Nambūtiri Brāhman

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This article is an excerpt from
Castes and Tribes of Southern India
By Edgar Thurston, C.I.E.,
Superintendent, Madras Government Museum; Correspondant
Étranger, Société d’Anthropologie de Paris; Socio
Corrispondante, Societa,Romana di Anthropologia.
Assisted by K. Rangachari, M.A.,
of the Madras Government Museum.

Government Press, Madras


Nambūtiri Brāhman/ Namboodiri/ Nambudiri/ Namboothiri/ Nambudari


The name Nambūtiri has been variously derived. The least objectionable origin seems to be nambu (sacred or trustworthy) and tiri (a light). The latter occurs as an honorific suffix among Malabar Brāhmans, and other castes above the Nāyars. The Nambūtiris form the socio-spiritual aristocracy of Malabar, and, as the traditional landlords of Parasu Rāma’s land, they are everywhere held in great reverence.

A Nambūtiri, when questioned about the past, refers to the Kēralolpatti. The Nambūtiris and their organization according to grāmams owe their origin in legend, so far as Malabar is concerned, to Parasu Rāma. Parasu Rāma (Rāma of the axe), an incarnation of Vishnu, had, according to the purānic story, slain his mother in a fit of wrath, and was advised by the sages to expiate his sin by extirpating the Kshatriyas twenty-one times. He did so, and handed over the land to the sages. But this annoyed the Brāhmans exceedingly, for they got no share in the arrangement; so they banished Parasu Rāma from the land. By the performance of austerities he gained from the gods the boon to reclaim some land from Varuna, the sea god.

Malabar was then non-existent. He was allowed to throw his axe from Cape Comorin, and possess all the land within the distance of his throw. So he threw his axe as far as Gokarnam in the South Canara district, and immediately there was land between these two places, within the direct line and the western ghāts, now consisting of Travancore and Cochin, Malabar, and part of South Canara. To this land he gave the name Karma Bhūmi, or the country in which salvation or the reverse depends altogether on man’s individual actions, and blessed it that there be plenty of rain and no famine in it. But he was alone. To relieve his loneliness, he brought some Brāhmans from the banks of the Krishna river, but they did not remain long, for they were frightened by the snakes.

Customs and rules of conduct

Then he brought some Brāhmans from the north, and, lest they too should flee, gave them peculiar customs, and located them in sixty-four grāmams. He told them also to follow the marumakkattāyam law of succession (in the female line), but only a few, the Nambūtiris of Payyanūr, obeyed him. The Brāhmans ruled the land with severity, so that the people (who had somehow come into existence) resolved to have a king under whom they could live in peace. And, as it was impossible to choose one among themselves, they chose Kēya Perumal, who was the first king of Malabar, and Malabar was called Kēralam after him. The truths underlying this legend are that the littoral strip between the western ghāts and the sea is certainly of recent formation geologically. It is not very long, geologically, since it was under the sea, and it is certain that the Nambūtiris came from the north. The capital of the Chēra kingdom was very probably on the west coast not far from Cranganore in the Travancore State, the site of it being now called Tiruvānjikkulam. There is still a Siva temple there, and about a quarter of a mile to the south-west of it are the foundations of the old palace. The rainfall of Malabar is very high, ranging from 300 inches in the hills to about 120 inches on the coast.

“It is said that Parasu Rāma ruled that all Nambūdri women should carry with them an umbrella whenever they go out, to prevent their being seen by those of the male sex, that a Nāyar woman called a Vrishali should invariably precede them, that they should be covered with a cloth from neck to foot, and that they should not wear jewels. These women are therefore always attended by a Nāyar woman in their outdoor movements, and they go sheltering their faces from public gaze with a cadjan (palm leaf) umbrella.”17

The Kēralolpatti relates the story of the exclusion of the Panniyūr Brāhmans from the Vēdas. There were in the beginning two religious factions among the Nambūtiris, the Vaishnavas or worshippers of Vishnu in his incarnation as a boar, and the Saivas; the former residing in Panniyūr (boar village), and the latter in Chovūr (Siva’s village). The Saivas gained the upper hand, and, completely dominating the others, excluded them altogether from the Vēdas. So now the Nambūtiris of Panniyūr are said to be prohibited from studying the Vēdas. It is said, however, that this prohibition is not observed, and that, as a matter of fact, the Panniyūr Nambūtiris perform all the Vēdic ceremonies.

Ahikshētra was probably their original home

“Tradition,” Mr. N. Subramani Aiyar writes, “as recorded in the Kēralamahatmiya, traces the Nambūtiris to Ahikshētra, whence Parasu Rāma invited Brāhmans to settle in his newly reclaimed territory. In view to preventing the invited settlers from relinquishing it, he is said to have introduced, on the advice of the sage Nārada, certain deep and distinctive changes in their personal, domestic, and communal institutions. The banks of the Nerbudda, the Krishna, and the Kāveri are believed to have given Brāhmans to Malabar. I have come across Nambūtiris who have referred to traditions in their families regarding villages on the east coast whence their ancestors originally came, and the sub-divisions of the Smarta caste, Vadama, Brihatcharanam, Ashtasahasram, Sankēti, etc., to which they belonged. Even to this day, an east coast Brāhman of the Vadadesattu Vadama caste has to pour water into the hands of a Nambūtiri Sanyāsi as part of the latter’s breakfast ritual.

Broach in Kathiwar, one of the greatest emporiums of trade in the middle ages, is also mentioned as one of the ancient recruiting districts of the Nambūtiri Brāhmans. Broach was the ancient Bhrigucachchha, where Parasu Rāma made his avabhritasnāna (final bathing) after his great triumph over the Kshatriyas, and where to this day a set of people called Bhargava Brāhmans live. Their comparatively low social status is ascribed to the original sin of their Brāhman progenitor or founder having taken to the profession of arms. The date of the first settlement of the Nambūtiris is not known. Orthodox tradition would place it in the Trētāyuga, or the second great Hindu cycle. The reference to the grāmams of Chovvur and Panniyūr contained in the Manigrāmam Syrian Christian grant of the eighth century, and its absence in the Jewish, have suggested to antiquarians some time between the seventh and eighth centuries as the probable period. The writings of Ptolemy and the Periplus furnish evidence of Brāhman settlements on the Malabar coast as early as the first century, and it is probable that immigrant Brāhman families began to pour in with the ascendancy of the Western Chalukya kings in the fourth and fifth centuries, and became gradually welded with the pre-existing Nambūtiris.

Two sections

All these Nambūtiris were grouped under two great sections:—

(a) the Vaishnavites or Panniyūr Grāmakkar, who came with the patronage of the Vaishnavites of the Chalukya dynasty with the boar as their royal emblem;

(b) the Saivites or Chovvūr Grāmakkar, who readily accepted the Saivite teachings from the Chēra, Chōla, and Pāndya kings who followed the Chalukyans. They included in all sixty-four grāmams, which, in many cases, were only families. Of these, not more than ten belong to modern Travancore. These grāmams constituted a regular autocracy, with four talis or administrative bodies having their head-quarters at Cranganore. It appears that a Rāja or Perumāl, as he was called, from the adjoining Chēra kingdom, including the present districts of Salem and Coimbatore, was, as an improved arrangement, invited to rule for a duodecennial period, and was afterwards confirmed, whether by the lapse of time or by a formal act of the Brāhman owners it is not known. The Chēra Viceroys, by virtue of their isolation from their own fatherland, had then to arrange for marital alliances being made, as best they could, with the highest indigenous caste, the Nambūtiris, the males consorting with Sūdra women. The matriarchal form of inheritance was thus a necessary consequence. Certain tracts of Kērala, however, continued under direct Brāhman sovereignty, of which the Ettappalli chief is almost the only surviving representative.”

Both Church and State

Writing in the eighteenth century, Hamilton observes that “the Nambouries are the first in both capacities of Church and State, and some of them are Popes, being Sovereign Princes in both.” Unlike the Brāhmans of the remainder of the Madras Presidency, who so largely absorb all appointments worth having under Government, who engage in trade, in, one may say, every profitable profession and business, the Nambūtiris hold almost entirely aloof from what the poet Gray calls “the busy world’s ignoble strife,” and, more than any class of Brāhmans, retain their sacerdotal position, which is of course the highest. They are for the most part landholders. A very large portion of Malabar is owned by Nambūtiris, especially in Walluvanād, most of which tāluk is the property of Nambūtiris. They are the aristocracy of the land, marked most impressively by two characteristics, exclusiveness and simplicity. Now and then a Nambūtiri journeys to Benares, but, as a rule, he stays at home. Their simplicity is really proverbial,19 and they have not been influenced by contact with the English. This contact, which has influenced every other caste or race, has left the Nambūtiri just where he was before the English knew India.

He is perhaps, as his measurements seem to prove, the truest Aryan in Southern India, and not only physically, but in his customs, habits, and ceremonies, which are so welded into him that forsake them he cannot if he would. It is noted, in the Gazetteer of Malabar, that “as a class, the Nambūdiris may be described as less affected than any other caste, except the very lowest, by western influences of whatever nature. One Nambūdiri is known to have accepted a clerical post in Government service; a good many are Adhigāris (village headmen), and one member of the caste possesses a Tile-works and is partner in a Cotton-mill. The bicycle now claims several votaries among the caste, and photography at least one other. But these are exceptions, and exceptions which, unimportant as they may seem to any one unacquainted with the remarkable conservatism of the caste, would certainly have caused considerable surprise to the author of the first Malabar Manual.”


Concerning the occupations of the Nambūtiris, Mr. Subramani Aiyar writes that “service in temples, unless very remunerative, does not attract them. Teaching as a means of living is rank heterodoxy. And, if anywhere Manu’s dictum to the Brāhman ‘Never serve’ is strictly observed, it is in Malabar. Judging from the records left by travellers, the Nambūtiris used to be selected by kings as messengers during times of war. Writing concerning them, Barbosa states that “these are the messengers who go on the road from one kingdom to another with letters and money and merchandise, because they pass in safety without any one molesting them, even though the king may be at war. These Brāhmans are well read ... and possess many books, and are learned and masters of many arts; and so the kings honour them as such.” As the pre-historic heirs to the entire land of Kērala, the Nambūtiris live on agriculture. But inefficiency in adaptation to changing environments operates as a severe handicap in the race for progressive affluence, for which the initial equipment was exceptionally favourable. The difficulties incidental to an effete landlordism have contributed to making the Nambūtiris a litigious population, and the ruinous scale of expenditure necessary for the disposal of a girl, be it of the most plebeian kind, has brought their general prosperity to a very low level. The feeling of responsible co-operation on the part of the unmarried males of a Nambūtiri household in the interests of the family is fast decreasing; old maids are increasing; and the lot of the average Nambūtiri man, and more especially woman, is very hard indeed.

As matters now stand, the traditional hospitality of the Hindu kings of Malabar, which, fortunately for them, has not yet relaxed, is the only sustenance and support of the ordinary Nambūtiri. The characteristic features of the Nambūtiri are his faith in God and resignation to his will, hospitality to strangers, scrupulous veracity, punctiliousness as regards the ordinances prescribed, and extreme gentility in manners. The sustaining power of his belief in divine providence is so great, that calamities of whatsoever kind do not exasperate him unduly. The story is told with great admiration of a Nambūtiri who, with his large ancestral house on fire, his only son just tumbled into a deep disused well, while his wife was expiring undelivered, quietly called out to his servant for his betel-box. Evening baths, and daily prayers at sunrise, noon and sunset, are strictly observed. A tradition, illustrative of the miracles which spiritual power can work, is often told of the islet in the Vempanat lake known as Patiramanal (midnight sand) having been conjured into existence by the Tarananallūr Nambūtiripād, when, during a journey to Trivandrum, it was past evening, and the prayers to Sandhya had to be made after the usual ablutions.

World view

To the lower animals, the attitude of the Nambūtiri is one of child-like innocence. In his relation to man, his guilelessness is a remarkable feature. Harshness of language is unknown to the Nambūtiris, and it is commonly said that the severest expression of his resentment at an insult offered is generally that he (the Nambūtiri) expects the adversary to take back the insult a hundred times over. Of course, the modern Nambūtiri is not the unadulterated specimen of goodness, purity, and piety that he once was. But, on the whole, the Nambūtiris form an interesting community, whose existence is indeed a treasure untold to all lovers of antiquity. Their present economic condition is, however, far from re-assuring. They are no doubt the traditional owners of Kērala, and hold in their hands the janmom or proprietary interest in a large portion of Malabar. But their woeful want of accommodativeness to the altered conditions of present day life threatens to be their ruin. Their simplicity and absence of business-like habits have made them a prey to intrigue, fraudulence, and grievous neglect, and an unencumbered and well ordered estate is a rarity among Malabar Brāhmans, at least in Travancore.”

The orthodox view of the Nambūtiri is thus stated in an official document of Travancore. “His person is holy; his directions are commands; his movements are a procession; his meal is nectar; he is the holiest of human beings; he is the representative of god on earth.” It may be noted that the priest at the temple of Badrināth in Gurhwal, which is said to have been established by Sankarāchārya, and at the temple at Tiruvettiyūr, eight miles north of Madras, must be a Nambūtiri. The birth-place of Sankara has been located in a small village named Kāladi in Travancore. It is stated by Mr. Subramani Aiyar that “at some part of his eventful life, Sankara is believed to have returned to his native village, to do the last offices to his mother. Every assistance was withdrawn, and he became so helpless that he had to throw aside the orthodox ceremonials of cremation, which he could not get his relations to help him in, made a sacrificial pit in his garden, and there consigned his mother’s mortal remains. The compound (garden) can still be seen on the banks of the Periyār river on the Travancore side, with a masonry wall enclosing the crematorium, and embowered by a thick grove of trees.”

Every Nambūtiri is, theoretically, a life-long student of the Vēdas. Some admit that religious study or exercise occupies a bare half hour in the day; others devote to these a couple of hours or more. It is certain that every Nambūtiri is under close study between the ages of seven and fifteen, or for about eight years of his life, and nothing whatsoever is allowed to interfere with this. Should circumstances compel interruption of Vēdic study, the whole course is, I believe, re-commenced and gone through da capo. A few years ago, a Nambūtiri boy was wanted, to be informally examined in the matter of a dacoity in his father’s illam; but he had to be left alone, as, among other unpleasant consequences of being treated as a witness, he would have had to begin again his whole course of Vēdic study. The Nambūtiris are probably more familiar with Sanskrit than any other Brāhmans, even though their scholarship may not be of a high order, and certainly none other is to the same extent governed by the letter of the law handed down in Sanskrit.

As already said, the Nambūtiris are for the most part landholders, or of that class. They are also temple priests. The rich have their own temples, on which they spend much money. All over Malabar there are to be seen Pattar Brāhmans, wandering here and there, fed free at the illams of rich Nambūtiris, or at the various kōvilakams and temples. And they are always to be found at important ceremonial functions, marriage or the like, which they attend uninvited, and receive a small money present (dakshina). But the Nambūtiri never goes anywhere, unless invited. From what I have seen, the presents to Brāhmans on these occasions are usually given on the following scale:—eight annas to each Nambūtiri, six annas to each Embrāntiri, four annas to each Pattar Brāhman. The Nambūtiri is sometimes a money-lender.


Of the two divisions, Nambūtiri and Nambūtiripād, the latter are supposed to be stricter, and to rank higher than the former. Pād, meaning power or authority, is often used to all Nambūtiris when addressing them. Thus, some who are called Nambūtiripāds may really be Nambūtiris. It may not be strictly correct to divide the Nambūtiris thus, for neither so-called division is separated from the other by interdiction of marriage. The class distinctions are more properly denoted the Ādhyan and Asyan, of which the former is the higher. An Ādhyan is never a priest; he is a being above even such functions as are sacerdotal in the temple. But there are also divisions according to the number of yāgams or sacrifices performed by individuals, thus:—Sōmatiri or Sōmayāji, Akkitiri or Agnihōtri, and Adittiri.

A man may reach the first stage of these three, and become an Addittiripād by going through a certain ceremony. At this, three Nambūtiri Vaidikars, or men well versed in the Vēdas, must officiate. A square pit is made. Fire raised by friction between two pieces of pīpal (Ficus religiosa) wood with a little cotton is placed in it. This fire is called aupāsana. The ceremony cannot be performed until after marriage. It is only those belonging to certain gōtras who may perform yāgams, and, by so doing, acquire the three personal distinctions already named. Again, there are other divisions according to professions. Thus it is noted, in the Cochin Census Report, 1901, that “the Ādhyans are to study the Vēdas and Sāstras; they are prohibited from taking parānnam (literally meals belonging to another), from taking part in the funeral ceremonies of others, and from receiving presents. Those who perform the sacrifice of adhana are known as Aditiris, those who perform some yāga are called Somayagis or Chomatiris, while those who perform agni are called Agnihotris or Akkitiris. Only married men are qualified to perform the sacrifices.

