The Pallar (previously Mallar) is a caste from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The Pallar are mostly agriculturalists in Tamil Nadu, Sri Lanka, and are spread across the Tamil diaspora demographic. They prefer to call themselves Mallar or Devendra Kula Velalar.
According to ancient Sangam literature, the Pallar is an ancient group of people originating in the Marutam land. The land was said to be good for agriculture, and situated near a river. "As they were the producers of food grains, they lived with self respect ... and agriculturists (Mallars) were the most respected community." These people claim to be the descendants of Devendran (the god of Marutham Land). Worship of the God Devendran was popular in ancient Tamil Nadu. Their ancestral linkage to the Sangam age God Devendran explains their rich heritage. Because these people were known for charity, heading and presiding village panchayat meetings, and being kind, they were referred to as kudumban. For their ability to control flood, on the other hand, they were Velallar. From the available research on ancient Tamil paddy history and evolution, there is a strong paddy culture prevailing in Tamil Nadu – Marutha Nilam and it is a continuation of 5000 years old paddy cultivation heritage by native people (pallars). Their age old customs, festivals and day to day life activities supports their claim to be the first cultivators of rice in Tamil Nadu. So these people prefer to call themselves Devendra Kula Vellalar.
The ancient people were described as warriors and farmers. The leader of the group, called the vendan (Indran) was later called the god of their land. The Pallars of today were most likely actually known as Mallar belonging to the Dravidian race about 2,300 years ago. These people were the rulers of Tamil country. They are also most likely the descendants of Pallavas who once ruled the Andhra and Tamil countries. Putting all these qualities together, the Mallar (Pallar) call themselves Devendra Kula Velalar. There are over 84 branches among Pallars. The Mallar were called Pallar only after the 15th century by more powerful tribes from other parts of South India with a view to degrading their social status.
On the Pallar, Edward Balfour's 1885 The cyclopædia of India and of Eastern and Southern Asia noted:
PALLAN, Pallar, or Puller are a slave race attached to the Vellala agriculturists of the south of India. The Mallar are the agricultural labourers of the Pallar tribe. Pallan is applied specially to one who works in the fields. Their tribal title is Kudumpan, which means a headman or chief.
Edgar Thurston's Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Volume 1, states:
The headman of the Pallans is, in the Madura country, called Kudumban, and he is assisted by a Kaladi, and, in large settlements, by a caste messenger entitled Variyan, who summons people to attend council-meetings, festivals, marriages and funerals. The offices of Kudumban and Kaladi are hereditary...
In connection with the caste organisation of the Pallans in the Trichinopoly district, Mr. F. R. Hemingway writes as follows. "They generally have three or more head- men for each village, over whom is the Nattu Muppan. Each village also has a peon called Odumpillai (the runner). The main body of the caste, when attending council- meetings, is called ilam katchi (the inexperienced). The village councils are attended by the Muppans and the Nattu Muppan. Between the Nattu Muppan and the ordinary Muppans, there is, in the Karur taluk, a Pulli Muppan. All these offices are hereditary. In this taluk a rather different organisation is in force, to regulate the supply of labour to the landholders. Each of the village Muppans has a number of karais or sections of the wet-land of the village under him, and he is bound to supply labourers for all the land in his karai, and is remunerated by the landowner with ij marakkals of grain for every 20 kalams harvested. The Muppans do not work themselves, but maintain discipline among their men by flogging or expulsion from the caste. In the Karur taluk, the ordinary Pallans are called Manvettai-karans (mamoty or digging-tool men)."
Society and agriculture
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There are several rituals and cultural festivals in Tamil Nadu that have been created by Pallars. Most of these have been celebrated since the Sangram Period.
- Venkodai Thiruvizha ( White Umbrella Festival).
This festival is mentioned in Sangam literature Chilappathikaram as the Indravilla festival. There is also archaeological evidence of this festival. The concept of the festival is that the whole family from the farming community (Pallars) take venkodai on an elephant, seeking rain from their god Indra who was a Pandya king during time immemorial. A temple near Rajapalayam still celebrates Venkodai festival and the temple authorities claimed that they have evidence that the festival has taken place for more than 400 years.
Mulappari festival was usually associated with Aadi perukku. This is a typical method of testing the germination and vigour of various seeds which needs to be sown in the soils. The women take samples of various seeds and sown it in a dark room for 4–5 days and take it to the god as demonstration during night. The idea is that the seeds will be selected from the house of best grown mulappari.
- Ponnerpoottu Thiruvilla (Golden Plough Festival).
This festival is celebrated in east Abhiramam, Ramnad District, Tamil Nadu. They make garlands with the mix of paddy seedlings and hariyali grass on the plough and sing folk songs. The neerkatti does the first plough using the golden plough and this is considered to be the first plough for the entire zone. It is estimated that this festival is about 2,000 years old and during those ages kings used to come and start the festival; the government officials start the festival nowadays. During this festival, the people such as Kollans (blacksmiths/fabricators), Asari (the carpenters), Thattan (goldsmiths), and Edayan (who rear the bullocks and cows) were honoured for the help that they offered for starting the season.
