M. Parinikar justly remarks: "The Nayars [Nairs] were not
a caste, they were a race." Few historians will reject this
contention because many customs and traditions distinguished
the Nairs from the other Keralites. They had their own marital
customs (Sambandham), their own form of inheritance (Marumakkathayam).
their own art of warfare, their own war goddess (Bhadrakali),
their own cult of ancestor worship, and their own art form, the
Kathakali. (dance drama). In swordsmanship and suicidal
squads (Chavers), they are similar to the Samurai of Japan; as
the warrior class they used to look down upon manual work and
entrust their lands to tenants to till and plant. Though Nairs
were once technically classified by the Brahmins under the name
of the pure Sudras of Malayala, they were always an honored caste.
Some think nair is the honorific plural of nayan which is derived
from the Sanskrit nayaka (leader). Others derive
nair from the naga (snakes) which they worship. The
Brahmin-inspired Keralolpathi regards them as the descendants
of the Sudras who accompanied the Brahmin immigrants from outside
like all Keralite tribes, the Nairs came from outside. There is
a great deal of truth in the theory that they came from the Nepal
Valley, adjacent to Tibet. Some consider them to be early
descendants of the Newars of Nepal. The Kathakali which
is a Nair art-form is closely related to Tibetan dances; Nair
polyandry is very similar to Tibetan marriage customs; in the
mode of inheritance the Newars are like the Nairs; like the Newars,
the Nairs are distinguished by their lighter coloring, Mongolian
features, and smooth hair. The most remarkable thing about
the Nairs is their style of pagoda-like temple architecture and
house construction which are almost identical with the Newar style
of temples and houses found all along the Kulu and Nepal Valleys.
Serpent worship is another common custom between the Newars and
Nairs. As mentioned earlier, the settlers of Kerala came
from the northwestern parts of India and the Nepal Valley.
My theory is that groups of Newars who were partially Aryanized
and would be later Dravidianized joined the Munda exodus and finally
settled down in Kerala after a long period of sojourn in the eastern
plains of Tamil Nadu. It is the Newar-Nair builders who
have given Kerala both the pagoda-type architectural style of
the Hindu temples and the angular roof and dormer of Kerala houses.
fact appears to be certain: the Nairs were in Kerala before
the Brahmins arrived in the seventh century A.D. The Chera
kings were Nairs, and the Nairs were also Dravidians and not Kshatriya
Aryans; the Brahmins, in fact, considered them as Sudras.
However, the younger sons of Brahmin families could form morganatic
relationships (Sambandham) with Nair women, the children
remaining Nairs and thus introducing a new element in the race.
This helped the junior members of the Brahmin family to be relieved
of their life-long bachelorhood without the responsibility for
supporting their wives and children from their family property.
It was, on the other hand, to the advantage of the children to
carry the genes of the Brahmins, apparently. It does not mean
that the Nairs had loose marriage morals; it only means that this
type of relationship was tolerated as an exception for its advantages
for the Brahmins and Nairs; the rule of real marriage was endogamous
monagamy between Nairs especially between the daughter of a maternal
uncle and his nephew.