With the Nayars

The Nāyar is an indispensable factor in the performance of these sacrifices. The Bhattatiris are to study and teach the Sāstras; the Orthikans are to teach the Vēdas, and to officiate as family priests. The Vādhyans are to teach the Vēdas, and to supervise the moral conduct of their pupils. The Vydikans are the highest authority to decide what does or does not constitute violation of caste rules, and to prescribe expiatory ceremonies. The Smarthas are to study the Smritis and other Sāstras relating to customs, with the special object of qualifying themselves to preside over caste panchāyats, or courts, and to investigate, under the orders of the sovereign, cases of conjugal infidelity arising among the Nambūtiris. The rulers of Cochin and Travancore issue the writs convening the committee in the case of offences committed within their territory. The Zamorin of Calicut, and other Chiefs or Rājas, also continue to exercise the privilege of issuing such orders in regard to cases occurring in Malabar. The Tantris officiate as high priests in temples. They also practice exorcism. There are Ādhyans among this class also. Having received weapons from Parasu Rāma and practiced the art of war, the Sastrangakars are treated as somewhat degraded Brāhmans. They are prohibited from studying the Vēdas, but are entitled to muthalmura, that is, reading the Vēdas, or hearing them recited once. Having had to devote their time and energy to the practice of the art of war, they could not possibly spend their time in the study of the Vēdas. The Vaidyans or physicians, known as Mūssads, are to study the medical science, and to practice the same. As the profession of a doctor necessitates the performance of surgical operations entailing the shedding of blood, the Mūssads are also considered as slightly degraded. They too are entitled only to muthalmura. Of these, there are eight families, known as Ashta Vaidyans. The Grāmanis are alleged to have suffered degradation by reason of their having, at the command of Parasu Rāma, undertaken the onerous duties of protecting the Brāhman villages, and having had, as Rakshapurushas or protectors, to discharge the functions assigned to Kshatriyas. Ooril Parisha Mūssads are supposed to have undergone degradation on account of their having accepted from Parasu Rāma the accumulated sin of having killed the warrior Kshatriyas thrice seven times, along with immense gifts in the shape of landed estates. They are not allowed to read the Vēdas even once.”


“There are,” Mr. Subramani Aiyar writes, “five sub-divisions among the Nambūtiris, which may be referred to:—

(1) Tampurakkal.—This is a corruption of the Sanskrit name Samrāt, and has probable reference to temporal as much as to secular sovereignty. Of the two Tampurakkal families in South Malabar, Kalpancheri and Azhvancheri, the latter alone now remains. As spiritual Samrāts (sovereigns) they are entitled to

(1) bhadrāsanam, or the highest position in an assembly,

(2) brahmavarchasa, or authority in Vēdic lore, and consequent sanctity,

(3) brahmasamrāgyam, or lordship over Brāhmans,

(4) sarvamanyam, or universal acknowledgment of reverence. Once in six years, the Azhvancheri Tampurakkal is invited by the Mahārāja of Travancore, who accords him the highest honours, and pays him the homage of a sāshtānganamaskāram, or prostration obeisance. Even now, the Samrāts form a saintly class in all Malabar. Though considered higher than all other sub-divisions of Nambūtiris, they form, with the Ādhyas, an endogamous community.

(2) Ādhyas.—They form eight families, called Ashtādhyas, and are said by tradition to be descended from the eight sons of a great Brāhman sage, who lived on the banks of the river Krishna. The fund of accumulated spirituality inherited from remote ancestors is considered to be so large that sacrifices (yāgas), as well as vanaprastha and sanyāsa (the two last stages of the Brāhman’s life), are reckoned as being supererogatory for even the last in descent. They are, however, very strict in the observance of religious ordinances, and constantly engage themselves in the reverent study of Hindu scriptures. The Tantris are Ādhyas with temple administration as their specialised function. They are the constituted gurus of the temple priests, and are the final authorities in all matters of temple ritual.

(3) Visishta.—These are of two classes, Agnihōtris and Bhattatiris. The former are the ritualists, and are of three kinds:—(1) Akkittiris, who have performed the agnichayanayāga, (2) Adittiris, who have done the ceremony of agniadhana, (3) Chomatiris, who have performed the soma sacrifice. The Bhattatiris are the philosophers, and are, in a spirit of judicious economy, which is the characteristic feature of all early caste proscriptions, actually prohibited from trenching on the province of the Agnihōtris. They study tarkka (logic), vēdānta (religious philosophy or theology), vyākarana (grammar), mīmāmsa (ritualism), bhatta, from which they receive their name, and prabhākara, which are the six sciences of the early Nambūtiris. They were the great religious teachers of Malabar, and always had a large number of disciples about them. Under this head come the Vādyars or heads of Vēdic schools, of which there are two, one at Trichūr in Cochin, and the other at Tirunavai in British Malabar; the six Vaidikas or expounders of the caste canons, and the Smartas, who preside at the smartavichārams or socio-moral tribunals of Brāhmanical Malabar.

(4) Sāmānyas.—They form the Nambūtiri proletariat, from whom the study of the Vēdas is all that is expected. They take up the study of mantravāda (mystic enchantment), pūja (temple ritual), and reciting the sacred accounts of the Avatāra and astrology.

(5) Jātimatras.—The eight leading physician families of Malabar, or Ashta Vaidyas, are, by an inexcusable misuse of language, called Gatimatras or nominal Nambūtiris. The class of Nambūtiris called Yatrakalikkar (a corruption of Sastrakalikkar) also comes under this head. They are believed to be the Brāhmans, who accepted the profession of arms from their great founder. Those that actually received the territory from the hands of Parasu Rāma, called Grāmani Nambūtiris or Grāmani Ādhyas, are also Gatimatras. They were the virtual sovereigns of their respective lands. The physicians, the soldiers, and the landed kings, having other duties to perform, were not able to devote all their time to Vēdic recitations. The mutalmūrā or first study was, of course, gone through. In course of time, this fact was unfortunately taken by the religious conscience of the people to lower the Brāhmans who were deputed under the scheme of Parasu Rāma for special functions in the service of the nation in the scale of Nambūtiri society, and to mean a formal prohibition as of men unworthy to be engaged in Vēdic study.

Papagrastas are Nambūtiris, who are supposed to have questioned the divine nature of Parasu Rāma, The Urilparisha Mussus, who too are Brāhmans who received gifts of land from Parasu Rāma, the Nambitis, the Panniyūr Grāmakkar, and the Payyanūr Grāmakkar or the Ammuvans (uncles), so called from their matriarchal system of inheritance, form other sections of Nambūtiris.”

Special privileges

It is recorded, in the Cochin Census Report, 1901, that “certain special privileges in regard to the performance of religious rites and other matters of a purely social nature serve as the best basis for a sub-division of the Nambūtiris in the order of social precedence as recognised amongst themselves. For this purpose, the privileges may be grouped under two main classes, as given in the following mnemonic formula:—


1. Edu (the leaf of a cadjan grandha or book): the right of studying and teaching the Vēdas and Sastras.

2. Piccha (mendicancy symbolic of family priests): the right of officiating as family priests.

3. Othu (Vēdas): the right of studying the Vēdas.

4. Adukala (kitchen): the right of cooking for all classes of Brāhmans.

5. Katavu (bathing place or ghāt): the right of bathing in the same bathing place with other Brāhmans, or the right of touching after bathing, without thereby disqualifying the person touched for performing religious services.


1. Adu (sheep): the right of performing holy sacrifices.

2. Bhiksha (receiving alms): the right of becoming a Sānyasi.

3. Santhi (officiating as temple priests): the right of performing priestly functions in temples.

4. Arangu (stage): the right of taking part in the performance of Sastrangam Nambūdris.

5. Panthi (row of eaters): the right of messing in the same row with other Brāhmans.

Those who enjoy the privilege of No. 1 in A are entitled to all the privileges in A and B; those enjoying No. 2 in A have all the privileges from No. 2 downwards in A and B; those having No. 3 in A have similarly all the privileges from No. 3 downwards in A and B, and so on. Those entitled to No.1 in B have all the privileges except No. 1 in A; similarly those entitled to No. 2 in B have all the privileges from No. 2 downwards in B, but only from No. 3 downwards in A, and so on.”

Among the people of good caste in Malabar, to speak of one as a hairy man is to speak of him reproachfully. Yet, putting aside Muhammadans, the highest of all, the Nambūtiris are certainly the most hairy. In the young Nambūtiri, the hair on the head is plentiful, glossy, and wavy. The hair is allowed to grow over an oval patch from the vertex or a little behind it to a little back from the forehead. This is the regular Malabar fashion. The hair thus grown is done into a knot hanging over the forehead or at one side according to fancy, never hanging behind. The rest of the head, and also the face is shaved. The whole body, excepting this knot and the back, is shaved periodically. Karkkadakam, Kanni, Kumbham and Dhānu are months in which shaving should be avoided as far as possible. An auspicious day is always selected by the Nambūtiri for being shaved. Gingelly oil (enna) is commonly used for the hair. When a Nambūtiri’s wife is pregnant, he refrains from the barber, letting his hair grow as it will. And, as he may have as many as four wives, and he does not shave when any of them is in an interesting condition, he sometimes has a long beard. A marked difference observed between the Nambūtiri and those allied to him, and the lower races, is this. The former have whiskers in the shape of a full growth of hair on the cheeks, while in the latter this is scanty or entirely absent. Also, while the Nambūtiris have very commonly a hairy chest, the others have little or no hair on the chest. So, too, in the case of hair on the arms and legs. One Nambūtiri examined had hair all over the body, except over the ribs.

In connection with a hypothesis that the Todas of the Nīlgiris are an offshoot of one of the races now existing in Malabar, Dr. W. H. R. Rivers writes as follows.20 “Of all the castes or tribes of Malabar, the Nambūtiris perhaps show the greatest number of resemblances to the customs of the Todas, and it is therefore interesting to note that Mr. Fawcett describes these people as the hairiest of all the races of Malabar, and especially notes that one individual he examined was like a Toda.”

Clothes, ornamentation, external bodily marks

It is noted by Mr. Subramani Aiyar that “the Nambūtiris are passionate growers of finger-nails, which are sometimes more than a foot long, and serve several useful purposes. As in everything else, the Nambūtiri is orthodox even in the matter of dress. Locally-manufactured cloths are alone purchased, and Indian publicists who deplore the crushing of indigenous industries by the importation of foreign goods may congratulate the Kērala Brāhmans on their protectionist habits. Silk and coloured cloths are not worn by either sex. The style of dress is peculiar. That of the males is known as tattutukkuka. Unlike the Nāyar dress, which the Nambūtiris wear during other than religious hours, the cloth worn has a portion passing between the thighs and tucked in at the front and behind, with the front portion arranged in a number of characteristic reduplications. The Nambūtiri wears wooden shoes, but never shoes made of leather. Nambūtiri women have two styles of dress, viz., okkum koluttum vachchutukkuka for the Ādhyans, and ngoringutukkuka for ordinary Nambūtiris. Undyed cloths constitute the daily wearing apparel of Nambūtiri women.

It is interesting to notice that all Brāhman women, during a yāgnam (sacrifice), when, as at other ceremonials, all recent introductions are given up in favour of the old, wear undyed cloths. Beyond plain finger-rings and a golden amulet (elassu) attached to the waist-string, the Nambūtiri wears no ornaments. His ears are bored, but no ear-rings are worn unless he is an Agnihōtri, when ear-pendants of an elongated pattern (kundalam) are used. The ornaments of the Nambūtiri women have several peculiarities. Gold bracelets are, as it were, proscribed even for the most wealthy. Hollow bangles of brass or bell-metal for ordinary Nambūtiris, and of solid silver for the Ādhyas, are the ones in use. The chuttu is their ear ornament. A peculiar necklace called cheru-tāli is also worn, and beneath this Ādhya women wear three garlands of manis or gold pieces, along with other jewels called kasumala, puttali, and kazhuttila. The Nambūtiris do not bore their noses or wear nose-rings, and, in this respect, present a striking contrast to the Nāyar women. No restriction, except the removal of the tāli, is placed on the use of ornaments by Nambūtiri women. Tattooing is taboo to Nambūtiri women. They put on three horizontal lines of sandal paste after bathing. These marks have, in the case of Ādhya women, a crescentic shape (ampilikkuri). Kunkuma, or red powder, is never applied by Nambūtiri women to the forehead. Turmeric powder as a cosmetic wash for the face is also not in vogue. Mr. Fawcett states that, on festive occasions, turmeric is used by the Brāhmans of Malabar. But this is not borne out by the usage in Travancore. Eye-salves are applied, and may be seen extending as dark lines up to the ears on either side.”

The ornaments and marks worn by individual Nambūtiri males are thus recorded by Mr. Fawcett:—

(1) Left hand: gold ring with large green stone on first finger; four plain gold rings on third finger; a ring, in which an ānavarāhan coin is set, on little finger. This is a very lucky ring. Spurious imitations are often set in rings, but it is the genuine coin which brings good luck. Right hand: two plain gold rings, and a pavitram on the third finger. The pavitram is of about the thickness of an ordinary English wedding ring, shaped like a figure of eight, with a dotted pattern at each side, and the rest plain. It is made of gold, but, as every Nambūtiri must wear a pavitram while performing or undergoing certain ceremonies, those who do not possess one of gold wear one made of darbha grass. They do not say so, but I think the ring of darbha grass is orthodox.

(2) Golden amulet-case fastened to a string round the waist, and containing a figure (yantram) written or marked on a silver plate. He had worn it three years, having put it on because he used to feel hot during the cool season, and attributed the circumstance to the influence of an evil spirit.

(3) Youth, aged 12. Wears a yak skin sash, an inch wide, over the left shoulder, fastened at the ends by a thong of the same skin. He put it on when he was seven, and will wear it till he is fifteen, when he will have completed his course of Vēdic study. A ring, hanging to a string in front of his throat, called mōdiram, was put on in the sixth month when he was named, and will be worn until he is fifteen. The ears are pierced. He wears two amulets at the back, one of gold, the other of silver. In each are some chakrams (Travancore silver coins), and a gold leaf, on which a charm is inscribed. One of the charms was prepared by a Māppilla, the other by a Nambūtiri.

(4) Black spot edged with yellow in the centre of the forehead. Three horizontal white stripes on the forehead. A dab on each arm, and a stripe across the chest.

(5) Black spot near glabella, and two yellow horizontal stripes near it. The same on the chest, with the spot between the lines.

(6) Red spot and white stripe on the forehead. A red dab over the sternum, and on each arm in front of the deltoid.

(7) An oval, cream-coloured spot with red centre, an inch in greatest length, over the glabella.

The stripes on the forehead and chest are generally made with sandal paste. Rudrāksha (nuts of Elœocarpus Ganitrus) necklaces, mounted in gold, are sometimes worn.

The thread worn by men over the left shoulder is made of a triple string of country-grown cotton, and, unlike other Brāhmans of Southern India, no change is made after marriage. It may be changed on any auspicious day. Brāhmans of Southern India outside Malabar change their thread once a year.

Houses and architecture

Concerning the habitations of the Nambūtiris, Mr. Subramani Aiyar writes as follows. “A Nambūtiri’s house stands within a compound (grounds) of its own. Each house has its own name, by which the members are known, and is called by the generic title of illam, the term used by Brāhmans, or mana, which is the reverential expression of Sudras and others. Sometimes the two words are found combined, e.g., Itamana illam. In the compound surrounding the house, trees such as the tamarind, mango, and jāk, grow in shady luxuriance. The area of the compound is very extensive; in fact, no house in Malabar is surrounded by a more picturesque or more spacious garden than that of the Nambūtiri. Plantains of all varieties are cultivated, and yams of various kinds and peas in their respective seasons. A tank (pond) is an inseparable accompaniment, and, in most Nambūtiri houses, there are three or four of them, the largest being used for bathing, and the others for general and kitchen purposes. Whenever there is a temple of any importance near at hand, the Nambūtiri may prefer to bathe in the tank attached to it, but his favourite ghāt is always the tank near his home, and owned by him. Wells are never used for bathing, and a hot-water bath is avoided as far as possible, as plunging in a natural reservoir would alone confer the requisite ablutional purity.

