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Libation of Water: A Real Property Symbol
|by Dr. V. Sankaran Nair|
A legend is a story of uncertain historical basis transmitted from generation to generation and it remains in the human mind in the form of folk narrative and mythology. Lord Vishnu who took the form of Vamana (a dwarf) is the central figure of one such legend.
As desired by Kashyap Rishi and Aditi, Vishnu took birth as their son, Vamana. On his attaining the eighth year, munja ceremony was performed by tying a string around his waist, known as mekhala. His attire was complete with a loincloth, a kamandalu in one hand and a danda in the other. In this resplendent figure, Vamana appeared before King Mahabali who was at that time popular for his generosity and pleaded with him for just ‘three paces of land’, for erecting a hermitage. Sukracharya, the great guru of Mahabali, realized the midget Vamana to be Lord Vishnu and his three steps to be the three times - past, present, and future. Despite Shukracharya’s warnings, Mahabali took the jhari and prepared to grant the request. Sukracharya took the form of a bee and blocked the snout of the jhari to prevent the impending defeat of Mahabali when he poured water on the palm of Vamana to signify the donation. Lord Vishnu cleared the snout using a darbha (sacred grass) reed that blinded one of Sukracharya’s eyes. The water began to fall on the palm of Vamana and the gift was sanctified. Lord Vishnu took the colossal visvaroopam, measured the earth and the sky with two steps, and asked Mahabali for the third piece of land. Realizing that the man before him was Lord Vishnu himself, Mahabali offered his head to ‘land’ his third step. By placing his foot on Mahabali’s head, the Lord pushed him into the netherworld.
With the defeat of Bali, the gods regained freedom. As Mahabali was a ruler loved by the people, he was allowed to return to their midst once a year. The ten-day festival of Onam, celebrated every year with pookkalam (flower carpets), lights and feastings, is to accord warm welcome to Mahabali. The people in their new clothes rejoice on those occasions engaging in games, fireworks, and feats of valor.
Daanam is gift. The enemy of the asuras is daanavaari, the demon. Water poured, as a part of the ceremony of giving a gift is known as dana-toyam, daananir, daanavaari, daanambu, daanasalilam. Possession of land is dhaarana. Right of possession of land is dhaaranaadhikaram. In this legend Vishnu is Dharan. The munificent Mahabali, a Daanavan, is data(vu)/ dishnu. Vishnu the enemy of daanavan is daanavaari. Daanavaari is also the water poured as a part of the ceremony of giving gift. The person to whom a gift is given is daanapaatram. Vishnu is the receiver who accepted the gift after wetting the hands with the water that dishnu poured into his hands.
Uta is to flow, wet. Ud(t)am/ udakam is water. Udakamandalu is a water pot, Udakakumbham is a water jar. Udakadan is the person who is pouring water. Presentation of gifts with water is udakadaanam/ udakapoorvadaanam. In performing udakadaanam, pouring of water is done with flowers to make the ritual complete. Nirkolluka is to accept udakadanam, land gift, etc. preceded by the pouring of water into the extended palms of a recipient’s right hand as preparatory to or confirmatory of a gift of promise.
Lord Parasurama in the Keralolpathi legend gifted 64 villages in this way. Ekodakam is giving water only once, not thrice. Freehold granted to a company is ekodagam. It is a form of tenure below janmanir says Gundert. He cites Keralolpathi and says that Kerala, an Ekodakam of the 64 gramams, is an indivisible property.
In the Mahabali legend, we see the entire freehold of Mahabali being given away as a gift to Vishnu. In the Parasurama legend, we see the land of Kerala gifted away in a pack of 64 villages. Now we shall see how individual freehold was transferred during historic times. Gundert says that Janmabhumi is a freehold. An inscription in a Palghat temple says “parampum ponnum koilukkayittu daraduttam cheithu”. The word dara in this inscription must be dhara. Dharadattam means a gift offered with pouring of water, gift with water.
