Sunday, March 29, 2009

Origins of Ashtasahasram Iyers

I have recently been interested in the origin of Tamil Iyers. There are several subgroups among Iyers - Vadama, Brahatcharanam, Ashtasahasram, etc. I pursued further research on the Ashtasaharsam subgroup. They are divided into 4 subdivisions Attiyur, Arivarpade, Shatkulam and Nandivadi. These are the villages where they settled down initially when they arrived into Tamil Nadu. 

Ashtasahasram means 8000 in Sanskrit. Interestingly there is a village near Tindivanam in Tamil Nadu called Ennayiram (meaning 8000 in Tamil). Right next to this village is another village called Nandivadi and another village closeby called Attiyur.

I made a trip to this village - Ennayiram - to find out more. I was pleasantly surprised by the archeological remains there! I found 5 temples - 4 Shiva temples and one Vishnu temple. The 4 Shiva temples point to the 4 different directions (Brahmadesam, Ennayiram, Esalam and one more) and are age old - different from the usual temples of Tamil Nadu which has a Gopuram. 

These temples seemed like community gathering places apart from being places of worship. There were stages for artists to perform, small homes for probably the temple priests to live in and a series of nearby structures as opposed to a central structure dominating the scene. The Vishnu temple in the village of Ennayiram actually was a 2 storied temple! The local villagers told us that there were 500 brahmin families living there and that there were vedic schools for all 4 vedas there. There were writings on the walls of all temples in Grantham script several thousands of lines long.

Unfortunately they are not that well preserved. ASI has just started some work there. But plenty of sculptures and artefacts are strewn around in the road. Valuable historical writings have been used to build houses by the locals. These represent the best evidence of who and what the Ennayiram brahmins (Ashtasahasram Brahmins) are. I am posting several pictures I took of the place. 

I also started looking for the other villages - Arivarpade and Shatkulam. I never found them. They probably have been lost to time. But may be they still are around and if anyone knows about these, do post comments. Likewise, if anyone else has info on these writings or know more about this subject, kindly post your comments. 

Ennayiram Siva Temple pictures

Ennayiram temple performance stage
Ennayiram Siva complex entrance

Brahmadesam complex

Main Idol Brahmadesam
Inscriptions at Brahmadesam
Remains of a house like structure
The 'Gumbaz' of the temple (clearly added later on since mortar has been used)

Sculpture lying by the road side at Esalam
Inscriptions at Esalam

Nandi at Esalam Siva temple

Esalam Temple
The second story of the Alagiya Narasinga Peruma Temple at Ennayiram


  1. Hi Siva,

    Fantastic post! I have been searching for a lead beyond the so called sub division on Ashtasahasram. This is the first time that i found a lead beyond the mention of these four sub sects.

    I don't have any further information other than the following. My maternal grandmother and most of her family was highly skilled in reading and writing in the Grantham script. My maternal grandfather knew to read it too, however i think he learnt it at a later stage in his life. My grandmother indicated that she and her brothers learnt it from her father when she was very young. Her family was known as the Pithambarm family and probably migrated to some place in near the border of TN and Kerala from one of these villages many years ago!

    Anyways, all the best and please do post any other info that you come upon.


  2. I recently joined a facbook group called "The 8000 Group" inviting all Ashtasahasram Iyers around the world.Please join.

  3. Siva,

    This is great. Your pictures are fantastic.
    We have a trust called The8000trust. The objective is to get a membership base of 8006 families (Ennayiram).
    How can we use the internet & social networks like facebook/orkut etc to track people who belong to the Ashtasahasram group.

    If we can get some good researcher I can persuade the8000trust to fund a proper research and get some authentic material for publication.
    I am saying this with some degree of confidence because I am one of the trustees.

    Wonder if you can help.

    In the meanwhile may mail your link to all our members currently about 250.

  4. Siva,

    We are starting work on a worldwide Ashtasahasram Directory. Entries to the Directory will be free.

  5. Hi Siva,

    I was trying to understand about the entire spectrum of Ashtasahasram (Some kind of Soul Searching eh!) and your blog came in pretty handy.

    Great pictures. I would be glad to know more if there is anyway of doing it. And its sad that our history isnt preserved as we see in the pictures. Its only in our hands to retain the remnants and preserve it.


    Eye opener, I would say on the state of affairs.

  6. Siva, We are starting a site called Ashtahasrams Worldwide. Do I have your permission to use your text & pictures in a section called Ennayiram, with due credits given to you? Can you kindly reply to me at

  7. Great pictures .you might also know that ennaiyiram is the birthplace of Kavi kalamegam who was called as "Sledai Pulavar"
    There is aslo the Semmaneri Andavan Temple which was in much depleted condition and was renovated in year 1999.This temple is kuladeivam to many Ashtasahsram families.

