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Classification Weavers
Religions Om symbol.svg Hinduism
Languages Telugu
Populated States
Population 1,20,00,000[1] (estimated)
Subdivisions Based on Sampradaya

Based on type of cloth weaved
Related groups
Status Forward caste

Padmashali (also spelt as Padmasali) (Telugu: పద్మశాలి) is a Telugu-speaking Hindu artisan caste predominantly residing in the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala and were at associated with the Satavahana empire in olden days. The caste is traditionally occupied in weaving and textile businesses[1] and is identified by different names in various regions throughout India.


Padmashali family had its roots from Lord Sriman Narayana and it indicates that Lord Brahma emerged from the navel of Lord Sriman Narayana. Brighu Maharishi following Vaikhanasa (basically a Sri Sampradaya which is the Sampradaya of Lakshmi) is considered as one of the manasputras (born by a wish) of Lord Brahma (It is also said that Brughu Maharishi was born from the heart of Lord Brahma). Down the lineage - Brughu Maharishi and his wife Kyathi had children – Bhargavi, Dhata and Vidhata. Bhargavi or Lakshmi is Lord Vishnumurthy’s wife. Dhatha married to Ayathi and blessed with son, Praanudu. Vidhatha was married to Niyathi had a son – Mrukanda Maharishi. Mrukanda Maharishi and his wife Marudhvathi were blessed with son Markandeya Maharishi. The Markandeya Maharishi was bestowed with a son Bhavanarayana from Yagnakunda, otherwise known as Bhavana Rishi or Veda Shirsha. Bhavana Rishi and his wife Bhadravathi had 101 Padmashali sons. Padmashalis are the descendants of these 100 sons and they are spread all over India and other parts of the World.[4] All of these evidences can be found in Markandeya Purana, Vishnu Purana, Vayu Purana. The technique of weaving came from ayoni putra, Sri Bhavana maharishi.[5]

There are two interpretations for the origin of the word "Padmashali" and its group, one from the Vaishnava group and the other from the Shaiva group. Some believe it is derived from the Sanskrit word Shali meaning "silk cloth".[6] However, linguistic construction of Dravidian languages traces its root to the Proto-South-Dravidian word saal. In Tulu, Saalye or Taalye means "spider". Also, saaleedu means spider in Telugu. Probably, symbolising the weaving activity with the spider's web, this word was coined for weavers.[6]

The word Padmashali has a very deep meaning in Hindu mythology. The Vaishnava group interprets that the word Padmashali is a combination of two words, viz., padma and shali. The word Padma is "Sahasradala Padma", meaning the highest order of human intelligence. The word Shali in Sanskrit is "beholder". Thus Padmashali literally means "beholder of Sahasrara". In physical term it means intelligence. Another mythological story relates to Padmavathi, the wife of Lord Srinivasa. It is believed that Padmavathi of Mangapuram of Tirupati declared that she was the daughter of Padmashali to Tallapaka Chinnayya (grandson of Tallapaka Annamacharya) in the year 1543. Hence the name Padmashali. There exists written evidence with Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams to support the statement of Padmavathi as the daughter of Padmashali in the book Siri Koluvu.[7] In almost all the Vaishnava temples in India such as Tirupati, Tiruchanur, Sri Rangam, Srinivasa Mangapuram, Ahobilam, Mangalagiri etc. including most of the 108 Divya Desams, it is a custom tradition that only Padmashalis are first allowed to offer the Silk clothes and ornaments to the deities. Padma also refers to lotus. The lotus also refers to the intelligence or awakening of "Sahasrara".[6] The Shaiva group has a different interpretation to account for their origin. It is said that in order to clothe the nakedness of people in the world, Lord Shiva commissioned Markandeya to perform a sacrifice. Once Bhavana Rishi came out of the holy fire, holding a lotus (Padma) in his hand. He married two wives Prasannavati and Bhadravati, daughters of Lord Surya and had a hundred and one sons, who all took to weaving cloth out of the fiber of the lotus flower and became the progenitors of the one hundred and one Gotras of this caste.

The Padmashalis thus basically perform Brahmin rites and even today a group who are qualified Hinduism shastra pandits perform the poojas and vedic rites. They are identified as "Padma Brahmins" and the origin of Padmashalis relates to Brighu Maharishi and Brighu Marharshi gave astrology to the world. Further down in the order of heritage Markandeya who wrote the epic on Devi and her shakti, famously known as Sri Devi Bhagavatham. It also means that Padmashalis are shakti aradhakas.[8]

