Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Tamil homeland is in southwestern India and is roughly equivalent to the modern state of Tamil Nadu. The Tamil comprise the vast majority of the population of Tamil Nadu and a good number of Indian Tamil also live in the small territory of Pondicherry, around the city of Bangalore, and elsewhere in India. The Tamil speak Tamil, a Dravidian language. The economy is based primarily on agriculture, supplemented with household craftwork, weaving, and fine metal work in brass, silver, and gold. Cross-cousin marriage is the preferred form of marriage. Within villages, society is ordered by a hierarchy of castes.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Asia --South Asia


Sri Lanka


OWC Code


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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in the eHRAF collection and are referenced by author, date of publication, and eHRAF document number.

The AW16 Tamil collection consists of 23 documents, all in English, dealing mostly with specific village surveys or regional studies in Tamil Nadu. There is no single document in the collection that gives a general overview of all aspects of Tamil ethnography. A major topic given much attention in this collection is the caste and class organization of the Tamil. This information appears in: Béreille 1971, no. 1; Sivertsen 1963, no. 2; Gough 1969, 1956, nos. 3 and 4; Beck 1972, no. 11; and Mencher 1975, no. 41. Tamil economics is another subject given much coverage in this collection, appearing in Haswell 1967, no. 7 and in the six South Indian village economic studies presented in Thomas &Ramakrishnan 1940, no. 42; Thirumalai 1940, 1940, nos. 43 and 45; Natarajan 1940, no. 44; and Veeraraghavan 1940, 1940, nos. 46 and 47. The status and powers of women in Tamil society are discussed in Gough 1956, no. 4; Egnor 1991, no. 52; Reynolds 1991, no. 53; Wadley 1991, no. 55; and to some extent in Daniel 1991, no. 54, which discusses a type of "coded substance" between a husband and wife that determines the actions that are conducive to marital harmony. Other ethnographic topics deal with health and health policies in the village of Thaiyur in: Djurfeldt and Lingberg 1975, no. 10; revitalization (Dravidianization) and social change in the village of Pulicat in Jacob-Pandian 1972, no. 18; Tamil literature in Zvelebil 1973, no. 24; and a discussion of the authors' methodology in Béteille 1975, no. 40; and Mencher 1975, no. 41.

For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in this collection see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

Overview by

John Beierle

Agricultural officers -use "ADMINISTRATIVE AGENCIES (647)", with "DISTRICTS (634)" and/or "AGRICULTURAL SCIENCE (242)"

Agriculturalists' organizations - use "COOPERATIVE ORGANIZATION (474)"

Alvaram cultivation - land tenancy - use "RENTING AND LEASING (427)"

Chidambaram code - proper behavior - use "ETHICS (577)", and/or "ETHNOPSYCHOLOGY (828)"

Dharma - the invisible moral order of the universe - use "PHILOSOPHY (812)"

Dravidian Advancement Association (DMK) - use "POLITICAL MOVEMENTS (668)"

Gotra - an exogamous patrilineage - use "LINEAGES (613)"

Gurus - priests or teachers - use "PRIESTHOOD (793)" and/or "TEACHERS (875)"

Jati (jati) - castes/subcastes - use "CASTES (564)"

Kalavu - pre-marital sexual union - use "PREMARITAL SEX RELATIONS (836)"

Kandristi - the evil eye - use "SORCERY (754)"

Karnam - village accountants - use "ACCOUNTING (451)"

Karpu - chastity - use "SEXUALITY (831)"

Kiramam -revenue villages - use "TOWNS (632)"

Kodangi - possessed dancers - use "MAGICIANS AND DIVINERS (791)"

Lignée -patrilineal lines - use "LINEAGES (613)"

Meenakshi code - proper behavior - use "ETHICS (577)", and/or "ETHNOPSYCHOLOGY (828)"

NaTu - primary subdivisions of the NaTu - use "DISTRICTS (634)"

NaTu - traditional political divisions of the state - use "DISTRICTS (634)"

Nonpu - ritual performances - use "ORGANIZED CEREMONIAL (796)"


Panchayat (village) - use "COUNCILS (623)", or "TOWNS (632)"

Panchayat Union Councils - use "TOWNS (632)"

Pattakkarar - the four titled families of the Konku region - use "CLASSES (565)", and/or "STATUS, ROLE, AND PRESTIGE (554)"

Revenue villages - use "TOWNS (632)"

Ryots - individual land holders - use "REAL PROPERTY (423)"

Sakti - natural energy essential for all action, both physical and mental - use "ETHNOPSYCHOLOGY (828)"

Tali - a yellow thread with a gold pendant tied around the neck of a new bride by the groom - use "ORNAMENT (301)"

Taluk - an administrative subdivision of the district - use "DISTRICTS (634)"

Tapas - self sacrifice - use "ETHNOPSYCHOLOGY (828)"

Upagramams - use "TOWNS (632)"

Ur(ur) - individual settlements and hamlets - use "COMMUNITY STRUCTURE (621)"

Urimai - the right of a man to marry his father's sister's daughter (FZD) - use "REGULATION OF MARRIAGE (582)"

Varam - share cropping - use "RENTING AND LEASING (427)"

Varna - the caste system - use "CASTES (564)"

This culture summary is based on the article "Tamil" by Clarence Maloney in the Encyclopedia of World Culture, Vol. 3, South Asia, 1992. Paul Hockings, ed. Boston Mass.: G. K. Hall &Co. Material from the 2001 Census of India (Office of the Registrar General, India) and Dyson (2001) was added to the Demography section by the editor in May 2008. The synopsis and indexing notes were written by John Beierle in July 2007.

Indexing Notes by

John Beierle

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