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History of Padmashalis
 

Padmashali or Padmasali is a Telugu weavers' caste or social group found largely in the state of Andhra Pradesh in India. They are identified by different names in various regions through out India.

Origin:

There are two interpretations for the origin of the word "Padmashali" and its group, one from Vaishnava group and one from Siva. Some anthropologists believe it is derived from Sanskrit word meaning 'silk cloth'.

However, linguistic construction of Dravidian languages traces it's root to Proto-South-Dravidian word saal. In Tulu, Saalye or Taalye means "spider". Also, saali means spider in Telugu. Probably, symbolising the weaving activity with the spider's web, this word was coined for weavers. In Tamil, it's Saalikan or Saaliyan. In Kannada, it's Shaaliga or Shaaliya. In Malayalam, it's Chaaliyan. In Telugu, it's Saalodu or Saalollu.

The word Padmashali has very deep meaning in Hindu mythology. The Vaishnava group interprets that the word Padmashali is a combination of two words, viz., padma and shali. The word "Padma" is sahasradala padma, meaning the highest order of human intelligence. In body chakras "Padma" refers to sahasrara. The word "Shali" in Sanskrit is "be holder". Thus "Padmashali" literally means holder of sahasrara. In physical term it means intelligence.

Another mythological story relates to Padmavathi, the wife of Sri Srinivasa. It is believed that Padmavathi of Mangapura of Tirupati declares that she was the daughter of Padmashali. Hence the name Padmashali. There exists written evidence in Tirupati to support the statement of Padmavathi as daughter of Padmashali. Another aspect of Padmashali, 'Padma' also refers to 'Lotus'. The Lotus also refers to the intelligence or awakening of sahasrara.

The Siva group has different interpretation - to account for their origin it is said that in order to clothe the nakedness of people in the world, Siva commissioned Markandeya to perform a sacrifice and one Bhavana Rishi came out of the holy fire, holding a lotus flower Padma in his hand. He married two wives Prasannavati and Bhadravathi, daughters of Surya (The Sun) and had a hundred and one sons, who all took to weaving cloth out of the fiber of the lotus flower men to wear, and became the progenitors of the one hundred and one Gotras of this caste. God Surya being pleased with what they did, gave them a fifth veda called Padma Veda; and so people of this caste say that they belong to Padma Sakha and Markandeya Sutra analogous to the Sakhas, Sutras and Gotras of the Brahmans.

The Padmashali as a group are qualified agama shastra pandits who perform the poojas and vedic rites. They are identified as "PADMA BRAHMINS". Their performances include homa, avan, poojas, marriage performance etc. It should be appreciated that the origin of Padmashalis relates to Brighu Maharshi and Brighu Marharshi was instrumental in writing astrology. It is said that Markandeya wrote the epic on devi and her shakti. So it also means that we are shakti aradhaks.

They profess to have been following all the religious rites prescribed for Brahmans till the beginning of the Kali age. One of their caste named Padma-saka declined to reveal the virtues of a miraculous gem, which Brahma had given to their caste, to Ganapathi who sought to learn the secret and who on his wish not being gratified cursed them to fall from their high status. It is said however that one Parabrahmamurti born is Srirama Agrahara pleased Ganapathi by his tapas, and got the curse removed, so that after 5000 years of the Kali-Yuga, they should regain their last position. This Parabrahmamurti other wise known as Padmabavacharya, redistributed the caste into Ninety-Six gotras arranged in eight groups and established four Mathas with gurus for them.

Thus, Padmashali name as a caste carries highest meaning. It is the caste of braminical not by birth but by deeds.

Like braminical class, the Padmashalis relate their origin to Vrushis (sages) as gothras. Each family has separate gothras and like in brahminical following, in marriage sagothras are barred. That apart the families also carry family names. The family name and gothra will be referred at the time of marriage. If the gothra & the family name of the boy and the girl are found to be the same then they are barred from marrying each other.

It is the only caste that has a parasite lineage of families who live praising the Padmashali heritage and they are called as "Pogadaraju", meaning (Pogada = praising and Raju = king) praising the king. These Pogadaraju over a period of time came to be known as "Padagaraju". These Padagarajus praise padmashali by bahuparak (Praises) referring the origin of Padmashali from Brugu maharshi to bhavana maharshi.

Padmashalis existed at the time of Parasurama itself. It can be derived that Shivalli brahmins of Karnataka region (Tulu region) first developed weaving and gave it to Padmashalis.

History:

The Padmashalis are the third community in Andhra Pradesh. They are spread all over the world, but have a visible tendency towards urbanization since the occupation of weaving and marketing cloth becomes easy from urban and semi-urban centers. This community produces cloth from cotton and animate yarn (silk).

Caste communities involved in the leather and wool-based household industries - which prehaps have an older history than cloth weaving - have developed an integrated process of production of raw material and its conversation into commodities. But unlike them, the Padmashalis developed exclusively cloth-weaving skills. They produce cloth as a marketable commodity, without having any organic links or skills in the production of the raw material. The Padmashali men have no expertise in ploughing and their women lack seeding and crop-cutting skills. Thus, their skill structure, over a period of time, became one-dimensional. By the time the British arrived, the Padmashalis were producing huge quantities of cloth and controlled a leading cottage industry of India.

The introduction of the railways - starting 1853 - by the colonial British government helpd penetrate the self-sufficient rural economy. With the forced introduction of machine manufactured goods, especially finished cotton goods from the factories of Birmingham (making use of advances from the Industrial Revolution) etc., from imperial British, the domestic textile industry suffered losses. Being an important node in the rural economy, the Padmashali community also naturally felt the impact. Today, many urban Padmashalis have abandoned their ancestral profession and have diversified into other activities. One can see an increasing number of Padmashalis become engineers, doctors, politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen etc.

