Gopu Mohan at Caravan:
The earliest known inscription of the Tamil word “paraya” is found in a Sangam-era text, Purananuru, composed between the second and third centuries. In his essay “Waiting to lose their patience,” Ravikumar noted that when the first modern edition of Purananuru was published in 1894, many historians claimed that the presence of the word “parayan” in Song 335 implied that a caste system existed 1,800 years ago. “Nondalit commentators understand this to mean that the discrimination and oppression of the parayars/dalits is not of recent origin,” he wrote, “and they derive solace in believing that untouchability is as old as the Sangam period.” The pioneering Dalit intellectual Iyothee Thass questioned the very authenticity of the text in his 1908 article “Is there a book called Purananuru?” According to Ravikumar, there is no way to verify whether the song exists in its original form, or whether it was added in later centuries. The second-oldest inscription of the word is from the thirteenth century, during the Chola period. In this case, Ravikumar writes, there are references to both paraya cheri, or paraya settlement, and theenda cheri, or untouchables’ settlement, indicating that the two were not the same. The conflation of untouchability with “paraya” had not yet occurred.