Which castes are seen as higher castes and which are the lowest ones in Tamil Nadu and Kerala? Is he same rule applied in Karnataka and Andhra as well?
Answer by Raakhee V. Menon:
I am not too sure about the caste break-up in other states. But I do know a bit about how it is in my home state, Kerala.
It’s interesting to note that Kerala has never followed the varna system of caste division. The classification was very unique. But I shall not take that into consideration for this answer. My answer is based on the current system being observed, with the division being based on those who gets ‘reservations’() and those who don’t. Anybody who is not eligible for reservations is technically a ‘forward caste’. At present, only 26% of the state’s population fall under the FC category.
As in all places, the Brahmins are placed at the highest level. There are different types of Brahmins in the state. The native Namboothiris form THE highest rung of the caste ladder. There are other Malayali Brahmin sects like Potti, Ilayathu (Eleshan), Moothathu (Moos) and the Pushpaka Brahmins (Unni, Nambeesan, etc.). Then you have Iyers, Iyengars, Tulu Brahmins, Goud Saraswat Brahmins, etc. They are all clans that have moved from nearby states to Kerala several generations ago and have made it their permanent home.
Next comes the Kshatriyas. They are members of the erstwhile ruling families of the kingdoms of Malabar, Kochi and Thiruvithamkoor, and members of several baronial estates. They usually carry the surname Varma, Thampuran, Raja, etc. Members of the Thirumoolpaad (Thiruppaad) class are also considered to be Kshatriyas.
Then come the Ambalavasis that include clans like Chakyar, Nambiar (disputed as some say they belong to the Nair sect), Marar, Poduval, Warrier, etc. They were traditionally those who performed various duties in the temples.
The Nair sect is by far the largest and most diverse of all FC sects in Kerala. The gradual transition from FC to the lower castes happen within the Nair sect itself. This means that not all Nairs are FC. The highest rungs of Nairs are Malayala Kshatriyas, while the lowest rungs are Shudras.
I take the liberty of copy-pasting a very insightful article I found online that talks about the break-up and the grey area in the sect…
The caste hierarchy within the 20 major divisions among the Nairs is as following
(From the highest ranked subcaste to the lowest ranked one):
- Royal Subcastes
- Koil Thampuran or Perumal (Rajah, Thampan, Thirumulpad.etc) – Samanta Kshatriya
- Samanthan Nair (Nambiar, Thampi, Thampurans, Thirumulpad, Adiyodi, Nedungadi.etc) – Malayala Kshatriya
- Other Kshatriya Subcastes
- Kiryathil Nāyar & Vellāyma Nāyar (Nambiār, Kaimal, Kurup.etc) – Malayala Kshatriya
- Illathu Nair (Kartha, Thirumukom, Pillai.etc) – Malayala Kshatriya
- Swaroopathil Nair, Menokki & Charna Nair (Menon, Menoky.etc) – Malayala Kshatriya
- Adamangalam Nair – Malayala Kshatriya
- Tamil Padam Nair – Malayala Kshatriya
- Pallichan Nair – Malayala Kshatriya
- Lower ranking Subcastes
- Maaran – Ambalavasi Brahmin
- Vātti (Vātti Kuruppu, Pattu Kuruppu & Nantunni Kuruppu), Daivampāti (Brahmani), Pulikkal Nāyar & Payyampāti – Ambalavasi Brahmin
- Chempukotti Nair – Malayala Sudra
- Otattu Nair – Malayala Sudra
- Puliyath Nair & Matavan Nair – Malayala Sudra
- Kalamkotti Nair & Anduran Nair – Malayala Sudra
- Chakkala Nair & Vattakkatan Nair – Malayala Sudra
- Asthikkuracchi Mārār & Chitikan Nair – Ambalavasi Brahmin
- Chetty Nair, Mūtta, Taraka, Vaniya Nāyar & Ravāri Nāyar – Arya Vysya
- Itasseri Nair – Malayala Sudra
- Chaliyan Nair – Malayala Sudra
- Maniyāni Nayar – Yaduvanshi Kshatriya
- Veluthedathu Nair – Malayala Sudra
- Vilakkithala Nair – Malayala Sudra
There are supposedly 166 sub-castes in the Nair sect alone.
For further reading: