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A Thesis submitted to the Manonmaniam Sundaranar University
for the award of the degree of

(Reg. No. 219)
Lecturer in History
Raja Duraisingam Government Arts College
Sivagangai - 630 561

Manonmaniam Sundaranar University
Tirunelveli - 627 012
June 2008

Dr. P. RAJENDRAN, M.A., Ph.D.,
(Professor of History (Retd.)),
220, Vaithianathapuram,
Kottar Post,
Nagercoil – 2.

Certificate by the supervisor
This is to certify that the thesis “A HISTORY OF THE
NAYARS OF SOUTH TRAVANCORE” submitted for the award of
Ph.D., degree by M. JANARTHANAN, Lecturer in History, Raja
Duraisingam Government Arts College, Sivagangai is a record of
Research work done by him and the thesis has not previously formed
the basis for the award of any degree, diploma, associateship, fellowship or
any other similar title and that it represents an independent work on the
part of the candidate.

Place :
Date :


Dr. A. DEVANESAN, M.A., M.Phil., Ph.D.,
Reader and Head,
Nesamoni Memorial Christian College,
Marthandam – 629 165.

Certificate by the co-guide
This is to certify that the thesis “A HISTORY OF THE
NAYARS OF SOUTH TRAVANCORE” submitted for the award of
Ph.D., degree by M. JANARTHANAN, Lecturer in History, Raja
Duraisingam Government Arts College, Sivagangai is a record of
Research work done by him and the thesis has not previously formed
the basis for the award of any degree, diploma, associateship, fellowship or
any other similar title and that it represents an independent work on the
part of the candidate.

Place :
Date :


M. JANARTHANAN, M.A., M.Ed., M.Phil.,
Lecturer in History,
Raja Duraisingam Government Arts College,
Sivagangai – 630 561.


I hereby state that the thesis for the Ph.D., Degree
is my original work and that it has not previously formed the basis for
the award of any degree, diploma, associateship, fellowship of any other
similar title.

Place :
Date :



The thesis entitled “A HISTORY OF THE NAYARS OF
SOUTH TRAVANCORE” aims at bringing out the role of Nayars in
various aspects of life in South Travancore. The Nayars as a community
developed a composite culture which had been enriched through the
ages. Their history is the story of synthesis, assimilation and fusion of
traditions of Dravidianism and practices of Brahmanical social systems. In
South Travancore, the Nayars moulded a cultural synthesis and helped the
other Savarna Communities to follow their family organization and social
customs and manners.

Being a predominant community, the Nayars

enjoyed pre-eminent political status, social identity and economic
prosperity. But the social transformation that emerged out of the political
development in the princely State of Travancore threatened their political

The agrarian reforms, western contacts and depressed class

movements established novel phase in the social history of Travancore that
eventually affected the social position of the Nayars of South Travancore.
Historians and scholars who dealt the History of the Nayars
both on macro and micro levels, paid no attention of their role in South
Travancore. This work made an attempt to trace a comprehensive study of
the Nayars of South Travancore and their contribution towards the cultural
fusion and transmission of our Tamil culture. This study is based on
original sources collected from State Central Archieves at Nalanda, Fort

Archieves at East Fort, Trivandrum, Tamilnadu Archieves, Madras,
Regional Archieves, Kanyakumari and Tirunelveli. Further a field study
has been undertaken to make the study more uptodate.
First of all I thank God Almighty who having given me the
strength in all ways to complete the research work a successful one.
I am very much indebted to my Supervisor and Guide
Dr. P. Rajendran M.A., Ph.D., Former Professor & Head of History
Department, S.T. Hindu College, Nagercoil for his invaluable guidance,
inspiration and encouragement.
I am very much beholden to my Co-Guide Dr. A. Devanesan
M.A., M.Phil., Ph.D., Professor and Head, Department of History,

Nesamoni Memorial Christian College, Marthandam, for his guidance
I extend my gratitude to my wife M. Neelambika M.Sc.,
M.Ed., M.Phil., P.G. Asst., GHSS, Tenkasi and my children Mani Ram

and Dilak for having supported and encouraged me during my
research study.
I convey my thanks to Thiru. C.S. Rajendran M.A.
(History), M.A. (Philosophy), Secretary of Kamaraj College, Thoothukudi

who kindled me to undertake the research work.
I also wish to record my sincere thanks to Prof. N. Govindan,
M.A., B.L., M.Phil., Head, Department of History, R.D. Government Arts

College, Sivagangai, and my Former H.O.D. Prof. C. Paul Suyambu,








My sincere thanks to Mr. C. Gopalakrishnan M.Sc., M.B.A.,
S.D.E. (BSNL), Nagercoil and Mr. John Jerome Melode, P.G. Asst.,

G.H.S.S., Eraniel and his family for rendering Valuable helps to me.
My special thanks to Mr. Sundar Rajan, Librarian, Madras
Archieves and Mr. Moses, Librarian, University Library, Trivandrum for
rendering all sorts of help and provided all the relevant materials needed
for my research work.
I would like to express my thanks to the Staff, Kerala State
Central Archieves at Nalanda, Fort Archieves, East Fort, University
Library, Palayam, Thiruvananthapuram, Tamilnadu Archieves, Madras,
Library of S.T. Hindu College, Nagercoil, Library of Sivanthi Aditanar
College, Pillayarpuram for having given me access for consulting
relevant source materials pertaining to my topic.
Last but not the least, I express my sincere thanks to
Ln. A. Sukumaran, Proprietor, Kannan Computech, Nagercoil for the
neat execution of the work.


Page No.

1 - 14


Origin of Nayar Society

15 - 42


Unique Customs and Traditions of
Nayar Community

43 - 73


Nayar Marriage System

74 - 94


Meteoric Up and Down of Nayars

95 - 129


Social Challenges and Nayar Responses

130 - 161


N.S.S. Movements in South Travancore

162 - 184


Social Movements among the Oppressed in


South Travancore and Nayar Antipathy

185 - 201

Cultural Reciprocity – A Retrospect

202 - 216


217 - 223


1 - 12


13 - 22


23 - 36


Kerala is said to be Gods own country which is located on the
Western side of the Southern region of India. Though this stretch of land
is not as big as other states represented in India, the cultural synthesis and
the political developments have had a great impact on the early
settlements. The early history of Kerala is very complicated and there are
many problems remaining to be resolved by historians. The region was
united approximately between A.D. 216 and 825, when the Malayalam era
was said to have begun. By the beginning of the ninth century A.D. the
area was divided into a number of small kingdoms, each ruled by a Nayar
or Kshatriya (higher matrilineal subcastes related to Nayars) royal family.
Those families were relatively autonomous, owing little allegiance to any
overlord. Between the thirteenth century and 1498 (when the Portuguese
arrived in Kerala) two Nayar chieftains, Kolattiri in the north and
Travancore in the south, expanded into small kingdoms.1
In the central part of the coast the Zamorin of Calicut was in
the process of establishing ascendancy over many of the petty rulers and
was slowly expanding his territory through an alliance with the local
Muslims and Arab traders.2 Although the Portuguese and later the Dutch

Balakrishnan Nayar, U., ‗The Sterner Aspects of Nayar Life‘, Calcutta Review,
Vol. IV, 1897, p. 22.
Balakrishnan Nayar, U., ‗The Origin of the Malabar Nayars‘, Calcutta Review,
Vol. CVII, 1898, p. 72.

and the British built up the rule at Cochin (another central Kerala coastal
kingdom), the Zamorin's kingdom remained powerful until the invasions of
the Mysoreans in the eighteenth century. After defeating the Mysoreans in
1792, the British amalgamated the seven northern kingdoms (including
the reduced domain of the Zamorin) to form the Malabar District of the
Madras Presidency.


of Cochin and



independent, though each had a British resident and many British
businesses. When India became independent in 1947, Malabar District
became part of Madras Province and Travancore-Cochin became a
separate state and in 1956 the state of Kerala was formed, uniting the
Malabar District.3

Hindu Caste in the Southern Indian State of Kerala
Nayars are an integral part of Kerala's culture and have a long
and illustrious history.






(a martial

nobility). They are similar to the Samurai of Japan. The word Nayar is
either derived from the Sanskrit word Nayaka (leader) or Naga (snakes,
which the Nayars worshipped). The Nayar class name also encompasses

Fuller, Christopher, J., The Nayars Today, New York: Cambridge University
Press, 1976, p. 220.

Menon, Panicker, Kurup, Pillai, Unni, Unnithan, Kartha, Thampan,
Kaimal, Nayanar, Thampi, and Nambiar.
Nayars are not a caste, but a race with its numerous sub-castes
and surnames. Nayars can be found in all walks of life. They are aware of
their cultural traditions and history and form an integral and active part
of Kerala society. Nayars are the Savarna Hindus who constituted the
warriors, landed gentry and yeoman of Kerala.4
Nayars are the largest and most important section of the
society of Kerala, comprising bureaucrats, writers, artists, administrators
and diplomats. They are the only matrilineal community in the country.
They were the lords of the country and guardian of public weal and
traditionally a martial people. The Nayars made history in Kerala. Today
they are more distinguished as the Nayar community of Kerala, at the
peninsular tip of India, inheriting a rich cultural repertoire. Kerala, the
legendary state of history, was sought after by sea farers like Vasco Da
Gama. Members of the Nayar community are now spread over the country
and the entire world. Anthropologically looked at, the Nayars have many
unique attributes celebrated by different authors.5

Jeffrey, Robin, The Decline of Nayar Dominance, Society and Politics in
Travancore (1847-1908), New Delhi, 1976, p. 28.
Logan William, Manual of Malabar, Government Press, Madras, Reprint 1906,
p. 22.


With the changing times, economically also there are
challenges which need to be addressed. It is essential that the community,
with the younger generations should have an objective sense of its own
making. Originally having a martial nobility the Nayar culture also shows
a great degree of symbiosis with nature. With an undying continuity the
Nayars have withstood all onslaughts in history.
However, facing modernization and cultural homogenization
the inherent strength of the people are fast getting eroded and the
community members often lack a proper understanding of the unique
attributes as there are no concrete efforts to do that. More over the
enormous resources and talented people consolidating these strengths
have been lacking. It is also necessary to make use of frontier areas of
management to tackle the problems. A community which has courageously
met challenges before has no reason not to do that now.6
But it is important that the community members in whatever
position they are and wherever they are realize the present reality and
strive for its continued excellence. This is a totally independent
initiative by a team of professionals with the support of eminent persons

Gough, E. Kathleen, and Schneider, David M. (1961). Matrilineal Kinship,
University of California Press, Berkeley, 1961, p. 72.

of the community. It attempts to complement the existing activities by
various organizations and has no political or other bias or partisan
interests whatsoever.
Each village of ancient Kerala was self-sufficient. They had
the strong foundation of the peoples' rule. All matters pertaining to a
village were discussed in the 'yogam' or grama sabha. Nayars were the
leaders of such yogams. The lowest unit of the organization was known
as Karayogam or Tharakoottam.7 This was under the control of the
landlords known as Deshavazhis. The Karayogam in a district was
under the control of Nattukoottam. Nattukoottam has the power even to
disobey the orders of the King. Ettuveettil Pillamar constituted a
Nattukoottam in old Venad (Travancore).8 By the end of 18th century,
Marthandavarma defeated the Ettuveetil Pillamar with the help of the
Dutch and became the supreme ruler of Venad. With the advent of the
British, the Nattukoottam gradually disappeared and the Nayar supremacy
was also wounded.
Onnu kure Ayiram Yogam (one minus one thousand
organisation) was such a grama sabha existed at Kodungallur, which was
the capital city of the old rulers of Kerala. This was a strong organisation

Velu Pillai, T.K., Travancore State Manual, Vol. I, Trivandrum, 1940, p. 857.
Ibid., p. 859.

of Nayars, which stood for the welfare of the society. Various sub classes
of Nayar community from 'Kiriyam' to 'Vattakkadan' had representation in
the yogam. The yogam met on the first day of the month in front of
Kodungallur Bhagavathy temple; discussed all aspects related to the
people residing within their jurisdiction and took appropriate decisions.
In fact, the members of the yogam were the rulers of the locality as well as
the Bhagavathy temple of Kodungallur.
The Nayars had no organization of their own upto the first
half of the 19th century. The lovers of the Nayar Community who were
conscious of the renaissance of their society formed the first organisation
in 1877 known as ‗Malayalee Social Union‘ at Thiruvananthapuram. 9 This
organisation was active till 1881. It was converted as ‗Malayalee Sabha‘
in 1884.

Gradually the Malayalee Sabha became the nerve centre of

political thoughts in Travancore.

‗Karaleeya Nayar Samajam‘ was a

unified organisation of the early Nayar Samajams scattered over various
regions of Travancore. The Nayar Regulation Bill of 1911 was enacted
only because of its efforts.10
On 31st October 1914 witnessed the birth of a great event in
the History of Kerala, the birth of ‗Nayar Bhrithyajana Sangam‘ that was


Mannathu Padmanabhan, Reminiscences of MY LIFE (Malayalam) (Translated
into English by Prof. P.C. Mohan) Nayar Service Society, Changanacherry, 1998,
p. 51.
The N.S.S. Charitha Grantham, Changanacherry, 1972, p. 155.

transformed as Nayar Service Society after one year. It had its origin at
Mannathu Bhavanam (House of Mannathu Padmanabhan) of Perunna,
Changanassery. The holy light lit from the Mannathu Bhavanam spread its
shining light throughout Kerala. It became the spirit, energy and leading
force of majority of people.11 The social renaissance movement of Kerala
had its birth from this holy light. It eradicated the dirt and darkness from
the minds of the people and society. It became the guiding force of the
social renaissance movement.12

Significance of the Study
Study of this kind deserves special attention since Nayar
community is the integral part of the population of Kerala. The study is a
historical and community oriented one which is focussed on the different
dimensions of community associated with a traditional society, different
culture and leadership activities of this specific community in our country.
It is significant to study this specific Nayar community and
the services rendered in India and the cultural values and religious
practices related to this community. This study is significant to know the
details of their marriage system, culture and language and it is very

Ibid., p. 156.
Mannathu Padmanabhan, op.cit., p. 72.

essential to know their socio-economic status as well as the leadership
qualities of this specific community. It is essential to study the different
divisions of this community and to know about their behaviour, personality
and adjustment among the community.
This study critically examines the contemporary reality of
Nayar communities who had been historically favoured in


education, for a society that had lived for a millennium by a value system
based on division and hierarchy, classically manifested in the system of
caste-feudal patriarchy. The post- independent Constitutional commitment
to social equality and social justice marked a watershed in its historical
evolution. A synthesis of two ideologically divergent principles i.e. the
principle of merit and the principle of compensation – constituted the
modern Indian political discourse on equality and was operationalised in
the establishment of democratic socialism and the welfare state. Along
with guaranteeing equality of citizenship, the state assumed primary
responsibility compensating for histories of discrimination in their lives in
Kerala state. This study is significant to know the social status and the
educational status of Nayar community, and their services to the other
community people in the Kerala state.

Review of Related Literature
‗The origin of Malabar Nairs‘ written by V. Balakrishnan
Nayar expose the various theories regarding the origin of the Nayars. The

study of Robin Jeffery ―The Decline of Nayar Dominance‖ exhibits the
status and the decline of Nayars in the field of politics of Kerala.
―Changing cultures, Nayar‘s today‖ by C.J. Fuller deals with the Nayars
cultural change regarding their habits, customs and conventions mostly in
social aspects. The work of Krishna Variar ‗Marumakkathayam‘ and the
Reports of the Marumakkathayam Committee of 1908 highlights the
most peculiar customs of Nayars, ‗the marumakkathayam‘, a system of
inheritance is decided in the female line.
‗Nayar polyandry‘ written by A. Aiyappan depicts only the
family life of the Nayars. U. Balakrishnan Nair‘s ―The Sterner Aspects of
Nair life‖ cover the family system and some of their customs. Gopinatha
Pillai‘s ‗Socio Economic Changes in the Nayar Community in Travancore
from 1900-1947‘ describes their changing economic status years together
during the first half of the 20th century.
U. Balakrishnan Nayar‘s, work ‗Nair as warrior‘ expose their
role in the Travancore military History, and expecialy their services to the
Government of Travancore under the banner of ‗Nayar Brigade‘.
‗Mannathu Padmanabhan and the Revival of Nairs in Kerala‘ written by
V. Balakrishnan and R. Leela Devi, the published works like NSS
Charitha Grandham, The NSS Charitham, The NSS Diary 1 Kanni and the
NSS Golden Book give details only about the formation and functions of

Service Society, and steps were taken to uplift the


Community in the Social History of Travancore, further the key role
played by Mannathu Padmanabhan for the rise and growth of Nayar
Service Society in Travancore.
But no attempt is so far made to trace a comprehensive
account of Nayars. So that this work is taken to unearthen details of
Nayars in all levels, and further concentrate the research area in particular
the Nayars of South Travancore, a part of the erstwhile Travancore State
i.e. modern Kanyakumari District of Tamilnadu since 1st November 1956,
the Re-organisation of States.
A number of socio-religious reform movements, which were
also the earliest democratic mass movements in Kerala, took shape from
the late 1800. The Nayars also felt the need for reform in response to such
changes. Throughout the medieval period and until well into the 19th
century,the Nayars had a pre-eminent role in Kerala. By the middle of the
19th century, however, this dominance started waning. Institutions like the
sambandham and the matrilineal joint family system which had ensured
the strength of the Nayar community earlier, now became productive of
many evils in the changing socio-political background of Kerala. The
impact of the market economy, the disappearance of traditional military
training, the absorption of new values through the new system of
education, the self-consciousness being generated among the lower castes
and their cry for equality and privileges - all these factors brought about

a decline of Nayar dominance. The sense of decline gave an impetus to
the spirit of reform that expressed itself in the work of religious men like
Chattambi Swamikal, in literature, on the press and platform and later in
legislative enactments in respect of marriage, inheritance, property rights,
etc. Ultimately, the movements crystallized in the foundation of the Nayar
Service Society, in 1914.13
The Society owns and manages a large number of educational
institutions and hospitals. These include the NSS College of Engineering at
Palakkad, NSS Hindu College at Changanassery,

NSS College at

Pandalam, Mahatma Gandhi College at Thiruvananthapuram, Pazhassi
Raja NSS College at Mattanur, Kannur and the Women's College at
Niramankara, Thiruvananthapuram.The N.S.S runs more than hundred
schools, 15 Arts and Science colleges, 3 Training colleges, 1 Engineering
college, 1 Homoeo Medical College, several Nursing Colleges,
Polytechnic Colleges, T.T.C Schools, Working Women Hostels and
Technical institutions. Taking the lead given by Mannathu Padmanabhan,
expatriate Nayars both in Kerala and other states of India as well as in
countries other than India have formed Nayar Service Societies in their
states and countries of domicile. Examples are Karnataka Nayar Service
Society with 21 karayogams in Bangalore, and the Calcutta Nayar Service

NSS Charitha Grandham, op.cit., p. 20.

Society in Kolkata. These Societies of Non - Kerala origin retain the
cultural uniqueness of the Nayars at the same time adapting many practices
to the times and country of their adoption. Efforts are on to bring together
all Nayar groups of the world under an umbrella "International Federation
of Nayar Societies".

Objectives of the Study
The study has been conducted with the following main

To identify the origin of the Nayar community.


To identify and analyse the various sub divisions of the Nayar


Assessment of the customs and traditions of Nayar community.


To identify and analyse the marriage system of Nayar community
by tracing the primary data which is available in different temples
situated in Kerala.


To investigate the historical development of military forces,
nobility among the Nayar community and their up and down.


Assessment of social organization and challenges and responses.


To investigate the establishment of NSS among the Nayar
community and its role and functions in South Travancore.


To assess the cultural background of Nayar community and
transmission of culture towards Tamils and vice versa.


The greatest limitations of the present work is the inability to
go into the Temples and to collect the related aspects of all characteristics
of Nayar community directly.

The investigator only depend on the

primary and secondary sources of data available in the records of Kerala
Government and the data from the temples.

The thesis consists of eight chapters besides an introduction
and conclusion which are outlined below. The study opens with an
introduction, significance of the study, review of earlier works, objectives
of the study and limitations of the study.
The first chapter gives a coverage of Nayar origin and their
sub divisions.
The second chapter explains the unique customs and
Traditions of Nayar Community prevailed among them.
The third chapter analyses various types of marriages among
the Nayars.
The fourth chapter deals with the meteoric up and down of
Nayar community, especially their role in the military of Travancore.
The fifth chapter examines the social challenges met by the
Nayars and their responses.

The sixth chapter describes the formation, growth and
functions of Nayar Service Society.
The seventh chapter dealt with the social movements among
the oppressed classes against caste Hindus for equality and Nayar
antipathy to it in South Travancore.
The eighth chapter analyses the cultural reciprocity between
Nayars and Tamils in South Travancore throughout the ages.
The conclusion brings out the sum up and findings.

Chapter - I

Origin of Nayar Society


Kerala, ideally called as "God's own country" is a land of
beauty, customs and traditions. This beautiful land has got many places of
tourist importance. Foreigners as well as tourists from other Indian states
flock the state of Kerala during festivals and vacations. The famous
Thrissur Pooram and the Annual boat races like Nehru Trophy Boat Race
attract a lot of tourist to this small state.
Most of the tourists who visit Kerala will like to have a stay in
the Kerala house boats and an enchanting voyage through the serene
backwaters. So the Backwater Tourism is prominent in areas like
Alappuzha, Kumarakom, Kollam, Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikkode 1.
Kerala festivals like Onam and Vishu have a great attraction.
The traditions and customs followed during these festivals attract a lot of
foreign tourists. They can enjoy and become part of these celebrations by
residing in the Home Stay Resorts where the visitors and the home owners
stay together and the guests are served with the home food and homely
The artforms of Kerala like Kathakali, Koothu, Koodiyattam,
Mohiniyattom and Ottan Thullal are also liked by the visitors. Many

Logan William, The Malabar Manual, Vol. I, Madras , 1906, p.187.

foreigners stay in Kerala to learn the artforms like Kathakali and
Ottan Thullal.

The Nayar Heritage
K. M. Panikkar justly remarks: "The Nayars [Nayars] were
not a caste, they were a race." Few historians will reject this contention
because many customs and traditions distinguished the Nayars from the
other Keralites. They had their own marital customs (Sambandham), their
own form of inheritance (Marumakkathayam). their own art of warfare,
their own war goddess (Bhadrakali), their own cult of ancestor worship,
and their own art form, the Kathakali. (dance drama). In swordsmanship
and suicidal squads (Chavers), they are similar to the Samurai of Japan and
as the warrior class they used to look down upon manual work and entrust
their lands to tenants to till and plant. Though Nayars were once
technically classified by the Brahmins under the name of the pure Sudras
of Malayala, they were always an honored caste. 2 Some think Nayar is the
honorific plural of nayan which is derived from the Sanskrit nayaka
(leader). Others derive Nayar from the naga (snakes) which they
worship.3 The Brahmin-inspired

Keralolpathi regards them as the


Velu Pillai, T.K., Travancore State Manual, Vol. I, 1940, p. 258.
Sobhanan, B., A Decade of Crisis in Travancore, Journal of Kerala Studies,
Vol. VI, March-June, Part I and II, 1979, p. 23.









immigrants from outside Kerala.
Obviously, like all Keralite tribes, the Nayars came from
outside. There is a great deal of truth in the theory that they came from the
Nepal Valley, adjacent to Tibet. Some consider them to be early
descendants of the Newars of Nepal. The Kathakali, is a Nayar art-form is
closely related to Tibetan dances.4 Nayar polyandry is very similar to
Tibetan marriage customs and in the mode of inheritance the Newars are
like the Nayars. Like the Newars, the Nayars are distinguished by their
lighter color, Mongolian features, and smooth hair. The most remarkable
thing about the Nayars is their style of pagoda-like temple architecture and
house construction which are almost identical with the Newar style of
temples and houses found all along the Kulu and Nepal Valleys. Serpent
worship is another common custom between the Newars and Nayars.5
As mentioned earlier, the settlers of Kerala came from the
northwestern parts of India and the Nepal Valley. Groups of Newars who
were partially Aryanized and later Dravidianized joined the Munda exodus
and finally settled down in Kerala after a long period of sojourn in the
eastern plains of Tamil Nadu. It is the Newar-Nayar builders who had

Faw Cett, F., Nayars of Malabar, New Delhi, 1985, p. 285.
Srinivasadas, M.N., Social Change in modern India, Madras, 1966, p. 28.

given Kerala both the pagoda-type architectural style of the Hindu
temples and the angular roof and dormer of Kerala houses.6
One fact appears to be certain that the Nayars were in Kerala
before the Brahmins arrived in the seventh century A.D.7 The Chera kings
were Nayars, and the Nayars were also Dravidians and not Kshatriya
Aryans and the Brahmins, in fact, considered them as Sudras.8 However,
the younger sons of Brahmin families could form morganatic relationships
(Sambandham) with Nayar women, the children remaining Nayars and
thus introduced a new element in the race. This helped the junior members
of the Brahmin family to be relieved of their life-long bachelorhood
without the responsibility of supporting their wives and children from their
family property. It does not mean that the Nayars had loose marriage
morals; it only means that this type of relationship was tolerated as an
exception for the advantages of the Brahmins and Nayars; the rule of real
marriage was endogamous monagamy between Nayars especially between
the daughter of a maternal uncle and his nephew.9
The original inhabitants of Kerala were probably shepherds,
agriculturalists and fishermen. The early inhabitants are Erulans, Katans,
Kurumpans and Malapandarams.

The origin of the Nayar caste is

uncertain. Some anthropologists are of the view that the Nayars are not

Walter Hamilton, Description of Hindustan, Vol.II., London, 1820, p.79.
Malabaar Marriage Commissions Report, 1891.
Sreekumar, T.T, Urban Process in Kerala, Trivandrum, 1912, p.78.
Puthenkalam, J., Marriage and the family in Kerala, New Delhi, 1956, p.160.

indigenous to Kerala.

One theory is that Nayars are actually the

descendants of the Newars of Nepal.
There exists another disputed view that the Nayars and
Rajputs (A dominant Hindu military caste in northern India) were related.10
There is no real proof behind this claim, which may or may not be true.
Yet another theory is that the Nayars are indigenous to Kerala,
but gained the sharper features and fairer complexion due to intermarriages
with the Namboothiris (The namboothiris are the brahmins of Kerala....)
In short we can clear the fact - the Nayars are a large matrilineal warrior
caste of Kerala State in India. Traditional Nayar families are headed by a
woman, with whom lives her siblings, sisters' children and other
matrilineal relatives. In Nayar tradition, a man moves back to his mother's
residence shortly after his wedding ceremony and his children belong to
this mother's lineage.
Now the exceptions are coming as social order is changed and
families are becoming nuclear and the purpose of living with their children
and wives make Nayar youths to take steps to find a way to live out side
the family arena and try to lead a life by themselves than the common big
combined tharavadus.
The rise and decline of the Nayars of South Travancore
represent an exciting epoch in the caste history of South India. The

Velu Pillai, T.K, op.cit., p. 257.

Nayars, as a community developed a composite culture which had been
enriched through the ages.

Their history is the story of synthesis,

assimilation and fusion of traditions of Dravidianism and practices of
Brahminical social systems. In South Travancore, the Nayars moulded a
cultural synthesis

and helped the

other savarni communities to

follow their family organization and social




predominant community, the Nayars, enjoyed a pre-eminent

political status, social identity and economic prosperity. 11 But the social
transformation that emerged out of the political development in the

state of Travancore threatened their, political position.


agrarian reforms, western contacts and depressed class movements
established novel

phases; in the social history of Travancore that

eventually affected -the social position of the Nayars. In a changing
process, the family organization centred around collectivism which
challenged their economic progress. The subsequent communal solidarity
move among them strikes a conspicuous theme in the history of the Nayars
of South Travancore.

The State of Travancore
Travancore is an oriental microcosm, a representative land
and a country of striking contrasts, the most Southern of Indian States.

Ibid, p. 403.

Travancore is unique with its physical features, social structure and
cultural complex. It is a most caste ridden and custom ridden part of the
Travancore is one of the most picturesque portions of India.
Nagam Aiya

called it a panorama of expressible grandeur.13


Curson, the Viceroy of India said, "Since I have been in India, I have had
a great desire to visit the state of Travancore. I have for many years beared
so much of its exuberant natural beauties, its old world, simplicity and. its
arcadian charm. Here nature has spread upon the land her richest bounties
and the land is capable of culture"14 Sir M.E Grant Duff described it. as
"one of the fairest and most interesting realms that Asia has to snow".
Lord Connemara another Governor of Madras, compared it to Italy and
called it a fairy land.15
Travancore along with Cochin states and Malabar districts of
the Madras presidency constituted the ancient Kingdom of Kerala.
Travancore is scheduled by its geographical position and distinguished
from other part of India by many peculiarities. The Geographical insulation
provided by the natural, boundaries on all sides, Arabian sea on the west,

Mateer, S., The Land of charity, London, John Snow, 1871, p. 13.
Nagam Aiya, V., Report on the Census of Travancore, Trivandrum, 1881, p.19.
Quoted in V.P. Menon, Story of the Integration of the Indian States,
Trivandrum, p. 274.
Velu Pillai, T.K, The Travancore State Manual, Vol. I, Trivandrum, The Govt.
Press, 1940, p. 3.

Indian Ocean on the south and the Western Ghats on the east and north had
indeed exercised a considerable restraining influence on the outlook and
way of life of the people of Kerala.16
The state was bounded on the north by the princely state of
Cochin and the Coimbatore District of the Madras presidency, on theeast by the Western Ghats and the districts of Madurai, Ramnad and
Tinnevelly of the Madras province.17

Travancore attracted the attention

that it deserves by reason of its wonderful and varied scenery and its
cultural and political individuality....18 Travancore forms an irregular
triangle, with its apex at Cape Comorin between 8º 4' and 10º 22' north
latitude and between 76°13' and 77°38' east longitude.19

Theories of Origin






membership of the Nayar community, which is from Malayalam Nayar
‗leader‘, ‗lord‘, ‗soldier‘ (from Sanskrit naya(ka) ‗leader‘ + the honorific
plural ending -r). The Nayars were regarded as protectors of the land.
Northern Irish: reduced form of McNayar.

Kunjan Pillai, N., (Supt.), Census of India, Travancore, Part I, Vol. XXVIII,
1931, p.14.
Nagam Aiya, V., The Travancore State Manual , Vol. I, Trivandrum, 1906, p.3.
Sir. Ramaswamy Aiyar, C.P, Broadcast at Bombay, 1936, Quoted in Velu Pillai,
T.K, op.cit., p. 2.
English Records, Trivandrum Chief Secretary File No. 714. Watts M.E.
memorandum on Travancore administration, 25 January 1929, p. 2.

Ancient South Indian history, historians, and foreign travellers
referred to the Nayars as a dignified martial nobility. The earliest reference
to Nayars comes from the Greek ambassador Megasthenes. In his accounts
of ancient India, he refers to the "Nayars of Malabar" and the "Kingdom of
Chera". However the earlier origin of the Nayar caste is uncertain and
several alternate and sometimes conflicting theories exist.
Some sociologists are of the view that the Nayars are not
indigenous to Kerala, as many customs and traditions distinguish them
from other Keralites. According to one theory, Nayars are descendants of
the Newars of Nepal, who joined the Munda exodus and later migrated to
Kerala. The most prominent arguments given in support of this theory are
the presence of distinct pagoda like architectural style of Nayar
Tharavaadus and Temples and the practice of Marumakkathaayam
(matrilineal) system of inheritance similar to both Nayar and Newars.20
There is also a hypothesis on the basis of mythology that the
Nayars are Nagas and were Kshatriyas belonging to the Serpent dynasty
(Nagavanshar who removed their sacred thread and migrated south to
escape the wrath of a vengeful Parashurama. The affinity of the Nayar
community towards serpent worship, their martial past, and the absence of
the sacred thread lends support to this theory. In addition, the Travancore

Fuller, C.J., The Nayars Today, Cambridge, 1976, p. 126.

State Manual states that there were indeed serpent-worshipping Nagas
in Kerala who fought with the Namboothiris till they reached a consensus.
According to Chattampi Swamikal, who interpreted old Tamil
texts, the Nayars were Naka (Naga or Snake) Lords who ruled as feudal
lords in the Chera kingdom. Therefore this theory proposes Nayars to be
descendants of the rulers and martial nobility of pre-brahmin Kerala who,
after the arrival of the Namboothiris (and establishment of the
Varnas/Caste System), were categorized as sat Sudras. One finds mention
of the Nayars during the reign of the King Rama Varma Kulashekhara
(1020-1102) of the second Chera dynasty, when the Chera Kingdom was
attacked by the Cholas. The Nayars fought by forming suicide squads
(Chavers) against the invading force. It is not clear whether the Cheras
themselves were Nayars, or if the Chera employed the Nayars as a warrior
Irrespective of the different theories that seek to explain the
origin of Nayars, it is clear that till the early 20th century, Nayars exerted
their influence in medieval Kerala society as feudal lords and owned large
estates. Nayars dominated the civil, administrative and military elite of the

21. The Kerala Mahatmayam, an ancient Sanskrit Purana, calls them the progeny of
Namboodiri men with Deva, Rakshasa and Gandharva women. The 17th century
Brahmin-inspired Keralolpathi and Grama Padhati describes the Nayars of
Kerala and the Bunts of Southern Tulu nadu as descendants of the Sudras who
accompanied the Brahmins to Kerala and Tulu nadu respectively from
Ahichatra/Ahikshetra in southern Panchala. In addition, Manual of Madras
Administration Vol II (printed in 1885) notes that the Nadavas/Nayars of Malabar
and the Bunts of Southern Tulu nadu are same.

pre-British era in Kerala. The decline of Nayar dominance came about in
multiple stages. During colonial times, the British perceived that Nayars
were an inherent threat to their hegemony in the region and therefore
outlawed their right to bear weapons and by banning the Nayar martial art
of Kalaripayattu. Weapons were integral to the Nayar psyche and power,
and combined with repressive legislation led to a loss of social standing for
Nayars. Later during post-colonial years, the Land reforms of 1950's led to
massive loss of land-ownership by Nayar feudal Lords and some Nayar
gentry were relegated to poverty overnight. Thus the decline of Nayar
dominance came to a full circle by the mid of 20th century.









interpretations. The first interpretation is that the word Nayar could have
been derived from the Sanskrit word Nayaka which means leader. The
Sanskrit word Nayaka which appears in various forms in southern India
(Nayakan/Naicker in Tamil Nadu, Nayak in Karnataka and Maharashtra,
and Nayudu in Andhra Pradesh) could have been corrupted as Nayars in
Malayalam. The second interpretation is that the word Nayar is a corrupted
form of the word Nagar- serpent men because Nayars practiced snake
worship. The word Nayar also occurs in other parts of the world - although
no direct linkages with the Nayars in Kerala have been established.


