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Vishwakarma Craftsmen in Early Medieval Peninsular India Author(s): Vijaya Ramaswamy Source: Journal of the Economic and Social

History of the Orient, Vol. 47, No. 4 (2004), pp. 548-582 Published by: BRILL Stable URL: Accessed: 24/04/2010 02:54
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Abstract in the socio-economic of early medieval craftsmen milieu to analyse the dynamics of social craft groups with among change com to the smiths, masons and carpenters the Vishwakarma reference constituting particular is attempted of social within the processes of This the dynamics munity. by locating change at con in the Chola-Pallava The looks afresh and urbanism essay period. building temple This article situates Vishwakarma Peninsular India. It seeks cepts like changes light of Tamil Le de and caste, guild and craft mobility. evidence. context in the specific of technological and economic community In so doing cuts across in the the article categories conceptual on epigraphic is based from the The evidence, study essentially

empirical country.

situe article present la periode medievale social

les artisans de Finde

Vishwakarma peninsulaire. d'artisans


II cherche

changement et menuisiers est effectue construction sur regard contexte essai L'etude va

les groupes parmi plus la communaute Vishwakarma. Ce travail bref ceux qui constituent / ebenistes, en situant au sein des divers de 1'evolution sociale de la la dynamique processus un nouveau L'article la periode Chola-Pallava. durant des propose temples et communaute le de metier dans les concepts tels que caste, association/corps technologiques des categories preuves craftsmen, et economiques conceptuelles epigraphiques medieval ainsi que la mobilite de l'artisanat. Cet a la lumiere des preuves empiriques. du pays de Tamil Nadu. social mobility, temple of economy and builder art men live,

au debut socio-economique a analyser du la dynamique les forgerons, magons particulierement le milieu

des progres a l'encontre est basee

sur des




of a thousand Lord of the arts, master crafts, Vishwakarma, carpenter first of craftsmen of their palaces fashioner of every divine, jewel, a great and deathless and whom, God, they continuously worship.1

the gods

by whose


1: 2592


Ramaswamy, to thank


for Historical



of Social



Nehru University,
I wish Chattopadhyaya I am article.

New Delhi

110067 India,

B. D. D'Souza, my Bhattacharya, Sabyasatchi colleagues?Rohan on the draft version and Ranbhir for their comments of this Chakravarthi, com to the JESHO reviewers for their sharp and penetrating indebted greatly me to to do a great I am also deeply ments of rethinking. that compelled deal grateful of the text. for her meticulous Rajamani editing Rajeshwari 1 verses: Adi Parva and 1.60.29. 1.60.28 Mahabharata, 1.60.27;

? Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2004

Also available online




'The Indian



ages, but as originating

in the divine

Beauty, rhythm, proportion, where all who seek may find. The reality of things exists in the mind, not in to the eye. Their inward inspiration, upon which the detail of their appearance like the still small voice of God, the Indian artist is taught to rely, appearing of as Visvakarma. He may be thought of as that part that God was conceived is conditioned of divinity which by a special relation to artistic expression or in as sum of the total the group soul of individual another way, consciousness, craftsmen of all times and places' 1989: 47). (Coomaraswamy Craftsmen of the Gods, India. While at the same great mation the divine architect by the generic term of 'Vishwakarma,' a in crucial role the of Peninsular medieval economy early played to dominate the economy, the rural landscape continued there was known had as their nucleus the the process of state for in Tondaimandalam around

of his art, not as the accumulated skill of skill of Visvakarma and revealed by him. ideas have an absolute existence on an ideal plane,

time the emergence of urban centres which went in tandem with construction whose temples, in South

the seventh

India, beginning with the Pallavas century. The famous Brahadisvara temple the name

(tenth century) has ter craftsman himself The Vishvakarama sentative brass smiths

of Raja Raja Chola I on mas it by the of the architect proudly engraved as 'Kunjaramallan Raja Raja Perunthachan.' a group repre in medieval India constituted Peninsular constituent craft persons were?goldsmiths (karuman or kollan), carpenters in the Tamil (tattan), (tachchan) country as

of five crafts. The

and masons Kammalar,

(kannan), blacksmiths (silpi or kal-tachchan). in Karnataka

They were known as Panchalar and in Andhra

as the Panchanamuvaru.

in many of the medieval However, inscriptions to as the Rathakarar or the Kammala-Rathakarar, the twelfth-century inscription from Tiruvarur

referred they are also collectively the outstanding example being in Nagapattinam (Tanjavur dis

caste status of the is a lengthy record dealing with the mixed trict). This with decisions Rathakarar the the Brahmin elders on community, by concluding where to locate them, in terms of the social hierarchy and in terms of their pro the divine fession/s.2 Today they prefer to use the nomenclature 'Vishwakarma,' architect appear from whom in inscriptions to began they claim descent. The term 'Vishwakarma' to from the smiths the twelfth century onwards. referring

no. 603. This remarkable (henceforth SII) vol. XVII, Inscriptions, inscrip that are quotes from and has the Dharma Shastras and passages lengthy an attempt to determine of lawgivers like Yajnavalkya. It records the writings by Brahmins or pratiloma to the anuloma castes and whether whether the Rathakara they should belong or the wearing to perform of the sacred be allowed rituals like Vedic sacrifices thread. This South Indian tion is in Sanskrit inscription has been analysed at length by J. D. M. Derrett (1971).



The precise nomenclature used is 'Vishwakarma kula' or 'Vishwakarma kulaja.' To cite a few examples, the Chebrolu inscription of 1118, the Nadindla inscrip tion of 1141 and the Tellapur inscription dated 1417, all state that the smiths and sculptors belong to the Vishwakarma kula.3 This article will focus on certain specific aspects of the Vishwakarma crafts men, broadly based lowing questions: tutes the essential on epigraphic in an attempt to answer the fol evidence, were Who the Vishwakarma craftsmen? consti (1) (2) What between artisans and craftsmen? difference did (3) Where

and (4) What and spatial location of craftsmen)? they live (i.e., the geographical did they do in terms of their role in medieval and society economy? to explore and recon The article is an attempt to use inscriptional evidence of the questions that have been raised by A. Appadorai, Burton in the context of medieval and others South Indian socio Stein, Heitzman none of these scholars economic focus on structures.4 However, specifically are Kenneth Hall, who looks the history of crafts. The only possible exceptions at crafts in his book Trade and incidentally in the Age of the Cholas (1980) and, Noboru Karashima who actively Statecraft issues with the of craft and caste unrest in his essay, 'Growth grapples mobility in the Kaikkola in his recent book, of Power and Kanmala Communities' and Society in South India (2001). This essay by Karashima, however, History primarily and is the centre the period prior to the sixteenth century, which some of my present study. For the early medieval work was period, done on the Andhra region by K. Sundaram (1968) and P. Chinna Reddy (1991). Both are useful studies but the focal point is primarily the so-called 'guild' sys tem rather than a broad-based impor analysis of production organisation. More tantly, crafts form only one of the many facets of these two studies, although does of attention their empirical The present from study the Tamil foundation endeavour makes them very valuable for researchers. on crafts, especially on the evidence not that has been earlier. This something attempted concentrates in empirical, epigraphic data, rather than not deal with at trade networks sider some

country, is unequivocally grounded


















by E. Sivanagi Reddy (1997: 10). analysed 4

the first State

on Economic in Southern two-volume work Conditions India (1936) was Appadorai's to look at the craft sector as a major of the economy. Burton Stein's Peasant, adjunct in Medieval with and Society India South deals craft groups. (1980) very peripherally

his essay, 'Social Mobility and Medieval South Indian Sects' However, (2004, pub originally a little more with in 1968), lished issues of social mobility. James Heitzman's book, engages in an Early situate the early medieval Indian State (1997), of Power: Lordship Gifts helps in terms of the agrarian section but it also has an interesting structure, economy, especially on 'Temple Urbanism.'



of any theoretical speculation based on historical models5?whether school presented by Karashima, the Segmentary model proposed by model and others, or the intermediary of the 'Early State' Stein, Spencer, In this article, the inscriptional adopted by Heitzman. analysis will be based upon evidence from Tamil Nadu, drawing upon records from other South Indian attempting the Feudal In terms of their time frame, and substantiation. regions for cross-referencing to from the these inscriptions twelfth the sixteenth centuries, with more range than ninety percent of them being before the fourteenth century, since the pri mary of this study is the early medieval period. While providing a 'thick' in the early medieval of craft and craftsmen description period, I shall attempt to look at the directions of change, indicated by the socio-economic dynamics period of the crafts empire) leading and the later-medieval situation era (that of the Vijayanagar up to the medieval or pre-colonial period.

Situating The






Craftsmen body, as well


status of the Vishwakarma

as a collective

as the differentiation

and stratification that existed among them, depended upon in turn was linked to their physical the nature of their function, which location. It would be erroneous to treat craftsmen as a monolithic their band unit, despite as an a the artisan 'Vishwakarma.' The distinction between and ing together because of the shifting nature of their occupations, important to make this distinction. Unless one is aware of in early medieval India, one layers that shaped craft development as one's own teleological did the the vision, 'Orientalist,' 'imper fuzzy

craftsman may seem but it is nevertheless the complex

may impose ial' or the Marxist

the medieval craftsman as a static, historians, by imagining a caste structure. One of the immobile figure enmeshed within 'honey-combed' is to look at the producers of craft objects this discourse ways of dismantling as distinct from the producers of purely utility commodities. Is the man rou or as a in workman bricks the construction of a tinely laying being employed or a craftsman? Would in a the hereditary maker of ploughs same as in in the and the icon-maker? economy position society village In the context of medieval Peninsular India, it can be said that artisanal skills dam, have and craftsmanship came to be differentiated economically in terms of the very an artisan

I have of

looked and

at the Social in South

theoretical industry, History Indian

context Master

the handloom

the Economic Weavers

of India's in the craft history, underpinnings specifically in an article previously in The Journal of published by me of 28 entitled 'Genesis and Historical Role of the Orient Textile Production.'