Towards the north-west corner of the house is located the sarpakkavu or snake abode, one of the indispensables of a Malabar house. The kavu is either an artificial jungle grown on purpose in the compound, or a relic of the unreclaimed primeval jungle, which every part of Malabar once was. Right in the centre of the kavu is the carved granite image of the cobra, and several flesh-and-blood representatives of the figure haunt the house, as if in recognition of the memorial raised. In the centre of the compound is situated the illam or mana, which is in most cases a costly habitat. All the houses used until recently to be thatched as a protection against the scorching heat of the tropical sun, which a tiled house would only aggravate. In form the house is essentially a square building, consisting of several courtyards in the centre, with rooms on all sides. On the east or west of the courtyard, a room having the space of two ordinary rooms serves as a drawing room and the dormitory of the unmarried members of the house. The rest of the house is zenāna to the stranger. Right on the opposite side of the visitor’s room, beyond the central courtyard, is the arappura, of massive wood-work, where the valuables are preserved. On either side of this are two rooms, one of which serves as a storehouse, and the other as a bed-room. The kitchen adjoins the visitor’s room, and is tolerably spacious. In the front, which is generally the east of the house, is a spacious yard, square and flat, and leading to it is a flight of steps, generally made of granite. These steps lead to a gate-house, where the servants of the house keep watch at night.

The whole house is built of wood, and substantially constructed. Though the houses look antiquated, they have a classical appearance all their own. To the north-east is the gōsāla, where large numbers of oxen and cows are housed. The furniture of a Nambūtiri is extremely scanty. There are several cots, some made of coir (cocoanut fibre), and others of wooden planks. The kūrmasana is the Nambūtiri’s devotional seat, and consists of a jak (Artocarpus integrifolia) plank carved in the form of a tortoise. Other seats, of a round or oblong shape, are also used, and no Brāhman addresses himself to his meal without being seated on one of them. Every Brāhman visitor is offered one, and is even pressed to sit on it. When the writer went to a Brāhman house at Kalati, the native village of Sankarāchārya, and wished the hosts not to trouble themselves about a seat for him, he was told that the contact of a Brāhman’s nates with the floor was harmful to the house. Hanging cots, attached to the ceiling by chains of iron, are common things in a Nambūtiri’s house, especially in the bed-rooms. Skins of spotted deer, used to sit on during prayers, also form part of the Nambūtiri’s furniture.”


The Nambūtiris follow the makkatāyam law of inheritance from father to son; not, however, precisely as do the other people who do so. Nor is their system of inheritance the same as that of Brāhmans to the eastward (i.e., of Southern India generally), with whom the family property may be divided up amongst the male members at the instance of any one of them. The Nambūtiri household is described by Mr. Subramani Aiyar as representing a condition intermediate between the impartible matriarchal form of the Nāyars and the divided patriarchal form of the other coast. Among the Nambūtiris, the eldest male member of the family is the Kāranavan or manager of it, and has complete control over all the property. The younger members of the family are entitled to nothing but maintenance. The head of the family may be a female, provided there is none of the other sex. The eldest son alone marries. The accepted practice, as well as the recognised principle among the Nambūtiris, seems to be in consonance with the directions expounded by Manu, viz.—

Immediately on the birth of his first-born, a man is the father of a son, and is free from the debt to the manes. That son is, therefore, worthy to receive the whole estate.

That son alone, on whom he throws his debt, is begotten for (the fulfilment of) the law. All the rest they consider the offspring of desire. As a father supports his sons, so let the eldest support his younger brothers, and so let them, in accordance with the law, behave towards their eldest brother as sons behave towards their father.



Should a Nambūtiri eldest son die, the next marries, and so on. Women join the family of their husband, and to this too her children belong. Self-acquired property, that is property acquired by any junior member of the family through his own efforts outside the taravād,21 lapses to the taravād at his death, unless he has disposed of it in his lifetime. This is the custom, which our law has not yet infringed. The taravād is the unit, and, as the senior male succeeds to the management, it may happen that a man’s sons do not succeed directly as his heirs. The arrangement is an excellent one for the material prosperity of the family, for there is no dispersion. Every circumstance tends towards aggrandizement, and the family is restricted to no more than a requisite number by one member only marrying, and producing children. Impartibility is the fundamental principle. It is seldom that a Nambūtiri family comes to an end; and such a thing as a Nambūtiri’s estate escheating to Government has been said on eminent authority never to have been known. It happens sometimes that there is no male member to produce progeny, and in such a case the sarvasvadānam marriage is performed, by which a man of another family is brought into the family and married to a daughter of it, who, after the manner of the “appointed daughter” of old Hindu law, hands on the property through her children. The man so brought in is henceforth a member of the family which he has joined, and as such he performs the srāddha or ceremonies to the dead. An exception to the general rule of inheritance is that seventeen families of Payannūr in North Malabar follow the marumakkattāyam system of inheritance, through the female line. The other Nambūtiris look askance at these, and neither marry nor dine with them. It is supposed that they are not pure bred, having Kshatriya blood in their veins.


Adoption among the Nambūtiris is stated by Mr. Subramani Aiyar to be of three kinds, called Pattu kaiyyal dattu, Chanchamata dattu, and Kutivazhichcha dattu. “The first is the orthodox form. Pattukai means ten hands, and indicates that five persons take part in the ceremony, the two natural parents, the two adopted parents, and the son to be adopted. The gōtra and sūtra of the natural family have to be the same as those of the adoptive family. The son adopted may have had his upanayanam already performed by his natural parents. An adoption of this kind cannot be made without the permission of all the male members of the family, of the Sapindas or Samānōdakas who are distinct blood relations, though some degrees removed. In the second form, the adoption relieves the adopted son of all ceremonial duties towards the natural parents. Involving, as it does, a position contrary to the established ordinances of Sankarāchārya, this kind of adoption is not in favour. The third form is still less orthodox. The adoption is made by a surviving widow, and mainly serves to keep up the lineage.”

Rules regarding eating

Liquor and flesh are strictly forbidden to the Nambūtiris. Their staple food is rice and curry. Uppēri is a curry of chopped vegetables fried in ghī (clarified butter), cocoanut or gingelly oil, seasoned with gingelly (Sesamum indicum), salt, and jaggery (crude sugar). Aviyal is another, composed of jāk fruit mixed with some vegetables. Sweets are sometimes eaten. Candied cakes of wheat or rice, and rice boiled in milk with sugar and spices, are delicacies. Papadams (wafer-like cakes) are eaten at almost every meal. The Nambūtiri must bathe, and pray to the deity before partaking of any meal. An offering of rice is then made to the household fire, some rice is thrown to the crows, and he sits down to eat. The food is served on a plantain leaf or a bell-metal plate. It should be served by the wife; but, if a man has other Nambūtiris dining with him, it is served by men or children. The sexes feed separately. Before a man rises from his meal, his wife must touch the leaf or plate on which the food has been served. The reason may lie in this.

The remains of the food are called ēchchil, and cannot be eaten by any one. Just before finishing his meal and rising, the Nambūtiri touches the plate or leaf with his left hand, and at the same time his wife touches it with her right hand. The food is then no longer ēchchil, and she may eat it. The Nambūtiri householder is said to be allowed by the Sāstras, which rule his life in every detail, to eat but one meal of rice a day—at midday. He should not, strictly speaking, eat rice in the evening, but he may do so without sinning heinously, and usually does. Fruit only should be eaten in the evening. Women and children eat two or three times in a day. A widow, however, is supposed to lead the life of a Sanyāsi, and eats only once a day. A Nambūtiri may eat food prepared by an east country Brāhman (Pattar), or by an Embrāntiri. In fact, in the large illams, where many people are fed every day, the cooks are generally Pattars in South Malabar. The Nambūtiri woman is more scrupulous, and will not touch food prepared by any one of a caste inferior to her own, as the Pattar is considered to be. Tea and coffee are objected to. The Sāstras do not permit their use. At the same time, they do not prohibit them, and some Nambūtiris drink both, but not openly. Persons observing vows are not allowed an oil bath, to eat off bell-metal plates, or to eat certain articles of food. The gourd called churakhai, palmyra fruit, and palmyra jaggery are taboo to the Nambūtiri at all times. Water-melons are eaten regularly during the month Karkkātaka, to promote health and prolong life.

In connection with the Nambūtiri’s dietary, Mr. Subramani Aiyar states that “their food is extremely simple. As Camöens writes:22

To crown their meal no meanest life expires.

Pulse, fruit, and herb alone their food requires.

“Ghī is not in a great requisition. Gingelly oil never enters the kitchen. Milk is not taken except as porridge, which goes by the name of prathaman (first). A bolus-like preparation of boiled rice-flour with cocoanut scrapings, called kozhakkatta, is in great favour, and is known as Parasu Rāma’s palahāram, or the light refreshment originally prescribed by Parasu Rāma. Conji, or rice gruel, served up with the usual accessories, is the Nambūtiri’s favourite luncheon. Cold drinks are rarely taken. The drinking water is boiled, and flavoured with coriander, cummin seeds, etc., to form a pleasant beverage.”

The horse is a sacred animal, and cannot be kept. The cow, buffalo, dog, and cat are the animals ordinarily kept in domestication; and it is said that a parrot is sometimes taught to repeat Sanskrit slōkas.

Magic and sorcery

There are families, in which the business of the magician and sorcerer is hereditary, chiefly in South Malabar and among the Chela23 Nambūtiris, as those are termed who, in the turbulent period of Tippu’s invasion, were made Muhammadans by force. True, these returned almost at once to their own religion, but a stigma attaches to them, and they are not looked on as true Nambūtiris.

It is extremely difficult to obtain reliable information regarding magic or anything allied to it among any people, and most difficult of all among the Nambūtiris. They possess magic books, but they will neither produce nor expound them. Hara Mēkhala is the name of one of these, which is most used. It is said that the sorcerer aims at the following:—

(1) Destruction (marana).

(2) Subjection of the will of another (vasikarana).

(3) Exorcism (uchchātana).

(4) Stupefaction (stambhana).

(5) Separation of friends (vidvēshana).

(6) Enticement as for love (mōhana).

Of these, the first may be carried out in the following manner. A figure representing the enemy to be destroyed is drawn on a small sheet of metal (gold by preference), and to it some mystic diagrams are added. It is then addressed with a statement that bodily injury or the death of the person shall take place at a certain time. This little sheet is wrapped up in another metal sheet or leaf (of gold if possible), and buried in some place which the person to be injured or destroyed is in the habit of passing. Should he pass over the place, it is supposed that the charm will take effect at the time named. Instead of the sheet of metal, a live frog or lizard is sometimes buried within a cocoanut shell, after nails have been stuck into its eyes and stomach. The deaths of the animal and the person are supposed to take place simultaneously. For carrying out vasīkarana, vidvēshana, and mōhana, betel leaves, such as are ordinarily used for chewing, or vegetables are somehow or other given to the victim, who unknowingly takes them into his mouth.

Exorcism may be treated as follows. If a young woman is suffering from hysteria, and is supposed to be possessed by an evil spirit, or by the discontented spirit of some deceased ancestor, nervousness is excited by beating drums, blowing conch-shells, and otherwise making a horrible noise close to her. When the supreme moment is believed to have arrived, water is sprinkled over the wretched woman, who is required to throw rice repeatedly on certain diagrams on the ground, woven into which is a representation of the goddess Durga, the ruler of evil spirits. An effigy of the evil spirit is then buried in a copper vessel. By means of certain mantrams, Hanumān or Kāli is propitiated, and, with their aid, in some occult manner, the position of buried treasure may be found. It is said that the bones of a woman who has died immediately after childbirth, and the fur of a black cat, are useful to the magician.

There are said to be two Nambūtiris of good family, well known in South Malabar, who are expert mantravādis or dealers in magic, and who have complete control over Kuttichchāttan, an evil mischievous spirit, whose name is a household word in Malabar. He it is who sets fire to houses, damages cattle, and teases interminably. Concerning Kuttichchāttan, Mr. Subramani Aiyar writes as follows. “The most mischievous imp of Malabar demonology is an annoying, quip-loving little spirit, as black as night, and about the size and nature of a well-nourished twelve-year old boy. Some people say that they have seen him, vis-à-vis, having a forelock. The nature and extent of its capacity for evil almost beggar description. There are Nambūtiris, to whom these are so many missiles, which they throw at anybody they choose.

They are, like Ariel, little active things, and most willing slaves of the master under whom they happen to be placed. Their victim suffers from unbearable agony. His clothes take fire, his food turns into ordure, his beverages become urine, stones fall in showers on all sides of him, but curiously not on him, and his bed becomes a literal bed of thorns. He feels like a lost man. In this way, with grim delight, the spirit continues to torment his victim by day as well as by night. But, with all this annoying mischief, Kuttichchāttan, or Boy Satan, does no serious harm. He oppresses and harasses, but never injures. A celebrated Brāhman of Changanacheri is said to own more than a hundred of these Chāttans. Household articles and jewelry of value can be left on the premises of the homes guarded by Chāttan, and no thief dares to lay his hands on them. The invisible sentry keeps diligent watch over his master’s property, and has unchecked powers of movement in any medium.

As remuneration for all these services, the Chāttan demands nothing but food, but that on a large scale. If starved, the Chāttans would not hesitate to remind the master of their power; but, if ordinarily cared for, they would be his most willing drudges. By nature Chāttan is more than a malevolent spirit. As a safeguard against the infinite power secured for the master by the Kuttichchāttan, it is laid down that malign acts committed through his instrumentality recoil on the prompter, who either dies childless, or after frightful physical and mental agony. Another method of oppressing humanity, believed to be in the power of sorcerers, is to make men and women possessed by spirits; women being more subject to their evil influence than men. Delayed puberty, sterility, and still-births are not uncommon ills of a woman possessed by a devil. Sometimes the spirits sought to be exorcised refuse to leave the body of the victim, unless the sorcerer promises them a habitation in the compound of his own house, and arranges for daily offerings being given. This is agreed to as a matter of unavoidable necessity, and money and lands are conferred upon the Nambūtiri mantravādi, to enable him to fulfil his promise.”


A Nambūtiri is not permitted to swear, or take oath in any way. He may, however, declare so and so, holding the while his sacred thread between the thumb and forefinger of the right hand, by way of invoking the Gāyatri in token of his sincerity. And he may call on the earth mother to bear witness to his words, for she may, should he speak falsely, relieve herself of him. The name of the Supreme Being is not used in oath. Nambūtiris have been known to take oath before a shrine, in order to settle a point in a Civil Court, but it is not orthodox to do so.

Something has been said already concerning vows. Those who desire offspring perform the vow called payasahavanam. Sacrifice is made through fire (hōmam) to the Supreme Being. Hōmam is also vowed to be done on a child’s birthday, to ensure its longevity. Here we may observe a contrast between the Nambūtiri and a man of one of the inferior castes. For, while the vow of the Nambūtiri has assumed to some extent the nature of propitiatory prayer, of which those low down really know nothing, the other gives nothing until he has had the full satisfaction of his vow. Mrityunjayam, or that which conquers death, is another kind of hōmam in performance of a vow. A further one is concerned with cleansing from any specific sin. Liberal presents are made to Brāhmans, when the vow is completed. In the vow called rudrābhishēka the god Siva is bathed in consecrated water. It is performed by way of averting misfortune. Monday is the day for it, as it is supposed that on that day Siva amuses himself with Parvati by dancing on Kailāsa.


The custom observed by Nambūtiris of letting the hair grow on the head, face, and body, untouched by the razor, when a wife is enceinte has been noticed already. A Nambūtiri who has no male issue also lets his hair grow in the same way for a year after the death of his wife. Should there, however, be male issue, on the eldest son devolves the duty of performing the ceremonies connected with the funeral of his mother (or father), and it is he who remains unshaven for a year. In such a case, the husband of a woman remains unshaven for twelve days (and this seems to be usual), or until after the ceremony on the forty-first day after death. The period during which the hair is allowed to grow, whether for a death, a pregnant wife, or by reason of a vow, is called dīksha. During dīksha, as well as during the Brahmachāri period, certain articles of food, such as the drumstick vegetable, milk, chillies, gram, dhāl, papadams, etc., are prohibited.

