Hakku Patras

BY: JAYADHIR THIRMAL RAO

Copper Plate of Oggu Katha performers,
a dependent community of Yadavas in Nalgonda district.
[Personal collection of Jayadhir Thirmal Rao]


Jun 9, INDIA (SUN) — Study of Hakku Patras Among Folk Performing Communities in Andhra Pradesh.

Grants are entitlements to specific privileges, accorded by an individual or a group in a position of authority to a person or a group of persons for rights over certain parcels of land, to enjoy some rights and to provide some services. In India, awarding such grants has been common since ancient times. We are well aware of revenue grants and land grants given to Brahmins or other higher castes but we know very little about the grant systems that prevailed among the lower levels of the social hierarchy.

Indian historians, anthropologists and folklorists have, so far, not paid adequate attention to the grants given to folk performers and artisan communities that perform in villages. In Andhra Pradesh these grants are known as hakku patras. These are letters of entitlements for folk performances. The hakku patras are documents of grant or sanad that permit groups of folk performers to carry on their activities in pre-defined regions in perpetuity.

These documents are historical records which contain detailed information about the various communities including the names of both patron and recipient communities. They provide rare insights into the nature of folk performances and the relationships that existed, and continue to exist, among village communities. The hakku patras are usually inscribed in copper sheets (ragi rekula) or on hand-made paper in the form of scrolls (chuttalu). They are considered to be community grants and are still recognized as valid by the members of patron communities. It is worth noting that in spite of the numerous socio-economic changes over the centuries the tradition of folk performances is still extant.

The folk performers who have received these hakku patras are nomadic story tellers, folk bards and folk entertainers. Folk performances can be divided into two categories: (1) general folk performances and (2) group-specific folk performances.

General Folk Performances

Folk performances belonging to this category are not performed by any specific caste but by every person who wants to share the joy of the occasion. All the communities of a village participate in these performances. There are no caste restrictions, no caste rituals are performed and no genealogical myths are narrated. Usually these performances are based on heroic legends and some of the most popular narratives which are enacted are burra katha, sharada katha and leather puppetries based on the deeds of popular heroic personalities. These folk performers receive the katnam not from the high-caste people but from the general audience, because these performances belong to all the people of a village.

Group-specific Folk Performances

These folk performances are associated with particular religious groups and castes. The performing communities are essentially those that Edgar Thruston called ‘mendicant communities’, Dr. M.V.T. Raju termed ‘satellite castes’ and Prof. P. Subbachary referred to as ‘dependent castes’. The higher caste is invariably the patron caste and the lower caste is the dependent caste. In Andhra Pradesh, one patron caste may have had one to seven sub-castes as its dependent castes. A list of nine sub-castes who have this hierarchy of sub-castes is given below:

Grants are entitlements to specific privileges, accorded by an individual or a group in a position of authority to a person or a group of persons for rights over certain parcels of land, to enjoy some rights and to provide some services. In India, awarding such grants has been common since ancient times. We are well aware of revenue grants and land grants given to Brahmins or other higher castes but we know very little about the grant systems that prevailed among the lower levels of the social hierarchy. Indian historians, anthropologists and folklorists have, so far, not paid adequate attention to the grants given to folk performers and artisan communities that perform in villages. In Andhra Pradesh these grants are known as hakku patras. These are letters of entitlements for folk performances. The hakku patras are documents of grant or sanad that permit groups of folk performers to carry on their activities in pre-defined regions in perpetuity.

These documents are historical records which contain detailed information about the various communities including the names of both patron and recipient communities. They provide rare insights into the nature of folk performances and the relationships that existed, and continue to exist, among village communities. The hakku patras are usually inscribed in copper sheets (ragi rekula) or on hand-made paper in the form of scrolls (chuttalu). They are considered to be community grants and are still recognized as valid by the members of patron communities. It is worth noting that in spite of the numerous socio-economic changes over the centuries the tradition of folk performances is still extant.


Bronze plate of Punjas (drummer singers), a dependent caste of Vishwa Karma Community
[Personal collection of Jayadhir Thirmal Rao]


The folk performers who have received these hakku patras are nomadic story tellers, folk bards and folk entertainers. Folk performances can be divided into two categories: (1) general folk performances and (2) group-specific folk performances.



The folk performers are strictly prohibited from performing in a region that is not assigned to them. Each sub-caste, by tradition, inherits a specific region, as its performing territory. The region allotted to them is called patti or mirasi and each of these usually consists of forty villages. The sub-caste communities visit each village and arrange folk performances and religious rituals. For rendering these services, sub-caste communities are paid remunerations (katnam).

The performers who do not have the relevant hakku patras will neither be allowed to perform nor paid any katnam. The hakku patras are primarily issued either by the head of the patron caste, the panchayat, the head of the caste association, the samasthanadeeshwara (head of the small state) or any religious institutions. The hakku patras are traditionally well recognized and respected by members of the patron communities. These hakku patras are still extant and the tradition is alive in some parts of Andhra Pradesh.

These performances narrate myths that explore and explain the origins of the patron castes and include various quasi-legends and caste genealogies (gotras). These performers, folk bards or folk singers hold ‘mirasi’ right (the right to perform in a particular region). It is their duty to perform these legends and myths at the homes of the patron community every year. The elders of the patron community have to treat the performers with respect, as their caste priests or pujaris, and to provide them with food and other facilities.

The performers also visit their patrons and narrate various ballads and legends on the occasion of a birth or death in the latter’s family. Some of the elders of the dependent communities are vaidyas (medical doctors) with an expertise in herbal medicine, and they take care of the patron’s health. As caste priests, they also perform various religious rituals. The performer communities also have their own manuscripts that hold records of caste related legends as well as records of their medicinal practices.

Some of these sub-castes, such as Goundajethi, Dakkali and Patamvaru perform their narration by showing patams (pat paintings). The patams are scrolls measuring four to six meters in length and they are painted on cloth. They are prepared by the Nakashi community from Cherial village in Warangal. The performing communities use patams as visual aids for their verbal narrations. The communities that do not have patams, such as Manda and Hechu use toys (bommalu) as props in their performances. These toys are symbolic representations of the various characters in popular legends such as Kattam Raju Katha.

Some performing communities have mudras or caste totems, apart from the hakku patras. These have been observed among the Telugu speaking community near Hasur and Dharmapuri in Tamil Nadu. The nomadic performers carry such metal mudras wherever they go for performances because without them the patron community will not admit the artists into their houses.

Social Conditions of the Folk Performers

While it is true that these performer communities still exist and that the social relations implied by hakku patras are still alive to an extent, it is also true that the communities engaged in such ritual performances, both patron and dependent, are increasingly succumbing to social pressures. The patrons do not have the resources to feed and shelter such large troupes of performers and the performers are migrating to the urban areas in greater numbers. Such communities as Sangadivaru and Adikodukulu are no longer identifiable as social groups, and the Dakkalies, Gurramvaru and Addam Varu are close to vanishing as well. Before they are lost forever, it is necessary to document their heritage, the props and methods of their performances, as well as the narratives that sustained these social groups for so long. A focused study of hakku patras will surely yield valuable insights for these communities.


Jayadhir Thirmal Rao is Director, Andhra Pradesh Govt. Oriental Manuscripts Library and Research Institute

Source: Kriti-rakshana, publication of the National Mission for Manuscripts, India.



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