552 different


them. Inscriptional evidence indicates that affected clearly dynamics two different kinds of economies, both of which existed that they represented to in While maker of would exist the each other. the ploughs village parallel socio-eco with a certain degree of relative physical community immobility, static living standards, the Kammalar or Panchalar nomic security and comparatively out of the custom determined 'local' market would craftsmen who had moved band from the temple economy and an together as the Vishwakarma. Benefiting more would mobile the craftsmen be clientele, expanding temple-town-based for improving their income, while also facing and have greater opportunities of patronage, greater risks. The risks would primarily arise from the withdrawal twelfth as happened of temple centres with the fall of dynasties, and thirteenth centuries with the decline of the Chola State. This in the situa

or the decline

tion happened yet again with Thus it can be said that while

in the sixteenth century. the fall of Vijayanagar was an artisan, every artisan was every craftsman not a craftsman, the principal distinction arising from their differing relation to terms in the medieval both of location and of function. More economy, ships on the the artisan latter differed from his count, quite significantly particularly even among the goldsmiths urban counterpart. To give an example, there were two distinct

tat hierarchical categories. At the lower level was the small-time on a piece-wage tan or goldsmith who worked and lived at the subsistence can be seen market. These goldsmiths level, catering to a custom-determined even today in South India, sitting at street corners and eking out a living by and piercing ears and noses (a must for repairing chains or other ornaments, women At the and female children among many South Indian communities). higher tattan as perum to in the inscriptions master-craftsman (literally, 'great goldsmith') employing indicating apprentice goldsmiths, catering to a fairly wide market and forming a part of the urban establishment. Another question that comes to mind when one looks at the plethora of evi the great goldsmith referred on the Vishwakarma the jati link between craftsmen structure is the of this grouping. What within which the of system categories are said to be located, and the Vishwakarma commu character across caste is the precise or caste level was


(among others) is obviously nity which cutting with theorists like Max Weber major cause of India's statement by Marx (1958:

lines? For a long time, beginning caste has been regarded as a and Karl Marx, economic and technological backwardness. The classic context 'either pet historians like Man Habib up by Morris (1968) for early modern in the Indian stasis in the craft structure. Marx

that crafts 339-40) or into castes into ossify rify guilds,' was taken (1972) for the medieval period and Morris D. India, to argue for a situation of technological



in early




(1958: cludes

on the fineness in fact con of the Dacca muslins, 340), commenting on a note of irony by saying, Tt is only the special skill accumulated to generation from generation and transmitted from father to son, that gives to as to In this article, I have it does the Hindu, the spider, this proficiency!' to show five comprising the ground as a community, of the Vishwakarma that the functioning and differentiated demonstrates that economically socially jatis,


situation at least in South India's craft history, was much more com was comparatively The situation fluid, and community solidarity in certain plex. over cer situations may have taken precedence jati solidarity. Caste distinctions in the rural setting seem to have been known by tainly continued and craftsmen of the Vishwakarma their individual jati affiliation rather than as members kula. in of temple building where these five craft groups worked seems to the of such close coordination that 'Vishwakarma kula' have concept over that of separate caste identities. This can be deduced by the predominated location of the inscriptions referring to the 'Vishwakarma kula' in the early medieval or Eastern Chalukyas.6 one is looking at the Cholas, times, whether Pandyas a more for of craft open interpretation groups cutting across Having argued one cannot caste barriers and embracing the wider notion of craft community, logically push forward Vishwakarma community one way or the other Kallidaikurichchi disassociation been to state that the five jatis within this argument the were exogamous. No evidence is forthcoming, either in this regard. However, back from the working inscription of the seventeenth century,7 which records the legal It is in the context

of the five jatis, one could presume that the five castes may have status was a factor, then the up to that point. If economic exogamous in town in the would have much more Vishwakarma located goldsmith temple common smiths with the affluent alliances) (e.g., in terms of forming matrimonial one can settled there than with his poor village counterpart. Although the fluidity of caste boundaries among these crafts, in the absence of to determine it is not possible evidence how open the 'Vish was to familial interaction social and among the five dis community'

deduce more concrete wakarma parate

jati categories.


community) local temple

inscription unique named Tippana for a lump sum 107). The was most



(who was obviously contract of 20 rukas

in Cuddapah district a non-Vishwakarma



a Boya


(tribal built the

vol. II, no. district, of social flux which


Pradesh, of Andhra (Inscriptions Cuddapah is late, dated to a certain 1529, but it points inscription degree 1997: 7). (see Reddy likely a post-Chola phenomenon

Report of Epigraphy

(henceforth A.R.E.)

309 and 378 of 1916; Report



554 Rural Network and the




in terms The various functions performed by the smiths are defined primarily of their geographical and location. Of the group of five, the kollan (blacksmith) a formed of the tachchan (carpenters) the part invariably village community. An in Coimbatore from Sundara Pandya Chaturvedimangalam (dated inscription and other functionaries.8 1258) refers to the settling of villages with Vellalar the tachchan (carpenter) and kol The list of village artisans usually comprised lan (blacksmith) (barber), kum among the smiths, and included the navidan or uvachchan baran (potter), talaiyari (watchman), (drummer) and padikappan to The of the kollan the the purohitar (priest). village commu indispensability a in from the is from North Arcot district demonstrated record nity by Punganur period of Kulottunga Chola, dated to the twelfth century, which states that Punga nur and the surrounding were without a blacksmith. Vikramachola villages a state the of Sembai blacksmith official) Sambuvarayar appointed (apparently to serve in that locality.9 Sometimes the list of village functionaries included the the goldsmith and the mason, but these did not form a major part of weavers, the traditional village community.10 evidence indicates that they the village craftsmen, Regarding inscriptional were paid either in terms of a small piece of land as a service grant, or in terms of a share of the usufruct, as illustrated by a thirteenth-century inscription for in Chidambaram district.11 The plethora of service grant inscrip Rajasikamaninallur tions from the eighth to the thirteenth centuries also indicate the geographical in terms of their lands (referred to as tachcha kuzhi, location of the craftsmen tattan kani, etc.), as well as house-sites (Kammalar Ozhugai).12 is that at least during the What emerges on the basis of epigraphical evidence time of Rajaraja and Rajendra Chola, the poorer artisans (called kizh kalanai) in terms of its which lived in the kammanachcheri (street of the Kammalar), geographical proximity was usually coupled with the paraichcheri (street of the

8 9

A.R.E., A.R.E.,

306 1 of of




the period






10See pages 35-38 of my book Textiles and Weavers

a discussion the location the early medieval during 11 of 277 of 1914 from the period A.R.E., 12 For example, the term 'karuman kundil' Gudiyattam Government from vided of village and period professionals the absence and



South India (1985) for

in the village communities, of these inscriptions. of weavers from most I. Jatavarman Sundara Pandya which occurs in a record from Tiruvallam in

I?S.I.I. (South Indian Inscriptions, taluq, North Arcot district of the period of Rajaraja 'tachcha kundil' vol. 51 and the term 1890 onwards), Ill, No. Press, Madras, No. chart has been the same place, also of Rajaraja 53 etc. A detailed I?Ibid., pro the section of Craftsmen.' below under 'Wages



(washermen's street) and tin Paraiya). along with vannarachcheri Interestingly, as irai both of these are mentioned daachcheri (the area of the untouchables), recurs an tax in This entire free evidence of block (i.e., lands). yili inscriptions century from Tanjavur.13 The reference to a to paraikkulam reference and kuzhi (i.e., by as as cremation of the paraiyas well the ponds and wells grounds sudukadu). in the early medieval The extent of social differentiation times, and prevailing dated between the artisanal the tenth and eleventh is followed cheris men, of this fact in terms of the geographical the significance location of the crafts is reflected in a Rajaraja from inscription Tanjavur. This refers to Vellan the cremation of the dominant caste, as distinct sudukadu, ground cultivating from the parai sudukadu, the burning ground of the low caste.14

were indicates that the areas where the kammanacheris Inscriptional evidence on located ranged from Brahmadeya-settlements conferred Brahmins) (villages like Karimangalam, etc., to the Vellan vagai (or non-Brahmin Panamangalam, like Kizh Vadugakkudi, Kizh Palaru, Ingaiyur and others,15 as also a villages) seems to have had a quasi-urban status. such as Tiruttengur,16 which nagaram Another side' ullalai connection that emerges from the inscriptional is the evidence important question status and location in relation to the terms purambadi between ('out in the sense of the habitational site being outside the village margins) and

('inside' pertaining to the habitational heart of the temple town). For instance, a record of Rajaraja, also from Tanjavur, the streets of the shep says that while herds (Agambadaiyar), mahuts and the street of musicians (anaiyatkat), elephant street was (Villigal teru) were purambadi or outside, the Saliya teru or weavers' ullalai or inside.17 By this criterion, the kammanachcheri stood outside, and that the artisans ranked below therefore it may be deduced the weavers. The of the paraiya geographically coupled with that of the kammalar are that for the hierarchy of social determining implications important medieval Peninsular India. Street While suggest status in

the available evidence clearly indicates both that the carpenter and the were part of the hereditary blacksmith there might have community, village been some efforts on their part towards social and geographical mobility, which was effectively at For instance blocked the assembly by social-legislation. some in states in Arcot of South the and district, Tribhuvani, respect carpenters

13 14 15 16 17

S.I.I., S.I.I., S.I.I., S.I.I., S.I.I.,

Vol. Vol. Vol. Vol. Vol.

