Caste system was not prevalent in Kerala during initial of history.  Sri.Elamkulam Kunjan Pillai had recorded that in olden times when people lived in the Western Ghats, categorization on the basis of work done by them was in practice.  There were seven such categories.  Thudiyan (one who beats “thudi”, a musical instrument), Parayan (one who beats “para”, a kind of drum), Panar (singer), Kadambar (agriculturist), Valayar (fishermen), Vanikar (traders) and Uzhavar (workers) are these seven categories.

Though Brahmin migration to Kerala took place during three or four centuries B.C., they became powerful only during eighth century.  Caste system began in Kerala only after this period. (E.M.S.Namboodiripad -  Caste, Clan and Parties in Modern Political Development to Kerala).

Sabdatharavali (1923) names the caste as Brahmins eight, Newna Vargam (minorities) two, Antharala Jathi (temple dwellers) twelve, Sudras eighteen, Shilpi six, Pathithar (untouchables) ten, Thana Jathi (lower caste) eight and 64 numbers of sub-castes.

Dr.E.J.Thomas says that there are about 420 castes and sub-castes in Kerala, and at least 12  are seen in each village. (Keralathinte Samoohya Ghatanayum Roopantharavum).

Dr.P.K.Gopalakrishnan ascertains that there was no caste system in Kerala till the end of Buddhist renaissance period.  People were known by their profession like Panan, Parayan, Villavan, Ushavan, Paravathan, Ayar etc.  Brahmins also migrated to this area and there was no caste among them.  By about the second half of the 8th century, Brahmins become more influential and powerful in the society.  This marked the beginning of the caste system.  Kerala society divided into two. Those who recognized Brahmin supremacy stood on the one side and others who opposed them.  The first was within the fold of Hinduism and latter was out of it.  Those who embraced Hinduism were grouped into several races.  Rulers or Kings became Kshathriyas.  The trader group known Vaisyas was not there. All others who followed Brahmnical faith later came to be known as Sudras.  They were Nairs.  (Keralathinte Samskarika Charithram).

Dr.E.J.Thomas points out that in the absence of Vaisyas in Kerala Sudras were just one step above in the society.  Nairs were considred as dwijas without holy string (poonool). (Keralathinte samoohyaghatanayum, roopantharavum).

There is considerable controversy regarding the actual place of Nairs in the caste system. It is understandably, a very touchy subject. One of the main reasons is that the caste system in Kerala is very different from the caste system elsewhere in India. According to the caste system followed in the rest of India, only the lowest class, the sudras, were considered to be "untouchables". However, in the case of Kerala, anyone who was not a Namboothiri, was treated by the Namboothiris as an untouchable. The Namboothiris had different rules regarding the degrees of pollution for the different classes. A Namboothiri could only be "polluted" by the touch of a Nair, whereas the other classes had different distances after which they could be considered polluting. For example, if an Ezhava got within 24 feet of a Namboothiri, the Namboothiri was considered to be polluted. In this regard, it would seem that the Nairs were like the sudras in the rest of India.

However, the sudras in the rest of India were never a martial class, since warfare was the profession of the Ksyathriyas. According to this interpretation, Nairs would seem to be more like Kshatriyas since they were a martial class as well. Similar to Kshatriyas, they were second to the Brahmins (Namboothiris). Furthermore, many Nair families were aristocratic. They owned large feudal estates and in some cases, even took part in the ruling of Kerala. An example is the Paliam family of Kochi. The oldest male of the family, the Paliath Achan, served as the Prime Minister to the Raja of Kochi.

It is believed that there were 64 classifications in Nair society.  Sri.K.P.Padmanabha Menon who wrote Kerala Charithram (History of Kerala) has recorded that Nairs who were grouped as Sudras were turned into three main groups called Illam, Swaroopam and Padamangalam.  According to him, the first group were servants of Brahmin houses, second were servants in Kshatriya homes and the third were servants of temples.  Besides, there were a number of sub castes among Nairs like Idachery Nairs, Maranmar, Athikurichikal, Chembukottikal, Odat nair, Chalia Nairs, Kalamkotti Nair, Pallichal Nairs, Veluthedathu Nairs, Vilakkithala Nairs etc.

