CLASSIFICATIONS IN THE COMMUNITY
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.
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
(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.
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).
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).
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
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
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.
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.
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)
on profession and status in society, Nairs were classified into
18 castes, according to the historians.
man. Those who attends the affairs of his Kiriyam (House).
of a Brahmin Illam (house).
of a swaroopam (Kshathriya Home). Also known as Chartha
accountant. One who writes kingly orders and keep accounts.
One who beats drums in temple.
who carries Pallichumadu or Manchal
who extracts oil.
who performs rituals in the funeral of Nairs. Also known
CLASSIFICATION BASED ON SOCIAL STATUS
and warriors of the King
Below Kiriyathu Nair
One who serves Brahmins
One who serves Kings
One who came from Tulunadu
People of Palakkad who took trading as profession
One who makes chela (cloth)
ON AWARDS, POSITIONS& TITLES
is the award or title given by the Maharajah to the Nairs
who hold Thirumukom.
award was first introduced by His Highness Anizham Thirunal
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
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.
Kurup is one who gave Kalari training to the members
of royal family.
Panicker 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.
were experts in warfare and financial management.
Unnithan, Valyathan, Menon, Menokki were also titles
conferred on those who performed remarkable deeds.
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.