|1,860,519 (2001 census)|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Seychelles, Fiji|
|Hinduism, Atheism, Christianity|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Tamil people, Dalits, Pulayars|
Paraiyar, Parayar or Sambavar also called Adi-Dravida are a social group found in the Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and in Sri Lanka (see Caste in Sri Lanka). The Indian census of 2001 reported the Paraiyar/Adi-Dravida population about 90 Lakhs (9 Million) (pdf).
Paraiyars in Southern Tamilnadu are called Sambavar. "Adi-Dravida" is a modern name of Paraiyar given by Government of Tamilnadu, it denotes only the Paraiyar Caste. Paraiyar/Adi-Dravida are the Majority among the Scheduled Castes in Tamil Nadu. As the Adi-Dravida community is majority among Scheduled castes, therefore all the scheduled castes are generally called 'Adi-Dravidar' by the Government of Tamilnadu. The term 'Adi-Dravidar' means Ancient Dravidians in Tamil.
Paraiyars have Y-chromosome Haplogroup G (Y-DNA) [G2a] In addition to Paraiyars, a few other castes have this gene marker in India, including Ambalakarars. This gene marker is also found in Sri Lanka, and is distributed in many parts of Europe and the Middle East, including among Ashkenazi Jews, Arabs,Ossetians, Georgians, Iranian Persians and Pashtuns.
In archaic Tamil, the word "paRai" (பறை) meant "drum", a reference to the kettle drum often used to make announcements. They are attested to in the earliest Tamil literature as bearers and players of the paRai, though it is impossible to tell whether it was an occupational or caste grouping. They are mentioned in late Sangam era literature as a specialized group within the larger social groups associated with paRai (drum) playing for ceremonial and shamanistic purposes.
Paraiyar denotes drum beaters as well as general agricultural laborers among Sri Lankan Tamils.
The community is classified as a depressed community as its members were considered untouchable until recent times and economic and educational privileges have been denied to them for centuries. However, there is considerable evidence to suggest that their position must have been reasonably good in older times. Some scholars presume that Paraiyars must have been followers of Buddhism who lost their status in society during the revival of the Agamic cults.Thiruvalluvar, the Tamil author of the Thirukkural, the great Tamil poetess Auvaiyar, and the architect of the classical city of Hastinapur had all been Paraiyars. 
The following is a description of "Paraiyars" from the Madras Census Report 1891.
The Paraiyan or Pariah caste of the Tamil country numbers, according to the census, over two million souls..... The tribe must at one time have held an influential position, for there are curious survivals of this in certain Privileges which Paraiyans have retained to the present day. I quote the following remarks of Mr, Walhouse on this subject :—
' It is well known that the servile castes in Southern India once held far higher positions, and were indeed masters of the land on the arrival of the Brahmanical caste. Many curious vestiges of their ancient power still survive in the shape of certain privileges, which are jealously cherished, and, their origin being forgotten, are misunderstood. These privileges are remarkable instances of survivals from an extinct order of society. Shadows of long-departed supremacy, bearing witness to a period when the present haughty high-caste races were suppliants before the ancestors of degraded classes, whose touch is now regarded as pollution. At Melkotta, the chief seat of the followers of Ramanujaacharya, and at the Brahman temple at Bailur, the Holeyars or Pareyars have the right of entering the temple on three days in the year, specially set apart for them. . , . In the great festival of Siva at Tiruvalur in Tanjore, the headman of the Pareyars is mounted on the elephant with the god, and carries his chauri. In Madras, at the annual festival of the goddess of Black Town, when a tali is tied round the neck of the idol in the name of the entire community, a Pareyar is chosen to represent the bridegroom.'
' The Paraiyans have been but little affected by Brahmanical doctrines and customs, though in respect to ceremonies they have not escaped their influence. Paraiyans are nominally Saivities, but in reality they aro demon-worshippers. The Valluvas are their priests. The marriage of girls before puberty is very rare. Divorce is easy ; a husband can send his wife away at will, and she on her part can dissolve the marriage tie by simply returning the tali. In such cases the husband takes the children, or contributes
for their maintenance. Widow marriage is freely allowed. The dead are usually buried.'