History of Padmashalis of Dakshina Kanara / Dakshina Kannada

It is believed that the Padmashalis in Dakshina Kannada originated from coastal Andhra Pradesh and migrated via Chennai, Kanchi and Madurai areas of Tamilnadu and settled in Dakshina Kannada about five to six centuries back.


Characteristics:

Perhaps because they largely stay indoors or because of characteristics genes, community members have developed reddish skin and are hence known as erra kulamu (red caste) among the OBCs. The Padmashali caste is highly Sanskritised, with all the men wearing the scared thread. In terms of social conciousness, it is more Brahminic than any other OBC caste in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka & some of them in Maharashtra also. In spite of all these Brahmic characteristics, this caste did not get integrated into ritual Brahminism and remained uneasily within the broad Vaishya category.

What is the difference between Padmashali and Brahmin's apart from their work?

Most of the Padmashalis except Pattusalis of Srikakulam are non-vegetarians. Padmashalis either do business or get employed or do their traditional occupation-weaving and they dont do chapliance whereas brahmins do chapliance and other Veda-related jobs. Padmashali is a backward community while brahmins are socially advanced.

Brahmins themselves are not a homogenous group culturally throughout India. A good number of brahmins throughout the east coast from Orissa to Bengal and Assam are avid fish eaters. All brahmins are not engaged in chapliance. As for chapliance, with many reformers having meddled with the vedic Hinduism, in some areas that duty is given even to Dasaris (a scheduled caste dalit) in andhra Pradesh, especially in Vaishnavaite worship; and among shivite worshippers, there are Jangams who do the chapliance work for Lingayats (Veerashaivas) who do not believe in the suprimacy of the Brahmins, and the class of Veerashaivas was born by intermarriage between Brahmins and Dalits, infact between all castes, in order to bring out a casteless society and to annihilate Brahminical hegemony.

As per Vedic Hinduism, Brahmin has to achieve Brahminism by his deeds and therefore a Brahmin is to be "Twice born", that is to be born first by a biological birth and then a "second birth by spiritual attainment". Attainment of this "Brahminical" status was open to any one from any caste and class. Similarly, having achieved Brahminical status, one may face down-gradation by a subsequent ill deed.

The cases of Vishwamithra and Valmiki are the proper examples. Vasishta the most revered sage in Hinduism was born to celestial prostitute and he married a Dalit woman "Arundhathi". All brahmins who claim Vasishta gothra carry half of the genes from a Dalit woman ancestor.

Any one who resorted to manual work and a profession related to manufacture and trade was treated as Vaishya or shoodra. Similarly Padmashalis fall in one of the two. Upper caste or Forward caste has nothing to do with the classification of the four Varnas of Hindu hiearchy. Kammas' and Reddys' are from the Forward or upper castes but they are "Shoodras" with in the definition of the Hindu varnas.

One aspect that differentiates Padmashalis from the "shoodra" classification is they alone wear the "Janiv or Yajnopaveetha" among all other non-brahminical castes with one exception of "Vishwakarmas". Except for the Brahmins, the other varnas are not very distinctly categorised in Southern India. Thus Padmashalis fall between the brahmins and other Aryan castes, they follow a mix of Dravidian and Aryan rituals / food habits, suggesting Aryan origin and intermixture with the Dravidians. All Padmashalis claim Rishi gothras of 101 rishi "santhathi" who were taken on adoption by the sage Bhavana Rishi, who himself was taken on adoption by Rishi Markandeya. All Padmashalis originated from Satavahana empire and their mother tongue remains Telugu, except for a few migrants who had taken longer and numerous stages of migration such as the Shettigars of Dakshina Kannada/Dakshina Kanara whose mother tongue is Tulu. Most Padmashalis in Tamilnadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Chatttisgadh, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa speak Telugu as mother tongue. Devangas are reported to have branched off from Padmashalis due to a dispute between two groups on issues of worship of goddess Chaudeshwari, and ever since that dispute the two have become rivals, thus one of them do not reside where the other reside, and while most Padmashalis practice Vaishnavism, almost all Devangas are Saivites.

Different name:

The weavers of different groups have different names. It is not the same caste. The castes in weavers source their origin do different aspects. Depending on the nature of basic material used in the earlier times, the name of caste originated.

The Padmashali sources its origin to Brugu Maharshi, followed down to Markandeya, Bhakta Markandeya, the chiranjeevi who wins the life from yama. Further the technique of weaving came from ayoni putra, Sri Bhavana maharshi.

The Shettigars who are mainly settled in South Canara or Dakshina Kanara or Dakshina Kannada or Dakshina Canara region generally refer themselves as Padmashalis. However, in Kinnimulki,a taluka near Katil, in Udupi, the Padmashalis are known as Padmashalis and not as Shettigars.

In Karnataka, there are nearly 30 groups of castes in weavers and Padmashalis are one of the weavers, independent of other group castes, with their cultural practices based on vedic principles.

The same caste has following names (as per the OBC list of central government-List no. 155):

  • Padmashali
  • Devanga
  • Jaandra
  • Thogata
  • Thogata Veerakshathriya
  • Patkaaru
  • Karni Bhakthula
  • Karakala Bhakthula
  • Swakula saali
  • Neeli saali
  • Nala Kandhi
  • Nessi
  • Kurni
  • Kurmishetti saali
  • Kaikaala
  • Kaikolan
  • Senguwaakam
  • Pattusali
  • Shettigar

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