CHETTI OF MALACCA

Name:
Location: Kuala Lumpur, Wilaya Persekutuan, Malaysia

I was working in RTM Melaka, then promoted and transfered to RTM Kuala Lumpur. In 1995 I took optional retirement and joined ASTRO, the first satellite Television in Malaysia. Retired in December 2002.

Monday, July 04, 2005

HISTORY OF CHETTI COMMUNITY IN MALACCA






SRI POYATHA VENAYAGAR MOORTHI TEMPLE
No. 119 JALAN GAJAH BERANG,
MELAKA
MALAYSIA
HISTORY OF THE MALACCA CHETTI COMMUNITY
BY
MR. B. SITHAMBARAM NAIKER


CONTENTS

1. Preface

2. The Malacca Chetti

a. Who were the“CHETTI” or “CHETTI of MALACCA”
b. Theories of Their Being Here As Traders.
c. Their Culture, Customs etc. Before & Now.
d. Improvements after Merdeka In 1957.


Mr. B. S. Naiker is a worthy representative of the Malacca Chetti Community, which group has interested me since I first came to Malacca in 1934. What struck me most on my arrival here was the number of mosques, Chinese Temples and the Hindu Temples. I have found that wherever Hindus congregated they built places of worship. The Malacca Chetti Community, as pioneers of the businesses they participated in before the arrival of the Dutch and the religion they professed, have left much evidence of the practice of Hinduism in Malacca. The numerous Temples built by them in the Town of Malacca will be part of Malaysia) history and show what the Malacca Chetti Community has contributed towards the culture they brought from South India.

Mr. B. S. Naiker has with diligence collected photographs of personalities who played their part to keep their Community together in peace and harmony with the Malays and Chinese of their time.

Mr. B. S. Naiker deserves the thanks of his Community and Indians in general for bringing to light facts which are unknown to many.

S. Shanmugam

(MIDDLE TEMPLE)




By Mr. B. Sithambaram Naiker


Time and again, I have been asked or approached by friends from north of Malaysia and some from Mother India, who came here on tour, to find out who the 'Malacca-Chetti' or 'Chetti of Malacca' were, their origin, culture, economic status and so forth.

So, instead of speaking to them individually or in groups, I would very much like to write a brief history of this Community, termed as the 'Straits-born Hindu Community' during the Colonial days for easy reference and information required.

The 'Malacca-born Hindu Community' or more popularly known as the “Malacca Chetti or Chetti of Malacca”, has its origin in the era of the Malacca Sultanate of the fifteenth century. Although concrete date of historical importance are not available, we can piece together available information as to the origin of this Community, It is of course an irony that most, if not all historians of this country have conveniently forgotten the existence of this Community.

Sometime, about 1400 A.D. a Hindu Prince by the name of 'Parameswara' came from Palembang (Sumatra), first to Temasek (Singapura) and after that to Malacca and settled down here. The Hindu prince, sometime in 1414, married the princess of Pasai (Northern Sumatra near Acheh) and took the name of 'Sultan Iskandar Shah' in Malacca. During his reign, you will find reference in the 'Sejarah Melayu' or 'Malay Annals', that the “Malacca Chetti or Chetti of Malacca” were in vast numbers and some of them were holding high positions like 'Dato Bendahara' and other positions during 'Sultan Iskandar Shah's reign.

Generally speaking there are two theories as to how the Community came to establish itself in Melaka. The first theory claims that the members of this Community first came to Malacca as traders and that they were Tamils from the Coromandal coast, from Kalingapatnam and other ports of Southern India. They were at that time trading at Kampong Kling and at Kampong Belanda, now known as First Cross Street (Jalan Hang Jebat) and Heeren Street (Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock) respectively. Then the houses were of plank and attap. During their stay they made contacts with the local inhabitants and married local women, either Malay or Chinese and later settled here on a permanent basis. The local women on seeing that they were influential enough and doing good business were prepared to marry them. Another good reason why CHETTIs decided to stay here could have been the pressure put on them by successive Colonial governments, Portuguese, Dutch and British. Those who took the risk and already had families here had also to be thoughtful of the caste-system in India, then so strict that no outsiders would have been tolerated in the house. Because of this reason they were prompted to make Malacca their second home. In time they called themselves “Malacca Chetti or Chetti of Malacca”, meaning Malacca traders.