When Rajas gifted lands with libation of water to the temples and salas, it was known as attikodukkuka/ nirottikodukkuka. Female elephants were taken around such temples and planted stone and cactus around the temple. The land given to the temple forever is known as attipper. Vittupper is to hand over rights to another.
Janmapparappu is the property inherited from ancestors. Janmam is hereditary proprietorship, freehold property, and is viewed as hardly alienable. Janmanir is parting with all the rights of a landlord, as done by pouring water into the hands of the purchaser. Janma nir/ janma veetu is transfer of property rights and change of the ownership of property by way of udakapoorvam.
Attipper is a documentary proof (karanam). In the Tellichery records it is known as karanappetti and there are chiefly six tenures. Kuzhikkanam (1/8), kaanam  (1/4), Otti (1/2), ottikumpuram (3/4), janmappanayam (7/8), Janmam. The figure in brackets indicates the loss of right of the janmi on his land in succession, his gradual decline and fall from his property.
Karanam is the deed/ documentary proof of exchange of landed property. These five karanams clear the way for Attipper, the atta(final)karanam, and marks the permanent relinquishment. In case the janmi reaches a situation to relinquish property by Attipper without carrying out any of the above karanams, he will have to perform all the karanams at once. Then only he can carry out attipper. With that he loses all rights over the land.
Logan gives the following version of executing and delivering the deed, in the presence of a “svajati, a person of the same caste; Bandhu, a relative; Putran, literally the son, but, in Malabar, construed to mean the heir, whether a nephew or son; Narapati, the Raja; the writer of the deed; Tatra Sambandhi, a resident round the spot. In practice the attendance of the Raja, or the execution of the deed before the Raja, is dispensed with. It is only necessary that he should be apprised of the transaction. The mortgagee gives two fanams, which is placed in a small vessel of water; the mortgagor, holding the deed in his hand, pours the water over it, which the mortgagor receives as it falls, and either swallows it, or puts it upon his head, or upon his feet, or upon the ground, according to the relative caste of the two parties. The deed is then delivered to the mortgagee. This deed mentions generally that the full value of the property disposed of has been received, and states the boundaries of it, but it does not specify the amount received.”
Nirmutal, a compound word, means water property. Figuratively, it means “that additional property or security acquired to the mortgagee by a pledge given by the proprietor that he will perform the ceremony of giving water to the mortgagee. It is a mortgage without possession of the additional right which the act of giving water confers.” The deed to be executed by a janmi preliminary to the complete surrender of his property rights is known as Kudima-nir-karanam / Kuduma-nirolakkaranam. A tenure almost equal to a freehold, by which all the body of property rights (7/8) is gained without the crowning dignity (the right of transferring the property to another); a payment not exceeding 2 fanams is annually made to the possessor of the title, who can no more redeem the land, which is known as Kudi(u)ma nir. The ritual in which the Janmi pours a few drops of water from his hand to the ground earned it names nir-mutal as well as janma-ppanayam and this was in practice in some areas in Kozhikode.
Nir-mutal is defined as a kind of mortgage deed executed by a landlord when he borrows an additional amount “on the security of land assigned to an otti mortgagee to whom he has already executed an ottikkumpuram deed; he is bound first to apply to such mortgagee, and if the latter should consent to make the required advance, the landlord gives him a Nirmutal document, by which he makes over to him all but the right of water. Such further advance is recoverable with the amount of the original mortgage, the otti claim being, in fact, merged in the Nirmutal deed. In this case, as in that of an Ottikumpuram transaction, if the mortgagee declines to make the advance, the landlord may obtain it from a third party, who satisfies the claim of the original mortgagee and comes into possession. In any of the three cases last mentioned, the landlord is at liberty at any time to pay off the mortgage and redeem his property.” Nir-mutal is also used to refer to as Attipperu.