II, no. II, no. II, pt. II, pt.

4, no. 5.

5, etc. 5.

I, nos. 4 and I, no. 5. no. 94.

II, pt. 4,

556 other functionaries


in a record dated 1113 that 'They should take up in the village only. Those who engage themselves in these services to this will be considered have the law, to have village beyond transgressed a fault against the great assembly committed and to have ruined the village.'18 village such services


in the




of the early medieval India, which can be period in Peninsular the tremen the eighth and the thirteenth century, was roughly dated between dous' temple building activity that took place under the later-Cholas, Pandyas, The hallmark The history of the Vish dynasties. in the this significant development south. The long phase of temple-urbanism has been divided by histo medieval rians like Heitzman (1996) into gradually evolv (1997)19 and Champakalakshmi Hoysalas, wakarma Chalukyas craftsmen is bound regional up with into two phases, the former splits the urbanisation ing stages. While treat to to entire from the sixth the the of period beginning prefers as one teenth century historical block (Champakalakshmi 1996: 205). the latter the four In terms and other

it seems preferable to concur with of my own study of the epigraphic material, Heitzman that the first stage was roughly from the seventh to the ninth century in Thondai that was when the temple construction started by the Pallavas mandalam in its incipient stage. The Brahmadeya 'land granted (literally, to Brahmins') of legitimisation constituted the dominant expression by the state, and cul and the Brahmin sabhas (or 'assemblies') formed the hub of economic were Vellan with the whose tural activities assemblies Vagai along villages dominant groups like the Sudra vellalar. The by the non-Brahmanical Chola phase, from the tenth to the twelfth centuries, constituted the clas or sical phase of temple urbanism. Devadana lands gained dom temple-centred inance over the Brahmadeya. in The decline of Brahmin influence was marked these centuries The tions twelfth like communities. by a growth in the power of craft and mercantile the of mercantile witnessed many corpora century growing power the Ayyavole, and the Chitramezhi Periyanattar. As Manigramam,20 out at the onset of this article, the twelfth century was also was

dominated middle

has been


18 205 of 1918-19 from the period of Kulottunga Chola. A.R.E., 19 on 3 of Heitzman's sections book has valuable Urbanism' Chaper 'Temple in which Urbanism and Political he discusses what has been 'Temples, Economy' in the South context. third phase of urbanization' Indian 20 two mercantile The and growth of these emergence Abraham's (1988). monograph guilds forms the theme

as well called The


of Meera



the period when the corporate representation of Vishwakarma to appear in inscriptions. The creation of artistic wonders like the Brahadisvara (constructed century) mandalam and Pandimandalam led to what in the tenth and the historians


first begins


in Tanjavur in Chola temples have referred to as the temple

of temple towns. They have called these tirumadaiviagam. While emergence a primary role in temple construction crafts occupied of itself, the settlements craftsmen around the temple premises became vital for the growth of the econ of temples did not involve the mere erection of shrines omy. The construction but the building that was up of an entire temple town-complex spread over a vast Temple evolve as primarily religious centres or as centres of scriptural studies such as over time other temple towns became commer Sri Rangam and Kumbakonam, cial and/or administrative the religious feature not necessary the towns, with dominant of Nagapattinam (a reknowned Saivite as well development as and commercial Karaikkal, center), port towns, would be leading of this. good examples in all of these towns was the settlement of craftsmen, The common element as Buddhist and others around situated in the various one. The area, such as the one around the Srirangam or pilgrimage towns were not purely devotional temple at Tiruchirapalli. centres. While some did

weavers were

the temple. The kammalar, weavers and merchants streets located on all four sides of the temple-com plex. The long copper plate from the Kanchipuram temple from the period of Uttama Chola for instance, the details of the four (tenth century) provides, cheris or streets assigned to the Saliya weavers and their powers of supervision, over the other artisan castes of the region, in the con along with the merchants, text of temple service and revenue collection.21 However, in keeping with the some social groups were settled in the inner radius of the tem ritual hierarchies, 'inner') including the temple trustees and the ple, referred to as ullalai (literally, Brahmins, while most of the craftsmen along with other service groups were settled in the purampadi the outer radius of the 'outer') constituting (literally,

suggests that blacksmiths, carpenters, and pot analysis of the inscriptions a remained of the subsistence ters, part economy, agrarian largely although some carpenters surely did form a part of the temple town since woodwork was an essential part of temple construction, of ratha (or just as the construction





inscription Vol. 2, pt.

3, pt. 3, Madras is from the Tanjavur 2, no. 66.

Museum temple

copperplates in the period

of Uttama of Rajaraja

Chola. (end of

Another tenth

well-known century), S.I.I.,



the temple chariots) was crucial for the ritual activities of the temple. However, a evidence from the reign of Rajaraja that these Rathakaras had suggests fairly low status during the Chola times. The social mobility of craft groups depended among other things on their importance to the economy and the changing nature of technology. For example, it has been pointed out in the context of early medieval Northern India that the importance of the takshaka or kashtagara (car in ancient India as rathakara, was supplanted by that of the penters) honoured mason or stone to shilpi, as the essential building material changed from wood a stone in the post-Mauryan true similar would hold period. Perhaps explanation of the metal-workers, the mason, as to shilpachariyar), sculptor along in the process of urbanisation, with the weavers and the oilmen, participated in a manner which advantaged the emergence of temple-towns, them especially over other artisanal groups. It must, however, be emphasised that the term and the architect refer is being used here not in its modern sense, but in a much more town since the line between and country was not very sense, dividing a more convenient term for this period would be the portmanteau sharp. In fact word 'rurban,' which Frank Perlin (1983) has used in his article on 'Proto 'urbanisation' limited Industrialization and Pre-Colonial from South Asia.' the tenth century onwards that marked the commencement Inscriptions of extensive temple building activities under the later-Cholas provide evidence of the location of smiths around the temple-town and their participation in the urbanisation had metal-smiths and masons, architects, process. Every temple a seem to in to attached them and these have carpenters permanent capacity, the tirumadaiviagam. The best example of this would be at the Brahadisvara of smiths categories employment temple accord to ing Rajaraja's inscriptions dated 1011.23 cen The early medieval period also saw the rise of 'nagarams' or marketing of various tres (also translated as 'market towns'). Kenneth Hall (1980) provides an appen dix giving the growth of nagarams under the Cholas by district. The growth of of craft and commercial nagarams was in tandem with the emergence corpora tions and the development of temple towns. Heitzman (1997) rightly argued 'the expansion of local temples occurred and interacted with alongside the growth of commercial networks focused on the mercantile communities.' to the temples, such as sacred lamps or other The growth of ritual endowments that lived in and around for Southern India.22 On the other hand, most (whom the records

22 23


point Vol.




by R. N. Misra

in his




and Art


S.I.I., II, no. 66.



in led initially to the settlement of craftsmen and merchants religious objects, an economic In due course, their presence the tirumadaivilagam. developed a in clientele that had factor of the ritual growing they independent significance among the court, officials and upper classes. The integrative role played by tem using bhakti as a cementing ideology has been the sub ples in state-formation the present essay does not intend to deal studies24 although ject of specialist with this aspect except to point out that the state was a major patron of crafts (see below).



of Craftsmen

raised by historians, whether An oft-expressed they are looking at question or in those is economic whether craftsmen the the arts/aesthetics aspect, aspect or did they sign their names to what they had in total anonymity times worked the individual identity was, or seemed to be, sub crafted? In a society in which it was not usually the practice of the identities, merged under caste/community to sign his name on his product. Therefore, the instances where such are available in the records, either below a piece of sculpture, beneath a source of informa or on an engraved hero-stone inscription, are an invaluable craftsman names milieu. implications. such as of inscriptions merely The majority give the name of the engraver or or is if from the record Andhra etc., Karnataka, Revachari, Samundachari, suffixed by the term Oja such as Dasadomoja, the names are usually Malloja, to achari is Bhatta. An inscription from Badami etc. An alternate nomenclature states because that Sri Chandra

tion for understanding the location of This section studies these names

the craftsman and their social

in the medieval



Bhatta made
and bhatta

the sculpture
or bhattar

of Durgadevi.25
are very





in South India are Sudras, they were using a although all craftsmen is regarded as the highest even name given to Brahmins. In fact, Bhattacharya surname. Does this Brahmin It is a fairly common Bengali among Brahmins. and Brahmanisation from a very early indicate the influence of Sanskritisation It period in South India? The inscriptional evidence definitely points that way. is again used in inscriptions observing here that a third term, karmiyar, for craftsmen. Even now the South and for both Brahmin priests ambiguously the kammalar prefer to be known India Vishwakarma kula, the name by which is worth

An interesting pioneering Veluthat Kesavan (1978). 25 A.R.E., Bombay-Karnatak




this 223

direction of


by M.


