Endangered Archives


EAP458: Constituting a digital archive of Tamil agrarian history during the colonial period

The aim of this project is to create an archive of documents of socio-historical relevance to historians, anthropologists, sociologists and linguists. Most of the documents identified for digitisation are destined to disappear in the near future given both the very humid climate of southern India and neglected condition in which they are stored. These documents, recorded on paper, palm-leaves and copper plates, provide a rare and unique opportunity to glimpse a variety of aspects of social history of village life in the more remote parts of the Tamil region at a time when new power structures and social identities were being forged both with and against local traditional feudal systems and British colonial legislations.

The documents are scattered in the homes of Tamil villagers, especially the descendants of traditional power holders, who are unaware of the importance such documents can have for understanding social history. Though unaware of the scholarly value, the document holders are not prepared to part with their forefathers’ documents, such as depositing them in the local archives. This proposed new archive of material will open a new avenue of analysis at the level of micro-history of rural India, a field for which there is a lack of research material since the colonial Revenue Records as well as the “Village Notes” of the Settlement Surveys do not contain these types of documents. The Endangered Archives Programme has facilitated this link between the document holders and the archives through the opportunity of digitisation within their homes aiding both in their preservation and dissemination.

This major project is born out of the previous pilot project EAP 314. During the 12 month pilot project, the team carried out intensive fieldwork in small villages searching for documents relating to village judicial assemblies (panchayat). Eighty document holders were identified having collections of varying volume (from a handful up to a thousand documents) dating from the mid seventeenth century to mid twentieth century. The pilot project digitised and listed around 960 documents (3,780 photos).

In the course of the year-long search in two traditional territories (Kallar Nadu and Kongu Nadu), the villagers showed a number of different ‘old’ documents. Though documents relating to customary law were primarily being searched for, all documents handed down by the villagers’ forefathers were shown. These documents covered a wider scope of interest in not only the transformation and continuity of customary law but also land tenures and revenue collection, kinship patterns, caste relations and power structures. The documents included: genealogical charts, land transactions, religious tax collection, folk tales, loans agreements, honour struggles, temple records, marriage announcements, etc.

These endangered documents with their exceptional scholarly value are of great scope in understanding the social history of Tamil village life over a period of three centuries. Given the practical experience gained from the pilot project (the conditions of digitisation in the villages, the geographical constraints and the lengthy process of content identification) and the volume of documents available, the major project will enhance the capacity of its team both with respect to number of research staff and the duration of the project.

Approximately 10,000 documents (40,000 images) will be digitised and copies deposited with the Tamil Nadu State Archives, the Resource Centre of the French Institute of Pondicherry and the British Library. Each document holder will also receive a CD copy of their personal collection.

Visit the project website.

View a presentation (PDF format 1.7MB) on the project.


EAP458/1: Kalaimakaḷ Kalvi Nilayam Collection


This collection contains 21 palm-leaf bundles (488 palm-leaves) which address land details and taxation, first rights (honor), work rights, sale deeds of land and trees, further details of village management as well as details of the history of pazaiyakoTTai pattakkaarar (""holder of title"") and the history of veetanalluur veLLaaLar. Most of the documents are either undated or contain incomplete dates from the Tamil calendar. One document is dated from the period 1828-1842.

Physical characteristics/Extent and format of original material: The collection consists of 21 handwritten palm-leaf bundles (488 palm-leaves).

Creation dates of original material (Gregorian and/or Tamil calendar): 1828-1842 and undated documents


EAP458/1/8: History of pazaiya kooTTai pattakaarar

EAP458/1/8/1: History of pazaiya kooTTai pattakaarar

Extent: 8 digital images in TIFF format
Level: File
Scope and Content: "

This palm-leaf document gives the history of pazaiya kooTTai pattakaarar (""title holder"") and the names of other pattakararkkaL of the same region in a chronological order. A few palm-leaves are damaged and therefore not fully readable.

Physical characteristics/Extent and format of original material: Palmyra leaf (borassus flabellifer); height 3cm, width 38cm; sideline perforation; few palm-leaves are broken while most of them are damaged. 1 handwritten palm-leaf document (9 palm-leaves)

Creation dates of original material (Gregorian and/or Tamil calendar): no date

Language(s) Tamil
Script(s) Tamil
Legal & Ethical Usage Policy "For research purposes only. Some items in this collection are not available online, for Data Protection or Copyright reasons these items are restricted to reading room access only."