The second theory propounded by some Tamil people living in Malacca for a considerable length of time, says that this Community were convicts from Andaman Islands or rebels against the British in the ‘Katapomman’ affairs. They were brought to Malacca by the British as a labor force and later when their term of captivity expired, were permitted to settle down in Malacca.

The validity of the second theory, that is, that the Community originated from convicts brought from Andaman Islands is highly improbable and greatly in doubt. This theory implies that the Community is a recent development, after the British occupation of Malacca, and that the Community sprang up after 1795, the date when the British first took over possession of Malacca or after 1824, the date when the British took over possession of Malacca permanently, in exchange for Batavia (Java), from the Dutch. Whichever the case may be, this is highly improbable due to the fact that there is documentary proof that this Community is much older than that, as stated in the first theory. It is true that Sepoys were brought by the British to Singapore in 1919.

But, Emanuel Cohinho de Bradia's "Description of 'Portuguese Malacca' contains the following reference:

“(The suburb of Upeh) is divided into parishes, S.Thome and S' Estevao. The parish of S.Thome is called Campon Chelin - it extends from the Bazaar of the Jaos on the beach in a north-westerly direction, and ends at the stone bastion. In this quarter live Chelis of Coromandel,”

Then the report of Balthasar Bort, a Dutch Governor of Malacca, and dated 1678, clearly mentions Hindus or Gentoos for “Malacca Chetti or Chetti of Malacca”. Bort took a census of the number and types of houses and their occupants, numbering 347 and including males, females and their children.

Finally the Dutch Government granted the Community a piece of land, in the heart of the town at Goldsmith Street and now known as Jalan Tukang Mas, bearing Lot. No.62 Town Area XIU for 15,879 square feet for the purpose of putting up a Temple. The Temple was built up in the year 1781 according to the date mentioned in the Dutch grant (Freehold title). The Temple known as 'Sri Poyatha Venayagar Moorthi Temple’ is the oldest Temple in the Malay Archipelago. The Temple was under the Trusteeship of the late Mr. Thaivanayagam Chitty, whose photograph can be seen hung in the State Museum in Malaka. He was the great grandfather of Mr. K.L.Chitty, retired school-teacher of the Government High School, Malaka, and who has recently passed away on 6th March, 1974 at No.267, Jalan Tengkera, Malaka; Mr.K.S.Chitty, a Government pensioner residing in Singapore and Mr. K.T.Chitty, Executive of Messrs Borneo Co.Senderian Berhad, Ipoh.

The foregoing proves that the Community must have been influential and large, and already in existence and well organised as a group before the coming of the British in 1795. As a matter of fact the Community should have been termed as 'Chettiars' as these immigrants comprised of Komti Chettiars, Vaishiar Chitty (business people) and Vanniar Chettiars (oil merchants) as opposed to the other Varanashiams in existence namely:- Pillays, Naikers, Pandarams, Mudaliars, Padiachees, Pathars, Konars, Rajahs etc. They opened up shops for business and manufacturing things like gingili oil etc, and imported Indian goods like rice cereals, ghee, spices, and other products for the consumption of the Indian population.

The most noted and well known amongst the Chettiars then were Inchi. Chitty (Thaivanayagam Chitty), Sembrong Chye (which should have been spelt as Sithambaram Pillay) Thamboo Naicker and others, all of whom were noted for their trading in timber, bricks, tiles, and floor stone (Batu Malacca) for the market. However, Mr. Thaivanayagam Chitty had used this name instead of Thaivanayagam Chettiar. Furthermore, the Community takes all the other Varanashiams to be termed as “Malacca Chetti or Chetti of Malacca” so as not to confuse them with the Nagarathar Nattukkottai Chettiar ( Bankers and money lenders ) who came later to do business during the British regime. We are also informed that Inci. Chitty owned motor-vessels for plying trade between Malacca and Indian ports and had a large number of workers under him. Mr. K.T. Joseph F.R.G.S., in his book 'New Comprehensive guide to Malacca' shows that the local Indians (Malacca Chetti or Chetti of Malacca) played a notable part in the Court-life of the Malay Rulers during the reign of Sultan Mohammad Shah. They ( Malacca Chetti ) acted as Envoys and Dato Bendaharas. Then 'Nina Chatu' played an important role in the 'Princess of Malacca' and also wielded a great deal of influence during the Portuguese era.

