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Regions with significant populations
Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Puducherry, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Fiji, South Africa, Guyana
Tamil, Malayalam
Mainly but not exclusively, Hinduism
Related ethnic groups
Tamil people

Paraiyar or Parayar (in the past, anglicised as Pariah) is a caste group found in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. In Tamil Nadu though they have been enumerated under three different caste names as Paraiyan, Samban and Adi Dravida, they have generally been referred to as Paraiyar. In northern Tamil Nadu they are known as Paraiyar, in southern Tamil Nadu they are known as Samban. Paraiyan and samban are synonymous with Adi Dravida.[citation needed]

The Indian census of 2001 reported that in Tamil Nadu the Adi Dravida population was about 5,402,755 and the Paraiyar population as 1,860,519.[1]



Robert Caldwell conjectured that the Paraiyar or Paraiyan name was derived from the Tamil word Parai (a drum) because some members of the community act as drummers at marriages, funerals, village festivals, and on occasions when Government or commercial announcements are proclaimed. Whereas later, in the 1891 Madras Census Report, it is recorded that "it is only one section of Paraiyars that act as drummers, nor is the occupation confined to the Paraiyars. It seems in the highest degree improbable that a large, and at one time powerful, community should owe its name to an occasional occupation, which one of its divisions shares with other castes." the census report further notes that the word was unknown in old works such as the Divakaram Tamil dictionary of the 11th century AD This claim was at least in part contradicted by the Census Report for 1901, which refers to an inscription of the Chola king Raja Raja of around the eleventh century in which the Paraiyar caste is called by its name.

Gustav Salomon Oppert was another who thought that the derivation from Parai was unlikely. He argued that it was a "weak foundation" and that the name was "most probably an afterthought, the more easily explicable since the lower classes delighted in the noise of the drum, and the name of the drum-beating class was transferred to the instrument by which the Pariah made his presence known." He thought the name to be "intimately connected" with the names of other communities such as the Paravars, Paradas, Bhars and Mhars.


The name Pariah became famous as the Paraiyars were considered typical of the depressed castes in India. The mistaken use of the term Pariah as being applicable to the whole of the lowest castes, or even to out-castes, became generally known in Europe during the last quarter of the 18th century. The natives of India never designate the lower castes of other parts of the country as Pariahs.[2]


Some scholars presume that Paraiyars must have been followers of Buddhism, constituted the original population and after the invasion by Brahmanical conquerors, they lost their culture, religion, wealth and status in the society and become destitute.[3]

Right-hand caste faction[edit]

Paraiyars belong to the Valangai ("Right-hand caste faction"). Some of them assume the title Valangamattan ("people of the right-hand division"). The Valangai comprised castes with an agricultural basis while the Idangai consisted of castes involved in manufacturing.[4] Valangai, which was better organized politically,[5]

British colonial era[edit]

In the second half of the 19th century, there were frequent descriptions of the Paraiyars in official documents and reformist tracts as being "disinherited sons of the earth".[6][7] The first reference to the idea may be that written by Francis Whyte Ellis in 1818, where he writes that the Paraiyars "affect to consider themselves as the real proprietors of the soil”. In 1894, William Goudie, a Weslyan missionary, said that the Paraiyars are self-evidently the "disinherited children of the soil".[7]

Sakya Buddha Society and Theosophical Society[edit]

Iyothee Thass, a Siddha doctor by occupation, belonged to a Paraiyar elite. In 1898, Thass and a large number of his followers converted to Buddhism and founded the Sakya Buddha Society (cākkaiya putta caṅkam) with the influential mediation of Henry Steel Olcott of the Theosophical Society. Olcott subsequently and greatly supported the Tamil Paraiyar Buddhists.[8]

Adidravida Jana Sabha and the term Adidravida[edit]

The Parayar Mahajana Sabha was founded by Rettamalai Srinivasan in 1892 and in 1895 Thass founded the “People’s Assembly of Urdravidians” (Adidravida Jana Sabha) in Madras. Michael Bergunder states that, it was the circles around Iyothee Thass claimed the description Urdravidian or Adidravidan, still a common synonym for Paraiyars in South India and Iyothee Thass Was the first to introduce the concept of Adidravida into political discussion and in the 1920s and 1930s E.V.Ramasami ensured the wide dissemination of this term.[9]

Notable people[edit]


Religious and spiritual leaders[edit]

Social reformers and activists[edit]