Typical Nayar End Names










nomenclature. The surname Nayar is commonly used by all sub-castes
belonging to Nayar caste. However, there are surnames which are
reminders of the honours conferred upon individuals the powers that befall
from time to time in acknowledgement of exceptional act of valour,
erudition and scholarship, or excellence in chosen field of endeavour. The
families of these individuals inherited the titles. It is also possible that in
the majority of cases, such honours were bestowed by the loyalty in return
for services rendered and in recognition of a display of loyalty. In general,
the system of conferring honours points to the ruling Monarch's
dependence on the Nayars who provided them with military and
administrative support. While most of these are ranks and positions in a
feudal set up (similar to the Mughals' Mansabdari system), such royal
patronage was crucial to the development and promotion of strikingly
singular forms of lance and drama such as Kathakali of which, the Nayars
were exponents.
 Achan
 Adiyodi
 Asan

 Elayidom
 Eradi
 Ilayidam
 Kaimal
 Karnavar
 Kartha
 Kunnath
 Kitavu
 Kurup
 Mannadiar
 Menokki
 Menon
 Nambiar
 Nayanar
 Nayar
 Nedungadi
 PadaNayar
 Panicker
 Pandala
 Pillai
 Saamoothiri

 Thampi
 Thankkal
 Unnithan
 Valiathan
 Vallilath
 Vazhunnor
 Vellodi

The Nayars come under the head of Malayala Sudras as per
the Jati Nirnayam which mentions eighteen such castes included within the
term. V.Nagam Aiya, Dewan Peishcar, Travancore, in his Travancore
State Manual states that although all the Malayala Sudras were classed
under the general head of Nayar, in reality there were only five "genuine"
Nayar castes. These included:

Kiryathil Nayars22 : They are the highest class of Nayars found

usually in Malabar and Cochin and rarely in Travancore. The 17th century
Keralolpathi states them to be descendants of warrior Naga tribes who
came to Kerala from the north along the western coast. It may be noted that
the earlier Keralamahatmayam, a Hindu Purana, did not make mention of

Faw Cett, op.cit., p. 194.

any subcastes among the Nayars but only states them to be the
military caste of Kerala.

Illathu Nayars : They were brought in by Parasurama, as per the

Keralolpathi(it's a 17th century book written by Namputhiris to protect
the caste interest of them), to serve the Brahmins as tenants, servants,
warriors, cultivators etc. Purificatory rites by the Marars and priestly
service from the Elayatus distinguished the Illathu Nayars.

Swaroopathil Nayars or Cherna Nayars23 : These Nayars were the

warriors of Kshatriya Royal Households known as Swaroopams. In
Malabar they are classed as Akathu Cherna Nayars and Purathu Cherna

Padamangalam Nayars : They were the Nayars appointed by

Parasurama to serve in Temples. They migrated from Tamil Nadu of the
Pandyan kingdom as it was then known.

Tamil Padam Nayars : This class of Nayars, as the name indicates,

were migrants from Tamil Nadu who were embraced into the Nayar

Beginning of the Nayar Dominance
In the social ladder, the Nayars or Sudras were below the
Brahmins. They formed the nobility, the magistracy and officials of the

Ibid., pp. 214-218.

Government, the military and police wealthy farmers, the merchants and
the skilled artisans. However, their main duty was to carry on war. As the
ruling class the Nayars enjoyed great privileges.24 By the 11th and 12th
centuries society in Travancore had become feudal in nature. The Nayars
formed the feudal aristocracy owning most of the land.25 With the rise of
the Nayar mobility there arose the class of madampis or Nayar Jenmies
who leased out their lands on tenure to inferior caste men whom they in
return reduced to bring their tenants26 Henmam right originally meant right
during life time. Only by 11th century A.D., it began to mean inheritance
right through birth. But it was an undoubted fact that a considerable
portion of upper class Nayars were Jenmies. About the origin of the Jenmi
system Elamkulam writes "Before the trusteeship of temples became
hereditary, there was an interim period when that position was held by
person during his Jenmam or life time.27 It was from that Jenmam that the
term Jenmi was derived. This may be clarified further. In the beginning
some prominent persons were appointed as trustees. This appointment was
for a fixed tenure. Either by selection of otherwise, they were reappointed
again and again. So that it was possible that a person could be trustee for

Yesudas, R. N., London Missionary Society of Travancore, 1806 - 1908,
Trivandrum, Kerala Historical Society, 1977, pp. 8-9.
Joy Gnanadasan, A Forgotten History, Madras, 1994, p. 22.
Rajayyan, K., History of Tamil Nadu, 1565-1982, Madurai, 1982, pp.568 - 571.
Saradamoni. K., "Agrostic Slavery in Kerala in the 19th century", Journal of
Kerala Studies, Vol. I, part IV, December 1974, p. 456.

life later it became the rule for a trustee to hold the post for life time. The
right of few trustee over the property under their control were limited to
their Jenmam right. Still later it became customary for a trustee's legal heir
to be appointed his successor to the trusteeship also and this led to the
trusteeship becoming hereditary. It was lightly probable that the Nambudiri
Jenmies were very lenient to Nayar tenant through the matrimonial
alliances between Nambudiries and Nayars. Their social existence as was
extremely bound of with that of their tenants.
Marthanda Varma's annexation of minor principalities into
Travancore resulted a situation in which a large number of tenants and
subtenants under Nambudiri Jenmies became sirkar land holders.28 This
was an indirect help to Nayars. The Jenmi system in Travancore was
changing owing to this direct. Government control on land. It created more
and more sirkar jobs and the Nayars were the beneficiaries of this change.
From top to bottom the revenue administration was under their control.29
In the latter half of the 19 century, the Jenmies used to collect
various levies like arukhazhecha, utsarakopu, purannal, chumadu etc. From
the tenants in addition to janapattom and verumpattom etc. The Jenmies
had complete right to evict the tenants.

Elamkulam Kunjan Pillai, P.N., Studies in Kerala History, Trivandrum, 1970,
pp. 348-361.


Calendar of Travancore Government, 1951, pp. 6-10.

It may be correct to say that the predominance of Nayars in
law holdings dwindled very much. The immediate effect of land reforms of
Travancore was thus favourable to Nayars. But in long run these reforms
became detrimental to Nayars as a large amount passed from Nayar
taravads.30 Because of the Jenmi system, the Nayars rose to aristocratic
family, and they dominated upto the middle of the 20th century.
Nayars belongs to the Dravidian race with considerable
admixture of Aryan blood.31 The Keraolpati is more rational and says that
the Nayars are the descendants of the Sudras who accompanied the
original, Brahmin immigrants from outside Kerala.32
There are different theories about the origin and migration of
Nayars. One view is that Parasurama, the legendary hero reclaimed the
land of Kerala from the sea. After the creation of the region he brought
Nambudiri Brahmin and gave them ownership of all the lands. Along with
the Nambudiri Brahmins he brought another group of people called Sudras
to act as the servants and body guards of Nambudiries. This Sudras latter
came to be known as Nayars.33

English Records, Travancore Government, Trivandrum Secretariat, Travancore,
Cover File No. 4801, p. 4.
Administrative Report of Travancore, 1901-2, Appendix, p. 26.
Gopinatha Pillai, Socio Economic changes in the Nayar Community in
Travancore from 1900-1947, Kerala, 1984, p. 1.
Ibid., p. 32.

In the book Kerala Mahatmyam the Nayars are referred to as
the offspring of the junior member of Nambudiri family where the eldest
son alone was permitted to marry in his own caste with Deva grandarra and
Rakshasa women brought by Parasurama.34 Edgar Thurston observes that
"the original Nayars were undoubtedly a military body holding land and
serving as a milita". They are described as the "Lords to the Land" ; the
best soldiers in the world and courageous, extremely skilled in the use of
arms.35 The Nayars were the "Protectors" of the country and as such
crystallized readily into the existing caste of Nayars with numerous
branches.36 Mr. N. Subramania Aiyar writes in a note on the Nayars of
Travancore "derived from Naga (Serpents) as the Aryans so termed the
earlier settlers of Malabar accountant of the special adoration which they
paid to snakes". The Travancore Nayars are popularly known as malayali
Sudras -term which contrasts them sharply with the pandi or foreign
The Nayars were divided into several sub castes according to
the occupation. Each sub division performed a separate function. In
general the Nayars were agriculturalists and soldiers in the traditional

Ibid., p. 34.
Velu Pillai, T.K., op. cit, Vol. I, p. 556.
William Logan, Malabar Manual, Vol. I, Madras, The Govt. Press, 1906,
Edgar Thurston, Cases and Tribes of Southern India, Vol. V, Delhi, 1975, p.22.

society. Yet all Nayars were not soldiers and there were Nayar groups who
concentrated on land owning. There is evidence that only certain sections
of the Nayar caste were allowed to bear arms. None the less the great
majority of Nayar: probably spent some time under arms.38
Among the five genuine Nayar castes (i.e. Kiriyathil, Illakkars
of Illathu Nayars, Swarupam, Padamangalam and Tamil Padam) the
occupations of the Padamangalam Nayar is temple service such as
sweeping cleaning, carrying lamps during processing etc. 39
Vathi or Vattu : This name is not found in the Jatinirnaya,
probably because it had not been differentiated from Maran. They used a
peculiar drum called nantuni. They follow the makkathayam system of
inheritance (in the male line).
Itacheri : They are called as Pantaris in South Travancore and
they are seems to be closely related to Idaiyan caste of Tamil country.
Most of them vendors of milk, butter and curds.
Another group of people : Karuvelan commonly found in
Kappiyara and Thiruvattar. They serve at Maharaja's palace and they are
the custodians of kings treasuries and other valuables. It is believed that
about 52 families are originally brought from Kulatha Nadu.40

Fuller, C.J., Changing Cultures Nayar's Today, Cambridge, 1976, p. 6.
Nagam Aiya, V., op.cit., Vol. II, p. 42.
Edgar Thurston, op. cit., Vol. V, p. 29.

Arikuravan : A division who reduce the quantity of rice from
paddy given to them to husk at the temple Kazhayakkuttam near
Pallichenan : They were appointed as the Palanquin bearers
for Brahmins and Malabar chief cains. They are supposed to carry their
shields, swords etc. before them.
Vandikaran : are those who supply fuel to temples and cleans
the vessels there :
Kuttina : The only heiress of a Swarupam taravad is said to
have been a maid servant in the Vadakketam Brahmins house. Talikettu
ceremony also have been celebrated in her masters newly built cow shed.
Mattavar : Who are believed to have been good archers in
former times. They are also known as Puliyattu, Veliyattu and Kallur
Otatu also called kusa : Their occupation is to tile or thatch
temples and Brahmin houses. 42
Vattaykkatan : They are the lowest sub division in many
respects and are better known as Chakla Nayars in Travancore. They were
not allowed to take the title 'Pillai', and are obliged to stand out side the

William Logan, op. cit., p. 34.
George wood Cock, Kerala - A Portrait of the Malabar Coast, London, 1967,

sacrificial stones of a sanctuary 'Pulva' is a title of distinction among them.
A section of them were engaged in oil pressing which is a hereditary
occupation and occupies a lower position in the social scale than the
Various titles were given to the Nayars by the kings of
Travancore. The most common title in Travancore is 'Pillai', which was
once a distinction granted as a mark of royal favour. Now the Vellelas of
Tamil country and the Nayars of South Travancore are called as Pillai from
very early times. The ceremony of investiture was known as Thirumukkam
Pitikkuka and the honour conferred on the person was so highly esteemed
that even a Brahmin Dewan Sanku Annavi had it bestowed on him and


It is enjoyed


this day by his descendants now

living at Vempannur in the Eraniel Taluk.44 If this title is used as a suffix
it is denoted as Pillai or if as prefix it will be as kanaku. The title Pillai and
Kanaku are never used together.45
A higher title Chembakaranam : Corresponds to the knight hood of medival times and was first instituted by Maharaja Marthanda
Varma in Memory, it is said of his great Prime Minister Rama iyen


Census of Travancore, 1891, p. III.
Nagam Aiya, V., op. cit, p. 36.
Sreedhara Menon, A., Social and Cultural History of Kerala, New Delhi,
1979, p. 83.

Dalavai.46 The honour is now rarely conferred still there are several ancient
houses in Travancore to which the honouric title is attached in perpetuity.
Thampi is a distinctive title given to the Nayars of Travancore
by Sovereigns as a mark of rare merit and devotion. The Thampies alone
among the Nayars are allowed to use Pallan Quins and permitted to appear
before the king without head dress. The title karu is attached to the names
of several families in North Travancore.47 The Tekkumkur and
Vadakumkur Rajas in Malabar as said to have first conferred the title Karta
on certain influencial Nayar families. In social matters authority of the
karta was supreme. All the kartas belongs to the 'Illam' sub division of
Nayar caste.48
The title 'Kurupu' denotes an ancient section of the Nayars
charge with various functions like instructions in the use of arms while
others were superintendents of maid. Servants in royal house-hold. Now
Kurupu is assumed by other castes then Nayars.
The word Panickars is derived from "Pani" means work. The
Panickars formely kept Kalaris, in North Travancore. But now they have
taken up the teaching of letters. But the name at present does not indicate
any particular section of Nayars.49 The Kailmals : - were recognized

Nayam Aiya, V., op. cit, p. 368.
Velupillai, T.K., op. cit., Vol. I, p. 857.
Ramantha Aiyar, Progressive Travancore, Kottayam, 1924, p.85.

chieftains in former times. Some were in charge of royal treasury which
according to custom could not be seen even by the kings except in their
presence.50 Unnittan and Valiyatan were the sons of those Kshatriyas
who had no territorial sovereignty and were called Valiyattan and
Unnittans. Eman is another title affixed to the names of certain influential
families in central Travancore.51 The title Menon has been conferred upon
aristocratic several Nayar families by the Rajas of Cochin and corresponds
to Pillai in Travancore. They are superior, and generally they are writers
and accountants.52
Ettu Vittil Pillamar belonged to Nayar community who were
originally the farmers and tenants of Porri Jenmies.53 In 1050 A. D. the
right to govern Padmanabhaswami temple at Trivandrum was handed over
to yogakkar (councillors). The temple land was divided into eight
districts54 and over each district a Nayar was placed with lot of
administrative power and these Nayars were called Ettu Vittil Pillamar.
They belonged to eight houses situated in different districts viz.
Kullathoor, Kalakuttam, Cempalanti, Kudaman, Pallichall, Vannanur
Ramanatham and Martanda Nadha.55


Krishna Iyer, L.A., Social History of Kerala, Vol.II., Madras, 1970, p. 91.
Nagam Aiya, V., op.cit., Vol.II., p. 369.
William Logan, op.cit., Vol.I, p. 134.
Nagam Aiya, V., op. cit., Vol. I, p. 50.
Panikkar, K.M, A History of Kerala, Madras, 1960, p. 226.
Panikkar, K.M., Malabar and the Dutch, Bombay, 1931, p. 58.

Shangoonny Menon states, "the king having little authority
over them and they rose in power and importance and gradually became
lords in their villages.56 It is inferred that the people were more loyal to the
Pillamars than the kings.57 The tyranny of the Pillamar was unbearable and
so the people of Nanjilnad revolted against them in 1702 A. D.58 They held
a series of five meetings and passed resolutions which protested against
their tyrannical activities and demanded redressal of grievances.59
The king Ravi Varma (1684 to 1718) took quick steps and
determined to put an end to these obnoxious factions of the Pillamars.60
The power and authority of the Pillamars assumed menancing proportions
during the short period of Aditya Varma.61 Again in 1726 King Ravi
Varma made consultation and on the advice of Prince Martanda Varma, his
nephew entered into a treaty with the Madurai Nayaks and agreed to pay a
sum of rupees 3000 as tribute annually. The Nayaks in turn offered to
supply a contingent of troops to help the Venad king in his fight against the
Pillamars and other rebels.52
It was a period of terror for the Pillamars and their
confederates. They took a unanimous decision to put an end to the life of

Shungoonny Menon, P., History of Travancore, Madras, 1878, p. 97.
Nagam Aiya, V., op. cit., Vol. I, p. 311.
Travancore Archaeological Series, Vol. V, p. 210.
Sreedhara Menon, A., A survey of Kerala History, Kottayam, 1967, p. 243.
Ibid, p. 18.
Ibid., p. 24.

Martanda Varna and thereby anoint Thambi as his next successor.63 Many
battles were fought between Thampimar and Pillamars and Azhakappa
Mudaliar.64 While the fortune was smiling on the side of the Thampimar,
the king bribed the commander.65
The fall of Ettu Vittil Pillamar was attributed to many reasons
like their arrogant nature and treacherous activities. As they had no steady
policies and programmes for the causes of their country they could not get
the support of the people for a long time. Though they were powerful they
failed to offer any resistance to the invaders. Their oppressive policy, with
heavy taxation system turned the common people against them. Their
support to Thampimar and their attitude against kings fetched Marthanda
Varma's immortal enemity. Added to these, the betrayal of Mudaliar in the
wars frustrated the Pillamars. When Marthanda Varma succeeded to the
throne all their conspiracy were brought to light and they were forced to
pay heavily for their sins. The Ettu Vittil Pillamars vanished with the rise
of Marthanda Varma.66
The appearance of the well nourished Nayar is perhaps one of
the finest in all over India. The climate and nature of their occupation

Maheswaran Nayar, K., Oru Tiruvitamkur Charitham, (Malayalam),
Trivandrum, 1975, p. 33.
Raman Pillai, C.V., Martandavarma, (Malayalam), Kottayam, 1981, p.49.
Natarajan, T., and Sarveswaran, P. (ed.), Thampimar Kathai, (Tamil), Madurai,
1971, p. 57.
Justin Wilson, A., Rise and fall of Ettu Vittil Pillamars in Travancore, Journal
of Kerala Studies, Vol. V, Trivandrum, p. 431.

added to the situation of their houses which nestle as it were under canopy
trees promote their complexion and general appearance.67 One of the
conspicuous features of the Nayars of both the sects is the scrupulous
attention of their personality, cleanliness in which they differ from their
brethren of other castes.68
The dress of the Nayars is extremely scanty. The women cloth
themselves in a single white of fine texture reaching from the waist to the
knees, and occasionally while abroad they throw over shoulders and
blossom, another similar cloth. But by the custom, the Nayar women go
uncovered above the waist. The men wear a white cloth and another clothe
is also occasionally thrown over the shoulders.69
The Nayars do not wear much jewellery. As rule ornamentals
own by Nayar women are few and cannot be considered expensive as
compared with those of their sisters in the neighbouring provinces. For the
neck they have the Kantasaram Addiyal, Ponnunool, Nagapatham,





Pacchakkal-Tali, Puli Nag-Tali, Kasu Malai, Kulalmalai, Rasi-Tali,
Padakka-Tali etc.70

Travancore Census Report for 1901, p. 11.
William Logan, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 35.
Ibid., p. 50.
Nagam Aiya, V., op. cit., Vol. II, p. 51.

Nayars ranked high in the social hierarchy of Kerala. They
came next to the Kshtriyas and broadly speaking the Nayars enjoyed
second position next to the Nambudiries in the Malabar and they occupy
the same position in the princely states of Cochin and Travancore.71 In the
pre British period, the Nayars had enjoyed many privileges and exercised
powers. Although they probably never accounted for more than 20 or 25%
of the population, as for as ritual status was concerned they were graded
only as Sudras. The Nayars were a privileged community till middle of the
19th century. The chief land holders in most villages were Nayars and
Nambudiries. Nayars had slaves who belonged to the lower caste servile
community. Nayars were responsible for maintaining the law and order in
the society. In the administration of the land also, they had a prominent
place. The matrilineal system of inheritance helps them to keep lands of
the family intact. In Travancore Nayars enjoyed the privilege of being the
most numerous upper class Hindu.


Balakrishnan,V., Leela Devi, R., Mannathu Padmanabhan and the Revival of
Nairs in Kerala, Delhi, 1982, p. 9.

Chapter - II

unique Customs and
traditions of Nayar


Marumakkathayam and Tharavadu
Nayars followed the Marumakkathayam (Matrilineal) system
of inheritance and lived in units called Tharavadus (matrilineal jointfamily).1
The tharavadu referred to relations of property (mudal
sambandham) shared by a group tracing descent from a common
ancestress. The outer boundary of tharavadus seems to have been defined
by relations of pollution (pula sambandham), whereby a wider matrilineal
kin group was knit by symbolic ties prominently in sharing birth and death
pollution and a memory of common descent. However there are indications
that when expediency demanded it was possible to even break off pollution
ties. For instance, in the case of a numerically large tharavadu, comprising
a considerable section of the population of territory, death and birth
pollution spelt a great inconvenience. In such cases it could be decided to
terminate pollution ties, even while the related groups continued to share a
cremation ground.2

Dr. Hermann Gundert, Keralolpathiyum Mattum,1843-1904, Kottayam, 1992,
Kunhappa, H., Smaranakal Matram, (Autobiography), Kozhikode, 1981, p. 17.






Naalukettu or Ettukettu, a Kulam (fresh-water pond) and a Sarpa Kavu (a
sacred grove with trees and thick foliage for worship of the Nagathaan
(Serpents) while in the case of some exceptionally wealthy families a
private temple as well. The water body served the purpose of ritual baths,
followed by Tantric worship in the Sarpakavu, phased out into rituals and
ceremonies that repeated in cycles of days, months, and years often
accompanied by feasts that witnessed a grand assembly of kin.
Interestingly, eventhough tharavadus existed based on
descent from a common ancestress, it was comparatively rare for a
remembered founder of a tharavadu to be a woman alone3 and it showed
a "structural" patriarchy of the Karnavar (seniormost male member). For
instance in management of the tharavadu, Nayar women managed
domestic affairs in their natal tharavadus4 and the senior woman's decision
making role was restricted to the inner domain of larger tharavadus in
central and north Kerala.5 However it was also not that the Karnavar had
absolute powers in the tharavadu, but unlike in patrilineal families there
was more than one mode of power and a plural authority structure. In


Arumina, G., Colonialism and the Transformation of Matriliny in Kerala,
(c.1850-1940) , Orient Longman, Malabar, p. 290.
An Article on Marma Adi and Marma Shastra,
Moore Melinda, A., "Symbol and Meaning in Nayar Marriage Ritual"
American Ethnologist, 15 (1998), pp. 254-273.

practice, the senior woman, was not necessarily determined by seniority
and might be the oldest competent woman and yet seniority was a crucial
factor in determining power relations between the Karnavar and the senior
woman. If the Karnavar was the son or younger brother of the senior
woman, she might indeed be the de facto head of the group keeping
accounts in her own hands and counseling him; but were he the older
brother of the senior woman then she was subordinate to him. In some
wealthy tharavadus lands were set aside for women as stanum (a special
status) property or otherwise over which they enjoyed varied claims does
not in any way suggest `separate rights' or access to their own separate
revenues and


In the matrilineal Tharavadus customary

practice, rather than any religious precepts embodied in written sources,
was the source of personal/family law. In the words of William Logan,
an administrator-historian with extensive experience of Malabar: If it were
necessary to sum up in one word the law of the country, that word would
undoubtedly be the word "custom". In Malayalam it would be "Maryada",
"Margam", "Acharam" all signifying established rule and custom.7
The marumakkathayam system and tharavadu system are not
viable any more and has declined in tune with the social and cultural

Kunhappa, H., op.cit., p 17.
Moore Melinda, A., op.cit., pp. 121-139.

changes which have taken their toll on many old institutions. Social
reforms spread with modern education. In other words, Nayars switched
over to the patriarchal model of kinship and inheritance. The partition of
tharavadus into individual shares (Alohari Bhaagam) followed the
enactment of Land Reforms Ordinance that stipulated upper limits on land
holdings. Many tharavadus, already bursting at the seams with internal
dissensions and strife, collapsed under the pressure. The matrifocal system
was disintegrated. Fathers took charge of their sons and daughters and

and wife started living together with their offspring. The

"Marumakkathayam Law" which sanctioned dismantling of the tharavadus
and the partition of property, came into vogue in the year 1933.
32,900 families were partitioned in Travancore alone by 1938. The
tharavadu system of living became a thing of the past by the 1940s.
Naalukettu and Ettukettu structures began to collapse, or were sold off. 8
The Vadakkan or northern style of Kalarippayattu is
associated with the Nayars. In earlier times, Kalarippayattu was an
essential component of education for Nayars. Nayar men and even women
learned the art of Kalaripayattu at an early age and used their skills in war
and combat. From Kalaripayattu, comes Marma Adi.

Buchanan, F., A Journey from Madras through the Countries of Mysore,
Canara and Malabar, Vol. II, Madras, 1988, p 513.

Marmam shastra was an advanced way to temporarily or
permanently disable or kill an opponent through a tap with a finger on a
specific nerve. Marma Adi capitalised on the knowledge of acupuncture
points. In recent times, however, Marmam shastra and Marma Adi have
been used only for therapeutic purposes. 9 The Nayar subcastes known as
Kurup and Panicker were traditionally teachers of the Kalari Martial
Arts. Kalari may have given rise to Kung Fu10 according to ancient
documents. It was outlawed by British in 1793, leading to great loss of
self esteem among Nayars.

In the past Nayars had three major marriage/rite of passage

Kettukalyanam (Mock marriage ceremony)
The thaali tying rite took place before the onset of puberty.
During this ceremony the girl was married to a man, preferably a
Namboothiri Brahman. The ritual husband had no further duties to the girl

Bina Agarwal, A Field of One's Own: Gender and Land Rights in South Asia,
Cambridge University Press, 1994, p. 113.
An Article on Marma Adi and Marma Sastra, Life

after the completion of this ritual, although she had to observe a period of
death impurity upon the death of her ritual husband. The thaali ceremony
was a female centered ritual which emphasized fertility and household
prosperity.11 This ceremony had to be performed on pain of

Thirandukalyanam (Announcement and Celebration of puberty)
The Thirandukalyanam ceremony was the puberty ceremony,
during which femininity is celebrated as women occupy the parts of the
household typically inhabited by men.12

Sambandham/Podamuri (casual marriage alliance)
The Sambandham ritual is less auspicious than the thaali and
puberty rites, and literally means "alliance" or "relationship". It was the
customary institution that framed casual marriage alliances between men
and women following marumakkathayam. This ritual marks the union of
the bride and groom and was not necessarily a permanent arrangement.
However it was this innate weakness of sambandham that helped
maintaining the integrity of the matrilineal tharavadu.

Arumina, G., op.cit., p. 292.
William Logan, Malabar Manual, Vol. I, Madras, 1906, p. 111.

Sambandham denoted hypergamy between Nayar women and
Namboothiri men as well as reciprocal marriage among Nayars.13 However
such an alliance was not recognized as constituting marriage by
Namboothiri Brahmins as well as by colonial courts but was seen as
comparable to concubinage.14 Two reasons cited for this were that
dissolution of sambandham was fairly easy and that it did not give rise to
property relations. Though viewed by Namboothiri Brahmins and
European commentators as immoral, allied with polyandry, or even
prostitution, sambandham was nothing of that sort for the Nayar women.
Sambandham essentially gave a Nayar woman the liberty to initiate,
consent to, or terminate a sexual relationship with any man and thereby
formed one of the foundations of matrilineality.
In case of sambandham with Namboothiri men, the system
benefited both the Namboothiri Brahmins as well as matrilineal castes
like the Nayars for two reasons. First, Namboothiri brahmins had
institutionalized primogeniture, permitting only the eldest son to marry
within the caste. Younger sons (also called aphans) in Namboothiri
families were expected to establish sambandham with Nayar and
Ambalavasi (temple service castes) women. Secondly, Nayar families

Website on Kalari preceding Kung Fu
An Article on Marma Adi and Marma Shastra,

encouraged the sambandham arrangement with Namboothiri men,
thereby increasing their tharavadu and caste status.15

Such alliances

between Nayar women and Namboothiri men came to an end after the
efforts of V.T Bhattathirippad in 1933.

Religious Customs
Kerala is a pluralistic society where no one ethnic community
or religious group dominates the scene. They are all minorities, and all
minorities have their place. All are Keralites first; then they are Brahmins,
Nayars, Ezhavas, Muslims, Christians, and Jews. The extinct religious
communities of Jainism and Buddhism also have made their contributions
to Kerala's culture.

Early Religion
The Cheras, the ancestors of present-day Keralites, were at
one time Indian Mundas and later Indian Dravidians, but not Hindus. 16
They worshipped many gods and goddesses, among whom the most
important one was Lord Shiva, the Supreme God, who was specifically
adored as the Sun God. They did not have idols and icons; they
worshipped lingam-shaped stones as abodes of the divine presence; they

Velupillai, T.K., Travancore State Manual, Vol. I, Trivandrum, 1940, p. 858.
Ibid., p. 412.

believed that some of these self-grown stone pillars, as opposed to manmade structures, were physical transformations of invisible gods. Besides
praying in front of these stones located usually under the sacred Pepal tree,
they used to anoint with water, alcohol, oil, and colored powder.
Occasionally they would sacrifice a chicken and pour the blood on the
stone. This form of worship is still practiced in many villages in Kerala.17
The Hindu temples also have taken over this form of worship and
perfected it with elaborate rituals and Sanskrit hymns and prayers.
The early people also worshipped the Mother-Goddess and
various manifestations of her, besides a number of minor gods and
ancestors.18 The reason for all this worship-ritual is their belief that the
universe is inhabited by super-natural beings and powers. All the rituals
and prayers are designed for coping with this religious world which is
not always consistent, but arbitrary; the gods control the destiny of man
and the universe. Therefore, it is necessary to propitiate these deities
and spirits so that they may be benevolent to the living or that they may
not at least bring harm to the people.
The remarkable thing about the early religion is that it was
never a static institution. It constantly evolved by the addition of new gods
and new rituals and by the dropping of some old gods and old rituals. The

Faw Cett, F., Nayars of Malabar, New Delhi, 1985, p. 255.
Ibid., p. 258.

early Indians gradually absorbed many Vedic gods or identified their own
gods with the Vedic gods; for instance, the Shiva of the primitive religion
was identified with the Vedic Rudra and was absorbed into Brahminical
Hinduism; Murugan became identical with Subramonya/Kartikeya and
Madura Meenakshi with Parvati, and so on. As a result of this contact with
the Brahmins and their religion, a new pan-Indian religion called
"Hinduism" evolved in India. It was neither purely Aryan/Vedic nor
purely Munda/Dravidian; it was a healthy synthesis of the early religion
and Vedic Hinduism; the brilliant Brahmin theologians created new
mythologies and rituals to fit the needs of this new religion; they did not
destroy the old, pagan, primitive religion, but rather baptized it, enriched it,
and found a place for it in the new religious universe of Hindu India.
The best way to study the primitive religion is to study the
religions of the tribals who still retain the basic beliefs and basic rituals of
the early religion in spite of their exposure to Hinduism. The few remarks
on early religion made above are the result of the researcher's fieldwork
among the various tribes in India and particularly of Kerala.

The Meaning and origins of Onam and other National Festivals
Like every other culture, the Kerala culture also celebrates
some important festivals.19 Since Kerala is composed of several ethnic and
19. Thundy Zacarias, ―The Meaning and Origins of Onam and Other National

religious groups, the country has a wide variety of festivals.20 Some of
these are not just special for Keralites, but common feasts, like Christmas
and Easter, which are celebrated by Christians of all denominations all
over Kerala, India, and the world. Like-wise, Muslims celebrate their
festivals of Id and Bakrid all over India. The Hindus also celebrate certain
festivals like Divali, Dasara, and Holi in most parts of India while certain
regions have their own special feasts like Pongal in Tamil Nadu and Durga
Puja in West Bengal. Keralites celebrate Onam festival as their national
festival irrespective of caste and creed.21 There are a few other minor
festivals that are dear to certain sections of Keralites like Thiruvathira,
Vishu,22 Teyyam and Sabarimalai Pilgrimage which will be briefly
described below23 It is impossible to describe all the other important
local festivals; their name are legion; every temple and church have their
own annual festivals.

Thiru Onam is celebrated in the second half of August (the
Chingam month of Kollam Era) when the August monsoon rains come to
Anon, ―Onam‖.,
Anon, ―Onam‖. Shubhkaama.
22. Anon, ―Onam – the National Festival of Kerala‖.
23. Ittyipe, Minu, ―Fantasy Kingdom of Maveli‖. The Hindu Online, Metro Plus Kochi,
Aug. 22, 2002. [7] Jose, Salil, ―An e-mail from Maveli‖, Maa Mallupuram, Chennai.

an end and the summer heat gives way to the pleasant warmth of the
Kerala autumn.24 Anthropologists see in Onam a great fertility rite, the
ceremony of thanks giving for a plentiful harvest. For Keralites Onam is
the celebration of the return of Mahabali, their once and future king. This
king once ruled over the Keralites during the Golden Age before caste
existed, "when all men were equal, when no one was poor, when there

neither theft

nor dread of thieves" (Maveli



kalam/Manusharellam onnu pole). The complete folk-song is given below
in its English version:
"When Maveli, our King, rules the land,
All the peoples form one casteless race.
And people live joyful and merry;
They are free from all harm.
There is neither theft nor deceit,
And no one is false in speech either.
Measures and weights are right;
No one cheats or wrongs the neighbour.
when Maveli, our King, rules the land,
All the peoples form one casteless race"25.





Onam Athappoo Kolam

The celebration of the return of Mahabali takes four days for
the Hindus26. The house and yard are cleaned; a temporary mud stall is put
up and washed with cow-dung solution for the royal visitor; flowers are
strewn over it for the king to sit upon; pyramid-shaped images of the king
called Trikkakarappan,27 made of wood or clay, are placed upon it as the
onlookers applaud and cheer in sheer welcome. Every Morning Pujas
(worship service) are performed during the four days of Onam parents give
children presents, especially dresses on the occasion. Onam has become a
holiday like Thanksgiving which is characterized by family reunion and
feasting. Three foods used to be essential for the festival are split bananas,
pappadam (wafer) and payasam (rice pudding).28 After the sumptuous
midday dinner, all the family members dressed in fine clothes and amuse
themselves: adults and boys play hand-ball, chess, dice, and/or cards.
Wrestling and display of swordsmanship are not common any more;
women and girls sing and dance. In the backwaters of Kerala, young men
race the long snake-boats (chundan vallom) - a reminder of snakeworship.29

Anon, ―Onam‖. Shubhkaama.,
Anon, ―Onam – the National Festival of Kerala‖.
Gilbert Slater, Some South Indian Villages, London, Oxford University Press,
1918, p. 253.

