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People, Customs, Ceremonies & Rituals


Nayars or Nairs

 
Nayars are said to be a Dravidian community who were the military gentry of the land. The most influential territorial unit in the Dravidian set up of administration was a tara which means a ground, a village or a quarter. Nayars include many caste division such as barbers (Velakkittala), washer men (Veluttetattu), oil mongers (Chakkala) temple dependants (Marars), Kiriyam is said to be the highest class. Next is Illakkar who served the Illam or the homes of the Nambootiri Brahmins and then Swapuram who served the Kshatriyas. Nayars were treated as the gentry whose main work was to protect the land both in offence and defence. So they were treated as Kshatriyas. They provide a well-knit national militia for the whole land. This was the famous Kalari system. Kalari was the institution which had kept up the martial spirit of the Nayars.

In the social set up of the Nayars in which women predominated and the family properties belonged to women. Matriarchy was the dominant form of family life and inheritance among the prominent caste groups of Kerala. The family properties were inherited by the children of its female members, under the 'marumakathayam' system. The assets of the family were the property of the eldest female member and the management vested on her brother. The concept of trusteeship was built on female lineage traced from a common ancestress. The children of the daughters of the ancestress were the rightful claimants of property of the tarawad (ancestral home) by virtue of birth. The children of the son's having no corresponding claim Ezhavas too followed this system. Women enjoyed social freedom and they were married outside their own community, mostly among Brahmin Nambootiris.

Festivals and ceremonies connected with the lives of women received great attention and importance. All the major events in their lives were celebrated with great pomp and splendour.


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