The 'Sejarah Melayu' or 'Malay Annals' records that these Indian traders and their followers stayed at Kampong Kling in Malacca. This place was named after them because some of them came from Kalingapatanam. This settlement is also shown in later Dutch maps. This proves beyond doubt that the Malacca-born Hindu Community (Malacca Chetti or Chetti of Malacca) are the descendants of the traders and their followers and who certainly were well-established by the Dutch period, if not earlier, than the Dutch occupation.

The traders were all men from South India, and they must have decided to stay put and do local business. They were the pioneer group, who settled down with local Malay and Chinese women. Because of their desire to stay in Malacca they have made themselves well versed in the Malay colloquial language then and up to the present time. But they still embraced the Hindu 'Saiva Faith'. Unfortunately they gradually forgot their ‘ thai bhasha’ or mother-tongue, that is the Tamil language. Some of them had embraced Islam during the Dutch time and were also given a piece of land to put up a Masjid (Mosque) at Goldsmith Street (Jalan Tukang Mas), Melaka, and known as 'Masjid Kampong Kling' which name still remains up to the present time. This generous offer was also extended to the Chinese (Babas) as well, when a piece of land was given to them by the Dutch Government to put up a Chinese Temple, now known as 'Cheng Hoon Teng Temple'. All of these buildings are in the one and same straight road. That is why the road was known as Temple Street until renamed Jalan Tokong.

Failing in their trade due to fire which destroyed all their plank and attap houses, belonging etc., the Malacca Chettis moved to Kampong Belanda, now known as Heeren Street or Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock. Seeing there was no prospect to continue their trading activities further, they retreated into the interior and turned to an agrarian life, agriculture, cattle breeding, farming and to other business like running of kilns and so on.

Their residences were now mostly at Gajah Berang, Tranquerah, Bachang and at Balai Panjang, all in the Malacca urban area, north of the Malacca river. Under the Dutch jurisdiction, Gajah Berang was originally called 'Kanja Pidam' and later 'Kanjapuram' named after a district in South India, but the natives had misused the name as Gajah Berang. Literally Gajah Berang means elephants running amok but where can you find elephants so near to the sea unlike at Alor Gajah, a district about 15 miles away from Malacca Town. Seeing that agrarian life (agriculture) could not go on smoothly because of town life being too near, they gave in to the evolution of time and took up monthly paid jobs working for the Government or Commercial houses.

You will find in some of the grants issued by the Dutch Government to the Temples and individuals mentioning names such as Naicker or Nyker, Pillay, Patter, etc. This proves that there were also goldsmiths within the Community as mentioned in the grants issued by the Dutch Government. Some of the grants issued to our people are in Dutch language.

In those days there were no Tamil schools or Padasalai and when they married local women, either Malay or Chinese, the father would speak in Tamil at home and the mother would speak colloquial Malay. Hence the children who were more attached to the mother could learn more of the Malay language than Tamil. However, as children grew in numbers and were of marriageable age, they still preferred to marry a Hindu girl or boy.

One important aspect of the 'Malacca-born Hindu Community' or the “Malacca Chetti or Chetti of Malacca” is that despite all their worries and setbacks, they still proudly embrace, and are very strict in, the 'Hindu Aythigams' or 'Sanatana Dharma'. They have built the following Temples: 'Sri Poyatha Venayagar Moorthi Temple in 1781, 'Sri Muthu Mariamman Temple' in 1822, Sri Kailasanathar Temple' (Sivan Kovil in 1887; Sri Kaliamman Kovil' in 1804, 'Sri Angalamman Paremeswari Temple' in 1888. All of them are in the Gajah Berang and Bachang areas. There are also 'Grammangal Kovils' or Shrines built in the interior of the territory near padi fields owned by Malacca Chettis in Gajah Berang. The Shrines include Linggadariamman Kovil, Amman Kovil, Dharma Rajah Kovil, Kathaiamman Kovil and Iyenar Kovil.

