A friend pointed me to an orkut community of Chettiars. Having been born into the community, I was naturally curious as to what it was all about. Online communities are supposed to broaden your horizons and all that stuff, but we Indians specialise in forming Iyer community, Chettiar community online too. But that is a separate rant.
While going through the community description, I found a few points that I had to comment upon. First was this contention
"Nattukottai chettiars or "nagarathars" like how they ought to be addressed ,are the sole rulers of the kingdom of chettinad.They are both regal and regale. hailing from this royal clan..."
Leave aside the nausea inducing content in this statement. Notice the point about sole rulers of kingdom of chettinad and royal clan. I have seen many people outside the community too think that Chettiars are rulers and Chettinad was a princely state under the British Raj.
It is absolutely wrong. Chettiars as a community were traders, initially (1700s) trading in salt from coastal districts to interior districts. The area today called Chettinad was under the Principalities of Ramnad (Karikkudi, Devakottai) and Pudukkottai, whose rulers were not chettiars. Chettiars developed their influence under the British, acting as moneylenders and slowly growing along with the Raj. They ventured out to Srilanka, Singapore in early 1800s and to Burma in 1850s. It was in Burma they grew tremendously as moneylenders. They went into interior Burma where the European bankers wouldn'nt venture, and became an important part of Burmese economic growth. Their wealth too grew, and they became powerful in India. The British were doling out titles by the dozen, and conferred the title of Rajah in 1929 to Annamalai Chettiar for his contribution and founding of Annamalai University. This was only over the newly created village of Chettinad and not over entire 96 villages which Chettiars consider as their hometown. It was a largely symbolic title. There is nothing royal or regal about the community. Chettiars are a mercantile elite community, nothing more, nothing less.
And another contention "Chettiars are highly ethical and ethnical". I will leave out the ethnical part of it, I seriously don't understand what it means. As for ethics, Chettiars are as ethical as any other community. We might talk to ourselves about how great we are, how much Chettiar Philanthropy has built the state of TN (yes, we do talk like that), how ethical Chettiars are, till the cows come home. Just google Chettiars in Burma and see what the Burmese think of us.
So please dispel any notions of superiority.