results for: Kerala History- Kerala Culture
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).
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.