The Ancient chozhiars
Sholiyar or Choliyal or Chozhiars were a commune of priests and practitioners of vedic and agamic rituals during ancient period .In Tamil there is an old saying: "சோழியன் குடுமி சூம்மா ஆடாது "(sozhian kutumi summa aadathu), which means that these people do not do anything without a purpose. Since the tuft of chanakya resembled that of chozhiars, there is a theory that the minister of chandragupta may have actually belonged to this commune.These people are More Ethnic and More Orthodox.
These group of people mainly worked as ritualists, councillors to the Kings, agriculturists,Astrologers , Temple Priests during ancient times .
They got their Name "Choliyal" because of their origins and affiliation to ancient dramila or tamil south and mainly because of being under the rule of ancient kingdoms like cholas,pallavas,cheras etc.
Recently there has been a lot of controversy that has arisen due to misinterpretation of the term and the rest, particularly during the late medieval ages after the sway over the subcontinent of the ancient kingdoms was coming to an end. Whereas the terms like "Kudumi sozhia anthanar" etc was held to mean that those who served in the region or in the offices of the cholas etc
after the end of their rule when the offices were no longer held to be legal they came to be interpreted in terms of community and cultural group and that interpretation while being completely wrong and misled also created a lot of confusion. It is also well possible that only very few of those who actually were legally offIciating for cholas etc may have survived that day. Eventoday the adisaiva priests are a small minority.
These chozhiars are broadly classified into two major groups
i)Saivite priests (Deekshitars, Nambhiyars,Pandithars, Brahmarayars)
The saivite/advaitic priests
Advaitic brahmins are divided into three major groups they were:
1.Adi Marayavars(Ancient vidic professionals)
2.Uchikudimi Marayavars(Urvatsika )
3.Munkudimi Marayavars (Purvasikha).
They all during ancient times followed vedic system and advaita philosophy of Adi Shankara.
Even Adishankaracaya's forefathers are Sholiyar. One of his Disciple Padmapada is from this sholiyar. Saivite Saints like Manickkavachar,Somaasi Maara Nayanar,Appoodhi Adigal Nayanar, Rudra pasupati nayanar, have been persons who were patronized by chola and pallava kings. Even sundarar (tirumunaippadi, in cuddalore) and sambandar ( sirkali , next to chidambaram) and also Nambi Andar Nambi were born in erstwhile pallava and chola territories and being urvatsikha were actually "kutumi sozhia marayavars" of those days.
The epic periyapuranam , sambandar's hymn on sirkali with name sembai which is one of his 67 hymns dedicated to that city and also sundarar's hymn paying tribute to sambandar at sirkali, very lovingly refer to the child saint's " flower laden top knot that is tilted slightly".
[a] Adi Marayavars(Ancient brahamanas)
These People are more Orthodox and they believe to come to earth from Kailash during certain epochal age,They wear kudimi or sikha or tuft as similar to namboothiri, and they were first to be taught by Lord in his incarnation as Parasuram, They are mostly endogamous.
These peole hold there independency eventhough in a very crude and non-existent form, in their temples even today.
Their Settlements are five Major groups:
1)Thillai chidambaram (முவாயிரவர்)(The three thousand ones)Dikshitar
2)ThiruvAnaikoil (ஆயிரவர்)(The one thousand)Pandithar
3)Avadaiyarkoil (முன்னூற்றிஓருவர்)(The three hundred and one)Nambimaar
last two settlements are those people who served as Brahmarayans or councillors in Chola courts, later they are scattered but only some are in woriyur settlement. The settlement and offices at tiruvarur were further enhanced due to arrival after the destruction of poompuhar.
[b] Uchikudimi Marayavars(Urvatsikha or top tuft):
These People have Uchi kudimi or top tuft .
Their settlements areas follows:
The last mentioned one has been held to be very pious as it was founded by lord murukan.
[c] Munkudimi Marayavars (Purvasikha):
Sama veda choliya's or munkudimi , had been found in the Eighteen villages about 400 brahmin servitors of around Cauvery banks of Trichy And Thanjavur during the Chola reign, But Later in the period around 1234 A.D migrated to Kerala and they are found in the villages of palakkad(palghat), especially in the villages of Kodunthirapully Agraharam, Alagiyapandiyapuram, Nagarkoyil and Sucindram. These people are especially Talavakara Sakha of the Sama Veda and they are mainly from Anbil, Kidamangalam, llayattangudi, Sesamulail, Sendalai, Nangur.
The sthalapuranams of sirkali in nangur, the birth place of sree gnanasambandar also referred to as sembai, in one of its twelve names, tiruvanaikka in trichy, karur and perur near coimbatore srirangam and tiruchenkunroor near quilon provide useful data for the below report.
The above tale of servitors is mentioned in sthalamahatmyams of ancient Indian cities like anbil,nangur etc. A brief report supporting the same was published in an epigraphical manual in 1913.C.E as follows.
A note on special forces called velaikkaras
There is an interesting legend in connection with the velaikkarar or workingclass mercenary soldiers of cholas. They occur in many inscriptions as infantry men who are also to do the camp building,roadlaying and other menial works. They are divided into three corps namely left hand, right hand, and centre. Regarding the left hand division of the mercenary troop, the following is quoted in Madras epigraphical report of 1913.C.E. It says: That during a certain epochal age, sage kashyapa along with 400 young sage disciples started a sacrifice to increase the power of gods who were involved in a terrible war with demons. The demons who came to know of this started disturbing the proceedings. Inorder to tackle the demons, the sages made appear from the sacrificial altar a corp of workingclass mercenaries.Since they were called upon to do menial tasks the sages named them “velaikkaras” or workers. The mercenaries successfully defended the sacrifice from the demonic assault. Following this the sage kashyapa left to his heavenly abode and the remaining young sages who part took in the sacrifice requested emperor arindama to allow them to settle for a few years in places in and around the venue of sacrifice in order to complete some religious rituals. The emperor agreed to do so and settled them in places of tiruvellarai,anbil,manakkal, papakurichi etc(all in and around trichy). In the Premapuri - Sthalamahatmya (on the greatness of Anbil), it is mentioned that eighteen villages with four hundred families, on either banks of the Cauvery, once flourished. Alongside these brahmana sages settled the mercenary troop called left hand troop. They were called left hand because :” after the completion of sacrifices they were seated along side the sages in their cars and as they disembarked, the sages were helped out of the cars by the left hand of the workers who had been caused to come out of sacrificial fire by the virtuous sages.” Not with standing this, they were to observe certain rules to be considered as continuing belonging to the group of left hand mercenaries. This was whenever a conference meeting is called only those workers who carried along with them the left hand mercenary insignia of bugle, horn, heron and swan feather, all of which come as a recognition for having completed the service of military with efficiency, would continue to remain in the group and carry the tag of left hand mercenaries further. Those who did not fetch the same shall be dismembered and shall no longer carry the name left hand troop or follow customs of the same. These mercenaries were used by cholas and pallavas as well. As we find some of them being referred to as “ pallavasya dhwajaniyah”(those who come under the flag of pallavas). The left hand troop that had 98 divisions as perundanam, sirundanam, pillaigaldanam,illankai,malayalar and vadugar, have been incorrectly interpreted by the colonial epigraphists in the context of current geographies,but these terms oint to velaikkaras only. The velaikkaras were also supposed to as a type of obligation be incharge of security of the area surrounding srirangam for a period of three years on rotation which was a rule discussed in various ancient business law books like that of viswarupa, atri, vyasa, narada and others. The accostment of armed velaikkaras in srirangam and their guarding the premises which is evidenced in many inscriptions is also exactly in line with the sacrifice of treta yugam where they had their origin. Eventhough we have not still traced the documents breaking up the services rendered by these great servitors some information available from documents like koyilolugu on srirangam's history say that many were of atreya and bharadwaja recensions.
The velaikkaras also feature prominently as men incharge of security in several vaishnava endowments at burma, Indonesia, Malaysia , Maldives and srilanka. There however exists a slight inconsistency with the number of participant sages where in some sthala mahatmya texts have it as 400, where as some ther puranas quote it to be 4000. This is because in the literature of places like watrap in pandyan country we find the mention to certain groUP of Brahmin servitors “who were a part of nalayiravar or four thousand ones.”. It was noted above that old Tamil inscriptions that the four hundred villages practiced ancient vedic rituals and among the 3000 recensions of samaveda the Talavakara-Saman or jaimineeya supposed to be most ancient recension of the same was in use. Talavakara is only the older or alternative name for the Jaiminiya. On Jaiminiya manuscripts the name Talavakara is found. Sankara refers to the Kenopanisad under that name. What is most important is that the Talavakara Sakha of the Sama Veda is still current in some parts of Tamilnad. They have it thus at Kidamangalam, llayattangudi, Sesamulail, Sendalai, Nangur, etc. in Tanjore district. The families associated with the Tirumala-yaagam(probably the same sacrifice that took place in the puranic age and that is mentioned above) which students of Saivite history and the lives of Sundaramurti and Somayaji Mara Nayanars know, are Talavakaras; some of the Talavakaras of this place had embraced Vaisnavism. In Trichi district, Talavakaras are found in Papakurichi, Uttamasili and Anbil; in Tirunelveli Dt., at Alvar Tirunagari, Tentirupperai ( Vaisnavas) and Watrap(pandinattu nalayiravar); and at Karamanai and Tiruvattar near Trivandrum, and at Alagiyapandiyapuram, Nagarkoyil and Sucindram also. Likewise in the western chera country we have such places in tiruchenkunroor near quilon, vithuvakkode(near cochin), tiruvanantapuram, tiruppuliyur and vanchi near ernakulam. The sages are also known to have practiced among the Vedas the elaborate kausheetiki version of rigveda called baashkalam. Some practitioners also preferred aswalayana rig veda.
The following inscription of sundarachola(950.C.E-957.C.E) is interesting from that perspective:
It states that :
“an endowment of 20 Karunkasu made to the temple by Baradayan( Bharadwaja, belonging to the lineage of sage Bharadwaja, the father of Drona , the preceptor of pandavas) Senada-Nakkapiranbatta-Sarvakratuyajiyar of Kurramangalam , with the provison that the annual interest of 3 kasu accruing there form was to be given as prize among the competitors, excluding those who were successful in previous years, to the best reciter of prescribed portions of Jaiminiya-Samaveda before the god(Siva) on the night of Tiruvadirai in Margali month(month of December).”.
The inscription is from On the south wall of the central shrine,of Matsyapurisvara temple. Koyil-Tevarayanpettai (near Pandaravadai), Papanasam taluk, Tanjore District. On the south wall of the central shrine.
Further the anbil grant of the same ruler refer to certain aniruddha brahmarayan “a devotee at the feet of Lord Ranganathan(Lord Vishnu) at srirangam” , a follower of jaimineeya samaveda and a minister to sundara chola , who belonged to the place anbil as a patron and donee to some temples in the a forementioned 18 villages.
These people a Purva sikha choliyal.
This apart a group of 2000 servitors called pottris have been taken by lord murukan to tiruchendur and some of them later on moved to southern parts of kerala.
These people are divided into two groups one on chola nadu another on Pandiya naduThese Brahmanas are mostly Thenkalai and they follow Vishishtadvaita of Ramanuja. This group are VaishnavitesAll Brahmin alvars. Madhurakavaialwar,Tondar adi podi Alvar ,Periya alwar are Sholiyar. Vaishnava exponents like Periya nambi, Thirukoshtiyoor nambi,Periyavachan Pillai are chozhiars.
[a] Chola Nadu:This is around the seven villages (ஏழூ கிராமம்) of Trichy:
These include Puthur, Kariyamanikam, Thruvellarai,Thitukkostiyur, Papakurichi, Uttamasili and Maanakaal(Anbil). BothMun kudimi and Uchi Kudimi are common
[b] Pandiya Nadu:Another is found in seven villages (ஏழூ கிராமம்) :
Around ThirunelveliThese include Villages like Alvar Tirunagari, Tentirupperai (Tenkalai Vaisnavas) and Watrap; and at Karamanai and Tiruvettar near Trivandrum, .These people have Uchi kudimi, and mainly belonged to Talavarakara or jaimineeya sakha of sama veda.
Common among Choliyal
All of Choliyal believed in dharmasastras and they both followed the Manusmriti and other law books . The Grihya Sutras of Apastamba and Baudhayana are found among Yajur veda of which both krishna and sukla yajur veda though now non-existent have been known to be practiced during ancient times. The protocols and service procedures at srirankam during ancient times were according to sangam works and koyilolugu done in accordance with sukla yajur veda. similarly both sutras of Rig veda also found particularly the elaborate kausheetiki was practiced during ancient times, But Sama veda has rare Talavakara or jaimineeya recension There common Gotra of choliyal include Bharadvaja, Atreya, Vasishta, Angirasa,kaundinya Kashyapa,Koushika , Rowshayadana ,Agastya and Srivatsa.
The details wrt above may be referred to in sthala puranams of respective places originally documented by the sages like atri, kashyapa, vasistha, bharadwaja etc.
The sthalapuranam of avadiyar koil or tirupperunturai mentions the origin from fire of sage rowshayadana and also about the 301 servitors who sprang from him.
Many of these two groups are wellversed in yantra, tantra, Mantra and some are in atarvana veda versions also.These peoples also worship GramaDevatha kavaldeivam like Karuppanaaar swamy, Ayyanar(lord sasta) and also Goddess Pidari(parvati).