Indian Economy and Polity in the Eighteenth Century:
The Chengalpattu Survey: 1767-74
by J. K. Bajaj and M. D. Srinivas


India is at the cross-roads. The model of economic and political organisation that was evolved in the early fifties and that we have tried to implement all these years seems to have outlived its utility. In any case, the national consensus that had been built around this mode of organisation lies shattered. And it shall perhaps be some time before we arrive at a new national consensus around a different way of conducting the political and economic affairs of India.

Any search for the appropriate modes of social and economic organisation for a nation has to begin with an understanding of the intrinsic organisational genius of its people. The organisational preferences of the people, and their skills, resources, seekings and aspirations are the foundation on which any successful nation building activity has to be structured. And the art of nation building probably lies, not in ignoring the essential national genius and resources or in trying to radically alter the ways, preferences and seekings of the people, but in the skillful deployment of all these so as to make an impact within the given situation.

The information available in the Chengalpattu survey of the latter half of the eighteenth century – which we describe in detail below – seems to be greatly relevant in understanding the essential preferences and seekings of the people of India and their ways of putting those preferences and seekings in practice in the public domain. The survey provides surprisingly detailed information about the functioning of more than 2,100 localities in the Chengalpattu region of Tamilnadu around the time of the British conquest of the region. As described below, this kind of information is extremely rare. And a preliminary analysis of the information already seems to suggest that the way the Chengalpattu society organised its affairs differed greatly from the kind of ways we have been trying to impose upon the Indian society. What is more, through their organisational genius and skills the Chengalpattu localities seemed to have generated an amazingly high level of agricultural, industrial and cultural activity.

The organisation and functioning of the Chengalpattu society of the eighteenth century are indicative of the way the people of India organised their affairs when they had the freedom to do so according to their own genius. Understanding the ways of that society is therefore of obvious value in determining the path for our future.


A. The English Archival Records

Chengalpattu district stretches in a wide arch, about 180 km long and at places up to 80 km deep, around the city of Madras, capital of Tamilnadu and seat of the British colonial power in south India. The areas falling in this district were presented to the British by Mohammed Ali, the then Nawab of Arcot, better known as Nawab Wallajah, who was a renter under the British of the territories of which he himself happened to be the nominal ruler. The gift of Chengalpattu was in return for the “services” rendered by the British to the Nawab, which consisted mainly in waging long drawn out wars against the French, their rival colonial aspirants in the area. The gift of Chengalpattu by this nominal ruler of Arcot was however ratified by Shah Alam, the equally nominal Emperor of Delhi, through a sanad issued in 1763. From then on the British referred to the Chengalpattu area as their Inaum lands, or the Jaghire.

The areas of the Jaghire, surrounding Fort St. George from three sides, were of obvious strategic importance to the British. To determine the value of this area, and also to arrive at appropriate ways of governing it, the British undertook a detailed survey of over 2,100 localities constituting it. The survey was conducted by a British engineer, Thomas Barnard, on instructions from his superiors, including the Chief Engineer Col. Call. Mr. Barnard started work in February 1767, and took almost seven years to complete it in November 1774.

The greater part of Mr. Barnard’s time was spent on a topographic mapping of the area. During his survey he also came across detailed records kept in every locality relating to the inhabitants, their habitation, land use pattern, cultivation, trade and production. From these records he got some information extracted and translated to a specific format. These extracts were submitted to the Madras Board of Revenue, and were taken on record during 1775-76.

The Survey Registers

Much of this data is available in the Tamilnadu State Archives, Madras in the form of long-hand registers. There are about forty volumes in the Board of Revenue Miscellaneous series (vol. nos. 50, 50A, 51, 51A, 52, 52A, 53, 53A, 54, 54A, 55, 56, 56A, 57, 58, 58A, 59, 60, 60A, 61, 61A, 62, 63, 64, 64A, 65, 65A, 66, 67, 67A, 68, 69, 69A, 70, 70A, 71, 72, 73, 89) and ten volumes in the Chengalpattu District Record Series (vol. nos.527, 542, 543, 544, 545, 546, 547, 548, 549, 550) which contain the survey data. Many of these volumes are listed in the Proceedings of the Governor’s Council on various dates during 1775 and 1776.

Most of these volumes are in a dilapidated condition. But for the fact that several of the registers are available in duplicate, a large part of these data would not have been available.