“Bathing,” Mr.Subramani Aiyar writes, “is one of the most important religious duties of all Hindus, and of Brāhmans in particular. A Nambūtiri only wants an excuse for bathing. Every Nambūtiri bathes twice a day at least, and sometimes oftener. It is prohibited to do so before sunrise, after which a bath ceases to be a religious rite on the other coast. The use of a waist-cloth, the languti excepted, during a bath in private or in public, is also prohibited. This injunction runs counter to that of the Sutrakāras, who say ‘Na vivasanah snayat,’ i.e., bathe not without clothing. The fastidious sense of bath purity occasionally takes the form of a regular mania, and receives the not inapt description of galappisāchu or possession by a water-devil. Never, except under extreme physical incapacity, does a Nambūtiri fail to bathe at least once a day.” Before concluding the bath, the cloth worn when it was begun, and for which another has been substituted, is wrung out in the water. From this practice, a patch of indurated skin between the thumb and first finger of the right hand, where the cloth is held while wringing it, is commonly to be seen. Almost every Nambūtiri examined in North Malabar was marked in this way.

Sixty-four anācharams, or irregular customs

The Nambūtiris observe sixty-four anācharams, or irregular customs, which are said to have been promulgated by the great reformer Sankarāchārya. These are as follows:—

(1) You must not clean your teeth with sticks.

(2) You must not bathe with cloths worn on your person.

(3) You must not rub your body with the cloths worn on your person.

(4) You must not bathe before sunrise.

(5) You must not cook your food before you bathe.

(6) Avoid the water kept aside during the night.

(7) You must not have one particular object in view while you bathe.

(8) The remainder of the water taken for one purpose must not be used for another ceremony.

(9) You must bathe if you touch another, i.e., a Sūdra.

(10) You must bathe if you happen to be near another, i.e., a Chandāla.

(11) You must bathe if you touch polluted wells or tanks.

(12) You must not tread over a place that has been cleaned with a broom, unless it is sprinkled with water.

(13) A particular mode of marking the forehead with ashes (otherwise described as putting three horizontal lines on the forehead with pure burnt cow-dung).

(14) You must repeat charms yourself. (You must not allow someone else to do it.)

(15) You must avoid cold rice, etc. (food cooked on the previous day).

(16) You must avoid leavings of meals by children.

(17) You must not eat anything that has been offered to Siva.

(18) You must not serve out food with your hands.

(19) You must not use the ghī of buffalo cows for burnt offerings.

(20) You must not use buffalo milk or ghī for funeral offerings.

(21) A particular mode of taking food (not to put too much in the mouth, because none must be taken back).

(22) You must not chew betel while you are polluted.

(23) You must observe the conclusion of the Brahmachāri period (the samāvarttanam ceremony). This should be done before consorting with Nāyar women.

(24) You must give presents to your guru or preceptor. (The Brahmachāri must do so.)

(25) You must not read the Vēdas on the road.

(26) You must not sell women (receive money for girls given in marriage).

(27) You must not fast in order to obtain fulfilment of your desires.

(28) Bathing is all that a woman should observe if she touches another in her menses. (A woman touching another who is in this state should, it is said, purify herself by bathing. A man should change his thread, and undergo sacred ablution. Women, during their periods, are not required to keep aloof, as is the custom among non-Malabar Brāhmans.)

(29) Brāhmans should not spin cotton.

(30) Brāhmans should not wash cloths for themselves.

(31) Kshatriyas should avoid worshipping the lingam

(32) Brāhmans should not accept funeral gifts from Sudras.

(33) Perform the anniversary ceremony of your father (father’s father, mother’s father and both grandmothers).

(34) Anniversary ceremonies should be performed on the day of the new moon (for the gratification of the spirits of the deceased).

(35) The death ceremony should be performed at the end of the year, counting from the day of death.

(36) The ceremony to be performed till the end of the year after death (Dīksha is apparently referred to).

(37) Srāddhas should be performed with regard to the stars (according to the astronomical, not the lunar year).

(38) The death ceremony should not be performed until after the pollution caused by childbirth has been removed.

(39) A particular mode of performing srāddha by an adopted son (who should do the ceremony for his adopted parents as well as for his natural parents. Among non-Malabar Brāhmans, an adopted son has nothing to do with the ceremonies for his natural father, from whose family he has become entirely disconnected).

(40) The corpse of a man should be burnt in his own compound.

(41) Sanyāsis should not look at (see) women.

(42) Sanyāsis should renounce all worldly pleasures.

(43) Srāddha should not be performed for deceased Sanyāsis.

(44) Brāhman women must not look at any other persons besides their own husbands.

(45) Brāhman women must not go out, unless accompanied by women servants.

(46) They should wear only white clothing.

(47) Noses should not be pierced.

(48) Brāhmans should be put out of their caste if they drink any liquor.

(49) Brāhmans should forfeit their caste, if they have intercourse with other Brāhman women besides their wives.

(50) The consecration of evil spirits should be avoided. (Otherwise said to be that worship of ancestors should not be done in temples.)

(51) Sūdras and others are not to touch an idol.

(52) Anything offered to one god should not be offered to another.

(53) Marriage etc., should not be done without a burnt offering (hōmam).

(54) Brāhmans should not give blessings to each other.

(55) They should not bow down to one another. (Among non-Malabar Brāhmans, juniors receive benediction from seniors. The Nambūtiris do not allow this.)

(56) Cows should not be killed in sacrifice.

(57) Do not cause distraction, some by observing the religious rites of Siva, and others those of Vishnu.

(58) Brāhmans should wear only one sacred thread.

(59) The eldest son only is entitled to marriage.

(60) The ceremony in honour of a deceased ancestor should be performed with boiled rice.

(61) Kshatriyas, and those of other castes, should perform funeral ceremonies to their uncles.

(62) The right of inheritance among Kshatriyas, etc., goes towards nephews.

(63) Sati should be avoided. (This also includes directions to widows not to shave the head, as is the custom among non-Malabar Brāhmans.)

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Manners and customs

In connection with the foregoing, Mr. Subramani Aiyar writes that the manners and customs of the Nambūtiris differ from those of the other communities in several marked particulars. They go by the specific name of Kēralāchāras, which, to the casual observer, are so many anāchāras or mal-observances, but to the sympathetic student are not more perhaps than unique āchāras. A verse runs to the effect that they are anāchāras, because they are not āchāras (observances) elsewhere. (Anyatracharanabhavat anacharaitismritah.) Of these sixty-four āchāras, about sixty will be found to be peculiar to Malabar. These may be grouped into the following six main classes:—

(1) Personal hygiene.—Bathing.

(2) Eating.—The rules about food, either regarding the cooking or eating of it are very religiously observed. Absolute fasting is unknown in Malabar.

(3) Worship of the Gods and manes.—The anniversary of a person’s death is regulated not by the age of the moon at the time, but by the star, unlike on the other coast. Again, a birth pollution has priority over other observances, even death ceremonies. A son who has to perform the funeral ceremonies of his father is rendered unfit for that solemn function by an intervening birth pollution. An adopted son is not, as in other parts of India, relieved of the srāddha obligations to his natural parents. Sectarian controversies in regard to Siva and Vishnu are strictly tabooed. The establishment of Hinduism on a non-sectarian basis was the sacred mission of Sankarāchārya’s life. A single triple string (sacred thread) is worn irrespective of civil condition. This is contrary to the usage of the other coast, where married Brāhmans wear two or three triplets. Sprinkling water is an essential purificatory act after the use of the broom. An isolated rule requires dead bodies to be burnt in private compounds, and not in consecrated communal sites, as among the east coast people.

(4) Conduct in society.—Chastity is jealously guarded by the imposition of severe ostracism on adulterers. Formal salutation, and even namaskāras and anugrāhas, or prostration before and blessing by seniors, are prescribed. This is a striking point of difference between Malabar and the rest of India, and is probably based on the esoteric teaching of universal oneness.

(5) Āsramas or stages of life.—It is distinctly prescribed that a Brāhman should formally conclude the Brahmachāri āsrama, and that presents or dakshina to the gurus should be the crowning act. The asura or bride-sale form of marriage is prohibited—a prohibition which, in the case of the Nambūtiris, is absolutely unnecessary as matters now stand. An injunction in the reverse direction against the ruinous tyranny of a bride-penalty would be an anxiously sought relief to the strugglings of many an indigent bride’s father. The special law of Malabar, under which the eldest son is alone entitled to be married, has already been referred to. The anchorite stage comes in for regulation by the Manu of Kērala. The eyes of a Sanyāsin should never rest on a woman even for a second. This rule, which, if it errs at all, only does so on the side of safety, is not observed elsewhere, as the stage of a Sanyāsin is expected to be entered only after the complete subjugation of the passions. No āradhana (worship) srāddhas are performed for them, as is done in other parts. The soul of the Sanyāsin is freed from the bondage of Karma and the chance of recurring birth, and has only to be remembered and worshipped, unlike the ordinary Jīvan or still enslaved soul, whose salvation interests have to be furthered by propitiatory Karmas on the part of its earthly beneficiaries.

(6) Regulation of women’s conduct.—Women are not to gaze on any face but that of their wedded lord, and never go out unattended. They are to wear only white clothes, and are never to pierce their noses for the wearing of jewelry. Death on the husband’s funeral pyre is not to be the sacred duty of the Nambūtiri widow, who is advised to seek in the life of a self-sacrificing Sanyāsi a sure means of salvation.

In affairs of the world, time is reckoned by the ordinary Malabar kollam or solar year, the era beginning from the date of the departure of the last Perumāl, a sovereign of the western coast, to Arabia in 825. The months of the kollam year are Mēsha (Mētam), Vrishabha (Itavam), Mithuna, Karkkātaka, Sihma (Chingga), Kanya (Kanni), Tula, Vrischika, Dhanu, Makara, Kumbha, Mīna. In affairs of religion, time is reckoned by the sālivāhana saka, or lunar year, the months of which are Chaitra, Vaisākha, Jēshta, Āshādha, Srāvana, Bhādrapata, Āsvavuja, Margasirsha, Paushya, Māgha, Phālguna. Every three years or thereabouts, there is added another month, called Adhika.


Some of the festivals kept by the Nambūtiris are as follows: —

(1) Sivarātri.—Worship of Siva on the last day of Māgha. Fast and vigil at night, and pūja.

(2) Upākarma.—The regular day for putting on a new sacred thread, after having cleansed away the sins of the year through the prāyaschittam, in which ceremony the five sacred products of the cow (milk, curds, ghī, urine, and dung) are partaken of. It is done on the 15th of Srāvana.

(3) Nāgara panchimi.—The serpent god is worshipped, and bathed in milk. On the 5th of Srāvana. This festival is common in Southern India.

(4) Gōkulāshtami.—Fast and vigil at night, to celebrate the birth of Krishna. Pūja at night, on the eighth day of the latter half of Srāvana.

(5) Navarātri.—The first nine days of Asvayuja are devoted to this festival in honour of Dūrga.

(6) Dipāvali.—Observed more particularly in North Malabar on the anniversary of the day on which Krishna slew the rākshasa Naraka. Everyone takes an oil bath. On the last day of Asvayuja.

(7) Ashtkalam.—The pitris (ancestors) of the family are propitiated by offerings of pinda (balls of rice) and tarpana (libations of water). On the new moon day of Dhanu.

(8) Vināyaka Chaturthi.—The elephant-headed god of learning is worshipped. At the end of the ceremony, the idol is dropped into a well. On the 4th of Bhādrapada.

(9) Pūram.—The god of love, represented by a clay image, is propitiated by unmarried girls with offerings of flowers seven days successively. The image is finally given, together with some money, to a Brāhman, who drops it into a well. The flowers which have been used to decorate the image are placed by the girls at the foot of a jāk tree. Contrary to the custom of other Brāhmans, Nambūtiri girls are under no disgrace, should they attain puberty while unmarried. In the month of Mīna.

(10) Ōnam.—The great festival of Malabar, kept by everyone, high and low, with rejoicing. It is the time of general good-will, of games peculiar to the festival, and of distribution of new yellow cloths to relations and dependants. It is supposed to commemorate the descent of Maha Bali, or Mābali, to see his people happy.

(11) Tiruvadira.—Fast and vigil in honour of Siva, observed by women only. In the month of Dhanu.

(12) Vishu.—The solar new year’s day. A very important festival in Malabar. It is the occasion for gifts, chiefly to superiors. The first thing seen by a Nambūtiri on this day should be something auspicious. His fate during the year depends on whether the first object seen is auspicious, or the reverse.

The following festivals are referred to by Mr. Subramani Aiyar:—

(1) Trikkatta or Jyēshta star.—In the month of Chingam. Food is cooked, and eaten before sunrise by all the married male members, as well as by every female member of a family. Though not of the previous day, the food goes by the name of Trikkatta pazhayatu, or the old food of the Trikkatta day. The import of this festival, when the specific ordinance of Sankara against food cooked before sunrise is contravened, is not known.

(2) Makam or Magha star.—In the month of Kanni. On this day, the cows of the house are decorated with sandal paste and flowers, and given various kinds of sweetmeats. The ladies of the house take ten or twelve grains of paddy (rice), anoint them with oil, and, after bathing in turmeric-water, consecrate the grains by the recitation of certain hymns, and deposit them in the ara or safe room of the house. If there are in the house any female members born under the Makam star, the duty of performing the ceremony devolves on them in particular. This is really a harvest festival, and has the securing of food-grains in abundance (dhanyasamriddhi) for its temporal object.

(3) All the days in the month of Thulam.—In this month, young unmarried girls bathe every day before 4 A.M., and worship Ganapathi (Vignēsvara), the elephant god.

(4) Gauri pūja.—In the month of Vrischigam. This is done on any selected Monday in the month. The ceremony is known as ammiyum vilakkaum toduka, or touching the grinding-stone and lamp. The married women of the house clean the grinder and the grinding-stone, and place a bronze mirror by its side. They then proceed to worship Gauri, whose relation to Siva represents to the Hindu the ideal sweetness of wedded life.

(5) Tiruvatira or Ardra star.—In the month of Dhanu. This is a day of universal festivity and rejoicing. For seven days previous to it, all the members of the house bathe in the early morning, and worship Siva. This bathing is generally called tutichchukuli or shivering bath, as the mornings are usually cold and intensely dewy. On the day previous to Tiruvatira, ettangnati, or eight articles of food purchased in the bazār, are partaken of. Such a repast is never indulged in on any other day. The Tiruvatira day is spent in the adoration of Siva, and the votaries take only a single meal (orikkal). Night vigils are kept both by the wife and husband seated before a lighted fire, which represents the sakshi (witness) of Karmas and contracts. (Hence the common term agnisakshi.) They then chew a bundle of betel leaves, not less than a hundred in number. This is called kettuvettila tinnuka. As the chewing of betel is taboo except in the married state, this function is believed to attest and seal their irrefragable mutual fidelity.

(6) The new moon day in the month of Karkātakam.—On the evening of this day, various kinds of sweetmeats are cooked, and, before the family partakes of them, a portion of each is placed in the upper storey as an offering to rats, by which their divine master, Ganapathi, is believed to be propitiated.

Auspicious signs

The Nambūtiri’s business, which he has in hand, will be concluded to his satisfaction, should he on starting hear or see vocal or instrumental music, a harlot, a dancing-girl, a virgin, a litter, an elephant, a horse, a bull or cow tethered, curds, raw rice of a reddish colour, sugar-cane, a water-pot, flowers, fruits, honey, or two Brāhmans. Bad omens, which, if seen by a householder the first thing in the morning, mean trouble of some kind for the rest of the day, are a crow seen on the left hand, a kite on the right, a snake, a cat, a jackal, a hare, an empty vessel, a smoky fire, a bundle of sticks, a widow, a man with one eye, or a man with a big nose. A Nambūtiri, seeing any of these things, when setting out on a journey, will turn back. Should he, however, at once see a lizard on the eastern wall of a house, he may proceed. To sneeze once is a good omen for the day; to sneeze twice is a bad one. An evil spirit may enter the mouth while one is yawning, so, to avert such a catastrophe, the fingers are snapped, and kept snapping until the yawn is over, or the hand is held in front of the mouth. But this idea, and the custom of snapping the fingers, are by no means peculiar to the Nambūtiris.

The Nambūtiris look on a voyage across the sea with horror, and no Nambūtiri has ever yet visited England.

A Nāyar should not come nearer than six paces to a Nambūtiri, a man of the barber caste nearer than twelve paces, a Tiyan than thirty-six, a Malayan than sixty-four, and a Pulaiyan than ninety-six. Malabar is, indeed, the most conservative part of Southern India. The man of high caste shouts occasionally as he goes along, so that the low caste man may go off the road, and allow him to pass unpolluted. And those of the lowest castes shout as they go, to give notice of their pollution-bearing presence, and, learning the command of the man of high caste, move away from the road. It is common to see people of the inferior castes travelling parallel to the road, but not daring to go along it. They do not want to. It is not because they are forced off the road. Custom clings to them as to the Nāyar or to the Nambūtiri. But even this is undergoing modification.