S. Narayanan




560 days, uses Bhattar and Asari these The names of Sanskritised example the Dravidian for Achari.


versions themselves names



nomenclatures?Pathar between Tamil names

for and

the craftsmen Tamil

names. While

vary end with

the nomenclature

devan, Achchappan such carry the suffix 'Achari' invariably etc. However, in the face of as Revachari, names and the fixing of their geographical mere categorisation of these names does now one comes


Achari, Sommachari, about these yet inadequate evidence locations against a historical setting, not provide much information. And

devan, etc., as Baladeva

devan, for names all Sanskritised

tattan found in a tenth-century to the term perum inscription It describes the engraver as Pullaiya, the peruntattan from Kumbakonam.26 (the terms of words of The the and perum tattan) perum conjugation Teeyamkudi. tachchan

the 'great craftsman,' and perum kollan, meaning also appear in many some cases in from Tamil and also indicate the employment Nadu, inscriptions of subordinate under the master-craftsman. carpenters or goldsmiths working Thus a craftsman one can say with absolute certainty that the term perum when attached to with power to supervise defined his status as a master-craftsman and control the craftsmen working under him. One can assume that the Kumbakonam inscription must have registered food offerings and endowments an act of considerable

(it deals with importance to the temple), since it was personally engraved or perum tattan. by the head goldsmith The Dharmaraja ratha at Mahabalipuram contains inscriptions27 dating back to the seventh and eighth centuries, which provide details not only about the names of craftsmen but also the categories hier of craftwork and professional archy. It calls Kevata Perum Tachchan Payyam shakas. He was obviously the master-carpenter Izhippan as the greatest of tak since the term 'takshaka' means as the black Semakan 'carpenter.' The record next refers to Kalyani Kollan in the work. Another smith involved is referred to as a craftsman Kunamalla

of the sledgehammer. Sala Mukhiyan, the chief toolsman, is strong wielder name another given in this inscription. The record ends with the craftsmen pay to Tiruvorriyur Abhachar. their obeisance is sixty kilometres ing Tiruvorriyur from Mahabalipuram and was apparently the place where the chief architect was stems from the clearly importance of this inscription as as defined hierarchies well the complex levels of craft spe among craftsmen, as early as the seventh or eighth century. cialisation located. The crucial

26 27




1965-66. volume on the Pallavas, p. 11. Inscription no. 23 A (A.R.E., nos.

vol. XXII, S.I.I., 105-7 of 1932-33).



some inscriptions refer only to the craftsman who is actively While involved in a particular craft, there are many which refer to two or three generations of or either father and also the For the sons, craftsmen, grandfather. example, dated in the ninth century, refers to the Pallava inscription from Tiruvorriyur, as the son of Chanundacharya.28 On the other hand, a III from refers to Aloja the Dharwar, inscription Chalukyan as son not the of Mudda and the of This engraver grandson Bammoja Jatoja.29 only shows that the crafts were hereditary but also the continuity of generations engraver Parameshwaran of Somesvara of craftsmen One final of craftsmen engraving and inscriptions a was is of in the their that society putting literacy proof In the context of the township Virayachilai, R. Tirumalai largely illiterate. or comments status that their ritual overall economic (1981: 28) pros despite perity, most castes and communities were illiterate. This was true of the Arasamakkal their names on them to the chieftain's (people belonging mana temple priests) or the koyilvasal family), the Maramudalis Pichchamudaliyar, sect looking after the temple affairs. None of them could even sign their names and the temple accountant not only had to transcribe their documents but also to attest them on their behalf. the majority (the Sivabrah the head of the Saiva at a particular place. in the context conclusion

com of the Brahmin Thus, with the exception were of and Sat-Sudras of the R's. three munity, ignorant Vaisyas The lowly Sudras and the groups below them were of course automatically excluded to note that from access to any kind of knowledge. It is therefore remarkable rathakarar were, by and large, literate. literacy of the kammala craftsmen is evidenced both by the fact that they to them the inscriptions and by the insertion of panegyric references engraved most in this regard selves in these records. However the remarkable information comes from three Pandya to the reign of Parantaka copper plates belonging The son of Srivallabha.30 The first record, dated 946, says that the Viranarayana, and that the Tamil prashasti Perumkollan Nakkan engraver was Nirupasekhara in the record was composed his father who came from a fam (and sung?) by as the that had served under Then ily sculptors Pandyan kings for generations. follows the peculiar 'Himalayan peaks.' craftsman must have that this sculptor had phrase were If this phrase taken literally, been remarkably carved (what?) it would mean in the that the the kammala

the far north. The more

mobile, traveling from the far south to as part of a eulogy, it indulges is that likely explanation

28 29 30

S.I.I., A.R.E., Pandya

no. 408

105. of 1965-66. Pattu, pp. 90 and 91 of copper plate No. IV.




in poetic exaggeration. The second inscription consists of two verses in Tamil. The verses are said to be composed by 'Tamilabharanan' Sri Vallabaha Pandimaraya It is to be noted that the name Tamilabharanan is in fact a title Perumkollan. The record conferred on this 'great blacksmith.' meaning 'jewel among Tamils,' to further specifies that he was not a native of the Tamil country but belonged the eulogia that he came from a Guntur. Finally, the record comes out with who had made the axe of Parashurama and were of blacksmiths family Marttandan The third and last inscription states that to the sculptor not only engraved the following it prashasti but also composed is the heads? the Brahmadeya assembly Mahasabhaiyar?that (emphasis mine), To conclude, these granted a land of 3 pulan (?) and some other privileges. to the remarkable attributes of the three tenth-century inscriptions bear witness descended from Manu! who their ability not merely to read and write inscriptions but even to compose


royal prashastis! the most elaborate prashasti on craftsmen by the craftsmen with details However, dated to 1018, the period of of their names and lineage, comes from Chingleput The Sanskrit Chola.31 says: panegyric Rajendra
Four Sculptors, The at Kanchipuram, ornaments wrote born of the race of Hovya, this was who 'akrishna'? Aravamurta, though born of Krishna, high minded is 'of unsullied his 'not dark,' but the idiomatic character'), meaning meaning two brothers his the famous and Damodhara and son, Purushottama, Ranga a bee By had fam

prashasti. (literally

younger was who these

at the lotus feet of Purushottama in the second (Vishnu context). are well in the various who forms of mechanical versed art, who persons in the great city of Kanchipuram, in the Ovi their birth who were wise and born ily, this edict was clearly engraved. four

This panegyric written by the craftsmen themselves shows their concerning or use in the art of skill at poetic composition the of sleshaalankara especially a special feature of Sanskritic in the early medieval compositions punning,

name analysis of craftsmen raises another important issue. The names seem to be only of craftsmen. An overarching in almost all inscriptions in early craft structures. Women patriarchal framework can be clearly perceived The listed in an ancillary or subordinate capacity in the work of by and large functioned are allowed to work the the smiths. In the craft of the blacksmiths, the women are not to iron. In bellows while the the craft of they permitted forge jewellery are engaged in the and the silversmiths, women among the goldsmiths making tasks of polishing, fine cutting and embellishing the designs, but not allowed a




III, No.







role called

in the designing

or making

of the ornaments. 'itinerant

munity 'Bayala Akkasaliga' have trained both men and women One does not hear of women

(literally in the art of goldsmithy (Brouwer 1987a: 6). at in the craft of icon mak all especially sculptors

com goldsmith seems to goldsmiths') The

it can be logically assumed that women were marginalized in the ing. Hence, two notable exceptions, whole craft process. There were, however, both from to the eleventh and twelfth centuries respectively. One from Dharwar, pertaining inscribed under the image of Uma Mahesvara says that Revakabbarasi, Gadag the wife of Vavanarasa, made the sculpture.32 The other from Kalkeri says that Saraswati Gandidasi Malloja made the image of Suryadeva.33 In the first case, while in terms of her marital defined sculptor is essentially relationship, in the second, only the name of the father is given which was the usual in all the inscriptions. The mention out of nearly of just two women practice names shows that the exception may relating to craftsmen's eighty inscriptions the female prove the rule. However, to crafts out of economic women

it does


are said to have

necessity. taken over

taken might have sometimes in caste the Karnataka, Among Gudigara in the case of death the family profession goldsmithy, perhaps both crafting as well

that women

of the male member


and this included

over the gender component of crafts is a complex one. In a soci a family enterprise, women must have been where ety crafting was obviously since they assisted in most major aspects of familiar with crafting techniques could take over their hereditary profes crafting. The fact that Gudigara women The debate sion on the death of their husbands but accumulated ative anonymity crafts persons could the popular literatures over years of women shows that this was not a skill acquired overnight in the family occupation. of assisting The compar within crafts and the absence of their names as therefore be broken down with more intensive research into of that age.

The Origins




The mythological origins of the craftsmen are found both in their rich body of to such traditions in early medieval oral traditions and in the references inscrip tions. The oral traditions of the smiths consist of origin myths, craft-related oral traditions, and ritual status related traditions. Although these constitute basically

32 33


464 109

of of

1961-62. 1949-50. discussion of this theme, see Jan Brouwer 1987a.

