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People, Customs, Ceremonies & Rituals


Nambootiris

 
On a broad basis, the accepted caste division of the Hindu community was into four groups the Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Sudras and then the lowest, the out castes. The Malayali Brahmins or Nambootiris and the Tamil Brahmins occupied a very influential position in the caste order, but the Nambootiris always held their supremacy as the purest stock of Hindu hierarchy. Their contributions to Malayalam poetry, drama, astrology, astronomy, medicine and arts are indisputable. There are many Brahmin sub-castes like Ilayatu, Muttatu, Unni, Pisharoti, Nambiti Gurukkal many of whom belong to the Ambalavasi class. A Pisharoti does not wear the sacred thread and so also Warrier. Elayatu is the traditional purohit (priest) of Nayars who conduct the after-death rites for them. They wear the sacred thread and do the puja in the temples, but they are not aristocratic as the Nambootiris. Pushpakas and Warriers are temple employees mainly engaged in making flower garlands for offering to the deity. The Warrier community is famous for their learning in Sanskrit literature. Marans who belong to the community of Nayars, are temple musicians who are main custodians of the Sopana system of music or the music of the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. They are experts in percussion instruments like Maddalam, Chenda, Edakka. Poduval is another caste of temple musicians

Women of the Nambootiri community had to live cloistered in the inner chambers of their homes (manas or illams). They hide their faces and bodies from public view during daily visits to their family temple, under the' marakkuta' (covered-umbrella) and the 'ghosha' (veil) within their homes. The life of a Nambootiri women was incredibly miserable with a succession of harrowing experiences. Majority of them had to marry at a very young age to senile infirm men and became widows early in life or remain spinsters for life.

The ultimate ambition in life of several younger sons of Nambootiri families was priesthood in some temple for a livelihood and convenient marriage relations with Nayar women. For the elder sons, marriage with Nambootiri girls was an attractive proposition for vast amount of dowry they got.


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