Vamsa Vruksha of Padmashalis - Guru is Brighu Maharishi


The Padmashali community profess to have been following all the religious rites prescribed for Brahmins till the beginning of Kali Yuga. One of the members of their caste named Padmasaka declined to reveal the virtues of a miraculous gem which Lord Brahma had given to their caste to Lord Ganesha who sought to learn the secret which they had been enjoined to keep, and who on his wish not being gratified cursed them to fall from their high status. It is said however that one Parabrahmamurti born in Srirama Agrahara pleased Lord Ganesha by his tapas, who relaxed the curse, so that after 5000 years of Kali Yuga, they should regain their Brahminical status. This Parabrahmamurti, otherwise known as Padmabavacharya, it is said redistributed the caste into 101 gotras arranged in eight groups and established four Mathas with gurus for them.[6] However, as a result of the curse, and also because their occupation was related to manufacture and trade, the Padmashalis were never accepted as Brahmins and instead were considered as Vaishyas.[6][9] Padmasalis fall between the Brahmins and other Aryan castes, they follow a mix of Dravidian and Aryan rituals / food habits, suggesting Aryan origin and inter-mixture with the Dravidians. All Padmasalis claim Rishi gothras of 101 rishi "santhathi" who were taken on adoption by the sage Bhavana Rishi, who himself was taken on adoption by Rishi Markandeya.[10] Thus, Padmashali name as caste carries highest meaning that it is caste of Brahminical not by birth but by deeds.[8]

All Padmashalis are reported to have originated from the Satavahana Empire.[6] It is said that the Padmashalis and another weaver caste, the Devangas, were originally one single caste in ancient times, following Vaishnavism.[2] The Devangas later split from this single caste owing to differences in faith; these members were influenced by Shaivism and Lingayatism and accepted Goddess Chamundeswari, the fierce form of Goddess Durga as their kuladevi,[2][6] while the remaining members i.e. the Padmashalis, continued to adhere to Vaishnavism.[2][6]

The Padmashalis eventually specialised in weaving clothes of all varieties.[2] They also made cloth from cotton and animate yarn (silk). Caste communities involved in the leather and wool-based household industries - which perhaps have an older history than cloth weaving - have developed an integrated process of production of raw material and its conversation into commodities. But unlike them, the Padmashalis developed exclusively cloth-weaving skills. They produced cloth as a marketable commodity, without having any organic links or skills in the production of the raw material. The Padmashali men had no expertise in ploughing and their women lacked seeding and crop-cutting skills. Thus their skill structure, over a period of time, became one-dimensional. By the time the British arrived, the Padmashalis were producing huge quantities of cloth and controlled a leading cottage industry in India.[6]

The introduction of the railways in 1853 by the colonial British government helped penetrate the self-sufficient rural economy. With the forced introduction of machine manufactured goods, especially finished cotton goods from the factories in Britain (making use of advances from the Industrial Revolution), the domestic textile industry suffered losses. Being an important node in the rural economy, the Padmashali community also naturally felt the impact. Many Padmashalis as a result settled in the urban and semi-urban areas for better opportunities.[6]

Padmashalis today[edit]

Today, Padmashalis are spread in the Indian states of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and also in parts of the Indian states of Maharashtra,[9] Orissa and Chhattisgarh.The mother tongue of most members of the community is Telugu,[11] even in areas where they have migrated generations ago such as Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, except in the Dakshina Kannada district of Coastal Karnataka, where they speak Tulu.[6] They have a visible tendency towards urbanisation since the occupation of weaving and marketing cloth is easy from urban and semi-urban centers. Some urban Padmashalis have abandoned their ancestral profession and have diversified into secular professions such as engineering, management, medicine, law, academia, administration, politics and business to name a few.[6] A few of them have also migrated to foreign countries like the USA, UK, UAE, Australia and Germany. Though the community was always a socially advanced one, the majority of its members are economically and educationally forward, as a result of which in the present day, Padmashalis are categorized as an Forward caste in some areas and in some other areas as Economically Backward Class.[6] by the Government of India despite its Brahminical origin.

Padmashalis are divided into subcastes based on the type of cloth they weaved such as Kaikala, Karna Bhaktulu, Senadhipathulu and Thogata Sali.[3] These subcastes are further divided into two groups based on Sampradaya- the Shaivas and the Vaishnavas.[2] While the Shaivas give preference to worshipping Lord Shiva, the Vaishnavas give preference to worshipping Lord Vishnu. These religious and occupational distinctions are no bar to intermarriage and interdining.[2] The community people usually do not use caste-based surnames, preferring to use family-based surnames like other Telugu people, but some of them do use caste-based surnames like Netha, Padmashali Setty/Chetty, Sena and Mudaliar.

The main principles that Padmashalis have to follow are the customs of no meat eating, no liquor consumption and no betting while following their profession. It is said that those who follow these principles thoroughly and those following the spiritual path would attain the highest knowledge and wealth. The Padmashali caste is highly Sanskritised, with all the men wearing the sacred thread.[6] Some Padmashalis even do liturgical work which is usually done by Brahmins. They are well-versed in the Agama Shastra and perform poojas and Vedic rites based on it.[6] They also worship local gods such as Goddess Yellamma, Goddess Gangamma and Goddess Chamundeswari.[2] Thus their culture is a blend of both Aryan as well as Dravidian cultures. However, in terms of social consciousness, this caste is more Brahminical than any other non-Brahminical caste in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.[6] Because they largely stay indoors or because of characteristics genes, the community members have developed reddish skin and are hence known as erra kulamu (red caste) among the Forward castes.[6]

Notable Padmashalis[edit]

See also[edit]


External links[edit]