NATCHATHIRAM AMMAL

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About NATCHATHIRAM AMMAL

Pattu alias Patti Vamsathu Thai (Mother of the Patti clan) was the ninth child & seventh daughter of Pandaram Mukkandhar, a wealthy merchant of Pragasapuram- which used to be part of Nazareth and is now two furlongs North East of Nazareth. Obviously Pattu was her pet name. Natchathiram was a very popular Christian name of those times as observed in the baptism registers of those days. But calling a daughter Natchathiram, a four syllable name, cannot be easy. We can safely assume that Natchathiram was her baptized name & Pattu her pet name from her parents. Of course, after marriage she must have been called Natchathiram Ammal or simply Patti.

Natchathiram was married to Patti Maduranayagam. Sometimes, her husband’s name has been wrongly mentioned as Maduranayagam Mukkandhar alias Patti Nayagam, but the family tree chart shows that Maduranayagam Mukkandhar was the brother of Natchathiram. It is very likely that on the death of Packianatha Mukkandhar, his 2nd son Maduranayagam took the title of Mukkandhar & was known as Maduranayagam Mukkandhar. Patti Natchatiram Ammal’s husband Maduranayagam was just plain Maduranayagam without a Mukkandhar title according to the baptism, wedding and burial records of Nazareth of the previous century. These are still being maintained by the Church of South India(CSI) Diocese at Palayamcottai. Maduranayagam is also described at different places in the Diocesan records as ‘Samusari’ which means an agriculturist and somebody who earned his living from the land. He is not described as ‘Mukkandhar’, a title which was used in describing a select few. In one instance he has been clearly described as Patti Maduranayagam.

 

In 1858 baptism register for Nazareth shows that Bagyam the Pattis youngest daughter, was baptized on 8 November 1858. In that historical document Bagyam is described as the daughter of Patti Maduranayagam and Natchathiram. When their second daughter Mariyaal passed away on 12 May 1899 she is described as “Patti Mariyaal, age 65 daughter of Maduranayagam(samusari) and Natchathiram, died of Visha Bedhi (Cholera)”. The ‘Patti’ prefix to Maduranayagam, rather than to his wife Natchathiram, indicates that he, Maduranayagam inherited the Patti name from his family, of which we know nothing. It is possible that Maduranayagam’s father or another famous ancestor came from some village which had the suffix ‘Patti’, like Kovilpatti, Virudhupatti (said to be the old name of Virudhunagar), Usilampatti etc., and was given the ‘Patti’ name and it stuck to his descendants. The Tamil dictionary gives several meanings for the word ‘Patti’. Among other things it can mean a small place, a small village or a goat shed. It is almost certain that Natchathiram Ammal acquired the Patti prefix through her marriage with Patti Maduranayagam.


It is clear that Patti Maduranayagam was an affluent person as we do not expect the wealthy Packianatha Mukkandhar to give away his daughter in marriage to a person without substantial means.

Patti Natchathiram Ammal:

The first Patti couple as we know them, Maduranayagam and Natchathiram, were wealthy land owners and their family used to consume a lot of milk and meat. This consumption of large quantities of quality food is still a patti trait! It is generally believed that Pattis are fair, fat and eat a lot.

Nana J Samuel (4711) said that his mother Kamalam (471) used to repeat what her grandmother Selvam (4) used to say about Natchatiram Ammal who was referred to simply as ‘Patti’: “My mother was very fond of chicken. She lived long, over 90 years. She used to visit me occasionally and I used to make chicken for her. She would eat a lot of chicken and enjoy it. Then she would go back home and a few days later I would hear through the village grapevine that I gave my mother nothing but bones! So, whenever my mother visited, I invited other families as well, so people knew what I served my mother.

This gives us an insight into two things. Firstly, the original Patti Ammal was a good eater and appreciated fine food. Secondly, she must have lived during the period 1812-1902 because her eldest daughter is estimated to have been born around 1832.


It is said that while Maduranayagam was occupied with village administration, his wife Natchathiram Ammal took up the management and cultivation of their vast resources of land and cattle, employing a lot of men and women. She was a strict disciplinarian, making sure all her employees worked hard without wasting time. One difficult-to-believe story is that when working women brought their babies to the fields, Patti did not let them take time off to breastfeed them– but took charge of all the infants & breastfed them herself! As she had ten children of her own, this could have been possible, especially as infants were kept on mother’s milk even beyond two years of age during those days.

Patti Natchathiram Ammal was fond of travel & visited relatives in surrounding villages regularly.