A.R.E., 34 For an




some of these oral traditions assume the form of 'hard evi 'soft evidence,' are found in medieval dence' when inscriptions. For instance, an inscrip they in Palnad tional record (dated 1177) from Macherla taluq, Guntur district of to Brahma the divine creator.35 The Andhra Pradesh links the Vishwakarma record refers to the smiths as 'Vishwakarma are found Kulaja' (literally, 'those born Puranam into the family Many in Tamil of Vishwakarma'). of these origin myths

in the Vishwakarma


(there could be a Sanskritic version as well).36 The work does not have an author, and different stories and local legends seem to have been incorpo It rated into it, some of these dating back to the pre-Vijayanagar inscriptions. was most probably compiled during the East India Company in the eigh period to the company of the occasional reference rule. For century because at it of time the smiths could think that while the says example, beginning now on to into had work the basis of and existence, buildings they objects teenth

says that Brahma and Vishwakarma together cre ated the universe. In their own special version of the 'Big-bang theory,' the arti sans claim that the five natural elements formed an enormous egg that burst The Vishwakarma Puranam into being. Siva and Vishnu emerged Vish from the blue space and created Vishwakarma and Brahma respectively. had five faces representing the three smiths and the two non-smiths. wakarma forth to the text, the color of their faces were also symbolic of their In fact, according black for the for copper or brass for the coppersmith, goldsmith, crafts?gold a the blacksmith, for the for and wooden face the color mason, carpen stony ter. Vishwakarma from Brahma then made tongs out of the power emanating and Vishnu, and joined them with the nail called Rudram or Siva. He called is of course an important tool of the smiths. 'Kuradu,' which was born wearing This origin myth also makes the point that Vishwakarma the sacred thread 'similar to what the Brahmins wear around their shoulder.' this This statement makes it obvious that the one major purpose behind this was to claim Brahmanical status. The Vishwakarma artisans I have origin myth interviewed told me that even now Avani Avittam (or Thread changing ritual) is among their most important ceremonies. The Vishwakarma Puranam says that loaded wrote the Mayanool, of indigenous which is the science of architecture. systems (Kadam, This ma, contains the details hand measurement like thunder and the universe came


35 36

575 A.R.E., Visvakarma




pt. 2, 1910, Mackenzie India


60. Wilson Collection, No. 72, This is a



in the

Manuscripts, London. Office,




Yojanai, etc.) and refers to the importance of buildings. culations for the construction

of mathematical

and astrological


smiths is usually referred to in the inscrip The origin of the Vishwakarma terms by the smiths themselves and therefore falls under the tions in panegyrical was context in the of their role as engravers It of category origin myths. usually at times accompanied and sculptors that the names of craftsmen, by the pane occur on in note records. An and their skills, inscriptional origins gyrical to 1111) in in district Guntur Macherla Palnad from (dated Taluq inscription who was the son of from Vishwakarma states that the smiths were descended Brahma. emanating inscription four kinds He is also from also said to be the father-in-law the sun into divine weapons the smiths made says that the Vishwakarma images of Gods, on and used their the directions of mansions (based they faced), in vastu shastra or the sci of geometry (from the Sanskrit yamitro) of the sun, converting the rays like the discus of Vishnu.37 The

knowledge ence of sculpture. even

sports a banner with the image of Hanuman community an Puranam for this, the Vishwakarma says explanation today. Offering was the victorious the divine architect who accompanied that Vishwakarma The Vishwakarma

army of Rama to Ilangai (i.e., modern Sri Lanka). He rebuilt Sri Lanka after it and as a symbol of their triumph they began had been burnt down by Hanuman to fly the Hanumatkodi?the with Hanuman's image. An inscription from flag Dindigal which carries the spurious date 1365 but refers to Tirumalai Nayakar to the seventeenth to belong that and seems actually century, also mentions the banner adopted by the Kammalar Hanumatkodi (Hanuman insignia) was the five castes. called the 'Anju Jatiyar' in the inscription, meaning on the Kammalar comes from Alangudi in the longest panegyrics is the dated 1264 in the inscription temple, Apatsahayesvara Tanjavur. of a mandapam and registers the construction (a pillared hall) by the Kammala to the temple for and the grant of certain endowments Rathakarar community as 'the four kinds of its maintenance.38 themselves Interestingly, they describe One of Found Rathakaras been was refer in the mint have Since the workers of profession.' to separately quite often (kammatta), one can presume that this the sixth category of craftsmen. One of the earliest eulogies relating to of the six kinds referred is found in two of to the architect inscriptions the Jalpesa, from Ayyangaripalem as called Maindarama in Guntur39 that 'kalgarabharana


37 38 39

A.R.E., S.I.I., A.R.E.,

575 vol.


1909. 1936-7.

VI, no. 439. 331 and 332 of



to sculptors) (an ornament acharya' kula. jewel of the Vishwakarma


the fourth






Ritual Two kondan with was

Status important Tirumalai

of Craftsmen and Uyya (Tanjavur district) district) of the twelfth century provide us (Tiruchchirapalli account of the social and ritual origins of the Vishwakarma. In inscriptions from Tiruvarur

a detailed defined

and ritual status, the origin of the Kammala-Rathakarar as being that of a mixed caste, primarily anuloma (i.e., born of a of the In the Tiruvarur father and low-born mother). inscription high-born twelfth century from Pandyakulantaka Chaturvedimangalam (Tanjavur dis their social from Uyya the Brahmin Based on

terms of

trict),40 and in another record from Rajasraya Chaturvedimangalam kondan Tirumalai district)41 of the same period, (Tiruchchirapalli the status, rights and duties of the Kammala-Rathakarar. determined the Dharma Bhima,

and Shastras and the Smritis of Yajnavalkya, Gautama, Maskara were consensus at the that the Rathakara anuloma arrived primarily they to being born of Mahisha (Vaisya) male and Karana (Sudra) female. According cer as some texts, anuloma (sacred thread they could perform the upanayanam sun at dawn, dusk the and of (the emony) sandhyavandanam special worship

restricts them from all but silently (tushnim eva). Yajnavalkya and high-noon) Vastu Shastra, and sculpture like Agastya sacred texts relating to architecture of the (meaning the professional obligations/privileges although Visvakarmiyam Vishwakarma) gave them the right to build temples and to sculpt the images of

their status as pratiloma defines The Vaikansa Dharmasutra, however, (i.e., born of a high-caste Vaisya mother and a low-caste Sudra father) and says that tasks like feeding and training horses. The they were fit only to perform menial of Sridhara Bhatta (a South Indian text from 1150) states that Smartyarthasara a Kammala-Rathakara born of a Mahisha male and a Karana female was in fact a pratiloma and hence no more than a menial artisan. The tion from Uyyakondan anuloma Rathakarar makes a clear distinction second major inscrip between the

(Tiruchchirapalli) to the privileges like and the pratiloma smiths aspiring upanayana (the sacred thread) accorded only to the superior Rathakarar. and confusing One could, conclude from the rather ambiguous therefore, evidence presented in inscriptional records, especially the above-mentioned


40 41

S.LI. A.R.E.,

Vol. 479

no. XVII, of 1908

603, from

Tiruvarur, Uyyakondan

Nagapattinam Tirumalai,



district. taluq and district.




inscriptions, depending economic

that a Kammala-Rathakara could be classified as anuloma or pratiloma on the nature of his job, thus providing ritual sanction for the socio differentiation that already existed among the prosperous architects on the one hand and the poor village smiths on the other.

and jewellers

Role The

Function blacksmith








and the carpenters were an indispensable part of every vil manufactured the tools of like lage they agricultural production axes. met hoes and While the the bulk the of rural village potter ploughshares, demand, there was a limited market for metal pots and pans in the countryside. since the most however, important centre of all craft activities. mention the of craftsmen listed in the following categories inscriptions Temple table (see table 1). in his role as engraver. The First, the temple craftsman was to be recognized was a not medieval temple religious site, but also the hub of secular life as just The temple was, well, court, and cultural centre. Matters hall, emergency serving as meeting to land transactions from donations and issues of crime and pun ranging temple ishment were registered for posterity on temple walls. Inscriptions were the best of


and all inscriptions had to be any act or transaction, recording engraved whether on rock or copper plate. Thus lengthy inscriptions pertaining to temple charities or land transactions would conclude with the name of the

Table Function Stone Stone Stone

1: Categories Term cutter marker/measurer dresser




in temple




sutrgrahi vartaki Mason kal tachchan or acharya cheyvar


silpi Architect sthapati/asari tiruppani kankani (a generic term for any craftsman) craftsmen overseer

Repair Craft

Master Goldsmith Master Jewel goldsmith stitcher blacksmith

perum-kollan tattan perum-tattan ratna tayyan achchan perum tachchan

Carpenter Master carpenter



engraver. Since the temples served as a record office, many were to that particular attached smiths who were temple. include an inscription of the time of Vikrama Chola (dated varur


the engravers Some examples

1123) from Tiru in Tanjavur district says that the inscription that concerns a land grant to our temple the temple by the king was 'engraved by that greatest of masons, Perumal achari.'42 Another inscription dated 1268 from Kanchipuram Ulagalanda teaching in the temple and concludes temple refers to the arrangement of Vedic the statement that it was craftsman.43 'golden available temple') from the Pandyan instances where the phrase 'por koyil' (literally, by the temple engraved is Similar information the engravers regarding later the In the and from inscriptions. Vijayanagar of artisans or the 'por koyil achari' does not occur, that were not directly attached to


'our achari'

one can presume that the services the temple were enlisted. The

involved in the sculpting inscriptions also list the various craft activities is the identifica of images and temple building. The first step in image making Tiruvarur tion of the right kind of stone (Brouwer 1987b). The twelfth-century one who can examine record described a shiladosha parikshaka?the the defects in stones.44 Stonecutting seems to have been a separate occupation and the refer to kal-kuttigar inscriptions The craftsman called sutragrahi or stonecutters.45

was responsible for measuring and marking to ornamental and the of arches, carving images, pillars. He prior land boundaries. A record from Tiruvannamalai also demarcated (North Arcot district) of the period of Rajaraja Chola says 'from the stone marked by the the stones of and the south.'46 One of the earliest pieces of evidence caves in Guntur where on rocks comes from the Amaravati the in Brahmi. mason's marks are accompanied by the name of the mason written The stone bears marks such as pa 70:5, dha 70:1 and cha 70:2.47 The Tiruvarur asari asari's marks inscription mason-stone word refers to the different called called markers the of craftsmen who represent categories stone called the vartaki sutragrahi, dresser-joiner a corruption of the Sanskrit shilpi or kal-tachchan, also refer to sculptors as tirumeni cheyyar to the north

and the actual

sculptor takshaka.48 The


42 43 44

S.I.I., S.I.I.,

Vol. Vol.


