Is it true that Kerala had no marriage culture in ancient India (1914)?

I am more curious to learn about various ancient cultures of India.I came across this Arun Mohan – Timeline Photos | Facebook and I want to make sure it is true from fellow keralites here (fake news and photos has its part in internet)Please validate the entire article. Last 3 lines there –  epic

Answer by Raakhee Venugopal:

Thank you for the A2A.
This topic seems to gaining importance these days. This is probably the third or fourth time that I’m writing an answer to this. Okay, so being a Kiriyathil Nair woman with a long and illustrious family history, I have written a piece on this a while ago…based on the stories we have grown up listening to. I am sorry that I don’t have any recorded documentation to support what I say, for the simple reason that nobody in our family actually wrote down daily routines in a diary or anything. And I’m talking about a period before 1914…let’s say from the mid 1800s. I take the liberty of copy-pasting my article here…
Nairs-The fearless warriors
Nairs were famed far and wide for their valour and hot tempers. They occupied the highest positions in the king’s army. The traditional martial art form of Kerala, the Kalaripayattu, was an art taught solely to Nairs. No other sub division of society were permitted to learn it. The Kalaris, or practice grounds, were never in open areas for public view. They were always closed enclosures either within the teacher’s home or in a specially made basement with sanded floors. Women were also given training in Kalaripayattu up to a certain level. Unlike other sections of society, Nairs were and still primarily are a matriarchal society. Women are the family heads. The reason for this difference will be discussed in the next section. Besides Kalaripayattu, the Thiruvathira Kali, a slow and graceful dance form of Kerala, was only allowed to be performed by the Nair women. The festival of Thiruvathira was celebrated almost solely by them. On this day, believed to be the day of the birth of Lord Shiva, Nair women prepared special dishes, refrained from eating rice, tattooed their hands with henna, chewed on betel leaves and played on swings. It was entirely their festival. It is said that married women celebrated this festival for the long life of their husbands and unmarried girls did so to be blessed with a husband as glorious as Lord Shiva.
Here is another interesting read I collected from the internet…
The Nairs are the descendants of the Nagas who happen to be also the only survivors of the Mahabharata war at Kurukshetra. Parasurama was the first Kalari guru and it is said that he taught the Nairs how to fight and the art of Kalari…and so it became an art form of the Nairs.Also what we can now understand is that the Chera kings probably were Nagas…the word chera means snake in malayalam of today.But the Chera empire had already declined by the time the Brahmins came from the north.Once Aryanised,the Brahmins had no problem in making them kings..There is an ancient story of a Chera king Vel Kuttavan throwing the spear into the sea to raise Kerala. This was reinterpreted as Parasurama throwing his axe into the sea to reclaim Kerala.The Brahmins do not accept the Nairs as Kshatriya because they do not accept the Aryan varna system which places the Brahmin at the top. It is evident that in the ancient Varna system the Kshatriya was the highest caste in the Hindu varna system.Parasurama therefore had to annihilate the Kshatriyas to establish Brahmins.He did so 21 times..21 vamshas…and then handed the axe to his guru Kashyapa..Kashyapa then probably gave the axe to his sons…the Rajput in the north(The Sissodiya Rajput of Ramgarh claim that they are of the highest houses)…also this explains mostly everything the surname Nair..the sarpa kavs at the back of every Nair house etc.Also the words Nagar which means city and probably even Nayak is derived from Naga..these were later used by the Aryans to mean city and city administrator and given to separate castes to denote leader..only title and not necessarily same caste..Naik in Karnataka were Brahmins….so these are again very interesting facts I collected.
As mentioned earlier, the Nairs were a warrior clan and almost 90% of them joined the king’s army. The other 10% were the nobility that remained as sea-faring merchants or royal ministers. There was no other occupation open to them. They all had huge expanses of land under farming but they just remained as overlords. Their vassals who belonged to the lower sections of society did the actual farming.
These vassals were practically ‘owned’ by the families. They worked with them for generations and were paid in kind. They were an extremely loyal lot and would even give up their lives for their master. They received their daily food from their masters’ houses. If they were in need of any help, like say marrying off their daughter, the master’s family took care of all expenses and married off the girl. It was a comfortable arrangement. Things changed though when communism came into the picture.
Nair women
