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Tamil, Malayalam
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Related ethnic groups
Tamil people

Paraiyar or Parayar (formerly anglicised as Pariah; translated as "slave")[1][2][3] is a caste group found in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. They are also known as Adi Dravida ("Original Dravidian"), which was a title encouraged by the British Raj as a substitute for Paraiyar because the British believed that their colonising of the country had ended slavery in India.[4]

The Indian census of 2001 reported that in Tamil Nadu the Adi Dravida population was about 5,402,755 and the Paraiyar population as 1,860,519.[5]


Some scholars presume that Paraiyars must have been followers of Buddhism, constituted the original population and after the invasion by Brahmanical conquerors, they lost their culture, religion, wealth and status in the society and become destitute.[6]

Right-hand caste faction[edit]

Paraiyars belong to the Valangai ("Right-hand caste faction"). Some of them assume the title Valangamattan ("people of the right-hand division"). The Valangai comprised castes with an agricultural basis while the Idangai consisted of castes involved in manufacturing.[7] Valangai, which was better organised politically.[8]

British colonial era[edit]

In the second half of the 19th century, there were frequent descriptions of the Paraiyars in official documents and reformist tracts as being "disinherited sons of the earth".[9][10] The first reference to the idea may be that written by Francis Whyte Ellis in 1818, where he writes that the Paraiyars "affect to consider themselves as the real proprietors of the soil”. In 1894, William Goudie, a Weslyan missionary, said that the Paraiyars are self-evidently the "disinherited children of the soil".[10]

Sakya Buddha Society and Theosophical Society[edit]

Iyothee Thass, a Siddha doctor by occupation, belonged to a Paraiyar elite. In 1898, Thass and a large number of his followers converted to Buddhism and founded the Sakya Buddha Society (cākkaiya putta caṅkam) with the influential mediation of Henry Steel Olcott of the Theosophical Society. Olcott subsequently and greatly supported the Tamil Paraiyar Buddhists.[11]

Adidravida Jana Sabha and the term Adidravida[edit]

The Parayar Mahajana Sabha was founded by Rettamalai Srinivasan in 1892. In 1895, Thass founded the “People’s Assembly of Urdravidians” (Adidravida Jana Sabha) in Madras. Michael Bergunder says that those associated with Thass claimed the description Urdravidian or Adidravidan, still a common synonym for Paraiyars in South India, and Iyothee Thass was the first to introduce the concept of Adidravida into political discussion and in the 1920s and 1930s. E.V.Ramasami ensured the wide dissemination of this term.[12]

Notable people[edit]


Religious and spiritual leaders[edit]

Social reformers and activists[edit]

  • M. C. Rajah, (1883–1943) was a politician, social and political activist from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu
  • Rettamalai Srinivasan (1860–1945), a Dalit activist, politician from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu
  • Iyothee Thass Pandithar (1845–1914), founded the Sakya Buddhist Society (also known as Indian Buddhist Association)



  1. ^ Raman, Ravi (2010). Global Capital and Peripheral Labour: The History and Political Economy of Plantation Workers in India. Routledge. p. 288. ISBN 1135196583. 
  2. ^ Gough, Kathleen (2008). Rural Society in Southeast India. Cambridge University Pres. p. 476. ISBN 0521040191. 
  3. ^ My library My History Books on Google Play Slave trade (East India) Slavery in Ceylon. East India Company. 1838. p. 615. 
  4. ^ Irschick (1994), pp 168-169.
  5. ^ Tamil Nadu — Data Highlightst: The Scheduled Castes — Census of India 2001 (PDF). p. 1. Retrieved 20 March 2012. 
  6. ^ Bergunder (2004), pp. 67 - 72.
  7. ^ Siromoney, Gift (1975). "More inscriptions from the Tambaram area". Madras Christian College Magazine (Madras Christian College Magazine) 44. Retrieved 21 September 2008. 
  8. ^ Levinson, Stephen C. (1982). "Caste rank and verbal interaction in western Tamilnadu". In McGilvray, Dennis B. Caste Ideology and Interaction. Cambridge Papers in Social Anthropology 9. Cambridge University Press. p. 105. ISBN 978-0-52124-145-8. 
  9. ^ Irschick (1994), pp 153–190.
  10. ^ a b Bergunder (2004), p. 68.
  11. ^ Bergunder (2004), p. 67.
  12. ^ Bergunder (2004), p. 69.
  13. ^ Mylapore Institute for Indigenous Studies; I.S.P.C.K. (Organization) (2000). Christianity is Indian: the emergence of an indigenous community. Published for MIIS, Mylapore by ISPCK. p. 322. ISBN 978-81-7214-561-3. Retrieved 7 April 2012. 


Further reading[edit]