    1. Dear Sir,

      Pl inform me where is this Semmaneri Andavan Temple (

  8. Hi,
    We belong to ashtasahasram community.But I vaguely remember we belong to brahmadesam sect;Iam not quite sure. As I know,our known native is a hamlet type village called 'Senthamangalam" very close to Pudukkottai.And our kuladeivam Kumaramalai Baladhandayuthapani swamy, much similar to Palani.Can any one throw more light on Brahmadesam ashtasahasram?

  9. What is the route to get to this place and how far s it from Vizhupuram ?

  10. Good,your research threw new and powerful lights on the history of Brahmans.Proceed, sir.

  11. Iam Sridhar (Kanaka Sabapathy), from Ashta Sahasram. Iam an internet consultant based out of chennai. I have my own company - Maptech.

    I volunteer to help you with setting up the network of Ashtasahasrams worldwide.Pls contact me at 94440 25282.

  12. Thanks for your comments on this and sorry for the late response.

    It is interesting that Brahmadesam is a subsect. There is a book called "Castes and Tribes of Southern India" written over a 100 years ago which attempts to document all groups in Tamil Nadu including Ashtasahasram. The only groups mentioned there are the 4 mentioned in the original blog. So if there were/are additional groups, they must have already been in small numbers 100 years ago.

    A couple of other inferences. It appears that the name 8000 is closely associated with the origin of Ashtasahasram. Two events - killing 8000 Jains or converting them to Hindus (allegedly by Ramanuja) seem to be stated as the origin. However religious conflicts, religious conversion and the Vaishnavite movement, all started during the era called the Bhakti movement around 1050 AD. Iyengar groups were formed then. So
    1. If conversion of 8000 jains happened, it is likely to be a conversion to Iyengars, not Iyers.
    2. If 8000 Jains were killed for religious reasons, irrespective of whether the Iyers at Ennayiram had anything to do with it, the group of Iyers at Ennayiram should have pre-existed this event.

    There is mention that Ennayiram attained its peak during the Chola era of the 11th century including a claim that Chola kings invited brahmins from the North to setup a vedic school at Ennayiram (Chola Kings ruled this territory only from 11th century). At the same time there is evidence of a shift to Vaishavism at Ennayiram around the sametime. There is documented evidence of granting land to the Vishnu temple at Ennayiram in the temple writings around 1043 AD (see This coincides with early years of Ramanuja. When you put these together it does not make much sense. A Chola King is unlikely to invite Shaivite Brahmins from the North and sponsor Vaishnavism after they arrive! It is more likely that the Shaivite group pre-dated this era and Vaishnavite group was born at Ennaiyram during the Chola period.

    Two more pieces of evidence support this

    1. The Vishnu temple is better maintained and is active while the Shiva temples are not - circumstancial evidence that the Vishnu temple is newer.
    2. The construction style of not having gopurams and have multiple stories (2-storied construction) also indicates a different era - prior to 1000 AD. Brihadersara temple is from 1010AD and is not multistoried. Multiple stories are remnants of monolithic construction culture (see Karla caves as a great example of this). Technology evolved from Monolithic to actual construction with stone and in those early years, the style of construction remained the same while technology changed. Mahabalipuram (From 600 to 800 AD) is monolithic. So my guess is that this structure is around 800 - 900 AD (much before sophisticated stone structures originated).

    Hence, it is very likely that Ashtasahasram Iyers were living in Ennayiram for at least 1100 years and probably for much longer than that. Why they came and when they came still remains a mystery. They must have migrated south after muslim invasions (which resulted in gumbaz being built over these temples) by Malik Kafur around 700 years back.

  13. great Mr.Sivakumar Thiagarajan,

    we have migrated as paradesi brahmins into palakkad around 500 year back .

    Thanks once again for this great piece of infomation


  14. Thanks. Since i am a Ashtasahasram Brahmin, the article gave me lot of information about our subsect.

  15. Good Primary research!

    Any chance this is Anand?

  16. Ashtasahasram subsect is mostly found in Dharapuram, Kolinjiwadi, Gobichettipalayam,Thiruvaiyaru, Ganapathy Agraharam, & Coimbatore ( All in Tamilnadu). I believe U.Ve Swaminatha Iyer belongs to this subsect

  17. Dear Siva,

    Aruvapadi is a village near Mayavaram. It is about 5 to 6 km distance from Mayavaram town. My (I am an ashtasahasram) maternal grand father belong to this village. I hope Arivarpade is now called Aruvapadi.

