Mala (caste)

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Mala Community
Total population
85,00,000 ( 85 Lakhs as per 2001 census)[1]
Regions with significant populations
Andhra Pradesh
Languages
Telugu language
Religion
Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism
Related ethnic groups
Telugu people, Dravidian peoples

Mala or Malla (different from the family/last name Malla from Andhra) is a social group or caste mostly from the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. Mala is derived from the Sanskrit malla, which means wrestler. They are one of the dominant Dalit castes in Andhra Pradesh, the other being Madigas.[2]

According to Government of India census data from 2001,[3] Malas constitute a total of 41.6 percent (5,139,305) of the scheduled caste population of the state. They are largely concentrated in the Coastal Andhra region. During the Adi-Andhra movement of the 1930s, several Mala caste people, including few Madigas, especially from coastal Andhra called themselves as 'Adi-Andhra' and were recorded in the census with the 'Adi-Andhra' caste name akin to Adi Dravida of Tamil Nadu. (Adi-Andhra is synonym word instead of using MALA or MADIGA . In the ancient times, Malas were mostly village watchmen,domestic laborers etc., They were skilled workers too and were also recruited by the British Army because of their martial skills. Presently they don't have a specific caste profession and can be seen in many professions.It is directly the skill set which was identified by the upper caste people and segregation thereof. As such, Malas do not have any caste profession where the entire Indian castes were based on profession they have chosen to be associated with. Like Kapu community who originally are farm workers, soldiers who are very much known for their bravery 'Padma saali' caste are the only people who are weavers. Malas have chosen to take up the profession of other castes which was at their reach.

The Mahars in neighbouring Maharashtra are akin to the Malas[4] and the two dominant dalit castes in Tamil Nadu, Paraiyar and Pallar, tend to claim the inter-relation with the Malas, Mahars and Pulayas.

History[edit]

Mala and Madiga military exploits form an important part of Kakatiya history, culture and tradition. Mainly Madiga's and some what Mala's played a vital role in expansion of Kakatiyan kingdom.[citation needed] In Kakatiya military Malas are used to be called as Mohari (Telugu: mohari), the street which they lived is known as "Mohariwada". The warrior Yugandarudu who was the army chief of Prataparudra is a Madiga.

The anthropological evidence shows that the Mahars or Malas seemed to have hailed primarily from the drier upland areas like the Deccan plateau. According to researchers like Ambedkar, the Mahars and similar communities like Malas were actually warriors of some defeated kingdom, they were pushed down in social status,they were disarmed but retained as village servants.

Mala caste has got prominence during the period of Palanati Bramha Naidu (Prime Minister to Nalagam King of Macherla) (1170 to 1180 AD). The Mala Warrior Mala Kannamadasu was the first Senapathi in the history along with Kammas, Velamas and Reddies in those days. He was given high regard by Palanati Bramha Naidu, since then Macherla Chennakesava swamy became Kuladaivam to Malas in the Palnadu area.

Sanskrit roots[edit]

Like all castes in India, today they generally believe in prestigious origins (see Sanskritisation). One such theory speculates that Mala or Malla (not the same as the family name Malla) is derived from Sanskrit word Malla for wrestler.

According to the story by Gurram Malla; Malas are the descendants of Mala Chennappa, the son of Lord Shiva.

As a community they believe at some point they were independent people not subject to any caste restrictions and resent the present condition as unfair. Thus, unlike many other Dalit communities, they are not resigned to their fate which is a requirement for caste control along with social violence. There is a strong ethnic, cultural and linguistic relation with Mahar in neighboring Maharastra state and with Pallan.

Culture[edit]

Subdivisions[edit]

Malas, who were considerable in number, were mostly agricultural workers like Holeyas in Karnataka. And it has been pointed earlier, some of them were employed village messengers (Maskoori or Elodu) and some as watchmen of the village chavadi by the middle of Twentieth century. Malas were also employed to dig graves. Malas employed to see the irrigation in villages called Neerati, Neeradu. Mala women were skilled in basket making.

There were kin-communities of Malas such as Baindla,Jangam, Poturaju, Mala Mashtin, Relli mala, Mala Rajanna, Mala dasari / Mala Dasu / Mithaalayyalavalu, Dandems, Nethakani or Mala sale, Mala Jangama.[5] Mala Dasari/Mala Dasu has been a tradition of Tamil Nadu, which spread over to Andhra Pradesh between 9th and 10th century.

Jangams were traveling priests begging from Malas and at night they were to keep vigilance at the graveyards. Poturajus were another group of priests serving the village spirits both benevolent and malevolent. They also assist the priestess when the sacrifices were offered. Mashtis were traveling acrobats performing their heroics at the outskirts of the villages where caste villagers turn up to watch them. Mala dasoos were another set of priests who reside with Mala settlements. Dandems were agricultural laborers either hired or bought by landlords.[1]

Mala Christians[edit]

A section of the Malas also turned to Christianity but after noticing the same old caste politics in the Telugu Catholic church, shifted to Protestantism instead. They are prominent in the Andhra Evangelical Lutheran Church (AELC), Church of South India (CSI). They have made very good use of the Christian educational programs, considerably elevating their social position and now form part of the upper middle class. These Christian Malas are commonly called Merugumala people, who came from Godavari Krishna basin. They are not considered Scheduled Castes by the Government of India but fall under the "BC-C" category (Backward castes C-category) with 1% Reservation at state level and at national level they come under Other Backward Class (OBC, List of OBC's; Andhra Pradesh list, Entry No.in the Central List-60 (Scheduled castes converts to Christianity and their progency) ).[6] They have been demanding central Government to accord them SC status on par with Dalit Buddhists, Dalit Sikhs and not to discriminate them on religious grounds for being Dalit Christians. The case is pending with the Supreme Court since 2005 when it was filed on behalf of Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims (Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz).

Mala are kind and helpful people. It is due to the advantage of the colonialism they got access into the education and employment. The educated class of the community consistently organized the community and other marginalized communities for their rights. They spearheaded anti-caste movements. For example,when fellow Madiga community was attached by Kamma landlords in coastal Andhra in 80s the entire Mala educated class, who were following Dr. Ambedkar Path, stood on behalf of Madiga brothers, and organised a state level dalit maha sabha. But where as Madiaga Rereservation Porata Samiti which was formed for the categorisation of SC, never build any movement against Kamma upper castes, on the contrary, the leadership of the MRPS was working hand in hand with the Kamma political parties. MRPS leadership single agenda is spread hatred compaign against Malas. MRPS has no history of organising all the untouchable communities through DR. B.R. Ambedkar political philosophy. Ambedkar clearly mentions in his writings that " one can not build a democratic state based on a caste". where as Mala intellectual class had never compromised with any upper caste political parties, rather committed to work for the marginalized communities.

Notables[edit]

Further information: List of Malas

References[edit]

  • The Imperial Gazetteer of India, by Hunter, William Wilson, Sir, 1840–1900; Cotton, James Sutherland, 1847-1918 ed.; Burn, Richard, Sir, 1871-1947 joint ed. and Meyer, William Stevenson, Sir, 1860-1922. joint ed.