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.