The Nadars who until the last quarter of the 19th century were known as
"Shanas" or "Shanars" were originally based in the two southernmost districts
of Tamilnadu- Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari. The word " Nadar" may have been
derived from what many modern Nadars believe to have been the highest of the
original Shanar Jatis the Nadans, with the honorific "-ar" ending added. Some
Nadars claim that the Nadans were petty local chieftains, who were the heirs of
the fallen Pandya dynasty.
The ancient historian Herodotus tells us that in 400 BC, the Palmyra-Tappers
(the Nadars as we call them now) were Valiant Fighters and good Tradesmen,
dealing with inter-Continental Trade. They made settlements in Syria, and
taught the art of writing to the Greeks . They also spread the Culture of
'Burial of dead ' to the world. They exported processed Palm-Juice (in the
chemical form of Alcohol) to countries like Egypt, for purification and
preservation of the dead-bodies (Mummies).
The history of the aboriginal ancient Nadars, with many branches, has been
tarnished, modified and fabricated as time swept by. Mostly these changes have
been made after the Muslim invasions, with the support of the Brahmins . The
fall of the Nadars began afterwards . Tanjore, one of the strong holds of the
Tamil Nadars, was defamed. Valamkaimaalai, one of the Palm-Leaf records with
the Nadars, speaks about their history. History proves that the major groups of
the Nadars were once Jains and Buddhists.
By the 15th century AD, Nadars were weakened by the Nayaks because of the
in-fights and dis-unity among the Nadar brothers. The tortures on the Nadars
were so inhuman that in the 17th and 19th centuries the Christian Missionaries
found a great 'Fishing Field' in the Nadar dominant areas. But for the
Missionaries, this race would have been totally exterminated as planned by the
Prior to the northward migration, the bulk of the Shanar population was
concentrated in the arid sandy regions or "Teris" of Tiruchendur in Tirunelveli
district. The Shanar economy centered on the palmyra palm, then the only
commercially viable crop in the region.
From the 16th to 19th century AD, the Nadars had to struggle under the new
Caste system imposed by the Aryan Agents and had to fight hard to come up
socially, economically and politically. It was during these periods that the
great Fights like "The Temple Entry Movement, The Upper Cloth Revolution, The
Human Rights Movements" by many leaders like Vellayyan Nadar,Mooka Nadan,
WPA.Soundara Pandyan Nadar, Ayya Mudisoodum Perumal, Marshal A.Nesamony, etc.,
were fought and won over. Following World War 1, the Brahmins began to dominate
the Independence movement of the Madras Presidency. The British then tried to
secure the non- Brahmin support. Hence they conceded their request of
designating " Nadars" instead of " Shanars" in the 1921 Census.
With the coming of the British rule to the southern districts, roads were
improved and better security emerged. The Shanar populace then began to utilize
this opportunity and began to move vnorthwards to sell their palmyra- products
as well as dried fish and salt. Along their trade routes they established
"pettais" or fortified compounds, to protect themselves against thieves and
other caste men and also for them to take some rest. There were six primary
centers of settlements: Sivakasi, Virudhunagar, Sattankudi, Tirumangalam,
Palayampatti and Arupukkotai.