Parting with all the rights of a landlord is janma nir. Atti-p-per(ru), also known as dharmadanam, daana sasanam, is a deed of complete gift or endowment usually made with libation of water. Vitu-pper (udakadanam) or atti-pper is an honour accorded to the higher castes. Janma nir udakam given with water as atti pper as well as atti pper nir, is explained as merely the Sanskritised form of the ancient phrase, says William Logan. Malabar Manual explains peru as the indigenous word for janmam/ birth. In Malabar, Janmam of land (birth-right) is also known as nir atti peru (water contact birthright). It also points out that this compound word is equivalent to the later Sanskrit word Janmam (birth right) used for the same purpose. The word means “born, created, acquired, and, more generally, property. Atti means to join, mix. These two words united give but an imperfect meaning, and the word nir is generally prefixed. Nir-atti-per thus means that the Janmam combined with water is given up. The Janmi reserves no purapad (balance of rent after deducting mortgage interest) or anything to himself. He cannot, after the execution of this deed, redeem the mortgage and the relinquishment of the proprietary right is absolute under it.”
Attuka is to give. Adu means to give as gift, atti kodukkuka. Adukkuka is to drink, to take in food, to give away gift. Aduthoon is pension (given for meals). Adutha is given, endowed. Attikkodukkuka is to give, endow. Nirodum-atti (neerottikodukkuka) is the udakapoorvadanam. Reference about Attinapoomi in Kadiapattinam and Keralapuram, both in South Travancore, is available in Travancore Archeological Series.
A water grant or deed was called in parts of the country where the Brahman influence preponderated, Nir attai peru (water contract birth right). W. Logan notes that in some of the deeds to be found… there is curious extravagance of phraseology, as if the parties had laboured to find phrases to put the fact that they were water grants beyond the possibility of a shadow of doubt.
Tevennu poovodum nirodum tanam kodukkayil, means giving daanam to the god after pouring water with flowers. Kodukka, in this statement is the act of giving an offering to the manes or family deities. The act of giving a gift is kotuppu.
The ancestors of the great Aromal Chekavar, naduvaazhis of the Karuthenar nadu had 4 rice fields in the Puthooram patam obtained as attipper in copper plates, janmam property.
Janmakkandam is hereditary rice fields. Janmi is janma(kaa)ri, janmakkaran, janmesan. The hereditary rights and prerequisites claimed by the members of the certain communities such as kanisan (for feast), Asari (for marriages), Malayan (for tira) Vannan, Velan, Vilakkathara etc. in their parishes is known as Cheru janmam.
The custom of ‘poovum nirum’ seems to have been prevalent in early Travancore, nay, the entire Kerala region. Even now, the elderly people who inherit ancestral properties, recall the days, when the Rajah himself assigned land properties to ordinary peasants after pouring Tualsi water from a kindi to the hands of the receiver. While doing so, he warned the receiver that he would be subject to hardship in case if he encroaches upon the nearby property. On encroaching upon the neigbour’s property he will suffer the hardship of the peak of summer heat of the kumbhamnjatti, which is considered as peculiarly dangerous, or the resultant torture acquired as a sin due to the killing of karaampasu (black cow).
The word Jhari means stream, spring, and incessant rain. But in the context of the Mahabali legend, it assumed the meaning of a golden, long-necked pitcher, with a spout, a palm-sized water vessel meant for religious purposes. It is one among the myriad vessels for water storage. In the later illustrations we see a pewter vessel with a tube, through which water flows. Both of them are kindi, the most popular vessel in the country. But it is nearly unknown in the eastern district, says Nagam Aiya.
Sankha (chank/ conch), used for making libations of water or as an ornament for the arms or for the temples of an elephant, is also used to blow as a horn as well. When a king has to give janmanir it is from a golden conch. It is worthwhile to note that the state emblem of Travancore is Sanka Mudra.
Water and words sufficed in those days to retain the landlords within their assigned boundaries. In the two legends of Mahabali and Parasurama, followed by illustrations in the historical and oral traditions, we see how the land in Kerala was transferred to common people to enjoy property over the ages.