456. 353. 6. in the Badami cave inscriptions from Bijapur, A.R.E.

IV no.

no. 603, stanza S.I.I., Vol. XVII, 45 occurs The kal-kutti expression 46 47 S.I.I., A.R.E., S.I.I., no. 83. Vol. VIII, no. 21 of 1959-60 no. 603. Vol. XVII,

204, 220 and 223 of 1927-28.

48 dating back to the third century.



In the category of temple craftsmen one also finds the in Coimbatore registers tiruppani cheyyar49 or repairers. A record from Avinasi of two artisans in Avinasisvara the permanent appointment temple to attend to literally 'idol makers.' the dasa called The become kriyai (ten kinds tachchakani.50 architect was with of repair) and to receive in return a service grant


interchangeable the sthapathi as vastu He was architecture').

to as sthapathi although these days the term has or The Tiruvarur shilpi sculptor. inscription51 describes

of the science of tatvajna (i.e., 'one who has knowledge also nimitha shakuna, jyotirgyana prabodhakah and gan one well versed in 'studying portents' and in applying astrologi itagyah, (i.e., to the construction of temples). The Tiruvarur cal and mathematical knowledge or building? of the secular prasada inscription also refers to the construction to those referring to the sacred structures the term used in contrast (deva layam).52 In this context it would be interesting to look at a literary source like which declares that while the Vishwakarma Vastushastram, only the timber from eight special kinds of trees could be used in temples, the wood of thirty two varieties trees leaning could be used in secular buildings.53 Moreover, for constructions. towards the north were especially auspicious temple Besides the crafts engaged channels




concerned with the kammalar directly temple building, in the construction of water bodies, like wells, tanks, and to and sluices. A remarkable dated from 1369 inscription

in medieval district gives the details of tank and bund construction Cuddappah not is from the Tamil country, it is cited the inscription South India. Although here at some Porumamilla it is perhaps the earliest evidence of this kind. The length because notes that a righteous tank inscription of Bhaskara Bhavadure54 a are essential pre in well versed and Brahmin hydraulics king (pathas-shastra) men A in tank construction. of skilled construction was of tank gang requisites was a to at to be employed, and the tank be distance of three yojanas (roughly 26 miles) from its river source and bounded by a hill. The tank was to have a sluices leading to rich fruit bearing compact stonewall and four swiftly flowing land (the term used is phala kshetra but this may also just mean good arable that the presence of saline soil, an uneven tank land). The inscription warned

49 50 51 52 53 54

A.R.E., A.R.E., S.I.I.,

No. No. Vol.

368 188 XVII, XVII,

of of No. No.

1904. 1909-10 603, 603, from stanza stanza see vol. the XIV, Avinasi, 4 and 4 and no. Coimbatore. 6. 6. by Shastri (1990: vi-vii). 4.

S.I.I., Vol. Visvakarma Epigraphica

Vastushastra, Indica (E.I.),




all be features detri bed, a scanty supply of water or excessive water, would to most tank construction. The mental valuable information comes towards the end of the record, which says that the tank was seven miles long and two and a half miles wide. The artificial bund that was made along with it was 6250 measure in is rekha 8 wide and 10 used yards depth (the yards long, yards were two in Both of these thousand labourers One danda). years. completed worked This at the tank and a hundred rise inscription gives ployed in the construction artisans? While the phrase carts were employed for the masonry work. to a very important question?were the men em of the tank and the bund skilled workers or unskilled in the Porumamilla

'a gang of men skilled inscription in temple construction' craft skills, one suggests that these might have possessed wonders whether the one thousand odd men employed in the task could be justifiably described A as skilled workers of work or artisans. and the court, but con and sculptors, was the of them embellished Arcot district in the category stituted a major construction of hero-stones with that lay outside both the temple source of income for both stonemasons referred to as vira kal, stones from Chengam


centuries, stone and Mahendravarman I. A memorial kings Simhavishnu from Sennivaykkai of the period of Nandivarman III bears the sculpture of a a sacred thread with an arrow piercing his neck.55 Brahmin hero wearing time of Pallava Parallel evidence for the crafting of hero stones also comes from other south ern regions. A tenth-century in Chittoor district says that record from Kappalle as bahugunaateja the sculptor eulogized (sculptor endowed with many good a stone of seated image of a chetti (meaning 'mer built the hero qualities) chant') who was killed in a cattle raid.56 The figure is surrounded by female

great artistry. Memorial the Thondaimandalam region

in North

date back

to the sixth and seventh

in bronze, copper and the temples. Both the Tiruvarur and the Uyyakkondan Tirumalai (cited earlier) inscription state that it was the work of the smith to make jewellery for the king, court and The metal-smiths?goldsmith, and brass?received the bulk silversmith and the workers of their orders from the court of bronze, gold and iron for yajna or sacrifices had to be pre temple.57 Vessels art in South India goes back to antiquity the smiths. The jeweller's pared by to various types of jewellery are found as early as the and extensive references Silappadhikaram. The records of Rajaraja and Rajendra Chola primarily from

55 56 57

A.R.E., A.R.E., S.I.I.,

144 167 Vol.

of and XVII,

1929. 168 of 1933-34. no. 603 stanza 3 and A.R.E., 479 of 1908.




to nearly sixty different types of jewellery. The jewellers could identify twenty types of pearls and ten kinds of diamonds. The Chola inscrip even the cost tions record the weight of each piece of jewellery and sometimes of manufacturing it. The Brahadisvara temple of Rajaraja refers to two distinct ratna of and tayyan. It appears that the latter term categories goldsmiths?tattan refer specific to the jewel-stitcher.58 The Chola of copper-brass, again refer to the making gold and inscriptions etc. silver vessels, ornamental The of ritual stands, lamps, plates, making like and flat called for ritual also use, copper plates yantra objects, gold as to involved certain secret procedures craftsmen which the records refer by (literally,


mantrapoorvamaga cheydal59 Rajaraja from Panchanadisvara

of 'making the esoteric way'). Records list not only the usual met temple in Tiruvaiyar als but also lead, zinc and bell-metal vessels.60 Another inscription from Brahadisvara temple of Rajaraja gives a list of silver vessels presented by the king to the that they were made from silver seized during campaigns deity and specifies inMalainadu.61 after defeating the Cheras and Pandyas The record suggests, and in this is borne out by geological that south India silver deposits were findings, scarce and loot was perhaps the primary source for acquiring this metal.

for the smiths. industry provided a major source of employment as salyod The twelfth-century Tiruvarur the Vishwakarma inscription describes dhara or makers of weapons.62 Their products included metal shields, swords, battle-axes and javelins. The same record details that the smiths were well The armoury versed in archery (dhanurvidyanvitah) showing that they were skilled not merely arrows in making bows and but in wielding In fact, these against the enemies. to soldiering smiths who died in cattle raids. It there are quite a few references

is also stated in the records that the smiths manufactured chariots for war. com with the Chariots were also used as a means of domestic transport along mon carts, and employed in the temples to draw the images of the Gods during the festivals. The chariots and carts were made and decorated by the crafts In fact, it was of vastushastra. in the skilled knowledge this function Rathakara the nomenclature 'the period that gave craftsmen (meaning, makers of chariots'). The same record also states that the Rathakaras alone pos in terms of their endurance in wars. This sessed the ability to assess horses men's Chola

58 59 60 61 62

S.I.I., S.I.I., S.I.I., S.I.I., S.I.I.,

Vol. Vol. Vol. Vol. Vol.

V, V,

II, pt. 3, no. no. 647. no. no.

