was a common belief that Nairs were a semi urban group having
peculiar customs like wearing single dhothi, holding umbrellas
made of palm leaves, with swords in their hands, females having
four or five husbands, having alliance (sambandhams)
with Brahmins, following matriarchal hereditary system, with belief
in oracles and having fond of pulluvan pattu and maintaining
kavus (snake parks) and ponds in their residential place.
all these were about years ago. The Nairs who were proud of their
ancestry and wealth and nursed their lords and Brahmins, who followed
special practices of marriage are now living in an advanced and
modern society, says Sri.Pattom G.Ramachandran Nair. This is
in fact a realistic assessment. An in-depth journey through history
will reveal the fact on the transition of Nair community to the
present social situations.
number of studies were made on the social set up of the tribes,
the predecessors of Nairs. Blood relation determined the rights
and privileges in such tribes. They maintained their heredity
through father or mother. The system of marrying the uncle's daughter
was common in some of the tribes. The system of worshipping the
dead souls was there. When person is dead, they used to put rice
(in some places betel wine also) on his mouth. This practice
might have from their strong belief that the soul of the dead
person will live even after their death. They worshipped Deities
(Devis and Devans).
advent of Dravidians to South India was between 1750 and 1400
B.C. Before their advent, Nagas were the tribes of the area.
Historians say that radical changes occurred in socio-cultural
fields with the advent of Dravidians. The most important of them
is the language. The South Indian languages including Malayalam
originated from the early Dravidian language. During this period
matriarchal and patriarchal systems were prevailing. The group
who followed matriarchal system might have become Nairs.
During Sangha Period
Sangha era (A.D 1st to 6th Century), the social divisions like
haves and have-nots, the superiors and subordinates came into
existence. There are two opinions that during Sangha period the
system of inheritance was matriarchal or patriarchal. The system
of burning dead bodies was in practice during this period. The
chastity of ladies was highly recognized during the period. Polygamy
was in practice. There was independent style of life between
men and women. Love marriages were not rare. The marriage function
was grand like that of today. Females wore clothes made of cotton
or silks. They wore ornaments too.
men and women tied their hair on top of the head. Men applied
sandal paste on their chest. They were careful in wearing new
was no major difference between Nairs and other castes in their
social structure, belief, customs and practices. But still Nairs
were considered as upper classes since they were soldiers and
of Caste System
about 7th and 8th Century AD, a number of temples were established
in Kerala and they became the nerve centre of social life. Namboodiris
Brahmins) were the priests and owners of temples. Untouchability
was originated from the temples. It was during this period that
caste system was also formed. Brahmins become more influential
and powerful in the society. 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.
became prominent during the feudal period (17th to 19th century).
A number of Naduvazhis (local rulers) emerged from Nair
society. They became the leasers of Dewaswom land (land owned
by temples) and soon became highly influential in socio-economic
fields. During this period 'Thara' (village) was the lowest strata
activities of a Thara were managed by Tharakootom, a general body
of the village headed by the distinguished family manager or managers
of the village. The matters pertaining to a Thara was discussed
and finalized here. The practice was to nominate the prominent
elder of the Thara as 'Deshavazhi' and he was the decision-implementing
officer of the Thara. A number of Thara constituted a Nadu, a
certain area to an extent of a district or so. Naduvazhi is the
ruler of the Nadu. Nattukoottangal assisted him. The chief among
the Tharas were the members of Nattukoottangal. Various Nadus
constituted a country and Rajah was there above Naduvazhis. It
was the Nairs or Kshathriyas who held the supremacy in all the
stage from Thara to Rajah.
Logan wrote: "I would call attention to the central point
(about Malabar - Kerala), the position occupied for centuries
by the Nair caste in the civil and military organisation of the
province ... so lasting that there seems no reason why it should
not have continued for centuries to come but for the foreign intervention...
this decentralised administration, with fairly independent chieftains
who acted like a parliament, gave Malabar its inherent strength."
the cultural field also, Nairs exhibited their talents during
the feudal era. Festivals like Onam, Vishu, Thiruvathira were
popularized during this period. Thiruvathira festival was confined
only to the Nair society.
the Last Decades of 19th Century
changes that occurred in the caste system of Kerala during the
last decades of 19th century resulted in the revision of social
system. There are several reasons for this change. Important
among them was the progress in the field of education. Democratization
and organized religions set up changed the caste-based society.
The establishment of the Nair Service Society paved the way for
bridging the disparity among the sub sections of Nairs. They
overcame the existing Brahmin-Kshathriya supremacy and came in
the forefront of the society as an influential group. The superiority
in caste, high educational status, bureaucratic positions etc.
paved the way for the rapid growth of nair community. They surpassed
the other communities and emerged as a strong community.