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The "KUDI" Maraikayars of Batticaloa South

by M.Z. Mohideen BA Hons (London) - MICH Souvenir #1 1944-1965

The Muslims of Ceylon live, grouped around a thousand Mosques scattered throughout Ceylon. The social organization of these communities varies from area to area. The "Madige" villages of the Kandyan area had their origin in the transport system of the Sinhala Kings. In Kalutara, the Muslims were grouped in "pougnes" with a patrilineal form of descent. The Mannar Muslims are comprised of family groups, again, in patrilineal descent. The Malays are a separate community. These are but some of the varied social organizations of our community.

In the villages of Batticaloa South, viz; Kattankudi, Maruthamunai, Natpaddimunai, Kalmunaikudy, Sainthamaruthu, Sammanthurai, Varipattanchenai,Irrakkamam, Nintavur, Oluvil, Palamunai, Addalachenai, Akkaraipattu, and Pottuvil, there is a homogeneous social organization, the "KUDI". In each of these towns and villages, the Muslims belong to a number of "kudi's" Each male and female belong notto the "kudi" of his or her father but to the "kudi" of his mother. The oevr-riding discipline of each "kudi" is that a person cannot find a marriage partner in his own "kudi". The members of a "kudi" regard and treat each other as brother and sister. This bond is very strong and even extra-marital sex relationships, do not, as a rule flout this bond. This "incest" prohibition obtains strictly within the village. The prohibition is not so strictly enforced in respect of a bride or bridegroom from a neighboring village. Such a person is an "Ayalooran" (outsider). The bridegroom lives in the house of his bride. he retains his place in his own "kudi" and canot coalesce in the family group of his bride. In Maruthamunai South, there are three large "Kudi's". Each "kudi" has sub-divisions, some of them known as "Kathrais". Here, each "kudi" group provides a chief Maraikayar and the "Kathrais" or "kudis" retain, each its distinctiveness, especially in regard to the "incest" prohibition.. The basis of this threefold grouping is a subject for the research scholar. The words "kudi" and "kathrai" are synonymous. In Maruthamunai South, the "Alankudi" is comprised of the Kolumban Kathrai, Konavayan Kathrai, and the Sevayal Kathrai, the "Sinna Karthankudi" is comprised of the Sinna Karthankudi and the Sulthapillaikudi, while the Sillarakudi is comprised of Sammanotikudi, Ulahipodikudi, Elayanachikudi, Moothanchikudi, Mothinkudi, Kosukottakudi and Arachikudi. Each "kudi" has its own Maraikayar. Sometimes a "kudi" has two or three "Maraikayars". Each "kudi" has its own cattle brand marks, and to the observant eye or accustomed palate, different froms of feminine dress and food. The "kudi"is probably Mukkuvar in origin. The Mukkuvar Tamils of Batticaloa South also have the "kudi" form of social organization. In an adjacent Mukkuvar Village, for example, there can be a Mukkuvar "kudi" bearing the same name as the Muslim "kudi". Folk tales, as recited by village elders, tend to indicate a Mukkuvar origin for the Muslim "kudis". And, even to the superficial observer, in physical appearance, though not in dress, the similarity is striking.

Two facts emerge from the "kudi" organization. Firstly, the importance of the woman in this set-up. The picture of the downtrodden Muslim woman in Batticaloa South is a popular "ayaloor" misconception. The woman in the "kudi" passes on to her children, the traditions of the "kudi". The husband in her home is not of her "kudi" and cannot dominate her or her relatives. he paddy is stored in her room. She transacts business, be it of a secondary nature (loans of small amounts of paddy etc.) on her own. She collects money, frequently, independently of her husband, and the hoard is brought out towards payment of a dowry, purchase of land, or during time of need - viz; sickness, litigation, etc.

Secondly, the predominant part played in this Society by the "kudi" Maraikayar. The Maraikayar is chosen at meetings by consensus of opinion among members of the "kudi". He holdsoffice till death, or until he indicates his desire to retire, or is either thrust out by the "kudi" or abandons office for reason of misdemeanor. The Maraikayar is regarded by his "kudi" as a sort of "paterfamilias". His "kudi" members refer to its personal problems to him. He is adviser and friend in need. In marriage, as in festival or death, in lawsuit as in domestic dispute, the Maraikayar plays an important part.

He does not, though, function in splendid isolation. he co-operates with the other Maraikayars and the Maraikayars jointly advise in the administration of the Mosque and its properties. The Marikayars themselves combine to elect one or more Chief Maraikayars. In practice, the onus of administration of the Mosque falls on the Chief Maraikayar or Maraikayars.