The 'Sri Poyatha Venayagar Moorthi Temple' although the property of the “Malacca Chetti or Chetti of Malacca”, has been managed by the 'Malacca Nagarathar Nattukkottai Chettiar' for more than 20 years through an Agreement ( since 1962) made between them because the British State Government had refused to allow them to put up another Temple of their own in the Town area.

In addition there are several other Temples or Alayams namely:- 'Sri Sunthara Moorthy Vinayagar Temple' near the General Hospital site, 'Sri Subramaniar Throbathai Amman Temple' at Gajah Berang, 'Sri Subramaniar Devasthanam' at Batu Berendam; 'Sri Mariamman Temple' at the Municipal Laborer’s lines, Depot Road, 'Sri Muthu Mariamman Munisvarar Alayam' at Bukit Bruang, 'Sri Siti Vinayagar & Sri Bala Subramaniar Temple' at Jalan Pengkalan, Alor Gajah District, and several others in the Estates managed by their respective bodies.

The 'Malacca Chettis' observe various rituals, festivals and ceremonies, such as Thai Ponggol, Madhu Ponggol for those who rear cows, Kani Ponggol especially for maidens, Deepavali, putting Koloms and flowers during the month of Margali on the door-steps, Kelemays Sarasvathi (Ahyutha poojas), Siva Rathri, Egadesi, Amman Thiruviza, carrying of the Kavadis during the months of Thaipusam, Masimagam, Sithrai, Panguni Utharam, Adi matham prayers and the taking out of the Rathams (Religious Chariots) in procession for some festivals.

There are three Rathams made of wood with lovely carvings of Indian Dieties, and dating back some 200 years. They are still in good condition. They are kept next to the S.P.V.M. Temple, Jalan Tukang Mas. One Ratham is for Lord Ganesh, one for Lord Subramaniar Swamy, and one for Lord Rama Swamy. They are used during festive seasons drawn by bullocks and are lighted with decorative lamps making them look beautiful at night. For marriages, festivals, deaths, etc., the services of the priest, a Pandaram, Iyer or Kurukal are necessary in the performance of rites strictly according to the tenets of Hinduism. The priests and others are employed by the Temple. They are paid extra for any services performed outside their regular duties.

The Community is rather small in Melaka since many have gone elsewhere to places like Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and other big towns to earn their livelihood. They do come back to Melaka to attend some festivals. What Easter is to the Christians when they come to Malacca to attend the services and Mass at St. Peter's Church, applies to Malacca Chettis too, in the sense that those from far-off places return home to attend the 'Sri Muthu Mariamman Thiruviza' during the Sitrai matham (April/May).

The Chetti men and women have reformed much for the better, as they now will wear vestis and tundoos, and sarees with blouse respectively, for occasions like religious functions, marriages, etc. Some of the older folks still use sarongs and kebayas. The children too have advanced much by attending Sekolah Kebangsaan, Tamil Schools (Palikudams) and Padasalai (Religious class). It is a must for the old and young to attend Temples once a week on Fridays. Better still if they attend every Tuesdays and Fridays and other auspicious days, reciting their prayers (Tevarams, Tirupugal, Siva Puranam) etc. The children who attend religious classes on Sundays get assistance in learning Bahasa Kebangsaan, Tamil and English through the help of volunteer teachers, namely, Mr.V.P.Palaniyandy Ubathiyayar, Mr.R.Govindasamy Ubathiyayar, Mr.T. Kandasamy Naidu and a few others who are giving their free services by sacrificing their leisure hours to back up the children in their studies for which the Temple Management and Community are indeed very grateful. At the point of going to the print Mr. R. Govindasamy was not able to further his teaching due to being fully occupied. It is with much regret to add that Mr. V.P.Palaniandy Ubathlyayar passed away on 26th February, 1975. At present his 2 sons, namely, Mr. V.P.Ponnuthurai and Mr.V.P.Muthukumaru including Mr.T.Kandasamy Naidu are carrying on teaching the classes.

The Community is as a whole poor and not getting any outside help in the running of the Temples, social activities, education and so forth. They believe in self-help, calling themselves Malaysians but belonging to the Hindu (Saiva) faith. Some are office-workers, teachers, clerks, technicians and some doing odd jobs to earn their living.

