Brahatcharanam group of Iyers
(I am not an expert in this subject and whatever has been given below are from books that I have as well as on line search .Please pardon me if there is a mistake .If you comment about it , I would make the needed correction. This is only my effort to understand our Brahmin community)
There are several sub group of Smartha Brahmins . The major groups are Vadamas and Brahachananams.
Brahatcharanam is a Iyer Tamil Brahmin Sect. The word Brahat in Sanskrit means "great" or "vast" or "significant" and the word charanam refers to feet. The name Brahacharanam can be thus literally translated as the great feet. Their exact origins are not clear but based on indirect evidences in history it can be inferred that their presence inTamil nadu has been there before at least 1000 AD.
This can also be inferred from the fact that many of the agraharam villages of Brahatcharanam sect have very ancient origns.
One historian divides Brahmin sect as Brihaspathi Brahmins (who were vaishnavites) and Shukra Brahmins (Shaivites).He classifies Brahacharanam bRahmins as Shukra Brahmins
Brahacharanam is derived from the word Bruhatcharanam which could be split in to Brihat Charanam(big step) or Brihath Acharanam , which could mean “ great practice of rituals” or if you take Brhath to mean great i e Vedas , it could be taken to mean “Followers of vEdic rituals” . I have also heard some one explain it as bare footed, though I am not able to agree with it.
If we take it to mean “big steps” , , it would be indicative of the fact they were the first to take big steps and reach Tamil Nadu. People believe they entered Tamil Nadu through Sathya Mangalam,
Most of Smartha Brahmins of Tamil Nadu feel that Brahacharanam people are most orthodox , which could be because they were Bruhath Acharanam. Historians are of the opinion that they are the first Brahmins to enter Tamil Nadu. “Most Brahacharanam are worshippers of Shiva, and they cover their forehead with sacred ashes. Some used to wear the symbol of linga on their heads. However, the Sathyamangalam group have some members who wear the vaishnava mark.
Women also dress like other Iyers. In the ancient times, the cloth worn by the women used to be of little more than a knee's length. Among the Milaganur Brahacharanam, the Adrishya Pondugal ceremony is celebrated in which four women, a widow and a bachelor are invited to a feast. This was done in order to propitate four women who disappeared due to the ill treatment of their mothers in law.
It has been documented that some Bracharanam who lived in places like Mangudi were such rigid saivaites that they would not even utter Govinda's name and lived a life of Stern austerity
Brahatcharanam group of Brahmins are further divided into
Kandramanickam (a village in Sivaganga district)
Mangudi ( There are six villages named Mangudi in Tamilnadu )
Mazhanadu (Trichy district)
Pazhamaneri (Thanjavur district)
Kolathur (village in Kanchipuram district)
Marudancheri (Sivaganga district near Kandarmanikkam)
Sathyamangalam (erode district)
Puthur Dravida* (Chithoor district, Andhra Pradesh)
*These are those who have migrated in large numbers to Puttur in Andhra Pradesh where they form the Puthur Dravida community. Most probably these divisions are based on the initial place of settlement of these Brahmins.
A significant number of Brahacharanams have migrated to Kerala, where they are part of the Kerala Iyer community. They preferred to live in separate streets in most of the agraharams. When I was young intermarriage between Vadamas and Bruhatcharanams was very rare .
One of my friends in Bangalore told that there is a Bruhathcharanam Brahmin association in Bangalore who maje it a point to offer Bikshavandanam at Kanchipuram Matam every year.
A majority of Brahatcharana Brahmins are followers of Adhi Sankara and are followers of Advaitha. But some of them are Veera Saivas and do not go temples other than Lord Shiva .Though most of them did the allotted profession of Brahmins, history records that some of them worked as soldiers and commanders of chola kings like Raja Raja .
Some of the well known Brahatcharanam Brahmins were :-
1. Manakkal Nambigal disciple of Uyyakondar an early discple of Nathamuni
2. Vaidyanatha Dikshitar of 17 th century the renowned author of Vaidhiyanatha Dikishiyam- Smurthi MukthabhalaNibandana Grandham which laid down the code of conduct for brahmins.
3. Maha Vaidyanathan Sivan of Vaiyacheri, Tanjore considered by some to be the greatest singer composer afterthyagaraja
4. P.S.Sivaswamy Iyer - Advocate General of Madras during British times
5. Mahagnichit, Vajapeyayaji, Srowtha Bhaskara, Srowtha Ratnam,Nalliseri Brahmari N.R. Jambukeswara Srowthigal- One of the renowned Vedic Priests of the present centures
6. Manakkal Rangaraja a renowned Carnatic Musician
7. Kalki Sadasivam - Freedom Fighter and husband of M S Subbulakshmi
8.Sir C.V.Raman , the great scientist who won nobel prize (mangudi Brahatcharanam)
9.Venkatraman Radhakrishnan, younger son of Sir C.V. Raman, prominent astrophysicist.
10.Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, Nobel Prize winner in Physics from India, nephew of C.V.Raman
11.Sir Alladi Krishnaswamy Iyer, one of the founding fathers of the Indian constitution(Puthur DRavida)
12.Alladi Ramakrishnan, son of Sir Alladi Krishnaswamy, founder of Matscience India
13.Alladi Kuppu Swamy, prominent jurist, son of Sir Alladi Krishnaswamy
14.V.S. Ramachandran, an eminent neuroscientist, grandson of Sir Alladi Krishnaswamy Iyer
15.Dr D.V.Gundappa, Padmabhushan winner, poet, philosopher, philanthropist (donated entire purse in 1968 to GIPA - Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs, Bull Temple Road, Basavanagudi, Bangalore)
16.Dharmarajadhvarin and Ramakrsnadiksita, father and son who lived in the 17th and 18th centuries. There were scholars of Nyaya and Vedanta and published works like Tattvacintamaniprakasavyakhya and Vedanta Paribhasha.
17.Sir T. Sadasiva Iyer, Indian judge.
18.R. V. Srinivasa Aiyar, Indian politician.
19.Krishnan Raman Brahmarayar, Commander-in-chief of the Chola army
20.Mahakavi C.Subramania Bharathi, a Tamil poet and fighter
21.Sir K. Seshadri Iyer, Dewan of Mysore, regarded as the "maker of modern Bangalore".
22.,Dorairaja Iyer, scholar of Bharatanatya
23,V. Balakumaran, Tamil writer, playwright and novelist
24.Vedam Venkataraya Sastry, Sanskrit scholar in Madras Christian college. Translated many Sanskrit works into Telugu