Brahmin Settlements of Kerala : Myth and Reality – Dr N M Nampoothiri


Dr N M Nampoothiri

Dean of Academic affairs CHS , Governing Council Member Centre for Heritage Studies.

{Convener, Heritage Survey Project Committee, Centre for Heritage Studies, Department of Cultural Affaires Government of Kerala, Hill Palace, Thrippunithura, Ernakulam, Kerala,India.}

Settlement study was initiated by this author in 1973.It was based on Toponomical analysis. Calicut taluk was the area surveyed. Most important source material for Toponomy was Grandhavaries of temples, Zamorins of Calicut, various families, Lakanarkaavu, Paimashi records of Haider and Tippu, British Settlement records etc. Settlements in Kerala have their origin in megalithic sites and gradually they emerged as a “janapadam “.Villages, Urban Centres etc are closely analysed in this way. In the work a theme” Growth of settlements” is taken up for analyses and settlements of various Social groups are addressed. The work on Toponomy of Calicut was completed in 1987.

Theses settlement studies and the pattern of study brought out in the thesis(1988) were taken as a model by Dr. M .R. Raghava variar in his works in 1990. Unfortunately he has not pointed out or acknowledged this earlier pioneering work. (the Settlement studies in my website http//


The problem of Brahmin settlements was also discussed in the work. The distribution pattern of Brahmin families reflected in mangalam generic was studied in details with the help of distribution map. There were no Brahmin Original Grama “settlements” in the Calicut Taluk. But it was very clear that Brahmin settlement studies are to be taken up in a proper direction. In the Toponomical work, the distribution pattern reflected in the individual Brahmin households was explained. They show a tendency of Brahmins to settle down around a Temple or Natuvazhi residences. Later it is noticed that the grama settlement is only a Social entity which has a framework based on Brahmin rites. (NMN 1988, 2000, 2012)

According to Traditional Historians of Kerala there existed Brahmin Oligarchy (MGS Narayanan) / Hegemony (Dr. Kesavan Veluthat) during the period of Kulasekhara’s of Mahodayapuram. Both concepts have different meanings in the historical perspective. These scholars and the renowned historian Ilamkulam Kunjan Pillai  have not attempted to analyse the  power systems  of  Sangham Cheras ,Kulasekharas( 8th to-12th cAD), Perumals of  Kerala( before 8th  cAD)nor the Administrative system of Swarupams ruled after 12th c AD.It was necessary to investigate   Kerala Brahmanism before making unwarranted remarks about their cultural Heritage and social behavior. These scholars distorted the Social evolution concepts of Kerala by making prejudiced evaluation of   grama system of Kerala Brahmins. Their works are based on false and imaginative explanations and remarks without any conclusive evidences. This type of analysis based on very limited fragmentary evidences related to Brahmins and their interferences in political and economic situations of Kerala during Cheras of Mahodayapura  brought   shame to the Kerala Brahmin communities as a whole and Namboothiri Brahmins in particular. A. Sreedhara Menon, in his textbooks on Kerala History remarked Kerala Brahmins in the following words.

“The emergence of the Nampoothiri as a privileged class in society produced changes in the land too. They came to be in possession of enormous landed properties which came to them in the form of gifts. From their royal patrons and other sources. As their basic function was the performance of priestly duties and they considered manual labor derogatory they were not in a position to cultivate these lands or undertake allied functions on their own. Hence new occupational classes were created and accommodated in different grades in the social hierarchy. The feudal fighting class of Nayars, the toddy tapping class of Izhavas, the agricultural laboring class of the Pulayas, and such other castes came into existence under these circumstances. The Nayars who were the formal owners of the land still continue to enjoy the privilege status as jenmis and they kept these toiling classes under subordination to them. Kerala thus came under the grip of exploitative feudal economy” (The Kerala history and its makers. P.41)

A researcher in Social history has remarked: “The detractors have complicated psyches and prone to prejudice, jealousy and arbitrariness. When historians became detractors they created havoc in the minds of readers, especially among the section of the society they degraded by them in writings. Sometimes they did it deliberately and sometime such statements originated from the subconscious.”(V P Sugathan, Cranganur)

They have not analyzed the religious system of Kerala Brahmin’s existed which is under a rigid Vedic framework. Malayalam Brahman’s were a segment of settlers of the gramas and they were doing vaidikavruththi.