Survey Districts and the Region

The region given as Jaghire to the British consisted of several seemais, and each seemai of several maganams. The survey provides data for 15 seemais. These are: Kovalam, Chengalpattu (divided into Chengalpattu and Thirukkalukkunram), Kavanthandalam, Kanchipuram (divided into Chinna and Peria Kanchipuram), Manimangalam, Uttiramerur, Periapalayam, Poonamalee, Ponneri, Salappakam, Sattumaganam, Thiruppacchur, Karunguzhi, Perambakkam and Sriharikota. The survey volumes are divided according to the different seemais, each seemai it seems was taken as a separate survey district.

The 15 seemais constituting the survey region were further divided into about 250 maganams. These geographical divisions of the eighteenth century Chengalpattu were probably related to the traditional division of the Thondaimandalam into Kottrams and Nadus. The seemai in fact seems to be akin to the taluk of today.

A total of 2,138 localities belonging to the 15 survey districts (seemais) are mentioned in these registers. Some 40 localities in the Thiruppacchur region do not find a mention in the available archival registers. The localities of so called Home Farms of Mylapur and Thiruvottiyur are also not covered in these registers.

Almost all of the 2,138 localities covered in the survey, 2200 if we count some of the hamlets as independent habitations, fall in the present-day Chengai-MGR district; about 20 or so form part of the present-day North and South Arcot districts. The survey in fact covers the whole of the present day Chengai-MGR district, except for the taluks of Tiruttani and Pallippattu.

The Data

For each of the localities the survey registers record: the extent of land under its jurisdiction and the uses to which it is put; the number of households in the locality and the caste and professional groups to which these belong; the extent of revenue free maniyam lands in the locality along with the functions and beneficiaries for which the maniyam assignments are made; and finally, deductions from the grain produce of the locality that are made for various functions and beneficiaries of the locality and the region. Besides these the registers contain data on the militia chiefs, the palayakkarar, and the preferential rights holders, the kaniatchis, of different localities; on the number of cattle and sheep in different localities; and on the state of the erys, etc.

The registers also record the amount of revenue assessed on the cultivation of different localities during the years 1761-62 to 1765-66. The revenue amounts are mentioned both in terms of grain and cash. Besides the amount of revenue assessed, the registers record the percentage share of the produce claimed as revenue on different types of lands, and thus provide an approximation to the formula on the basis of which the revenue assessments were made.

B. Tamil Palm-Leaf Manuscripts

The English survey records in the archives were prepared from more detailed Tamil palm-leaf accounts which, it seems, were kept in every locality of this region. Referring to such accounts Mr. Barnard, in his letter of 10th November 1774 addressed to the Governor-in-council at Fort St. George, noted:

To accomplish what was required of me, in reporting the state of the country, and the improvements which might be made, I had recourse to the records which are kept in every locality of the transactions, which relate to revenue, cultivation and trade. The existence of any such materials was I believe unknown, when Col. Call sent me out, the insight I obtained of this matter, was furnished me by the interpreter appointed by Col. Call... The extract I caused to be made from the records, contain the quantity of disposal, and appropriation of the grounds in every locality. The number of the inhabitants with their possessions, and privileges, where they are entitled to any, also the total of cattle in every locality. The revenue account consists of the neat produce of each locality adjusted according to a standard fixed at the time of Doast Ally for ascertaining the rights of the cultivators. This produce is shown for five succeeding years from 1761. In some places I have obtained a similar account of the administration of Doast and Subder Ally. But it has not happened often.... All these accounts will be delivered in a short time. They now only wait to be transcribed under the care of Mr. Jewel Call, whose capacity and attention since he has been employed under me merit every recommendation I can give him.

The extracts from the original locality accounts in Tamil, which Mr. Barnard refers to above and which were first prepared in Tamil in the form of the conventional palm-leaf manuscripts, are occasionally seen mentioned in some government records of the eighteenth and nineteenth century. These palm-leaf manuscripts, probably written in a format similar to the original locality accounts, were deposited with the collector of Chengalpattu around 1795. A few years ago these and several other eighteenth and nineteenth century palm-leaf records were acquired by the department of palm-leaf manuscripts of the Tamil University at Thanjavur.

The material obtained by the Tamil University from the office of the collector of Chengalpattu at Kanchipuram consists of about 160 bundles of palm-leaf manuscripts. Of these about 20 bundles contain material related to the Chengalpattu survey of 1767-1774. The other bundles are of somewhat later period.

