Posted on: 9 January 2014

Bill collectors, Madras - 1870

Photograph of bill collectors at Madras in Tamil Nadu, taken by Nicholas & Curths in c. 1870, from the Archaeological Survey of India Collections. After photography was introduced into India in the 1840s it rapidly grew in popularity, particularly as a means to record the vast diversity of people and their dress, manners, trades, customs and religions. The first official attempt to create a comprehensive record of Indian types was the 'The People of India'; an ethnographical survey edited by John Forbes Watson and John William Kaye, and published in eight volumes from 1868 to1875.

This image of a group posed with bills at the doorway of a house is from the series of 'Photographs illustrating various native classes, occupations, &c....Native bill collectors,' shown at the Vienna Exhibition of 1873 and mentioned in Watson's catalogue of the Vienna Exhibition.

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These Bill collectors were employed by Bankers called 'Seth' derived from Sanskrit 'Srestins' and these Native Bankers were called 'Seth' in Rajpootana, 'Sethia' in Gujerat,'Sathe' in Maratha land, 'Shetti' in Kannad, 'Chettiyar' in South or 'Reddy' in Telegu, and 'Sett' in Bengal,

..and shroffs ( asharfi - money changers) & soods ( interest) ?

Chettiyars mostly follow vaishnavism....