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The pressures of population and scarcity of food drove the Kuravar from the Kurinji hills to the lower lands—the secondary forests that skirted the foothills. When we think of pastures, grassy meadows and cows chewing lazily comes to mind. But the felling of trees and open spaces for grazing is a comparatively recent development. During times of antiquity, secondary forests were the first pastoral lands.

In the forests people encountered and domesticated cattle, sheep, and goats. The herdsmen who tended to a species of sheep called kurumbaadu were referred to as Kurumbar. They weaved kambali from the wool of these sheep.

Breeding livestock led to distinct notions of private property, as opposed to the practice in the Kurinji hills where women (as matriarchs of households) exercised a more communal ownership of fruits and grains they gathered.

Tending to livestock led to altercations over grazing rights. This led to cattle lifting (rustling) which were often the precursor to war between the tribes.

[At the risk of digressing and jumping far ahead: In latter centuries, kings lifted cattle as a show of their might in arms. Cattle lifting was a comparatively safer venture than open hostilities and can be blamed on “adventurers”. Having one’s herds stolen was a harbinger of what was to come and enough shame (and a reality check) for the loser. The losing king will promise to punish the “wayward”  among his people, offer compensation for losses, and peace restored with no loss of face or throne.]

Livestock became the first recognised private property. The value of gathered food paled in comparison to this new and more enduring source of riches which were minded by men. This led to a patriarchal family structure.

Wealthy men could support several women and their children. This led to larger families and strength in numbers, making the head of large households pre-eminent in a clan. A woman desired by a wealthy man became his for his private enjoyment – a departure from the practice of the hill tribes. And it is safe to assume that the poorer men in the clan did not always enjoy such exclusivity with women.

With a patriarchal family structure and “exclusivity” with regards to women, the pastoral tribes adopted the practice of karpu, post-nuptial love (as opposed to the Kuravar’s pre-nuptial love or kalavu).

Marriage ceremonies were a form of marking one’s privilege with a woman, and a warning to other men to keep away. Of course, the wealthy man conveyed his hard warning with soft bribes – feasting and gifting.

As a consequence, the hill tribes’ practice of taking multiple partners was viewed as immoral. Bards, who relied on wealthy men for their livelihood, sang praises of women’s chastity while remaining silent regarding the morals of their benefactors in this regards.

As the weather was equable and the abundant rain rejuvenated the land, pastoral life in South India did not require a nomadic lifestyle.

This permanency plus the growing wealth and power garnered by individuals led to people flocking to such powerful men for security. This arrangement evolved into the first states. And the first kings in the Deccan rose among the pastoral clans of the Mullai regions.

The old Tamil word kol means rod – that is, the staff carried by a herdsman. In time the word kol evolved to mean sceptre. The word kov which is another derivative of kol became kovalan – he who carries a rod (sceptre). And kovalan became the Tamil word for king. Another derivative is kavalan – literally meaning, he who guards (the clan).

Note: In my forthcoming novel, Song of the Ankle Rings, the protagonist Kannagi is married to a merchant prince named Kovalan. The practice of giving children grandiose names such as Kovalan, Shah, and Rajah and Rani (queen), and Khan has been/is quite prevalent in South Asia.

*** Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2018 ***

(Note: Treat these posts on Ancient Indian history as highly simplified introductions to a complex, often conflicting, and vague period mired in the mists of antiquity.)

Next Friday we peek into the lives of the ancient warriors of the Paalai (desert) regions.

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