'Njan Moopan'- One Day in the life of a Moopan

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This report is prepared by Ms.Lakshmi Nair (MA History Student, Madras Christian College)


The past which a historian studies is not a dead past, but a past which in some sense is still living in the present’ said Collingwood. Understanding the past is the key to understanding the present. What makes a country is its past .Studying the life and culture of a diminishing ethnic group would help us understand the present scenario better thereby helping in preserving their identity. A deeper knowledge of how others have lived and labored—or failed and succeeded—allows one to be more fully aware of the contingencies and peculiarities of our generation. Times are changing. Reaching out into oral history and recording the lifestyles of people in a way which is easily accessible to the layman without the impediment of technical jargon would go a long way in making history more contemporary and relevant to the changing times.

Palagayur is a tribal hamlet in Pudur Panchayat, Palakkad. The inhabitants belong to the Irula community. Over 10,000 Adivasi families live in 187 tribal ooru (Tribal Settlements) scattered all over Attappady. The population of the Attapady valley is mostly Muduga, Irula, Kurumba tribal people.[Irula (84%),Muduga (10%) and Kurumba(06%)] Irula tribe is the largest group of three tribes in Attappadi and they are traditionally engaged in cultivation.The sex ratio among the tribals is 1000 males for 975 females.

“Understanding everyday life is the knowledge to transform it.” The project followed an inclusive approach to preserve and document the lifestyle of a highly unique community that is undergoing great transformations.These transformations are due to a variety of factors like government policies, tourism, education, intermingling, new sources of livelihood.Micro-level direct experience followed by documentation would provide a digital repository that would prove that once people indeed lived this way ,rather marvelously.Pro-people documentation and a bilingual presentation would enhance the relevance and approachability of the project.

A day might come when these tribals might be woven into the urban lifestyle or cease to be representatives of their current identity. Therefore documentation and digital archiving is not just important but also necessary.


Palagayur is a tribal hamlet of the Irula community in Pudur Panchayt,Palakkad. The ooru is located on the banks of the Bhavani river and is a picturesque location for many of the yesteryear Malayalam movies.The term Irula means being capable of finding one’s path in dark forests, according to an Irula myth. Some attribute it to their skin colour. Born in nature’s lap, Irulas share a symbiotic relationship with Mother Earth.

HOUSES- The houses were earlier built of mud, stones and hay but now government has built new houses of mud tiles. The linear placement of houses in the ooru is interesting. The living area of all the people in the ooru(settlement) is separate from the agricultural fields. Traditionally the Ooru is believed to be single family. There are no bifurcations or walls between different houses.

SPIRITUALITY-- The people believe in an energy in a mud pot and is worshipped at the ‘Pashathumadham’.The sivaratri festival is the most important one and is celebrated by the Kurumbas and Mudugas at the Malleswaran kovil. Only certain tribals are allowed to climb the peak during the festival.Different settlements have different gods.It is believed that if a person from a different ooru enters the Pashathumadham and tries to touch the pot, his or her hands would swell up. No instance of idol worship was found though a small temple set up has been built for praying.

KULAMS-- The irulas are believed to belong to seven divisions ‘Kulam or kolam’-Kuppily, Vellagal, Kartiga, AArumoopan, Karunagare, Devanaaru, Peradhaaru. Some also believe that there were 12 kulams. People belonging to certain kulas alone can intermarry.These boundaries used to be very rigid.

FOOD HABITS-- Little millets (Ragi,corn,chama,cambu),goat milk constitute the main food.The ragi is separated and grinded in the stone grind.It is then cooked with hot water and stirred well to produce the ragi puttu.It is consumed with side dishes like spinach or tomato curry.Usually food is consumed only twice a day.

AGRICULTURE:-- It is only after the arrival of the mannukaran’s prayer (priest)that seed is sown .A share of the produce is given to the oorumopan and the mannukaran.The traditional crops grown are millets including ragi. To increase the productivity of soil ‘kamablamkettu’ is done.Thisis the weeding of the plot accompanied by dance and music.The musical instruments include two drums and one ‘pe-pe’ .

DRESS- The older women of the Ooru wear a sari called the ‘sheelai’ without a blouse.The men used to wear a mundu.

LANGUAGE- The language of this ooru does not have a script or a name.It is a spoken tongue and sounds like a mizture of tamil, Malayalam and Telugu. But it does not follow the grammatical laws of a particular language.



Certain kulams alone can intermarry.