Onam celebrates the legendary King Bali. Only two versions
are told these days. According to the orthodox Brahminical version,
Mahabali was a wicked demon (asura) king who was yet "good" enough to
become a yogi by virtue of his austerities (tapas). He controlled earth and
heaven; the gods, of course, felt threatened by Bali. So they sent Vishnu to
get rid of this menace; Vishnu assumed the form of a holy beggar, the
comical dwarf Vamana, and asked for the gift of as much land as he could
cover in three paces. Vamana grew into cosmic size and in three strides
encompassed the whole earth and heaven and Bali was forced to retire to
the only space left, patalam, the other world.30
In the Kerala version, Bali is Mahabali, the benevolent ruler
who aroused the jealousy and envy of the gods. He gave up his kingdom
not just because he was the victim of a trick but because he was too
generous to refuse a request and too honorable not to fulfill a promise. He
asked Vamana to place the third stride on his head; Vamana-Vishnu kicked
him down into the nether world. Mahabali, however, was granted the wish,
before he retired, that on a day each year he would be allowed to return to
his dear people, the Keralites, to see them and to be with them as father
and friend.31

Folk-lore Published 1960, Indian Publications, p.47.
Gilbert Slater, op.cit., p. 258.

Obviously, these two versions of the Mahabali-legend
represent the conquest of the non-Aryan Keralites by the Aryans on the
battlefield and in the field of religion. The Aryans and their gods
triumphed over the Keralite gods; instead of completely banishing their
gods to the realm of non-being, the Brahmins demonized one god,
Mahabali, and accepted Shiva, the God of Bali. 32 Keralites, on the other
hand, would not consider their god Bali a demon, but rather a vanquished
god and popular ally.
There is a third version of Bali retained by the Mundas of
Central India, the cousins of the Keralites. This version is untouched by
the theology of the Aryan Brahmins. The Cheras of the Chotanagpur
region, the ancestors of Keralites, had a great king called Bali who
governed the Dinajpur area; he was an Asur. He did not worship Vishnu,
the Aryan God. He continued to worship the native Munda God, Lord
Shiva. Bali introduced the severe mode of worship, while suspended from
a lever by iron hooks which are passed through the skin of the back. He
spent a thousand years in this penance and obtained the favour from Lord
Shiva that no god (Aryan) should ever have the power to kill him.
While the king was reigning in great glory, Anirudha, the
grandson of Krishna, the King of Brindaban and Mathura, came in disguise
to his court and seduced his daughter Usha. The young man was arrested

Faw Cett, F., op.cit., p. 292.

and thrown in prison. In order to liberate his grandson, Krishna came with
a great army and defeated Bali; the young man was released and was
allowed to marry Usha. King Bali's city was destroyed by Krishna's
barbarian army later in an unprovoked battle. According to the Munda and
Santal traditions, it was an Aryan Kharwar Chief by the name of Madhu
Das attacked them at night and drove them to the fortresses of Vanchi
(Vindhya) Hills (the future name of Kerala) for their refusal to bestow the
hand of one of their girls on the son of Madhu Das. These legends show
that Mahabali, the Chera king of the Munda race and worshipper of Shiva,
was defeated by Krishna, the Vishnu-worshipper.33
The Mahabali-story of the Keralites, in the Munda-Chera
tradition, indicates the triumph of the Vaishnavite brand of Aryans over the
Shiva-worshipping Munda-Cheras. King Bali is immortal and therefore a
god; though he is defeated, he is still alive. It is this once-and-future king
Bali whom Keralites commemorate in the Onam festival34 — Bali is also
called Ban (is Onam named after Ban?). Further, Bali/Balia is a common
personal name among the Mundas. The name appears later as Mahabali
and Maveli in the South where the Cheras settled down. In the Tamil
Sangam-work, Puram (234), Maveli appears as the Vellala chief of
Milalaikurram who was very wealthy and generous: "The gates of the

Faw Cett, F., op.cit., p. 298.
Ibid., p. 293.

mansion were never closed and he never sat to meals except with a large
company." He died of wounds received in battle fighting against the
Pandyan King Nedumchelyan (Puram 233).35
Mahabali is remembered thus in another folk story in Tamil
Nadu; in this story the enemies of Bali are Tamils. There are places
bearing Bali's name in Tamil Nadu like Mahabalipuram and in Kerala like
Mavelikkara. The purpose of this discussion on the legends of Onam is to
indicate a well-known folklore truth that there is a historical nucleus to
most myths and legends and that they undergo many changes in the
passage of time, during the migration of ethnic groups. The researcher's
contention is that Mahabali was a great ancient Munda-Chera King, a
Shiva-worshipper, who was defeated by the Vishnu-worshipping Aryans.36
Mahabali is still remembered fondly by the Keralites, the
descendants of the Munda-Cheras, as the British remember the legendary
King Arthur who fought against the invading Anglo-Saxons in the fifth
century in Britain. Arthur is called rex quondam atque futurus ("the once
and future king"). Mahabali is exactly that for the Keralites. For them he
is also a Santa Claus or Father Christmas; someday, like King Arthur and
Jesus Christ, Mahabali will return in glory, and the defeated Chera culture
will rise in glory like the phoenix from its ashes.


Dance Performance of Nayar Women



This is another national festival. It falls on the Thiruvathira








Thiruvathirakkali in oncoming pages.

Vishu falls on the first of Medam (March-April), which is the
astronomical New Year's Day.37 One's good fortune during the year would
depend on his seeing some good thing on Vishu morning. The heart of the
festival is the preparation of the kani (the lucky sight or gift). The older
custom of preparing the kani is described below. The women of the family
take a large dish made of bell-metal (uruli), arrange in it a grantha (palmleaf manuscript), a gold ornament, a new cloth, some flowers from the
konna tree (cassia fistula), some coins in a silver cup, a split coconut, a
cucumber, some mangoes, and a jack-fruit. On either side of the dish are
two burning lamps with a chair facing it.
After these are set in the living room of the house, family
members are taken one by one with their eyes blindfolded or closed.
When they are in the living room, the blindfolds are removed so that they

Faw Cett, F., op.cit., p. 297.


Flower Blossom during Onam

Lord Muruga with Valli and Theivanai


may view the vishu kani. The kani is then taken from the home to the
homes of the poor for their benefit.38 The father (Karanavan) of the
family gives gifts of money to children, servants, and tenants.39 During
the rule of the Rajas, state officials used to pay respects to the reigning
king to wish him a Happy New Year, to offer gifts, and receive presents
from him. The day is marked by a grand feast at home for all the members
of the family and the dependents.

Dress and Ornaments
Males wear a Kaupinam and a single strip of cloth, four or
five cubits in length, known as the Mundu, round the waist and another one
thrown over the shoulder or worn like a shawl(veshti).40 The lower cloth is
not tucked between the legs as in northern India but is left to hang loose to
the ground. The upper cloth is known as the Neriatu which may be tied as
a turban on the head while walking outside.41
The dress of the women is not generally distinguishable
from the men. On festive occasions the Pudava is worn which is a gilt
bordered mundu, also known as a Pattukara.

Faw Cett, F., op.cit., p. 298.
The Temple Entry Proclamation Memorial Souvenir, Trivandrum, 1942, p. 21.
Faw Cett, F., op.cit., p. 303.
A travel feature on the ancient Kerala art of Kalaripayattu,

This dressing style of women is no longer practised and
introduction of the Rauka blouse in the early 20th century made it
extremely popular among the Nayar women. The mundu is still widely
used by almost everybody in Kerala, though modern clothing, naturally,
has found tremendous use as well.42
Men usually, besides anklets and rings, had their ears bored
and wore earrings studded with precious gems. Women had for the neck
ornaments such as the Kantasaram, Nalupanti, Addiyal, Ponnu-Nool,
Nagapadam (the most important ornament of a Nayar lady), Arimbu Mani,
Jnali Kuzhal, Minnum Maniyum, Arasillatali, Pachakkatali, Kasu Malai,
Kuzhalmala, Rasi Tali, Padakkatali etc. For the nose, pendants called
Mukuttis were worn set with ruby or diamond generally.43 For the arms,
bangles such as Kattikappu, Maniyalakappu, Swarna-Sangala Muduku etc.
were worn. For the waist, ornaments known as Kacchapuram were worn.
Young girls even wore ornaments on their feet, known as Thanda or
Padaswaram.44 The Nayar ladies extended their ear lobes and the only two
types of ornaments which were worn in the ears was a type of cylindrical
ornament known as Takka or a two lipped biconvex disc considered more

Kalaripayattu, the traditional martial art,
Nagam Aiya, V., Travancore State Manual, Vol.I, Trivandrum, 1906,
pp. 232, 238.
The Nayar heritage of Kerala: People and culture,

fashionable, known as the Toda. Jewels were not worn on the head.
Tattooing was not favored among the Nayars and was considered

Food and drink
Boiled rice and rice gruel known as Kanjee (pronounced kunjee) form the staple food of the Nayars. The coconut, jack, plantain, mango
and other vegetable products are widely used in cooking among the Nayars
and coconut oil is also used widely for frying. Ghee was used in well
to do families and on festive occasions.46 Kanjee was taken thrice a day at
mealtimes and formed the major part of the diet of the Nayars. Animal
food was not objectionable and fish was the most commonly consumed
commodity, fowl being less in demand. Beef was barred for the Nayars.
Alcoholic drinks as a rule were prohibited.47

Other customs
Nayar have customs and rituals which are an amalgamation
of indigenous rituals and the rituals of Nambothiri Brahmins. Generally,
there are local variations for such customs. However, the basic framework
of many of the rituals is more or less the same.

Kerala - Gateway to Paradise,
Ancient martial art fights for survival in India,


Seemantham (also known as Pulikudi or Garbhamthozhikkal)
denotes the preparation for childbirth and is performed between the fifth
and seventh months of pregnancy.48 On an auspicious day, after being
massaged with homemade ayurvedic oil, the woman has a customary
bath with the help of the elderly women in the family. After this, the
family deity is worshiped, invoking all the paradevatas and a concoction
of herbal medicines prepared in the traditional way, is given to the
woman. The woman is dressed in new clothes and jewelry used for
such occasions. Among some Nayars of Malabar two local ritualistic
additions called ariyidal and Garbha Prashnam are performed. In the
ariyidal the seated pregnant lady is given rice and appams in her lap. In
the Garbha Prashnam, an astrologer prescribes ritualistic remedies (if
needed) for the protection of the mother and child as well as for smooth
child birth in the event of any astrological obstacles. Afterwards, the
pregnant lady visits four temples, including her own ancestral temple
and prays to the deities for a healthy child and for a smooth delivery.
After this she begins to observe




pollution, which

extends up to 15 days after childbirth.49 The family then holds a feast

Velupillai, T.K., Travancore State Manual, 1940, p. 412.
Velupillai, T.K., op.cit., p. 415.

for all the relatives. Medicines and routines are prescribed for the
woman, which are to be followed till childbirth.

Irupethi Ettu
This ceremony is performed on the 28th day after birth of the
child, as this is the first time the nakshatram (star) of the child repeats
according to the Malayalam calendar.50 During the ceremony, charadu
(thread), one in black cotton and the other in gold are interwined and tied
around the waist of the child. The child's eyes are lined with mayye or
kannumashi (Kohl). A black spot is placed on one cheek or asymmetrically
on the forehead, to ward of evil eyes. A mixture of ghee (melted and
clarified butter) and honey is given to the infant as a base for its various
foods in the future. This is similar to the Jaathakarmam ceremony of the
Namboothiris. In many instances, honey is rubbed with gold on a stone,
which is then mixed with Vayampu, a herbal medicine. This mixture is
then applied on the tongue of the newborn. In certain areas, the child's
horoscope is usually made out between the birth and the Irupethi Ettu so
that a name based on an ideal first letter prescribed by his horoscope
can be used to name the child. This name-giving ceremony is similar to
the Naamakaranam ceremony of the Namboothiris. In some instances,

Ibid., pp. 416-418.

piercing of the lower lobes of the ears for both boys and girls
(Karnavedham) is also done on the same day. Otherwise, it is done
separately on an auspicious day. Unlike the Namboothiris who perform
Jaathakarmam and Namakaranam as separate rituals, Nayars mostly tend
to perform them together on the Irupathi Ettu.

Choroonu is the ritual of feeding rice to the child for the first
time.51 Rice is the primary food of Nayars, which is why the first intake
of purified rice is celebrated on an auspicious day. After manthrams are
chanted to request Agni to purify the food, a mixture of melted ghee and
honey, followed by boiled rice is served to the child. This ceremony is
performed during the 6th month or after the 7th month of birth.

During the Malayalam month of Thulam (October November) all the women and girls in the family baths in the river or
family pond before sunrise. They will then perform rituals of worship at
home, or visit a temple for Nirmalyam (viewing the deity for the first time
for the day).

Velupillai, T.K., op.cit., p. 413.


Thiruvathira is observed on the full-moon day of Dhanu
Masam, on the day of the Thiruvathira star (Alpha Orionis).52 It is
believed this is the day, the Goddess Parvathi finally met Siva, after her
long penance. It is believed that observing Thiruvathira vratham or
Thiruvathira nonbu (fasting during thiruvathira) would ensure that a
woman's husband would have a long life. The Nayar women, including
little girls, would get up early in the morning during the whole of Dhanu
masam and go to the Kulam or river to take a bath. They will go in a sort
of procession, singing various songs. They sing and play while taking
bath. This is called Thudichukkuli. After bathing, they go to the temple
dressed in their finest clothes. Thiruvathira is a day of fasting.53 No one
eats rice preparations, but they are allowed to eat things made of wheat and
all types of fruit. The practice of presenting bunches of bananas to the
elders was common. During this season, huge swings (oonjal) are erected
in the backyards of most of the houses. These swings are hung from the
branches of tall trees such as mango trees or jack-fruit trees. The swings
are made of ropes hung from the branch with a wooden plank for the seat.
They can also be made from a well grown bamboo tree shoot, which is

Faw Cett, F., op.cit., p. 299.
Ibid., p. 300.


vertically split into two. The sumptuous family dinner is held at noon;
fried bananas and sweets are passed around to complete the

After lunch, the Thiruvathirakkali danced would be

performed. The accompanying songs (Thiruvathirapaattu) are written
in Malayalam and are set in a specific meter. The dance is also called
Kaikotti Kali (dancing while clapping hands) and is also performed
during the festival of Onam.

Pooram means "festival" in Malyalam. In regions south of
Korapuzha, this is mainly a temple celebration. However in regions north
of Korapuzha, especially north Malabar, Pooram is predominantly a Nayar
household festival during the month of Meenam (March-April). The
festival lasts for 9 days, starting from Karthika day to Pooram day.
Among unmarried Nayar women of north Malabar, Pooram was celebrated
to praise and please Kamadeva, the God of Love. On each of the day an
idol of Kamadeva made out of clay, is worshipped at different locations
starting from the steps of the pond (first day) to the inner house (ninth
day). The song sung by the group leader is repeated by the others and the
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song begins Thekkan dikkil povalle kamaa. Eendola panayil iruthume
kamaa. (Do not leave us and go the south and various reasons are
provided as to why he will be treated better in the north. These are sung in
the form of puns). Dances are performed around a sacred lamp with
elegant steps resembling Thiruvathirakkali.55 While dancing, the players
clap their hands uniformly to the tune of the song and to the thaalam
(rhythm or beat) of the group leader. Poorakkali has 18 different forms.
Stories from the epic Ramayana often constitute the subject
matter of the ritual songs. The ritual dance form warrants intense training
and good physical stamina. The forward and backward movements and the
abrupt variations in the speed and directions enthralls the spectators.
Invariably, Poorakkali is followed by a duel of wits staged to test the
intellectual capacity of the rival group leaders. 56 This is known as
Marathukali. During the debate, intriguing questions are put by one leader
to the other side.
In central and south Kerala, several poorams or festivities
during this season are observed in all important temples of the different
deshams. The most famous of all these, is the Thrissur Pooram. Before
the advent of the Thrissur Pooram, the largest temple festival during
summer in central Kerala is the one-day festival held at Aarattupuzha.

Faw Cett, F., op.cit., p. 301.
Ibid., p. 302.

Temples in and around Thrissur were regular participants of this religious
exercise until they were once denied entry by the responsible chief of the
Peruvanam area of Cherpu, known for its Namboothiri supremacy. As an
act of reprisal, and also in a bid to assuage their wounded feelings, Prince
Rama Varma (1751-1805), also known as Sakthan Thampuran (ruler of
the erstwhile Cochin state ) invited all these temples to bring their deities
to Thrissur where they could pay obeisance to Lord Vadakunnathan, the
deity of the Vadakunnathan temple. Further, he directed the main temples
of Thrissur, Thruvambadi and Pamamekkavu, to extend all help and
support to these temples. It is this historical background that determined
the course of the Thrissur Pooram program me and it is specifically
because of the ruler's antipathy to the Brahmin aristocracy, that he opened
Thrissurpooram to the common man.

Chapter - III

Nayar Marriage system



Nayar marriages are simple and hold much more social
significance than religious. The institution of marriage was conceived in a
loose sense in those days.1 On the auspicious day, the bride‘s family
welcomes the groom and is entourage at the venue of the wedding to the
notes of the Nadaswaram (a long horn like instrument) and Tavil (drums).
The groom is accorded a special welcome by the bride‘s brother who
washes his feet and garlands him. He is then escorted to the canopied stage
(mandapam) by girls holding auspicious symbols such as a sacred oil lamp,
the 'ashtamangalya', a plate holding mirror, bell, vermilion box, and a
'kindi' or water container with a spout. This mandapam is decorated with
flower garlands, palm fronds and small plantain trees. The bride then
arrives in a splendid silk saree and at the ascertained hour (muhurtham) the
groom ties the taali or the sacred thread around her neck. This is a yellow
thread with a golden pendent signifying the marital status of a woman.
Then garlands are exchanged by the bride and groom. She is now gifted a
silk saree and jewelry by her husband and in-laws.2 Traditionally marriage

Kapadia, K.M., "Marriage and Family in India", Oxford University Press, p. 0.
Velu Pillai, T.K., "Travancore State Manual", Vol. I, The Govt. Press,
Trivandrum, 1940, p. 414.

over the Nayar woman would go back to her Taravad, her matrilineal home
but nowadays she accompanies her husband to his household. She enters
her marital home right foot forward by kicking over a large measure of
paddy signifying the prosperity and plenty she brings with her. A reception
is usually held with social gathering and feasting.
The Nayars of Kerala are different from other castes mainly
because they trace their descent through the female line and they had a
marriage system in which women were allowed to have several husband
simultaneously. The Nayars are of Dravidian stock. The original Nayars
were undoubtedly a military body, holding land and serving as warriors.
They enjoyed special privileges and power. Nayars lived in matrilineal
joining families known as taravads.3 A taravad might have a number of
members all living together in one big house. Each taravad was an
independent economic unit ; its members collectively owned property from
which they derive livelihood. The polyandrous kinship and marriage
system of Nayars were the singular aspects of the society in Kerala.
The Nayars are one of the dominant castes in Kerala. They are
one among the major divisions of Hindu population. 4 The Nayars formed
the traditional militia until the establishment of the British hegemony.

William Logan, Malabar Manual, Vol. 1, Trivandrum, 1981, p. 159.
Krishna lyer, L.A., Social History of Kerala, Vol. II, Madras, 1970, p. 25.

Their name itself implies that they were the leaders of the people. The
Nayars are said t be a mixed race generated from the original Dravidian
stock, not intermixe with the Nambudiri Brahmin genes. They are a martial
community, and high caste Naytars have Nambudiri fathers"5. According
to I. K. Ananthakrishn lyer, the Nayars are an interesting caste of people,
forming a considerable portion of the population of the last of the
honoured castes under the name ( the pure Sudras of Malaya).6
They constitute one of the major castes in Kerala having
different titles like Nayar, Pillai, Panicker, Kuruppilla, Kaimal, Unithan,
Valiyathan and Menon. It does not include the low caste Nayars like
Velakkuthala Nayars (Barbars), Velutheda Nayars (Dhobbies) Chakkala
Nayars and the other numerous sub divisions. Each group has got its own
distinctive practices related to marriage.
In the traditional system they were attached to the royal
families of Nambudiri or Brahmins through hypergamous alliances. They
rank high in the social hierarchy of Kerala. They come next to the
Kshatriyas of Kerala Broadly speaking the Nayars rank after the
Nambudiris in Malabar and they occupy the same position in the princely
states of Cochin and Travancore.7 In Travancore, Nayars enjoyed the

Velu Pillai, T.K., op.cit., Vol. I, p. 416.
Anantha Krishna lyer, L.K., Cochin Tribes and Castes, Vol. II, London, 1909,
p. 12.
Faw Cett, F., Nayars of Malabar, New Delhi, 1985, p. 185.

privilege of being the most numerous upper class Hindus. They could
compel submission and subserviences from their caste inferiors.8
The Nayars lived jointly in a house which was called taravad.
Taravad is derived from the word tara which means mount i.e., the
raised foundation on which a Nayar house was built.9 A taravad consisted
of a female ancestor her children, her daughter's children, grand daughters
of her daughter and as such other descendants however remote in the
female line. The male descendants themselves are its members but their
children are not. Taravad membership arises by birth in the family. A
female member of the taravad does not change her family by marriage. 10
The size of the taravad used to vary from one another
depending upon its stage in the developmental cycle and there were cases
when the taravad had more than hundred persons at a given time. Every
member of the taravad used to consider his taravad as something sacred.
Each member of the taravad had a right to the taravad property by birth
alone. If any member dies his or her share got developed upon the other
members of the taravad. The eldest male of the taravad, also known as
karanavar had legal rights to managing the taravad. In the event of his

Balakrishnan, V., and Leela Devi,R., Mannathu Padmanabban and The
Revival of Nayars in Kerala, Delhi, 1982, p. 18.
David Schneider, M., Kathleen Gough, Matrilineal Kinship, New Delhi, 1961,
p. 323.
Fuller, C.J., The Nayars Today, Cambridge, 1976, p. 103.


death the next senior male member of that taravad succeeded. Thus the
taravad and its property had been kept under the control and management
of the karanavar alone.11
The position of the members other than the head of the
marumakkathayam or matrilineal family was precisely analogous. 12 The
relationship between the Karanavan and other members of the family was
quite formal and determined by the principle of respect for seniority.
Karanavan has been described as the keystone of the marumakkathyam
arch. The junior members in the taravad were supposed to have no right to
possess anything that formed the taravad property in antagonism to the
taravad karanavan.13 He commanded such a great authority in the
management of the taravad. In effect, he might be called an absolute ruler.
It was his right and duty to manage alone the property of the taravad, to
take care of it, to invest it in his own name (if it was movable) either on
loans or on other security, or by purchasing land in his own name and to
receive the rents of those lands. He was not accountable to any member in
the taravad in respect of the income of it, though there were silent protests
disposal of landed property. Protests became over towards the close of the

Sreedhara Variar, K., Marumakkathayam and Allied System of Law in the
Kerala State, Ernakulam, 1963, p. 29.
Fuller, C.J., op.cit., p. 114.
Puthenkalam, J., Marriage and the family in Kerala, New Delhi, 1977, p. 213.

disintegration of the taravad in his own behalf. The karanavan might
delegate his powers of management. This delegation of power had to be
limited to the member of the taravad. In some cases, the delegation would
become irrevocable except with the consent of all the adult members or by
a decision of a court of law. 14 He represented the taravad and he alone
could sue and be sued of the taravad. In other words, we can say, the
karanavan was the keystone of the Nayar taravad.
Both men and women had equal freedom. Women
participated in all family functions equally with men. The taravad itself is a
matrilineal unit. The children of the women in the taravad had got equal
freedom. Though the legal power of the taravad was vested with a
karanavar, the social position of the women in the taravad was high. The
women either sisters or nieces, older than the karanavar could exert
decision making influences on him. Women were respected in their taravad
by giving them different rooms and beautiful courtyard. They were free
enough to move elsewhere in the taravad except to the room of the
karanavar. Logan in his Malabar Manual had written that 'Nayarwomen
were free and they had equal freedom with men. They participated equally
with men in public affairs".15 In the marriage they were free to select their

William Logan, op.cit, p. 53.

partners and also free to divorce the partners when they found it
difficult to compromise.
Marriage and morals generally go together. Kerala has
evolved through the ages of its own marriage customs and code of
morals.16 The Aryanization of Kerala brought about some changes in the
institution of marriage and code of morals.17 The Chola-Chera war
which brought about significant social and economic changes also had its
effect on marriage customs and code of morals Nayar marriage system had
been undergoing many changes in both its internal and external functions
with regard to the family and its functions.18 Marriage is a socially
recognized cohabitation. The system of marriage among the Nayar
witnessed a multitude of trials and tribulations in the course of last
centuries. They became the victims of the fossilized customs and worn out
practice, which ultimately undermined the vitals of the sacred system. 19
In the past, there were two institutionalized forms of
marriage; one was between a pre-pubescent girl and a man which was
known as talikettukalyanam. The second was between a mature woman
and a mature man of status equal or superior to her own, which was known

Sreedhara Menon, A, Social and Cultural History of India, Trivandrum, 1979,
p. 53.
Ibid., p. 93.
Desiga Vinayagam Pillai, S., Marumakkal Vazhi Manmiyam, (Tamil), Madras,
1991, p. 72.
Velu Pillai, T.K., op.cit., Vol. I, p. 423.


as sambhandham. According to L. K. Ananthakrishna lyer, there were two
form; of marriage in vogue among the Nayars, namely, the talikettu
kalyanam and the sambhandam (the customary nuptial union of man and
woman). The first of which is performed for every girl before puberty and
the second, the real adult marriage is celebrated after she comes of age. 20

Talikettu kalyanam
Sreedhara Menon writes : "While considering the institution
of marriage, it may be appropriate to considering the custom of talikettu
kalyanam which prevailed even in the early part of this century among
such non-Brahmin castes as the Nayars, Ezhavas and kammalas. It has
been prevalent among Nayars till recently in the name of kettukalyanam. 21
The term talikettu kalyanam is a compound of three words, viz., tali
(a badge) kettu tying) and kalyanam (marriage)".22 Tali is a leaf shaped
emblem made of gold or silver, which was worn on a string around the
neck. It indicated the marital status of a woman. But among the early
Nayars tali was tied to the girl before puberty. If she reached maturity

Anantha Krishna Iyer, L.K., Cochin Tribes and Castes, Vol. II, London, 1909,
p. 89.
Fuller, C.J., op.cit., p. 110.
Sreedhara Menon, A., Social and Cultural History of India, Trivandrum, 1979,
p. 96.

before the talikettu she would have been expelled from her family as
an outsider.
Tali tying was performed on a girl or on a group of girls
between the age of 11 and 13. The tier belonged either to the same or to a
superior caste. In Southern Travancore, the 'tali tier' can also be relatives of
either male line or female line irrespective of their age. One condition was
that the tier should be older than the girl. Logan writes that the strange
thing about it all was that the girl was not really married to the man who
performed the tali tying ceremony. In the case of good families, the man
selected for this duty is usually either an Illathu or an East Coast Brahmin
and in the case of others a man of their own kindred. He continues to write
that after the ceremony he received a suitable present and departed.23 When
the girl comes of age he cannot claim her as his wife or should solicit her
favours in after life. The tali tier had no claim to matrimony with the girl. 24
The practice is said to be the result of the belief that the human of a virgin
is protected by the God of marriage. The ceremonies associated with
talikettu were different in different parts of Kerala. Fawcett wrote ; "the
details of this ceremony vary in different parts of Malabar. But the
ceremony itself, in some form is essential and must be performed for every

William Logan, op.cit., pp. 160 - 161.
Fuller, C.J., op.cit., p. 101.

Nayar girl before she attains puberty. Talikettu kalyanam means marriage
by tying the tali or ceremony of tying the tali, a small gold ornament, worn
on the neck, the ordinary badge of marriage amongst the Dravidians".25
Talikketu kalayanam was a social custom which proclaimed to the word at
large the fact that a girl in a taravad had attained marriageable status. One
important factor is that the tali tied to the neck of the girl is made by the
family of the girl and not by the family of the tier. Today the custom of tali
tying as a special ceremony before marriage among Nayars is no more.
Under the stress of modern civilization and as a result of social action
taken by social reformers, the Nayars and Ezhavas have practically given
up the tali kettu kalyanam. Its gradual dying out is a land mark in the
history of social change.26

Sambhandham was a form of marriage practiced among early
Nayars in Kerala. Sambhandham was a social contract by which a man and
a woman surrender their sexual rights to each other. Sambhandham was a
term most widely used for the marital relationship of a Nayar woman.
Even today some of the old Nayar people use the word Sambhandham for

Faw Cett, F., op.cit., p. 129.
Anantha Krishna Iyer, L.K., op.cit., p. 91.


marriage, the real meaning of the world is union or bond. It is a
conjungal union, among the marumakkathayees. 27







Sambhandham is the marriage proper. The ceremony is also known by the
name of pudavakoda or pudamuri (literally the giving of cloth). There is no
religious element attached to the ceremony. 28 The custom allows a man to
cohabit with a woman of an inferior social status while it prohibits the
woman to exercise the same liberty. Marriage outside the same caste sub
division is rare in Travancore. While in Malabar, marriage of a woman
with a man of an inferior caste or a subdivision of caste is alone prohibited.
The sambhandham is usually arranged by the karanavars of the families, of
the partners.
Among the two systems of marriage, the talikettu kalyanam is



sambhandham.29 K. M. Kapadia opines that

talikettu ceremony is more a form of marriage than a sambhandham, the
essential element being the giving of cloth. But the sambhandham is a
personal arrair, conducted in privacy which talikettu ceremony was
performed with pomp and ceremony.30 It is also stated that giving cloth is

Fuller, C.J., op.cit., p. 102.
Nagam Aiya, V, Travancore State Manual, Vol.II, Travancore Government
Press, 1906, p. 356.
Thankappan Nayar, P., Defloration and Convade in Kerala, Journal of Kerala
Studies, Vol. Ill, pp. 456-459.
Kapadia, K.M., Marriage and Families in India, New Delhi, 1955, p. 81.


unimportant and cohabitation is the important element in marriage,
cohabitation is possible only after sambhandham and sambhandham is
more important than talikettu.31
In South Malabar and North Travancore the wife is rarely
taken to the husband's taravad. The husband visiting her in her house in the
night and going home in the next morning remained the practice. While in
South and Central Travancore the practice is contrary, the husband always
takes his wife to his taravad. The sambhandham is always a matter of
careful arrangements in which the wishes of the parties to it are considered,
and of which it is expected to bring mutual benefits to the taravad. 32 In
South Malabar the girl or woman never lives in her husband's house. She
lives on in her own taravad house and is visited by the husband. The
ordinary hugger mugger, which sometimes stulrifies all pleasures in
existence, is thus avoided. In North Malabar the woman lives with her
husband. A point to be noted in this connection is that when her husband
dies she must leave his house and return to her own house at once, before
his body is taken out for cremation. Remarriage of widow was allowed.
"The Nayar woman in the event of separation from their husband by

Thulasidharan, K.M., Studies in Traditional Kerala Society, Trivandrum, 1977,
p. 87.
Desigavinayagam Pillai, S., op.cit., p. 79.

divorce or death are free to remarry, but the second and subsequent
marriages are not celebrated with as much formality as the first.33
The Aryan Brahmins when they came into the country had the
same social organizations as existed among their successors. Their laws
strictly ordinated that only the eldest member of a household should be left
free to enter into lawful wedlock with a woman of their own caste, the
younger members being left to shift for themselves in this matter. It should
in this connection be remembered that the Brahmins formed an aristocratic
order and as such they became the exclusive custodians of law. Naturally
large number of Brahmin younger sons who were looking illegitimate
unions of the nature of concubinage. 34 Now the sanctity of formal and
religious marriages was in compatible with the baseless ness and
degradation involved in these illegitimate unions and Brahmin ingenuity
discovered a ready means of getting over the difficulties by a social
prohibition of all valid marriages among the Nayars. To enforce this social
edict upon the Nayars, the Brahmins made use of the powerful weapon of
their aristocratic ascendancy in the country and the Nayars readily
submitted to the Brahmin supremacy. Thus it came about that the custom
of concubinage, so freely indulged in by the Brahmins with the Nayar

Nagam Aiya, V., Travancore State Manual, Vol. 11, Travancore Government
Press, 1906, pp. 358 -359.
Velu Pillai, T.K., op.cit., p. 414.

women, obtained such firm hold in the country that it had only been
strengthened by the lapse of time.35
Jeffrey observed that sambhandham among Nayars were
contracted and ended with considerable ease. Jeffrey continues, a man
negotiated with a woman's karanavar obtained the women's agreement and
presented her with a cloth. This was called sambhandham. And a woman
might have sambhandham with a number of men at the same time. They
had no right over her or her children but were expected to provide her with
small presents of luxury items bath oil and pay her expenses when she had
a child.36
According to Logan, after attainment of the age of puberty the
girl chooses her real husband of her own free will though in this is often
guided by the opinion of her elders. The man she selects is called as the
Gunadoshkaran. Gunam being 'good' and dosham being 'bad' and karan
being the 'doer'. This designation may be exactly reproduced by the phrase
from the English wedding service in which the mutual contract of the
parties is "for better for worse, for richer for poorer". The ceremony of
installment of her husband is exceedingly simple. All that is necessary is
that the husband should give and that the girl should receive a cloth in the

Gopala Panicker, T.K., Malabar and its Folk, Madras, 1900, pp. 36-38.
Robin Jeffrey, The Decline of Nayar Dominance : Society and Politics in
Travancore, 1847 -1908, New Delhi, 1976, pp. 15-16.

presence of relatives and friends. If the pair is dissatisfied with each other
the woman returns the cloth and the connection there upon ends.37
The wife would not even speak or hint to him about her
economic or personal needs, hence it was a shame for her taravad to accept
any economic help from her sambhandham partners. She visited her
husband's taravad during ceremonies and the karanavar of the husband
sends cloths and tobacco to the wife's family on such occasions. When
women became pregnant one or more of her sambhandham partners would
claim paternity. Each one did this by giving a piece of cloth and some
vegetables to the low caste woman who acted as mid wife. If no one claim
parternity, then it was considered that the mother had sexual relations with
a man of lower caste or non-hindu which was prohibited and thus both the
mother and the child would be outcasted followed by execution or sale as
The upper class Nayars and members of the ruling families
practiced hypergamy.39 There were three types of hypergamy among
Nayars viz. Nambudiri - Nayar hypergamy, Kshtriya - Nayar hypergamy
and Nayar - Sub caste hypergamy. Both Nambudiri and Kshatriya
hypergamy were prevalent largely in areas where those groups had

William Logan, op.cit., p. 164.
Ibid., pp. 164-165.
Fuller, C.J., op.cit, p.115.

settlement, scattered in Northern Kerala, widespread in Central Kerala
and few in Southern Kerala. At that time in Kerala, the women of
Kshatriya royal lineage married Nambudiri Brahmins. Those of nonKshatriyanized royal lineage married Nambudiris or man of Kshatriya
royal lineage. Women of wealthy Nayar lineage married men of any of the
three groups above. The hypergamous pattern of marital relationship
existed in Kerala until the 1920's.40
Literature revealed that it was the Nambudiris who were
responsible for losing the sanctity of Nayar sambhandham. For the sake of
the interest and convenience of Nambudiris only such a loose laison among
Nayars originated.41 Gough has pointed out that the Nambudiris did not
regard sambhandham union as a true marriage but as a kind of
concubinage. Among Nambudiris only the eldest son married a Nambudiri
woman which was called Tali. The younger brother's called aphans
entered into marital relationship with women of royal, ambalavasi and
Nayar lineage.42 A Nayar woman married to a

Kshatriya was called

kettilamma. If she was an ordinary girl of a poor family, she was provided
with land and housing.43

Pillai, A.K.B., The Culture of Social Stratification / Sexism The Nayars,
New York, 1987, p. 164.
Fuller, C.J., op. cit., p. 116.
Nilakanta Sastri, K.A., Foreign Notices of South India, Madras, 1922,

The Nayar man who got into sambhandham had no economic
rights or responsibilities with the women and children. The children of
that woman were purely under the control of the karanavar or her taravad.
The economic benefits of Nambudiri husband from Nayar wife's lineage
are observed as follows. "The Nayar hypergamous families were usually
those of upper economic groups, and they did utmost within their capacity
to honour and please a Nambudiri husband.44 A hypergamous royal lineage
of upper group Nayar lineage would have one or more private temples
for Nambudiri husband's thevaram and matom (a house made for a
Nambudiri in Nayar compound) for their private living.45 In middle class
families, where they could not normally afford to have special temple
and matom, either alone or together with similar Nambudiri husbands of
the area, cooked and ate in the village temple. The rice, vegetables and
other cooking materials would also be attained by male and female
servant provided by the Nayar family. Usually a Nambudiri husband spent
the day time in his matom or in the temple, and visited his wife at night.
He would not eat any boiled food from his wife's house but drink boiled
milk, and eat plantains and plantain chips. The hypergamous families
followed many Brahminical rituals and life style like vegetarianism, ritual
purity, daily offering to temples etc.

