Traditions and Customs -
Please note that an attempt is made to explain the key points of Thesavalamai in this article which is for information only and no part of this should be interpreted as the law, and it is advised that anyone who wants to pursue the law should consult a Solicitor.
Thesavalamai in Tamil literally means the customs of the land. It is ancient and has prevailed in the North of Ceylon for several years. Because of its popularity the Dutch first codified in 1706 and the British gave it the legal validity in 1806.
Thesavalamai is the traditional law of the Sri Lankan Tamil inhabitants of Jaffna peninsula and embodies customs and practices developed under Tamil rulers of the Jaffna Kingdom and reflect the social history of the Tamils in that region. Thesavalamai was modified and first made known to the public by the Dutch rulers of the Kingdom in 1707, even though Thesavalamai or Nadduvalamai, as it was called before, was first coded by the Tamils of Yarlpanam while developing a system of distinctive social and cultural traditions. A special feature of this code was the fusion of two social systems; one prevailing in Kerala (Malabar) based on mother or descent through female line called matrilineal and the other prevailing in East Coast of India based on father or descent through male line called patrilineal. The law is personal in nature and is applicable to mostly for property and marriage.
While Thesavalamai applies to the Tamils of North, a very similar law called Mukkuvar law applies to the people of Eastern province codified by the Dutch in 1707.
Thesavalamai contains practices regarding marriage and inheritance and the right of property ownership and its devolution. The main features are;
1. Marriage or Sambantham is forbidden between close relatives except cross cousins, who are children of brother and his sister.
2. Marriage may be conducted without a priest but the customary rites and ceremonies must be observed for it to be valid.
3. The Hindu rite of Homam may be dropped but tying of Thali is essential to the validity of marriage. A wedding sari or Koorai must be given to the bride at this ceremony.
4. When a priest was present, he could perform a homam ceremony or may merely conduct a Vinayagar ceremony.
5. If the parties are poor and cannot afford a gold chain, they could just use a piece of chord instead.
6. If the parties cannot afford the services of a priest, the family Vannan (Dhobi) and Ambaddan (barber) should be present in addition to their relatives at the wedding.
The property devolves around the females of a family from generations to generations and this law is considered to be advantageous to women.
1. The property of a wife acquired before or during marriage will remain her separate property.
2. When a married woman dies intestate, her property goes to her children or the children of her sister.
3. The property of the husband acquired before or during marriage will remain his separate property.
4. The husband may give the property of his wife to his children as dowry.
5. If the husband dies intestate, his property will go to the children or to his brothers and their children.
6. The right of women to have a separate property - a portion of the acquired property is protected and also the husband is prohibited from disposing those properties.
7. The wife should obtain her husband's permission to sell or mortgage her dowry immoveable property whereas the husband need not consult his wife to sell or mortgage his inherited or acquired property.
1. Mudusam (முதுசம்) - inheritance, is the property devolving on a person by descent at the death of his or her parents or of any other ancestor in the ascending line. The sons inherit the Mudusam of the father.
2. Urumai (உருமை) is the property devolving on a person by descent at the death of a relative other than a parent or an ancestor in the ascending line.
3. Thedia Theddam (தேடிய தேட்டம்) - acquired wealth, is the property acquired by the person before or during marriage. The acquired wealth is divided equally between the sons and daughters.
4. Seethanam (சீதனம்) is the property bequeathed by the parents of a girl at her marriage. The daughters inherit the Seethanam of the mother.
5. On death of a person intestate, the Thedia Theddam will be disposed of as follows; half to the surviving spouse and the other half to the heirs of the deceased spouse meaning the children if there are any or his or her heirs.
6. If anyone dies intestate and without heirs the property will go to the crown.
7. Illegitimate children shall inherit the property of their intestate mother but not that of their father.
8. When the estate of a deceased parent devolves on a minor child, the surviving parent may continue to posses the same and enjoy the income thereof until the child is married or attains majority.
9. The properties inherited from parents cannot be given away according to one's own wish.
10. When a widow remarries the daughters of both marriages get her property and when a widower remarries, he must ensure that the dead wife's dowry go to her daughters.
11. In case of divorce, the wife gets her dowry and half of the acquired property
Related articles Please read: The marriage