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Origin, History &
Who is Who of Illathupillaimar

Illathu Pillai are Tamil speaking Community , spread over entire south Tamil Nadu. They are believed to be related linguistically or socio linguistically to group of words Elu / Hela / Seehala / Simhala / Salai /Seilandiba pointing all to the island of Srilanka. However solid proof of their origin is still elusive.

The Tirupparangkuntram inscription in Tamil, found near Madurai and dated back to first century BC, refers to a person as householder from Eezham (Eezha-kudumpikan). Similarly the 3rd Century inscription found in Arittapatti near Madurai talks about ‘Eelava perumal, Chief of Nelveli, has caused the carving of this auspicious cave’. The famous Kilavalavu Jain cave inscriptions of same period talks about Ezhavan who built Buddist monastry there.

In Periapuranam, one of the Nayanars, Enathi Nayanar , is referred to as Ezha origin.

Enathinatha Nayanar Puranam :

யாழ்ப்பாணத்து நல்லூர் ஸ்ரீலஸ்ரீ ஆறுமுக நாவலர் கத்தியரூபமாக செய்தது

ஈழக் குலச்சான்றா ரெயின னூர்வா

ழேனாதி நாதனா ரிறைவ னீற்றைத்

தாழத் தொழுமரபார் படைக ளாற்றுந்

தன்மைபெறா வதிசூரன் சமரிற் றோற்று

வாழத் திருநீறு சாத்தக் கண்டு

மருண்டார்தெ ருண்டார்கை வாள்வி டார்நேர்

வீழக் களிப்பார்போ னின்றே யாக்கை

விடுவித்துச் சிவனருளே மேவி னாரே

It says Enathi Nayanar belongs to Ezha kulam was A brilliant swordsman, a trainer and a general in the Chola military himself, he was also the tutor to the Chola princes in swordsmanship. He was a Shaiva, a devotee of the god Shiva. He became rich owing to his prowess and spent his wealth on serving the devotees of Shiva. Latter he wAs killed by his rival in the same profession disguised as Shiva devotee.

This shows that they are basically warrior in Cholo kingdom and subsequenty became Kalari Trainers / Chevakars in Chera Dynasty.

In all old big saivaite temples, Enathi Nayanar’s deity is also installed and worshipped along with other Nayanmars, How this has turned upside down in Kerala , after the arrival Nambodiris and Tulu brahamins?

Legend : According to a legend, a Pandyan princess named Alli married Narasimha, a Rajah of the Carnatic. The royal couple migrated to Ceylon and settled there as rulers. There descendants and adherents migrated to mainland and they were the ancestors . In south Travancore , they were known by the title of Mudaliyar, which is surname of a division of vellalas at Jaffna.

Matrilineal inheritance : Contrary to all the other Tamil communities , the inter-relation between the members of the community is based on ‘Thai vazhi’(only through the matrilineal system).

Illam : There are about five illams used in Tamil Nadu and South Kerala, viz 1. Palli illam 2. Moottillam 3. Chozhi Illam 4. Thoranathu Illam and 5. Manja nattu illam

According to another legend , the five illams originated as the children of five wives of ruler of the island (who has migrated to the island from the mainland), who were inter married . Then onwards the children inherited the illam of the mother and marriage between the same illam is considered taboo. While it is common for all other communities of Tamil nadu to marry the maternal uncle (mother’s brother), Illathu Pillaimar is the only community not practicing the unhealthy custom and they stand alone.

They are spread over Srilanka (Eezham ), Kerala and Tamil Nadu and called under different nomenclature viz. Ezhavar, Panikkar, Sirukudi Vellalar , illathar etc.

Sozhia Vellalars who are predominantly spread over Thanjavur , Nagapattinam areas of erstwhile Chola kingdom are also considered to be part of Sirukudi Vellalar / Illathu Pillaimar.

Ezhava of Kerala : The word Ezhava is believed to be derived from Ezham/Ilam and to have related to group of words pointing all to the island of Srilanka. The most widely accepted theory is that their origin go back to the dim past to those ancient pre-Tamil Sangam days. Their Tamil background gave them the God Muruga and Goddess Kali, and host of other village gods like Chathan, Chithan and Arathan. The theory of their existence in Srilanka (as Tamils) during first centuries cannot be ruled out.

Ezhavas served in the armed forces of all important kings of the Malayalam Region, such asZamorins of Calicut , and Kings of Travancore and Cochin.

The word Ila refers to toddy, the they are involved in toddy tapping as well.

Ezhavas were well known Warriors, Kalari trainers and traders. There were also into the fields like Trading arrack, Traditional Toxology, Distillery, Toddy tapping, Fishing, Weaving etc.

Folklore and written records indicate they were also martial class. Famous warriors such as Unniyarcha, Aromal Chekavar were Ezhavas. Chera kings were actually villavars who were degraded after the arrival of Brahmins.

Ayurvedic practice, Traditional Toxicology, Farming Coconut, ship making , weaving, Theyyam, Mayilpeeli Thookam, Poorakkali, Parichamuttu kali, Makachuttu, Aivar kali etc are related to Ezhavas of Kerala.

Their continuous adherence to the Buddist culture downgraded them socially after the formation of Brahminical order in South India. This led to the mass conversion of Ezhavas to Christianity until the arrival of Sri Narayana Guru. The majority of the Christian and Central Travancore and especially those in the high ranges were originally Ezhavas and now ardent and orthodox Christians.

They have now become a minuscule minority in Tamilnadu, may be majority moved to western coast, because of similar environment and climatic conditions as in Srilanka.