Pillai, A.K.B., op.cit., p. 166.
Fuller, C.J., op.cit., p. 116.

Since it was considered that the Nambudiri alliance was as a
status symbol, many families provided the Nambudiri husbands with
special houses and the daily ritual facilities to make them as regular
husbands and thus the ancestral wealth of the Nambudiri illom remained
constant. There was another opinion, since the Nambudiris as a rich group
in the society, the economic benefit might not be a single factor for
sambhandam. Their main aim was to subjugate the Nayar under their
superiority. "Brahmin dominance was reinforced through marital
relations with women to royal lineages and wealthy Nayar families, the
offsprings of such relations were thought to be devoted to the
Nambudiri".46 Later there was a decline in the Nambudiri - Nayar
alliances. C. J. Fuller in his village study of Ramankara Nayars observes :
"by about 1925, such marriages had ceased, as Nayars were refusing to
allow their womenfolk to marry Nambudiris".47
Previously the sambhandham with the Nambudiri was
considered as a status symbol, later it became a mockery. By that time,
certain Nambudiris and some women started to campaign for the right of
all Nambudiris to marry within the caste. The reform movement started in
South Malabar around 1917. Nayar Nambudiri marriages were rather

Pillai, A.K.B., op.cit., p. 164.
Fuller, C.J., Nayars Today, New York, 1976, p. 75.

rare in South Kerala because the number of Nambudiri illoms were few.
However, Nayar-Kshatriya marriages were common in South Kerala.
But today, both Nayar-Nambudiri or Nayar-Kshatriya marriages are not
considered as a prestige to the Nayars.
The Nayars lost their importance, when the society shifted
status from caste and wealth to cash and education. Social awakening
made them to think about the weak points of their family and marriage
systems. The instability of their sambhandham and supremacy of the
Brahmins haunted them. In Nayar taravads in the past, the husbands had
no responsibilities for the up bringing and education of the children.48
And both the husband and the wife could at anytime terminate the
marriage at will. Many social reformers came forward to get the Nayar
marriage legalized. In 1890, a Bill was introduced in the Madras
Legislative Council to permit Nayars in the British India to register
Sambhandham. This Bill was strongly opposed by a section of
conservative Nayars, Nambudiri, Kshatriyas and non-Malayali Brahmins.49
A marriage commission was appointed. The commission made enquiries
and submitted its report. In 1896, the Malabar Marriage Bill became law.
By this law, people belonging to any caste




marumakkathayam could register their sambhandham. This law made

Sreedhara Menon, op.cit., p. 54.
Pillai, A.K.B., op.cit., p. 167.

sambhandham a legally valid marriage and a man would make over his
self acquired property to his wife and children. In 1899, the Travancore
Wills Act gave marumakkathais the right to get half of their self-acquired
property on one's wife and children This was the first step of reform.50
Efforts were made to change the existing system of
marumakkathayam. The marriage in marumakkathayam system revealed
many serious defects and thus the members felt strong resentment. The
junior members of the taravad felt that the karanavars showed partiality
towards the members of his own thaivazhi or branch viz. the children of
his direct sisters.51 Conflicts were also started between the interest of the
sisters of the karanavar and his wife. Wife of the karnavar (ammayi)
exercised great influence over the affairs of the taravad though their
children had no legal claim to the family property of the karanavar.
The autocratic nature of the karanavar also felt by the junior members. 52
When these problems intensified, the educated youth of matrilineal
families revolted against the system. The movement for the reform of the
marumakkathayam system reached its peak in the early decades of the 20 th
century. The Nayar Service Society was also in favour of changes in the
existing laws. The Government took initiative and introduced bills to

Balakrishnan, V., and Leela Devi, op.cit., pp. 19-20.
Fuller, C.J., op.cit., p. 126.

regulate the personal laws of several communities in the state. The
Travancore Nayar Act of 1912 allowed thaivazhi partition. The children
were allowed to inherit half of the self acquired property of the father.
The Nayar Act of 1925 allowed partition of the taravad property. The
Act also prohibited polyandry and it marked the change from
marumakkathayam to makkathayam.53
In Cochin, the Nayar regulation of 1912 - 20 imposed
resitrictions on the power of the karanavar and legalized the customary
marriage, it made all husbands including non-Nayars legally responsible
for the maintenance of their Nayar wives and children. Polygamy was
prohibited. The Cochin Nayar Act of 1937 t 1938 made wives and children
of a husband or father the legal heirs to his property. In British Malabar too
legislation was enacted to legalise inheritance. With the passing of the
Hindu Succession Act which came into force in 1956, Hindu men and
women have been given equal rights to property and monogamy has also
became compulsory for all Hindus. The enactment of new personal laws
by the different governments in the State changed the organization of
Nayar families. Father became the head of the family and his children
began to inherit his properties. Gradually nuclear family system came in
vogue among Nayars.54

Sreedhara Menon, A., Social and Cultural History of Kerala, New Delhi,
1979, pp. 91-92.
Pillai, A.K.B., op.cit., p. 185.

Chapter - Iv



Until the first decade of the 19th Century, the Nayars held a
pre-dominant position in Kerala. In the dawn of that century the entire
community was terrifically shattered from its preeminent position. But
paradoxically no-body made any attempt to unravel the mystery behind
this abrupt annihilation of that mighty community. All the historians and
scholars dates from the period of P. Shungoonny Menon discarded it
either by cognition or by ignorance. Recently the decline of the Nayar
Dominance became a subject of much discussion among the scholars in
Kerala and abroad.

But there was no change in the obscurity of the

problem, because they are still under the mask of the early writers. But
this chapter an attempt is made to portray a graphic picture of that
miserable fall.

Views of Scholars
From time immemorial onwards the course and destiny of
human history was regulated and decided by the might of the martial
forces. A sound military force constituted an important factor in the rise
of all great kingdoms in the world. There could not be land empire without
a sufficient armed force. The neglect of defence would ultimately result in
the sudden collapse and disintegration of that respective kingdom. Thus
the existence of a state is largely depended upon its military force. A well

organized, well disciplined and well trained regular militia formed an
integral part of every state. In Travancore, before the origin of the police
force and the formation of state military force, the defence of the kingdom
was looked after by the Nayar Bridge. They maintained law and order
within the kingdom.

The Nayars constituted the bulk of the militia.

Unlike any other community the Nayar community dedicated itself to the
cause of the king and the kingdom from its very beginning. Most of them
were intensely patriotic and freedom loving.

They derived perpetual

satisfaction only through their steadfast and sincere service. An ordinary
soldier received 61/2 rupees only per mensem. 1 They were satisfied with
that meager amount. The foreigners who visited this part of India were
highly impressed with the chivalrous and adventurous spirit of the Nayar
soldiers and wrote about the same K.P. Padmanabha Menon beautifully
narrates all these opinions.

According to him the Nayars were born

Durate Barbosa wrote that : "in these kingdoms of Malabar
there is another set of people called Nayars, who are the gentry and have
no other duty then to carry on war, and they continually carry their arms
with them".2 According to Varthema, an European scholar, "The Nayars

Foreign Secret Consultations Proceedings, 17 May 1804, F.15276. (Hereafter it
will be referred as For. Sec. Cons. Proc.)
Duarte Barbosa, A description to the coast of East Africa and Malabar in the
beginning of 16th century, London, 1970, p. 118.

are the same as the gentle folks amongst us, and are obliged to bear sword
and shield or bows and lances. When they go through the streets, if they
did not carry arms they would no longer be gentlemen". In 1563 Garcia
described the Nayars as the knights in the Kingdom". Castenheda referred:
"The Nayars were the men of war whom the king of Calicut and other
kings, have ……….. They are all gentlemen who follow no office of
employment but that of fighting when needed". In 1583 Linschotten said:
"of these Malabares there are two manner of people, the one noblemen or
gentlemen called Nayars, who are soldiers, that do only wear and handle
arms". He adds "They are very good and stout soldiers and would setupon
a man very fiercely". In 1611 Johnson in his book on "Early Relations of
the most famous kingdoms of the world- he mentioned "it is strange to see
how ready the soldier of this country is at his weapons they are all
gentlemen and termed Nayars". In 1609 Phrad Laval stated " they were
the lords of the land - the best soldiers in the world and courageous
extremely skilful in the use of arms with limbs for agile and supple that
they can throw themselves into every imaginable posture, and thus avoid
or cunningly carry every possible stroke whilst at the same time they
spring upon the foe". In 1623, Della Vella commenting upon the Nayars
observed that the "Gentiles of the race of Nairi, for the most part by
profession soldiers sufficiently swashing and brave". The Dutch Captain
Nieuhooff (1653-70) expressed the view that "The Nayars are the

descendants of noble families and brought up to the war and very bold and
brave. They are the best wrestlers in the world and are very nimble on
foot". Col. Wilkes observed: "The Nayars or military class of Malabar are
perhaps, not exceeded any by nation on earth in

a high spirit of

independence and military honour; but like all persons stimulated by that
spirit without the direction of discipline, their efforts are uncertain,
capricious and desultory".3
The general criticisms in comparison with the warm tributes
had little weight. For instance Col. Macaulay stated: "the principal Nayars
and Malabares of this coast seem to possess very little discrimination of
character in general, they are selfish, cold, blunded, avaricious, narrowminded and meanly vindicative grafting the basest hypocrasy upon the
most disgusting pride".4

The Social Pyramid
In the social pyramid of Kerala, the Nayars occupied a
prominent place.

They were counted along with the savaranas or the

privileged section of the society. They were often treated as the Kashtriyas.
They enjoyed all the paraphernelias of a luxurious and extravagant life.
The key posts of the state were occupied by them. They were respected

Padmanabha Menon, K.P., A History of Kerala, Vol. III, New Delhi, 1924,
pp. 338-339.
For. Sec. Cons. Proc., 17 May 1804, F. 15291.

by all. The kings were mostly guided by their advise. The Nayars even
enjoyed the right to kill an Avarna without penalty, if he unfortunately
happened to cross him in the way.5 They enjoyed all these vast powers
only due to their prominent position in the army.
The military training of the Nayar children started from the
seventh year of their age. They were trained in their family gymnasiums
called Kalaris. Even before their adult stage they mastered in the art of
warfare. Just after his arrival in Travancore Col. Macaulay wrote: "each
house inhabited by a Nayar family is bound to hold in readiness and to
furnish armed men at a call one male out of every two or in other words
the half of all the males who have attained the age of twelve years. A
proportion of these are constantly employed and they receive a small
allowance in grain on urgent occasion and all males above twelve years of
age must attend the Rajah's standard when summoned".6
The early history of Travancore furnishes several brilliant
records of their chivalrous action. For instance in 1532 in the battle of
Tamraparni between Udaya Martanda Varma, the king of Travancore and
Accuta, the successor of Krisna Deva Raya of Vijayanagar, the Nayars
gallantly fought and defended Travancore: "on one side were ranged the

Duarte Barbosa, A description to the coast of East Africa and Malabar in the
beginning of 16th century, London, 1970, p. 120.
For. Sec. Cons. Proc., 17 May 1804, Ff. 15085-6.

resources of the empire (Vijayanagar) and of its Pandyan vassal, and on the
other the gallant Nayars of Travancore. The Nayars in those days were a
peculiarly military race, trained in the exercise of war from their earliest
youth, and taking continued delight in their weapons, persuading
themselves that no nation goeth beyond them in skill and desterity".7
The military forces of nation are products of socio political
environments. Each and every society had their own organized groups
entrusted with the duty of defending national or group interests or of going
into the offensive to protect themselves from similar groupings.
Occasionally some of these tasks were performed by professional clashes
of fighting men organized into regular standing armies. Such professional
organizations are hallmarks of advanced and sophisticated societies. In less
advanced countries (some backward countries) these duties were carried
out by militias' or irregular forces.8
Historians have been able to give some information in the
economy of Kerala during the sangam period.9 Militia acquired the
meaning of a Domestic force for the defence of a nation as distinguished
from regular army. Militia is the name given to fighting men, normally
citizens compelled to be soldiers on call. In Athens, under Pericles, youths
were admitted to manhood by way of military training and the formal

Indian Antiquary 1914, Vol. XLIII, p. 217.
The Nayar Brigade of Travancore, The Government Press, Madras, 1898, p. 11.
The sangam period flourished from 1st century B.C. to 5th century A.D.

acceptance as armed citizens. The true militia system as a legal tradition is
based upon the obligatory of every man to serve his nation. It is
distinguished from the military system of most modern times in that they
maintain substantial standing armies to which the citizen forces are only
supplements.10 It is considered as a defensive force. The Nayar militia in
Travancore was a defensive force of the feudal chieftains, the King and
the state.

Need of the Hour-Nayar Ascendancy
It was a period of a well developed civilization, culture and
way of life. An egalitarian society flourished with monarchical form of
government. Though agriculture was the main occupation of the people,
they followed several other occupations like fishing, hunting, spinning,
weaving, carpentry etc. Martial spirit of a very high order prevailed, and
bows and arrows, spears and swords were the offensive weapons. The
army consisted of infantry, cavalry, chariots and elephants.
The frequent conflict between the three Tamil kingdoms
Chera, Chola and Pandya - might have stimulated this development.11
Thus the traditional system of warfare which persisted almost until the
beginning of the modern period might have originated in this way. This
social group might have evolved into a caste known as Nayars.

Velupillai, T.K., Travancore State Manual, Vol. I, Trivandram, 1940, p. 10.
Ibid., Vol. I, p. 13.
Fuller, C.J., The Nayars Today, Cambridge, 1976, p. 4.

In course of time, soldiering became the traditional
occupation of the Nayars especially after the 11th century AD.12 From the
beginning of the Christian era down to the 12th century, it was the Nayars
who commanded the army. During the Sangam, under the Cheras, the
'Nagas'13 were the commandants of the army. Other communities like the
Mazhavar and Ayinas14 had also enjoyed important position in the Chera
army15, but the majority of them were 'Nagas' or 'Nayars'. There was also
no other fighting class superior to the Nayars, and no other caste could
ever rise to the position of a fighting class as the Nayars. The sudras were
the unprivileged classes but the Brahmins elevated them to the position of
privileged classes. The Brahmins had no sufficient body of protectory of
their own. So they had no force to acknowledge as protectors, the original
race i.e. the Nayars - whom designated as sudras, though in reality some of
them were treated as kshatriyas. If their protectors were called sudras
(Servile classes), then the class below the sudras could not have had any
footing in the original Aryan reorganization.

The "Nagas' are identified with the Nairs. The term 'Nayar' was originally a
designation meaning, literally, 'commandant'.
Kazhakam, SS, Puranams (Tinnevelly, 1964), p. 80, (Mazhavar and Ayinar were
warlike men including commanders of the army under the Sangam Cheras).
The Chera army consisted of Vilpade (bow fighters), val-pade (sword-fighters)
and vel pade (Spear fighters). Apart from these, there were also elephants and the
navy. The Chera rulers maintained a standing army at the capital and all other
important places. The Chera rulers had village Kalavis where the youth of the
country were given training in the use of arms. When the standing army was
found in sufficient immediately a new army of trained youth of the country could
be raised, for that purpose the Kalavis were maintained.


Socio economic background of the origin of the 'Nayar
The Nayar militia may be called a socio-economic - cum
military organization. This feudal military organization of the Nayar
emerged from the socio-economic conditions created by the Brahmins
from the 8th century AD onwards. The Brahmins also introduced the
matrilineal system among the Nayars, in order to give them greater
freedom from family ties and to bring them into military service. The
Nambudiries collect all these people who were preferred to give them
companies and soldiers, and created the Nayars and established the
matrilineal system among them.16
An egalitarian society which prevailed before the 8th century
AD disappeared and Society became authoritarian in characters and
maintained distinction based on birth and serve and subordinated the
individual to the caste system and the joint family system.
The early Nayar includes into the Sudra caste created by the
Brahmins. The word Nayar was used from 9th century A.D. onwards17 to
mean a 'sundra' 176. upto 9th Century AD., the Nayar might have been

Hamilton, C.J., Trade relation between England and India, Vol.II, Calcutta,
1916, p. 27.
Gopinatha Roy, T.K., Traman Arch Souvenir, Vol. IV, Madras, 1910, p. 83.

called as 'Nagas'. The 'Nagas' carrying swords in their hands were
respected by all people in the lands.18
Therefore "the original Nayars were undoubtedly a military
body holding land and serving as a militia". Since the Nayars spend all the
time in the battle field it was possible that, they liked the new system of
inheritance. "If a man had no family obligation he would have greater
liking for marital life".19 Nayar militia as a feudal military organization
approved with the emergence of Land Lordism in the state. The land
Lordism or Janmi system originated in Kerala with the establishment of
Brahmin supremacy.20
While the Brahmin ideology of Chaturvarnya (means division
of society into four based on occupation) was successfully working in
society, there broke out the war between the cholas and the cheras in
the second half of the 10th century A. D. Universal military training in the
Kalaris, early acquisition of skill in the use of arms attacks and counter
attacks, were the important features of the prolonged war between Cheras
and the cholas.21
18. Chattambi Swamigal, Ancient Kerala, cited by Gopalakrishnan, P.K., p. 283.
19. Hamilton, C.J., op.cit., p. 278.
20. Nambutripad, E.M., Sankaran, Kerala, The Motherland of the Malayalis, Trichur,
1966, p. 51.
21. Elamkulam Kunjan Pillai, P.N., Studies in Kerala History, Trivandrum, 1970, p.235.
Logan, W., Malabar, Vol. 1, Madras, 1887, pp. 596-607.








administrators evolved partly because of the necessity to relieve the
professional soldiers of their economic burdens. The Nayar nobles engaged
themselves in martial arts while the actual cultivation of their land was the
responsibility of other groups. The commercial field was dominated by
other castes in collaboration with their foreign trade partners. Thus it was
the system of land control that prevailed in Travancore that facilitated the
evolution and survival of the Nayar Militia.22
The Nayars assisted the Nambudiri land Lords in the
collection of revenue. They helped the minor rulers in their innumerable
battles for supremacy. The social customs which buttressed the supremacy
of the Brahmins were enforced by the Nayar Militia.

Nayar Militia and Nayar Nobility
The Nayars willingly dedicated their lives to the Maharaja and
the country. By long standing customs the Nayars served as soldiers and
protected the country. The Nayar battalion was very brave and noted for its
service and sacrifice. In fact, the military forces were the products of socio
political environments. Evidently in all organized societies, there were
organized groups to discharge the duty of defending the state and thereby

Krishnan Nadar, G., 1983, Nayar Militia in Travancore from 1729 - 1835,
Ph.D. Thesis, University of Kerala, p.12.

protecting the subjects. Occasionally some of these tasks were performed
by professional classes of fighting men organized into the regular standing
army of the state. Apparently such professional organizations represented
an advanced stage of feudal paraphernalia in the state of Travancore which
in turn set off an impounding impact upon the social life of South
Nayars fell as the first victim to the cultural imperialism of the
Brahmins in Travancore. From the 12th century onwards, the Numbudiries
as monopolists of wealth, power, education and drive established their
predominance and became more powerful than the ruling sovereigns. The
Nambudiries probably wanted soldiers and mistresses and therefore
instituted the Nayar caste.24 Subsequently the Nambudiri Jenmis had
become powerful and the Nayars emerged to be suicide squads. It helped
the inauguration of perfect Brahminocracy in Travancore with the solemn
support of the Nayar community. In South Travancore, the Nayars as
madampimars enjoyed vast land control and emerged as the chief
Kudiyans on marayapattam regulation.
The dawn of 11th century witnessed the birth of Nayar
militia.25 The arrival of the Brahmins contributed to the formation of this

Elamkulam P. N. Kunjan Pillai, op.cit., p. 346.
Ibid., p. 347.
The Nayar Brigade of Travancore, The Government Press, Madras, 1898, p. 25.

feudal military organization. Further the rise of Nambudiri Brahmin to
power and predominance paved the way for the on-set of feudalism in
Travancore. Consequently the style of standing armies disappeared and the
feudal military organization called Nayar militia came into existence.
Even though the Nayars were Sudras in social hierarchy they were granted
a privileged social status. Intending to exploit the Nayars, the Brahmins
accorded them military service.26
By the Hindu customs, originally the function of military
service was assigned to the Kshatriyas.27 This strange position of Nayar
Sudras of Travancore made them to concentrate on war like activities.
George Wood Cock thinks that the Nayars were the feudal land holders
locally called Sudras but performing functions of Kshtriyas.28 Protecting
the land, and its people being the fundamental duty of the king, the Nayars
were raised to the rank of Kshtriyas by the Brahmins. Hence the preeminence of Nayars in their military services increased their political
authority and social status. No wonder the Nayar militia became an
emerging force in the socio-political culture of the state of Travancore.29
The famous chaver army was believed to have been formed
during the chola-chera war. The distinct feature of the army was lost in the

Elamkulam P.N. Kunjan Pillai, op.cit., p. 295.
Padmanabha Menon, K.P., History of Kerala, Vol. Ill, Trivandrum, 1924, p. 264.
Wood Cock George, Kerala, London, 1967, p. 60.
Padmanabha Menon, K.P, op.cit., p. 230.

end of the eleventh century A. D. when it was converted into the Nayar
militia. When feudalism came into existence in Kerala the Nayar militia
emerged as an offshoot of this feudalism.30
The Nayar militia was evidently a socio-economic cum
military organization. The feudal military organization of the Nayars
emerged out of the socio-economic conditions created by the Brahmins
from the 8th century A. D. onwards. The equalitarian society which
prevailed before the 8th century A. D. disappeared and society became
authoritarian in character and maintained distinction based on birth . Upto
9th century, the Nayars were called as 'The Nagas'. Therefore the original
Nayars were undoubtly a military body, holding land and performing
service as a militia. The Sudras became a combination of the hereditary
military class called Nayars and the non-military class are non-Nayars.31
The Nayar militia as a feudal military organization appeared with the
emergence of land lordism in the state. Village republics were created
because of the rise of Nayar taravads. For the management of military the
country was divided into Desams under the Desa vizhis.32 There was a
functional connection between the Nayar military organization and their
kinship and marriage system. The military organization shaped the

Wood Cock George, op.cit., p. 60.
Edgar Thurston, Castes and Tribes of Southern India., Vol. V, Madras, 1909,
pp. 152-154.
Nambudiripad, E.M., Sankaran, Kerala, the Mother Land of the Malayalis,
Trichur, 1966, p. 56.

marriage system of the Nayars and the disbanding of the Nayar armies
during the reign of Marthandavarma, led to the eventual collapse of their
marriage system of talirite. The joint family system as well as taravad and
the emergence of the stable homogenous union brought back Nayars
permanently to their homes. Never again such mechanism developed after
the armies were disbanded". Never again it was heard that, "the Nayars
were born to die for the Nambudiries. 33 Thus the socio-economic factors
favoured the origin of Nayar militia. The system continued to exist for
many centuries and finally its collapse became inevitable due to the
disappearance of the old socio-economic order. Conspicuously the
European influence and the modernization efforts of the ruling sovereigns
of Travancore brought about sweeping waves of socio-economic changes
that altogether challenged the traditional systems.

Rule of Marthanda Varma
Until the time of Marthanda Varma, the king depended upon
the Nayar militia of the land.

Seeking alternative method of defense

system, Marthanda Varma organized a permanent force as a supplement to
the Nayar militia.34 The traditional system of warfare underwent
tremendous change through out the 17th and 18th centuries. The internal

Fuller, C.J., Nayars Today, University Press, Cambridge, 1976, p. 251.
Elamkulam P.N. Kunjan Pillai, op.cit., p. 325.

stability of the Travancore Kingdom and its subsequent military weakness
provided opportunities for the rulers of Madurai and other eastern
neighbours to send maruding marava troops. 35
The predominance of European powers like the Dutch and
English also offered threats to the authority of the monarch. Therefore it
was necessary to sub-due the feudal barons, who were the chieftains of
the traditional militia and they safeguarded the independence and integrity
of the Kingdom.

It was necessary to take urgent measures when

Marthanda Varma came to power in 1729. His ambition was also to
recover the territories which were once controlled by the Venad rulers.
There was no organized, equipped, trained and disciplined standing army.
He inherited the command over the feudal army which adopted traditional
methods of warfare. More over the Kings authority was very weak and
they had neither financial resources nor man power to create a standing
army because of the influence of the feudal barons and their control over
the land.36 It was under such circumstances that Marthanda Varma decided
to set aside the traditional chiefs of warfare by stages.
The soldiers of new militia used traditional weapons since
there was no revolutionary change effected in the art of warfare Marthanda

Velupillai, T.K., op.cit., Vol. IV, p. 127.
Nagam Aiya, V., op.cit., Vol. I, p. 334.

Varma persumed that the militia was organized in the traditional manner
and that the methods of warfare also were primitive in character.37 Hence
during his reign efficient arrangements were made for the manufacture
of fire arms, swords and guns. The great bulk of army was composed of
Nayar soldier who employed a unique reputation for great military
qualities. After his accession to the throne Marthanda Varma appointed
Kumaraswamy Pillai as commander-in-chief with Thanu Pillai as his
assistance. They formed the army by enrolment of the sons of the soil in
large numbers. The soldiers were supplied with better arms and strict
discipline was enforced. A better sense of loyalty and obedience was
inculcated among different ranks and files of the army segments.
In 1780, the Travancore army consisted of 50,000 men, well
trained by European officers. The state had also at its disposal the service
of 10,000 Nayars and chegos armed with bows, arrows, spears, swords
and battle axis. There were cantonments in different parts of the kingdom.
The soldiers marched up and down the country to enforce the collection of
taxes and to preserve peace and tranquility. The army was paid partly in
money and partly in kind and thus it was feudalized.38
In the militia there were also musketeers who were infantry
soldiers. They took a very sure aim to fire and the first shot generally hit

Velu Pillai, T. K., op.cit., Vol. IV, p. 122.


and inflicted great mischief. The Travancore infantry was always effective.
There were draft elephants but not much of cavalry.39 In 1734, Quilon and
Kayamkulam were attacked by the Maharaja's forces under the joint
command of Kumaraswamy Pillay40, Thanu Pillai41 and Ramayyan.42 At
this time, the Travancore army was strengthened with the addition of
cavalry and infantry. Furthermore new fire arms were obtained from the
English merchants trading at Anjengo and Edava . Thus at the time when
the Dutch advanced into South Travancore between Colachel and Kottar,
The Travancore army consisted of infantry, artillery, musketeers, elephants
and cavalry, and the cavalry was commanded by Rama lyen Dalavai. In
spite of the fact that there were few fire arms purchased from the
English, the army was not even partly European but mainly native in
character. The native army which was powerful enough to defeat the
European army met at Colachel on 10 August 1741. Marthanda Varma did
not forget to strengthen the infantry stationed in South Travancore by the


Churchill's collection of Voyages and Travels, Vol.II, Letters from Malabar,
pp. 235-236.
Pappu Tambi and Raman Tambi rose for the throne in 1730. The insurrection
proved the immediate necessity for taking measure to strengthen the position of
the Maharaja. So Marthanda Varma appointed Kumaraswami Pillai as
commander in chief.
Thanu Pillai was the Dalava of Travancore during the period between the death of
Arumugam Pillai in 1736 and the appointment of Ramayyan as Dalava in 1737.
Ramayyan was the Dalawa of Travancore (1737 - 1757).

addition of new Nayar soldiers.43 The timely reorganizations brought
by Marthanda Varma to his army and the martial quality of Travancore
helped him to win battle after battle including the battle of Colachel. The
war with the Dutch revealed him the superiority of the trained infantry
over the feudal levies when the country grew in size in consequent to
Marthanda Varma was wise enough to realize the necessity of
keeping men in a permanent military service to ensure safety and peace in
the conquered provinces He also realised that the time was most suitable
for the adoption of European warfare. In order to ensure victory, Hyder
Ali and Nizam of Hyderabad had employed European generals. A squad of
600 men of Travancore army were defeated at Quilon by the Dutch and
were forced to retreat in 1742.45 This incident caused agony to Marthanda
Varma and he was fully convinced of the fact that a drained and
disciplined standing army on the European model was the need of the hour.
The European weapons became inevitable for the safety of the country.
Marthanda Varma decided to create the standing army under
the guidance and instruction of Delanoy, one of the prisoners captured in

Velu Pillai, T.K., op.cit., Vol. IV, p. 343.
Selections from the Record of Madras Government, Nayar Brigade of
Travancore, pp. 24 - 27.
Velu Pillai, T.K., op.cit., Vol. IV., p. 25.

the battle of Colachel.46 Thus for the first time in the history of Travancore
standing army trained on the European model came into existence.
Marthanda Varma appointed captain Delanoy as captain in his highness
service. In order to modernize the army he recruited the sons of the soil in
the country like Nayars, Nadars, Ezhavas and Christians. The conquests of
Marthanda Varma were made with the help of armies composed of his own
subjects. The Matilakom records also prove that the army of Marthanda Varma consisted on mainly of his own subjects. 47 The best of the soldiers
were Kunchukuttakkar who were picked Nayars.48

Ettuveettil Pillamars
With a view to obtain better loyalty and services, new class of
nobility was created in the place of the old nobility of the eight houses of
Nayars. They were not at all the feudal barons of the country like the Ettu
Vittil Pillamars. He thought that the Chief Military Commanders should
be the natives of the land and thus Delanoy was not made the first in
command.49 Thus by creating new nobility called Annavis and by making
them great men of his kingdom and also by recruiting all other classes of
people into the standing army, he took the first step towards the destruction


Ibid., Vol. IV, p. 26.
Shangoonny Menon, P., op.cit., p.141.
Annavi is a tittle of honour given by Marthanda Varma to the new nobility he
created when the cost of support of the old nobility of the Pillamar was high.
Velu Pillai, T.K., op.cit., Vol. IV., p.240.
Nagam Aiya, V., op.cit., Vol. II, p. 334.

of the traditional feudal army of the Nayar nobility. This first step was
the beginning of the decline of Nayar dominance.
In October, 1744, the King of Travancore received 150 arms
from the Anjengo Government.50 And in December 1744 Travancore
Maharaja received from English 200 small arms.51 Agreements were made
between the company's authorities at Anjengo and the Maharaja for the

procuring of

gun powder flints, arms and ammunition and

accordingly in 1744 the King of Travancore was supplied with 30 barrels
of gun powder and 2000 flints.
Year after year in accordance with the need of the time arms
and ammunition were supplied to the Maharaja in exchange for pepper.
This regular flow of European weapons helped to Europeanise the army
under the guidance of Delanoy. Then Delanoy made everything that was
required for the defence of the country and brought into the service. The
army consisted of 72 battalians of 200 men.52

Role of Captain Delanoy
Captain Delanoy divided the entire Travancore into three
forces, Eastern, Western and Southern and over these he distributed the
whole army in due proportion. The head quarters of the army remained
at Pooliyurkurichi and the captain Delanoy resided there. All reports were

Records of Fort St. George, Anjengo Consultations, Vol. 1, p. 21.
Ibid., Vol. I, p. 38.
Velu Pillai, T.K., op.cit., Vol. II, p. 343.

made to his highness through the native head commandant called Valia


chief commandants


at Padmanabhapuram,

Trivandrum and Quilon. The trained army was divided into three
categories, infantry, cavalry and artillary. Besides these divisions of the
army, there was also the traditional militia.53
During the time of Marthanda Varma there were two kinds of
armies existed in Travancore. That was regular army and irregular army.
The regular army was the national army of the country trained in modern
methods of warfare and the irregular army followed the old systems of
warfare. But greater importance was given to the irregular army.
Marthanda Varma maintained the irregular army also. In order to reduce
the traditional weapons they utilized men power and colourise the
battatian. Most of the soldiers in the regular army were the Nayars.54 This
helped the Nayars to maintain their military superiority but this supremacy
of the Nayar chieftains or feudal chieftains found a decline in phases.

Hence the decline of the dominance of the Nayars started in
the reign of Marthanda Varma. The rain of feudal system of society began
with the decline of the traditional military power of the Nayar chieftain. 55


According to Menon, Marthandva Varmas army consisted of 50,000 trained troops
of all branches, such as infantry, cavalry, artillery and irregular troops trained and
Robin Jeffrey, The Decline of Nayar Dominance, Society and Politics in
Travancore 1847-1908, New Delhi, 1976, p. 3.


As a part of the economic reforms, Marthanda Varma
inaugurated modernization works in the army organization of the state. In
fact the reorganization of the army brought about changes in socioeconomic structure of the society of Travancore. The social privileges of
the Nayars as a military class ended and consequently their position in the
society began to decline. Besides, martial spirit of the Nayar nobles also
declined.56 Before the time of Marthanda Varma the strength of the king
depended mainly on his Nayar force.