According to Dr. Gnanasekaran indicates that this festival have been taken place in the entirety of south-east Asia, such as: Sri Lanka, Combodia, Thailand, Malasia Lavos and Vietnam. This festival was spread by Chola Kings who conquered those regions.
- Transplanting festival.
According to the Gnaneswaran, the transplanting festival has existed for over 1,200 years based on the documents from Patteswaran temple. The woman prepares the Nattru (seedling), ties with Valli, and worships the Goddess Patchai Nayagi, who is the wife of Lord Patteswaran.
They have developed a technique, like the Dapog method, of nursery preparation about 1,200 years ago. Every morning till the nattru is ready for transplanting, they pray to the god with nattru and kulavai pattu, a kind of local song, until the nattru is ready (about 15 days).
As per the concept, Patchi Nayagi, the wife of Lord Patteswaran, goes along with the women and transplant the seedling in the soil. This is being done by women from the community who are specialised in paddy cultivation in Tamil Nadu.
Lord Patteswaran takes the silver spade (anvetti), and accompanies them for the final levelling of fields and patch works of the fields. The Kalladi or Neerkatti does this as a representation of the god along with his wife Patchi Nayagi Mallammal.
- Harvest Festival 
Pongal (Thai Pongal) was celebrated across Tamil Nadu in the month of January 1516 as a thanksgiving celebration to God, Indra, and Lord Surya for the best yield provided by both of them. As per the concept, Indra provided good technology and seed and Surya provided the micro and macro climate which resulted in better yield.
Similarly they also thanks to Ayyanar, who protected the land from all kind of calamities. They offer a part of their yield in the form of cooked food with Jaggery and also offer a portion of the yield. They also exhibit Nellmudi, and offer it to Ayyanar in some places.
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Mattupongal is a thanksgiving function for the cows and bullocks who supported the farming throughout the season.
Some of the Pallar consider the term Pallar to be derogatory, instead preferring to be known as Mallar (Tamil: மள்ளர்) (a term also used by an ancient tribe that lived in the region), or by the name Devendra Kula Vellalar, a name connoting they were created by Devendra.
Many of the Pallar reject the term Pallar, a term which they say was introduced in the 17th century by Nayak kings to discriminate against them. They claim that prior to that they were known as Mallar, and wish to be called Devendra Kula Vellalar (DKV). In support of a name change to DKV, Pallars have undertaken hunger strikes and rallies. In January 2011, the government of Tamil Nadu appointed a one man commission to change their name as Devendra Kula Vellalar.
The Pallars have also demanded the Tamil Nadu government change the name Adi Dravidar (which is used to denote the people of Scheduled caste in Tamil Nadu) to Pattiyal sathigal (the Tamil translation of "Scheduled caste"). They argue that Adi Dravidar is the name of a caste which is presently in the Scheduled caste list.
The name of the caste was previously given as Pallan, however some caste members replaced the Tamil non-honorific terminal-"n" with an honorific "r", resulting in the name Pallar; a similar process was seen in the fellow Dalit Paraiyar (or Paraiyan) community.
Alternately, the term Pallar may derive from the word pallam, meaning a pit or low-lying region. Accordingly the community may have been named at one point Pallam after the type of land they cultivated.
In Tamil literature
Mallars are mentioned in Tamil literature from the ancient Sangam Literature to the recent 19th century poems, including Purananuru, Kamba Ramayanam, Thirumurukkatruppatai, Silapathigaram, Agananuru, Pathirtrupattu, Kurunthogai, Aingurunooru, Kalithogai, Natrinai, and Paripaadal.
The Pallar are the focus of a genre of Tamil poetry known as pallu. The genre developed in the 17th and 18th centuries, and depicts the Pallar hero dealing with the jealousies of his two wives and the oppression of his landlord in a satirical depiction of Pallar zeitgeist. The pallu, while maintaining its basic storyline, developed into many forms, with the Mukkudal pallu the oldest, including depiction of the struggles between Shaivites and Vaishnavites.
Among the Christian Tamils of Sri Lanka, the genre has been modified into nanapallu, a genre where the same story is told, but with the satirical and erotic elements replaced by Christian religious themes.
Pallu poems are part of chitrilakiyangal in Tamil literature. Pallu poems were also known as 'aesal'(a kind of ironical poem). They were written during the Nayak rule. The first pallu poem was 'mukkoodar pallu'. Many pallu poems were written which include vaiyapuri pallu, sengottu pallu, thandigai kanagaraayan pallu.[clarification needed] All the Pallu poems consist of a Pallan who has got two wives. It also explains about the farming and the life of a Pallar farmer.
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- Hanumanthan, K. R. (1979). Untouchability, A Historical Study up to 1500 A.D.: with special reference to Tamil Nadu. Koodal Publishers. p. 100. "The Pallas are also denoted by the title Kadaignar. The ancient heroic tribe called Mallar described in the Sangam classics were probably the ancestors of Pallas"
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