  • M. C. Rajah, (1883–1943) was a politician, social and political activist from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu
  • Rettamalai Srinivasan (1860–1945), a Dalit activist, politician from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu
  • Iyothee Thass Pandithar (1845–1914), founded the Sakya Buddhist Society (also known as Indian Buddhist Association)
  • Kavarikkulam Kandn Kumaran (1868-1935) ,was a social and political activist from the Indian state of kerala.A member of Sree Moolam Praja Sabha during 1913.He demands the lumsum grant system for Sc/St students and he is the first person to start an organization for sambhava or paraya community known as Brahma Prathyasha Sadhujana Paripalana Parayar Sangham .Later he changed it name as Nandanar Vamsavardhini.



  1. ^ Tamil Nadu — Data Highlightst: The Scheduled Castes — Census of India 2001. p. 1. Retrieved 20 March 2012. 
  2. ^ James Hastings (2003), Vol. 18, p.636.
  3. ^ Bergunder (2004), pp. 67 - 72.
  4. ^ Gift Siromoney (1975). "More inscriptions from the Tambaram area". Madras Christian College Magazine, Vol. 44, 1975. Madras Christian College Magazine. Retrieved 21 September 2008. 
  5. ^ Caste Ideology and Interaction, Pg 105
  6. ^ Irschick (1994), pp 153–190.
  7. ^ a b Bergunder (2004), p. 68.
  8. ^ Bergunder (2004), p. 67.
  9. ^ Bergunder (2004), p. 69.
  10. ^ vck
  11. ^ Namadhu Thamizhmann:: Monthly Magazine for VCK
  12. ^ Mylapore Institute for Indigenous Studies; I.S.P.C.K. (Organization) (2000). Christianity is Indian: the emergence of an indigenous community. Published for MIIS, Mylapore by ISPCK. p. 322. ISBN 978-81-7214-561-3. Retrieved 7 April 2012. 


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

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60 news items

Wall Street Journal

Wall Street Journal
Fri, 25 Jul 2014 16:03:45 -0700

The word "pariah" originally comes from "Paraiyar," the name of a low caste in southern India. Scholars of Indian languages trace "Paraiyar" back to the Tamil word for drum, "parai." Traditionally, members of the caste had a ritual duty to beat the ...

Wall Street Journal (blog)

Wall Street Journal (blog)
Sun, 27 Jul 2014 23:33:45 -0700

The word “pariah” originally comes from “Paraiyar,” the name of a low caste in southern India. Scholars of Indian languages trace “Paraiyar” back to the Tamil word for drum, “parai.” Traditionally, members of the caste had a ritual duty to beat the ...
Fri, 23 May 2014 10:10:34 -0700

During the era of Sanga period, when the low castes such as Thudiyar, Paraiyar and Pulaiyar rose, the chants of Vedic Shastra subdued them. When the caste systems got strengthened during Pallava and Chola empires, they were weakened through ...
The New Indian Express
Sun, 18 May 2014 21:52:30 -0700

Both the VCK, representing the 'paraiyar' community, and the PT, representing the 'Devendrakula Vellalar' - 'pallar' - community, were in the fray as constituents of the DMK-led front, which drew a blank. Ironically, Dalit ideologue and VCK candidate D ...
The Hindu
Tue, 01 Apr 2014 13:55:12 -0700

In an interview published in Outlook (March 10, 2014), Arundhati Roy says, “We need Ambedkar — now, urgently” — it was in connection with the publication of a new annotated edition of Ambedkar's text, The Annihilation of Caste, brought out by ...

The Indian Republic

The Indian Republic
Sat, 03 May 2014 09:41:19 -0700

It is derived from the community of paraiyar, who were lower caste. The word now has the accepted meaning of an outcast or somebody who is socially unacceptable. This is probably a word we should fight to reclaim; that the name of an Indian community ...
Wed, 28 Aug 2013 11:17:10 -0700

... notice to the Higher Education Secretary and University of Madras on a PIL praying for removal of a Tamil short story and novel from the syllabus for first semester undergraduate students as it was allegedly against Paraiyar, a Scheduled Caste ...
Times of India
Wed, 27 Jun 2012 15:07:30 -0700

The animosity between pallar (PL) and paraiyar (PR) groups of dalit community in W Pudupatti has been going on for more than 25 years with each group involving in riots over the period. Numerous cases have been filed against each community and the ...

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