Each of these bundles contains on the average about one thousand uncut and untreated palm-leaves, each a meter long and 4 centimeters wide, and written on both sides. The 20 bundles of the Chengalpattu survey material thus run into about 12,000 leaves. The data in these leaves refers to around 1500 localities. The information is however fairly complete for only about one thousand localities.

There seem to have been distinctive formats for recording different kinds of data, and the leaves are bundled together according to the kind of data they contain. Thus leaves for the same locality describing different kinds of data may be found in different bundles.

Leaves with different kinds of data have distinctive names. Thus some bundles have leaves that are described as the Tharappadi Vagai Edus, which give details of the land and households in the locality, and often also the grain production and revenue. Some bundles contain the Swatantra Thittam leaves, that give details of the sharing of the produce between different beneficiaries; still other have Ery Azhavu leaves, giving details of the expenses and expected incomes from the erys; and so on. Leaves in two of the bundles are termed Teervai Vagai Edu, and these give details of the calculation of revenue from the production. Another bundle contains the Beriz Thugai Edus that record only the assessed revenue.

The Tharappadi Vagai Edu leaves for a locality begin with a mention of the date of preparation of the accounts as per the thittam, directions, of “Engineer Baranit” and Rajasri Chengalvaraya Mudaliyar. The latter was a Dubash, a “native” assistant and translator, employed in the service of the British. Some of the Tharappadi Vagai Edus end with a summary of the data, which is referred to as the Thugai Edu of the locality. It is probably these summary data sheets which were translated into English and recorded in the survey registers mentioned above.

The Tharappadi Vagai Edu leaves give a very detailed account of the land and households in a locality. These identify every piece of land within the jurisdiction of the locality, locating it with respect to the centre of the locality, and recording the use to which it is or may be put. Thus every temple, pond and grove, referred to by the Tamil terms kovil, kuttai, kulam, thangal, thoppu, thottam, etc., within the locality is identified and its extent recorded. Similarly, every street is located and the area occupied by it is recorded. Every household in the habitation is also identified along with the name of the head of the household, and its location within the habitation, its size and the extent of the attached backyard are mentioned.

The Tharappadi Vagai Edus also record the extent of the cultivated lands in a locality, and of these the extent of maniyam lands along with the names of the beneficiaries of these maniyams. Often the Vagai Edu goes on to record the actual extent of cultivation under each crop for the years between 1761-62 to 1765-66 and the actual produce from the crop.

The Swatantra Thittam Edu leaves offer a very detailed description of the deductions made from the produce for different functions and beneficiaries of the locality and the region. These record the share that is taken out from the produce for each one of these functions and beneficiaries, of which there are almost a hundred mentioned in the records, and each locality on the average takes out some 30 or more shares. There are four different stages of the harvest at which these shares are taken out: before measurement and threshing of the harvest, after threshing but before measurement of the grain, after measurement, and after removing the revenue share from the produce. The Swatantra Thittam Edu gives the sharing pattern at each stage separately.

Locality level accounts of this kind constitute an invaluable source for learning about a polity that was not controlled from a single centre. Besides describing the prosperity and functional efficiency of the pre-British Chengalpattu society, they also provide a glimpse of the reality of economic and social relationships between the various communities within the locality polity, and about the actual status of various jatis in an Indian society functioning according to its own genius. Much of our information on these issues so far has been based on a few literary sources, and happens to be rather sketchy.


Scholars at the Centre for Policy Studies have carried out a preliminary study of the data, and some of the preliminary conclusions are detailed below.

Land Use Pattern

In Table I we present data on the amount of land in the Chengalpattu localities and the diverse uses to which it was put. Total land in the 1,910 localities, for which we have the land and land use data, amounts to 7.79 lakh kanis. A kani of land in this region at that period amounted to one and one third of an acre of today. Of the 7.79 lakh kanis in the survey records, 1.21 lakh kanis, amounting to 1/6th of the total, was not available for any use. A part of this unavailable land, about 36 thousand kanis, consisted of hills and rivers. The remaining 85 thousand kanis were waste lands, of which about 50 thousand kanis, lying mainly in the entirely coastal survey district of Sriharikota, and some in Karunguzhi, were under salt-water rivers. Another 21,000 kanis of land were listed as “bad-ground”. There were also about 4,000 kanis of “sandy-ground”, and some “stony-grounds”, “marshy-grounds” and “lands-included-in-the-sea”, etc.

