The Paniya Tribe of Wayanad

in Module
Published on: 18 September 2019

Vasundhara Krishnan

Vasundhara Krishnan holds a Bachelors degree in Humanities (Hons.) from Azim Premji University, Bangalore, and is currently pursuing a Masters degree in Society and Culture from IIT-Gandhinagar. Her key areas of interest are regional histories, film studies and cultural studies.

Wayanad district in northern Kerala is a hill station that is home to different tribal communities like the Paniyas, Adiyas, Kurumas, etc. The Paniyas constitute one of the largest tribal communities in Wayanad.

The Paniya tribe is also found in the Kannur, Kozhikode and Malappuram districts of Kerala, and adjoining districts of Coorg in Karnataka and the Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu. The term Paniyan/Paniyar essentially means ‘someone who does physical work’ or ‘labourer’, and, as the name suggests, the community historically served as agricultural labourers to local landlords. 

Today, though they are far from holding on to all of their traditional practices, there are various rituals and practices which still mark the uniqueness of the Paniya community, and deserve documentation as pieces of heritage value. The module introduces the reader to the community’s life today, briefly touching upon different aspects of the Paniya people, and their earlier practices, including their traditional performances and beliefs.