"The Nairs may be considered as constituting the soul of the (Travancore – Cochin) population. They are split in to various classes. The Velloyma hold the first rank, seen in the more northern parts. Illakure and the three succeeding ranks predominate throughout Travancore, the term denotes one belonging to the house of the Namboori. There are different communities of Nairs like  Shroobacurre (vassals of chiefs), Shacoular (oil mongers), Vellakathura (washermen who only do the job for Brahmins and Nairs), Yedacherry (cowherds), Oodatu nair (boatmen) Attychorchy (who perform the necessary offices of the dead)…... (and so on). The higher order of the Nairs is known under the collective term of Maudumby, or Prubhookanmar. Designations are comprised various others. The most common are Kurtaos, Elluidam, Kymalla, Kurupu, Mainewen, Pulle etc. (Ward and Conner Memoir of the Survey of Travancore and Cochin States – 1863’ Vol.I)

Based on profession and status in society, Nairs were classified into 18 castes, according to the historians.


Kiriyath Nair Family man.  Those who attends the affairs of his Kiriyam (House).
Illathu Nair Dependent of a Brahmin Illam (house).
Swaroopathil Nair Dependent of a swaroopam (Kshathriya Home).  Also known as Chartha Nair.
Menokki Those who supervises.
Pattola Nair An accountant. One who writes kingly orders and keep accounts.
Marar Marayan. One who beats drums in temple.
Padamangalam Nair Servants of temples.
Pallichan Nair Those who carries Pallichumadu or Manchal
Chembotti Nair Copper worker.
Edachery Nair Idassery Nair.
Odathu Nair Bronze worker.
Vattakkathu Nair One who extracts oil.
Anthur Nair Maker of bells.
Asthikurrissi (Athikurichi) One who performs rituals in the funeral of Nairs. Also known as Seethikan.
Vyapari Nair Merchant
Vilakkithala Nair Barber
Veluthedathu Nair Dhobi.


Kiriyath Nair Lords and warriors of the King
Pannikodan Nair Below Kiriyathu Nair
Sudran One who serves Brahmins
Charna Nair One who serves Kings
Urali Nair One who came from Tulunadu
Muthaan People of Palakkad who took trading as profession
Tharavar Merchents
Mannadi Mannadiyar
Akathethara Nair Ullakathu Nair
Kaduppattan Ezhuthachan
Chaliyan One who makes chela (cloth)


Pillai is the award or title given by the Maharajah to the Nairs who hold Thirumukom.

Chembakaraman award was first introduced by His Highness Anizham Thirunal Marthandavarma.

Thampi is the title given to the children born to Travancore Maharajahs in Nair wives. The Thampis had the right to stand erect before the kings and to travel in Pallakks (carrying carts).

Kartha is one of the positions given to the Nairs of Travancore. It is also believed that Thekkumkur-Vadukkumkur rajahs gave the title to some landlords.

is one who gave Kalari training to the members of royal family.

is also one those who gave training in weapons to the royal family members.  Panickers were also known as Asans. They enriched history as saviors of the land.

Kaimals were experts in warfare and financial management. 

Unnithan, Valyathan, Menon, Menokki were also titles conferred on those who performed remarkable deeds.

Moopil Nair, Nayanar, Adiyodi, Kurup of Malabar, Menon, Marar of Cochin were also honours conferred by the rulers. Those who were in high positions in Nair community in Cochin won the titles of Karthavu, Kaimal, Thamban etc. due to their intimacy to the royal family and appeasement to Brahmins.  Among the various groups like Akath Charnnavar, Purathu Charnnavar, Nambiar, Kurup etc. of the Nairs of Malabar, Nairs and Kurups were soldiers. Purathu Charnnavar and Akathu Charnnavar were servants of the royal family.  Out of this, supremacy is for Purathu Charnnavar.  Nair priests who performed rituals in Kalaries were known as Kuruppans, Unnikal, Kurukkal, Adikal etc.

Designed by Limras & Maintained by N.A.I.R.S   Best View 1024 x 768