Another about one sixth of the total land, 1.31 lakh kanis to be exact, was under woods and forests. A fairly large portion of the land, amounting to about one lakh kanis, or about 1/8th of the total, was covered under water that collected in the various sources of irrigation. Most of this land was of course under the erys, the famed irrigation reservoirs of this region. But there were also 15 thousand kanis listed in the survey records to have been taken up by other kinds of tanks, 13 thousand kanis by various types of channels or maduvus, and about a thousand kanis by wells and springs. Irrigation sources were widely distributed over the whole district of Chengalpattu. Out of the 1,910 localities for which we have detailed land data, 1,743 had some land taken up by some source of irrigation or the other.

A small portion of the land, about 24 thousand kanis, was put to the purposes of habitation. This included not only the land under houses and streets, but also under public buildings like forts and stone choultries, etc., and agricultural and industrial work-places like the potters’ pits, the brick-kilns, the oilmen’s presses and the paddy threshing places etc. Another 14.5 thousand kanis of land was under topes and gardens, which should also perhaps be counted as part of the habitation space. Thus about 1/20th of the total land seems to have been used for the purposes of habitation. Incidentally, most of the habitations also had a fairly large number of small and big tanks, wells and springs enclosed within them, though we have counted the land under these as part of the land covered under water sources.

Thus hills, rivers, habitation, irrigation, waste and wooded lands together accounted for about half of the total of the region. The remaining half, about 3.8 lakh kanis, was available for the purposes of cultivation. Of this about two-thirds, or 2.41 lakh kanis, was irrigable nanjai land. Actual extent of irrigation and cultivation must have varied from year to year, depending upon the availability of water and other resources. At the time of the survey 2.70 lakh kanis of land was in cultivation, of which 1.82 lakh kanis was irrigated nanjai land, and about 88 thousand kanis was unirrigated panjai land. About one fifth of the cultivated lands were classified as revenue-free maniyam lands.

Table I: Land Use Pattern
(For 1910 localities, in kanis; one kani is about 1.33 Acres or a little more than 0.50 hectares)

Total Land


of which

Under hills and rivers






Irrigation sources (erys, tanks,etc)








Uncultivated irrigated land


Uncultivated un-irrigated land


Cultivated irrigated


Cultivated unirrigated


Others 4,101

This land use pattern, in which about half of the total land was under hills, rivers, wood, water, waste and habitation and only about half was available for bringing under the plough, seems to have changed drastically within a hundred years of the onset of the British administration. By 1871, when the first census was undertaken, the total land in the six taluks of Chengalpattu, into which the 15 survey districts of the 1770’s had been classified, was 16.8 lakh acres, and 83% of it was returned as cultivable.

People and their Occupations

In Table II, we present a detailed break-up of the households in the region according to their occupations and functions in the local polity as listed in the survey records. As the table shows, agriculture was the main occupation of less than half of the households. Besides them, there were a large number of artisanal and industrial households. Of the 62,500 households for which we have the data more than 4,000 households, forming about 6.5 percent of the population, consisted of weavers alone. Around Kanchipuram and Maduranthakam there were a number of localities that were inhabited almost exclusively by the weavers.

It is estimated that to keep a weaver supplied with yarn, it requires at least three whole-time spinners. However, spinning is known to have been essentially a part-time occupation; and it would have probably taken 32,000 to 40,000 households engaging in part-time spinning to produce sufficient yarn for the 4,000 weaving households. Thus 55 to 65 percent of the households in the region would have been involved in at least some spinning activity.

Besides the weavers there were 536 households of carpenters, 394 of blacksmiths, 202 of goldsmiths, 36 braziers, 7 silversmiths and 45 of “other artificers”. These 1,217 households of the artisans together constituted about 2 percent of the population.

Then, there were the households engaged in a variety of other industries. There were thus 637 households of oil-pressers, 596 of woodcutters, 78 shoemakers, 89 stonemasons, 7 lime-burners, 34 salt-makers, 76 arrack distillers, 22 basket-makers, 85 cotton refiners, 4 engravers, 4 perfume makers, and so on. These varied industrial households formed about 4 percent of the population of Chengalpattu. There were also 389 potters and 590 fishermen in the region. Thus about 8,000 of the about 62,500 households in the region were engaged in industrial activity of one kind or the other.