The Nayar soldiers were directly

under the Naduvazhis,57 who were the military chiefs of the provinces.
The reorganization of army disintegrated the feudal social structure. In the
new army, there was no place for feudal barons who had been the
madambimars58 and heads of militia in their respective districts. The
lands of the feudal lords like Ettu Vittil Pillamar were already confiscated
and all Chieftains now had to pay taxes to the government. Thus their age
old economic privileges, as lords of the land as well as the exemption from
taxation, that they enjoyed centuries together came to an end and started
a status of ordinary citizens.

William Logan believes that the Nayars


Logan, W., op.cit., Vol.I, p. 492.
Naduvazhi, a territory made up of a number of desams is called nadu, ruler of
desams is called naduvazhi.
In South Travancore the land was divided into 4 categories. The last category
was "Lands of madampimars".


occupied so unique and so lasting a position that "but for foreign
intervention there seems to be no reason why it should not have continued
for centuries to come".59
According so George Wood Cock the day of the Nayar as a
fundamental warrier came to an end on the battle field of Ambalapuzha.
The battle of Ambalapuzha on 3 January 1754 was the last fight in the
international style in which the soldiers of Ambalapuzha fought in the old
style against Marthanda Varma's men who fought in the modern style. 60
No community in Southern Kerala was more affected by
Marthanda Varma's campaigns and policies than the Nayars. 61 The Nayars
were much affected by the reorganization of the army which was effected
under the western influence. The foreign influence was an essential factor
that resulted in the consequent reorganization of the army which
challenged the old feudal system and caused its disappearance. When the
standing army was created the traditional militia became unnecessary and
it existed as an irregular army. The decline of the importance of militia
threw off the Nayars to seek some other occupation for which they had no
previous training.

About 1757, 30,000 Nayars in the Nayar Brigade,


Logan, W., op.cit., Vol. I, p. 492.
George Wood Cock, op.cit, p. 173.
Fuller C.J., op.cit., p. 42.

(10,000 troops regular and 20,000 troops were irregular Intantry). 62 "This
was the fate of Nayars in the conquered countries too, because Marthanda
Varma ended the military career of all the Nayars by demolishing the army
of the conquered chiefs.63
Marthanda Varma also destroyed the feudalism in the
conquered countries by annexing the lands of the chief of the conquered
territories. "He annexed the lands of the former chiefs to his new state.
Many of the chiefs were probably Nayars themselves and the
principal source of their economic power and Marthanda Varma's action
more or less destroyed it.64 The land holders had to pay taxes to the
government and to the Nayar aristocracy.

Thus deprived of military and

political power, but they maintained their old traditions and its dignify.
The reorganization of the state ruined the social, economic, political and
military privileges of the Nayars. The 2nd half of 18th century witnessed
the political pre-dominance of the Nayars.65
The revolutionary agrarian reforms introduced by Marthanda
Varma transformed the Nayars into a class of Jenmies and Viruthikaars.
The land administration in Travancore was aristocratic in character. The

The Nayar Brigade of Tranvancore, Government Press, Madras, 1898, p. 27.
Fuller, C.J., op.cit., p. 42.
Panikkar, K.M, op.cit., p. 408.

private property in land owned by Brahmins, Devaswoms, local chieftains
and nobles had been distinguished by the word 'Jenmom'. 66 Among the
four categories of Jenmon lands the last category was lands of
However such Jenmon lands enjoyed by the madampies
lapsed to the state during the reign of Marthanda Varma. In the new
reform Regulations, the Sirkar lands or 'Pandaravagai' were assigned to the
tenants, primarily Nayars. This made the government as the landlord and
extended the Jenmon right to the Nayars.68
The Brahmaswom and Devaswom land tenures were entirely
free-hold and exempted from payment of revenue to the government as
long as they remained unalienated. The Brahmin Jenmies who possessed
large areas of land employed tenants from Nayar community for the
purpose of cultivating the land. The Brahmins referred primarily Nayar
tenants because they believed that the Nayars were brought by Parasurama
to serve them.69 Thus the Nayars became a communal body of tenant and
the Bragmin Jenmies entered into various agreements with them. The

The Travancore Land Revenue Manual, Vol. III, p. 24.
English Records, Travancore Government, Trivandrum, Legislation, File.No.342,
Dewan Sashia Sastri's Administration Report for 1048 and 1049 M.E., Para.204.
Ibid., Cover File. No. 1260, Kunjhiraman Nair's 'Memo on Land Tenures'
Para. 46.
Ibid., File. No. 276, 'Ramiengar's settlement memorandum' Para. 53.


documents executed between the jenmies and the tenants clearly expressed
the rights and power of land-owners over the Nayar tenants.70 Later on the
Jenmies collected a security from the tenants and inaugurated
Kanapattom. Such contracts between the Jenmies and tenants came to be
known as Marayapattom in South Travancore.71 Such arrangements of
land control reduced the Nayars as Kudiyans.72
Further Marthanda Varma's Policy of annexation and
encouragement led to the emergence of the viruthi73 system in the land of

In order to serve the non-malayalee Brahmins, a certain

tenure called 'viruthi tenure' was introduced. 74

The Brahmin Prime-

minister of Travancore Ramayyan Dalawa (1736-1756) inaugurating this
viruthi tenure established 21000

tenants chiefly from Nayars.75


viruthikaars the Nayars employed slaves and other depressed communities
in their viruthi lands and feudalized the society.
The relation between the Jenmies and viruthi-holders
deteriorated similar to that of Jenmi-kudiyans tenure. Evidently the land

Ibid., p.7.
Ibid., Cover file No. 1260, Kunjhiraman Nair's Memo on Land Tenures, Para.13.
Kudiyans were the tenants who occupied the lands of the Jenmies on either
Kanapattom or Marayapattom.
Viruthi is derived from the word 'vritti', means service.
Ward and Conner, op.cit., p.137.
English Records, Trivandrum, Cover File No. 1920, p.19.

reforms introduced by Martanda Varma reduced the Nayar Community to
the status of ryots rather than military chieftains.

The crippled

madampimars came to occupy the social status as landed aristocrats or
nobles and thereby commanded vast system of untouchability and social

Being exploited by both the malayali and non-malayali.

Brahmins the Nayars of South Travancore feudalized the society and acted
as executors of the creed of Brahminocracy.
In the second half of the 18th century ―a grave political crisis
had gathered momentum, which threatened to annihilate the independent
existence of all local kingdom of South India and Travancore shared in all
the turmoils‖.76 When the fall of the Nayak power was visible the Nawab
of Arcot in 1740 deployed troops under Sabdar Alikhan and Chanda Saheb
to attack the Travancore territory.77 The Arcot forces entered Nanjilnad
and caused huge havoc and extensive damage in places like Kottaram,






Vimanasseri. Martanda Varma 1729-58, the Travancore ruler deputed his
general Ramayyan Dalaway to negotiate a settlement with Chanda Saheb.
Having succeeded in his mission Chanda Saheb withdraw from Nanjilnad
on receipt of rich gifts. The sporadic attacks of the Nawab again sparked

Sobhanan, B., Ramavarma of Travancore, Cover Page, Sandhya, 1977.
Nelson, J.H., The Madura country A Manual, Madras, 1868, p. 256.

out when Yusufkhan an able general popularly known as khan Saheb,
the Governor of Madurai attacked the columns of Travancore on
14 November 1762.
Within a short period the forces of Travancore marched
towards Aramboly and fought ten bloody encounters with the Nawab‘s
army.78 The invaders educated their posts and retreated in humiliation.
Khan Saheb pursued the retreating army up to Neyyattinkara, where the
Raja made entreaties for peace. In the course of the raids khan Saheb
captured Aramboly, plundered South Travancore, set fire to the villages
and temple chariots and cut off the noses of the prisoners of war. By a
treaty signed on 21 February 1763 both the chiefs agreed on peace and
to render mutual assistance against any external aggression upon their
respective territories. The subsequent course of fierce political conflict
was brought to an end with a settlement reached on 14 December 1766.
Accordingly the Nawab recognized the Western Ghats as his boundary and
accepted to cede Kanyakumari and Shencottah to Travancore. 79 The Raja
reciprocated by giving up his claims on Kalakad. In spite of the political
misfortune of the Travancroe king, Cape Comorin again got integrated
with Travancore and become the southern limit of the Travancore kings. 80

Rajayyan, K., History of Tamilnadu 1565-1982, Madurai, 1982, p.129.
Ibid., pp. 356-367.
Kareem C.K., Kerala under Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan, Cochin, 1973, p. 120.

In the triangle of political struggle between the Mysore
sultans, the Nawabs of Carnatic and the English East Inida company for
the mastery of South India, the role played by Ramavarma significantly
helped the English East Inida company to consolidate their power in South
India. With the death of Hyder Ali in 1782, his mission of annexing
Nanjilnad was continued by his son Tipu Sultan (1782-1789).81 As the
Sultan of Mysore adopted an aggressive attitude towards Travancore,
Rama Varma entered into subsidiary alliance with the English Inida
Company in 1788, by which the company sent a subsidiary force of two
battalions at a cost of 1755 Pagodas (about 650 pounds) a month each to be
paid by cash or in pepper. Agitated at the Travancore support to English
during the third Mysore was (1790-92) Tipu attacked Nanjilnad in 1790. It
was a cruel looting and was marked by indiscriminate destruction and
forceful coversion.

But throughout the fighting between Mysore and

Travancore, the subsidiary force ―remained as passive spectators of all
these disasters and depredations telling that they received no orders from
Madras government to take part in war‖. The Anglo Nawab encounter
ended with the surrender of Tipu and Treaty of Srirengaptnem that
acclaimed British Paramountcy over Travancore region.82

Hunter, W.W., The Imperial Gazetteer of India, Vol. IX, p. 115.
Buchanan, A., Journey from Madras through the countries of Mysore, Canara
and Malabar, Vo. II, New Delhi, 1988, p. 131.

When political conflicts pervaded through out the country the
alien powers attempted to make it their home and especially British made
their presence felt in the political and commercial fields. The feuds among
the native princes and the weaker postures of the fellow foreigners
established the English preponderance in the political affairs of
Travancore.83 The administration of Martanda Varma inaugurated a period
of its independence on the English. Dr. B. Sobhanan writes ―Travancore
emerged as the mightiest Kingdom on the Malabar coast and it became one
of primier states in South Inida as a result of the vigorous policies pursued
by Martanda Varma.84 Consequently political developments in Travancore
forced the subsequent rulers to accept the directions of the English
overlord, actually the Resident. Confirming the treaty of Srirengapatnam
the company entered into a second treaty with Travancore on 25
September 1795. Accordingly Travancore agreed not to enter into relation
with any European power without the consent of English Company.
Incorporating the principles of the subsidiary alliance system of Lord
Wellesly, the British signed with Raja Bala Ramavarma (1798-1810).85
Another fresh treaty on 12 January 1805, it reduced
Travancore hither to an equal ally to the position of a subordinate power.
Travancore agreed to station a permanent British army facing all the

Shungoonny Menon, A., A History of Travancore, Madras, 1878, p. 176.
Kusuman, K.K., Slavery in Travancore, Madras, 1878, p. 44.
Sobhanan, B., Ramavarma of Travancore, Sandhya, 1977, p. 1.

incurred expenses and more over the company gained a right to appoint a
Resident to stay at Trivandrum.

The Resident gradually transformed

himself from the status of a diplomatic agent representing a foreign power
into an executive and controlling officer of a superior government. 86
In 1813 a son was born to Rani Lakshmi Bai who was
proclaimed the king and the Rani became the regent. In 1815 on her death
her sister Rani Parvathi Bai (1815-1829) became the regent.87


administration of the Travancore especially Rani‘s that of Umayamma
Rani and Rani Lakshmi Bai formed the most tragic epochs in the annals of
Travancore history. During the reign of Rani Lakshmi Bai (1810-1815)
Col. Munro held the joint office of the Resident and Dewan maintained
complete control over administration. He completely retired the Rani of
all cares and burdens of the state. To Rani Lakshmi Bai he became a
saviour who protected the state.88

Munro’s Contribution
When it was in serious peril, Munro too proved to be an able
administrator, social reformer and devout Christian. Rani Lakshmi Bai
introduced a new era of social progress and reforms in the state.89 She
granted freedom and civic equality to all irrespective of caste, creed and

O.C. No. 292, political 25 September 1995, Palace Records.
Sobhanan, B., Dewan Velu Thampi and the British, Trivandrum, 1978, pp. 11-12.
Sankarankutty Nayar, T.P., Tragic Decade of Kerala History, Trivandrum, 1971, p.77.
Sobhanan, B., A Decade of crisis in Travancore, Journal of Kerala studies,
Vol.VI, March-June 1979, Part I and II, p. 422.

favoured the missionaries. The domestic turmoil compelled her to abdicate
the throne in favour of the prince Rama Varma who ascended the throne
with the name Swathi Thirunal (1829-1847).90
Swathi Thiunal was a scholar and a musician who undertaken
various development measures for the welfare of his people. His reign
ushered in an epoch of cultural progress and economic properity. After his
death in 1847) Uttram Thirmal Martanda Varma (1847-60) became the
king of Travancore and whose reign witnessed the intense agitation for the
right of upper cloth. This led to the intervention of the Madras government
for the settlement of the agitation and controversy, Uttram Thirunal who
died in 1860 was followed by Ayiliam Thirunal (1860-1880) and Visakam
Thirunal (1885-1924). Upto 1930 only Nayars allowed to serve in the
military of Travancore,91 Regent Sethu Lakshmi Bai (1924-1931) and Sri
Chitra Thirunal (1931-1948) respectively. The accession of Sri Chitra
Thirunal brought with it a change of outlook. With the attainment of
independence the princely state of Travancore was merged with the union.
In the independent era, the state was subject to linguistic State reorganisation of 1956 and the erstwhile South Travancore became part of
Tamil Nadu as Kanyakumari District.92

Agur, C.M., Church History of Travancore, Madras, 1903, p.566.
―The Nayar Brigade of Travancore‖, Government Press, Madras, 1898, p. 121.
English Records, Trivandrum, C.S. File No.714, Memorandum on Travancore
Administration, 25 January 1929.

The militia was thus an essential part of the social system that
had prevailed until the middle of the 18th century. The disappearance of
the old elite supremacy and the increasing influence of the militia as a
political factor characterised this period of decline.
However it must be an over-simplification to say that the
absolute decline of the militia merely due to the growth of royal power of
the Travancore government has not signed the subsidiary Alliance, the
militia might have been converted into a modern army and given a new

The alliance was virtually unavoidable owing to factors already

described. The futility of reliance on the militia for the defence of the state
was realised by the rulers long before the crisis of 1789. But these fears
were proved quite correct by the rout of the Travancorean army early next
year. The result was the closer alliance between the state and the English
East Indian Company. The treaty of 1795 impose a heavy burden on the
finances of the kingdom.

The necessity to maintain battalions of the

English Company‘s forces brought into question the rationale of
maintaining a large native army. Any expansionist ambition was preluded
because the ultimate responsibility for the defence of the state rested with
the company. It is against this background that we have to view the revolts
of the Nair militia in 1798 and 1804. The dissolution of some of their
units was an inevitable consequence of the changed situation which had

made them largely irrelevant, for the defence of the state.

In fact

historians have tended to under-estimate its importance in comparison with
the revolt of 1809. Naturally the social prestige and influence associated
with the military services also declined. Other communities especially the
old Syrian Christians and the new Christian converts who enjoyed British
Patronage gradually emerged to challenge the old elite.
Thus the transformation of political, social and economic
environments undermined the old elite. The final blow was the revolt of
1809 and the consequent supremacy of the British Resident over the
Government of Travancore.

The Nayar military units increasingly

performed ceremonial functions and were reduced to mere parade forces.
It can be seen that the system was brought into the existence to fulfil a
particular need in a particular period. It is true that it fulfilled its role to a
great extent during the hay day of its existence.

Chapter - V

Social challenges and
nayar responses

Patrilineal and Matrilineal
A distinctive feature of the social organization of Travancore
till recent times was the prevalence of Marumakkathayam or the
matrilineal system among certain castes and communities. It was one of
the peculiar customs that strangulated the Nayars for long. Makkathayam
or the patrilineal system was the prevalent form of succession in the
civilized society1. Marumakkathayam involved the inheritance and
succession through the sisters children in the female line. The antiquity of
the system has been a theme of controversy among scholars. The
traditional views propagated by the Brahmin aristocracy and expounded
by the authors of the Keralopathi is that marumakkathayam is of hoary
However, it is believed that the patrilineal was the system of
inheritance prevalent in ancient Kerala, and that matrilineal came into
vogue at a later period of Kerala history under the impact of some
compelling forces.2
Matrilineal had been the system of inheritance and succession
prevailing in ancient Kerala and that had been in a state of suspended

Nagam Aiya, V., Travancore State Manual, Vol. II, Trivandrum, 1906, p. 363.
Wester Marie, The History of the Human Marriage, New York, 1921, p. 97.

during the period of the ascendancy of the patrilineal Brahmin caste
and again it staged a revival at a later period.3
A Nayar tharavad or family consisted of a group of persons
male and female, all tracing descent from a common ancestress living
under the control and management of the eldest male who was called the
karanavan. In its simplest form a family consisted of a mother when
children living together with their maternal uncle that was the mother's
brother as karanavan. It was the mother that form the stock of the descent
and kinship as well as rights to property were traced through females and
not through males. Each of the mother and her children and descendants
in the female line formed a thavazhi. (Thai means 'mother' vazhi means
'line') meaning a mother line.4
Every member male or female had an equal interest in the
tharavad property. But could not claim his or her share of it. The karanavan
was legally responsible for the well beings, control and management of the
tharavad and was bound to meet the wants of the members arising from
their social status. But he had no right to alienate the immovable property
of the family without the consent of all the members, atleast of all the adult
male and female members. The internal management of the tharavad was
vested in the karanavan and he held the family purse and was practically

Sreedhara Menon, A., A Survey of Kerala History, Kottayam, 1967, pp. 84 - 85.
Nagam Aiya, V., op.cit., Vol. II, p. 363.

the family itself rather than its agent or representative. The disposal of the
movable property of the family was under his control and he was not
bound to account except when he habitually wasted the property or did
not administer it for the benefit of the other members in which case a
suit might lie to dispose him from the karanavanship.5

Origin of Marumakkathayam
The origin of the marumakkathayam system still lies in
obscurity. There are various theories with regard to the origin of the
marumakkathayam system. Many European writers believe that the
system of the inheritance in the female line was prevalent among the
Nayars must have originated from the polyandry or free love.

In order

to ascertain the origin of the marumakkathayam it is necessary to go back
to its early stages and examine the condition of society which have rise to
it. Sir Henry Maine views that the origin of society was in patriarchal
families, that polyandry and kinshif through females were of temporary
duration liable to be brought about at a stage in the progress of a society
by peculiar circumstances under which it may be placed.6 Andrew Lang
observed that "the Aryan races have generally passed through the stage of
scarcity of women, polyandry, absence of recognized kinship and
recognitions of kinship through women.7

Ibid., p. 36.
Sir Henry Maine, Early Law and Customs, New York, 1971, p. 202.
Andrew Lang, Customs and Myth, New York, 1885, p. 775.

Of the Aryan races there can be no question that they too had
passed through the several stages before reaching the final one of paternal
kinship. So the maternal family and inheritance in the female line need not
necessarily be the result of polyandry. Among the Tibetians, the Todas,
the Aimons of Japan and other races that

practiced polyandry and had

hardly any system of settled marriage 8, marumakkathayam was found
among some of the kshatriyas, vellalas and muslims also but polyandry
was never practiced by them.9
Thus the question is of polyandry did not lead to
matrilineal inheritance of marumakkathayam. What caused its origin?
K.P. Padmanabha Menon has dealt with this question in detail. He was
firmly of the opinion that marumakkathayam began in Kerala only in
recent times, on account of some special circumstances unknown to us
now.10 Mc Lennan, Morgan and Engels have put forward the theory that
in early stages of human history the patrilineal system was the common
basis of inheritance and succession and the matrilineal system evolved
later.11 This may be the common process of social development and
progress. But in some societies owing to certain peculiar circumstances
development might have taken place in the reverse order. According to

Wester Marie, The History of the Human Marriage, New York, 1921, p. 98.
Elamkulam, P.N., Kunjan Pillai, Studies in Kerala History, Trivandrum, 1970,
p. 29.
Ibid., p. 292.
Mc Lennan, J.F., Studies in Ancient History, London, 1938, pp. 27 - 44.

Engles, the patrilineal system marked the age of civilization. But certain
tribes which still exist in rude savagery follow the matrilineal system for
example the hill tribes of the sahyadri region.12

Circumstances Responsible for it
The early Chera kings who ruled Kerala in the Sangam age,
followed the patrilineal system as was shown by the Sangam literature. But
the descendant of the Cheras in the medieval times followed the matrilineal
system.13 Due to the force of compelling circumstances people under the
patrilineal system adopted matrilineal system. None of the foreign
travellers who visited Travancore before 14th century had seen any thing
peculiar in the family organization of the land. Frair Jordanm who lived at
Quilon early in the 14th Century was the first foreign visitor who referred to
the peculiar laws of inheritance in vogue in Travancore. After him Ibn
Batuta (1342), Abdul Raza] (1442) Nicolo Conti (1444) and many others
have mentioned this peculiar institution. Since all visitors till the 14th
century were silent of the matrilineal system, the system of inheritance in
Travancore must have been patrilineal upto the 14th century. The 14th and
15th centuries were marked with the growth of landlordism all over India.14
In Travancore also it became the way of life. The Nayars were the tenants

Krishna Iyer, L.A., The Aboriginals of Travancore, Trivandrum, 1941, p. 92.
Padmanabha Menon, K.P., A History of Kerala, Vol. II, New Delhi, 1981, p. 88.
William Logan, Malabar Manual, Vol.I, Madras, 1951, p. 282.

of the Nambudiri Brahmin land lords or Jenmies, who followed the
patrilineal system of inheritance. These Brahmin land lords insisted upon
the tenants that the Jenmam lands could only be enjoyed by them and
transfer should be made by the Jenmies. 15 Majority of the lands of the
Nayars were Jenmam lands and it was from the enjoyment of these
Jenmam lands the collections or joint family system emerged among the
Nayars. The Jenmies insisted that even though there were sub-tenants,
the tenants were responsible for the Jenmam lands and cultivation. The
younger members of Brahmin families condemned by customary law of
life and long celibacy had to seek asylum with the Nayar families. They
entered into loose unions called sambandham. It was for the advantage of
the Brahmin Jenmies and for the sexual pleasures of the Brahmins and
they compelled the Nayars to change the law of inheritance, from
patrilineal to the matrilineal, under which individualism was ignored, the
Brahmins succeeded in erecting a strong body contented, handed tenancy
and not a landed aristocracy which was the base of marumakkathayam or
matrilineal system of inheritance.16 Under marumakkathayam, the Nayar
tharavad (family) was a union of relation of varying degrees of
propionquity traced through a common female in joint ownership of
corporate property under the beneficial management of

a common


Nagam Aiya, op.cit., Vol. II, p. 363.
Sasitharan Nayar, N., History of Social Legislation in Travancore, 1811 - 1925,
An unpublished Ph.D. Thesis , University of Kerala, Trivandrum, 1987, p. 251.

Karanavan (uncle). Ordinarily a man does not take as much interest in
his distant kinsman as in the children of his own mother, his brothers, his
sisters and their children. The benefits of legal marriages, parental rights
domestic rule, the obligation to support the wife and children were ignored
under the system.17 The individual members of a tharavad had only the
right to maintenance. The system of marumakkathayam led to a life of
idleness among the members of the family which stood against the
prosperity of the society. The karanavans were practically voice less, when
karanavan was not bound to provide for them beyond subsistence and
improve their, moral and intellectual condition.18 The arbitrary and
absolute powers of the karanavan naturally tended to foster a feeling of
discontent among the other members regarding the management of the
tharavad and led to quarrels.
Under marumakkathayam again the marriage tie was very
loose and temporary. Marriage as a duly recognized social institution did
not exist in the Nayar community.19 Although the Sambandham union has
in it all the elements of a valid marriage, it had no legal sanction. Even the
powers of disposing by will of self acquired property was not recognized
in the case of Nayars by the law of marumakkathayam.

Ibid., p. 253.
Nagam Aiya, V., op.cit., Vol., II, p. 364.
Travancore Law Reports, Vol.I, Ernakulam, 1904, p. 22.

The most important merit of the matrilineal system was that
the Nayar women enjoyed freedom and independence in the management
of the family Property descended in the female line and the
marumakkathayam succeeded in keeping Nayar tharavad from being
dismembered. It prevented alienations also. In addition to all these it
encouraged a feeling of collectivism and mutual love and affection
among the members of the tharavad. With the advance of education
marumakkathayam became hopelessly unworkable. It worked against
every principle of political dictums and of healthy family life. It was based
upon the doctrine that there was no merit in female virtue and no sin in
being unchaste, by freeing a man from the obligation of maintaining


wife and off-spring.20

Towards the end of the 19th century, the Nayar began to
question the existing social institution. They considered their system of
inheritance and succession a primitive way of life. The advance of English
Education among the Nayars and the free contact they had with developed
communities made them look upon the primitiveness of their family
Institution and clamoured for a change.21
The convenience and comfort of a man living with his
mother and sister and his wife and children in peace and quite of separate

Malabar Marriage Commission Report, p. 37.
Robin Jeffrey, The Decline of Nayar Dominance, New Delhi, 1976, p.154.

home has come to be preferred to the primitive habit of living and messing
together in the uncongenial surroundings of an over grown tharavad 22,
want of affection had alienated the sympathies of the distant nephews or
anandaravan and turned him into a permanent enemy which led to the
disobedience of junior members to the karanavan and made the
management of the tharavad difficult.

The idea of division was not

revolutionary one in the social history of the Nayars. A group of patriotic
men commenced a compaign to educate public opinion on the necessary
for a law of partition for the Nayars. Among such patriotic men, the first
who tried to educate Nayars was P. Thanu Pillai who was a teacher in the
Maharajan cottage of Trivandrum in the 1870 as latter an official Thanu
Pillai was the leading Nayar official and an enlightened safe and trusted
leader of the Nayar community.23 In the year 1870 he founded a cultural
association called the Malayali Social Union. 24
Members of the Malayali Social Union worked against the
marriage customs and other social systems that existed among the Nayars.
When he turned to be a critic of the social order he was transferred from
Trivandrum to Quilon, which shattered the work of the Malayali Social
Union. But it was revived by C. Krishnapillai. He changed the name of

Velu Pillai, T.K., Speeches in the Travancore Legislative Council, Trivandrum,
1941, pp. 24 - 25.
Parameswaran Nair, Raman Pillai, Compilers Regional Records Survey
Committee, Trivandrum, p. 86.
Travancore Government English Records, Cover File No. 1228.

the Malayali Social Union as Malayali Sabha in 1884.

It aimed at

promoting the welfare of the Malayali community through western

The Sabha encouraged female education and stood for

reforming the marriage system.25

Malayali Newspaper
In order to achieve its aims the Sabha began to publish a
Malayalam newspaper in 1886 called the Malayali, edited by C.V. Raman
Pillai. The Sabha had also some non Nayar members. At the first the
Sabha enjoyed the support of the officials of Travancore government, with
the attack of the members on the Brahmin supremacy in the sirkar service,
the government turned against it. In 1887 the Maharaja and his Brahmin
favourites in the sirkar service came under bitter attack in a Madras
newspaper the Standard.26 In 1887 T. Rama Rao became the Dewan of
Travancore and patronized Brahminsm in the state on 15 August 1887 the
Standard attacked the Dewan and the Maharaja for being under the
influence of Brahmins.27
In January 1891 the Malayali Sabha presented a memorandum
to the Maharaja which demanded Travancore for Travancoreans.


Malayali Memorial wanted to put and end to the supremacy of

Madras Standard, 21 December 1887, p. 2.
Ibid., p. 179.
Madras Standard, 15 August 1887, p. 2.

non-malayali Brahmins in the sirkar service. The memorial expressed the
grievances of Nayars and demanded a change in their family
organisation.28 How ever the Malayali Memorial was the first open attack
against the non-malayali Brahmin monopoly of government services and
also their special supremacy in Travancore.
The endeavour of the Malayali Sabha brought them some
advantages in the field of employment. But with regard to the social evils
like the tharavad system and marriage, nothing was gained in the 19 th
century. There was incessant dispurses and litigations among the Nayar
tharavads. Eventhough tharavads were willing to divide themselves into
branches, those divisions could not have the force of law. In the decades of
1879 - 89 there was an average of 60% suits a year for tharavad partition.
From 1889 - 90 to 1898 -99 the average increased to 80 suits annually
from 1889 - 1890 to 1903 -1904 the average was 96 in a year.29

Economic Deterioration
The economic deterioration led to the ruin of many of the
Nayar tharavads Brahmin sambandhams with Nayar women were also in
the increase. With the advance of education among the Nayars, they could
know the changes taking place in the rest of life. In 1890, C. Sankaran
Nayar member of Central legislative council introduced a bill to permit

Travancore Government English Records, Cover File No. 1744, p. 34.
Administration Report of Travancore for the year 1905, p. 23.

Nayars in British to register their sambandhams.30 The proposed bill was
objected to by the orthodox Nayars and the Nambudiris of Travancore.
The Orthadox Nayars were unwilling to give up their old system. The
Madras Government appointed the Malabar Marriage Commission headed
by Sir T. Muthuswamy Aiyar to study the whole system of marriage of
Malabar. It was on the basis of their report that the Malabar Marriage
Bill was passed in 1896. The bill in its provisions allowed any caste in
Malabar which followed marumakkathayam to register their marriage.
This made sambandham a legal marriage and a man could make wills over
his self acquired property to his wife and children. But the act was only
permissive, there was no compulsion. The Malabar Marriage Bill gave an
impetus to the Nayars of Travancore to have such an act to remove the
evils of their sambandhams and matrilineal system.31
Agreed partition had risen from 301 in 1896 - 97 to 516 in
1906-07. It shows that within the ten years period nearly 3500 tharavads
had unanimously agreed to partition and executed the partition in the
courts. In addition to the partition members wishing to live apart
from their tharavads negotiated agreements for maintenance. In 1896 - 97,
205 such agreements were executed and in 1906 - 1907 the number rose
to 385.32

Finally the committee came to the conclusion that the


Robin Jeffrey, op.cit., p. 185.
Travancore Legislative Council Proceedings, 20 June 1896, p. 9.
Ibid., p. 10.

traditional organizations of the Nayars had to





In their letter of 28th August embodying their

recommendations and also a draft bill to give effect to them. The
government passed orders on the report. Since there was some opposition
against the partition of the tharavad, the bill sent in by the committee was
amended and it was declared that the bill would be introduced in the
council in due course.33 Government felt that there was a rapidly growing
sentiment in favour of partition but one section of the Nayars was against
partition. So the government came to the conclusion that some provision
was necessary for partition unless a tharavad became unmanageable. As to
the mode of division some were for division per stripes and the rest for
division per capita. In this situation government thought that a middle
course should be taken.34
A bill revised in accordance with the views of the government
was introduced in the council by the official members on 6 th April 1911.
It was intended to remove doubts as to the validity of the conjugal union
among certain clans of Hindu marumakkathayees viz. samanthas and
Nayars and to provide for certain matters connected there with and to
define and amend the law of succession and family management among
them. Under the bill, no individual partition, no partition during the life

Travancore Government Gazetteer, dated 27.12.1910, p. 22.
Report of the Marumakkathayam committee, 1908, pp. 30-70.

time of a common ancestors or her children was allowed. Subject to these
conditions, it allowed each collateral thavazhees (thavazhees of a female
means of a group of persons consisting of that female and her issue and
thavazhee of his mother) to claim out right partition of property common
to all he thavazhees. The bill was passed by the council on 17 th October
1912 and became Regulation 1st of 1088 M.E.35

Question of Succession
The Regulation I of 1088 M.E. defined and clarify the law of
marriage and succession and family management of the Nayars. Even
though one of the purposes of the bill was partition of the tharavad
properties, that was omitted when the bill was finally passed by the
council. The bill reduced the powers of the karanavan. The non-official
Nayar members were strongly against the partition of the tharavad
properties and the government had to yield to these non official Nayar
members.36 Another important omission was that the samanthas were
excluded from the scope of the bill. The marumakkathayam committee
proposed that their recommendations were applicable to all samanthas and
Nayars. But the president of the council pointed out that there were only a
few Samantha females and most of them did not apparently want this
legislation. It was not to force upon the Samantha community a piece of
35. Ibid, p. 57.
36. Abstract Proceedings of the Travancore Legislative Council I, 16th April, 1923, pp. 820-21.

social legislation which they did not unanimously ask for.37 This
was against the committee's recommendations.
Regulation I of 1088 M.E. recognized a public sambandham
as a legal marriage. The husband was made the legal guardian of his wife
and children as long as they lived with him. A man could dispose of all his
self acquired property by making a will. This bill reduced the powers of
the karanavan and simple procedures for divorce were laid upon. 38
However the legislative council ignored the pressing demands of the
Nayar Community demand for partition of tharavads.
In spite of its defects, the Regulation I of 1088 M.E.
succeeded in recognising some of the demands of the Nayar Community.
The wills Regulation and the Nayar. Regulation I of 1088 had their effect
in the neighbouring state if Cochin as well. There was an attempt of the
Cochin Darbar to pass a wills. Regulation of 1908 on her lines of the
Travancore wills Regulations. In view of the strong protest of the orthadox
section of the Nayar community it was finally decided by the Darbar to
drop the proposed measure shortly after the passing of the Travancore
Nayar Regulation I of 1088 M.E. 1 December demanded a similar of social
legislation for them too.39 In the year 1916 a large representative body

Travancore Legislative Council Proceedings, dated 05.02.1912, p. 11.
Regulations and Proclamations of Travancore, Trivandrum, Vol. I, 1928, p. 820.
Travancore Law Reports, 1917, p. 242.

headed by K. Raman Menon who was the Chief Justice of Travancore
high court approached the Raja of Cochin praying for a legislative
enactment on matters of marriage, inheritance and family management.
They submitted their suggestions in the form of draft bill. Sensing the
desires of the Nayar Community the Cochin government appointed a
committee to study the question of the above draft T.S. Narayana Iyer
Chief Judge was the president of the committee. The committee submitted
its report on 30 October 1917. It was on the basis of that Cochin Nayar
Regulation was passed.40
An important merit of the Regulation I of 1088 was that it
legalised the existing sambandhams of the Nayars In addition to this it
restricted autocracy of the karanavans of the Nayar tharavads.


