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Paravar People of India

Paravars are people who now inhabit most of the coastal villages from Tuticorin on the Eastern coast to Muttom on the western coast of the Indian peninsula. Their history, though very little serious research has been done, is very intriguing.

There are some claims that since Paravars are also called Bharathar, they are the original Indians who inhabited the Indus Valley before the arrival of the Aryans from central Asia. Hence they are the original Dravidians. The linguistic similarity between Bharat and Bharathar may simply be mere co-incidence.

However, the earliest mention of the Paravars in any authentic source dates back to 3rd century BC. Some archeological evidence found at Arittapatti in Melur taluk points to the fact that the Paravars were the sole fisherfolk who controlled the coast from Rameswaram down to southern cape. Probably they practiced Jainism by then. It is in that connection that the Paravars get mentioned in the inscription. One of the Sangam works, `Madurai Kanchi’ refers to the Paravar defeated by Pandyan Nedunchezhian.

Probably, since the 6th century after the decline of Jainism in Tamil Nadu, the Paravar took up to popular Hinduism, being also identified as members of a low caste, since they dealt with fish that is dirty. Their low caste status would have deprived them of their access to Sanskrit education and the Hindu arts of dance and music.

More sure evidence is available about the pearl-fishing activities of the Paravars in the coast from Rameswaram to Tuticorin. The early Portuguese historians like Barbosa, very elaborately speak of the Paravar as being officially commissioned by the Pandyas to do the pearl harvesting, which was done once in three years. For this, the paravars paid high taxes to the Pandyas. However, by 1516 AD the Parvars were forced to seek the help of the Portuguese against their Muslim rivals. This was the beginning of their contact with Christianity, probably some of them were even baptised.

The history of Christianity among the Paravars is more controversial. According to some sources, they were christianised by St. Thomas the apostle himself. This is not very seriously authenticated. But for sure we know of the missionary activities of St. Francis Xavier among the Paravars since 1542, when he himself baptised more than 20,000 paravars. (His works among the Mukkuvar would only begin after 1544, and fewer people were baptized among the Mukkuvar.) With the influence of Portuguese and Spanish missionaries the Paravars prided themselves with names such as Fernando, Correira, Pereira, Miranda, Marchado, etc. That is why, sometimes the paravars are referred to today in Tamil Nadu as the “Fernando Community”.

Today, the Paravar villages dot the shoreline from Tuticorin in the East to Muttom in the Western coast of South India. Their neighbours are the Nadars – the Palmtappers, and the Mukkuvars – the fishermen with the Malayalee background. The Paravas are all very traditional Roman Catholics, though some of them are today attracted towards the Pentacostal Churches. Most of them rely on the sea for their livelihood, but many of them are well educated and work in different parts of India and the world. They are largely endogamous (marrying among themselves), while there is a growing openness in marriage especially towards their Mukkuvar neighbours.

This is a simple summary of information available about the Paravars in different sources in the World Wide Web. More accurate information is still wanting. Today, our caste affiliations should be used only to trace our own history and our common identity. Politicising on castes and thus creating communal feelings would only threaten our own human identity.

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