This segment should form one of the most interesting reads of the entire article. If one has ever been to a Nair wedding, he would certainly notice how relatively short the wedding is and the obvious absence of a priest. In all other sections of society and around the world, in general, a marriage is not solemnized without the presence of a priest. It is not so amongst Nairs.
The life of a Nair warrior was always at the feet of the king. They were something like the Samurai warriors of Japan. They never returned from a battle defeated. Either they took lives or gave up theirs. There was practically no guarantee for the life of a Nair warrior. But the clan must go on. So they had to marry just for the sake of it.
Marriages in those days was an awfully simple affair. On a pre-fixed auspicious day, the groom would come to the house of the bride, present her with a new cloth (kodi/pudava) which was usually a pair of the two piece garment worn by Nair women, and take her away to his home. This was the entire marriage! The inclusion of tying a sacred thread around the neck of the bride is a relatively recent development (my own grandmothers did not have a thalikettu ceremony). All other rituals seen in modern day marriages are due to influences from surrounding states. The girl was safely brought back to her home on the third day after the wedding and the groom went back to his home immediately. Thereafter, the groom would visit her whenever he pleased but his permanent residence was always at his maternal home. The children born out of this relationship were given the family name of their mother.
To be honest, Nair men almost never stayed faithful to their married wives. This could be because of the nonexistent system of cohabitation with the woman they married. They were known to be extremely handsome men. They would have mistresses in and around their hometown and even in distant lands where they went to battle. Women also seldom stayed on the better side of the moral divide. The long absences of their husbands facilitated this.
But this must not be misconstrued as the women being loose in character. Nair women, like their menfolk, were extremely proud and wouldn’t trade their pride for the world. Who she chooses to let into her bed-chamber was entirely left to her discretion. It was a part of her private life that nobody dared to interfere with. It is a commonly propagated story that Nair women left their doors open to Namboothiri men 24×7. This is not entirely true. Most Nair women were wealthy and enjoyed a high status in society. They did not really need financial backing from anyone. So there was no need for them to give up their bodies to men in exchange for financial favors. If a Nair woman chose to let a man into her bed-chamber, it was because she desired him. End of story. It was not like a Namboothiri fancies a Nair woman and he gets his way with her. If the proud Nair woman chooses to ignore his amorous advances, he had no choice but to accept it and go in search of easier targets.
Now Nair community has about 140+ sub castes – the highest being the Kiriyathil Nairs and Samanthan Nairs(or Malayala Kshatriyas-the Kshatriyas were permitted to marry women belonging to this sect only) and the lowest being the Veluthedathu Nairs (dhobis) and Vilakkithala Nairs (barbers). There were women in the lower rungs of the Nair clan who weren’t as affluent as their Kiriyathil Nair counterparts. Now it was these women that welcomed the wealthy Namboothiris into their homes in the hope of begetting a child from them, in order to better their financial status. The child was provided for by the biological father but stayed with its mother and the woman remained in the status of just the mother of the Namboothiri’s child. Nothing more. It is wrong to generalize that ALL Nair women followed this practice.
This fact is further strengthened by looking a little closer at the architecture of ancient Nair family homes. Almost all houses had bedrooms with two doors-one that opened into the house and the other that opened to the outside. It is said that the latter were used by both men and women of the house to let in their secret lovers. So, the concept of a child belonging to the father’s family was immaterial. Because, shameful though it may be, the fiery Nair women often slept with more than one man. And being the fearless daughter of a warrior herself, she did not consider it necessary to discuss the fatherhood of her child with the world.
So the children were given the maternal family name. They had practically no ties with their father or his family. They belonged to their mother’s family. In their father’s family, they were outsiders. All these infidelity issues changed gradually with the onset of social policing. But the tradition of family name still remains the same. Today, a Nair child may have his father’s name as his surname. But when he is asked for his family name, it is his mother’s family name that belongs to him and not his father’s.
Nairs and property
The property of a Nair man was never inherited by his children. It was distributed amongst the children of his sisters. This distribution was also not equal. The major share of the property was given to the females of the house. The men inherited only a small share. (For example, when my great grandmother inherited family property, she was given 25 parambukal [1 parambu=a certain measure of land that was sufficient to build a house and have a considerable surrounding area around it to plant trees, etc.] and so was her sister, while her five brothers were given 2 parambukal each…which eventually was inherited by my own grandmother and her brothers when these men passed away)