    1. Thanks Krishnan. This is a good new lead. Apologies for the late response as I check this rarely

  18. A Good Find - this blog; ! I'm Ravi Venkateswaran from Gopalapuram, Chennai and in fact joined @the 8000 trust - thanks to Shri. R Prasanna Venkatesan, Srinagar Colony, Chennai. Will post interesting info on this soon. I can be connected @ 9840950196 or KANVAA@GMAIL.COM

    Will throg

  19. there nia another brammadesan near Ammaba samuthram. My priappa kailasam iyer was there. there is a big temple and a temple tank. i was very young at that time, so i may not be able to give any other information. please check. parvathy

  20. I am just 39 years old.While I have got to read this article my body and soul getting shivered.
    The history bounded our customs and rituals never would be deteriorated.
    My grandfather told us that brahmins are minorities in this society. More over our ashtasahasram sub sect are minorities in brahmin society.

  21. I bought land in Ennayiram actually it is a nice place after bought only I came to know that it is famous for astasahasram which is my cast :-)

  22. Pls include me in your bhramin group my contract number is 9940199191

  23. K. Sankaran , Madurai [ 9344155657] " அஷ்டசஹஸ்ரம் - வரலாறு "
    பகுதி. 1 : ஸ்மார்த்த பிராமணர்களில் அஷ்டசஹஸ்ரம் , பிரஹச்சர்ணம் , வடமாள் , வாத்திமாள் என 4 பிரிவினர் உண்டு .
    வடமாள், பிரஹச்சர்ணம் பிரிவினரைக்காட்டிலும் அஷ்டசஹஸ்ரம் பிரிவினர் ஜனத்தொகையில் குறைவு. " அஷ்டசஹஸ்ரம்" பிரிவு ,
    சுமார் 1000 ஆண்டுகளுக்குமுன் ஏற்பட்டது.
    " கி.பி. 10 ம் நூற்றாண்டின் இறுதியில், பல்லவர்கள் ஆட்சியின் ஆதிக்கம்இருந்தது. பல்லவநாட்டின் எல்லைக்குட்பட்ட
    திண்டிவனம் - விழுப்புரம் இடைப்பட்ட பகுதியில் பருத்திக்கொல்லை என்ற கிராமம் மற்றும் சுற்று பகுதியில் வாழ்ந்த ஸ்மார்த்த
    அந்தணர்கள் பல்லவர்களால் கட்டாய மத மாற்றம் மூலம் சமணர்களாக மாற்றப்பட்டனர். பல்லவர் ஆதிக்கம் முடிவுற்று , சோழ
    சாம்ராஜ்யத்தின் எல்லைக்குள் இப்பகுதி வந்தது. அப்போது [ சுமார் கி.பி. 1060 - 1070 ம் ஆண்டு சமயம்] ஸ்ரீமத் ராமானுஜர் -
    ஸ்ரீரங்கத்திலிருந்து திருமலை-திருப்பதிக்கு யாத்திரை செல்லும் வழியில் பருத்திக்கொல்லை கிராமத்தில் தங்கினார். அப்பகுதி மக்கள்
    எட்டாயிரம் பேர் ஸ்ரீமத் ராமாநுஜரிடம் , தாங்கள் கட்டாய மத மாற்றத்தால் சமணர்களாகி மிக துன்பப்படுவதாகவும், தங்களுக்கு
    மீண்டும் நல்லமார்க்கத்துக்கு வர வழிகாட்ட வேண்டும் எனவும் முறையிட்டனர். ஸ்ரீமத் ராமானுஜரும் அவர்களை மீண்டும்
    அந்தணர்களாக மாற்றி , முன்பிருந்த ஸ்மார்த்த பிராமணர்களாகவே , [எண்ணாயிரம்] அஷ்டசஹஸ்ரம் என்ற புதிய பிரிவாக
    வாழ்ந்து வர அனுக்ரகம் செய்தார். அப்போது முதல் பருத்திக்கொல்லை கிராமத்திற்கும் " எண்ணாயிரம்" என்று பெயர் வந்தது.
    இவர்களின் வழிபாட்டுக்காக , ஸ்ரீ ராமானுஜரின் உதவியுடன் எண்ணாயிரம் கிராமத்தில் ஸ்ரீ நரசிம்மர் ஆலயம் அமைக்கப்பட்டது.
    இந்த ஆலயத்தில் , கல்லால் செய்யப்பட்ட ஸ்ரீ நரசிம்மர் விக்ரகம் உலோகத்தினால் செய்யப்பட்டதுபோல மிக நேர்த்தியாக இருக்கும் என்று -சொல்லப்படுகிறது.
    இவ்வாறு ஏற்பட்டது " ஸ்மார்த்த - அஷ்டசஹஸ்ரம் " பிரிவு.
    வரலாற்று ஆதாரம் :
    1 . ஸ்ரீ ராமானுஜர் வாழ்க்கை வரலாறு ; 2 . தொ. மு. பாஸ்கர தொண்டமான் கட்டுரைகள்.