These systems of different periods are being analyzed at grass root level and will be able to bring out some logical observations. The Brahmin social system is also put to rigorous analysis based on preliminary surveys.  These issues are discussed at length in various books and research papers by this author (See references) Important areas of discussion are   summarized here with some explanations.

  Brahmin Oligarchy and Hegemony

Brahmin settlements : Views re-examined                                                     

Different views put forward by the historians are discussed below.

 “The fact that the Aryan Brahmans of Kerala were well-organised under a central leader ship is proved by the information pattern of temple inscriptions, and above all, the reference to the Moozhikkulam Kachcham or Agreement of Moozhikkulam    as the precedent in records from different parts of Kerala. Moozhikkulam is actually one of the four leading settlements mentioned in this tradition. Therefore, Keralolpathi-claim in this regard may be taken as largely and substantially true.” (MGS)

The central controlling power is the king( kulasekhara ) He or koil adhikari is  present in the decision-making sabha as per various inscriptions . He was present in the sabha which made decisions in fiscal matters related to Perunna temple. It was conducted in the netiyathali, thaliyaathiri-kazhhakam seat at Mahodayapuram. It is implied that Moolikkalam sabha was also conducted in these lines

The theory that there were 32 Brahmin settlements in Kerala put forward by Keralolpaththi is to be re-examined here. Kerala Brahmin grammas are not a group of Brahmin families settled around a temple-Gramashethram- in the form of centralized villages.

Kerala Brahmins are temple service groups. A few families  lived around the temple to attend the temple duties. These duties usually start before the sunrise and end at late in night. So they have to live close to the temple. Essential temple communities were also lived around the temple making a temple complex- a pattern of mixed settlements. This small group of essential temple service sector consisting Brahmin poojaris, vaidikas,Othikkans etc is seen explained as “powerful” Political and Economic groups by the above historians.

1 Muzhikkalam temple

Muzhikkalam Temple

     Gramam is not a”settlement “ zone of Brahmins in a centralized pattern. It is only a Social framework. The term denotes a social grouping only. The families of a grama living in a distant place always worship their ancestral deity of the gramakshethra  in their  house. It is the “thevaaram” or daily worship of puranic deities in the morning. In the evening they conduct a devi pooja by name “bhagavathiseva”,a worship of female deity. This is done for the ancestral goddess or deity of the sacred grove to which they are connected. It will clearly bring out the indications of actual grama of the family. They used to assemble in the particular grama  as  and when they are needed .This shows the umbilical relations of the grama members to the grama. Raghavavarior and Rajan gurukkal and Kesavan put forward their theory  that the centralized settlement of the Brahmans in the grama  necessitated  a Re-structring of the settlement patterns and Labour system. Thus it was a change over to a new Social system. It is not correct.

Brahmin gramam  is not a spatially distributed entity or a centralized village system. They are organized only for Vedic studies and there are no suggestions in any inscription that there are ruling groups in Vedic Brahmans of Kerala. There are some groups incorporated to Brahmin Religious folder with Brahmin rites  . Such groups might have adopted the rites for getting elevated in the social status and to serve other purposes of their own. Various kazhakam group of families form such a sword wearing ruling class (Val nampi) with semi- brahminical rites, customs and manners. They are not Brahmins as far as Vedic rites and Brahmin customs are concerned .The observation that”Arya Brahmans of Kerala were well-organized under a central leader ship is proved by the information pattern of temple inscriptions” is incorrect. No such pattern is seen; no such leadership is mentioned in the records. It is again a puzzle. If these Brahmins were so powerful, what happened to this powerful  kazhaka set up? If they were so power full to bring down a king from the thrown ,what happened to this Naluthali system? After kulasekhara of Mahodaya puram, nothing is heard about this so called power factor.

Each Brahmin family has its own identity and the families under a gramam, own a group identity. Thus there are 32 groups of Brahmins. 11(Ten and a half) are Vedic groups and 18 are Sasthra groups. Three groups are not pure Brahmins as explained here. These are Venmani, Chengannur and Payyannur kazhaka and Chengamanatu  gramas. These identities are based on the rites dictated to the family by Othikkan and to the Grama by the vaidikan.We have to analyse the Customs and manners, Vedic rites, Pattern of Samskaras such as Shodasa (16 rites), Ekadasa (11 rites), Ashta (eight rites), etc. taking in to consideration to identify each family and each a grama system. The concept of grama is based on rites ;and not on any other criteria.