In connection with marriage, three chief rules are observed. The contracting parties must not be of the same gōtra; they must not be related to each other through father or mother; and the bridegroom must be the eldest son of the family. It is said that there are seven original gōtras, called after the sages Kamsha, Kāsyapa, Bharadvāja, Vatsya, Kaundinya, Atri, and Tatri; and that other gōtras have grown out of these. [197]Relationship is said by some to cease after the fourth generation, but this is disputed. The bride’s dowry is always heavy. The wife joins her husband’s gōtra, forsaking her own altogether. Women may remain unmarried without prejudice. Needless to say, this has the reverse of favour with Brāhmans outside Malabar. But the Nambūtiri girl or woman, who has not been married, is not allowed to disappear altogether from the world without at least the semblance of marriage, for, at her death, some part of the marriage ceremony is performed on her person. The tāli is tied. In like manner, a dead Toda girl is not allowed to go to her last rest unmarried. Infant marriage, which is the rule with other Brāhmans, is said to be unknown among the Nambūtiris. Mr. Justice K. Narayana Marar, however, writes24 that he is “not prepared to assert that infant marriage is unknown among Nambūdris, and that marriages are always celebrated before puberty.

There are instances, though rare, of infant marriages among them.” When a girl is ten years old, or a little more, her father thinks of finding a husband for her. Property alone is the real thing to be considered. Every detail bearing on advantage to the family through the alliance is carefully thought out. Among the Malayālis generally, the young man with University degrees has command of the marriage market, but to the Nambūtiri these are of no account. When the girl’s father has fixed on a likely young man, he gets his horoscope, and confers with a Vādhyar concerning the suitability or agreement of the young man’s horoscope with that of his daughter. Should the decision of the Vādhyar be favourable, the young man’s father is invited to the house on an auspicious day, and the two fathers, together with some friends, talk the matter over. In the presence of all, the Vādhyar announces the agreement of the horoscopes of the pair whose marriage is in prospect. The dowry of the bride is then fixed. Probably many days have been occupied already, before the fathers can agree as to the settlement of the dowry. When this has been done, the Vādhyar consults the heavenly bodies, and appoints the day on which the marriage ceremonies should be begun.

There is then a feast for all present. A Nambūtiri would be in very bad circumstances if he did not give at least a thousand rupees with his daughter. He should give much more, and does, if he possibly can. The ceremonies connected with marriage are supposed to occupy a year, but they are practically completed within ten days. They open with a party leaving the bride’s illam, to invite the bridegroom and his party to the wedding. At the house of the bridegroom, the Vādhyar is given about eight fanams25 (money) by both parties. The return to the bride’s illam is a sort of noisy procession composed of the bridegroom with his friends, Nāyar women under big cadjan (palm leaf) umbrellas, a number of Nāyars, some of whom indulge in sword play with swords and shields, and Nambūtiris versed in the Sāstras. The bridegroom, who is the chief figure in the crowd, has a string (the usual kankanam) tied round his right wrist to protect him from evil spirits, and carries a bamboo with sixteen joints symbolic of the married state, a mirror for good luck, an arrow to guard the bride against evil spirits, four cloths, and a tāli. At the gate of the bride’s illam, the procession is met by some Nāyar women dressed as [199]Nambūtiri women, who, being unable to come out and welcome the bridegroom, do so by proxy. These women wave a light in front of his face, and offer ashtamangalyam—a plate on which are plantain, betel leaves, a cocoanut, and other articles. On this day, the aupāsana agni, or sacred fire, is prepared in the courtyard of the bride’s illam. A square pit is made, and fire is made with a piece of wood of the jāk tree and of the pīpal. This fire is rendered sacred by some mystic rites. It is kept burning throughout the marriage, and is preserved until the death of the future husband and wife in one of two ways:—

(1) keeping a lamp lighted at the fire burning perpetually;

(2) heating in the fire a piece of wood (plāsa or palāsa) or dharba grass. The wood or grass is put away, and, when the aupāsana agni is to be revived, is lighted in a fire of jāk and pīpal wood, while certain mantrams (consecrated formulæ) are repeated.

The body of the bridegroom (and, I think, of the bride should she die first) should be burnt in the aupāsana agni prepared on the first day of the wedding. The aupāsana agni is, as it were, a witness to the marriage. In the courtyard, the nandimukham ceremony is performed for propitiation of the minor deities and the pitris (spirits of deceased ancestors). A pot containing sacred or consecrated water, a piece of sandalwood, a piece of gold, flowers, raw rice, and some fruits are the apparent object of adoration. It is called kalas—the kalasam of the Tamil and Telugu countries—and is a common symbol of the deity. According to Monier Williams,26 it should be worshipped thus. “In the [200]mouth of the water-vessel abideth Vishnu, in its neck is Rudra, in its lower part is Brahma, while the whole company of the mothers are congregated in its middle part. O! Ganges, Yamuna, Godāvari, Saraswati, Narmada, Sindhu and Kāveri, be present in this water.” A part of the aforesaid ceremony (nandimukham) is called the punyāhavachana, for which the bridegroom repeats certain hymns after the Vādhyar, and is sprinkled with water from the kalas. While all this is being done in the courtyard, the very same ceremony is performed within the house in the presence of the bride, whose father does inside the house what the bridegroom is doing outside. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the tāli is tied on the bride’s neck. Then two of the cloths brought by the bridegroom are sent inside, and are touched by the bride. After she has touched them, they are again brought out, and the bridegroom puts them on. He touches the other two cloths, which are taken inside, and worn by the bride. A feast (ayaniūm) is the next item. The bride and bridegroom eat their share of it in separate rooms. Then comes the marriage proper. The bride’s father washes the bridegroom’s feet, while a Nāyar woman waves a light (ayiram tiri or thousand lights) before his face, and conducts him to the hall prepared for the wedding. In this is a mantapam, or sort of raised seat, having four pillars and a covering roof.

The pillars of the mantapam, and the ceiling of the hall, are covered with red cloth (red being an auspicious colour), and there are festoons of mango leaves. To one side of the mantapam is a screen, behind which stand the Nambūtiri women of the household, looking at the scene in the hall through holes. The bride and bridegroom are led to the mantapam, the former following the latter screened from the general gaze by a big cadjan umbrella. She hands him a garland, and, in doing so, she should not touch his hand. He puts on the garland. Vēdic hymns are chanted, and the pair are brought face to face for the first time. This is called mukhadarsanam, or seeing the face. The bridegroom leads the bride three times round the fire and water jar, moving round to the right, repeating a mantram, which is rendered as follows by Monier Williams.27 “I am male, thou art female. Come, let us marry, let us possess offspring. United in affection, illustrious, well disposed towards each other, let us live for a hundred years.” Each time the bridegroom leads the bride round, he causes her to mount a mill-stone, saying “Ascend thou this stone, and be thou firm as this rock.28” Then, at a moment supposed to be auspicious, water is poured on the hands of the bridegroom, signifying that the girl and her dowry have been handed over to him. The Nambūtiri women behind the screen, and the Nāyar women in the hall, utter a shrill cry “like that of the Vaikura.” The fire here mentioned is probably taken from the original aupāsana agni. Holding the bride by the hand, the bridegroom leads her seven steps—one for force, two for strength, three for wealth, four for well-being, five for offspring, six for the seasons, and seven as a friend. He tells her to be devoted to him, and to bear him many sons, who may live to a good old age. This ceremony is called the saptapadi (seven steps). A hōmam is then performed. It is said that the fire used on this occasion must be preserved until the death of the bridegroom, and used at the cremation of his body.

A feast is the next thing. When it is over, the bride’s father takes her on his lap, asks his son-in-law to treat her well, and formally hands her over to him. The bridegroom promises to do so, and takes his wife by the hand. Then there is a procession to the bridegroom’s illam, the bride being carried in a litter, and the bridegroom walking and carrying the sacrificial fire. So ends the first day. It seems that the newly-married couple live apart for the next three days, during which the bride is initiated into household duties. The only daily ceremony is the hōmam, which is done by the pair after bathing, and before taking food. On the fourth day there is a ceremony, in which the bride plants a jasmine cutting, by way of symbolising help to her husband in the performance of his religious duties.

At night the couple are conducted to the bridal chamber by the Vādhyar. The bed is merely a grass mat, or a common country blanket, covered with a white sheet, and having a little ridge of rice and paddy, signifying plenty, round the edge. The Vādhyar withdraws, and the bridegroom shuts the door.29 The Vādhyar outside cites appropriate passages from the sacred writings, which are repeated by the bridegroom. On the fifth day, the bride and bridegroom anoint each other with oil, and the latter combs the hair of the former. Then, before bathing, they catch some little fish called mānatt kani (eyes looking up) which are found in pools, with a cloth used as a net. While this is being done, a Brahmachāri asks the bridegroom “Did you see a cow and a son?” Pointing to the fishes caught in the cloth, the bridegroom replies “Yes, they are here.” This is said to be suggestive of progeny, fishes being emblematic of fertility. Hōmam is then done. At night, the bridegroom adorns the bride with flowers, and makes her look into a mirror, while he [203]recites mantrams suitable to the occasion. From the sixth to the ninth day there is practically nothing in the way of ceremonial. And, as that proper to the tenth day is invariably done on the sixth day, the ceremony may be said to conclude on the night of the sixth day. A few Brāhmans are fed to please the pitris, and the couple go to a jāk tree, under which some rice, curds, and ghī are placed on kūsa grass, and an offering is made of flowers and sandalwood or powder. The kankanam, bamboo staff, arrow, and mirror are given to the Vādhyar, and the wedding is over.

Sir W. W. Hunter30 speaks of the Nambūtiris as “a despised class,” they having had fishermen ancestors. The little ceremony of catching fish, which is a very important item in the marriage rites, may look like preservation in meaningless ceremonial of something real in the past, but it only shows that, in an endeavour to interpret ceremonial, we must be far from hasty. Among the Shivalli Brāhmans of South Canara, the marriage mat is taken to a tank in procession. The bride and bridegroom make a pretence of catching fish, and, with linked fingers, touch their foreheads. It is recorded, in the Manual of South Canara, that “all Tulu chronicles agree in ascribing the creation of Malabar and Canara, or Kērala, Tuluva, and Haiga, to Parasu Rāma, who reclaimed from the sea as much land as he could cover by hurling his battle-axe from the top of the western ghauts. According to Tulu traditions, after a quarrel with Brāhmans who used to come to him periodically from Ahi-Kshētra, Parasu Rāma procured new Brāhmans for the reclaimed tract by taking the nets of some fishermen, and making a number of Brāhmanical threads [204]with which he invested the fishermen, and thus turned them into Brāhmans, and retired to the mountains to meditate, after informing them that, if they were in distress, and called on him, he would come to their aid. After the lapse of some time, during which they suffered no distress, they were curious to know if Parasu Rāma would remember them, and called upon him in order to find out. He promptly appeared, but punished their thus mocking him by cursing them, and causing them to revert to their old status of Sudras.”

A more detailed account of the marriage ceremonial is given in the Gazetteer of Malabar, which may well be quoted. “The first preliminaries in arranging a Nambūdiri marriage are the inevitable comparison of horoscopes, and the settlement of the dowry. When these have been satisfactorily concluded, an auspicious day for the wedding is selected in consultation with the astrologer. On that day, the bridegroom, before he starts from his illam, partakes with his relatives and friends of a sumptuous repast called the ayani un. A similar feast is held simultaneously at the bride’s house. On leaving the illam, as he crosses the threshold, and indeed on all occasions of importance, the bridegroom must be careful to put his right foot first. He also mutters mantrams of an auspicious nature, called mangala sutrangal. As he passes out of the gate, he is met by a bevy of Nāyar ladies, carrying the eight lucky articles (ashtamangalyam). These are a grandha, a washed cloth, a cheppu or rouge-box, some rice, a vāl kannādi or metal hand-mirror, some kunkumam (crimson powder), chānthu (ointment of sandal, camphor, musk and saffron), and mashi (bdellium or any eye salve).

On his journey to the bride’s illam, he is preceded by a noisy procession of Nāyars, armed with swords and lacquered shields, who constitute his agambadi or body-guard, and by Nambūdri friends and relatives, one of whom carries a lighted lamp. At the gate of the bride’s illam he is met by a band of Nāyar women, dressed like antarjanams, and carrying the ashtamangalyam and lighted lamps. The bridegroom enters the inner court-yard (nadumittam), and takes his seat in the usual eastward position. The bride’s father comes and sits opposite him, and, clasping his right hand, formally invites him to bathe and wed his daughter, an invitation which he formally accepts. After his bath, he returns clad in fresh clothes, and wearing a ring of dharba or kusa grass (Cynodon Dactylon), and takes his seat in the room adjoining the porch (pūmukham), called purattalam. He then makes an offering of a few fanams (money) to his family deities, performs Ganapathi pūja (worship of the elephant god), and presents four or five Nambūdris with a few fanams each, and with betel leaf and areca nut. This is called āsramapischētha prayaschittam, and is in expiation of any sins into which he may have been betrayed during his bachelor days. Similar gifts are also made first to two Nambūdris of any gōtra considered as representing the deities called Visvadvās, and then to two others of different gōtras representing the deceased ancestors or Pitris. The last gift is called Nāndimukham. Meanwhile, within the house the bride is conducted to the vadakkini room, veiled in an old cloth, and carrying a piece of bell-metal shaped like a hand-mirror (vāl kannādi).

Her father, after washing his feet and putting on a darbha ring, comes and performs Ganapathi pūja, and repeats more or less the same ritual that has been performed without. The bride is then sprinkled with holy water by her father and four other Nambūdiris. The tāli or marriage symbol is brought in a brass vessel containing holy water, [206]and laid near the idol to which the daily domestic worship is paid; and, after further offerings to Ganapathi, the bridegroom is summoned to enter the illam. Before doing so he purifies himself, taking off the darbha ring, making the ‘caste marks’ with holy ashes (bhasmam), washing his feet, replacing the ring, and being sprinkled with holy water by four Nambūdiris—a form of ritual which recurs constantly in all ceremonies. He enters the nadumittam, preceded by a Nambūdiri carrying a lighted lamp, and takes his seat on a wooden stool (pidam) in the middle of the court where the bride’s father makes obeisance to him, and is given four double lengths of cloth (kaccha), which the bridegroom has brought with him. They are taken to the bride, who puts on two of them, and returns two for the bridegroom to wear. The bridegroom then goes to the kizhakkini, where he prepares what may be called the “altar.” He smears part of the floor in front of him with cow-dung and then, with a piece of jack-wood (Artocarpus integrifolia), called sakalam, draws a line at the western side of the place so prepared, and at right angles to this line five more, one at each end, but not actually touching it, and three between these. He then places the pieces of jack-wood on the altar, and ignites it with fire brought from the hearth of the bride’s illam. He feeds the flame with chips of plāsu or chamatha (Butea frondosa). This fire is the aupāsana agni, regarded as the witness to the marriage rite. It must be kept alight—not actually, but by a pious fiction31—till the parties to the marriage die, and their funeral pyre must be kindled from it.

Three pieces of plāsu called paridhi, and eighteen pieces called udhmam, tied together by a string of darbha, are placed on the northern side of the altar on two pieces of jack-wood; and there are also brought and placed round the altar four blades of darbha grass, a small bell-metal vessel, an earthenware pot full of water, a pair of grind-stones (ammi and ammikuzha), a small winnowing fan containing parched paddy (malar), and a copper vessel of ghee (clarified butter) with a sacrificial ladle made of plāsu. Meanwhile, the bride’s father ties the tāli round her neck in the vadakkini, and her mother gives her a garland of tulasi (Ocimum sanctum). She is conducted to the kizhakkini, preceded by a Nambūtiri carrying a lamp called āyyira tiri (thousand wicks), and is made to stand facing the bridegroom on the north or north-east of the altar. This is called mukha-dharsanam (face-beholding). She gives the garland to the bridegroom. Now comes the central rite of this elaborate ceremonial, the udaga-purva-kannyaka-dhānam, or gift of a maiden with water.