The Maraikayars meet in the forecourt of the Mosque after Jumuah Prayers. The "Thailapetti" is brought out. This is a small wooden box which holds the petty cash and important documents of the Mosque. It is in the custody of one of the Chief Maraikayars and is usually locked up in a "Pettagan" placed in a wing of the Mosque. It is a symbol of office. The "Athikari" slices up arecanut and passes round the betel tray and spittoon. The "Athikari" has no parallel in the Mosque outside the Batticaloa District. He is a general handyman. He fills the ablution tank with water, sweeps and cleans and carries messages. he is also the village crier and goes round from street to street, announcing to the people the important announcements or decisions made by the Maraikayars. As a minor functionary, ranking below Khatheeb, Pesh Imam or Muezzin, he receives at harvest time, a special quantity of paddy from each field. he is also allowed to cultivate a specific paddy field belonging to the Mosque, free of rent.

At these Friday meetings, the suitors generally hand in sheaves of betel as a token of their respect. The inquiries extend to matters "in widest communality spread". A separated husband and wife are reconciled. A debt is settled. A Non-Muslim who wants to embrace Islam is questioned and provision made out of Mosque funds for his immediate education, circumcision, and arrangements are made for his employment. A small sum of money is given as grant to a visiting Moulana. Arrangements for Mosque festivals are discussed. Punishment may be decreed in regard to an erring man or woman. This may take the form of "Hadd" or strokes with a coconut stem. The punishment is meted out strictly in accordance with traditional procedure by the "Muezzin" on an appointed day. In extreme cases, the Maraikayars impose a boycott on the offender. The "Athikari" is then commissioned to go round the village and announce that the Maraikayars have decreed that the offender be boycotted and that he should not be given fire, water, or salt by his neighbors. In a tightly-knit society, the offender has no alternative but to leave the village. A record of the proceedings is made in the Mosque Book. The Mosque Book must surely form a valuable documentary on the social organization of the Muslims of Batticaloa South.

The "Maraikayars" play an important part in the marriage ceremony. Permission to solemnize a marriage must be obtained from the Maraikayars."Vatda" (trays with sheaves of betel) are sent to all Maraikayars. The "Maraikayars" of the "kudi" to which the bride and bridegroom belong are sent an additional "Vatda". The Mosque marriage fees are paid to the "kudi" Maraikayar and the Maraikayar of the particular "kudi", frequently after repeated messages and invitations, acompanies the bridal party to the "Kavin" or registration ceremony or to the "thali" ceremony when the bridegroom visits the bride's home for the marriage ceremonies. All these ceremonies take place amid "kolavai" (a loud ululation, uttered by the women). It is interesting to note that this ululation is also a part of the ceremonies in certain other areas of the Muslim World.

The Maraikayars also take a leading part in the Kanthoori ceremonies. In Pottuvil, till about 15 years ago, prior to the Oor Kanthoori, the Khatheeb and the Maraikayars went round the village in procession. The procession halted in front of any house-hold outside which was a "Nirakodam" or pot of water. A custom, particularly to this village, was that women washed and dried, in token form, the feet of the Khatheeb, if such ceremony formed part of a vow they had made. Till very recent times in Pottuvil, venison alone formed the meat-curry on the final Kanthoori feast. For many weeks prior to the Kanthoori, the Maraikayars collected contributions of dried venison. Large areas of forest around Pottuvil have now been cleared and the practice is dying out. In Sainthamarathu, the Maraikayars go round the village to the accompaniment of "rabbanam" (drums). Kanthoori food is also carried in the procession and on its return to the Mosque, the food is distributed to the Khatheebs and other functionalities of the Mosque. Public distribution of food takes place thereafter.

The Maraikayars also take part in the field ceremonies. When the rains fall, especially in the areas of the "manawari" or rain fed paddy crops, the maraikayars and the Khatheeb proceed to the "kandans" or fields and recite "Malai Baithu" or prayers for rain. Till the insecticides were introduced, a similar prayer was held to ward off food-crop pests. The Maraikayars are honored guests at circumcision ceremonies, for wich their formal consent is obtained. The tom-tom beaters will not attend a wedding or circumcision without the written leave of the Maraikayars. Likewise, the "Nagasinnam" players. Even the use of a loudspeaker at these ceremonies must have the approval of the Maraikayars. In each of these instances a small fixed payment is made towards the Mosque funds.

It is not to be thought, though, that the Maraikayars rule in a static society which "saw life easily and saw it whole", or that similar customs prevail in all the villages of Batticaloa South. Improvements in methods of transport and communication, the spread of education, and the rapid rise in the price of paddy, during the last two decades, see a younger generation, impatient, "lest one good custom corrupt the world". A number of the young folks are finding partners outside their villages. In isolated instances, persons look askance at a marriage prohibition which is Non-Islamic. And customs vary from village to village. It is safe to predict, though, that, as long as a man cannot, with social acceptance, find a mate in his own "kudi", the "kudi" system and the "kudi" Maraikayars will continue to guide the Muslims of Batticaloa South.

1965