Nirkkanam, which the purchaser of a property puts into the water pot (janmanir) of the owner, is the payment for it at the time of the sale deed. It is nirkaappu, which means a water cess, a fee of 2 fanams. The Travancore Government continued to levy nirkkanam till Q. E 1040. This ceremony of endowing lands continued in Travancore till the British established a revenue department. It is worthwhile to recall the remarks of Major Walker, about this custom of transfer of land rights. “In former times the transfer of Jenmam was made by presenting water before witnesses and the whole performance was verbal, but when the Kali yuga commenced, water and words were found insufficient”. The stamp and registration laws have replaced the above ceremony for a sale of Jenmam right in modern days.
Kudi janmam (kudichenmam) was a system of land tenure prevalent in ancient Travancore. Even though the practice of udakadanam is inherent in the culture of Kerala society, Nagam Aiya says, the ceremony of drinking water poured during the transaction here seems to have had its origin from the fact that the land was reclaimed from water. It is right to recall Gundert’s observation that Kerala, Ekodakam of the 64 gramams, is an indivisible property. The meaning attributed to eka-udakam is ‘a single body of water’. The observtion of Nagam Aiya underlines the general view that Kerala was reclaimed from the sea. Being the owner of Jammuvam, the owner of the property came to be known as Janmi. It is worthy to note that Jammvam (jammam) is mud /mire. Janmakkandam (chemmakkandam) is a hereditary rice field/ property of the Janmi. Janmi is the product of the muddy rice fields. Later, we will see that the word kudiyaan is the product of the ritual of drinking water in the libation ceremony.
Attil is a kitchen. An endowment for the kitchen expenses of a temple attaches farmlands to the temple and is known as attipper. This origin of the word Attipper seems to be linked with kitchen endowment. Later, with the advent of the Janmi system, the same word might have been profusely used to denote a deed of right or endowment usually made with libation of water.
The Real Property Symbol
Nagam Aiya says that such a symbol of delivery of property is not peculiar to Kerala. The English common law required delivery of a clod of earth to make conveyance complete. This ceremony, known, as the “Livery of Seisin” is a formal ceremony performed before witnesses, to transfer property in feudal times. An archaic term for delivery, livery of seisin originally meant possession and is synonymous with delivery of possession.
Essentially a public ceremony, the seller (feoffer) and buyer (feoffee) went together upon the land, where the seller delivered a handful of dirt (symbolic of the land like a twig, clod of mud or key) to the buyer denoting the passing of the property from hand to hand. They also made an oral statement transferring the land and no type of document was needed for this sort of transaction. After 1677, the Statute of Frauds required one for all transfers of land titles, requiring the witnesses to sign a statement that they had observed the ceremony, but that did not constitute a deed by itself.
In China, two common vessels that always accompany each other are the pan (bowl) and Yi (ewer). Lei also known as yi, is Chinese water containers. China practiced inscribing on a pan or yu (jar) for transfer of land and demarcation of boundaries in the ancient period. People used yi to pour water and pan to wash in during ceremonial ablutions in ancient times. Recent archaeological findings show that before the Middle Western zhou, pan was originally coupled with a he, a type of pitcher with spout, and it was not until the late western Zhou that this was replaced by the Yi. Earlier Yi, such as Xun yi and Cui yi still used the name ‘he’. Sets of pan and he, or pan and yi, were frequently offered as dowries. Because of the largeness of pan, long inscriptions could be cast on them. There was an ancient system of casting a whole contract on a pan, which could be handed down to posterity. The famous bronze San Shi Pan of the late western Zhou bears an inscription, which was a contract between these families- the San and the Le. Inscription on pan or yu (jar) thus became an example of ancient documents concerning transfer of land and demarcation of boundaries.
