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Search results for: Kerala History- Kerala Culture

It is'true that the Tamil Sangam works of Shilappadikaram and Patittupattu of the third century A.D. talk about Brahmins' literary activities in the land of the Cheras in the South; these Cheras, however, had their kingdom not on the west Coast but in the eastern plains; the Cheras started moving toward present-day Kerala only in the fifth century A.D.  Of course, small groups of Brahmin mission-aries were very active in Tamil Nadu during the reign of the Vaishnavite Chalukyas and the Saivite Rashtrakutas in Tamil Nadu.  It was, however, only in the eighth century that the Aryanization of Kerala and the Hinduization of the Munda-Dravidian Cheras- many of whom probably were Buddhists, Jainists, and Christians-- reached a high degree of intensity and fervor.  It was dur-ing this time that Mayura Sarman, the Kadamba king, invited large colonies of Brahmins from North India and settled them in the Tulu and Kerala countries. According to one tradition, six outstanding Brahmin scholars came with the immigrants as their spokesmen, defeated the Buddhists in public debates, and established the intellectual supremacy of Hinduism.  The Aryan influ-ence increased considerably during the times of the great Mimamsaka, Guru Prabhakara (8th century), of the great Sankaracharya (788-820) and of the Kulasekharas of the Second Chera Empire (800-1100).

The Aryans who reached Kerala in the eighth century changed signifi-cantly the racial, social, political, and cultural landscape of Kerala. This will be discussed briefly in the next chapter.  It is important to remember that though the Aryans conquered the Mundas and the Dravidians of Kerala, it was ultimately the Aryans who were conquered and absorbed by Kerala, creating a new brand of Hindu religion,  a strong hybrid race, and a new culture--a blend of Munda, Dravidian, and Aryan cultures.  There was much surrender and much gain on the part of every party concerned.

As a result of the mixing of, association with, and alienation from different races, today there are four major ethnic groups in Kerala:  Brahmins, Nairs, Ezhavas, and Scheduled Castes and Tribes.  Because of space considera-tions, I exclude from discussion all the other five hundred castes and sub-castes like the Kshatriyas (the rulers), Ambalavasis (temple attendants and musicians), Samantans (local chieftains), Kammalans (artisans), Mukkuvans (fishermen), and outcastes like the Nayadis.

BRAHMINS

The Brahmins, who constitute only 4% of the Kerala population, are the most recent immigrants to Kerala; they are not all pure-bred Aryans or a homogeneous community.  They are divided into several groups.  The highest are the Nambutiris who regard themselves as pure Aryan Brahmins, faithful to the Vedic traditions.  They claim to have descended from the sixty-four families of the original inhabitants (swadeshi) brought over by Parasuraina.  Most likely they came from North India, but it does not mean that they were then and are now a pure race.  Today many of them have the dark complexion and look like other Keralites.  All other Brahmins are considered aliens (paradeshi) and inferior in status to the Numbutiris.  They came after the eighth century from Tulu Nadu in the north and Tamil Nadu in the east in search of better employment opportunities at the invitation of royal patrons and local temples who preferred Brahmin teachers, administrators, and priests. They are the Embrantini and the Pattar or Potti Brahmins.  By profession, all these Brahmins were mostly priests and teachers; they controlled the temples and lived mainly on temple revenues. 

Gradually, due to a shrinking employment market, many o-F the alien Brahmins abandoned their priestly occupa-tions and took to trade and government employment and became very successful. One of the most memorable of these.Brahmins is the former Communist Chief Minister of Kerala, E. M. S. Namboodiripad.  Many Brahmins until recently continued their traditionaly mendicant profession, like the mendicant religious orders of the Catholic Church with the difference that the Brahmins are not by virtue of their priestly profession celibate.  They used to wander from temples to princely palaces to noblemen's dwellings where they were fed gener-ously by the Hindu faithful.  At Padmanabhapuram Palace, built and maintained by the Travancore Maharajas, food was given daily to a thousand mendicant Brahmins in a great dining hall reserved for this purpose.  The patrons earned merit by such acts of charity.

The Brahmins' patrilineal joint family is called Illom.  Like the Nairs, the Brahmins too wanted to prevent the division of family property and conse-quent fragmentation of wealth.  For this they relied on a system of primogeniture:  only the eldest member of the Illom was allowed to marry women of his own caste; he was allowed polygamy to the extent of four wives.  Still there remained numerous Nambutiri women who were condemned to perpetual spinsterhood because the younger brothers were not allowed to marry from within the caste. To satisfy the sexual needs of these junior males, the custom of Sambandham was evolved.  The Brahmin interpreters of the law modified pollution laws to allow sexual contact between Brahmins and Sudras :  it was the duty of Sudra women to yield to Brahmin men.  In this way Sambandham or concubinages came into  being:  the Nambutiris became visiting paramours of Nair and Ambalavasi women; often polyandry took the form of a Nair woman who was shared by a Nair husband and a Brahmin lover.
Sambandham carried its own punishment:  while the Nambutiri caste practiced primogeniture, their number declined; because every child of the Sambandham relationship took the caste of the mother, the Nair population increased.  By the 1941 Census there were only 223 Nambutiri Brahmins in the Trivandrum District in a population of one million.  No wonder Brahmin ascendancy declined in Kerala with the decline of their population.

 

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