After the families of the prospective groom and the bride visits each others ,the groom has to go live in the house of the bride at least for two days and work in their agricultural fields to prove his capability in looking after a family.If the groom is accepted by the bride’s family ,the marriage consent is given.On the day of betrothal ,the heads of 7 kulams (Moopan, Vandari, kuruthala, pattathuveena, Mannukaran) visits the brides ooru and the ‘pariyapaisa’ is placed in the pashaathumadham in a kizhi(Bride price).The brides family cooks lunch and the bride is taken to the grooms ooru and she stays in the neighboring house.On the day of the wedding the couple visits the groom’s pashathumadam and later ties the’thali’ which is not in god but in black beads(paashimanimaala in a special thread).The couple goes to the nearby river where the bride is given a pot and the groom a ‘chundiville’.The bride has to fetch water and carry it to his house while the groom walks behind her throwing stones. After they reach the house ,a grand feast commences which marks the end of the wedding.


The ‘muracherrukan’ of the girl constructs a make shift hut for her to stay for 7 days.The requirements like cloth,mat,food are provided.On the seventh day morning ,without anyone seeing ,the girl is taken to the river and given a bath. All the materials used by her is burnt and the ashes immersed in the river.She is dressed in new clothes and an ‘aarathi’ done after which she is welcomed into the house.The girl is given some oil in her hand which she tries to pour on her head.Girls of her age who might be her relatives or friends pushes it away.This is done three times.The same is repeated when she eats boiled rice.All those who did this along with the girl eats from the same plate.The ceremony comes to an end.It is believed that the event is a celebration as it marks the beginning of a new stage in life.


OOrumoopan(tribal head) sends Pattathuveenan(messenger) to the other ooru to inform about the death of a member .Moopan sends a stick along with the Pattathuveeran as a mark of his authenticity.On his return ,he meets the Moopan and informs him about finishing his duty of being a messenger and returns the stick. Before the burial ,the oorumoopan’s jointly perform the ‘manthrivirikaal’ (spreading a mat)in which donation is collected and given to the family of the departed soul. If there is any problem within the ooru or between different ooru (irrespective of whether the bereaved family has anything to do with the feud) the problems are discussed and an amicable solution reached .The body is not taken for burial until the problem is solved.

The maanukaaran collects branches and wooden sticks for ‘sappramkettu’(making a funeral casket)The tribesmen dance and sing around the body after it is placed on the sappramkettu. For the salvation and happiness for the departed soul, the tribal dance is performed with tribal instruments.The dead body is kept in front of his kulam’s ‘pasaathumadham’(the place believed to hold gods power,similar to sacred temple).To perform the ‘cheeru’(Funeral rites) two women and one mannukaran is chosen.If there is a death in one ooru no cooking is done there. Each Ooru has different place of burial, in which each kulam has a different area.After the burial the ooru and individual houses are cleaned and cow dung applied on the floors. He lamp is lit in the ‘Pashathumadham’ .Then the food is cooked without salt.The two women and the mannukaran avoids non vegetarian food till the end of the rites.The funeral rites might go on for a year.


The Moopan is the tribal chief or the head of a tribal settlement. The moopanship is hereditary with only the male heir being made the Moopan. If the Moopan dies childless or does not have a male heir,the nearest male relative or nephew is titled the Moopan. The title is handed over after a discussion in the oorukuttam which is the gathering of the inhabitants of a hamlet. There are no insignia of power. However in another ooru called Pattimaalam there are instances of Moopan’s handing down a traditional ‘thala’ or bangle which is the symbol of power.


  • Traditionally legislative, judiciary and executive powers are vested with the moopan. He is helped by his ‘ministers’ –vandari,kuruthala,Mannukaran.

  • Even family problems are taken to the Moopan.

  • The Moopan calls the Oorukuttam which is the not just the gathering of the people but is the nucleus of the Ooru as the problems in the ooru is solved heredity is conducted in an open area. The problem is discussed and the decision of the Moopan is final.

  • No activity in the ooru can happen without the knowledge of the moopan. The agricultural activities,marriage rituals, puberty ceremony, cheeru(function),funeral rites require the support and guidance of the Moopan.

  • In earlier times the Moopan had the power to excommunicate people from a hamlet. The whole land of the ooru belonged to the Moopan in the sense that there were no individual properties and everyone in the ooru was one family.

The wife of the Moopan is called Moopathy.

THE MINISTERS- Vandari is the second-in command and helps the Moopan in administrative works.He is also like the treasurer. Kuruthala is the messenger.He is entrusted with a stick which he takes to the other ooru to inform about any death. The mannukkaran is the priest who has various roles in ceremonies including seed sowing and marriages.


The Moopan is supposed to represent the ooru and to take care of his people. It is believed that the Moopanship was developed after the Calicut rajas bestowed power on them. It is also believed that the first inhabitant of an area or village would be the Moopan. Only his successors can be the Moopan. In Palagayur the Moopan and Mannukaran settled first.The rest of the inhabitants flocked in later. Therefore the Moopan was trained from birth to be the head by observation and practical exposure. He is taught to look after his people and solve their problems in an unbiased manner.The Moopan forms a link between the government and the people of his ooru. If an officer from the government has to inform about a particular policy or a health scheme, he informs the Moopan. The whole land of the hamlet was in the name of the Moopan.