Besides the agricultural and industrial households, the survey lists trading households of the Chettys, the Kavaris, and the Komatis. These added to a total of 3,890 households and formed 6.2 percent of the population of the region.

The households that provided various administrative, cultural and other essential services to the community constituted another major part of the population. According to the survey there were 664 barbers; 862 washermen; 1,660 locality registrars known as the kanakkappillais; 2,186 militiamen known as the palayakkarar, talaiyari and tookari, etc.; 159 health specialists; 1,054 households engaged in temple services of various kinds; and also 622 temple dancers. Besides them there were households that looked after the measurement of corn, or the demarcation of the locality boundaries, or the cleanliness of the public places, or the upkeep of irrigation works. There were households of school-teachers and musicians, and of many other occupations connected with economic, administrative, cultural and religious services. The number of households engaged in these varied services added up to around 8,500.

Table II: Households

(For 1544 localities; only 1549 of the 1910 localities were inhabited, household data are not available for 5 localities)

Total Households


of which

Peasantry and Cattle-keeping


of whom















Crafts & Industry


of whom













Gold & Silver Smiths


Vegetable Oil Manufacturers






Salt manufacturers












of whom

Kanakkappillai (Registry/ Record-keeping/Accountancy)








of whom





Other Households


Agricultural Production and Productivity

An important aspect of the picture of Tamil society revealed in these accounts is the amount of food the land in this region produced in the late eighteenth century. Lands of the Chengalpattu region are not amongst the most fertile in south India. The plains of Kaveri, Krishna and Godavari are much more fertile. Yet it seems that from these coastal lands of not too high natural endowments the peasants of Chengalpattu obtained fairly high average yields, and the relatively better localities of the region had, in fact, attained a level of productivity that compares favourably with the best in the world today.

We have production data for about 2 lakh kanis of land, and our estimates of average annual production from this land amount to around 20 lakh kalams of foodgrains. A kalam of this region amounted to about 125 kg of paddy. Average production of paddy in the region thus works out to be around 2.5 tons per hectare. In Table III we present total production and productivity of the region, viewed from a number of different perspectives. The first column presents production and productivity of all localities for which we have the production data; the second column for the localities where average annual production exceeds 1000 kalams; and the third column for the localities where production is more than 5000 kalams per year.

Table III
: Production and Productivity: 1762-1767


All Localities







Irrigated Land (Kanis)




Production (Kalams)








Dry Land (Kanis)




Production (Kalams)








Total Land (Kanis)




Production (Kalams)
















Production/House in Kalams








Production/Bullock in Kalams
































In Table IV, we present the extent of cultivation and production in some of the relatively high production localities of the region. These 65 localities produced more than 5000 kalams of foodgrains each. From the table it is obvious that the best lands in the region had a much higher productivity than the average of the region, and for some of the localities the productivity in fact works out to be as high as 35 kalams per kani, or around 9 tons/hectare.

Table IV
: Localities of High Production and Productivity

Cultivated Land


(in kanis)

(in kalams)







Sriperumbudur 647 16,046
Vadakkappattu 709 12,349
Ozhalur 335 12,007
Manappakkam 231 5,296
Ponvilainthakalathur 556 8,328
Anur 342 10,343
Vallipuram 317 6,932

Pandur 204 5,029
Nerumbur 370 5,129
Chettypuniam 369 5,922
Villiambakkam 295 5,151
Vallam 317 6,511
Kayarambedu 278 6,431
Ullavur 534 8,388
Valayakkaranai 142 6,544
Kavanthandalam 683 17,366
Kalakattur 397 11,916

Avalur 397 7,300
Angambakkam 245 5,232
Malaynkulam 405 5,634
Damal 1,422 8,257
Perunagar 752 6,662
Sevilimedu 462 5,822
Konerikuppam 441 5,730
Manimangalam 853 23,078
Karsangal 178 6,830
Somangalam 201 7,133

Oragadam 490 6,260
Pillaippakkam 492 10,954
Uttiramerur 2840 51,298
Chinnambedu 884 31,457
Arani 572 9,390
Peruvayal 251 7,645
Puduvayal 151 6,748
Panayanjeri 320 7,621
Kannigaipair 586 5,890

