There are differences of opinion about the origin of Nair community.  One argument is that Nairs are descendents of Nagas, once a mighty group of India.  Nagas were the oldest and strongest group lived in India before the Aryan insurgency.  They were in India even before the era of Ramayana.  They were warriors in the Mahabharatha battle and mention to this effect was seen in Harivamsa and Vishnu Markandeya epics.  The Surya and Soma dynasties were related to the Nagas.  There is mention in Ramayana that Nagas witnessed the sea crossing of Hanuman.  The Nagas ladies were far famed for their beauty.  There is a story in Mahabharatha that Arjuna during his journey met with Uloopy, a beautiful Naga girl and at once fell in love with her and later married her.


Uloopy – a painting
After the Mahabharatha battle the Nagas became more powerful.  It was Nagas who killed the King Parikshit. There is historical evidence to believe that Nagas inhabited in all suitable places even from time immemorial.  Their capital was Thakshasila.  Their rule extended from Thakshasila to Assam on one side and from South India to Ceylone (Sri Lanka) on the other.  The Nagas who came to Kerala became Nairs.

Snake worship is a special feature of Nairs.  There were Sarpakavus (snake parks) attached to almost all the Nair Tharavads.

                                 Naga idols

The Nair ladies and men had a habit of combing and tying their hair just like a serpent’s head.  Nairs followed matrilineal (marumakkathayam) system.

Nair woman tying hair like
serpant’s head

    Girls pounding paddy –
        an old picture


Before the advent of Namboodiris, an organized war-like group of people exercised supremacy over Kerala.  Their origin was unknown.  Owing to the worship of Naga (snake), this set of people came to be known as Nagas.  They exercised control over Adivasis, put them to hard fieldwork and made them slaves, says K.M.Panicker (Keralathile Swathanthrasamaram).

William Logon has recorded in the Malabar Manual that Nairs were the Dravidian settlers who conquered Malabar and became landlords.

William Logan

Kodungallur Kunhikuttan Thampuran in his book ‘Keralathil’ firmly ascertains that Nairs are same as Nagas.

Sri Vidyadhiraja Chattambi Swamikal has reproduced some old ballards calling Nairs and Nagas in his book ‘Pracheena Keralam’.  He in his work ‘Pracheena Malayalam’, has reproduced the following details about Nagas found in the old vattezhuthu records.

“Nags wearing caps made of areca nut and wooden shoes with long moustache and hair, with beams inforehead and sword in hand, and moving elegantly
were treated with respect by all country men.  The Nags treated ‘dharma’ as all in all.  To them it was their life, their organs, their Gods, their knowledge, their very existence and all in all”.

Sri Chattambi swamikal also quoted some other information about Nagas. Wherever Nagas were mentioned special mention about their forehead was made.  This shows that they were devoted shoats or worshippers of Lord Siva.  They believed in the gospel of Dharma.  They were the followers of shiavet movement. They became Nairs later.  These shoats in course of time became the followers of brahmnical faith.  Brahmins treated the Nairs as Sudras.  Therefore, it is proved beyond doubts that Nairs were a group of people who recognized the supremacy of the Brahmins.

Enkilo akkadaludayavan Nakathan
Maarallow aakunnthu, avarkallo
Aadi kaalathe varunan oru nootettu
Katham kondu thara muzhuvanum koduth
Ennu cholliyathu
Kaithidame  karuvaana nakathare
Maithidame meni  yaana nakathare
Poithidare podiyuakkum nakathare
Etthissyum pukal konda nakathare
Chithi mutthi  kaikonda nakathare
Villali veeranana nakathare
Viruthiketty padai vellum nakathare
Pullane vellam tharakkum nakathare.


The meaning of these songs reproduced from the old Keralolpathi is as follows:

Sea belongs to Nagas.  In legendary times Varuna gave them 108- katham land (one katham roughly 5 miles). Nagas had strong physique and beautiful body.  The thieves feared them.  Their fame was far spread.  They were expert in using bow and arrow.  Participation in battle is a hallmark of their cult.  They were a fearless group of people who attained mukthi through tireless efforts, courage and determination.

Chattambi Swamikal

P.Damodaran Pillai says that Nagas were the group of people who moved to southwards from North India during pre-historic times.  They became the Nairs of today.It is difficult to trace the origin of the word ‘Nair’ which might have a connection with snake - worshippers, known at one time as Nagas.  Some are of opinion that the ancestors of the nairs were a sect of snake worshipping Scythians. They came to India through northwest border and settled down indifferent parts of the country. According to K.P.Padmanabha Menon, Keralan or Cheralan who ruled Kerala centuries ago, brought Nagas and permitted to settle here and these Nagas were later were known as Nairs and Ambalavasis.

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