Regulation gave a stimulus to the Nayar community to strive further for
social reforms.
The alarming growth of family dissensions and the
unquenchable thirst for litigations in the Nayar community for family
partition affected the moral law and material prosperity of the Nayar
tharavad, the disease of the tharavad was traced to the evil effects of the
joint family system in which the individual had no defined right or
responsibility. The Nayar Regulation I of 1088 was not a solution to the

Mannath Padmanabhan, op.cit., pp. 97-98.

evils of the marumakkathayam system. But the Nayars continued their
agitation in a more organised and intensified form focusing their entire
attention on the question of makkathayam and individual partition. The
cry for change was loud persistent and large in volume. 41
It was the opinion of the marumakkathayam committee that
among Nayars marriage was merely a civil contract that it was dissoluable
at the will of either party and that it was not expedient to prohibit or
restrict divorce in any manner except by way of compelling the husband
when he was the petitioner, to give compensations accordingly the law was
enacted in 1088 M.E.42
In the amendment of the Nayar Regulation II of 1100 M.E.
the martial tie was made as strong as possible. Accordingly divorce was
not possible on mere payment of compensation but it could be allowed
only when the fact was proved in a civil court except in cases where the
parties mutually agreed to dissolve the marriage.

In a makkathayam

family it was absolutely necessary that the martial tie should be strong
unlike under marumakkathayam.
legislative council.

This provision was added by the

The bill was in favour of monogamy and limited

divorce for specific reasons and through the decree of a regular civil

Report of marumakkathayam committee, p. 97.
The Regulation and Proclamations of Travancore, Vol. V, p. 650.

The Nayar Regulation of 1088 M.E. and its amendment of
1100 M.E. brought for reaching changes in the social and economic life of
the community. The Nayar community had permitted polygamy which
spoiled the morality of the community. By the Regulation of 1088 M.E.
polygamy was made unlawful and monogamy was enforced prevention of
bigamy strengthened the family life and saved the children from the

Divorce was restricted and rules were framed for

detornivies the amount of compensation and it compensation was in
sufficient provision was made for appeals to the high court of Travancore.
The out standing features of the Nayar Resolution of 1100 M.E. were two
viz. (1) Rights of inheritance incases of non-Nayars marrying Nayar


Provision for partition of tharavad properties on the

individualistic basis. Till the Nayar Regulation of 1100 M.E. the Nayar
females were treated by the Brahmins as just objects of pleasures. NonNayar marriages with Nayar females were viewed as morganatic
marriages. The children could not inherit properties of non-Nayar fathers.
The Nayar son of a Brahmin was not permitted to give a drop of water to
his dying father or touch his body at the time of cremation. He had no
right to offer the funeral cake. That system was put an end to through the
Nayar Regulation.45 The Nayar Regulation established that the children of

Travancore Law Reports, 1917, p. 66.
Ibid., p. 74.

a non-Nayar by a Nayar wife should have equal rights with the rights and
privileges of other Nayar children. The wife and children were made the
sole legal heir to all the husband self acquired property.
Regulation II of 1100 M.E. abolished the matrilineal joint

system and





society called

Under the system every adult member of a tharavad

became entitled to claim his or her share of the properties of the tharavad.
In the new system the abolition of the Karanavan had been abolished as he
became only a figure head.46
The Nayar Regulation of 1925 was turning point in the social
system of the Nayars community in South Travancore. Like wise with the
amendment of the Nayar Regulation in 1925 the autocracy of the
karanavans of the Nayar tharavads came to an end. According to the
Nayar Regulation, Brahmin who married Nayar women were bound to
give their property to their Nayar wives and children. The effect of the
new religion was to allow thousands of Nayars to take their share of the
tharavad‘s assests and leave the joint family. 47 The Nayar Regulation
became a model to the other matrilineal communities like the Ezhavas,
Nanjilnad Vellalas and Krishnavakas. The Nayar Regulation was the most

Madras Mail, 11 June 1920, p. 6.

important social legislation of 20th century. It gave another shock to the
Brahmins over the Nayar community. The Nayar Regulation were an
outcome of the agitation and representations made by the Nayar social
leaders as well as voluntary social organisations like the Nayar Service
Society and the Keraliya Nayar Smajam.

Vivaham (Older Form)
Presently the Nayars do not practice either of the three forms
of marriages described earlier but perform Vivaham (Marriage) recognized
by the Hindu Marriage act of 1955. It is ceremonially the shortest in
comparison to its counterparts from other Indian castes and regions. The
marriage ceremony among Nayars has changed considerably over the past
two hundred years. Originally, the process started with the examination of
the horoscopes of the bride and bridegroom to see if their respective stars
agree astrologically. This is still done today in some conservative Nayar
families.48 If the stars do not match, families may go so far as to cancel
the marriage and seek another prospective bride or groom. If the
astrological predictions are favourable, further examination is undertaken
to appoint an auspicious date and time for the ceremony. During the
celebration, there would be a presentation of danom (wealth or alms) to

Fuller, C.J., The Nayars today, Cambridge University Press, 1976, pp. 99-100.

Brahmins, and a sadhya (feast). The bride and bridegroom would meet in
the central room of the house, rice would be sprinkled on their heads.
This was the essence of a basic Nayar marriage about two hundred years
ago. In addition to these general ceremonies, there are local variations.
In North Malabar (Northern Kerala), there is a Podamuri or
Vastradanam ceremony.49 In this ceremony, the initial examination of
horoscopes takes place at the house of the bride in the presence of the
bride's and bridegroom's families. The astrologer writes his calculations
and opinion on a piece of palmyra leaf and hands it over to the
bridegroom's relations. If the horoscopes match, a day is fixed for the
ceremony. This date is also written down and handed to the bride's
Karnavar and to the bridegroom's relations. The astrologer and the
bridegroom's party are then invited to a feast in the bride's house. The
astrologer also receives gifts in the form of money or cloth.
Three to four days prior to the wedding date, the bridegroom
visits his Karnavars and caste-elders to receive permission to leave for the
wedding. The bridegroom presents them with betel leaves and areca nuts
and obtains formal sanction for the wedding. The bridegroom then
proceeds, accompanied by a number of his friends to the house of his
bride.50 He is received at the gate of the house by the bride's relations and

Faw Cett, F., Nayars of Malabar, New Delhi, 1985, p. 234.

is led with his friends, seats provided in the thekina (southern hall) of the
house. The bridegroom distributes gifts to all the Brahmins present there.
After this, the whole party is invited to take part in another sadhya. The
astrologer then announces the auspicious hour that has been fixed and
leaves after receiving his dues. The bridegroom is then taken by one of his
friends to the padinitta (principal/western room of the house, where
religious ceremonies are conducted).
New clothes, betel leaves and areca nuts brought by the
bridegroom's party are placed in this room. 51 The room is decorated and
turned into a bedroom for the occasion. In this room are placed a number
of lamps as well as the ashtamangaliyam (eight articles symbolizing
mangaliyam or marriage). These are rice, paddy, the tender leaves of the
coconut tree, an arrow, a looking glass, a well-washed cloth, a burning fire,
and a small rounded wooden box called a cheppu. The bridegroom with his
groomsman enters the room through the eastern door, while the bride,
dressed in beautiful clothes and jewelry, enters the room through the
western door accompanied by her aunt or another elderly lady of the
family. The bride stands facing east with the ashtamangalyam and lamps
in front of her. The groomsman hands over to the bridegroom a few pieces
of the new cloth and the bridegroom puts them into the hands of the bride.

Faw Cett, F., op.cit., p. 232.

After this, the lady who accompanied the bride sprinkles rice over the lit
lamps and over the heads and shoulders of the bride and bridegroom. The
bridegroom then leaves the room to go to the thekina to present his elders
and friends with cakes, betel leaves and areca nuts. After the guests have
left, the bride and bridegroom retire to the bedroom. Next morning, the
vettilakettu or salkaram ceremony is conducted and the bridegroom's
female relations take the bride to the husband's house, where a feast is held
in honour of the occasion. After marriage, the bride remains in her
tharavaadu, and her husband will often visit her, while remaining a
member of his own tharavaadu. The children, of course, will belong to
their mother's tharavaadu in accordance with the marumakkathaayam

Vivaham (Newer Form)
These days, a number of the individual ceremonies have been
abandoned or condensed. However, one can still see elements of the older
ceremonies in the new ones. Families may observe all or part of the
following ceremonies. The first ceremony is the Vivaha Nischayam or
simply Nischayam. In this ceremony, an astrologer is consulted to set an
auspicious date for the wedding. Horoscopes may or may not be compared

Faw Cett, F., op.cit., p. 233.

depending on the wish of the individual or their families.53 After both
families' consent to the marriage, the couple visits the bride's home. This
meeting may be a simple affair, or a large celebration. During the
celebration, there may be a mothiram mattal (ring exchange) ceremony.
This ceremony may also be conducted later, during the actual vivaham
ceremony. If it is done at bride's house, it is usually done around a lit nila
vilakku (brass oil lamp).
On the evening before the wedding the families of both the
bride and the groom, gather in their respective homes to bless them. On the
day of the wedding, the bride and the groom will separately visit a temple
near their homes.54 The temple can belong to any God except Lord
Ayyappan or Lord Hanuman as they are bachelors. The bride's parents
carry the mangalyasutram or taali, a necklace that is a symbol of eternal
union, to be blessed by the priests. While returning home, the bride and
groom touch the feet of the elders of the family and receive blessings. This
is called Namaskaaram.
The actual wedding may take place in a kalyana mandapam (a
hall rented for the occasion), temple, or hotel. The bride's family receives
the groom's family at the entrance of the venue to the tune of nadaswarams
(long wind-instruments) and the beats of the thayli (large drums beaten

Ibid., p. 234.
Velu Pillai, T.K., Travancore State Manual, Trivandrum, 1940, pp. 415, 415.

with curved sticks). The groom stands on a wooden plank while the bride's
younger brother washes his feet. The bride's aunts perform aarti for the
groom with a thaali (platter), on which wicks made of twisted cotton are
arranged. The groom is then escorted to the mandapam (platform
constructed to perform the wedding rites) by two rows of young girls.
One girl carries the changala vatta (sacred oil lamp), while another carries
the ashtamangaliyam. The girls following the first two, carry the taala
phuli (platters of rice, turmeric, and flowers on which oil lamps made of
coconut shells are placed). With his parents on either side, the groom
follows the girls around the mandapam and seats himself on the right
side of the canopy, which is decorated by flowers, fabric, palm fronds,
and banana stalks. The bride is then escorted by her aunt to the
mandapam to the sound of the nadaswarams and thaylis. All those who are
present on the mandapam stand when the bride arrives. She stands
facing the east, with the groom facing her. At the auspicious moment
set by the astrologer for the muhurtham (the most auspicious time), the
groom ties the thali around the bride's neck to the beating of drums. He is
assisted by the bride's uncle because on no account should the thaali be
allowed to fall. In some Nayar communities, the traditional thaali is a
gold pendant strung on a yellow thread.55 The bride has to wear this for

Faw Cett, F., op.cit., p. 235.

three days after the wedding ceremony. After the three days have
passed, the thread is replaced by a golden chain.
After tying the thaali, the groom gifts the bride a sari and a
blouse on a platter. This signifies that he will now assume the
responsibility of providing for her. The groom's mother also gifts the bride
with some jewelry at this time. The couple then exchange garlands
accepting each other as life partners. The bride's father then places the
bride's hand in the groom's, thus handing over his daughter to the groom in
holy matrimony. The couple is then escorted to a room by their older
relatives, who bless them. After the marriage ceremony, the bride gets a
send-off from her house. The couple leaves for the groom's house
escorted by a few people from the bride's family. The groom's mother and
older female relatives perform aarti with an oil lamp (which rests on a
platter heaped with rice mixed with turmeric) and receive them at the
entrance. Both bride and groom enter the house, right foot forward. The
bride is then required to kick over a large pot containing rice, symbolizing

After the wedding ceremony a wedding reception may be

performed if the families so wish.
Despite the claims of Brahmin ownership in Kerala up to the
coming of Europeans had most of the kingdoms belonging to the Nayars.56

Nagam Aiya, V., op.cit., Vol. II., p. 328.

Some with visible names like the Kartas and Kaimals, though some of
them adopted the new Chaturvarnya title of Kshatriyas. Only a few states
in later periods were of the Brahmins like Edappally, Piravam and
Chempakassery. Piravam, incidentally, was the one which took in large
populations of Jews and Syrian Christians and still have the historic
remains.57 The majority Nayar kings and nobility existed side by side
with a concocted history like the infamous ‗Keralotpathi‘ which states that
Kerala was formed by Parasurama and donated to them, hence Kerala
belonged to Brahmins. These ‗Sudras‘ were brought to do menial jobs for
them. Veracity of this claim, said to be concocted as recently as the 18 th
century, was effectively questioned, many of the old practices continuing
to this day only very recently.
Available historic proof about the 600 ‗Tharas‘ under Nayar
chieftains, of the post-Sangam periods are rarely discussed.58 Neither the
golden age of Kerala, when world travelers like Marco Polo called
Malabar, Kerala, the ‗richest and noblest‘ country in the world. Caste
oppressions by the upper castes, outrageous practices of Brahmins‘ marital
relationships with Nayar women, ‗Sambantham‘, though it was a marginal
practice spread over a short period, are however of repeated pieces of

Sreedhara Menon, A., op.cit., p. 86.
Ibid., p.83.

history.59 The colonial missionary lead attacks on culture and history of
Kerala swept away the self esteem of the Malayali, mainly the Nayar
nobility. The Christian segment helped to spread this later with their
media. Though the contributions of Brahminical phase can not be lost
sight of, caste divisions and priestly monopoly in faith remains intense
and are melting away only gradually. Terminology of Sudras, servile
classes of the caste pyramid, attributed to the Nayars remained by and
large unchallenged. Inhuman treatment of the lower castes also remained
in practice. Nayar community alone, among all the castes, continued
to follow the compulsive Brahminical dictum with regard to religion and
rituals with out question.60
Nayars, a martial community has also lost almost all its
martial arts and the traits passing as it did through the Brahminical and
later European domination, where there were deliberate efforts to contain
them. As Chattambi Swamigal tells, the Dravidian nobility was cleverly
manipulated in to subjugation, much later another phase of European
colonisation further eroding the Nayars. Land, their mainstay was lost,
the martial spirit was long gone and the barring exceptions refused,
proud as they were, to take on new pursuits. Kerala Hindu society that the

Nagam Aiya, op.cit., Vol. II, p. 364.
Robin Jeffrey, The Decline of Nayar Dominance, New Delhi, 1976, pp. 97-99.

missionary phase helped to divide remained in fighting and the animosity
created among the various castes with exaggerated stories of oppression
almost neutralized the leader community of Nayars. Eventually creating a
scene of total anarchy, the naturally endowed place saw total destruction.
Kerala once leading the world now becoming the world capital of
suicides. Once nature‘s own land has become god‘s own, but whose god is
that is what matters.61

Changes in the Economy
After the colonial loot of resources and attacks on native
culture the state had another shock in the post-independence phase. With
its international connections, major changes occurred in the economy.62
Those linked to the global economy controlled from Europe, mainly the
Christians, and Muslim segments with their links to oil rich West Asia of
the population, received large amounts of international capital when those
without it starved of capital. Cost of life spiraled and the local incomes
paled in to oblivion. Those with capital and vote bank politics were also
able to stake control of the state‘s resources and used it for their own
community good. In the flood of international capital the only saleable
asset the others had was land and the sale of land to these rich groups had

Galletti, A., et al., The Dutch in Malabar (Dutch Records No. 13), Madras
Govt. Press, 1911.
Nagam Aiya, V., op.cit., Vol. II, p. 365.

reached alarming proportions. It had displaced the Hindus, large numbers
of Nayar families, who were landless, and they became landless laborers.63
Uprooted large populations were migrating outside the state. The mindset
of encroachment among the Syrian Christian segment, was that once they
had been refugees, even ate in the tribal belts and the hapless tribals were
thrown out of their small holdings. With their clout in government the
encroachers made this injustice legitimate. Agriculture, the mainstay of
Kerala, traditional sectors like coir making was collapsed and only the
islands of Christian Muslim rich remained in Kerala. With the neo-rich
arrogance they are now dictating terms to all others.

The post-colonial Nayars, only beginning to organize, are
required to compete with organised and moneyed communities like
Christians and Muslims who have taken undue advantages at the cost of
the others. Missionary spread stories of caste oppression, alienated the
Kerala communities co-existing for centuries and made them enemies of
each other. Capital starved and having lost their other footholds like farm
lands, the Nayar community has very high rates on unemployment and
are getting extremely marginalised.64 There are also psycho-spiritual

Padmanabha Menon, K.P., op.cit., p.89.
Krishna Iyer L.A., op.cit, p.93.

challenges of faith especially in the context of post-atheist communist
phase as a large number of Nayars took to communism.65 There is a
vacuum of faith and confusion about what to do next. There is enormous
human suffering and some are converting to Christianity. Return of the old
dogmatic religion is another challenge. With out organizing themselves
there is no choice for the Nayar community and it is going to be a stiff
fight nevertheless. The other Hindu segments are also equally in trouble
though such debates are not being tolerated in Kerala Hindu society.
Kerala‘s nature and ecosystem are devastated. Christianized Kerala society
has lost its symbiotic cultural traits.
It is necessary to have a combined all inclusive action plan to
restore confidence in the community. The man made sufferings in the state
should be wiped out. There have been efforts through history of the Nayars
trying to unite the latest being under the umbrella of the Nayar Service
Society. The NSS did yeoman service in the community in organizing
people and setting up modern western educational institutions. It now has
a statewide organizational structure though it was sub-optimally used
earlier. It is a great tribute to the Nayar community that it has withstood
centuries of onslaught and kept up its morale where a new beginning has
to be made. As social beings required to co-exist with other communities,

Sreedhara Menon, A, op.cit., p. 86.

coming to terms with history, it is essential that the community redefines
its role in the present context, Once again taking the lead in bringing
justice. And there is no doubt that the various schools of thought like
Brahminism and the Vedic religion, Christianity and Islam, even
Communism for that matter, have enriched the community in myriad ways.
It is also true that the genesis of the Nayar community itself is complex,
having been a nobility it must have taken in many peoples and races
through time.66 Historians quote that people are trying to claim that they
are Nayars and many must have assimilated. Titles like Pillai and Menon
were also designations of officers at certain points of time. The new
challenge is to redefine the community goals, decide whom to associate
with and to what degree, with a sense of confidence and enlightened self


Panikkar, K.M., op.cit., p. 409.

Chapter - VI

N.S.S. MovementS in
South Travancore


Each and every society has their own organizations entrusted
with the duty of defending their own group interest. The rapid socioeconomic transformation taking place in the Travancore society compelled
the different caste groups to organize themselves under the communal
organizations. The impact of the Brahmin domination enforced the
Savarna communities to attempt towards communal solidarity whereas the
awareness created by the European missionaries influenced the
untouchable communities and they organized under caste organizations.
Thus from the end of 19th century caste sangams were organized by the
Sambhavers, Nadars, and Vellalas of South Travancore1. The Ezhavas of
South Tranavncore rallied under the spiritual guidance of Sree Narayana
Guru and accepted Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam as their
communal organization. Similarly the Nayars of South Travancore came
;Under the organizational frame works of the Nayar Service Society and
worked for the N.S.S. Movement.2 It is felt that 31st October 1914 was an
auspicious day for the Nayars of Kerala, since on that day the N.S.S was
founded at Changanacherri. The historical event took place at the house of

No. 476 of 1930. List of political and quasipolitical Societies, Sabhas and
Anjumans in the state for the year ending January 1930.
Mannathu Padmanabhan, Reminiscences of MY LIFE (Malayalam) (Translated
into English by Prof. P.C. Menon) Nayar Service Society, Changanacherry, 1998,

Mannathu Padmanabhan Pillai. Along with Padmanaphan thirteen Nayar
men starting in front of a lighted oil lamp in the Mannathu house took the
vow saying "I shall work for the progress of the N.S.S. In doing so I shall
not wound the feelings of men of other faith. I dedicate myself to the
betterment of the society and live according to the principles set by it, I do
solemnly swear this true, true, true…"3

Early Organisations
Malayalee Social Union-Malayalee Sabha
Nayars had no organization of their own up to the first half of
19th century. The lovers of the Nayar community who were conscious of
the renaissance of their society formed the first organization in this line. In
1877 an organization known as Malayalee Social Union was formed at
Thiruvananthapuram.4 This organization was active till 1881. In 1884,
Malayalee Social Union was converted as Malayali Sabha and the
organization was re-organised under the leadership of Sri. C. Krishna
Pillai. Malayali Sabha concentrated in extending financial aid to poor







programmes. During the initial stage it was kept away from politics. But

The N.S.S. Charitha Grantham, Changanacherry, 1972, p. 154.
Mannathu Padmanabhan, op. cit., p. 58.

gradually it interfered in politics also. Gradually Malayali Sabha became
the nerve centre of political thoughts in Travancore. It took up several
social welfare measures intended for the up-lift of weaker sections of the
society. Their programmes had a national vision and broad mindedness,
which helped them to be in the forefront of the national movement in later
years. Malayali Sabha was headed by famous personalities like C. Krishna
Pillai, C.V. Raman Pillai, G.P. Pillai, C. Sankaran Nayar and P. Ayyappan

Keraleeya Nayar Samajam
Keraleeya Nayar Samajam was a unified organization of the
early Nayar Samajams scattered over various regions of Travancore. 6 It
was the result of the struggles organized by the Keraleeya Nayar Samajam
that the Government appointed Govinda Pillai Commission to submit
report for the changes to be made in the matrilineal system of inheritance.
The Nayar Regulation Bill of 1911 was enacted and passed through
amendments based on the report of the above Commission. Keraleeya
Nayar Samajam gave a strong voice, high thinking and deep insight to a
society, which was groping in darkness for the last several decades.

Achutha Menon, C., Cochin State Manual, Cochin, 1901, p. 193.
Mannathu Padmanabhan, op.cit., p. 72.

Prof. E.J. Thomas records that Keraleeya Nayar Samajam
succeeded in giving a clear picture of the backwardness of Nayars in the
field of education, finance and politics. Nayars came forward to unite for
a common cause by setting aside their narrow differences between
sub-castes. Though Keraleeya Nayar Samajam did not last long, their
efforts to bring sub-castes to the Nayar community proved beneficial in
the later years.7

Nayar Bhrithyajana Sangham
31st October 1914 witnessed the birth of a great event in the
history of Kerala, the birth of Nayar Bhrithyajana Sangham that was
transformed as Nayar Service Society after one year. It had its origin at
Mannathu Bhavanam (House of Mannathu Padmanabhan) of Perunna,
Changanassery.8 Mannathu Padmanabhan and Sri. K. Kelappan along
with his twelve friends sat in front of a holy light lit by his mother
Parvathy Amma and held a brain storming discussion, which paved the
way for the formation of great movement in Kerala.
The Nayar Bhrithyajana Sangham was formed under the
leadrship of Sri. K. Kelappan and Mannathu Padmanabhan on 31, October

Mannathu Padmanabhan, op.cit., p. 75.
Ibid., p. 49.

1914 (Thulam 15, 1090 - ME).9 The Nayar Bhrithyajana Sangham was
formed in line with the Servants of India Society. It was through the
sincere and tireless efforts of the lovers of the Nayar community that the
public awareness activities, which were part and parcel of the Indian
National Movement, led by Gopalakrishna Gokhale reached Kerala. The
main activities of Nayar Bhrithyajana sangham in the early days were
to enroll volunteers for the service of the society, to spread education,
loyalty to nation and god worship among people, to end the social evils
etc. The activities of Nayar Bhrithyajana sangham were extended to
Malabar which was also under the leadership of Sri. K. Kelappan, the
President of the Sangham.10
The holy light lit from the Mannathu Bhavanam on 31,
October 1914 spread its shining light throughout Kerala. It became the
spirit, energy and leading force of majority of people. The social
renaissance movement of Kerala had its birth from this holy light. It
eradicated the dirt and darkness from the minds of the people and society.
It became the guiding force of the social renaissance movement. 11

Ibid., p. 50.
Padmanabha Menon, K.P., Krishna, T.K., ed. History of Kerala, Vol. I, New
Delhi, 1924, p. 467.
Mannathu Padmanabhan, op.cit., p. 60.

The N.S.S. held the motto of service to the community in
general and the Nayars in particular. The objective of the N.S.S. was
eradication of the barriers of caste, the abolition of old decadent and
wasteful practices, and bringing reforms in the traditional matrilineal
syste, of inheritance.12 In summary the chief aims were, to change the
matrilineal system of inheritance which had already started to degenerate
in the Nayar Community, to strive for equal partition and the legalization
of the Sambandham and to start schools and other institutions to compete
with other communal organisations.13
Another important event in the history of Nayar Service
Society also took place in July 1915. Iravikurup of Nedamel house and
Narayanan Nayar of Kunnappally donated eighty seven acres of l and in
Karukachal, to the Nayar Service Society. The new fields of work opened
by the society and the increasing need for panchayat work demanded
more and more of Mannathu Padmanabhan's time and efforts. When the
interest of people in the working of Nayar Service Society increased, the
important members of Nayar Community began to associate with society. 14
The next year was a very busy one for the workers of Nayar Service

Sreedharamenon, A., Kerala District Gazetteer, Trivandrum, 1964, p. 383.
The N.S.S. Charitham, Changanassery, p. 299.
Mannathu Padmanabhan, op.cit., p. 88.

Society. Though Nayar Service had its head quarters at Changanacherri,
its founders and workers had aimed to make it a society spreading all over
In the first ten years of its growth the Nayar Service Society
progressed in many fields. The society started a magazine, Service in
1919. This publication helped in spreading the ideals of Nayars Service
Society, any matter which would help the progress of Nayar Community
was given special place in the service. The workers of this society became
aware of the need to make it an approved organisation. So the society was
registered according to Travancore Companies' Act on 30 July 1925.
Hence some restrictions were imposed on matters of membership. In the
early stage each member of the society had to pay twelve rupees. When
the society was registered, the membership became categorized into
two types: there were permanent members and life members. One who
donated one thousand rupees or more would be a permanent member.
A life member had to donate a sum of not less than five hundred rupees.
When sixty percent of members agreed, one could be made life member
with out paying anything.16

Balakrishnan, V., Leela Devi, R., Mannathu Padmanabhan and the revival of
Nayars in Kerala, Delhi, 1982, pp. 40-48.
Ibid., pp. 53-54.

The administration of Nayar Service Society was perfectly
democratic. The representative of the karayogams and individual members
elected the Director. Board members, President, Secretary, and Treasurer
were elected by the members themselves. The Board of Directors selected
a council of five members including the secretary and the president for
the day-to-day administration of the Nayar Service Society including
affairs connected with the capital of fund collection of Nayar Service

Local Administration of N.S.S
―Karayogam denotes an association of Nayars, established in
a kara by the service Society, and includes any organisation affiliated to
the Society‖.18

In the organisational set up of N.S.S., karayogams

constitute the lowest unit. If there is a heavy increase in population, the
number of karayogams in a particular kara can be increased.
In the words of mannath Padmanabhan, ―the karayogams
form the basis of N.S.S organisation. If the N.S.S can be compared to a
huge tree, the karayogams forms its roots. The ‗N.S.S. tree‘ has managed

N.S.S. Diary - I Kanni, Changanassery, 1902, p. 43.
Nair Service Society, Memorandam and Articles of Association, Changanacherry,
1920, clause 1 (f), p. 1.

to servive in the midst of several storms mainly on account of the
strength of it in karayogam roots.19 Each karayogam is a self – governing
or autonomous unit, whose administration and management is looked
by its own members. The top hierarchy of N.S.S has only nominal
control, ones the karayogams through it has the responsibility to guide the
activities of the lowest in the right direction.20

Major objectives of karayogams

To create units, Self respect, self sufficiency, mutual trust,
fraternity etc., among its members.


To organise and work as a member of N.S.S following its
rules and regulations for the unity and progress of the Nayar


To modernise and economise the old customs and practice
relating to religion and community.


To enhance the economic conditions of the karayogam in
general and members in particular.


To educate the members regarding agriculture, trade,
handicrafts etc.


Mannathu Padmanabhan, Jeevitha Smarankal (M), Kottayam, 1978, p. 184.
Ibid., p. 186.
The NSS Charitha Grantham, op.cit., p. 123.


To create proper knowledge of religion with a view to purity
of life.


To establish and manage the necessary schools, libraries,
orphanages, childcare centres, temples, hospitals, cooperative
societies, factories, estates etc.22


To take necessary steps for storing water, improvement of
facilities like transportation, sanitation, agriculture etc. within
the universe of the kanayogam.


To act as mediation in setting disputes between or among the
members regarding partition, agriculture etc.


To work as much as possible for the friendly relation with
other communities and also for the welfare of the poor.

A karayogam should be registered as a member of the service
society by baying the membership fee of Rs. 100. The karayogams are also
members of the Taluk unions, created under the rules of the service
society. Each karayogam has to select and send two members to the
general body of the respective taluk union for a term of three years. The
Registrar of the N.S.S. Karayogams has the right to cancel the membership

Ibid., p. 124.

of a karayogam or not permit a karayogam from taking membership in
the Taluk union. A nominal supervision fee has to be remitted annually
to the Taluk union, but a minor share of its goes to the organisation wing
of N.S.S. Head office workers.23
Any Nayar male / female who has completed the age of 18
years, who is having normal intelligence and who is a permanent resident
within the territorial limit of the karayogam has the right to become its
members.24 A karayogam has two kinds of members, house representative
(Head of the family) and individual representative (Individuals others
than house representations). Hindus other than Nayars who are will
wishers of N.S.S are also permitted to become members of N.S.S
karayogam. But this provision remains mostly mutual, in nature.

Administration of Karayogams
The administration of each karayogam is carried on by a
karayogams committee elected

by its general body from among its

members for a term of three years. The General Body elects a president,
secretary from among the members of the committee. The committee and
also the general body should meet atleast once in a month. All decisions


Mannathu Padmanabhan, Reminiscences of MY LIFE (Malayalam) (Translated
into English by Prof. P.C. Menon) Nayar Service Society, Changanacherry, 1998,
p. 143 .
Ibid., p. 144.

are taken by a majority vote. When there is a tie, the president exercises
his casting vote. The general body has the power to remove the committee
members from office.25 The General body of the karayogams conducts
election for three purposes.

To the committee of the karayogam,


To an electoral members, is member to the electoral roll of the
N.S.S general body.


To select two members to the general body of the Taluk union.
The karayogam should send the annual report of income and

expenditure to the Taluk union and also to the office of the karayogam
Registrar. The NSS council members, Registrar, Inspector, committee

of the union and group union or any one who is specially

authorised by the karayogam. The registrar has the right to inspect the
accounts, store etc. of the karayogam. 26

Taluk Unions
These are inter mediary structures linking the grass – root
karayogams with the head quarters of the N.S.S. Taluk union. (Taluk
karayoga union) It means an association consisting of the representatives

The NSS Charitha Grantham, op.cit., p. 170.
Ibid., p. 172.

of karayogams elected under the Article of Association for the
administration of karayogams.27 At present there are 57 Taluk unions all
over Kerala. The karayogams which fall within the territorial limit of the
Taluk union are recoganised by the society as members of the union.


Admission fees of members


Monthly subscription


Contribution relating to marriage


Contribution relating to death


1. House warming

2. Naming

3. First rice – giving

4. Birth-day contribution


Pidiyari (a handful of rice kept apart for N.S.S every day, in a
seperate container, in each house and collected by the
karayogam at the end of the month.


First harvest – agricultural contribution


Kettu Tengu, Kettukarmuk, Kettukodi (trees identified N.S.S
collection from its yield)


Balance of Karayogam, income from land, Agriculture,
business, Commerce etc.


Mannathu Padmanabhan, op.cit., p. 143.
The NSS Charitha Grantham, op.cit., p. 178.


Special collection in connection with Onam, Vishu etc.


Special Contributions


Income from temple, school, library etc
Nayar Service Society did not aim at active politics. Yet the

secretary and other workers of the society were forced to take active part
in election propaganda. In 1921 the president of the Nayar Service Society,
Changanacherri Parameswaran Pillai was a candidate to the legislative
assembly. It was a fortune for the Nayars.29
When the society was founded in 1914, casteism continued to
be an ugly social institution in the princely state of Travancore. Different
subcastes within the Nayar community observed untouchability and
pollution. This caste feeling kept the Nayars aloof from other communal
groups.30 In schools and public places they stood away from the lower
castes. When a boy returned from school, he was asked to take a bath first
and only then to enter his home. The caste identity and the travelling
restrictions on the roads created tensions and ill-feelings in their social
life. At this point N.S.S. decided to play a leadership role to mitigate the
prejudices. To set an example, Padmanabhan himself ate with a low caste
man of the pulaya community.31 In his leadership role to fight against the

Daniel, D., Struggle for Responsible Government in Travancore, 1938-1947,
Madurai, 1985, p. 46.
Ibid., p. 47.
Sankunni Pillai, "Social reforms", Golden Book, Changanassery, 1964, p. 401.

caste system, the N.S.S. got an effective support from Nayar leaders like
Chattampi Swamikal and other leaders like Gandhi and Sree Narayana
Guru. Inspired by the Indian National Congress, the society decided to
work, for the eradication of the caste system. Under the leadership of
Padmanabhan the N.S.S. took part in the Vaikkam Satyagraha on
November 1, 1924. One of the high lights of the Satyagraha was the
Savarna Jatha.32 Organised and led by the N.S.S. general secretary, the
Vaikkam Satyagraha and the Savarna Jatha helped to influence public
opinion in the state infavour of the temple entry for the low caste people
to worship. While a majority of the public was infavour of temple entry
the Brahmins objected to it. In order to accomplish freedom of worship
for all hindus irrespective of their castes, the N.S.S. continued its campaign
in various parts of Kerala.33
The temple entry proclamation of 1936, effected a silent and
blood less revolution in Hindu society of Kerala.34 Through this action it
was made possible for all Hindus including the all lower castes to
enter the Sri Padmanabha Swami temple of Trivandrum and worship
together. Padmanabha notes in his Political words that what was achieved

Sreedhara Menon, A., A Concise Political History of Modern Kerala (18851957), Madras, 1987, p. 12.
Sankunni Pillai, op.cit., p. 131.
Mannathu Padmanabhan, op.cit., p. 124.


cannot be adequately described even by Vallathol a poet Laureate of
Kerala. One of the chief aims of the N.S.S was to bring reforms in the
traditional matrilineal system of inheritance. The N.S.S. wanted this reform
because in recent times, the joint family system had failed to work
harmoniously.35 Prior to the founding of the N.S.S. the Nayar leaders like
Changanacherri Parameswaran Pillai introduced a bill suggesting the
partition of thavazhis. This is known as the first Nayar act of 1912.
Because it gave provisions only for the thavazhi partition most of the
liberal leaders did not accept it.36
When the first Nayar Act failed to work out another Nayar
Act was proposed under the leadership of Padmanabhan. This was enacted
in 1925. In this act provision was made not only for the thavazhi partition
but it provided also for equal sharing of the tharavad property for all the
tharavad members. The act also made polygamy illegal. It prohibited the
marriage of a female under sixteen years of age. This age limit stopped
the traditional custom of marriage in talikettu form, particularly of a
girl before puberty. Following the Nayar Act of 1925 in Travancore
another Nayar Regulation Act was introduced in Cochin in 1938. This

Sreedhara Menon, A., Kerala District Gazetteer, Trivandrum, 1965, pp.385-88.
Sreedhara Menon, A., A Concise Political History of Modern Kerala (18851957), Madras, 1987, p. 13.


