Tuesday, April 26, 2011

People: Chitty Community

The Chitty are a distinctive group of Tamil people found mainly in Melaka and Singapore , who are also known as the Indian Peranakans. As of today, their population stands at 2,000.


Like the Peranakans, the Chitty speak a Malay patois, which is mixed with many Tamil loan words. Many of the Chitty are unable to communicate in Tamil fluently.


Historical records stated that the Tamil traders from Panai in Tamil Nadu settled down in Melaka during the sovereignty of the Sultanate of Melaka. Like the Peranakans, they later settled down and freely intermingled with the local Malays and Chinese settlers. However, with the fall of the Melaka Sultanate after 1511, the Chitty eventually lost touch with their native land.

Under the administration of the Portuguese, Dutch and British colonizers, the Chitty eventually began simplifying their culture and customs by adopting local customs. This can be evidenced in the architecture of the Sri Poyatha Moorthi Temple, which was built by Thavinayagar Chitty, the leader of the Chitty people, in 1781 after the Dutch colonial government gave him a plot of land.

The traditional Chitty settlement is located at Kampung Tujuh along Jalan Gajah Berang, which is also inhabited by a small number of Chinese and Malays as well. Many of the Chitty have since found jobs in Singapore and other parts of Malaysia.

The ethnic identity of the Chitty is nearly lost. As many of them are assimilating into the mainstream Indian, Chinese, and Malay ethnic communities culturally, this small but distinct group of people that has survived for centuries is now on the brink of extinction.


The Chitty are a mixed people. Although they ethnically consider themselves to be Tamil, who have a Dravidian appearance and dark complexion, the Chitty appear to have varying degrees of Southeast Asian and Dravidian looks.

This resulted from the fact that the first Tamil settlers took in local wives, since they did not bring along any of their own women with them. Over time, the Chitty gathered physical features that were less Dravidian, and more Malay-looking.


The Chitty community are Hindu, worshipping in their three temples. Gods such as Ganesh and Shiva are worshipped in full gaiety. Hints of Taoist and Islamic influences are also evident in their religious rituals.

Chitty Wedding Ceremony


Culturally, the Chitty have largely assimilated into the Malay culture with some Chinese, Dutch and Portuguese influences, although certain elements of Indian culture do remain. This is especially true in the case of marriages, where offerings of fruits and burning of incense are used. In the case of food, Malay spices, ingredients and the way of cooking have largely supplanted the Indian style.

Chinese cultural influence is also evident, especially in the case of ancestral worship. Religious objects used for conducting rituals were also used by the Chinese. The Chitty are also influenced by the Chinese to some extent in their ceramics works of art.

Simplification of Tamil architecture among the Chitty is also present. Distinct from the Tamil, who have a complex Dravidian Temple Architecture in the Pallava style, that displays beautifully carved out sculptures of the Hindu gods in many rows, the Chitty temple tend to only have one row of these, or a picture of one single god in each of the three rows, as evidenced in the Sri Poyyatha Vinayagar Moorthi Temple, built by Thaivanayagam Chitty in 1781.

Sri Poyyatha Vinayagar Moorthi Temple

Dress and lifestyle

Most of the Chitty have adopted the Malay costume. In the case of men, a comfortable sarong and Malay shirt may be worn, although a songkok may also be worn, especially for a Muslim. Women, on the other hand, wear a similar costume that are similar to the Peranakan Nyonya.
Alongside their Chinese and Malay neighbors, the Chitty live in Kampong houses. Pictures of Hindu gods and Indian names can be seen just outside their houses, as their descendants tend to adopt Indian, rather than Malay surnames.

Costume of the Chittys

A dhoti and shirt for religious functions, while for traditional events they will wear the sarong or kain pelekat with the loose Nehru jacket and a cap. A piece of colorful cloth is often draped on the left shoulder.

A kebaya panjang or kebaya pendek depending on marital status, with a sarong. The handkerchief or binpoh is worn on the shoulder like a shawl.

A typical Chitty home is distinctly marked by mango leaves arranged in a row, dangling from above the front door. Chitty temples are also adorned this way.

Chitty's popular dish, Nasi Kembuli

Festivals and Celebration

As for festivals, the Chittys celebrate three types of "Ponggol Day" which are "Thai Ponggol", "Maatu Ponggol and "Kaani Ponggol". Ponggol Day is also known as a harvest festival. Thai Ponggol, is a celebration for harvesting process, while Maatu Ponggol is a celebration to show gratitude towards cows and buffaloes. As for Kaani Ponggol, it is to dedicate to everyone who work hard during harvest time. For that reason, they will visit many places of interest during this festival.

The celebration for harvest festival took place in January on a grand scale.

One of the main festival is the "Bhogi Parachu" usually falls in January. Chittys make offerings to their ancesstors during this festival. God is worshipped for bringing rain for the plantation. Bhogi will be celebrated four days before the Ponggol festivals. It is celebrated early in the morning whereby all the family members gather in front of their house and set a big fire to worship their God.

Kampung Chitty Headman pouring a milk into coking pot during the ceremony of Ponggol

The Heritage Village of The Chittys

Chitty's Museum

The Chittys have been around since the reign of Parameswara. Back then, most of them belong to the group of traders who were living in Kampung Kling and Kampong Belanda. They originated from the Coromandal Coast, Kalingapatnam, South India and Tamil Nadu.

In the earlier days, they were Chittys holding high posts in the government administration. However things began to change during the Dutch colonization. The Chittys were imposed strict supervision in their trading which eventually caused them to move to remote areas such as Gajah Berang, Bachang and Tengkera.

As a result of the incident, many Chittys decided to switch their profesion from trading to agriculture. The present Chetti settlement in Gajah Berang is under the administration of a trustee by the name of Kovil Sri Poyyatha Vinayagar Moorthi.