66. Vol. 4, no. 6. etc.


521; S.I.I., 603. 603,

II., pt. 4 and






to be repeated in Grantham and in important enough point was considered in the inscription. This type of smithy was obviously different and dis Tamil tinct from the temple smithy. Weapon making was one branch of smithy, which is clearly outside the Vishwakarma be either near enable in the temple region. The location of the armoury is discussed states that the ayudhashala which should Vasthushasthram,63 the palace premises or in the vicinity of the courts of justice to

over the arsenal. constant supervision kings to maintain Another metal craft activity far removed from the temple premises was the or near the law courts. mint, which was located either in the palace complex The minting of coins, however, was not a royal monopoly. Evidence from Karnataka shows of that private mints could also issue coins but only under the supervision is not forthcoming, state officials. Parallel for the Tamil country evidence

to the variety of coins existing during the Chola from the reference however, Pallava and even later periods, we can infer that coins were produced by pri vate agencies of It also appears that the multiplicity besides the state mints. rates extremely of exchange currency made any attempt at standardization or in the the kammata worker difficult. Among the Vishwakarma craftsmen, as an seems to mints have constituted group. The coin minters, independent inscriptional evidence from Karnataka shows, were powerful enough tomake dona of the kam tions on their own without connecting with the other constituents malar in later times. guild. These also began to act as moneychangers A major question connected with all these craft activities of the town-based it craftsmen would be the nature of their clientele or patrons. Inscriptions make clear that the craftsmen residing in the tirumadaivilagam of the temple serviced the temple. Epigraphs, when recording the names of craftsmen, refer to them as or 'the temple (porkoyil) mason.' The temple 'our temple goldsmith' even and various and had smiths, carpenters repairers attached employed
in a permanent capacity. Thus, a major patron-consumer of craft-products

also to it

the temple and its functionaries. The second important group of consumers of craft products was royal and state officials. As regards metal work, gold and silver jewellery was in great demand in the temples and at the court, as well as among the upper classes. Besides in and other ceremonial metal objects were jewellery, gold and silver vessels, in the temples, the courts and in Brahmanical and upper caste homes. demand One factor whether metal in the gradual increase in the volume of demand of metal products, or jewellery, was of new classes the emergence cots, utensils














such as the Shudra officials. The


in the lower Kaveri is dealt with

aspect the point (2001: 15-31), while scholars but most dom is made by many by James Heitzman significantly a to refers the of under the who (1997: 143-48) emergence proto-bureaucracy use were in in Cholas. Brassware, and less affluent homes. copper pots pans A craft area where that of portrait ples. Excellent ganatha gesvaram the temple. Pichchan, the kammalar drew their patrons entirely from royalty was to many South Indian tem sculpture, a feature quite common of such sculptures have been found both at Kora examples and at the Nagesvara portraits were apparently in Tiruna temple of royal donors to


valley and the increase in state in a lengthy essay by Karashima and the growth of official of bureaucratisation

temple at Srinivasanallur near Kumbakonam. The The

Tanjavur Rajendra Chola I, a bronze statue in the Kalahasti temple representing Cholamadevi, the queen of Rajendra. The period and identity of this statue, the name of the on its sculptor who crafted it and other details are carved on an inscription that Nichchapattalagan, the sculptor, cast it on the order of a Kalahasti also has portrait sculpture of King Kulottunga Rajendra in the praying posture. The metal images of Narasinga Munaiyadaraiyar, theMilada is found in the chief and the patron of saint Sundaramurthy military Nayanar pedestal. This says Choladeva. Siva in South Arcot. In his study of portrait sculp temple at Tiruvenninallur tures through the centuries, N. S. Ramaswami (1979) argues that portrait sculp tures enjoyed maximum in Pandianadu and that in just seven temples popularity a were over in Ramanathapuram there hundred portrait sculptures. The com

earliest identified is that of Tirukarali portrait sculpture the stone temple at Tiruvaduturai in the patron who commissioned comes district. The most substantive evidence from the reign of

of such sculptures must surely have been a major source of income missioning It is noteworthy for craftsmen. that the commissioning of portrait sculptures into the Vijaynagar continued well period.


of Kammalar



to the Study of Indian History, D. D. book An introduction a clear distinction between the grama-taksha 387-88) makes to the attached and the kauta taksha (the (the carpenter village community) on ancient A based the Sanskrit lexicon Amarkosha. carpenter), independent (1975: out of can also be drawn between the village blacksmith who was the grain heap and the perum kollan and master blacksmith who associated with the huge temple towns. Even among the goldsmiths there as two hierarchical tattan mentioned the small earlier, categories, living on distinction

In his pioneering

similar paid were were



a piece wage, or perum tattan who was a part of the and the master goldsmith set master urban functioned more like a craftsman-contractor, up. The goldsmith with patrons drawn from among the royalty, the upper classes and the temple itself. Thus, inscriptional evidence clearly indicates that the rathakarar, complex like the blacksmith, lived just village carpenter, potter and other functionaries, in the area called kammanacheri outside the village and formed a part of the and the agrarian subsistence economy. The role of craftsmen like the blacksmith carpenter, who different from tomers use as well formed an indispensable part of the village community, was very in temple towns who had a multiplicity the craftsmen of cus as patrons. Their work consisted of the manufacture and repair tools like ploughshares, hoes, spades and axes. The inscriptions

and the inscriptions of for these poor craftsmen, as I to and Chola refer them located being Rajaraja Rajendra repeatedly in the kammanacheri in terms of its geographical which proximity was usually (street inhabited by the untouchable Paraiya). These coupled with the paraicheri Chola were level and catering to a custom low-paid artisans living at the subsistence oriented market without the benefit of wealthy patrons like the town sculptors. to the to illustrate the nature of payment There is some inscriptional evidence craftsmen

of agricultural the term kil kalanai

in early medieval scat Tamil Nadu although the evidence is meager, tered and disparate. In this essay the term 'wages' is being used not only in the narrow sense of cash payment, but also in the wider sense of payment in the form of service tenures, daily food rations, etc. The most common mode of pay ment to craftsmen seems to have been in the form of service tenure. In the case of the makkalar in the ozhugai or land for house sites allotted to the craftsmen as in the series of inscriptions from the reign of Rajaraja Chola a record from to be iraiyili or tax-free. However, I,64 they are always declared that of Jatavarman Sundara Pandya Coimbatore (dated to 1251) demonstrates The inscription refers to the apportion the land was not free of all obligations. and the village artisans, like ing of 200 veils (1320 acres) among 121 Brahmins the barber, potter, carpenter and blacksmith. It states that although exempted kammanacheri tax on their holdings, from paying they had to give a stipulated quantity of or temple store-house.65 Several terms to the Tillainayakan perumbhandaram paddy are found in and conditions for land given as service tenure to the kammalar the inscriptions. The following table (table 2) lists the terms and shows that in to the regular work of carpentry or smithy, a land holding was also addition for given constructing a tank or for undertaking repair work in the temple (dasakriya).

64 65

S.I.I., A.R.E.,

vol. 306

II, nos. 4 and of 1958-59.

5 etc.



are quite a few inscriptions that refer to the giving of house-sites either along with a small piece of surrounding land or by itself as a mode of payment. a record in the thirty-first year of Rajaraja Chola I from Tiruvil For example, There in Tanjore refers to the grant of a house-site and some surrounding land to a tachcha achari for executing repairs in the shrine of Ninru (carpenter) to artisans are also found in the Aruliya Nayinar.66 Similar grants of house-sites limalai in Karnataka. Chalukyan inscriptions to artisans was in paddy, which may or may Yet another mode of payment not be addition to cash, and also payment purely in cash. A record of the thir tieth year of Vijaya Gandagopaladeva's reign refers to payment partly in paddy to the thir and partly in cash to some sculptors.67 An undated record assigned teenth-fourteenth century from Vallipuram in Salem district records a grant of

Table Service Tachcha

2: of Terms Tenure Achari

for Craft Period


Tenures Place Name Tiruvilimalai Taluka, District Source A.R.E. A.R.E. A.R.E. S.I.I, 403 of 1958 1940-41 1909-10 991 26 194-47


Rajaraja Rajendra


Perunganji Tachchakkani Avinasi

Tanjore, Tanjore N. Arcot Walajapet, Coimbatore Avinasi, Madurantakam, Chingleput Dindigal, Tirupattur, Madurai Ramnad

19 of 188 of vol. V,

Tachchakkani Madurantakam Tachchhhani Tachcha kani Tachchakkundil Karumankundu 8th 8th Ramnad Sakkotai

Pandya century Pandya

S.I.I. Vol. A.R.E.



38 of

century Srivallabha Rajendra Rajaraja I I Tiruvallam Tiruvallam Gudiyattam, N. Arcot Gudiyattam, N. Arcot Lalgudi, Trichi S.I.I. Vol. S.I.I. Vol. A.R.E. Vol. Ill, 53 Ill, 51 691 of


III kani Kulottunga 1962-63 (sculptor / or architect?) III Iluppai chey nilam Rajendra karum chey Sundara Pandya


Narttamalai (nagaram)


S.I.I. Vol.

Ill pt. 3


Kalugumalai Cola Koyiltebaraya pettai

Koyilpatti, (Tirunelveli) Papanasam, Tanjore

S.I.I. Vol. S.I.I. Vol.




Uttama (chola?)

66 67

A.R.E., A.R.E.,

403 278

of of

1908-9. 1955-56.

576 podi of millet Nambi Tiyagar.68 one



and 4 kulagam

(?) of paddy

per year

to Tattan

The granting of service tenures was not peculiar to the Kammalar and almost all artisanal classes seem to have been paid in terms of a piece of land usually referred to as 'kant. This land was usually declared iraiyili or tax free in the case of the poorer artisans. The record of Koparakesari in Tiruchchirapalli kusavan (potter) an refers chey. Parantaka not only to kollan and tachchan Both nilam and chey are terms of from Tiruperumber nilam but also to

in and others.69 An inscription from Kaniyur a as Arcot kusakkani kuzhi 400 (North (a district) Walajapet holding specifies is approximately little less than a veli, which 6.6 acres).70 D. D. Kosambi (1975: in his brief discussion asserts that all artisans were paid of craft wages 387-88) cial services carpenter

inscription Similarly Ambasamudram (Tirunelveli smith, potter, drummer, barber

to land. referring to the period of Vira Pandya 951) from (dated mentions the apportioning of land to the district)

in terms of a piece of land. He also states that payment rendered and was in addition to the tax-free was 2% of the peasant's total yield and

in paddy was for spe land. The share of the the blacksmith was

that of

to all kinds of that discusses inscription payment is the Brahadisvaram artisans and craftsmen professionals, temple inscription of a in is Some scattered information also found few other records. In Rajaraja.71 table (table 3), an attempt is made at a rough computation the following of the Perhaps the most valuable scat of the kammala craftsmen given the uneven, disparate and widely wages tered nature of the information. The table considers in the craft-wages given four temple inscriptions spanning a period of 200 years. These are the Erich the Umamahesvara (Tirunelveli district), chaudaiyar temple in Ambasamudram in Koneri Brahadisvara the rajapuram (Thanjavur district), temple temple in in and the Chidambaram Arcot (South district). Thanjavur, Nataraja temple These figures of the wages of the kammalar craftsmen form a select part of a much The South wider Indian framework table uses all temple functionaries. encompassing as its base the equation provided in the second volume of the to 1 which pangu or share was equal to 1 inscriptions according 3200 kgs). The pattern of remu between an ordinary blacksmith

veli or a yield of 100 kalams of paddy (roughly neration shows distinct economic differentiation

68 69 70 71

S.I.I., S.I.I., A.R.E., S.I.I.,

Vol. Vol.



110. 95. 66.

no. XIV, 4 of 1940-41 II, pt.


3, no.


J CE 1276 Karnatakain X Temples

mason) po engraver)

CE 1264 KalanjuPanchalingesvara in Rs.

~ fc 2V2 15

Tattan (Goldsmith) Daily Annual Daily Annual Annual Daily Daily Share GadayanaRupees

_ ?5

2.24 to 4 i/4 272 15 2

13.30 to r


9 7s (Blacksmith) 7'/2 l'/2 2.24 1.12 Kollan to XU - wages Temple 1011 aiyar Umamahesvara CE Nataraja AnnualAnnual Comparative figures Brahadisvara Temple


- wages



Perum Tattan?
Kal Tachchan (Kgs) XU (Specifies 2.24ShareShare Share (Kgs)

6.72 Perum 5.45 Tachchan - 3A 326.89 30 180 --g 7

(Two (Kgs)- Share (Kgs) 3A

8.96 - 1l(Kankani 42 lga2 S hana

772 g



Q Share (South Kalams 100 1 (pangu) paddy Note II) II of Indian Pt. Vol. Inscriptions =

^ (sp?) 90 15 IV2 13.44 Tayyan Ratna -

-- -

l/2 4.48

XU E< 90 15 7 172 Tachcha Acharyan -


pangu Kalams 25 = = 818.18 kgs. S^j Kalams kgs. Pangu 70 3A =74 ^ 1989.25 Kalams 60 kgs. 3/4 pangu = 1636.36 kalams 50 72 kgs. Pangu = 2454.54
100 Kalams = 3272.72 > kgs.

(Stone mason) engraver apprentice (Wage of ffl Craft 3: Table in Wages Early Medieval Tamil Nadu

(Master ^ 10 60 8.96 1 Kannan (Brazier) -(Master *Z Carpenter) Mason) g g (Master (Architect) Goldsmith)




or carpenter getting a ration of barely 1 to 2 kg of paddy per day and the as well as the affluent tachcha acharyan (probably sculptor or master mason) the perum the highest paid functionary, tachchan who, one can presume, was in the architect of the temple. The Rajaraja Chola I inscription is most explicit the master craftsmen who were paid the difference between out to 13.44. of works (which kg paddy per day) and the apprentice who were paid exactly half this rate (i.e., 6.72 kgs of paddy per day). nomic from the table is supported stratification that emerges by detailing that refer to the perum inscriptions distinct from the ordinary tachchan Another point to be noted tattan attached to the temple smith figure master kankani work (i.e., a payment of 2.24 is to be contrasted with goldsmith who is more tachchan or tattan. or the perum 1/2 shares craftsmen The eco numerous

tattan as a category

in the table

or is that the wage of the goldsmith or less on a par with the ordinary black kg of paddy per day or a share annually). This to the perum tattan or the whole share assigned to in the Brahadisvaram that his as a inscription to is the supervise job was 8.96 kg wage goldsmith's 1:4 between the master and the appren to have been the ratna

is referred

states It specifically (i.e., supervisor). master The of the apprentice goldsmiths. (i.e. exactly a ratio of

of paddy per day tice craftsman). One

of the highest-paid

erally, 'jewel-stitcher'). the ratna tayyan as well tinct and

separate sculptor or mason, At the other end are the lowest paid artisans like the carpenter and the black in the Koneri Rajapuram smith, who inscription, were granted only one-eighth or 12 share (i.e., just kalams 1.12 kg per day). The kollan was paid at a higher rate or share in the Nataraja temple. Perhaps this increase in wage was due to the two inscriptions. However, of 200 years that exists between in all cases since the income of the asari/ is not supported this argument is steady at one-half share over a period of time. It is not acharyan or mason to in the matter because arrive at is definite conclusions the evidence possible the difference extremely
into account.

tayyan (lit temple inscription, by referring to as the tattan, makes it clear that the jeweller was dis from the goldsmith. He was paid on a par with the temple at one-half shares per annum or 13.44 kg of paddy per day. The Brahadisvaram




and wage



in time and space have

to be taken

the wide economic gap between the goldsmiths, the masons/ However, sculp tors and the architects on the one hand, and the blacksmith and the carpenter on the other, is conclusively by other proved by the table and substantiated It is clear that the income of the higher craft profession inscriptional evidence. on the eco als was not limited to the share given by the temple. Depending




of their patrons, they were also paid in cash for specialized capacity services such as designing and constructing of portrait sculp dams, the making tures or the fashioning of jewellery on commission. There are inscriptions that to masons and the fact that tattarpattam, the tax on gold as kasaayam or kasu kadamai shows that (i.e., money) in cash. The numerous cash collec have been paid primarily

refer to cash payments smiths, was classified their wages tions made must

to temples by goldsmiths also goes to prove that the more impor tant goldsmiths from and jewellers, apart serving the temple also worked on a commission basis for which they were paid in cash.

Conclusions The present article which on the Vishwakarma stops at the threshold of the Vija in 1336. The period under survey broadly the Pallavas and of urbanisation that started with In the course of these four to five centuries, centres to becoming the towns became

yanagar period, with coincides reached


the phase its zenith under the Cholas.

temple hub of the political nodal points of commerce

sites evolved

flourishing serving as signifiers of a such as donations, but society in transactions which were not merely religious, ones economic land sales and decisions of (i.e., wholly commercial/corporate purely a phrase that I prefer over the loaded term 'secular') in char 'non-religious,' and crafts with the temples on temple walls. Craftsmen of who were beneficiaries acter, were engraved As merchants banded together as the Vishwakarma. and these urban processes artisans from the eleventh and twelfth centuries tried to carve out for themselves

from being simple ritual/religious economy of the state. The temple

an identity that was distinct from that 'imagined' for them within the Sanskritic movements to it cathartic within the broader Brahmanical led order, socially notion of 'bhakti' or devotion. The outstanding would be Virasaivism example in Karnataka within which lower castes cutting across gender lines were both visible and audible.72 for the Vishwakarma of social mobility the great era of gaining and losing craftsmen, and conflict, was the Vijayanagar period.73 However,

royal privileges,

as movement also known radical religious strikingly studied scholars. titled Divinity My monograph by many within Virasaivism looks at it from a gender (1996) perspective roots. 73 in of my 'Artisans focus This forms the exclusive essay No. Vol. XXII, Indian Economic and Social History Review, 4, This been


movement the Lingayat and Deviance: Women the context of its lower

has in caste

Vijaynagar Oct.-Dec,

Society' 1985.

in The

580 in the period from Society state of flux. The economic ter and the village tinam

VIJAYA RAMASWAMY to the seventeenth between was in a

the fourteenth differentiation


goldsmith on the one hand, and wealthier (town-based) goldsmiths the widened. mid-sixteen century, craft groups By and goldsmiths Companies. Many the Companies. To union also benefited from craftsmen moved

the carpen the blacksmiths, and the affluent nagaram or pat on the other hand, sthapathis like the weavers and East to work silver India for

of the European the presence into the Black Towns and began

in the course of the medieval the Vishwakarma craft conclude, period, the various groups within the craftsmen broke up as the gulf between of resulted in the disassociation became greater. These developments eventually union. In the early seventeenth century, at district, the smiths finally separated from each that the Kammalar other. The inscription records the order of Virappa Nayaka writ is said to be The should not intermingle any longer (udankoota vendam). a privilege granted to the Kammalar in the presence of their chief, Kulasekhara Asari, indicating that the separation of the smiths was at their own request.74 the goldsmiths Kallidaikurichchi from the kammala in Tirunelveli in the twenty I would like to add that the South Indian craftsmen Postscript. to re-affirm and first century are trying to use modern modes of communication re-claim their identity as Vishwakarma.

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