Nagartha

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This article is an excerpt from
Castes and Tribes of Southern India
By Edgar Thurston, C.I.E.,
Superintendent, Madras Government Museum; Correspondant
Étranger, Société d’Anthropologie de Paris; Socio
Corrispondante, Societa,Romana di Anthropologia.
Assisted by K. Rangachari, M.A.,
of the Madras Government Museum.

Government Press, Madras
1909.

Nagartha

Nagarata, Nagarattar, or Nagarakulam is returned, in the Madras Census Report, 1901, as a sub-caste of Chetti. In the Census Report, 1891, it is recorded that the Nagarattu “hail from Kānchipuram (Conjeeveram), where, it is said, a thousand families of this caste formerly lived. Their name (nagaram, a city) refers to their original home. They wear the sacred thread, and worship both Vishnu and Siva. They take neither flesh nor alcohol. As they maintain that they are true Vaisyas, they closely imitate the Brāhmanical ceremonies of marriage and death. This sub-division has a dancing-girl and a servant attached to it, whose duties are to dance, and to do miscellaneous work during marriages. The caste servant is called Jātipillai (child of the caste).

Concerning the Nagarthas, who are settled in the Mysore Province, I gather3 that “the account locally obtained connects them with the Gānigas, and the two castes are said to have been co-emigrants to Bangalore where one Mallarāje Ars made headmen of the principal members of the two castes, and exempted them from the house-tax. Certain gōtras are said to be common to both castes, but they never eat together or intermarry. Both call themselves Dharmasivachar Vaisyas, and the feuds between them are said to have often culminated in much unpleasantness. The Nagarthas are principally found in towns and large trade centres. Some are worshippers of Vishnu, and others of Siva. Of the latter, some wear the linga. They are dealers in bullion, cloth, cotton, drugs and grain. A curious mode of carrying the dead among the Nāmadāri or Vaishnavite Nagarthas is that the dead body is rolled up in a blanket, instead of a bier or vimāna as among others. These cremate their dead, whereas the others bury them. Marriage must be performed before a girl reaches puberty, and widows are not allowed to remarry. Polygamy is allowed, and divorce can be for adultery alone. It is recorded by Mr. L. Rice4 that “cases sometimes occur of a Sivāchar marrying a Nāmadāri woman, and, when this happens, her tongue is burned with the linga, after which she forsakes her parents’ house and religion. It is stated that the Sivāchar Nagarthas never give their daughters in marriage to the Nāmadāri sect.” Among the gōtras returned by the Nagarthas are Kasyapa, Chandramaulēswara, and Chōlēndra.

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