There were some notable members of this Community like the late Mr. L. Kanagasabai Chitty Office-Assistant to a legal firm Messrs. Rogers & Son, the late Mr. T. Chokanathan Pillay, High School teacher, the late Mr. M. T .Pillay, Accountant in Government Treasury, Singapore, the late Sandy Gurunathan Pillay, Barrister-at-Law, Scout Commissioner, the late Mr. Layna Annamalai Chitty, Municipal Commissioner, Justice of the Peace, Appraiser and Auctioneer. He was detained by the Japanese during the occupation and released after the surrender. He died a patriot and martyr to our Country and our people.

We sincerely hope we have covered, albeit too briefly, all aspects of the Community, now known as “Malacca Chetti or Chetti of Malacca” for those who are curious to know something about this unique community.

B. Sithambaram Naiker,
No.5, Kampong Tujoh Jalan Gajah Berang Malaka.
August, 1976.


BIOGRAPHY
Mr. B.Sithanbaram Naiker was born on the 11th of May 1911 and passed away on the 2nd of November 1986 at the age of 75.

He served the government as a postal clerk in Post Office Malacca and retired as a Postmaster of Jasin Post Office in 1966.

He also served the nation during the Second World War; he was recruited as a volunteer in the Malacca Volunteer Force 4BN SSVF (MVC) from 1938 to 1949, army number 80051 and promoted to Sergeant B.S.Naiker.

He was awarded several medals by the British through General Edward Gent in King’s House. He received the 1939-1946 Star, the Pacific Star, the Efficient Service medal and the Defence Medal.

Besides serving as Trustee of the SPVM Temple he was also active in the JKK Committee in the area and also a member of the Historical Society of Melaka.



GLOSSARY


Pather or Pathair - Goldsmith
Varanashiams - Creeds
Grammangal Kovils - Small Village Temples
Iyerngal or Kurkal - Brahmain - High Priest
Pandarm - Priest
Padasalai - Religious class
Ratham - Chariot or Religious car
Hindu Aythigams - Orthodox Hindu customs
Sanatana Dharma - The real name of the Hindu religion
Campon Chelim - Kampong Kling.
( Name given by the Dutch )
Jaos - Javanese
Nina Chatu - Malacca Chetti or Chetti of Malacca term used by the Dutch.


TEMPLE CEREMONIES ETC.

1. Ponggal Pandigai, Madhu Ponggal, Kani Ponggal
2. Thaipusam at Sri Subramaniar Devasthanam at Batu Berendam,
3. Maha Siva Rathri at Sri Kailasnathar Temple ( Sivan Kovil)
4. Masai Magam at Sri Sanasimalai Andavar at Cheng,
5. Panguni Uthiram at Sri Sri Vinayagar and Sri Bala Subramaniam
Kovil, Pengkalan, Alor Gajah
6. Tamil Varuthapirapu at all Temples,
7. Sri Muthu Mariamman Kovil Thiruviza at Gajah Berang,
8. Ahdi Matham at all the Karmanggal Kovils,
9. Vinayagar Sathurthi at Sri Sunthara Moorthy Vinayagar Temple,
General Hospital,
10. Maha Timithi Ursava at Sri Subramaniar Thiropathai Amman
Temple,
11. Sarasvathy or Itha Poojai at Sri Kailasanathar Temple,
12. Sooren Samaren at Sri Subramaniar and Thiropathai Amman
Temple,
13. Nava Ratri – now performed by the Gujarati Temple,
14. Deepavali Pandigai,
15. Karthigai Thibam and Margali Matham ( Thirupali Ehzuchi Vizah)
at Sri Kailasanathar Temple and at other Temples as well.






ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Written and compiled by Mr B.Sithambaram Naiker with the kind assistance of the following:-


Messrs. N. Somasundram Pillay ( Deceased )
K. Narinasamy
K. T. Chitty ( Deceased )
V. Ramasamy Pillay ( Deceased )
C.S. Dorai Iyer
Dr. S. Thambipillai ( Deceased )
G.B.Pillai (Deceased )
K.T.Joseph, FRGS & Barrister-at-Law (Deceased)
E. Gulasegaram ( Deceased )
Kandasamy Varatharuju
Miss Jenny Goldsmith
S.Vengadesan Naiker - photography.