Maaran

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For the 2002 film, see Maaran(film).
Marar
Classification Artists and musicians
Religions Hinduism
Languages Malayalam
Country India
Related groups Devadiga (South Karnataka)

Marar (Maaraar or Maaraan) is the name given to the temple musicians of Travancore, Cochin and Malabar in the state of Kerala, India whose primary duty was to provide the traditional temple Sopanam music. Their position in the caste system varies from place to place in Kerala. In Travancore, although they were Ambalavasi they had status intermediate between Itasseri Nair subcaste and Chempukotti Nair (Intermediate between Nair proper and Nair Inferior). In Malabar they enjoyed relatively superior status.

Origin and occupation[edit]

Below is an excerpt from the Madras Census Report of 1901 which reports the Maarans as:

Temple servants and drummers in Malabar. Like many of the Malabar castes they must have come from the East Coast (Tamil Nadu) as their name frequently appears in the Tanjore inscriptions of 1013 AD. They followed, then, the same occupation as that by which they live today and appear to have held a tolerably high social position. In parts of North Malabar they are known as Ochhans instead of Marar while in Travancore kingdom Panicker and Kurup are their titles.

Edgar Thurston in his "Castes and Tribes of Southern India" states their traditional origin and occupation as follows: Before the days of Sankaracharya their sole occupation was beating the drums in Brahminical Temples. When Sankaracharya was refused assistance in the cremation of his mother by the Namboodiri Brahmins, he is believed to have sought in despair the help of one of these temple servants with whose aid the corpse was divided into eight parts and deposited in the pit. For undertaking this duty which the Namboodiris repudiated from a sense of offended religious feeling, the particular Maran was thrown out of his caste by the general community and a compromise had to be effected by the sage with the rest of the caste who returned in a body on the day of purification along with the excommunicated man and helped Sankaracharya to close his mother's death ceremonies. In recognition of this timely help Sankaracharya is said to have declared the Maran to be an indispensable functionary at the death ceremonies of Namboodiris and Ambalavasis.

The traditional occupations of the Maarans was sounding or playing the panchavadya or five musical instruments in temples known as the "Sankhu (Conch), Timila, Chenda, Kaimani and Maddalam". The Asu and Pani are sounded by the highest dignitaries known as Asupani Maarans. The beating of the Pani is the accompaniment of expiatory offerings to the Saptamata or Seven Mothers of Hindu religious writings namely Brahmi, Maheshwari, Kaumari, Vaishnavi, Varahi, Indrani and Chamunda. There are certain well established rules regarding the hymns to be recited and the music to be played. So religiously have these rules to be followed that during the Utsavabali that the priest who makes the offering, the Variar who carries the sacred lamp and the Maaran, all have to fast and dress themselves in the orthodox Brahminical fashion, with the Uttariya or upper garment tied around their torso like the Sacred thread.

The higher classes of Maarans (Asupani Maarans) claim six privileges Pani or Pano, Koni, Thirumuttom, Nadumuttam, Velichor and Poochor. Pani is the right to play the Asu and Pani. Koni literally means a ladder and refers to the stretcher made of bamboo and kusa grass or straw on which corpses of high caste Hindus are laid. Thirumuttom is the right to sweep the inner courtyard of Temples, a privilege otherwise reserved for the Ambalavasi castes. Nadumuttam is the right of erecting a small pandal or booth like in the courtyard of a Namboodiri house where oblations are offered to the departed spirit on the tenth day since death. Velichor is the right to retain remains of the sacrificial rice offered to the manes and Poochor the right to retain a part of the offering of flowers and food made to the deity.

The higher classes of Maarans in Malabar consider themselves superior to other Maarars owing to ritual purity and abstinence from flesh and liquor and also their aloofness from the lower classes who assist at funeral ceremonies and function as priests for the Nairs. During Jati Nirnayam they were classed inferior to Nair proper (the three proper Nair castes: Illakkar, Swaroopakkar & Kiryathil) and hence sometimes considered the lower ranking section of Ambalavasis. These families were known in Malabar as Marars whereas in Travancore they continued to be included among the other Maarans.[1][better source needed]

Though playing the music in temples is their main vocation, they are indispensable in Namboodiri, Kshatriya and Ambalavasi funeral ceremonies and almost all ceremonies of the Nairs such as Kettu Kalyanam. Some practised sorcery and witchcraft and were also priests in temples dedicated to Bhadrakali. They assisted the Namboodiris and Rajahs during the Chowalam or tonsure ceremony.