Vadamadurai 685 5,880
Maduravasal 221 5,145
Poonamalee 481 10,559
Mangadu 620 7,266

Kolur 552 8,076
Avoor 424 5,084
Seethananchery 641 8,188
Pinayur 290 5,007
Kaliapettai 260 5,876
Palamathur 310 5,818

Palaiyanur 524 15,176
Pilapur 391 12,009
Arumbuliyu 325 10,869
Maiyur 570 9,092
Budur 313 8,212
Mamandur 404 7,693
Kuthambakkam 297 8,178
Nemam 400 8,066
Thiruninravur 1,474 19,184

Mogapair 446 10,168

Porur 234 11,484
Pulal 1,479 16,000
Vallur 1,350 7,025
Kolathur 400 10,411

Thus, in this fairly large area consisting of some 46,000 households, annual availability of food averaged around 5 tons per household. Our national average today is around three quarter of a ton of foodgrains per family per year. The level of production and productivity of foodgrains in the eighteenth century Chengalpattu implies that whatever might have been the ways and techniques of the pre-British Indian society those were definitely not ineffective and inefficient. It shall be instructive to try to understand the agricultural techniques the people of this region used to obtain such rich crops. The peasants of 18th century Chengalpattu may have much to tell the Indians of today about high yield, yet environmentally sound, agronomic practices.

Maniyams and Deductions

Another aspect of the information available in this survey concerns the arrangements made for the upkeep of various services and functions essential to the polity. These arrangements were of two kinds. First, a part of the cultivated lands of a locality was assigned as maniyam, or revenue-free lands, for the support of various functions. Such maniyam assignments, in the localities for which we have the detailed data, add up to 42,550 kanis of irrigated and 21,633 kanis of unirrigated lands. The maniyam lands thus constitute about a quarter of the cultivated lands.

Second, and a more significant, arrangement involved the allocation of a certain share of the produce of the locality towards the upkeep of various functions and services. Total allocations from the produce amounted to about one third of the produce of a locality on the average. And the records list more than fifty major heads under which allocations were made in some locality or the other. Each locality on the average provided for almost 30 functions and services.

The functions and services for which maniyam assignments and grain allocations were made included law and order, registry, irrigation, education, health, culture and religion, and at least some of the artisanal and industrial activities. Most of these services and functions were provided for and arranged at the level of the locality itself. But most localities also made some assignments and allocations for the necessary cultural and administrative arrangements at the regional level.

This locality level budgeting for different functions and services was so detailed that some of the localities made provisions for even the oil that was burnt in the temple for locality goddess and the upkeep of the pandaram who looked after the locality flower garden. Grain allocations made for each of these functions were often substantially large. For example, provisions made for the upkeep of irrigation add up to about 2 percent of the gross produce of the region. Temples and religious and cultural functionaries got as much as 4 percent. The office of the kanakk
appillai also got about 3 percent of the produce on the average. Palayakkarar and their militia received perhaps 4 percent. In Table V we give the total maniyam allocations and average deductions for different functions; and Table VI gives absolute amounts of annual grain allocations for the same functions.

Table V
: Maniyams and Deductions

[Total maniyam, nanjai and panjai, in kanis and average deductions from the grain produce as percent of the produce. The number of localities in which maniyams assignments and deductions for a specific function or beneficiary were made is given in the brackets.]

Total Maniyam Average Deductions

in kanis percent of produce


(1854) 27.14 (1753)
Local Kovils 2,766 ( 954) 0.86 (1681)
Cultural/Religious 1,743 (946) 1.08 (1732)
Cultivators servants 6.33 (1628)
Irrigation Fund 81 (170) 1.81 (1281)
Artificers 3,291 (1391) 1.42 (1747)
Potters 148 (207) 0.43 (892)
Barbers 403 (587) 0.44 (1736)
Washermen 296 (462) 0.45 (1733)
Cowkeepers 54 ( 93) 0.20 ( 637)
Corn-measurers 1,216 (771) 0.91 (1443)
Shroffs 1,875 (1165) 0.80 (1308)
Kanakkupillais 11,083 (1823) 2.48 (1750)
Panisevans 124 ( 198) 0.36 ( 979)
Tottys 452 ( 249) 0.89 ( 437)
Chief Inhabitants 6,960 (1428) 2.04 (1603)
Great Kovils/Mathams 4,055 ( 959) 2.08 (1531)
Kanungo/Deshmukh 1,981 ( 475) 3.61 (1613)
Kaval/Tookari 24,040 (1812) 3.78 (1752)
Fakirs/Mosques/Dargahs 2,589 ( 266) 0.47 ( 596)
Various Others 926

Table VI
: Allocations

[Based on data for 1458 localities; Grain amounts in kalams. The number of localities from which allocations are made is also indicated in brackets.]