The bride and her father stand facing west, and the bridegroom facing them. All three stretch out their right hands, so that the bride’s hand is between those of her father and the bridegroom, which are above and below hers respectively. A Nambūtiri Othikan or ritual expert pours water thrice into the father’s hand. The latter each time pours it into his daughter’s hand, and then, grasping her hand, pours it into the bridegroom’s hand. The dowry is then given to the bride, who hands it over to the bridegroom. She then passes between him and the fire, and sits on an āmana palaga32 on the east of the altar, while the bridegroom sits on another palaga on her left, and burns the udhmams (except one piece of plāsu and the darbha string used to tie the bundle), and [208]makes an oblation of ghee called agharam. The next rite is called Panigrahanam. The bridegroom rises from his seat, turns to the right, and stands facing the bride, who remains seated, holding the mirror in her left hand. She stretches out her right hand palm upwards, with the fingers closed and bent upwards. He grasps it, and sits down again. A brother of the bride now comes and takes the mirror from the bride, puts it on a palaga, and professes to show her her own reflection in its surface. Then the bridegroom pours a little ghee into her joined hands, to which the bride’s brother adds two handfuls of paddy from the winnowing basket, and the bridegroom then brushes the paddy from her hands into the fire.

This is called the Lajahōmam. At its conclusion, bride and bridegroom perform a pradakshinam round the fire, passing outside the water-pot but not the grindstone and fan. Next comes the important piece of ceremonial called Asmārohanam, symbolising immutability. The bride and bridegroom stand west of the grindstones, and the bridegroom, taking her feet one by one, places them on the stones, and then grasps feet and stones with both hands. Lajahōmam, pradakshinam, and asmārohanam are each repeated thrice. Then comes the rite called Saptapadi or seven paces. The bridegroom leads his bride seven steps towards the north-east, touching her right foot with his right hand as he does so. They then pass between the grindstones and the fire, and seat themselves on the west of the earthen pot facing east, the bride behind the bridegroom; and the latter performs a somewhat acrobatic feat which it must be difficult to invest with any dignity. He bends backwards, supporting himself by placing the palms of his hands on the ground behind him, until he can touch with the top of his head that of the bride, who bends forward to facilitate the process. After this, the bridegroom sprinkles himself and the bride with water from the earthen pot.

They then return to their seats west of the altar, and face north, ostensibly looking at the pole star (Druvan), the star Arundati, and the Seven Rishis (Ursa Major), which the bridegroom is supposed to point out to the bride, while he teaches her a short mantram invoking the blessing of long life on her husband. The bridegroom then makes two oblations, pouring ghee on the sacred fire, the first called Sishtakralhōmam and the second Darmmihōmam. He then places on the fire the paridhis, the remaining udhmams and dharba grass, and the rest of the ghee. A start is then made for the bridegroom’s illam, the bridegroom carrying the chamatha branch used in making the aupāsana agni in the bride’s house. On arrival, an altar is prepared in much the same manner as before, the chamatha branch is ignited, and darbha and ghee are offered. The bride and bridegroom next spend a few moments closeted in the same room, she lying on a skin spread over a new cloth on the floor, and he sitting on an āmana palaga. In the evening, aupāsana hōmam, or offerings of chamatha in the sacred fire, and Vaisyadēva hōmam, or offerings of boiled rice, are made. These, which are known as a second hōmam, may be postponed till next afternoon, if there is no time for them on the actual wedding day.

They have to be performed daily for ten months. The first three days on which these hōmams are performed (viz., the wedding day and the two following it, or the three days after the wedding as the case may be) are regarded as days of mourning (dīksha), and clothes are not changed. On the fourth day, the newly married couple have an oil-bath, and the dīksha is considered to be at an end. After the usual hōmams and worship of Ganapathi, the bride is led to the bridal chamber at an auspicious moment. Her husband joins her, carrying two garlands of jasmine, one of which he puts on the lamp placed in the south-east corner of the room, and one round his wife’s neck. He then smears the upper part of her body with the ointment known as chānthu, and she herself smears the lower part. Tum vir penem suum fæminæ ad partes pudendas admovit, vestibus scilicet haud remotis.

They then bathe and change their clothes, and sit near each other, the wife screened behind an umbrella. Her husband gives her water, and after some further rites they eat from the same plantain leaf. Actual cohabitation commences from that night. The pair are conducted to the bridal chamber by the Vādhiyār. The nuptial couch is but a grass mat or a common country blanket covered with a white sheet, with a little ridge of rice and paddy signifying plenty around the edges. The final ceremony is the hōmam called stālipagam. It is performed on the day after the first full moon day after the second hōmam. If the moon is at the full ¾ nazhiga before sunset or earlier, the ceremony may be performed on the full moon day itself.”

It will have been seen already that the Nambūtiris are not strict monogamists. Some stated that a man may have four wives, and that the same ceremony as that described must be performed for wedding all four wives. Moreover, there is no restriction to the number of Nāyar women, with whom a man may be associated.

Hamilton, writing concerning Malabar at the end of the seventeenth and beginning of the eighteenth century, says that “when the Zamorin marries, he must not cohabit with his bride till the Nambūtiri or chief priest [211]has enjoyed her, and, if he pleases, may have three nights of her company, because the first fruit of her nuptials must be an holy oblation to the god he worships: and some of the nobles are so complaisant as to allow the clergy the same tribute; but the common people cannot have that compliment paid to them, but are forced to supply the priest’s place themselves.”

Of ceremonies after marriage, and those performed during pregnancy and subsequent to the birth of a child, the following may be noted:—

(1) Garbhādhānam, performed soon after marriage. There is a hōmam, and the husband puts the juice of some panic grass into his wife’s nostrils.

(2) Garbharakshana secures the unborn child from dangers. It is not considered important, and is not always done.

(3) Pumsavana, performed in the third month of pregnancy for the purpose of securing male offspring. The desire of the Hindu for male rather than female children need not be dilated on. Putra (a son) is the one who saves from hell (put). It is by every religious text made clear that it is the duty of every man to produce a son. The Nambūtiri may have practically any number of wives in succession, until he begets a son by one of them, and he may adopt a son through the sarvasvadānam form of marriage. On the day devoted to the pumsavana ceremony, the wife fasts until she is fed by her husband with one grain of corn, symbolising the generative organs of the male.

(4) Sīmantonnayana is the next ceremony performed for the benefit of the unborn child. It is done between the sixth and eighth months of pregnancy, and consists in a burnt sacrifice to the deity, and the husband parting the hair of his wife’s head with a porcupine quill, or with [212]three blades of the sacred kūsa grass, repeating the while Vēdic verses.

(5) Jātakarma is the name of the birth ceremony, and is performed by the father of the child. Honey and ghī are introduced into the mouh of the infant with a golden spoon or rod, to symbolise good fortune. Then the ears and shoulders are touched wth the spoon or rod, while Vēdic texts are recited.

(7) Āyusha, for prolonging life, is the next in order. The father gives the child a secret name, having an even number of syllables for a male and an uneven number for a female, which is never revealed to any one except the mother.

(8) Nāmakarana is the ceremony, at which the child is named, and is said to be done on the tenth day after birth. The naming of a child is an important religious act, which is supposed to carry consequences throughout life. The parents, assisted by a Vādhyān, make a burnt sacrifice to the deity.

(9) Annaprāsana is the ceremony at which food other than that from nature’s fount is first given. It is done in the sixth month after birth. The father carries the child to a group of friends and relations. The Vādhyān or purōhit is present and repeats Vēdic texts, while the father places a little rice and butter in the child’s mouth.

(10) Chaula is the ceremony when the hair is cut for the first time in the Nambūtiri fashion.

(11) Karna vēdha is the occasion on which the ears are bored.

On the Vidyādasami day, the tenth of Āsvayuja, when a male child is five years old, the father goes through the form of initiating him into the mysteries of the alphabet.

The following details of some of the above ceremonies are given in the Gazetteer of Malabar. “The chief ceremonies connected with pregnancy are Pumsavanam or rite to secure male offspring, at which the husband puts a grain of barley and two beans, to represent the male organ, into his wife’s hand, and pours some curds over them, which the wife then swallows, and also pours some juice of karuga grass into her right nostril; and Sīmantham, a ceremony usually performed in the fourth month of pregnancy, at which the husband parts the wife’s hair four times from back to front with a sprig of atti (Ficus glomerata), a porcupine quill which must have three white marks on it, and three blades of darba grass, all tied together, after which mantrams are sung to the accompaniment of vīnas.

The first ceremony to be performed on the birth of a child is jāthakarmam. A little gold dust is mingled with ghee and honey, and the father takes up some of the mixture with a piece of gold, and smears the child’s lips with it, once with a mantram and once in silence. He next washes the gold, and touches the child’s ears, shoulders and head with it, and finally makes a gift of the bit of gold and performs nāndimukham. The ceremony of naming the child, or nāmakarmam, takes place on the twelfth day. The father ties a string round the child’s waist, and marks its body with the sacred ash (bhasmam). Then, after the usual ‘gifts’ he pronounces thrice in the child’s right ear the words ‘Dēvadatta Sarmmasi,’ or if the child be a girl, ‘Nīli dāsi.’ He then calls out the name thrice. Then, taking the child from its mother, he again calls out the name thrice, and finally gives the child back to its mother, who in turn calls out the name thrice. Gifts and nāndimukham complete the ceremony. In the fourth month, the child is ceremonially taken out of doors (nishkramana or vīttil purapāttu) by the father, who carries it to a cocoanut, round which he makes three pradakshinams.”

The death ceremonies of the Nambūtiris are commenced shortly before death actually takes place. When death is believed to be unmistakably near, some verses from the Taittirya Upanishad are spoken in the dying man’s ears. These are called karna mantras, or ear hymns. A bed of kūsa grass, called darbhāsana, is prepared in the verandah or some convenient place outside the foundations of the house, and the dying man is placed on it. When life is extinct, the body is washed, dressed in a new white cloth, and placed on a bier made of bamboos covered with a new white cloth. The bier is then carried on the shoulders of four of the nearest relatives to the place of cremation within the compound of the illam, and laid on a pile of firewood, which must include some sandalwood. This should be done by brothers or sons if there are such; if not, by more distant relatives or friends. The pyre need not of necessity be prepared by Nambūtiris.

Properly speaking, according to the sacred texts, which govern almost every act of the Nambūtiri’s life, relatives and friends, male and female, should accompany the bier to the place of cremation, but, as a rule, women do not join the little procession. The bier is laid on the pyre, and the corpse is uncovered. Rice is scattered over the face by the blood-relations present, and small pieces of gold are thrust into the nine openings of the body, while mantras are recited by the Vādhyāyar or priest. The gold is said to be used on this occasion as part of the offering in the yāgam—the last sacrifice, as the burning of the body [215]is called—and not in any way to assist the deceased in his journey to “the undiscovered country.” Soon after the bier is laid on the funeral pyre, a hōmam is made. Fire taken from it is placed on the chest of the deceased, and then the pyre is lighted in three places. The performer of the crematory rites carries an earthen pot round the pyre. The officiating priest punctures the pot with a knife, and receives the water in another pot. He throws this water on the pyre, and the pot is then smashed and flung away. This part of the ceremony is said to symbolise that the deceased has had his ablution in the water of the Ganges, and the fire god, Agni, represented by the hōmam, was witness to the same. The fire god is supposed to witness every ceremony enjoined by the Vēdas.

After the body is burnt, those who attended go away and bathe. The disembodied soul is supposed to enter a body called Sūkshma Sarīra, and eventually goes to heaven or hell as it deserves. But, before it can reach its destination, certain ceremonies must be performed. These consist chiefly of oblations on each of the ten days following death, for the purpose of causing the prēta (spirit) to grow out of the Dhananjaya Vāyu, which causes deformities and changes in the deceased after death. Each day’s ceremony completes a limb or part of the prēta, and the body is complete in ten days. On the third day after death, the ashes of the deceased are collected in an urn, and buried at the place of cremation or close to it. This is called ēkoddishta. On the eleventh day, all the members of the family go through a purificatory ceremony, which consists in swallowing the pānchagavya, and changing the sacred thread. They then perform a srāddha, offering balls of rice, etc., to the deceased and three of his ancestors, and give a dinner and presents of money and cloths [216]to Brāhmans. Twelve srāddhas must be performed, one in each month following, when water and balls of rice (pindas) are offered to the spirit. The twelfth srāddha is the sapindi karana, which elevates the spirit of the deceased to the rank of an ancestor. Following this, there is only the annual srāddha, or anniversary of death, calculated according to the lunar or astronomical year, when not less than three Brāhmans are fed, and receive presents of money and cloths.

Concerning the death ceremonies, Mr. Subramani Aiyar writes as follows. “After death, the blood relations of the deceased bathe, and, with wet clothes on, place two pieces of the stem of the plantain tree, one at the head and the other at the feet of the corpse. The hair of the head and face is shaved a little, and the body is bathed with water in which turmeric and mailanchi, a red vegetable substance, are dissolved. The Vaishnavite gōpi mark is drawn vertically, as also are sandal paste marks on various parts of the body, and flowers and garlands are thrown over it. The corpse is then covered with an unbleached cloth, which is kept in position by a rope of kusa grass.

It is carried to the pyre by Nambūtiris who are not within the pollution circle of the deceased, the eldest son supporting the head and the younger ones the legs. A cremation pit is dug in the south-east portion of the compound, and a mango tree, which has been felled, is used as fuel. In all these ceremonies, the eldest son is the karta or chief mourner and responsible ritualist, with whom the younger ones have to keep up physical contact while the several rites are being gone through. When the body is almost reduced to ashes, the principal performer of the ceremonies and his brothers bathe, and, taking some earth from the adjoining stream or tank, make with it a representation of the deceased. Throughout the funeral ceremonies, the Mārān is an indispensable factor. The handing of the kusa grass and gingelly (Sesamum) seeds for the oblation must be done by a member of that caste. Sanchayanam, or the collection and disposal of the burnt bones of the deceased, takes place on the fourth day. On the eleventh day the pollution ceases, and the daily srāddha begins. A term of dīksha or special observance is kept up for three fortnights, but generally for a whole year. On the twelfth day is the sapinda karana srāddha, or ceremony of what may be called joining the fathers, after which the dead person passes from the stage of preta to join the manes or spirits. There are then the monthly ceremonies (māsikas) and ashta srāddhas (eight srāddhas). The ābdika or first anniversary, known in Malabar by the name of māsam, is a very important ceremony, and one on which unstinted expenditure is the rule.”

A further account of the death ceremonies is given in the Gazetteer of Malabar. “When death is believed to be near, the dying man is taken to the west of the hearth of the sacred fire (aupāsana agni), and laid with his head to the south on a bed of sand and darbha grass, while the ōttu mantram is whispered in his ear. When life is extinct, the body is washed and covered with a plantain leaf. The mourners dress themselves in tāttu fashion, and tear up a new cloth breadthwise into pieces called sesham, which they each wear round their waist. The body is then dressed in an undercloth; the forehead is smeared with the pounded root of the creeper mēttōni, and tulasi flowers are put on the head; the kudumi (hair knot) is untied, and the pūnūl (sacred thread) arranged to hang round the neck in front. The body is tied on to a bamboo ladder and covered with a new cloth, and then carried by four of the nearest relatives to the place of cremation within the compound of the illam. A trench is dug on the north-east of the pyre, and some water put into it, which is sprinkled on the pyre with twigs of chamatha and darbha. The body is then laid on the pyre with the head to the south, and the fire is kindled. The ladder is thrown away, and a hōmam performed of ghee and darbha grass made to represent the deceased, while mantrams are recited. Then comes the ceremony called kumbhapradakshinam.

The mourners go round the pyre three times, the eldest son leading the way, carrying an earthen pot of water on his left shoulder. The water should run through the bottom of the pot, one hole being made for the first round, two for the second, and three for the third, and other mourners should sprinkle it on the pyre. At the end of the third round the pot is thrown on to the pyre, and all the mourners come away, the eldest son leaving last, and being careful not to look back. After bathing and shaving, the sons and other persons entitled to celebrate the obsequies, each perform an oblation of water (udagakriya) to a piece of karuga grass stuck up to represent the spirit of the dead, concluding the ceremony by touching iron, granite, a firebrand, cow-dung, paddy and gold three times, throwing away the sesham, and receiving a clean cloth (māttu). They then return to the nadumittam, when they make offerings (bali or veli) of rice balls (pindams) to a piece of karuga grass.

Both these ceremonies have to be repeated twice daily for ten days. On the fourth day after death, provided it is not a Tuesday or Friday, the ceremony of collecting the bones (sanchyanam) is performed. The eldest son goes to the pyre with a pāla (pot made of the spathe of an areca palm) of milk, which he sprinkles on the pyre with a brush of chamatha tied with karuga grass. Three pālas are placed on the west of the pyre parallel to the places where the feet, waist and head of the corpse rested, and bones are removed from the feet, waist and head with tongs of chamatha, and placed in the respective pālas. The bones are then washed in milk, and all put into an earthen pot (kudam) with some karuga grass on the top. The pot is covered with a cloth, taken to a cocoanut tree and buried in a pit, the cloth being removed and the top filled with mud. A plantain is planted in the trench that was dug near the pyre. On the eleventh day, all the members of the family purify themselves, and perform oblations of water and balls of rice. This constitutes the first sraddha, which must be repeated on each anniversary of the eleventh day.”