A remarkable Patti tradition was marrying within the family. It starts with the fourth Patti daughter, Selvam (4) marrying her mother’s elder brother’s son Rev.P.J.Harris. As we go through the family tree, we can find a very large number of inter-family marriages. For example all the three sons of Dinakar Gnanaolivu (541) married Patti girls and Sethuraj (552) gave both daughters in marriage to their Patti first cousins.

The Legend:

There are legends galore about Patti Natchathiram Ammal. She was an extraordinary woman. She was daring, courageous, innovative & possessed an irascible temper that struck terror. Her anger was so scary that it had become legendary. Once, in a fit of rage she threw pieces of her jewelry into the mortar & pounded them! From many accounts the dominating characteristic of Patti Natchathiram Ammal was her unpredictable temper.

Some people still refer to her as simply ‘Patti’. The starting point of the Patti Family is thus the family of Patti Maduranayagam & Patti Natchathiram Ammal.

She and her immediate descendants are said to have lived at Pragasapuram, which used to be part of Nazareth for many years.

Location of Nazareth:

Nazareth is some 39 kilometres south-east of Tirunelveli and almost the same distance south-west of Tuticorin. Both Tirunelveli & Tuticorin are about KM 650 South of Madras. Nowadays, trains cover this distance between Madras & these two cities in 14 hours, while buses take 12 hours. During the days of our ancestors, travel was only by bullock carts & it took about three weeks for a one-way trip.

A big well near the Nazareth Church where they lived was called “Patti Kinaru”. It is also said that the street east of the Nazareth Church was known as “Patti Street”.

Five Boys & Five Girls:

Maduranayagam and Natchathiram Ammal had 10 children, 5 boys and 5 girls. It is believed that all the five sons died before they could get married though there is no firm proof for this. A story goes that an English pastor put a curse on them when they made a lot of noise with a bullock cart race when the church service on Sunday was in progress. These boisterous boys are said to have died one after the other within six months. During the last century, deaths due to cholera were very common. And frequently, cholera fatalities occurred mostly among boys. That could be because they spent a greater part of the day outside their homes and probably consumed contaminated food and drink.

There is no record of the five boys who died. Neither their names nor their spans of life are available. It is very likely that they were born between Swamiadial (born1834) and Bagyam (born1858) during a long span of 24 years.

Florence Ponniah (574) says that cholera was indeed the cause of death of the Patti sons.


Patti herself is said to be buried in Nazareth, but her grave cannot be traced. Only the graves of European missionaries of those times still stand in the Nazareth cemetery. It is a great pity that we are unable to locate the graves of Maduranayagam and Natchathiram Ammal.

It speaks highly of the qualities of the Pattis that they could survive the legacy of a vile tempere and, if it was true, even a priest’s deadly curse. Remarkably, the number of pastors in the Patti family is very large. We know the names of the men who married the Patti daughters Swamiadial, Rachel, Selvam and Bagyam. Three of these were celebrated pastors- S.G.Yesudian, Joseph Gnanaolivu (both S.P.G) and P.J.Harris (C.M.S). The fourth was Catechist Arumainayagam Sattampillai who would have also made it as a pastor had he not rebelled against the British missionaries, started his own Church and called himself Rabbi. During those times, one cannot become a pastor straightaway. One had to pass through a seminary and serve as Catechist (Ubadesiyar) for a couple of years before being ordained as a priest. When we read through the ‘Patti Heritage’ book, we will find a very large number of our relatives opting to serve God. Even today.


Most Pattis are very brilliant people. They are progressive, dynamic and know what they want and go for it. There is a justified belief that female Pattis are more active, outgoing, bold and talkative than male Pattis. It must be a throw back to the first Patti couple of whom we have some knowledge, Mathuranayagam and Natchathiram Ammal.

Patti characteristics:

Quite a few male Pattis become bald ahead of time. Pattis tend to drift apart, the only communication among some close relatives being a card at Christmas time. Pattis are said to be generous with a few remarkable exceptions!


It is necessary in this context to take note of the caste situation that prevailed then. More than a hundred years ago, during the era of Natchathiram Ammal, the original name of the Nadar caste was Shanar. The affluent Shanars were known as Nadans and, their wives were known as Nadachis. Nowadays, there is only one name for the entire caste: Nadar. Though she and Maduranayagam were ‘pure’ Shanars and Christians, the present generation of Pattis has not only delightfully mixed with other castes, but has gone multi-lingual, multi-racial and multi-religious! Most Pattis do not bother about caste except those who live in the districts around Nazareth.

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NATCHATHIRAM AMMAL's Timeline

1812
1812
1834
1834
Age 22
Nazerath, Tamil Nadu, India
1842
1842
Age 30
1858
1858
Age 46
1902
1902
Age 90
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