    பகுதி.2 : ஸ்ரீமத் ராமானுஜர் எண்ணாயிரம் கிராமத்தில் நரசிம்மர் ஆலயம் அமைத்து கொடுத்தாலும் , எட்டாயிரம் பேரையும்
    வைஷ்ணவ மார்க்கத்துக்கு மாற வற்புறுத்தாமல் , ஸ்மார்த்த பிராமணர்களாகவே [ அஷ்டசஹஸ்ரம் பிரிவில்] விளங்க அனுக்ரகித்தார்.
    அஷ்டசஹஸ்ரம் பிரிவில் பல குடும்பங்களில் ஸ்ரீ நரசிம்மர் வழிபாடும் தற்சமயம் உள்ளது. தஞ்சாவூர் அருகே மெலட்டூர் கிராமத்தில்
    ஸ்ரீ நரசிம்ம ஜெயந்தி உற்சவமும் , [ ஆண்கள் மட்டுமே] நடிக்கும் பாகவத மேளா நாட்டிய நாடகங்கள் ஆண்டுதோறும் ,பெரும்பாலும் அஷ்டசஹச்ர குடும்பங்களால் இப்போதும் நடத்தப்பட்டுவருகிறது.
    "அஷ்டசஹஸ்ரம் பிரிவில்" பிரபலமானவர்களில் சிலர் : -------
    உ. வே. சுவாமிநாத அய்யர் [ தமிழ் தாத்தா] , M.S. Swaminathan, Agricuture Scientist., Harikesanallur Muthaiya Bahavathar[carnatic krithis composer] ,
    s. Balachandhar - Veena artist , Madurai Mani Iyer- carnatic musician , G.N. Balasubramanian - Carnatic Musician , Patnem subramania Iyer - Carnatic Music
    composer , Dr. T. sankar, Retd. Director of commonwealth Institute of Biological control [ Father of Agriculture Biological control in India] ; now he is living
    with his son Dr. sundar, Renowned Kidney Transplant Nephrologist in Bangalore, PADMASRI. Dr. S. Narasimhan, Kothagiri[Nilgris] ,who did dedicated service to
    tribals and honoured by Jawaharlal Nehru.

    NOTE : Please see the following sites also - ; ;

    Thank you, - compiled by ,
    K. sankaran - Bhuvana , Madurai

  24. I belong to Ashtasahasram group of Brahmin Iyers.A close relative of mine from Kannagudi,near Lalgudi in Trichy district mentioned to me that we are originally samanars who lived in the village of Ennairam long back.
    This site has shed lot of light on the evolution of Ashtasahasram Brahmins and linkage with the Great Ramanuzam seer in his 1000th celebration year.This sect is therefore more than 1000 years old .
    Director S.Balacahnder also set to belong to this sub sect of Brahmins.

  25. Director K. Balachandar (my mother's cousin) belongs to this sect as well

    1. He is my paternal Grandma cousin too!!
      Her name was Rukmani ammal(Ambalaa) from tiruvayaaru
      She lived in kumbakonam

  26. Thanks for the traceback of origins. My earliest known ancestor an ashtasahasrite had settled in Ganapati Agraharam as a jyotishi and worshipper of Ganapäti.

  27. Thanks. I am an asjtasahtasahasrin. My earliest known ancestor harihara jotsyar and his ancestors lived in Ganapati Agraharam

  28. Hi... is shutdown?

  29. Iam writing this from First Puthen street, Trivandrum, Kerala. We have 4 agraharam at the Centre a Mahadevar temple. Majority are Ashtasahasram sub. Group.

  30. As my parents used to say, I am a decedent of this Ashtasaharam families. But my Kula Dheivam is at Ambasamdhram-Naalaayutha Udaya Sastha. Naturally, my Kula Dheivam must be at Ennayiram-Thindivanam. I have sent various discussion letters to various mutts. But no reply is received. I hope it is not possible to get such long ans-ester details for period tracing reverse 2000 years. Further basically, there is much difference between Iyer as Jaathi and calling them as Bhrahmana Jaathi. Does Bhrahmana is a jaathi. I have this doubt till date. Bhrahma means only one-sa yekaha- then how it divided as iyer and iyengaar and with totally differnt culutre and rituals. Iyer for 60 years celebration chant Rudhra Japam. Where as iyengaar chant Dhivya prabandham only. Historically can we trace back to iyer-iyengaar deveation period and how it blosammed.