Total Agricultural Produce 14,79,646 (1458)
Total Allocations 3,94,950 (1458)
For Institutions and Occupations
within each locality 2,64,824 (1458)

of which

Local Kovils

13,882 (1409)
Cultural/Religious 18,503 (1440)
Cultivators Servants 87,504 (1363)
Irrigation Fund 19,806 (1047)
Artificers 19,470 (1453)
Potters 2,749 (709)
Barbers 6,169 (1439)
Washermen 6,058 (1436)
Corn-measurers 11,561 (1303)
Shroffs 9,332 (1201)
Kanakkappillais 31,624 (1456)
Panisevans 3,110 (762)
Tottys 1,371 (272)
Chief Inhabitants 31,197 (1332)
Various Others 2,488
For Outside Institutions and Persons 1,30,126 (1458)
of which
Great Kovils/ Mathams 25,321 (1280)
Kanungo/Deshmukh 53,572 (1347)
Kaval/Tookari 45,936 (1457)
Fakirs/Mosques/Dargahs 2,518 (506)
Various Others 2,779

Trans-locality arrangements

A number of institutions in the region were maintained by the joint funds of a large number of localities. In Table VII we record those of the great regional institutions that had a share in the budgets of more than 30 localities. As many as 17 of these institutions received shares from the produce of more than one hundred localities. The greatest of these institutions was the Varadaraja Perumal Kovil of Kanchipuram. More than half the localities of the region, 1
,265 to be exact, allocated a part of their produce towards this temple.

Temples, however, were not the only cultural centres maintained thus. There were also great scholars, like the Kumbhakonam Chikkodeyar, Mathadhipati of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham temporarily residing in Kumbhakonam, who received shares from 310 localities, and Pillailokacharia of Kanchipuram, who received substantial shares from 126 localities. There were muslim places, like that of the Santhome Peerjada, which had a share in the produce of 118 localities. There were also great devadasis, brahmans, jain munis and fakirs similarly provided for from the produce of the region. And, there were a variety of chatrams, water pandals and flower gardens in which a number of localities had an interest and a share.

Table VII
: The Great Cultural Centres


Number of localities from which shares are assigned

Kanchipuram Varadarajaswamy

Chingaperumol Kovil Pataladri Narasimhaswamy 451
Thirukkacchiyur Marundiswarar 448
Sriperumbudur Bhashyakkarar 397
Thirukkalukkunram Vedagiriswarar 338
Kumbhakonam Chikkodeyar (Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham) 310
Thiruvallikkeni Tholasingar 259
Thirupporoor Kandaswamy 249
Thiruvallur Veeraraghavaswamy 224
Kanchipuram Kamakshiamman 208
Mylapur Kapaliswarar 184
Kanchipuram Paulia Pandaram 174
Thirumalisai Alwar 172
Thiruvayarpadi Karikrishnaswamy 130
Kanchipuram Pillailokachariar 126
Thiruppalavanam Thiruppaliswarar 120
Santhome Peerzada 118
Kanchipuram Gopalachariar 84
Kanchipuram Perundeviamman 83
Salappakkam Mullasaib 69
Thiruvidanthai Nityakalyanaswamy 59
Kanchipuram Ekamreswarar 58
Thiruvottiyur Choultry Fund 47
Kovalam Dargah 41
Baburayanpettai Vijayavaradarajaswamy 31

Disintegration of the Polity

The 1767 - 1774 data on Chengalpattu point to a vigorously functioning and fairly affluent society built around a locality-centred polity. The localities of Chengalpattu – with their high agricultural production and productivity, their large complements of industrial and artisanal skills, and their elaborate networks of administrative, military, economic, cultural and other essential services, maintained through substantial allocations from the local produce – seem to have been more or less sufficient within themselves.

The localities were however knitted together into a larger polity through the great cultural and religious institutions, and also administrative and military mechanisms. The polity thus functioned more or less like the oceanic circles polity of the vision of Mahatma Gandhi.