In transferring the right on land, while the Mahabali and Parasurama episodes show absolute gift without a profit to the donor, the later transfers were made on payment of compensation to the heir’s witnesses, document writers and the sirkar. The common law of England and China too practiced similar transactions. This shows that the custom prevalent in Kerala was not peculiar to Kerala only. In the Mahabali episode, Vishnu received water from Mahabali. Thus the custom, handed over from Dravidian civilization to Aryan civilization, continued till the Rama Varma Vishakham Tirunal (1880-1885) introduced in Travancore, a Revenue Survey and Settlement, the implementation of which marked the advent of a new era.
But in feudal England, water as one of the items symbolic of land is peculiar by its absence, even though a little water is needed to purify the hands, once a clod of mud is taken on hand. Perhaps they might have solved the problem by using the tissue paper in the place of water. As such, Nagam Aiya’s attempt to compare the delivery sessions in Kerala with the English common law is questionable. One peculiarity of the Kerala model is that in all the episodes cited, wetting of the hands with water is unique and continuous. It is also noted that “… the customary libation of water in making a hereditary grant of land in Malabar was introduced by the Vedic Brahmans about the beginning of the eighth century AD., and that in parts of the district, where the influence of that caste was but small, this incident in a grant or sale of hereditary land did not obtain currency down to quite recent years.”
At the same time, Nagam Aiya failed to notice that kindi and water are being considered as holy in this region from time immemorial. An iota of this prejudiced sentiment can be observed from the following passage:
“…The Vedic Brahmans in their passage southwards spread abroad their influence chiefly by claiming for themselves the gift of being able to compel the gods to do their will by reason of sacrifices conducted in sonorous Sanskrit, and in particular they claimed the power to secure benefits in the next world for their devotees by ensuring for them and their deceased ancestors an easy passage into the Heaven of Indra. The deeds of the various dynasties here cited afford the most conclusive proof that in the grants of land conferred on the Brahmans in return for their services, the act of giving is almost invariably accompanied or preceded by ‘libations of water,’ by ‘pouring of water,’ by ‘copious libations of water,’ ‘with water in hand’ with pouring of ‘water out of a beautiful golden water-pot,’ etc.”
Namputhiris migrated and settled down in Kerala (Keralathe Parasuramanodu nir kondukudikondavaraya namputhirimar).  Since their kudiyettam is after libation of water from Parasurama, they were in fact Kudiyanmar/ tenants who migrated and settled down in Kerala.
Turmeric water, known as manjanir, mixed with flowers is given as token of the disposal of a free hold (poovum nirum) or of adoption. Manjanir kudippikka is to adopt and the certificate of adoption is manja chit. Nir irakkuka is to swallow water, acquiring a freehold property by drinking the water of it, with flowers. Nir vaanguka, nir pakarnnu, nir kodukkuka is to receive water, give water by pouring. In the Mahabharatam there is a stanza ‘rajyam nee nirkollanum’. Also, ‘Kuraya desam paranmpunir kudichu’ means acquired.
Kudi is drinking. Kudikkuka is to drink. Drinking water, drunk after meals is kudi. A tenant family is kudi. Kudiyaan, kudiyilar, kudiyanavanmar, kozhuvan are ryot, a tenant and his family. Kutikur is the share to be contributed by tenants. Kutikkurru is the amount or income due to the janmi from tenants.
The ceremony on entering new houses is kudi pookal. It is a ceremony of milk warming and drinking it. In his house kudiyan is the inhabitant. It is his residence; as such any house is kudivaka.
In this context, the word kudiyan, which means tenant, might have originated from the libation of water ceremony, wherein the prospective tenant receives water from the janmi and drinks. In that case, all the words associated with kudi must be related to this customary rite staged somewhere in the early Tamilakam in the remote past.
Let us see the word ozhukuka, which means to flow. Water flows from a place continuously downwards and is called ozhuk. Ozhukkuka, ozhukumaarakkuka is to cause to flow, set afloat, launching anything as to be carried away by a current of stream. To take back or get back property that is mortgaged or leased out is ozhippikkuka. This word also means ‘to cause to pour.’ According to laws the current of a stream is ozhukku. Ozhikka is cause to pour. It is the causative form of ozhikkuka, which means pouring out. Tilting of the kindi causes the water to flow out and this is known as ozhukk. Ozhippikkuka is ‘cause to pour’ as well as ‘evict’.
