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Nadar Pettai Concept

Nadars – Establishment of Petai Concept (Secured warehouses for trading goods)

It is history that Christianity and Missionary Services have influenced in the improvement of the Nadars who embraced Christiany in Southern India. It appears the Nadar elders of 19th Century who prefer not to get converted to Christianity but to absorb the good practices of Missionary services and trade practices of Westerners to in their social structure to help the advancement of community.

This can be seen from establishment of Pettais (Secured warehouses for trading goods) for strengthening the trade activities. Even several Hindu Nadars in Madurai and Kamraj district organise their marriage functions similar to simplified Church marriages.

The Hindu Nadar settlements around Sivakasi, Sattur, Kovilpatti, Thiruthangal, Thirumangalam, Arrupukottai, Virudhunagar, Mamsapuram, Thalavaipuram are likely to have been established parallel to the developments of Christian Nadar settlements in Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari district. The concept of setting up of Mahamais for group contribution (Self tax on trade activities to provide for setting up and maintaining Institutions and Temples) by Nadar groups is the most remarkable decision by our ancestors which definitely must have been learnt from the influence of Missionary services.

Mercantilism and Christianity played crucial roles in facilitating upward mobility of NADARS.

Nadars began their social and economic ascendance in the early 19th century.

Pettais ( Warehousing forts):

The consolidation of the British rule in the southern districts opened new frontiers of trade and commerce. Nadars were quick to take advantage of the opportunities including commercialisation of the economy and urbanisation. They established a chain of fortified settlements along the main trade routes to extend comforts to Nadar merchants, to house their wares and to protect themselves from bandits. These settlements known as ‘pettais’ served as a medium of cooperation for more business among them and as an encouragement to economic mobility. Local caste associations grew out of this channel of commerce. This trend culminated in launching apex bodies such as the Nadar Mahajana Sangham and Dakshinamara Nadar Sangham, symbolically affirming cohesiveness and solidarity.


Nadar converts tackled the problem of local persecution by migrating and establishing a series of autonomous settlements. The creation of these Christian villages as the exclusive domain of converts, enabled them to safeguard themselves against upper caste assaults. They could also evade the discriminatory taxes and forced free labour that used to be imposed on them


Conversion to Christianity was another platform that helped the Nadars move up. Protestant missions made the most impact, in Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari districts. Conversion swept into the Christian fold a high proportion of Nadars during the 19th century. By converting to Christianity, they defied the old order and questioned caste-based discrimination. Traditionally denied education, they now found access to education in mission schools and colleges. A convert named Sattampillai who founded the schismatic Hindu Christian Church of Lord Jesus in 1857 in Prakasapuram, Tirunelveli district, invested the Nadars with a sense of superior identity. The educational efforts of the missionaries were used by converts for their own social and economic benefit.

Social Reformation:

While the missionaries made efforts to remove the disabilities of Nadar converts in South Travancore, some Hindu Nadars took recourse to a heretical cult founded by Vaikunda Swamy, a Nadar who challenged the caste-based iniquities. In his preaching, Vaikunda Swamy opposed the excessive taxes and corvee labour imposed on the Nadars. Several practices that he propagated such as the opposition to idol worship and giving up of animal sacrifices.

Institutions & Establishments:

The community also took advantage of Western education as they realised the benefits accruing from it. Ability to recognise new opportunities and adaptability to new contexts marked their advancement. With foresight, the Nadar elite established a network of institutions such as colleges, hostels and even a bank.

Article Courtesy :: Balakrishnan Sivaraman

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