The British government, as a matter of deliberate policy, did not allow the great institutions of the Chengalpattu polity to continue any direct dealings with the various localities of the region. Their rights of share in the produce of the various localities were taken over by the government and instead the assessed value of these shares was converted into a claim on the government revenues, to be paid to the institution from the treasury. This settlement was fixed in money terms around 1799. Since 1799 the value of money has deteriorated to almost nothing compared to its value then. But there are many institutions in the Chengalpattu region that continue to receive till today the money amounts fixed in 1799 in lieu of the shares they used to have in the resources of the localities around them.

In addition to these shares in the budgets of various localities the great institutions of the region also held maniyam and srotriyam rights in many localities. Srotriyam rights conferred the whole revenue of a locality to the institution that held the srotriyam. The British administration, once it got going, simply refused to acknowledge most of the srotriyam and maniyam rights of these institutions. But those which were recognised were later converted into ownership rights. Many of the great institutions of these region thus became petty, or in some cases major, landlords, whose interests often came in conflict with the interests of the localities from which they used to draw sustenance and support.

Through these devices the temples of the region were cut-off from the life of the localities around it. Most other cultural and political centres also suffered a similar fate. From being representatives of the larger cultural and political aspirations of the various self-sufficient localities of the region they began to appear as an unwanted and undesirable charge on the public revenues. The great institutions that had provided strength and cohesion to the decentralised polity of the locality republics thus started decaying and in time many of them began to be seen as the causes of the weakness of that polity. And, with these institutions thus separated from the life of the localities around them, the metaphor of the insular locality communities, with no interest in anything larger than their locality, became the reality of India.

The polity and the economy of the locality itself were also ruined through deliberate government policy. The revenue demands upon the localities were assessed at such a high level that there was no way the localities could have continued to maintain their extensive cultural, administrative, military and service establishments. The British in fact refused to recognise the legitimacy of most of the households that constituted the locality establishment. The few that were recognised as legitimate participants in the polity, like the kanakk
appillais and the vettis, were detached from the locality and made into servants of the district administration, who were to be paid from the district revenues to maintain a watch on the localities that they had served till then. The rest were deprived of their role and position in the locality through various devices. The militia households were seen as enemies of the emerging British state, and were branded as criminals, who were then eliminated or reduced to beggary through determined state effort. Others, like the school teachers, the musicians, the dancers, and the keepers of irrigation works, etc., perhaps did not face the direct wrath of the British state, but nonetheless their sources of sustenance in the locality budget were taken away, and they were forced to either quit the locality or seek a living by becoming a part of the already overburdened and impoverished peasantry.

The polity, the economy and even the environment of Chengalpattu began to come under acute stress within decades of the British taking over the administration of the area. And, by the time the British undertook the first large scale census of India in 1871 none of the characteristic features of the Chengalpattu polity described above could be recognised. The variety of activities and professions prevalent in the Chengalpattu of 1760’s had disappeared by then, and it seems that a large proportion of those who possessed industrial, artisanal, military, administrative or literary skills, had either migrated out of this area, or had been wiped out. Many of those who were left were forced to abandon their skilled professions and reduced to agricultural labour. The census of 1871 returned about 80 percent of the population of Chengalpattu to be engaged in agriculture, and many of the services and industrial activities that dominated the Chengalpattu society of 1770’s did not even find a mention in the 1871 listings.

Most of the localities described in the eighteenth century accounts of course continue to exist today with the same names and at the same places. Observing these localities as they are now is a sad, and yet fascinating, experience. These localities retain a clear imprint of their indigenous past, especially in the lay out of their streets, the sizes of their house-sites, and in the organisation of their habitat. But the life that animated these localities was extinguished with the loss of autonomy of their communities. Their surroundings now are deteriorated, the houses and temples are often in ruins, and many of the resourceful people have deserted. But today many of these localities are stirring again with a new life. Political independence of last four decades was bound to lead to some reawakening of the indestructible spirit of India. Some material prosperity also seems to be slowly returning, and in at least some of the localities agricultural production seems to have become comparable with what it was in the eighteenth century. However, the revival of the self-sufficient, culturally and politically vibrant, and materially rich polity that the palm-leaf accounts of these localities portray shall probably require more directed and determined efforts.

November 1994