Subdivisions[edit]

In Malabar, Cochin and North Travancore, up to Alapuzha, the Maarans are divided broadly into two groups, the Marars, also known as Asupanis, and the remaining Maarans. The Marars are those higher classes of Maarans who distanced themselves from any other services, such as serving as funeral priests etc., but temple service and hence secured a higher status, among the Ambalavasis, with the honorific title of Marar. From Alapuzha southwards, there exists no such division and even the Asupanis were included among the remaining Maarans of Central and Southern Travancore.

The Maarans here are divided into several groups on various bases. Sometimes they are classed on the basis of the castes whose various rites and rituals they perform such as Illathu Maarans for those who were priests of the Illathu Nairs. Likewise they may be classed as per locality also. For instance Tekkumkur Maarans and Vadakumkur Maarans. On the basis of occupation the highest were the Asupani Maarans followed by subcastes known as Seethikans, Mangala Maarans etc. However the real social divisions of the Travancore Maarans are only four and they are:

  • Orunul Maarans: This was a comparatively small class of Maarans. What is unique about these Maarans is that whoever does the Thali Kettu Kalyanam or ritual marriage ceremony of four days and ties the Thali alone is the husband of their females. But in Kerala the husband who tied the thali was only the ritual husband and actual marriage or Sambandham was carried out later with another man of the same or superior caste. The Orunul Maaran females may have Sambandham or consort either with the Thali tier alias the ritual husband or else only with a Namboodiri and no other Maaran may be accepted for Sambandham. Thurston states thus about the Orunul Maarans:

    The word 'Orunul' means one string and signifies the absence of widow marriage...It is a section of Marans whose widows donot remarry...they look upon themselves as higher than the Irunuls, basing their superiority in the custom obtaining among them of marrying only once in their lifetime...However in the event of that calamity (a childless widow), marrying a Brahmin or one of distinctly higher caste is tolerated...

  • Irunul Maarans: Unlike Orunul Maarans, it is not mandatory for the Irunul Maarans that their women have Sambandham either with their Thali husband or else a Brahmin. They may consort through Sambandham any Maaran of the same caste and not necessarily the Thali tier. Widow marriage is permitted for the Irunul Maarans.
  • Chepat and Kulangi Maarans: These were initially local varieties from Chepat and Kulangi and later became independent sub-castes of the Maarans. Ranking at the same level are two other Maaran subcastes known as Asthikurichi and Pulikkal Maarans. While the former assisted Brahmins at funeral ceremonies the latter were required to purify the Nairs after pollution. These Maarans also assisted the Brahmins and Kshatriyas in the Chowlam ceremony. They are also known as Seethikans derived from Chaitika meaning one concerned with the funeral pyre.
  • Muttal Maarans: They are those Maarans considered lowest in the scale and found only in Kalkulam Taluk, now in Tamil Nadu. Traditionally they are supposed to have been an inferior class of people who were elevated in that district to a significantly superior position, rendered necessary by a temple exigency. The very term 'Muttal' means substitute or emergency employee.

Manners and customs[edit]

The customs and ceremonies of the Maarans are the same as the Nairs excepting for the Annaprasana ceremony of first food giving when the Maaran child partakes consecrated food of the temple unlike the Nair child whose ceremony is performed at home. Maarans could be purified from death pollution by the Namboodiris while they themselves were purificatory priests of the Nairs. Technically all Maarans are expected to be abstainers from meat but barring the Asupani class (Marars and Asupani Maarans) and those in the service of temples and Brahmins, this rule was not uniformly practised.

Status[edit]

In the past the status of the Maaran community varies from place to place in Kerala. Eventually they were broadly divided into two classes namely the Marars of Malabar and the Maarans of Travancore. The Marars correspond to the Asupani Maarans and were considered higher in status owing to their aloofness from the other Maaran subcastes as also from performing any other services, but those within the temple, whereas the Maarans of Travancore were considered lower in status.

Famous Marars[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  • Cochin State Manual by Achutan Menon
  1. ^ Travancore State Manual, V Nagam Aiya