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Sandy on the go:

The Long Trek©

This is the 14th century at the banks of river Godavari in the city of Nashik in Maharashtra. In the serene settings is the temple of Thrayambakeswar, an incarnation of Shiva and a number of Dikshit families live here, in the service of the temple.

It is the time of the Muslim rulers in the country and there are several wars and forcible conversions. So the Dikshits flee Nashik and trek south.

Thus they came and landed in the courts of the Vijayanagar Kings, noted among them being Krishnadevaraya.

After a time seeking fresh pastures some of the families went south again, to the seat of the Pallava Kings, the famed city of Kancheepuram, 50 kilometers from Madras.

Kancheepuram is today famed for Silk Sarees but in those days it was the capital city of the Pallava Kings and a city of thousand temples and the seat of great learning.

One noted member of these families was Swaminatha Dikshitar who was held in great esteem by the King that he was permitted to travel in a palanquin. He was also known as Rathnaketa Dikshitar because of the diamond studded ketayam (shield) presented by the King in recognition of his scholastic abilities.

One of the families settled at a village called Adayapalam and in this family was born the great savant Appayya Diskshitar

Appayya Dikshitar married the daughter of Rathnaketa Dikshitar.

Appayya Dikshitar's nephew was Nilakanta Dikshitar who was also a great scholar and was in the service of King Thirumalai Nayak who ruled Madurai in the 17th century. Nilakanta was the chief advisor of the King and when he wanted to retire from active service the King presented him the village Palamadai near Tirunelveli and a large number of villages around it.

Nilakanta Dikshitar invited his relatives and other families to come and settle in these southern villages. The descendants of Swaminatha Dikshitar settled in a village Mela (Lower) Cheval.

All these families were maintaining culture which was influenced by their sojourn through the Telugu speaking lands also. By marrying only within families they maintained their culture; they were called Vadadesa Vadamas, meaning people who have come from the North. The Vadadesa differentiated them from the Brahmins who migrated from the Cauvery Delta who were called aptly Choladesa Vadamas.

The Nilakanta Dikshita family spread to several branches in the several villages in Tirunelveli, particularly on the banks of River Tamiraparani. Noted among them are Paalamadai, Patthamadai, Gopalasamudram, Kodaganallur etc.

Till about 50 years the purity of this family was maintained. Marriages took place only among families in villages that could be reached in a day's travel by bullock cart. There used to be runners who carried messages among villages.

Today things are different. People no longer look to sub-divisions in the caste and marriages are made based on other values.

My father belonged to the family of Swaminatha Dikshit (the Mela Cheval group, known as Thoopilars as they hailed from Thoopil, near Kancheepuram) on his father's side and Nilakanta Dikshit on his mother's side (the Kodaganallur sakha or branch. My wife's grandmother was from Paalamadai and a direct descendant of Nilakanta Dikshit.

Even today the family wears a gopi (a 'U' mark on the forehead and the body) using the gopi chandan, a clay available in the river bed of Godavari near Nashik. Even though we have become quite modern with times many practices during religious functions reflect the journey our ancestors made and the resultant cultural change.

For example though our women wear Mangalsuthra of gold, the deity used for the puja on Varalakshmi Vritham wears black beads like the Maharashtrians and Andhra people. The nine yards sari worn by very old ladies also resemble the Andhra practice to a great extent.

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