The family home usually went to the eldest daughter, though in later and more recent times, that is given to the youngest son. The heirloom jewellery, which were usually passed down from generation to generation, was equally distributed amongst the women. None of it went to the men.
The one really good thing about this system was that the women who inherited precious things like ancient furniture and jewellery would have been seeing it from their childhood and knew how much they were worth and what they meant to the family. Quite unlike the viewpoint of a woman who has married into the family. No matter how hard the family tries, she would never really understand the true worth of the family’s most prized possessions.
The men did get rights over some furniture, though the best of those too went to the women. This property divide remained strong until the Hindu Property Act was brought about in the early 70s.
Nairs in the 21st century
A lot has changed since those days. Today’s Nairs are a lot less like their flamboyant ancestors. And many of them do not even wish to be reminded of the lifestyle their predecessors led, for fear of being socially shunned. But I feel that there is nothing to be ashamed of in recollecting the life of your ancestors. They lived a life that suited their lifestyle and era. We have no reason to lead a life like that today. But we must never forget the way we came nor our glorious past. What remain today are mere remnants of the valorous society that was. For instance…
· The system of giving the maternal family name to children
· The absence of a priest in a wedding
· The custom of bringing back the bride on the third day after marriage
· The never dying community spirit
· The incessant urge to succeed in every endeavor
· The desperation that surfaces in the unlikely event of a failure
Long live the Nair race! Long live Nagavamsam! _/\_
P.S.: Much of what I have written are things I have grown up hearing from my family elders. I come from an ancient Nair family that hails from Tripunithura in Ernakulam district of Kerala but traces its origins to Aazhvanchery in Northern Malabar. The customs and systems I have explained may/may not be true for families in the Travancore area of Kerala.
One of my grand-aunts a few generations ago was a famed beauty who was married to the then Raja of Cochin who is said to have fallen in love at first sight with her 🙂
About the upper garment…
Nair women had no restrictions whatsoever about what they wore. It’s true that they traditionally wore a mundum neriyathum, but it was totally up to them if they wanted to cover their chests with gold or with a garment. Such restrictions were only for lower caste women. If you read up about the Channar revolt, you’d know why this restriction was brought about in the first place…
In 1819, the Moolam Thirunal Rama Varma under the pressure of the British dewan Colonel John Munro
announced that the lower castes including the Nadar climber women have no right to wear upper clothes.
However 1820,British dewan in the Travancore court, issued an order that permitted the newly converted climber women to wear kuppayam or chatta, a type of jacket worn by Syrian Christians.
The whole move was allegedly to spread Christianity.Violence against Nadar climber women who revolted against this continued and reached its peak in 1858 across the kingdom, notably in southern taluks of Neyyattinkara and Neyyur.
On 26 July 1859, under pressure from the Madras Governor, the king of Travancore issued a proclamation announcing the right of Nadar climber women to wear upper clothes but on condition that they should not imitate the style of clothing worn by upper class women.
Though the proclamation did not quell the tension immediately, it gradually subsided as the social and economical status of Nadar climbers progressed in subsequent decades with significant support from missionaries and Ayya Vaikundar.
19th century Travancore had a rigid caste hierarchy. There also existed a strict code of respect and mannerisms enforced by the state. The women were not allowed to carry pots on their hips or wear clothes that covered their breasts. Baring of chest to higher status was considered a sign of respect, by both males and females.
The Nadar climbers of Travancore fared a little better than their Tirunelveli counterparts, but, however, suffered severe social disabilities, unlike their Tirunelveli counterparts, under the rigid caste hierarchy of Travancore. As Swami Vivekanandha stated, Kerala was a mad asylum of castes. The Nadar climber women were not allowed to cover their bosoms, as most of the non- Brahmin women, to punctuate their low status. However the aristocratic Nadan women, their counterparts, had the rights to cover their bosom. Uneasy with their social status, a large number of Nadar climbers embraced Christianity.

Is it true that Kerala had no marriage culture in ancient India (1914)?


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