Written by London swaminathan
Date: 17 December 2016
Time uploaded in London:- 13-59
Pictures are taken from different sources; thanks.
Choultry or Chatthiram or The Inn were wonderful institutions of ancient India. It served as the boarding and lodging place for the pilgrims as well as travellers.
I myself had arranged Bangur Dharmasala in Madurai for all the visitors from North India on their way to Kanyakumai when the Vivekananda Rock Memorial was opened. It was free. Once upon a time all the choultries gave free food and rooms. Even today we can see such places in North India. But in the south most of them were turned into hotels or converted into offices.
Chettiyars of Tamil Nadu established such choultries in various pilgrimage centres including Benares/Varanasi.
Several towns in Tamil Nadu still retain the name Chaththiram even after the Chaththirams had gone! The younger generation may not even understand this concept of giving everything free for the pilgrims and travellers. All the kings thought it was a great meritorious act (Punya Dharma). We can see references to choultries in all the ancient books of India – swami
Here is a piece written by T B Pandian in his book “Indian Village Folk” in 1897.
“The people who live in the Indian villages take delight in giving alms to the helpless and the needy, and also to the religious mendicants who go from place to place on pilgrimage, begging as they go. They have also provided suitable and convenient places in which travellers and strangers may rest, without any charge being made for their accommodation. These inns are called chatiram, oottoopuray and maddum (Mutt).
M T Chathram in Karnataka
The chatiram is a place built by a Hindoo king or by one of the Hindoo governors of former times, or by some Hindoo man or woman, or by a certain class of the Hindoo community, and it is usually sufficiently endowed for its maintenance. These buildings are generally large and spacious having separate apartments for cooking and sleeping, etc They are placed outside the village, and usually near a stream.To provide bathing and cooking, the travellers, a well is dug by the side of the Chatttiram, and the grounds are planted with fruit-bearing trees and flowering plants.
In some of these chatirams the authorities engage Brahmin cooks who supply with food a certain number of Brahmin travellers only, each day free of charge. In some chatirams the travellers are both fed and housed without charge, but in others the travellers get their lodging free, but have to provide their own food. When wealthy men or women find that there are no children to inherit their property, they lay out the whole, or at least the greater portion, in building and endowing chatirams for the public good. These charitable institutions may be numbered by the hundred in the country districts of India.
In the villages of Travancore, ‘the land of charity’, there are sixty four ways, i.e., feeding-houses,” established by the ancient Hindoo kings of Travancore, and still maintained by the Maharaja of Travancore in quite a grand style. In these feeding houses’ the Brahmins are fed by the hundred every day with sumptuous meals, and they are with comforts at the expense of the State Travancore. Many homeless and helpless Brahmins subsist by travelling from one feeding-house to another, and in this way they spend the whole year in quite an enjoyable manner, without any care as to what they shall eat, or what they shall drink, or wherewithal they shall be clothed.
The simplest and plainest kind of charitable public stances called the maddum (Mutt or Madam), and this is built in many instances at the expense of the villagers themselves. In these maddums a poor man, who has some reputation for piety,is engaged as manager by the villagers. This man gradually becomes an ascetic. He clothes himself in an orange-coloured tokai, and is called sannyasin by every villager. The duty of this sanniasin is to see that the village inn is kept clean, and lighted regularly every evening. He has also to beg meals from the villagers, both morning and evening. A certain portion of the meals thus collected by the innkeeper is taken for his own use, and with the remains the poor travellers are fed.
Chathram in Old Madurai
If any respectable travellers come in to rest, either for the day or for the night, the innkeeper gives them all necessary attention, and he will even at times induce some rich villager to feed the strangers who may have come in late at night. The lighting of the inn is left to the well-to-do villagers, and they supply the lamp oil by turns. The clothing of the innkeeper, which is, however, but a little matter, is provided from the village general fund.” The organization of the village inn is quite simple and inexpensive, and the benefit derived by the travellers is very great. During the hot summer months the innkeeper supplies butter milk or cold water to the thirsty travellers who are proceeding on their way.
There are a few famous and well-established maddums, with their madathipathies, i e., governors of inns,’ which were originally established on the simple principle of the village inn. Now these remarkable maddums have grown enormously, and are large establishments with numerous supporters and followers. The most prominent of these inns are called Dharmapura maddum, and Tiruvadoothuray. The governors of these celebrated Hindoo inns established a brotherhood of Hindoo monks, and these monks became the head of the respective inns; they are, as a rule, sound vernacular scholars, and well versed in Hinduism in all its phases. They maintain celibacy. These inns have four or five hundred men who feed in their respective places, where disciples and visitors flock together in large numbers. The heads of these are not Brahmins, and so they are not exclusively kept for that caste. The non-Brahmin community, indeed, form the bulk of their supporters. The insolvent and broken-down merchants, and those who have become disgusted with life through various disasters, forsake their homes and relations and enter this brotherhood of Hindoo monks; they are then cared for all the days of their life. Some of those who join this society are sent out by the head of the establishment to represent their cause at their branches. All who become governors of these inns are vegetarians by birth and Sivites by religion, and their successors are trained and kept in readiness by the governors. Although the governors themselves are bachelors who have not much earthly enjoyment, as they try to show, yet their relatives are greatly benefited by their honoured and exalted positions. They spend the money out of the treasury of the inn just as they please, and sometimes in very profligate ways. They live in princely comfort, and their intelligence and culture give them a high position and influence in the Hindoo community. Some of them are enlightened men, and these come to the front and sympathize with the public movements, more especially those of a religious and educational character.
There is no doubt that these inns and other charitable institutions of India will work wonders, if only the organizers of these institutions and their governors will recognise the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man.”
—-written in the year 1897.