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Smartha Brahmins

Brahmins belong to a particular sect of South India is referred to as Smarta Brahmins. The word smarta is derived from smriti (memory), which signifies principles of conduct and duties recalled and derived from Shruti or revealed knowledge texts, Vedas.

A smartha Brahmin (a follower of the traditional law) denotes a person belonging to the brahmin caste, governed by the ordinances remembered and derived from the revealed knowledge texts.

Smarta Brahmins of Tamil Nadu are divided into several sub sects. It is difficult to explain their nomenclature except by conjecturing from their names such as Vadama (hailing from the north), Brihaccarana or large groups (divided into three or four groups), Ashtasahasram (probably a ground of eight thousand families), Vatthimars, Madhyamas probably derived from “not belonging to any of the above groups” and Coliya (probably the original natives of the Chola country).

Certain minor difference in social practice like endogamy exist among the Smartas.
Although the priests officiating at the religious rites are treated by some as belonging to a distinct group, they form part of the mainstream of Smarta Brahmins. The priests at the temple at Chidambaram for a distinct group, still retaining their distinct identity,and are known as Thillai Muvayiravar. Similarly, the temple priests known as Shiv Acharyas form distinct group.

There is a social hierarchy among the priestly class assisting the performance of the obsequial rites. Those proficient in Vedas, economically sound and conducting the ceremonies command a higher position. Those not proficient in Vedas end up doing other jobs.