“The funeral rites of women are similar; but, if the woman is pregnant at the time of death, the body has first to be purified seven times with pounded kusa grass, cow-dung, cow’s urine, ashes and gold, and to receive māttu. The belly is cut open four inches below the navel, and, if the child is found alive, it is taken out and brought up; if dead, it is put back in the womb with a piece of gold and some ghee. Children not more than ten days old are buried with little ceremony, but all others are burnt.”33

When a Nambūtiri is believed to have been guilty of an offence against the caste, or when there is a caste dispute in any grāmam, the proper course is to represent the matter to the king (in Malabar the Zamorin), who refers it to the Smarta having jurisdiction over that particular grāmam, ordering him to try the offender after holding a proper enquiry. Minor offences are punishable [220]by infliction of penance, fasting, or doing special pūja to the gods. Graver offences are dealt with by excommunication from the caste. Against the decision of the Smarta there is no appeal. Adultery between a Nambūtiri woman and a man of inferior caste is perhaps the most serious of all caste offences.

The enquiry into cases of adultery is described as follows by Mr. Subramani Aiyar. “It is conducted by the Smarta, and hence arises the name (smārtavichāram) by which it is known. Whenever a Nambūtiri woman’s chastity is suspected, she is at once handed over to society for enquiry, no considerations of personal affection or public policy intervening. The mother or brother may be the first and only spectator of a shady act, but feels no less bound to invite, and generally pay very heavily for a public enquiry by society according to its recognised rules. The suspect is at once transferred to an isolation shed in the same compound, variously called by the name of anchampura or fifth room (outside the nalukettu or quadrangle), or the pachchōlappura, a new shed with green thatch roofing put up for the occasion. She may be seen here by her husband, his father and uncles, her father, father’s father, father’s maternal grandfather, and their sons, but by none else. Once a prohibited member sees her, the brand of infamy indubitably settles on her, and the smārtavichāram is considered foreclosed. For beginning a smārtavichāram, the sanction of the ruling Rāja has to be obtained. The matter is carried to his ears, after a preliminary enquiry, called dāsivichāram, has been gone through. For this, the woman’s male relations, in conjunction with the Brāhmans of the neighbourhood, interrogate the Dāsi or Nāyar maid-servant attached to the suspected woman.

Along with the application for royal sanction in Travancore, a fee of sixty-four fanams or nine rupees has to be sent in, and is credited to the treasury of Srī Padmanābha Swāmi, as whose deputy the Mahārāja is supposed to rule the country. The Mahārāja then appoints a Smārta (judge), two Mīmāmsakas, an Akakkoyimma, and a Purakkoyimma. The office of Smārta is hereditary. If a family becomes extinct, the Yōga or village union nominates another in its place. The Mīmāmsakas are Nambūtiris learned in the law, and their office is seldom hereditary. They are appointed to help the Smārta in his enquiries. The Akakkoyimma, or person whose business is to preserve order, holds his appointment by heredity. The Purakkoyimma is the proxy of the sovereign himself. In ancient days, and even so late as the time of the great Martānda Varma, the ruling sovereign himself was present during the trial, and preserved order. Now a deputy is sent by the Mahārāja. He is generally the magistrate of the tāluk, who, if he finds it inconvenient to attend the meeting, delegates the function to the chief village officer.

The Smārta, when he receives the royal commission (neet) for holding the enquiry, receives from the woman’s relations a small tribute of money (dakshina). The Mīmāmsakas, it may be observed, are selected by the Smārta. In Travancore alone is the Smārta’s authority supreme, for no Vaidika lives in this territory, and none are generally invited. In other parts of Malabar, where Vaidikas live permanently, one of the six recognised Vaidikas has to accompany the Smārta to the place of the vichārana (enquiry), and the Smārta merely conducts the enquiry as the proxy of, and authorised and guided by the Vaidikas. Generally the council assembles at some neighbouring village temple. The suspected woman is placed within the anchampura, [222]and her maid-servant stands at the door. All questions are addressed to her, as the gōsha of the suspect has to be honoured in its entirety until the pronouncement of the final verdict. The procedure begins, not by the framing and reading out of a charge-sheet, but by arranging for the suspicion being brought to notice by the accused person herself. For this purpose, the Smārta makes a feint of entering the isolation shed, as if in ignorance of everything that has transpired. The maid-servant stops him, and informs him that her mistress is within. The Smārta, on hearing this, affects astonishment, and asks her the reason why her mistress should not be in the main building (antahpuram). With this question, the enquiry may be said to have actually begun.

The next morning by eleven o’clock, the Smārta and his co-adjutors again go and stand beside the isolation hut, and, calling for the maid-servant, commence the regular enquiry. After about five o’clock in the afternoon, the Smārta, in the presence of the Akakkoyimma, relates the whole day’s proceedings to the Mīmāmsakas, and takes their opinion as to the questions for the next day. The enquiry often lasts for months, and sometimes even for years. It is the most expensive undertaking possible, as the whole judicatory staff has to be maintained by the family, unless the sadhanam or subject gives a circumstantial confession of her guilt. It is not enough to plead guilty; she must point out all the persons who have been partakers in her guilt. Thus every day the Smārta asks “Are there any more?” After the completion of the enquiry, the council re-assembles at the village temple. The guardian of the suspect presents himself before the assembled Brāhmans, and makes the customary obeisance.

The Smārta then recounts the details of the enquiry, and ultimately pronounces his verdict. If the woman is declared innocent, she is re-accepted amidst universal rejoicings, and the head of the family feels amply repaid for the expenditure he has incurred in the reputation for chastity secured for a member of his family under such a severe ordeal. If things do not end so well, all the Brāhmans come out of the temple and re-assemble, when a Brāhman, who is usually not a Nambūtiri, as the Nambūtiris do not desire to condemn one of their own caste, stands up, and in a stentorian voice repeats the substance of the charge, and the judgment as given by the Smārta. The guardian of the woman then goes away, after she has been handed over by the Smārta to the custody of the Purakkoyimma. The guardian bathes, and performs all the funeral ceremonies for his ward, who from this moment is considered dead for all social and family purposes. The persons meanwhile, whose names have been given out by the woman as having been implicated in the offence, have to vindicate their character on pain of excommunication.

In connection with a case of adultery, which was tried recently in Malabar, it is noted that the Purakkoyimma kept order in the court with sword in hand. Īswara pūja (worship of Īswara) was performed in the local temple on all the days of the trial, and the suspected woman was given pānchagavya (five products of the cow) so that she might tell the truth.

I am informed that, in the course of an enquiry into a charge of adultery, “it sometimes happens that the woman names innocent men as her seducers. Two courses are then open to them, in order that they may exculpate themselves, viz., ordeal by boiling oil, and ordeal by weighing. The former of these ordeals is undergone, under the sanction of the Rāja, by the accused person dipping his bare hand in ghī, which has been boiling from sunrise to midday, and taking out of it a bell-metal image. The hand is immediately bandaged, and if, on examination of it on the third day, it be found unharmed, the man is declared innocent. In the other ordeal, the man is made to sit for a certain time in one of a pair of scales, and is declared innocent or guilty, according as the scale ascends or descends. But these practices do not now prevail.” In former days, the ordeal of boiling ghī was undergone at the temple of Suchīndram in Travancore. This temple derives its name from Indra, who, according to the legend, had illicit intercourse with Ahalya, the wife of Gautama Rishi, and had to undergo a similar ordeal at this place.

In connection with a case which came before the High Court of Madras, it is recorded34 that “an enquiry was held into the conduct of a woman suspected. She confessed that the plaintiff had had illicit intercourse with her, and thereupon they were both declared out-casts, the plaintiff not having been charged, nor having had an opportunity to cross-examine the woman, or enter on his defence, and otherwise to vindicate his character. Held by the High Court that the declaration that the plaintiff was an outcast was illegal, and, it having been found that the defendants had not acted bonâ fide in making that declaration, the plaintiff was entitled to recover damages.”

In order to mitigate to some extent the suffering caused by turning adrift a woman proved guilty of adultery, who has hitherto lived in seclusion, provision has been made by the Rāja of Cherakkal. A Tiyan named [225]Talliparamba possesses a large extent of land granted by a former Rāja of Cherakkal, on condition of his taking under his protection all excommunicated females, if they choose to go with him. He has special rank and privileges, and has the title of Mannanar. Whenever an inquiry takes place, Mannanar receives information of it, and his messengers are ready to take the woman away. It was the custom in former days for Mannanar’s agents to lead the woman to near his house, and leave her at a certain place from which two roads lead to the house—one to the eastern gate, and the other to the northern. If the woman happened to enter the house by the eastern gate, she became Mannanar’s wife, and, if she went in by the northern gate, she was considered to be his sister by adoption. This rule, however, is not strictly adhered to at the present day.

The Nambūtiris are stated by Mr. Subramani Aiyar to “belong to different sūtras, gōtras, or septs, and follow different Vēdas. The most important of the sūtras are Āsvalayana, Baudhāyana, Āpastamba, and Kaushitaka. The best-known gōtras are Kāsyapa, Bhargava, Bharadvāga, Vasishta, and Kausika. There are a few Sāmavēdins belonging to the Kitangnur and Panchal grāmams, but most of them are Rigvēdic, and some belong to the Yajurvēda. The Rigvēdic Brāhmans belong to two separate yōgas or unions, namely, Trichūr Yōga and Tirunavai Yōga. It appears that three of the most renowned of the disciples of Sankarāchārya were Nambūtiri Brāhmans, who received their initiation into the sanyāsāsrama at the great sage’s hands. They established three maths or monasteries, known as the tekkematham (southern), natuvile matham (middle), and vatakke matham (northern). Succession having fallen in default in regard to the last, the property that stood [226]in its name lapsed to the Rāja of Cochin. Out of the funds of this matham, a Vēdic pāthasāla (boarding school) was established at Trichūr. A certain number of villagers became in time recognised as being entitled to instruction at this institution, and formed a yōga. Trichūr then became the centre of Brāhmanical learning.

Later on, when the relations of the Zamorin of Calicut with the Rāja of Cochin became strained, he organised another yōga at Tirunavai for the Nambūtiris who lived within his territory. Here there are two yōgas for Rigvēdic Brāhmans. In these schools, religious instruction has been imparted with sustained attention for several centuries. The heads of these schools are recruited from the houses of Changngavot and Erkara, respectively. To these two yōgas two Vādhyārs and six Vaidikas are attached. There are also six Smartas or judges attached to these bodies. The Vādhyārs are purely religious instructors, and have no judicial duties in respect of society. The Vaidikas and Smartas are very learned in the Smritis, and it is with them that the whole caste government of the Nambūtiris absolutely rests.”


The names of the Nambūtiris measured by Mr. Fawcett were as follows:—



















In connection with the names of Nambūtiris, Mr. Subramani Aiyar writes as follows. “A list of names [227]not current or unusual now among other Brāhman communities in Southern India may be interesting. These are—












“The conspicuous absence of the names of the third son of Siva (Sasta), such as Hariharaputra and Budhanatha, may be noted. Nor are the names of Ganapathi much in favour with them. Srīdēvi and Sāvitri are the two most common names, by which Nambūtiri females are known. There are also certain other names of a Prākrita or non-classic character, used to denote males and females, which sometimes border on the humorous. Among these are—














“Some names in this list are identifiable with the names of divinities and purānic personages. For example, Uzhutran is a corruption of Rudran. In the same manner, Tuppan is the Prakrit for Subramanya, and Chiruta for Sīta. Unnima is another name for Uma or Parvati. Nambūtiris grudge to grant the title of Nambūtiri to each other. For instance, the Tamarasseri Nambūtiri calls the Mullappalli Nambūtiri merely Mullapalli (house name). But, if the person addressed is an Ādhya of one of the eight houses, or at least a [228]Tantri Ādhya, the title Nambūtiri is added to his name. Again, if there are in a house two Nambūtiris, one of them being the father and the other the son, the father whenever he writes, subscribes himself as the Achchan Nambūtiri or father Nambūtiri, while the son subscribes himself as the Makan or son Nambūtiri. In Malabar there were two poets called Venmani Achchan Nambūtiri and Venmani Makan Nambūtiri, venmani signifying the name of the illam. It is only in documents and other serious papers that the proper name or sarman of the Nambūtiri would be found mentioned.”

When addressing each other, Nambūtiris use the names of their respective illams or manas. When a Nambūtiri is talking with a Nāyar, or indeed with one of any other caste, the manner in which the conversation must be carried on, strictly according to custom, is such that the Nambūtiri’s superiority is apparent at every turn. Thus, a Nāyar, addressing a Nambūtiri, must speak of himself as foot-servant. If he mentions his rice, he must not call it rice, but his gritty rice. Rupees must be called his copper coins, not his rupees. He must call his house his dung-pit. He must speak of the Nambūtiri’s rice as his raw rice, his coppers as rupees, and his house as his illam or mana. The Nāyar must not call his cloth a cloth, but an old cloth or a spider’s web. But the Nambūtiri’s cloth is to be called his daily white cloth, or his superior cloth. The Nāyar, speaking of his bathing, says that he drenches himself with water, whereas the Nambūtiri sports in the water when he bathes. Should he speak of eating or drinking, the Nāyar must say of himself that he takes food, or treats himself to the water in which rice has been washed. But, should he speak of the Nambūtiri eating, he must say that he tastes ambrosia. The Nāyar calls his sleeping [229]lying flat, and the Nambūtiri’s closing his eyes, or resting like a Rāja. The Nāyar must speak of his own death as the falling of a forest, but of the Nambūtiri’s as entering fire. The Nambūtiri is not shaved by the barber; his hairs are cut. He is not angry, but merely dissatisfied. He does not clean his teeth as the Nāyar; he cleans his superior pearls. Nor does he laugh; he displays his superior pearls.

Recreations and pastimes

Concerning the recreations and pastimes of the Nambūtiris, Mr. Subramani Aiyar writes as follows. “During the intervals of Vēdic or Purānic recitations, the Nambūtiri engages himself in chaturangam or chess. When the players are equally matched, a game may last five, six, or even seven days. Another amusement, which the Nambūtiris take a great interest in, is the Yatrakali, which is said to be a corruption of Sastrakali, a performance relating to weapons. This is a unique institution, kept up by a section of the Nambūtiris, who are believed to represent the Brāhmanical army of Parasu Rāma. When, at a ceremony in the Travancore royal household, a Yatrakali is performed, the parties have to be received at the entrance of the Mahārāja’s palace in state, sword in hand. The dress and songs are peculiar. In its import, the performance seems to combine the propitiation of Siva and Parvati in the manner indicated in a tradition at Trikkariyūr with exorcism and skill in swordsmanship. It is generally believed that, in ancient days, the Brāhmans themselves ruled Kērala. When they found it necessary to have a separate king, one Attakat Nambūtiri was deputed, with a few other Brāhmans, to go and obtain a ruler from the adjoining Chēra territory. The only pass in those days, connecting Malabar and Coimbatore, was that which is now known as Nerumangalam. When the Nambūtiris were returning through [230]this pass with the ruler whom they had secured from the Chēra King, a strange light was observed on the adjacent hills. Two young Brāhmans of Chengngamanat village, on proceeding towards the hill to investigate the source thereof, found to their amazement that it was none other than Srī Bhagavati, the consort of Siva, who enjoined them to go, viâ Trikkariyūr, to Kodungngnallūr, the capital of the Perumāls. Seeing that the sight of Bhagavati foretold prosperity, the king called the range of hills Nerumangalam or true bliss, and made an endowment of all the surrounding land to the Brāhman village of Chengngamanat, the members of which had the good fortune to see the goddess face to face. When they entered the temple of Trikkariyūr, a voice was heard to exclaim “Chēra Perumāl,” which meant that into that town, where Parasu Rāma was believed to be dwelling, no Perumāl (king) should ever enter—a traditional injunction still respected by the Malabar Kshatriyas. At this place, the sixth Perumāl who, according to a tradition, had a pronounced predilection for the Bouddha religion (Islamism or Buddhism, we cannot say), called a meeting of the Brāhmans, and told them that a religious discussion should be held between them and the Bouddhas, in view to deciding their relative superiority. The presiding deity of the local Saiva shrine was then propitiated by the Brāhmans, to enable them to come out victorious from the trial. A Gangama saint appeared before them, and taught them a hymn called nālupadam (four feet or parts of a slōka) which the Nambūtiris say is extracted from the Samavēda. The saint further advised them to take out a lamp from within the temple, which according to tradition had existed from the time of Srī Rāma, to a room built on the western ghāt of the temple tank, and pray to Siva in [231]terms of the hymn.

