Although they are the smallest group of the three, the Konars (or Itaiyars) still hold a significant position in the cult. A shepherd caste, they claim Lord Krishna as one of their own and sometimes call themselves Yadavas. At certain places they sponsor features of Draupadi festivals that are connected with Krishna, and their participation within the cult is at least in part a reflection of the prominence of Krishna within it, and within the Mahabharata. Of the three main castes involved, the Konars administer the smallest number of Draupadi temples. But their participation in the cult would seem to be very early. It is Ananta Kon, a member of this caste, who is said to have first fortified Gingee and Melacceri and to have established the Kon dynasty there. And it is Konars who claim descent from him and his royal line who have for centuries retained important ritual offices in Draupadi's temple of origins at Melacceri. Indeed, some of the local legends attribute the founding of the Melacceri temple to Ananta Kon himself.
The greatest involvement with the Draupadi cult, however, belongs by far to the Vanniyars, with the Velalar Mutaliyars a distant second. Moreover, there is an important geographical correlation between the relative numerical prominence of these two castes and their ceremonial preeminence in Draupadi's temples. In South Arcot, where Vanniyars have the largest numbers of any caste, it is they who usually hold the main temple responsibilities. In North Arcot, however, where Velalar Mutaliyars are predominant, the corresponding temple offices often belong to them. But even in these areas, and outward into surrounding districts of Chittoor, Kolar, Bangalore (now Bengaluru), Salem, and Tiruchirapalli, it is still most common to find Vanniyars in the main temple and ceremonial offices.
In the South Indian context, which recognizes no "true" Kshatriya or Vaishyato fill out the social ranks between the Brahmans on top and the Sudras and Harijans who comprise the mass of the population, all three of these Sudra castes have traditions that lay claim to higher caste origins. Indeed, such traditions of demotion from a once higher rank are a commonplace of South Indian caste mythologies. In connection with the Draupadi cult, which clearly projects Kshatriya values, the claims to Kshatriya status and the related assumption of local "royal" prerogatives are of course the most significant. It has been noted that the Konars of Melaccheri connect their prominence in the Draupadi cult with the royal heritage that is said to descend upon them from the founders of the Kon dynasty of Gingee.
There can be little doubt that such Kshatriya affinities, tied in with locally dominant status or traditions of local rule, play an important part in the associations of Konars and Velalar Mutaliyars with the Draupadi cult. But it is especially among the Vanniyars, and particularly among the Vanniyars of South Arcot, that such associations become clear. Moreover, the Vanniyars' own traditions are so intimately compatible with major themes of the cult that it is impossible to resist the temptation to see them as the main caste in its founding inspiration, and to suspect that the other two have taken it up by adoption and imitation.
It is thus apparent that the Vanniyar legends of origins can be readily linked with the Draupadi cult and the Mahabharata. In one account, their ancestors guard the Pandavas weapons. In the other, their birth from a sacrificial fire is directly reminiscent of the epic birth of Draupadi herself, along with her brother Dhristadyumna. With regard to this latter tradition, the Vanniyars' birth from fire has direct bearing on their claim to be Kshatriyas.
(Last Updated on : 11-06-2010)
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