Nayar Act impressed all the previous Nayar Acts and completely
terminated the matrilineal system in Kerala.37
In the pattern of Christian Medical Mission Hospitals, the
N.S.S also started hospitals in important centres. The activities of N.S.S.
extended into various fields. Padmanabhan cherished the idea of providing
medical services to the community. Many medical missions were
introduced. The main aim of the mission was to render free medical service
to the poor.38
Another chief aim of the N.S.S. was to start a few English
high schools. Soon after the founding of the society the general secretary
began to concentrate its attention towards fulfilling the goal of establishing
educational institutions.39 The N.S.S. was very much aware of the value of
education to boost the economic and social conditions of Nayars. The
Keraleeya Nayar Samajam also started schools in different parts of
Travancore. In 1924, the total number of schools owned by the N.S.S.
were five and the total number of students studying in those institutions
were only 1063. In 1944 these were 53 and 11623 respectively.40

Krishna Variar, Marumakkathayam., Cochin, 1969, p. 38.
The N.S.S. Golden Book, Changanassery, 1964, p. 12.
Ibid. , p.145.
The N.S.S.Golden Book, Changanassery, 1964, p. 16.

The first college of N.S.S. was started at Changanacherri in
July 1947 only with a Pre-University class.41 This was granted to the
N.S.S. by C.P. Ramaswamy lyer who wanted the Nayar Community to
support him. The Christians were against a Nayar college at
Changanacherri as already there was one under the Christian management.
They naturally thought that one was to undermine the Christian interests
and resisted it through the press and platforms. As the resistance mounted
day by day, C.P.Ramaswamy lyer proposed to Mannathu Padmanabhan an
alternative plan which was ultimately agreed upon. The agreements
were, 1). The main college of the N.S.S. must be shifted to Trivandrum.
2). Forty six acres of land will be acquired by government and handed
over to the N.S.S freely. 3). A first grade college was to be started at
Trivandrum and in Changanacherri with a Pre University college. The
Government agreed to give five Lakhs of rupees as donation to start the
college. This favour of C.P. Ramaswamy lyer to N.S.S. was probably to
win the N.S.S. Mannathu Padmanabhan. He was ready to take as much
favour as possible to nourish the N.S.S even though he was not at all ready
to sacrifice his ideology.42 Sir C.P. Ramaswamy lyer could not do much,
about this agreement as he left Travancore due to popular agitation.

Mannathu Padmanabhan, op.cit., p. 260.
Ibid., p. 261.


The popular ministry formed by Pattam A. Thanu Pillai after independence
executed the government agreement with the N.S.S.43
M. Padmanabhan who was a thorough Gandhian, a
nationalist, a man who worked hard for the emancipation of the
downtrodden and a social revolutionary and also known as the father of
N.S.S. He says "My God and Goddess and every thing is N.S.S".44
Another important achievement of the Nayar Service Society
was the laying of sound foundation of the society. 45 Mannam founded
many funds for the Nayar Service Society. The permanent fund, Education
fund and college fund are some of them. Nayar Service Society aimed to



co-operative societies of

joint stock

companies. The most important industrial venture by the Mannam society
is Mannam Sugar Mills. A Co-operative society was formed in 1960 for
the management of the sugar mill.

The Nayar Service Society had

rendered great service to temples with an aim to develop the numerous
temples which were decaying due to difference of opinion between
members of the administrative committee or their in difference, the society

Mannathu Padmanabhan, Ente Jeevitha Smarankal, Kottayam, 1978, pp.324-29.
Mannathu Padmanabhan, Manathinte Sampoorna Krithikal, Kottayam, 1992,
p. 174.
Mannathu Padmanbhan, Reminiscences of MY LIFE, op.cit., p. 129.


began a Devaswom Corporation. The Nayar Service Society took over
the administration of many ancient and neglected temples and restored
their prominence and prosperity.46
In temple entry movement, struggle for abolition of
matrilineal system of inheritance, educational activities and re-conversion
propaganda, the N.S.S. played a pioneer role. In South Travancore the
Nayars were organized under Karayogams and came under the stream of
N.S.S. activities.47 All Nayar quarters of South Travancore rallied under
the communal unit in the village level and made commendable
mobilization process in support of the N.S.S. Movement.
The different socio-economic background that emerged out of
the Vellala Regulation of 1926, induced the enlightened vellala youths to
support the social movements of the untouchable communities. But the
Nayars of South Travancore failed to encourage such depressed class
movements which altogether worked against the socio-political position of
the Nayars. Further the

N.S.S challenged

the Christian movement

successfully in North Tranvancore and obtained considerable progress
in the educational activities.

Balakrishnan, V., R. Leela Devi., op.cit., pp. 87-91.
Ibid., p. 92.

As the L.M.S emerged to be a strong socio-religious force in
South Travancore, the L.M.S. converts spearheaded an avarna movement
mainly against the Nayar dominance. But the Nayars practically failed to
cope with the new situation and attempted in vain for the re-conversion
and solidarity move among the Hindus. 48 This enables the other popular
Savarna community namely the Nanjiland vellalas to organise movements
and occupied a pre-eminent socio-economic position in south Travancore.
Evidently the N.S.S. movement in South Travancore failed to protect the
interest of the Nayars which led to the disintegration of the social
exclusiveness and traditional orders.

The Present Condition of NSS in South Travancore (Modern
Kanyakumari District)
The NSS in Kanyakumari district was started in 24.12.1995.
It became a registered body in 1996. (The Reg. No. 47/'96) The district
office bearers were, Advocate Sreekumar (President), Mr. N. Raghavan
Nair (General Secretary, Mr. M. Balakrishnan Nayar (Treasurer) as on
2000. The important karayogams were at, Nagercoil, Padmanabhapuram,
Suchindrum, Munchirai, Thiruvattar etc.

Sathianesan,V., "Temple Entry Proclamation and Reconversion Impulse",
Indian Church History Review. Vol.26;2 1992, pp.14-15.


Regulation & Functioning
The General body meeting of the N.S.S. will be conducted
twice or thrice in a year.

Now the office of the district organization

functioning at Chunkankadai.
Each karayogam meet twice in a month.

The district

executive committee met once in a month during the last Saturday. They
aimed to create more funds for their society and to help the poor families
in this society.
Each karayogam members entered in to canvass for the
accumulation of the members from their areas. The admission fees is
collected from each member 25 rupees as entrance fees. Then five rupees
collected as monthly subscription.

Services of the Society
Their main aim to promote the socio economic cultural
condition of the Nayar society.

The NSS in Kanyakumari District gave help in monetary level
to the poor families for their family marriage purpose rupees 2000 to
3000/-. These family members should be the member of the karayogam.
There are 27 karayogams in Kanyakumari District. The details given above are until

In case of death in a poor family the NSS donate rupees 500
for that purpose. This amount paid those family even not a member in the
During the marriage function of the member's family, the
N.S.S. done free service for the successful completion of that function.
While they serve in the dining hall they wore NSS padges. For this free
service the wedding family should pay rupees hundred towards the
marriage registration fees to the NSS.

The only (aided) NSS college in South Travancore is Sree
Ayyappa College for Women at Chunkankadai, near Nagercoil.
To promote educational qualities the district NSS announced
prizes for getting 1st rank in SSLC and HSC examination among the Nayar
families. Each prize winners will be getting 1000 rupees as cash award.
These prizes could be donated by V.I.P.ies among the N.S.S.
This was first started during June 1996 at their General body
meeting held at Nagercoil. The Donors were Mr. V. Sreekumar District
President and Mr. Thangappan Nair from Krishnan Kovil.

They sent requisition to the Government of Tamilnadu for
getting minority rights from the Government on linguistic basis.

Chapter - VII

Social Movements
among the oppressed
and Nayar Antipathy


The beginnings of the 19th Century witnessed the emergence
of social reform movements in South Travancore. In the early phase of the
reform movements, the Christian missionaries raised the banner of revolt
against the oppressive order, mainly the Nayar aristocrats who established
their dominance in government offices and social systems. Evidently the
Vellalas of South Travancore also joined hands with the Nayars and
persecuted the lower communities. Emboldened by the teachings of the






communities of South Travancore challenged the slave labour, dress
restrictions and denial of temple entry rights. A feeling of self-respect
guided in the outcaste communities who' organised the movement for
social justice, equality and self respect. Through oppressive systems the
Nayars attempted to suppress the reform spirit that originated among the
traditional outcaste communities of South Travancore.2


Ponnu.R., Vaikunda Swamigal Valvum Valikattalum, (Tamil), New Delhi, 1983,
p.60. With the coming of Vaikundaswamigal, a new sect of Hinduism had
appeared as a curious phenomenon in the religious history of South Travancore.
He was born in a Nadar family in 1808 A.D, at Samithoppu, a village 5 miles
north west of Kanyakumari. He started his meditation in 1833 and completed a
penance of 4 years. He appealed his followers to live in unity, fearlessness and
with good faith. At the age of forty three he died at Ampalapathi on Monday 3
June 1851.
Report on Slavery, 1841, p. 152.

In the feudal society of Travancore slavery was officially
recognised. The government and the temples owned slaves. Churches as
well as the rich caste Hindu landlords also owned them. Below the Nadars
and the Ezhavas, even more degraded and oppressed, were the several
slave castes that formed the lowest Sudras of the Travancore society. The
slave caste had once been a free people. It was the feudal nature of society
that the strange laws of land ownership, the agrarian economy, the division
of labour and the caste system that ushered in slavery which remained a
bleeding wound in the body politic of Travancore till the middle of 19 th
The anarchic and unsettled state of affairs that prevailed in
Travancore, in the early society helped the landlords to grab more land

compelled the weaker sections to surrender the

lands in their

possessions and to accept the position of servile labourers. The chera-chola
confrontation of the 11th century A.D let loose the new socio-economic
forces.4 The Nambudiri Brahmin who were at the apex of the social
structure and functioned as trustees of temples misappropriated numerous
temple properties and endowments and enjoyed the income derived from
them.5 This led eventually to the abnormal accumulation of a land and

Joy Gnanadason, A Forgotten History, Madras, 1994, p. 28.
Nagam Aiya, V., Travancore State Manual, Vol. II, Trivandrum, 1906, p. 276.
Sreedhara Menon, A., Kerala District Gazetteer, Trivandrum, 1965, p. 273.

wealth in their hands. At the same time the properties owned by several
ordinary tenants were transferred by them to the control of individual

landlords and temple managements

and the properties so

transferred became Brahmaswoms, and Devaswoms which by convention
enjoyed immunity from forcible occupation and devastation at the hand
of the enemy force.6

Jenmi – Kudiyan Relations
The social system of this state led to the rise of Jenmi system
in Travancore. It became the exclusive privilege of the caste Hindu
Brahmins and Nayars to be Jenmies and lower caste men could never buy
or own land and rise to the status of Jenmies. Power and prosperity were
the unchallenged monopoly of the Jenmies. The lower castes who were
given the land on lease or were employed as labourers for the cultivation of
the lands, the kudiyans could be evicted at will. This system brought about
an economy which exploited the tenants at the bottom and gave to those at
the top, the Jenmies tremendous economic, political and social power.7
It generated a large number of unprotected people who had no option but
to work in the fields of the Jenmies and to do all the dirty menial jobs.
The rigid rules of caste with triple social evils of untouchability,
unapproachability and unseablity denied them the choice of any other

Ibid., p. 203.
Nagam Aiya, V., op. cit., Vol. II, p. 278.

work. All the tasks of importance were shared by the Brahmins and the
Nayars. It was the division of labour that finally led to slavery causing
sensible decline in the moral nature and character of the people. Thousands
of agricultural labourers became agricultural slaves attached to the soil and
were brought and sold like cattles. Slavery in Travancore became
hereditary. Unlike in other parts of India where it existed, once born to a
slave family remained a slave all through life, passing down this ignominy
to his or her posterity. Dharma Bhoomi the land of charity had became
the land of Adharma the home of slavery.8

The missionaries developed conflicting attitude towards the
social tyranny of Travancore state and condemned the humiliating feudal

the institution of slavery. They represented the Maharaja to

enact compassionate reform measures for the liberation of the servile

After several stages of agitations by the missionaries and pleas

by the reform bodies, the Maharaja issued his first antislavery
proclamation on 14 October 1853 and thereby granted emancipation to
children born of all government slaves after 15 September 1853. 10


further proclamations issued on 24 June 1855 completely abolished
slavery in Travancore.
Report on Slavery, 1841, p. 153.
Kusuman, K.K., Slavery in Travancore, Madras, 1989, pp. 101-103.
10. English Records, Trivandrum Secretariat, Cover File No.286, copy of the
Proclamation abolishing Slavery, 15 September 1853.

The emancipation statutes of the Travancore Maharaja
were not taken serious by the Nayars of South Travancore. A kind of
aggrestic slavery still continued in the South Travancore society.
Especially the failure of the government to adopt subsequent ameliorative
measures compelled the slave community to lead a dependent life on the
land owning communities. This helped continuation of the servile system
in another form with the same severity and cruelty. As a result the
Sambhavar outcastes of South Travancore became converts to alien faith
and sought the status of non-Hindus. On becoming non-Hindus they were
exempted from all social obligations and restrictions. Yet the Nayar
landlords of South Travancore continued the system of social disability
and persecuted the servile community.
In the Thovalai taluk, Thazhakudi was a famous village
where large caste Hindu Nayar landlords commanded servile services of
the former slave community of Sambhavars.11 When a landlord started
ploughing the paddy-fields on an auspicious day, he ordered all the slaves
to render their services. Madathy, a slave caste woman living in the village,
due to her advanced state of pregnancy failed to report duty in the field.12 It
is reported being starved, sick and weak she could hardly move around.

Joy Gnanadason, op.cit., p.17.

Naked, starving children with matted hair and filthy clothes tugged at her
for food as she lay crumpled on the floor in the corner of her hovel
between fatigue and semi- consciousness.13 But the landlord sent his
slaves to take her to the field. Then she was yoked to a plough along with a
buffalo and to pull the plough to the utter horror of everyone. It resulted
in her death.14 In fact this gory incident was one of the many acts of
inhuman cruelty meted out to the low caste slaves by their Nayar landlords
in South Travancore. The encouragement given by the Salvation Army to
the Sambhavar community further aggravated the persecution of the lower
communities. Thus the Nayars even in the end of the 19th century
practised slavery and dehumanised the lower communities.

Upper Cloth Movement
In the early nineteenth century European ideals of life and
manners began to take root among the people. Orthodox views regarding
the frame work of society had slowly began to give way to new and liberal
ideas of the brotherhood of man.15 Encouraged by the orders of Munro
dated 7 Edavam 989, (1813) the Nadar women began to wear the upper
cloth along with the jacket.16

The caste hindus could not compromise


Report of the Travancore District Committee for 1881, Thittuvilai mission
District, p. 23.
Report on Slavery 1841, p.153.
Sreedhara Menon, A., Kerala District Gazetteers, Trivandrum, pp. 227-228.

with this violation of a deep rooted custom. However the first agitation, for
the upper cloth right started in 1822 when the Nayars in Kalkulam mocked,
abused and ill-treated the Nadar females who appeared in public with
decent dress with upper cloths and jackets worn by them were torn.17 Soon
the Nadar got a favourable decree from the Padmanabhapuram Court in
1823,18 which confirmed the proclamation of Munro. Having felt annoyed,
the Nayars resumed persecution and subsequently the royal proclamation
of 3rd February, 1829 prohibited the use of upper cloth by Nadar women. 19
Even after the prohibition the Nadar women moved out wearing the upper
cloth. Hence the upper cloth riot continued from 1828 to 1830 with severe
persecution.20 It was more intense in the Neyyoor mission district. It was
made a regular practice for the Nayars to gather at market places to assault
the Nadar women. The administration sent troops to suppress the rebellion
under the command of captain Daby.

However with the coming of

Vaikundaswarny and a subsequent reformation spirit in the minds of Hindu
Nadars, the movement for upper cloth right assumed a new dimension. 21
A conflicting atmosphere was created by the developments during the
first decade of the later 19th century.22 The edict of 1851 deprived the

Agur, C.M., Church History of Travancore, Madras, 1903, p. 98.
Kareem, C.K., Kerala under Haider Ali and Tippu Sultan, Cochin, 1973, p. 179.
Agur, C.M., op.cit., Appendix - XVIII, p.18.
Yesudhas, R.N., Bristish Policy in Travancore, Trivandrum, 1977, p. 178.
John Jacob, A., A History of London Missionary Society in South Travancore,
Trivandrum, 1990, p. 50.
Ponnu, R., Vaikundaswami and Social Reform Movement, Unpublished,
M.Phil, Dissertation, Madurai, 1980, p. 75.

Christians of the status and privileges that they enjoyed and subjected
them to serious disadvantages.23 It


the resistance of the

Hindus. However a new era of persecution and severity began

when Madhava Rao became the Dewan.24

Having observed


conflicting sentiments prevailed between the Nadars and the Nayars on
27th December 1858, he issued a proclamation "requiring the Shanars
to adhere to the usage hither to observed by their women of not covering
the body with an upper cloth like the Sudra women".25 This supplied fuel
to- the fire of hostility and resulted in serious violence. Soon it spread
violently to all parts of South Travancore and from 25th December 1850
onwards Christian Nadars were molested throughout Neyyoor and
Parassala mission districts.26

In January 1859

riots broke

out in

Trivandrum, Santhapuram, Nagercoil and Kottar.27 In all these places
women wereassaulted. Soon the Hindu and Christian Nadars retaliated
against the caste Hindu women.28 The revolt which lasted for five months
ended with a proclamation on 26 July 1859 allowing Nadar women to

Moody, J.N., The Chief Secretary to Government, Fort St. George, dated 17th
January 1853, Cover file No. 215 of 1853, pp. 36-38.
Yesudas, R.N., British Policy in Travancore (1805-1859), Trivandrum, 1977,
p. 45.
English Records, Trivandrum Cover File No.2115, 3rd January 1859, p. 14.
Ibid., 12th February 1859, p. 18.
Ibid., 21st January 1859, pp. 16-18.
Ibid., p. 18.

cover their bosoms in any manner. In the continuous operation of the
conflict Nayar mass uprising formed a distinct phase. They let loose a
new wave

of persecution at the aggressive social status occupied by

Nadars of South Travancore. The uprisings led to the direct collision with
Indications of the general ill feeling of the Nayars towards the
Nadars became more marked by the end of 1858. A Christian Nadar
woman was assaulted in the public market at Neyyattinkara and her
jacket was torn by a group of Nayars.29 Though the case was proved in the
court the offender was let off with a little fine in order to prevent
recurrence of similar crimes. The Nayars opened a new phase of
confrontation with the Nadars when the royal proclamation was read in the
court of Travancore by the Governor Lord Harris. In the continuous
agitation of twenty days in the Parassala Mission District three chapels and
three smaller places of worship were set on fire. 30 In the Neyyoor mission
district the Nayars began to rob and ill-treat many of the poorer classes.
They sided with, the officials to inflict infiltration upon Gurupatham, the
Catechist and his family.31 The Nayar uprising became more serious

Mateer, S., The Land of Charity, London, John Snow, 1871, p. 293.
Messiah, L.A. (ed.), Abbe Memorial London Missionary Pastorate Church,
Platinum Jubilee Souvenir, Parasala, 1775, pp. 2-3.
Oliver, P., Home Church Irenepuram CSI, Centenary Jubilee Souvenir, 1970,
p. 13.

when it burst out in Nanjilnad. Here the Vellalas joined with the Nayars
in perpetuating the atrocity on the Nadars. 32 On 4th January more than
200 Nayars with a group of Vellalas of Thazhakudy entered the houses
of Nadars with clubs and knives. They attacked the inhabitants, stripped
off the jackets of the women, torn the cloths and cruelly beat and
kicked them.33

Fearing subsequent attacks, the Nadars flew from the

village on 7th January. Another Nayar mob gathering of about 500 entered
Kumarapuram during day time. They searched the house of the Christian
catechists, and chased the Nadars.34 soon the violent mob made forcible
entry in to the homes of the Nadars, broke and pillaged the furniture and
molested the defenseless women.35
In the violent outrage brokeout in December 1858 and
January 1859 the Nadars suffered untold miseries. The violence ignited
out of the Nadar's assumption of the right to wear upper cloth, soon
became a movement for destruction of the property of Nadars in South
Travancore. Hence this Nayar-Nadar confrontation actually laid a ground
for the violent reaction of the Nadars and for a final fight against the
lawless acts of their powerful enemies.

English Records Cover File Mo. 2115 Letter of Missionaries, LMS, F.Baylis to
the Resident, pp. 44-48.
Yesudhas, R.N., A People's Revolt in Travancore, Document, No XIII,
pp. 196-198.
Mateer.S., op.cit., p. 302.
George, D.H., Kumari Mavatta Pennurimai Porattam, (Tamil), Marthandam,
1982, p. 92.

In fact the upper cloth agitation by the Nadars of South
Travancore represented the reaction of a pioneer depressed community
against the social restrictions and humiliations meted out to the lower
communities. Hence the agitation was primarily against the Nayars, who
were the real vanguard of the exclusive social systems and caste Hindu
privileges. In several places of South Travancore, the Nadars faced the
virulent Nayar conservatives who opposed modernization process in South
Travancore. It gave rise to subsequent social movements and mobilizations
for the social equality and identity of the lower communities.

Agrarian Reforms and Temple Entry Movement
After the upper cloth agitations, there was an era of agrarian
reforms in Travancore society that consolidated the economic position of
the Nayars of South Travancore. As Kudiyans, they came to enjoy
permanent tenancy rights and asserted their position, as noble patrons of
the land. Subsequently they attempted

reorganisation of their family

management based on patrilineal system and established status for
individuals. Yet they wanted to perpetuate the system of social inequality
by prohibiting the lower communities from entering the temples.36


depressed communities of South Travancore demanded the right of temple

"The temples occupied a highly conspicuous place in the life of the Hindus".
Sobhanan,B., "Temple Entry Movement in Kerala", Journal of Kerala Studies,
Vol.XII, part 1-4, p.195.

entry in order to boost their social status and cultural identity. Thus what
was inevitable was, the movement for right of temple entry in the
Travancore state. Originally the temple entry movement was started' in
Travancore State with Vaikkam Satyagraha in 1924. The Ezhavas, who
formed the major non-caste Hindu community launched the movement. 37
Their Organisation known as SNDP drew the attention of the government
and demanded the removal of tindal palakas (the prohibition boards)
placed near the temples.38 At this juncture, the Nayar Service Society and
Harijan Seva Sangh recommended the government for the granting of
temple entry right to the non-caste Hindus.39 When the Satyagraha
movement became vigorous, the government as a compromise settlement
declared the opening of roads on three sides of the Vaikkam temple. 40 But
the lower communities were not permitted to have a glance of the deity in
the Garbagraga.
In continuation of the Vaikkam Satyagraha the temple entry
movement was started in South Travancore with the historical Suchindram
Satyagraha. This was aimed at securing the right to walk along the roads
surrounding the Siva temple at Suchindram. The Satyagraha commenced

Ravindran, T.K, Vaikkam Satyagraha and Gandhi, Trichur, 1975, pp. 102-103.
Ravindran, T.K., Asan and Social Revolution in Kerala, Trivandrum, 1971,
p. 69.
Basthurai, S., Suchindram Satyagraha, an Unpublished M.Phil Dissertation,
M.K. University, Madurai, p. 95.
English Records, Trivandrum Secretariat, File No. D.Dis. 1478.

on 19 February 1926 -under the leadership of M. Subramonia Pillai,
M.E. Naidu, H. Perumal Panikkar, P.C. Thanumalaya Perumal and
Gandhidas.41 The Nayars of Suchindram and its suberbs took keen interest
to suppress the Satyagraha movement.
In collaboration with the conservative Vellala group they
started what was known as anti-satyagraha. They took all precaution to
thwart the movement. They put up barricades on the roads leading to the
The satyagrahis sat on the roads where they were prevented
from going ahead. The anti-satyagrahis had enjoyed the support of the
police officials and government servants. Prohibitory orders had been
issued by the District magistrate to the leaders.42

All forcible attempts

of the satyagrahis to enter the prohibited road were prevented by the
police. The anti-satyagrahis with the support of the government prohibited
M.E.Naidu, the leader of the movement from making public speeches or
taking part in public meetings or entering specified areas. 43
Following the arrival of Gandhi into

the area and his

negotiations with the government the latter promised that the roads at
Suchindram would be opened to the avarnas within a month after

Ibid., Letter dated 21st January 1926.
Travancore Legislative Council Proceedings, Vol. IX, p. 6.
Sobhanan, B., Temple Entry Movement in Kerala, Journal of Kerala Studies,
Vol. XII, Part 1-4, p. 203.


the satyagraha.

But the strong pro-savarna attitude of the

government and opposition of the orthadox savarnas made the
government to ignore the promise given to the satyagrahis. Therefore on
12 May 1926 again satyagraha was resumed.44 The satyagrahis challenged
the government restrictions and continued the agitation with vigour. They
faced the lathi-charge and proceeded towards the temples that spread
alarm and terror in every direction of Suchindram. Hard pressed by the
agitations the ruling sovereign on the 8 November 1932 appointed a
committee, known as 'Temple Entry Enquiry Committee for the purpose
of examining the question of temple entry. 45
The committee was the representative body of orthadox
pandits, educated gentlemen with advanced view and representative of
the communities to whom temple entry had not been granted.46 The
president of the committee V.S.Subramoniya Aiyar published the report
on "January 1974 with the suggestion for a partial removal of restrictions
and recommendations for throwing open all public roads and buildings
to every community irrespective of caste, creed and colour.47 It touched
only the fringe of the problem and the main disability, still remained.

Menon, P.K.K., The History of Freedom Movement in Kerala, Vol. II,
Trivandrum, 1972, pp. 300-301.
Ramachandran, P., M.E. Naidu and Suchindram Satyagraha, Nagercoil, 1975,
pp. 14-15. ,
Report of the Temple Entry Enquiry Committee, p. 1.
Proceedings of the Travancore Sri Moolam Assembly, Vol. VII, Trivandrum,
1937, p. 713.

Though the appointment of a temple entry enquiry committee
struck a hope of confidence in the circle of the satyagrahis the outcome
aggravated the agitation. Throughout the state the satygrahis contemplated
to enter all roads, tanks and wells and satroms which were thrown open
to the caste hindus and non-hindus but not to non-caste hindus.48 In order
to nullify the attempts of the satyagrahis, the government gave orders to
throw open forty roads in the Travancore state to all classes of people.49
A conference of Devaswom Commissioner, Maramat Engineer, Chief
Engineers, etc. was held and it resolved that those public roads, wells,
tanks, satroms maintained out of public fund should be immediately
thrown open to all the people but those which were maintained out of
Devaswom funds would be closed to thenon-caste hindus.50
The enlightened sovereign Sri Chitra Thirunal reexamined
the whole question in the light of the external truths embodied in the vedas
and the upanishads. The enlightened public opinion and the pulse of the
caste Hindus were also towards the grant of temple entry right to the
avarnas. However a final approach was effected with the historic
proclamation on 12 November 1936.51 The temple entry proclamation by


English Records, Trivandrum, Confidential section, C.S. File No. 1365,
Telegram, private secretary to Maharaja of Travancore, Trivandrum, 20 March
Ibid., 21 May 1936.
Ibid., 26 May 1936.
The Temple Entry Proclamation Memorial Souvenir, Trivandrum, 1942, p. l.

the sublimity of its conception the loftness of its ideals and the" magnitude
of its effects, occupies a unique place in the history of social and religious
reform in India.52 The proclamation introduced revolutionary changes in
the Hindu society by destroying the last prestige of discrimination against
two million human beings.53

It is an epoch making manifestation of

unparalleled beneficence. It is an act of justice to the submerged hindus
in the state and the Magna Carta of a resurrected Hinduism purified,
ennobled and equipped to prosper and conquer.54
The proclamation created a healthy and vigorous spiritual
life and helped the advancement of the various castes and classes
among the Hindus.55 With the proclamation the suffering section found
a remedy to many disabilities. It sanctioned temple entry right, road entry
right and common rights to enter all public wells tanks, satroms and
The Nayar Service Society and other Hindu Mission began
to reconvert those who flow from Hindu fold. As agrarian tenants the
reconverted depressed class coolies were preferentially treated by the

Travancore Administration Report 1936-37, Trivandrum, p. 7.
Ibid., p. 126.
Ibid., p. 134.
Sreedhara Menon, A., Kerala District Gazetteer, p. 274.
English Records, Trivandrum, Confidential C.S.File No.1383, Letter from Chief
Secretary to the Police Commissioner, Trivandrum, 26 May 1937.

Hindu landlords57 The out caste Parayas and Pulayas gained the right to
stand along with Brahmin before the sanctum sanctorum of the Hindu
temples. It struck a period of bleak to the missionaries of Travancore.
Further the proclamation radiated a fusion of sub castes which in turn
fostered inter-marriages of different castes. It ushered in the birth of a new
era of equality and freedom.58
The Nayar organisation supported the cause of the avarnas
in North Travancore during the Vaikkam Satyagraha days. The different
socio-economic situations in South Travancore made the Nayars to adopt
anti-satyagraha movement. Their strong association with orthodox vellala
groups might have perhaps the reason for the indifferent attitude of
the Nayars towards the temple entry movement of South Travancore.
The economic consideration also influenced the Nayars to develop
anti-satyagraha movement. In pre-temple entry era, the Nayars had
exclusive control over the temple lands as tenants. But after temple entry
right the avarna had also come to possess the natural rights over temple
properties. Developing apprehension against this the Nayars of South
Travancore played the role of the anti-satyagrahis in the temple entry

English Records, Trivandrum, Confidential, C.S. File No. 1383, Trivandrum,
8 March 1937.

Chapter - VIII

cultural reciprocity –
a retrospect


Travancore has the peculiar type of culture which set itself a
fact different from all other regional cultures and National culture in
India. The peculiar cultural aspects of Travancore reaches the South
Travancore, once a part of Travancore State and now a part of Tamilnadu
Since November 1, 1956, Underwent so many transmissional changes
and synthesis with the Tamil cultural aspects and vice versa. The
Travancore culture to some extent come to be Tamilianised, and Tamil
culture being Keralised. These mutual and reciprocal cultural transmission
and efflorescence through the ages could be seen in multi dimensional
way in the different aspects of life even today. Now the Nayar culture
and Tamil culture transmitted mutually and reflected in synthesis in all
aspects of life and every nook and corner of south Travancore among
the people could be witnessed through the length

and breadth of

Tamilnadu and also throughout Kerala.


So many words from the spoken language of Nayars has

been taken and interlinked and interoven with the Tamil Language of
the Tamils of South Travancore through mutual understanding since the


advent of Nayars into South Travancore. The numerical number 'Onnu' in
Malayalam is adopted by the Tamilian people and call the number one as
'Onru'.1 Another example the jack fruit popularly known as 'palapalam' in
Tamil is spoken by the Tamilian people of south Travancore as 'chakkai
palam' and this terminology was commonly used by the Nayar people of
kerala for Jack fruit. Originally the lips of human body called by the
Tamils as 'uthadu'. Because of the influence of Malayalam in the South
Travancore the Nayar usage 'sundu' became a popular word in South
Travancore.2 Likewise the Nayars used the word 'vellam' for water which
is in pure Tamil 'Tanneer' is in parlance in South Travancore. As a result
of Malayalee influence the word 'paise' for 'coin' came to be used as
'chakkaram' throughout South Travancore. As a consequence whenever
the Tamils from South Travancore travel to the North Tamilnadu people
call the people as malayalee because of some Malayalam words
intermingled with Tamil words in their talk and hence an admixture of
two languages.3 This type of bilingual normally exist in the state borders.
From the above study with some examples clearly proved beyond any
doubts that here is a fusion and transmission of words from Malayalam

Pillai, K.K., The Early History of Nanchil Nadu, Madras, 1953, p.43.
Interview with P. Ragavan Thambi, Marthandam, Kanyakumari district on
Interview with Mano Thangaraj, Manguli, Kanyakumari District on 17.01.2008.

to Tamil and Tamil to Malayalam which in turn created a peaceful
atmosphere in the midst of differences just like the Indian culture ―Unity in


Social Habits
The most popular Tiffin of Nayars is 'puttu' combined with

'green gram' and 'Appalam'. Another important item is Idiyappam with
potato salna commonly prevalent among the Nayars in Travancore. The
conspicuous meals of the Nayars is 'Fish curry' and 'tapioca'. The samba
rice cooked in the Nayar houses and mixed with fish curry is very tasty
one. A variety of side dishes, minimum seven to fifteen items in the lunch
of the marriage functions is a normal one among the Nayars.4 The
cashewnut as

a rare food occasionally under consumption among the

Nayars in Kerala. The puttu and other ingredients consumed along with
it followed from Nayar community and it became popular in South
Travancore also. The South Travancore Tamilians are also accustomed to
fish curry and tapioca, samba rice with fish curry, more side dishes in the
lunch in the functions celebrated in South Travancore.5 The groundnut
which is a tasty food of the Tamilians is transmitted and adopted in their
food item, by the Nayars.

Padmanabhan. S., The Forgotten History of Lands End, Nagercoil, 1971, p.34.

