of Tamil agrarian society necessary to unravel the issues and processes at stake in Tamil customary law.
Thirdly, following information gathered during fieldwork, it was planned to extend the work to a third region, Pudukkottai, a princely state under the British regime, where relevant materials can be found on the functioning of a princely state at the time of British colonial rule.
The records copied by this project have been catalogued as:
- EAP458/1 Kalaimakaḷ Kalvi Nilayam Collection
- EAP458/2 Sri Vasavi College Collection [1824-]
- EAP458/3 Atalai Naṭarāja Collection collection [1814-1876]
- EAP458/4 Veḷḷiyaṅkuṇram Pulikēci Collection [1802-1958]
- EAP458/5 Pūti Pulavar Tāhir Collection
- EAP458/6 Meḻūrappaṉūr Māyāṇṭi Tēvar Collection
- EAP458/7 Civakiri Kūraiku,al Ātīṉam Collection
- EAP458/8 Cellaturai Collection [1905-1949]
- EAP458/9 Nāṭumutalaikkuḷam Karuppaiyyā Collection
- EAP458/10 Eḻuvampaṭṭi Jekanātaṉ Collection
- EAP458/11 Nāṭṭukkoṭṭai Makātmā Pāṇṭiyar Collection
- EAP458/12 Cokkatēvaṉpaṭṭi Periyakaruppa Tēvar Collection
- EAP458/13 Pālakiruṣṇaṉ Collection
- EAP458/14 Collection from the office of the Public Works Department, Madurai
- EAP458/15 Pūṇṭi Ōṭṭuvītu Rājēntiraṉ Collection
- EAP458/16 Pūṇṭi Cantiracēkar Collection
- EAP458/17 Ūttukkuḻi Jamīṉ and Cittārt Kāḷiṅkarāyar Collections
- EAP458/18 Koṭumuṭi Ātīṉam Collection
- EAP458/19 Maruturai Ātīṉam Collection
- EAP458/20 Pūṅkaṅkuḷam [Pūṅkuḷam?] Naṭarājan Collection
- EAP458/21 Ponnamaṅkalam [?] Caṇmukar Collection
- EAP458/22 Mēlapaṭṭi Paḻaṉicāmi Collection
- EAP458/23 Ceṉṉimalai Cuntara Ceṉṉiyankiri Paṇṭita Kurukkaḷ Collection
- EAP458/24 Cāttampūr Caṇmuka Cuppiramaṇiya Kurukkaḷ Collection
- EAP458/25 Tāramaṅkalam Umāpati Kurukkaḷ Collection
- EAP458/26 K[T]arumāpuram Ātīṉam Collection
- EAP458/27 Makātēva Kurukkaḷ of Eḻukarai Cellaṅkuḷattūr Collection
- EAP458/28 Rācipuram Umāpati Kurukkaḷ Collection