While this was continued for forty-one days, six Brāhmans, with Mayura Bhatta at their head, arrived from the east coast to the succour of the Nambūtiris. With the help of these Brāhmans, the Nambūtiris kept up a protracted discussion with the Bouddhas. Wishing to bring it to a close, the Perumāl thought of applying a practical test. He enclosed a snake within a pot, and asked the disputants to declare its contents. The Bouddhas came out first with the correct answer, while the Brāhmans followed by saying that it was a lotus flower. The Perumāl was, of course, pleased with the Bouddhas; but, when the pot was opened, it was found to contain a lotus flower instead of a snake. The Bouddhas felt themselves defeated, and ever afterwards the nālupadam hymn has been sung by the Nambūtiris with a view to securing a variety of objects, every one of which they expect to obtain by this means. It is also said that, when the Brāhmans were propitiating Siva at Trikkariyūr, diverse spirits and angels were found amusing Parvati with their quips and cranks. A voice from heaven was then heard to say that such frolics should thereafter form part of the worship of Siva.

“Engaged in these socio-religious performances are eighteen sanghas or associations. The chief office-bearers are the Vakyavritti who is the chief person, and must be an Ottu Nambūtiri or a Nambūtiri with full Vēdic knowledge; the Parishakkaran who holds charge of the Yatrakali paraphernalia; and the guru or instructor. The chief household divinities of these soldier Nambūtiris are Bhadrakāli, Sasta, and Subrahmanya. On the evening of the Yatrakali day, these Brāhmans assemble round the lamp, and recite the nālupadam and a few hymns in praise of their household divinities, and especially of Siva, the saviour who manifested himself at Trikkariyūr. On the night of the performance they are entertained at supper, when they sing certain songs called Karislōka. They then move in slow procession to the kalam or hall, singing specially songs in the vallappattu metre, with the sacred thread hanging vertically round the neck (apiviti), and not diagonally as is the orthodox fashion. In the hall have been placed a burning lamp in the centre, a para (Malabar measure) filled with paddy, a number of bunches of cocoanuts, plantain fruits, and various kinds of flowers. The Brāhmans sit in a circle round the lamp, and, after preliminary invocations to Ganapathi, sing songs in praise of Siva. After this various kinds of dumb-show are performed, and this is the time for exhibiting skill in swordsmanship. The exorcising, by the waving of a lighted torch before the face of the host, of any evil spirits that may have attached themselves is then gone through. The performance ends with a prayer to Bhagavati, that she will shower every prosperity. Following close upon this, a variety entertainment is sometimes given by the Yatrakali Nambūtiris. This old institution is still in great favour in British Malabar, and, as it has a religious aspect intertwined with it, it is not likely to be swept away by the unsparing broom of the so-called parishkarakalam or reforming age of modern India.

“The Kathakali, or national drama of Malabar, is held in great esteem and favour by the Nambūtiris. Most of them are conversant with the songs and shows relating to it, and severely criticise the slightest fault or failure. The Kathakali is more than three centuries old in Malabar, and is said to have been first brought into existence by a member of the ancient ruling house of [233]Kottarakkara. As the earliest theme represented was the Rāmayana, the Kathakali is also known as Rāmanāttam. A single play lasts for eight and even ten hours in the night. Kshatriyas, Asuras, Rākshasas, Kirātas (hunting tribes), monkeys, birds, etc., each has an appropriate make-up. The play is in dumb-show, and no character is permitted to speak on the stage. The songs are sung by the Bhāgavatar or songster, and the actors literally act, and do nothing more. The Nambūtiris love this antiquated form of theatrical performance, and patronise it to a remarkable extent.

“There are a number of other recreations of an entirely non-religious character. The chief of these are called respectively seven dogs and the leopard, fifteen dogs and the leopard, and twenty-eight dogs and the leopard. Success in these games consists in so arranging the dogs as to form a thick phalanx, two abreast, round the leopard. Stones of two sizes are employed to represent the dogs and leopards, and the field is drawn on the ground.

“The ezahmattukali, or seventh amusement, is said to have been so called from the fact of its being introduced by the seventh Nambūtiri grāmam of Kērala. It is a miniature form of Yatrakali, but without its quasi-religious character, and is intended to serve merely as a social pastime. The players need not all be Brāhmans; nor is fasting or any religious discipline part of the preliminary programme. Sitting round the lamp as at the Yatrakali, and reciting songs in praise of Siva, the players proceed to the characteristic portion of the recreation, which is a kind of competition in quick-wittedness and memory held between two yogas or parties. One among them calls himself the Kallur Nāyar [234]and is the presiding judge. There is interrogation and answering by two persons, and a third proclaims the mistakes in the answers. There are two others, who serve as bailiffs to execute the judge’s orders. Humorous scenes are then introduced, such as Ittikkantappan Nāyar, Prakkal, Mutti or old woman, Pattar or Paradēsa Brāhman, and other characters, who appear on the stage and amuse the assembly.”

The Nambūtiris are Vēdic Brāhmans: their scriptures are the Vēdas. It is safe to say that the Nambūtiris are Shaivas, but not to the exclusion of Vishnu. The ordinary South Indian Vaishnava Brāhman has nothing to do with the Shaiva temple over the way, and takes no part or interest in the Shaiva festivals. Siva is to the Nambūtiri the supreme deity, but he has temples also to Vishnu, Krishna, Narasimha, Srī Rāghava, Ganapathi, Subrahmanya, Bhagavati, etc. There are said to be temples to Sāstavu and Sankarnārāyanan—amalgamated forms of Siva and Vishnu. The lingam is the ordinary object of worship.

Like all Brāhmans, the Nambūtiris believe that the eight directions or points of the compass, north, north-east, east, south-east, south, south-west, west, north-west, are presided over by eight deities, or Ashtadikpālakas, riding on various animals. Indra reigns in heaven and Yama in hell, and Surya is the sun god. All these and their wives are worshipped. Parvati shares adoration with Siva, Lakshmi with Vishnu, and so on. The Nambūtiris believe in the existence of evil spirits which influence man, but they do not worship them.

It is said that the Nambūtiri has of late been influenced by Vēdāntism, that wonderful religious idea of the existence of one spirit or atman, the only reality, outside which the world and all besides is mere illusion, [235]and whose doctrine is wrapped up in the three words “Ekam ēva advitīyam”. (There is but one being without a second).

The Nambūtiris call themselves Ārya Brāhmanar. Their legendary transmigration to Malabar from Northern India is doubtless true. Theirs is by far the purest form of the Vēdic Brāhmanism to be met with in Southern India. A complete account of the religion of the Nambūtiris cannot be given in these pages. The Nambūtiri’s life is a round of sacrifices, the last of which is the burning of his body on the funeral pyre. When the Nambūtiri has no male issue, he performs the putra kāmēshti or karmavipākaprayaschittam yāgams or sacrifices to obtain it. Should he be unwell, he performs the mrittyunjaya sānti yāgam, so that he may be restored to good health. He performs the aja yāgam, or goat sacrifice, in order to obtain salvation. Though animal food is strictly forbidden, and the rule is strictly followed, the flesh of the goat, which remains after the offering has been made in this sacrifice, is eaten by the Nambūtiris present as part of the solemn ceremonial. This is the only occasion on which animal food is eaten. Namaskāram, or prostration, is much done during prayers. By some it is done some hundreds of times daily, by others not so often. It amounts to physical exercise, and is calculated to strengthen the arms and the back.

Reference has already been made to certain ceremonies connected with pregnancy, and the early life of a child. There are three further important ceremonies, called Upanāyana, Samāvartana and Upākarma, concerning which Mr. Subramani Aiyar writes as follows. “Upanāyana may be called the Brāhmanising ceremony. An oft-repeated Sanskrit verse runs to the effect that a Brāhman is a Brāhman by virtue of his karmas or actions in this life, or the lives preceding it. The meaning of the term Upanāyana is a ceremony which leads one to god, i.e., to a realisation of the eternal self through the aid of a guru (preceptor). This ceremony takes place in the seventh, eighth, or ninth year of a boy’s life. As ordinarily understood, it is a ceremony for males only, as they alone have to observe the four asramas. But, in ancient days, it seems to have been performed also by females.

Marriage was not compulsory, and a girl might take to asceticism at once. Sīta is said to have worn a yāgnopavitam (sacred thread). A Brāhman is not born, but made by the karmas. In other words, a Brāhman boy is, at the time of his birth, only a Sūdra, and it is by the performance of the necessary karmas—not merely the ceremonial rites, but the disciplinary and preparatory process in view to spiritual development—that he becomes a Dviga or twice-born. The word Upanāyana is composed of upa, meaning near, and nayana, leading. What the youth is led to is, according to some, Brāhmaggnana or the realisation of the eternal and universal self, and according to others only the teacher or guru. A Nambūtiri Upanāyana begins with the presentation of a dakshīna (consolidated fee) to the Ezhuttachchan, or the Nāyar or Ambalavāsi teacher, who has been instructing the youth in the vernacular. The boy stands on the western side of the sacrificial fire, facing the east, and the father stands beside him, facing the same way. The second cloth (uttariya) is thrown over the boy’s head, and his right hand being held up, the sacred thread, to which a strap made from the skin of a Krishnamriga (antelope) is attached, is thrown over his shoulders and under his right arm, while he stands reverently with closed eyes.

The thread and skin are wrapped up in the cloth, and are not to be seen by the boy. He is then taken to an open place, where the priest introduces the new Brahmachāri to the sun, and invokes him to cover his pupil with his rays. The boy next goes to the sacrificial altar, and himself offers certain sacrifices to the fire. Saluting his preceptor and obtaining his blessing, he requests that he may be initiated into the Sāvitrimantram. After a few preliminary ceremonies, the guru utters in the right ear of his disciple the sacred syllable Ōm, and repeats the Gāyatri mantram nine times. He then instructs him in certain maxims of conduct, which he is to cherish and revere throughout the Brahmachārya stage. Addressing the boy, the guru says, ‘You have become entitled to the study of the Vēdas; perform all the duties which pertain to the āsrama you are about to enter. Never sleep during the day. Study the Vēdas by resigning yourself to the care of your spiritual instructor.’ These exhortations, though made in Sanskrit, are explained in Malayālam, in order that the boy may understand them—a feature unknown to Brāhmans on the other coast.

With his words of advice, the preceptor gives the youth a danda or stick made of pīpal (Ficus religiosa) wood, as if to keep him in perpetual memory of what would follow if any of the directions be disregarded. The boy then makes his obeisance to his parents and all his relations, and is given a brass vessel called bhikshāpātra (alms pot), in which he collects, by house-to-house visits, food for his daily sustenance during the Brahmachārya stage. He proceeds to the kitchen of his own house with the vessel in one hand and the stick in the other. Making his obeisance in due form to his mother, who stands facing the east, he says ‘Bhikshām bhavati dadātu’ (May you be pleased to give me [238]alms). The mother places five or seven handfuls of rice in the vessel. After receiving similar contributions from the assembled elders, the boy takes the vessel to his father, who is the first guru, saying ‘Bhaikshmāmidam’ (This is my alms collection). The father blesses it, and says ‘May it be good.’ After the Gayatrijapa, the ceremony of Samidadhana is performed. This is the Brahmachāri’s daily worship of the sacred fire, corresponding to the aupasana of the Grihastha, and has to be performed twice daily. After another hōmam at night, the cloth covering the sacred thread and skin is removed, and the consecration of the food is done for the first time. In addition to the skin strap, the Brahmachāri wears a mekhala or twisted string of kūsa grass. It is doubtless of the youthful Nambūtiri that Barbosa wrote as follows at the beginning of the sixteenth century. ‘And when these are seven years old, they put round their necks a strap two fingers in width of an animal which they call cresnamergan, and they command him not to eat betel for seven years, and all this time he wears that strap round the neck, passing under the arm; and, when he reaches fourteen years of age, they make him a Brāhman, removing from him the leather strap round his neck, and putting on another three-thread, which he wears all his life as a mark of being a Brāhman. The rules which were observed with such strictness centuries ago are still observed, and every Nambūtiri boy goes through his period of Brahmachārya, which lasts at least for full five years. During the whole of this period, no sandal paste, no scents, and no flowers are to be used by him. He is not to take his meals at other houses on festive occasions. He must not sleep during the day. Nor may he wear a loin-cloth in the ordinary fashion. Shoes and umbrella are also prohibited. The completion of the Brahmachāri [239]āsrama, or stage of pupilage, is called Samāvartana. After a few religious ceremonies in the morning, the Brahmachāri shaves for the first time since the Upanāyana ceremonies, casts off the skin strap and mekhala, and bathes. He puts on sandal paste marks, bedecks himself with jasmine flowers, and puts on shoes. He then holds an umbrella, and wears a pearl necklace. After this, he puts on a head-dress, and a few other ceremonials conclude the Samāvartana. For three days subsequent to this, the budding Grihastha is considered ceremonially impure, and the pollution is perhaps based on the death of the old āsrama, and birth of the new. In the Upākarma ceremony, hymns are sung by the preceptor, and the pupil has merely to listen to them.”

In conclusion, something may be said concerning the general beliefs of the Nambūtiris. All objects, animate or inanimate, organic or inorganic, are believed to be permeated by the divine spirit. Animals, trees, plants, and flowers are animate, and therefore venerated. The sun, moon, and stars are revered on account of some inherent quality in each, such as utility or strength, or owing to their connection with some deity. A god can assume any form at any time, such as that of a man, bird, beast, or tree. The various forms in which a god has appeared are ever sacred. Some animals have been used as vehicles by the gods, and are therefore revered. Cows, horses, and snakes are worshipped. The cow is the most sacred of all animals. The Purānas tell of Kāmadhēnu, the cow of plenty, one of the fourteen useful things which turned up out of the ocean of milk when it was churned, and which is supposed to have yielded the gods all they desired. So Kāmadhēnu is one who gives anything which is desired. Every hair of the cow is sacred, its urine is the most holy water, and its dung the most purificatory substance. The horse is the favourite animal of Kubēra, the treasure-god. The Uchchaisravas the high-eared prototype of all horses, also came out of the churned ocean. Horse sacrifice, or Asvamēdha, is the greatest of all sacrifices. Performance of a hundred of them would give the sacrificer power to displace Indra, in order to make room for him. Snakes are the fruitful progeny of the sage Kāsyapa and Kadru. The Mahā Sēsha, their prince, is the couch and canopy of Vishnu, and supports the world on his thousand heads. But attention to snakes is probably more in the light of the harm which they may do, and propitiatory in character.

Among plants, the tulasi or sacred basil (Ocimum sanctum) is the most sacred of all. It is supposed to be pervaded by the essence of both Vishnu and Lakshmi: according to some legends, it is a metamorphosis of Sīta and Rukmini. The daily prayer offered to the tulasi is thus rendered by Monier Williams. “I adore that tulasi in whose roots are all the sacred places of pilgrimage, in whose centre are all the deities, and in whose upper branches are all the Vēdas.” The udumbara (Ficus glomerata) is also sacred. Under this tree Dattatreya, the incarnation of the Trinity, performed his ascetic austerities. The Nambūtiri says that, according to the sāstras, there must be one of these trees in his compound, and, if it is not there, he imagines it is. The bilva (Ægle Marmelos) is specially sacred to Siva all over Southern India. To the Nambūtiri it is very sacred. Its leaves are supposed to represent the three attributes of Siva—Satva, Rāja, and Tama—and also his three eyes and his trisūlam (trident). They are used by the Nambūtiri in propitiatory ceremonies to that god. An offering of a single leaf of this tree is believed to annihilate the sins done three births or existence. Kūsa grass (Eragrostis cynosuroides) is very sacred, and used in many ceremonies. At the churning of the ocean, the snakes are said to have been greedy enough to lick the nectar off the kūsa grass, and got their tongues split in consequence. The asvaththa (Ficus religiosa) is also very sacred to the Nambūtiris. It is supposed to be pervaded by the spirit of Brahma the Creator.

From the sun (Sūrya, the sun-god) emanate light and heat, and to its powers all vegetation is due, so the Nambūtiri worships it daily. He also offers pūja to the sun and moon as belonging to the nine navagrāhas (planets). The planets are the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Rāhu and Kētu. They influence the destinies of men, and therefore come in for some worship. The three last are sinister in their effects, and must be propitiated.

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