The groundnut is popularly called by 'kappalandy' because it has originally
imported from Manila in Philippines through the ships.6
The Nayar boys and girls are handsome in appearance mainly
because of colour complexion. Occasionally a Tamilian loves a Nayar girl
and inter-marriages may take place, similarly a Nayar boy may love a
Tamilian girl and marriage may take place. Under such circumstances, a
mixture of Tamilian and Nayar race is born which in neutral way in
personality and complex.
Marumakkathayam was a traditional custom among the
Nayars and because of their influence it was extended to South Travancore
and adopted by the Vellalas and muslims.7 Later it was realized as an
obnoxious one and hence this system was thwarted through a movement
launched by the Vellalas and Muslims, and they found redressal in the
acts passed by the Travancore State Legislative council.8
The Nayar gents are commonly using dhoties with towel on
the shoulders as a customary habit. And the same was followed by the
Tamilian gents of South Travancore. Similarly the ladies are commonly
using kaily and the upper garment of blouse without a saree coverage of

Interview with Dr. C. A.Perumal, Former Prof of Politics, University of Madras
on 30.12.2007.
Velupilli, T.K, Travancore State Manual, Vol.I, Trivandrum, 1940, p. 417.
Arumina, G., Colonialism and the Transformation of Matriliny in Kerala,
(C.1850-1940), Orient Longman, Malabar, 1976, p. 295.

the upper portion is common among the women folk of the Nayars,
travelled to South Travancore and also became popular among the
Tamilians of Kalkulam and Vilavancode taluks. The white colour saree
with single border is in common use among the Nayar women and during
the festivals in particular it became absolutely a model of dress by the
Tamil women folk of South Travancore.
The Nayars like simple and light - design of gold ornaments
which are the items of magnitude and greater size. And the same was
adopted by the Tamilians of South Travancore in the name of Nayar
model. In the Tamilian areas of kanyakumari district the Jewellery are
generally owned by keralites and the variety available in those shops is
larger and magnificent.9
The amusement of Unjal in particular by the ladies of the
Nayar family during the eve and after the onam festival is very famous
among the Nayars. For the Unjal they used the wooden stick known as
'Ulakkai' (A stick used for hulling the husk from paddy) and the rope
specially prepared for this purpose which is very strong. The same
method and mode of celebrating the 'onam' festival on the eve and after
during the Tamil month of Avani is adhered like Nayars.10 Another

Pillai, K.K, op.cit., p.75.
Vellu Pillai, T.K., Travancore State Manual, Vol.I,

Trivandrum, 1940,

important amusement celebrated in connection with the birth of Lord
Krishna is 'Uriyadi' (To break the pot which contains yellow water and
hung at a higher base with the help of a stick). It is a replica of the
historic event which took place in Ayarbadi where Lord Krishna who
broke the ghee pot. This festival celebrated by the Nayars in olden times
is at present popular among the Tamil Hindus in South Travancore.
Athappookolam with the help of flowers is a prominent one
during the Onam festival. Flowers of different colours is used in different
designs on the ground in front of the entrance of the house inorder to
receive the Emperor Mahabali on his arrival to the land where he ruled,
in the Tamil month of Avani.11 The Nayars of Travancore are very much
interested in the Athappookolam and this kolam is followed by the Tamil
people of South Travancore in a majestic way. Even the educational
institutions like Schools, Arts colleges12, Polytechniques, Engineering
colleges and community colleges are conducting Athappookolam
competitions during the Onam festival. They also granted two to three
days of holidays for Onam and in the case of married couples the Thalai
Onam is celebrated with splendor and grandeur.

Daily Thanthi, News with Portrait, on 14th September 2005, Nagercoil Edition,
p. 15. (Sivanthi Aditanar College near Nagercoil conducted ―Athappoo Kolam‖
competitions in their College participated by various department students (most
of them were Tamil girls) and distributed prizes by the Governing body of the

Betel chewing with green arecanut is a regular custom among
the Nayars, in particular and Keralites in general. Nedumankadu in Kerala
is famous for arecanut production. At present the betal chewing is very
very popular among the Tamil population. Tamilnadu is famous for
tobacco production which is exported to Travancore for their consumption.
The decoration work during the marriage ceremony and other festive
occasions of the Nayars, plays an important role. The wedding stage, the
pandal, the entrance all these are decorated with flowered arches. The
Toranam decoration is a peculiar social habit among the Nayars, and it is
done through coconut leaves of fine design to welcome the guests.13 It is
found in every marriage house, both rich and poor. The same custom was
adopted from the Nayars and put into practice in every function, in
particular marriage function held among the Tamils of South Travancore.
‗Chorunnu‘ function or first time rice eating function of a
child in the family is very important in Nayar families.14 The same custom
prevalent among the Nayars of South Travancore is followed by hindu
population of the Tamils also in South Travancore. This function is
normally undertaken with ritual in their respective family temples or
common temples.

Velu Pillai, T.K., Travancore State Manual, Vol.I, Trivandrum, 1940, p. 415.
Ibid., p. 412.


III. Festivals and Religion
During the festive occasion to attend the feast mutually the
Nayars and Tamilians are inviting each other.15 On such occasions in some
cases they are presented with new dress also. Here it leads to inter-dining
between the Nayars and Tamilians which in turn led

to a peaceful and

plentiful life between them without any flickering or quarrels.
There is a mutual understanding between the Nayars and the
Tamilians inhabitated in and around South Travancore as a mark of the old
connections between Travancore and South Travancore and the modern
method of mutual compromise and comprehensive understanding. The
festivals are mutually celebrated with warm and pleasure. The Tamil
festival like Pongal and Deepavali are quiet common and celebrated on a
grand scale by the Nayars of South Travancore. The Nayar festivals like
Onam and Vishu are willingly celebrated by the Tamils in South
Travancore to an amazing level. During the Chitrai Vishu in the Tamil
month of Chitrai first of Tamil New Year the function of 'kaineetam'
(offering money by the elders or the head of the family to the other
members) is a common practice in every Nayar family. The same is now
rampant and very effectively followed in all the families of the Tamils in
South Travancore.16

Interview with D. Madhavan Nair, Munchirai, Kanyakumari District, on
Interview with S. Ayyappalam, Village President, Udaiyappan Kudiyiruppu,
Kanyakumari District, on 16.03.2008.

The Naga worship is famous among the Nayars. The same
was adhered and worshiped by the Tamilians of South Travancore. The
Nagaraja temple located at the heart of Nagercoil Town is the best
specimen of this kind.17 It also said that the name Nagercoil named after
the famous temple Nagaraja. The 'pongalai worship' (cooking green rice
in front of the temple) at Attukal Amman Temple in Thiruvananthapuram,
and the same is mainly attended by the Tamils from South Travancore.
This festival is exclusively for women, and no gents was not allowed
within a circumference of 20 kilometers from the temple.18 South
Travancore also famous for Amman worship as an impact of the
Travancore relations. The Sabarimala Ayyappan Temple meant for men
is famous for the ‗Mahara vilakku‘ pooja in the Tamil month of Thai first
and also the Chithrai vishu for which large crowd from South Travancore
and Tamilnadu visit Sabarimala after one mandalam (forty one days) of
observing "Nonbu" (viratham).19 The Mandaikadu Bhagavathi Amman
Temple is twenty five kilometers away from Nagercoil Town towards the
west, it is in Arabian coast and is famous for the worship of women in tune
with the Sabarimala festival and hence it is popularly called women's
Sabarimala. During the Mandaikadu festival in the Tamil month of Masi

Padmanabhan.S., The Nagaraja Temple, (Reprinted) Nagercoil, 1980, p.25.
Interview with P. Chellappan Nayar, Land Lord of Kaliakkavilai, Kanyakumari
District on. 04.05.2008.
Arumuga Navalar.K., Inthumatha Enaippu Vilakkam (Tamil), Nagercoil,
1984, p. 72.

more pilgrimage of women from Kerala made their visit and they enjoy the
blessings of Goddess Bhagavathi.20 Similarly the Kumari Bhagavathi
Ammam temple located on the coast of Cape comerin is famous for
Dharsan and car festival. Pilgrimage from Kerala, all states of India and
foreigners who as tourists enjoy the vissicitudes and vicinity of the temple.
The kavadiyattam is famous among the Tamils and at present the Nayars
are performing this. The famous Murugan temple at Kumarakovil near
Thuckalay, 12 K.M west of Nagercoil town is strongly and popularly
visited and worshiped by the Nayar in larger numbers.

IV. Architecture
Wooden building structures are very popular and famous in
Travancore. As a consequence the Tamilians of the erstwhile South
Travancore adopted this way in their building constructions. The best










Padmanabapuram palace near Thuckalai. Like wise the Tower (Gopuram)
model building is transmitted from Tamilnadu to Travancore. For
example the Padmanabaswami Temple in Thriuvananthapuram is a
replica of Srirangam Temple near Thiruchirappalli.21 Similarly building
constructions without cement plastering and only by using bricks and

Arunachalam. M, Festivals of Tamil Nadu, Tanjavore, 1980, p.102.
Najan, Temple and Agamas, Pradeepa Publication, Madras, 1983, p.47.

a small amount of mortar in the middle is a conventional and traditional
type of construction in Kerala, is now a days seen in South Travancore
and also southern districts of Tamil Nadu as an impact of Travancore
Tamil relations. The wooden staircases in the huge buildings and the
roof ceiling with the help of wood is a remarkable practice of the
Nayars, which began to migrate into South Travancore, and hence the
same kind of constructions are going on. 22


Sports and Fine Arts
Kalari is a martial art popular in Kerala and nowadays

popular among the Tamils of South Travancore. Nayar subcastes
especially Kurup and Panikker were traditional teachers of the Kalari
martial art.23 Even the Christian organizations in South Travancore started
the Kalari art centres and foster this martial art as a popular one among
the public.24 For Kalari there is an Asan who has got great reverence
among the students.
Chendai Melam (Drums) is famous at Nayar festivals in
Kerala. In the present context in South Travancore temple festivals, car
festivals, even political meetings one could witness the Chendai Melam as

Meena, R., Suchindrum Temple Sthala Purana, Kanyakumari, 1989, p.12.
Faw Cett, F., Nayars of Malabar, New Delhi, 1985, p.285.
Ibid., p.288.


a mark of respect to lead the political leaders to the stage. Hence from the
Nayars the Chendai Melam is copied by the Tamils of South Travancore.
Kathakali, Kurathikali are very famous dances in Travancore
and the same has been adopted by the Tamils of South Travancore.25 The
Kathakali symbol made in wood is placed in the houses of Tamils as a
"Thiristi" in front of the entrance to avoid the evil that follow through the
eye sight of many a people on the house.
The Nayars are noted for many a carvings and handicrafts
made out of wood to adorne the house with beauty and splendour. The
Tamils of South Travancore adopted the same and having placed such
things in their houses also, atleast in the showcases.

VI. Medicine and Mantras
Ayurveda is the traditional medicine of Kerala which is
transmitted among the Tamils of South Travancore. The method of oil
Message and herbal bath for the cure of some chronic diseases being
followed in Kerala and transmitted to Tamil country, especially to South
Travancore.26 Likewise the siddha medicine which is away from side

Vellu Pillai, T.K., Travancore State Manual, Vol.I, Trivandrum, 1940, p. 13.
Padmanabhan, S., The Fsorgotten History of Land’s End, Nagercoil, 1971,


effect and competent in curing some chronic diseases is transmitted
from Tamils to Nayars of Kerala.
Some of the Kerala Namboodhiris are well versed in Magic
spell and chanting mantras to evacuate the evil effect from the house or
one's life27 which are originally originated in Kerala, and transmitted
among the Tamils of South Travancore.
The Nayar Asans are noted for marma adi was an advanced
way to disable a person temporarily for a short period or permanently or
even to kill an opponent by placing a finger on specific nerve points or
accupuncture points.28 Some Tamil Asans of South Travancore who were
disciples studied the same and spread among the Tamils.

VII. Place Names
Each and every house of the Nayar family was known by a
separate name like Tharavadu, single veedu, vilai and kadu. They grow
coconut plants and arcanut plants around the house field. The house
names spread to South Travancore and came to be styled as Bungalow
Veedu, vilai, kadu and Tharavadu, and they also grew coconut and

Faw Cett. F., op.cit, p.306.
Ibid., p.287.

arecanut plants around their houses similar to the Nayars. The village
names like Mandaikadu, Andu kodu, Pakodu, Mangadu, Kaliakkavilai,
Muhilan vilai, Peria vilai, etc., are a replica of the names prevalent in


Communist influence
There is no major industry in South Travancore. Some minor

industries are there like cashew factories. The cashewnut is otherwise
called kollam kottai. It is because cashewnuts imported from foreign
countries like South East Asia and African countries to India through
Quilon harbour.30 In those days cashewnut was not produced in Tamil
country. The Quilon also known as 'Kollam' and the nuts came through
Kollam called as Kollam kottai. At present the cashew nut industry as
minor industry and domesticated industry provided life and employment
opportunities to many poor families for their survival.
The Communist party of Kerala as a labour party crept into
the Tamilian polity, and made their sway very strong and powerful in the
constituencies like Killiyur and Vilavancode. Almost all the time in these

Interview with T.Kumaresan, Former President of Puthalam Town Panchayat,
Agasteeswaram Taluk, Kanyakumari District on 27.04.2008.
Interview with Dr. C. A.Perumal, Former Prof of Politics, University of Madras
on 30.12.2007.

two constituencies the M.L.A‘s elected were from the Communist party.
This is due to the strong labour unionism prevail in Kerala which spread
into the South Travancore.31 In the above two constituencies there are
number of estates under estate owners with a large number of estate
labourers, every time there is a problem of the labours working in the
estates and that is reflected infront of the district Collectorate clearly
visible with red flags in their hands.32
From a study of the above facts under the different headings
reflected the mutual intermission, transmission and synthesis of the Nayar
culture and the Tamil culture embedded in the form of bilinguism and
proliferation of the cultures in multi dimensional directions resulted in a
broad spectrum of knowledge, wisdom, growth of civilization and finally
the attainment of perfection which every one can notice in the growth of
civilization through the challenges offered by the surroundings and
circumstances available therein and responses provided in the form of
opposition or inviting voluntarily to co habit in the minds of their own
people which flourished in an unending way like the history which is
also unending.


Padmanabhan, S., The Forgotten History of Land’s End, Nagercoil, 1971,
p. 68.
Ibid, p. 92.


The Nayars are the desendants of the Sudras, who
accompanied the original Brahmin immigrants. Being Sudras the Nayars
acted as the servants and body-guards of Nambudiries. Evidently the
Sudras later on became the Nayars. The Nayars of South Travancore came
to be divided into several sub-castes based on their occupation. In general,
the Nayars were agriculturists and soldiers in the traditional society. The
dress and family customs of the south Travancore Nayars were identical
with that of the Nanjilnad Vellalas. In social position the Nayars were next
to the Kshatriyas. Broadly speaking the Nayars ranked after the
Nambudiries in Malabar and they occupy the same position in Cochin and
Travancore. As far as the ritual status was concerned, the Nayars were
graded as Sudras. But they were a privileged community till the middle of
the 19th century. The Nayars were the chief land holders in most villages
and they possessed slaves also. The Nayars were responsible for the
maintenance of law and order in the society.
Though the Nayars were once technically classified by the
Brahmins under the name of pure Sudras of Malayala, they were always an
honoured caste.

Some think that Nayar is the honorific plural of the

Sanskrit term Nayaka (leader) otherwise Nayar from Naga (snakes) which
they worship. So many typical last names are given. Besides the main
divisions like Kiriyathil, Illakkar, Padamangalam and Tamil padam etc.

there are so many sub divisions are there, like Akathucharna Nayars
and Purathucharna Nayars in Malabar areas.
Nayar marriage system was a unique and familiar in many
ways. Talikettu, Talikettu Kalyanam, Sambandam are the varieties of the
system of marriages.

Sambandam was a form of marriage practice

among early Nayars in Kerala.

Sambandam was a social contract by

which a man and a women surrender their sexual rights to each other. It
was a term most widely used for the marital relationship of a Nayar
woman. Sambandam is the marriage proper. Another type of marriage is
Talikettu Kalyanam. It has been prevalent among Nayars till recently in
the name of kettu kalyanam. The term Talikettu kalyanam is a compound
of three words viz., Tali (a badge) kettu (tying) and kalyanam (marriage).
Tali is a leaf shaped emblem made of gold or silver, which was worn on a
string around the neck.
In South Travancore, the Nayars were considered the chief
Kshatriya caste which made them professional warriors. The Nayar militia
may be called as a socio-economic cum military organisation. They were
originally a military body, holding land and serving as a militia. King
Martanda Varma combined the regular and irregular armies. The regular
army was the National army of the country trained in modern methods of
warfare and irregular army followed the old systems of warfare. The new

army organisation and defence system introduced by Marthanda Varma
affected the social and political life of the Nayars.
The family organisation of the Nayars was based on the
principles of matrilineal system or marumakkathayam. They practised the
Sambandham system of marriage. The Brahmins resorted to the Nayar
women for sambandham. But their off-springs were not eligible to inherit
the father's property. This system involved the inheritance and succession
through the sister's children on the female line. The Nayars followed the
marumakkathayam in one sense and practised the system of polyandry. In
fact this system came into existence because of the attachment of the
Nayars to the military service of the state, thus the Sambandham form of
marriage worked as an evil in. the domestic life of the Nayars.
Mostly the Nayars preferred joint family where the system of
polygomy and polyandry prevailed as the products of marumakkathayam,
the eldest male of the Nayar families were called as karanavan. The
karanavan was the managing head of the tharavad and he was succeeded
by the senior male member. One of the merits of marumakkathayam
system was that the Nayar women enjoyed freedom and they were very
much independent in managing the family properties. The properties were
not partitioned by the name of share. But the disadvantage of this system
was that nobody possessed the right to alienate the property without the
permission of all others. Finally as an impact of the western culture the










marumakkachayam completely and the Travancore Government came
forward with legislation to make the changes from matrilineal system to
patrilineal family organisation.
The connection of Nayars with Vellalas of Nanjilnad had its
impact upon their social life. The Nayars gave importance to the practice
of customs and ceremonies. Their customs, manners and ceremonies
resemble the Kerala culture. An analysis of the different aspects of their
culture were commonly practised by all caste-Hindu communities in South
Travacore, a few were peculiar to the Nayars. Though matrilineal system
of inheritance prevailed among many communities in South Travancore,
the Nayars were worst affected by the matrilineal family organisation.
Their ceremonies were almost very extensive and expensive. The younger
members of families in South Travancore were extremely unmindful of
the social transformation taking place in the society. Though matrilineal
system of inheritance has officially been abolished, its influence is still in
the system of their social life.
It is calculated that matrilineal system of inheritance was the
basic reason for the economic sufferings and deteriorations of the Nayars
of South Travancore. The system weakened their economic life at all
stages. However the abolition of the system paved way for the emergence
of small holdings and personal property. Along with it, the junior members

of the Nayar community also inherited the pending litigations and legal
hurdles. It affected their domestic peace and tranquility. As a result they
compromised with the vellalas of Thovalai and Agasteeswarm taluks and
sold off their fragmented belongings to them. Also the rising backward
communities of south Travancore were benefitted by the evacuation of
Nayars from here.
The social position of the Nayars reduced the avarna
communities of south Travancore to the position of slaves and
untouchables. Slavery a social evil existed everywhere in the ancient and
medieval society. The reason for slavery was the love of lesiure and
contempt for labour on the part of the citizens. The slaves belonged to the
Sudra class and they were sold and mortgaged like cattles. The slaves were
denied the comforts of lives. They were considered only as a source of
labour. On 6th September 1853 the Dewan of Travancore sent a draft
proclamation which emancipated the children of slaves. Similarly the
women were not allowed to wear breast-cloths. It was a rule made by the
Brahmin community that the non-Brahmin ladies should not cover their
breasts. It generated social movements in South Travancore. The breast
cloth agitation started in the 19th century had a fundamental significance in
the socio-religious history of Travancore and its impact on social
legislation had far reaching consequences.

The ideas of equality generated from domestic management
had influenced the political thoughts of the state of Travancore. The
younger generation of Nayars freed themselves from the fetters of tradition
and cherished a sympathetic consideration towards the social movements
that were organised by the untouchable communities. In fact the social
movements of the avarnas began to affect the socio-economic position of
the Nayars. Hence the Nayars were reluctant to show real encouragements
to the social movements that were vigorous in the twentieth century. On
the other hand, they also failed to protect their pioneer position through
organised attempts. This tendency on the part of the Nayars of South
Travancore rendered their position rather very vulnerably. The Nayar
service society also was very slow to take root in South Travancore. Hence
the progressive ideas propagated by the N.S.S. movement had little impact
upon the Nayars of South Travancore.
Presently the Nayar Service Society revived and got a new
way of approach to their organizational set up and attitude towards the
poor and needy among their own caste. Even they done some charitable,
and endowment services for the upliftment of the socio economic status of
the downtrodden

among their community, through launching various

schemes for lifting their educational status in the society. The karayogam
also well functioned from the deep root of their society.








Suchindrum satyagraha movement sealed the monopolistic ritual rights of
them. By the Temple Entry Proclamation, the temples were opened to the
untouchable communities and similarly the temple services were also
thrown open to them. It established the right of equality in the socioreligious life of the state. Such developments had demoralized the
prospects of the aristocratic order of South Travancore. No wonder, the
Nayars became an easy prey to such rapid socio-religious transformations.
Thus above all we can see that Travancore has the peculiar
types of culture which set itself a fact different from all other regional and
national cultures of India. The uniqueness and peculiarity of Travancore
culture reaches into the South Travancore, once a part of erstwhile princely
state of Travancore and now a part of Tamilnadu since November 1, 1956.
It underwent so many Transmissional changes and synthesis with the
Tamil cultural aspects and vice versa. The Travancore culture to some
extent come to the Tamilianised, and the Tamil culture being Keralised.
These mutual and reciprocal cultural reminiscences of Transmission and
efflorescence through the ages could be seen in multi dimensional way in
the different walks of life even today. The Nayar and Tamil‘s transmission
of cultures reflected in synthesis in all aspects of life which led to harmony
among the people of the South Travancore which in turn expanded and
witnessed throughout the length and breadth of not only Tamilnadu and
Kerala but also the Nation as a whole.




The Artillery comprised two brass 6 and two brass 3 pounders.


The infantry of the Brigade is composed entirely of Nayars.


The Artillery, one-half of Musselmens and the other half of Carnatic

The Recruiting System
The recruiting system is to enlist such Musselmen and
Carnatic Hindus for the Artillery and such Nayars for the infantry as
voluntarily offer themselves : age, 18-22 years, standard height, 5 feet 6
inches. No gratuity is offered and volunteers are constantly qualifying for
the ranks by attending drill for months before vacancies occur : they are
recruited exclusively from the immediate vicinity of Trivandrum, where
they almost all possess small portions of land.


Nayar Brigade – Its Uniform and Arms


Uniforms blue, facings scarlet, lace gold.



Two brass 6-poundes and two brass 3-poundes, swords
but no fuzile.



Uniform scarlet, facings blue, lace gold.



Fuzils with bayonets.

The actual strength at head-quarters (viz. Trivandrum), is 1
major commanding, 2 captains in-charge of, and Acting Adjutants to,
Battalions of Infantry, 1 Lieutenant – Quarter master to the Brigade and incharge of Artillary.


1 Jamedar, 2 Havildars, 2 Naigues and 25 Golundazees.


1 Subadar – major, 13 Subedars, 2 Jamedars or Native
Adjutants, 15 Jamedars, 2 Havildars - major, 2 Drill
Havildars, 2 Drum or File majors, 72 Havildars, 42
Drummers, Fifers and Buglers, 2 Puckallies, 2 Drill Naigues,
72 Naigues and 1,047 Sepoys and 25 Golundazees.



Subedar major




Drummers and



Writers and

Southern Detachments









Pulpanabhapuram fort
and Palace









Codagherry to protect
public property









Nagercoil over the jail
and to protect the



























Aramboly to assist
revenue peons and
guard revenue









Greelium to protect
the inhabitants


















Munacoody granary









Pinnacolum to protect
the inhabitants









Cottar Tobacco Store









Cape Comerin to
protect the inhabitants









Total, Southern

N.B. All the above named out posts, excepting one viz., Coimbatore are
within the Travancore territory.



































































For the protection of
Forts, Palace
For the protection of
Building within the Fort
Parties from this guard
patrol norm as for as
Tallagoody and South to
Cape Comerin
To guard prisoners
For the protection of
paddy granary
Party from this guard to
patrol south as faras cape
comerin and north to
For the protection of cash
For the protection of
Tabacco stores and the
cash chest in the
Tahsildar‘s office parties
as far as Vadaseri and
south to Parakay
Parties as far as
Cadukkaray and South to
Tallakudy by
Kulasekaram puthoor
Parties gone to the cash as
far as Ananthapuram



The Founding Members of the Nayar Service Society

Mannath Padmanabhan (Perunna, Changanacherry)


K. Kelappan (North Malabar)


Panangottu Kesava Panicker (Muttar)


N.C. Trivikrama Kaimal (Nainadathu Eera)


Kakanattu Narayana Panicker (Veliyanadu)


Panaikkattu Parameswara Kurup (Vezhhpera)


Navallil Kochukunju Kurup (Ramankari)


Padinjarekuttu Krishna Pillai (Perunna)


Kottanattil Padmanabha Pillai (Puzhavathu)


Pallipurathu Narayana Pillai (Trikkodithanam)


Kondoor Krishna Pillai (Trikkodithanam)


Thaliyi Madhavan Pillai (Vazhappali)


Val Parampil Velayudhan Pillai (Vazhappali)


Pothuvadathu Padmanabha Pillai (Vazhappali)


Oath – administered to members of the Nayar Service
Society, when it came into being on 31st October 1914, as ‗Nayar
Samudaya Bhrithya Jana Sangam‘

‗I shall endeavour for the betterment of the Nayar Community
through ceaseless thought and action.


In such endeavour, I shall not be provocative in action towards other


I shall in accordance with these objectives, taking justifiable care to
facilitate their fulfillment.



N.S.S. Karayogams (Basic limits)


N.S.S. Taluk Unions


N.S.S. Arts & Science Colleges


N.S.S. Unaided Colleges


N.S.S. Co-operative Training College


N.S.S. Homeo Medical Degree College


N.S.S. College of Engineering


N.S.S. High Schools


N.S.S. U.P. Schools


N.S.S. L.P. Schools


N.S.S. Teachers Training Institutes


N.S.S. Vocational Higher Secondary Schools


N.S.S. English Medium Schools


N.S.S. Medical Mission Hospitals


N.S.S. Estates


N.S.S. Working Women‘s Hostels


N.S.S. Guest Houses



University of Kerala

Veluthambi Memorial NSS College, Dhanuvachapuram, Neyyanttinkarai.


Maharani Sethu Parvathi Bai NSS Women‘s College, Niramankara,


Mahathma Gandhi College, Kesavadasapuram, Thiruvananthapuram.


NSS College, Nilamel.


Mannam Memorial NSS College, Kottiyam, Kollam.


NSS College, Pandalam.


NSS College, Cherthala.

M.S. University

Sri Ayyappa Women‘s College, Chunkankadai, Nagercoil.

Mahathma Gandhi University

NSS Hindu College, Perunna, Changanacherry.


Vidhyathiraj‘s NSS College, Theerthapadapuram, Vazhoor.


NSS College, Rajakumari.

Calicut University

NSS College, Ottapalam.


NSS College, Nenmara


NSS College, Manjeri


Sri Vyasa NSS College, Vyasagiri, Vadakkanjeri, Trissur.

Kannur University

Pazhassi Raja NSS College, Mattannoor.






Main Crops






Edathana Hukna


Rubber, Coconut, Arecanut




Rubber, Coconut, Arecanut




Cardamom, Coffee





Rubber, Coconut


Rubber, Coconut



Rubber, Coconut



Rubber, Coconut















Free Medical Aid Centre, Sabarimala.





Post Held




Sri. V. Sree Kumaran


Sri. K. Sukumaran Nair

Bank Manager

Vice President


Sri. N. Raghavan Nair

Retd. Government



Sri. V. Rajasekaran Nair




Sri. K. Paktavatsalam Nair




Sri. S. Sanathanan Nair


Board Member


Sri. N. Sundaran Thambi


Board Member


Sri. K. Brabakaran Thambi


Board Member


Sri. K.B. Nair

Retd. Officer

Board Member

10. Sri. V. Ramachandran Nair


Board Member

11. Sri. P.K. Thamotharan Nair

Retd. Govt.

Board Member

12. Sri. K. Kochu Krishna Pillai

Retd. Bank

Board Member


Board Member

13. Sri. R. Neelakanda Pillai





Post Held


Board Member

Land Lord

Board Member

16. Sri. P. Narayanan Nair

Retd. Officer

Board Member

17. Sri. S. Krishnan Nair


Board Member


Board Member

19. Sri. P. Nagappan Nair

Retd. Teacher

Board Member

20. Sri. M. Somanathan Nair

Retd. Thasildar

Board Member


Board Member

14. Sri. J. Vijaya Kumaran Nair
Pillayar Kovil
15. Sri. K.B. Pillai

18. Sri. K. Sarath Chandran Nair

21. Sri. D. Madhu





A caste of temple servants ranking above

Anna Prasnam


Ritual of an infant's first rice meal.



The Brahmanical rule that women marry men of
upper castes or status groups.



Sweet meats



Tamil Brahmin



The Village school Teacher /Teacher head of a
military training centre.



Decoration with Athapoo flowers in front of the
houses during the Onam festival.



The lower caste Hindus



The ninth lunar cluster of stars, under which sign
Maharaja Rama Varma who ruled from 1860 to
1880 was born.



A system of traditional hindu medicine



Suicide squad



Same as anna prasnam ritual of eating rice for the
first time.



A government office



A concubine or prostitute



Chieftain of a Desam



Religious endowments and property belonging to



The Chief Executive Minister of the Maharaja.
The term was first used in Trarancore in the late
18th century. Also spelled 'DIVOAN' though in
Travancore the usual spelling was Dewan.



Offering help to the poor and needy.



Single Loin Cloth for Lower Garment for Gents.



The largest administrative unit in Travancore
usually presided over by Dewan Peshkar. There
were 4 divisions in the latter part of 19th century.
Padmanabhapuram, Trivandram, Kottayam and



The junior raja or heir to the throne



Two units of nalukkettu attached one to the

Huzur Cutcherry


The Dewan's office



The house of Nambudiri



One of the names given to Malayalam speaking





cultivation of the coconut palm also known as
Chogans in North Travancore and Cochin and as
Tiyyas in British Malabar.


One who holds Janmam land



Land Lords



A type of land ownership said to have been
created by Parasurama the legendary founder of
Kerala which conferred absolute tax free
proprietorship on the holder who was usually a
Nambudri Brahmin



Namely nine acres of rice field.



A military Training School attached to chieftain
and wealthy families.



A village



Traditionally the local organization of Nayars in
Travancore the same as tara in northern Kerala
after the imposition of British rule Kara came to
be used interchangeably with tara and desam to
mean a village.



The eldest member and manager of a Taravad.



Dravidian Ceremonial Centre in each house.



A ceremonial authority of a temple, usually a
king or a chieftain



The tuft of hair worn on the head by Hindus
Malayalis wore it at the front of the head and
were thus easily distinguished from Tamils who
wore it at the back.



A jacket or short smock the right to wear which
was granted to Christian Shanar woman in south
Travancore in 1829.



Cross - Cousin



System of inheritance and descent through the
male line.

Malayalam Era


The Kerala system of reckoning the years which
begins in 805. A.D of the Christian calendar. It is
said to be calculated either from the date of the
founding of the town of Quilon or the Departure
for Mecca of the last Perumal emperor of Kerala.



The hill country, The word Mala mean hill for
Kerala Country



A ritualized all Kerala festival hold once in
twelve years.


Marma Adi


Slight touch by the finger in a particular nerve
centre are acupuncture point to make disable of
an opponents.



41 days duration

Mangalya Vathikal -

Women who have husbands.


Deeds connected with magic, through Vedas.


Marumakkattayam -

System of inheritance and descent through the
female line a man's legal heirs being the children
of his sisters.



The 19th cluster of lunar stars under which sign
Maharaja Rama Varma, who ruled from 1885 to
1924 was born.

Munsiffs Court


The lowest civil court presided over by a munsiff



Literally prayer by regular arrangement the
sexennial feasting of the Malayali Brahmin in
Trivandrum began in the 18th century


Maharaja Marthanda Varma to win over the
disaffected Nambudiris. In return for 56 days of
feasting the Nambudiris offered prayers for the


The ruler of nadu




A caste of Malayali Brahmins concentrated in
north Travancore, cochin and Malabar district.



A particularly exalted section of Nambudiris.



A big wick lamp



Food restrictions of daily habits especially to the
meats for getting the grace from god.



The most important Malayali festival celebrating
the annual return to Kerala of the legendary king
Mahabali in August- September.



Coin issued by king of earlier times.



A shed in which ceremonies are held.



A measure of quantity or area of rice. Fixed by
the survey and settlement began in 1883 at 80
cubic inches in capacity of 14 crores in area.



Protection, propagation fostering care. Thus the
Sri Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam.



The name given by Malayalis to non-Malayali



One or more villages administered by a






A four - yard piece of white cloth usually worn
by a Nayar women

Pudava koda
or Pudavamuri


The ceremony of actual marriage


matrilineal castes.


A preparation of powdered rice and grated
coconut cooked in steam.

Sambandhakkaran -

Actual husband.


Literally meaning connection of agreement for a


marriage. The simple Nayar marriage ceremony
involving the presentation of a cloth by the man
to the woman. In old Kerala it appears that both
men and women could have Sambandham with
more than one person at the same time.


Caste Hindus



Tamil Speaking tappers of the Palmyra palm in
south Travancore many of them were converted
to Christianity.

Sirkar pattam


Lands owned by the government and leased out
under an irksome tenure. In 1805 absolute
ownership was conferred to tenants of Sirkar
pattam land.



An executive officer presiding over a taluk the
title dated from John Munro's Dewanship.



The small gold pendant tied by the bridegroom
round the neck of the bride at the time of
marriage. Both Nayars and Syrians tied the tali.
Traditionally among Nayars the tali-tying was a
pre puberty ceremony or Mock marriage.

Talikettukalayanam -

Literally tali tying marriage the costly pre
puberty mock marriage usually performed on a
number of Nayar girls at the same time. The tali
was some time tied by a non Malayali Brahmin.
It is disputed whether the man who tied the tali
was permitted to consummate the marriage in
most cases he probably was not.



The administrative subdivision beneath division
presided over by a thasildar. There were about 30
in Travancore.



Ritual authority assigned to a temple.



The local organization of Nayar families in
traditional times. The word seems to belong to
north Kerala and to equal with Kara in




The Nayar joint family also the house in which
they lived.



Tha- means mother, vazhi- means line (Mother



Oil massage bath.



A customary act performed in connecting with a
girl attaining puberty.



The birthday of any person of rank thus Mulam
Tirunal the Birthday of the important person born
under the sign of Mulam.



Village assembly



Temple festival



Lips means literally in spoken languages of
Tamil same in Malayalam spoken languages is
called Sundu

Vastu bali


Rituals of ward off evil spirits from the house to
ensure divine protection.



Obtain from forbidden dishes for some time on
some specific reason to get the good will from



Land granted at concessionary rent or tax in
return for the performance of certain services.



The 16th lunar cluster of stars. Thus Vishakham
Tirunal, who was born under that sign maharaja
from 1880 to 1885.



A Hindu Holy day, in particular Chithirai Ist of
Tamil year (Tamil New year Day). Even people
from South Travancore gather at Sabarimala
temple in large number as an auspicious


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