The tilting of the kindi allows the water to flow and perhaps the phenomenon found expression in words like ozhippikkuka, which means, “to take back or get back property that is mortgaged or leased out.” Ozhippikka is chiefly to disposes. Deed of giving back or surrendering is ozhi (vu) muri. To return grounds held under kaanam is ozhichu pokuka/ ozhichu kittuka/ ozhichu kotukka. To get back the land is to ozhippichu kittuka.
Likewise, ottikkuka, ittikkuka means to dribble, let fall in drops. To draw out water is iraykkuka. Iravu, irakkam is watershed. Ittu is a little quantity. To fall in drops is ittuka. Drop by drop is itt-itti. To cause to fall in drops is ittikkuka/ iraykkuka. Ottikkanam is a tenure in which the Janmi yields to the tenant all the produce of the field in return for his advances. Ottikkondavan is mortgagee. ‘Kanam’ which is in addition to the otti is ottikkumpuram. Ottikkumpurameyulla kanam is still a higher tenure by which the kudiyan acquires even 2/3 of the janmi rights, also known as ottikummparam, a kanam which is in addition to the otti. Kanamkondavan is tenant. Mortgage of real property is otti. A mortgage deed written on a cadjan leaf is ottiyola, ottikkanam, otticheet.
A person held in mortgage is ottiyal. Otticeettu, ottithettam, ottimaryata, ottikkaranam, ottikuzhikkanam, ottivilakkam, ottukanam are the other words which are affiliated to the word otti. Taxable land is iranilam. Tax-free land grant as of gardens for certain services are irayili, a kind of land tenure, land granted rent and tax-free to government servants is irayilipaattam. To dispossess a tenant is irakkuka, irakki viduka/ kalayuka. Irakkaranmai is the lands and land tenements held by a small acknowledgement of superiority to higher lord, freehold.
Holder of land property is janmakkaran. He is the person having janmam right of a land. One who has purchased the right of possession from the original owner is janmakkudiyan. Ottuka, ittuka, ozhikkuka, kudikkuka all these words indicates the process of transferring water from the kindi to the extended hands of the tenant. Otti, irayili and the like are words connected with mortgage deeds coming in the process of the ritual of drinking water poured by the janmi. In the initial stages Maharaja might have endowed lands free of cost to prospective peasants. Later on landlord system solidified. At this stage entry of Sanskrit speaking landlord attained new dimension. They followed the ritual practiced indigenously at the time of their arrival. Janmam is considered as a Sanskrit word while kudiyan is a Tamil word. Evolution of these two words has left footprints in the Dravidian language. While the words connected with the mortgage deeds gives in a photo finish of the word kudiayan, the truth behind giving a status for water and kindi as a real property symbol remains unexplored. Perhaps an investigation on this mater may lead us to the period even before the evolution of language, to the period of Indus valley civilization and beyond.
When the kindi is tilted, water flows from it and wets the extended hand of the receiver, sanctifying the deal and cementing a bond between the janmi and the kudiyan. Out of the 44 rivers flowing from the Western Ghats, 40 join the sea. Ozhukuka is to act according to law. Our ancestors held the libation celebration to act according to law.
But the water flow enacted in the libation ceremony ceased with the commencement of the British administration. It is true that the current of a stream/ river is only up to the sea. The British came through the current of the sea. No wonder they had to quit India before they could settle down. Had they been able to understand the significance of the water ritual that would have given an impetus to the study of ancient Kerala? At this juncture it is worthwhile to examine the holy water ritual in general and kindi the jalapaatram used in particular, to understand the antiquity of reverence to water and its container kindi. This may help to find out the origin of the janmi system in Kerala.
April 23, 2006
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