The 11 gramas have vedadhikaram.Four of them have yagadhikaram.But families of 18 sasthra  group have vedadhikara and muthal mura(recitation of Veda for the first time.).But they discontinue the Veda recitation after muthal mura. They have 15 brahmin rites or samskaras. vedadhikari-yagadhikari (11 gramas) have “16” samskaras.Thus we have to discuss these aspects of gramas in grass root level to understand the nature of the grama. Not a single scholar has attempted this.      


There are   18 gramas where sasthras are taught in18 salas associated with grama kshethra. Along with sasthra they might have been studying Dhanurveda. Dhanur Veda is considered as an inferior Veda because it is a Sasthra. The other sathras taught in these Salas were Mimamsa, Vedantha and, Vyakarana and two fold divisions of each of them. Thus 6 divisions are taught under three heads in 18 salas. Such centres were not yet identified. This system of 18 sasthra teaching centers might be the reason of emerging Kerala as a centre of traditional sciences and technical knowledge. Excavations in large temple complexes  of the traditional kazhakam headquarters may bring out the sala vasthu(fencing school) if  it existed there. It was customary to Vedic groups and sathra groups that they must do namaskaram (Obeisance) after the end of a karma or ritual reciting a portion of Veda or Sasthra they are specializing. These Brahmins are promoters of each Sasthra and each Veda. In the north Indian system, Vedas and Sasthras are taught common to all Brahmins. In Kerala it is separated for effective growth of each branch of them. Specialisation in each branch is seen based on Brahmin families. Sasthra nampoothiris (caththirar.)are considered lower to Vedic nampoothiris.There were 18 samghas (Groups) in sathra nampoothiris.They are Yathrakali nampoothiris (sasthrakali). Such  samghas exist even now.But they are Stage performers of  Sathrakali, a Satire dramatic form. If they were widely spread over Kerala as warrior groups at a time, what happened to this traditional system is to be explained. There is no evidence of these training  Centers, training system as a tradition in family set up anywhere in Kerala.



The remarks about these caattirar by historians are to be noted here. Kesavan says:

”In the above records (Parthivapuram record of 866 AD) Two  things stand out clear and unmistakable. (a) Cattas were essentially Brahmana students and (b) apart from Vedic sasthraic lore, military training also formed an important part of their curriculum” He continues thus:”The salai of parthivapuram was not the only one of its kind. It was, says the inscription, modeled on the lines of the salai at kanthalur.There were other sala is as known inscriptions of Kerala.  To the ninth tenth and eleventh century well Names of places like valiya salai, cala ppuram, sriivallabhapperumcalai etc. can also be believed to be relics of such institutions. These show that a strong net-work of these institutions was flourishing in Kerala by the ninth century” (p103).

The conclusive remarks made by him are that the Brahman students were given military training (not fencing!)in these institutions. In the parthivapuram calai there were a total 95 seats for various courses.45 for pavazhiya charana; 36 for taittariiya charana; 14 to talavakaara charana making a total of 95 students. The seats to be instituted in future were to be divided equally among candidates belonging to the three charanas. The students should have sufficient proficiency in Vedas. He remarks:”the proscription of taking weapons to the class, of fighting with arms on the temple premises of keeping maid servants in the mathas etc is also significant.”This seems to be a matha, an institution for Vedic studies. Those who studied   vyakarana and mimasa are also eligible for admission to Vedic   studies. No reference of a military training course is seen. Some general hostel rules are stated here to control the student’s behavior.

It was a matha and from its name it is clear that it was sathra training institution-Sala too. Names of places ending in Sala need not be sala   centers. His arguments are exaggerated. Kuvalayamala reference given here is also of no help in this regard. The text is describing situations of  Rajasthan. Kanci ,or unidentified vijayapuri were also of no help here. Parthivapuram or kanthalur are also not  examples here in the Kerala context, because we have to discuss a unique system of Brahmin grama system. According to Kesavan and MGS, kazakam is an institution like ghatika seen in kanjchi. kazhakam is a political Division under utaiyavar system and kazhakam was a title given to valnampi families. The present enquiries show that the theory of a large Brahmin miltary force and a network of salas for the military training of Brahmins and military centres of  kazhakams  are  imaginations built up by Ilamkulam and his students. No scientific or logical evidences are put forward to make conclusions in this way.

But teaching of Dhanurveda is not mentioned anywhere except a reference in one Sala inscription (Parthhivapuramkanthalur inscription) about the prohibition to bringing arms into the sala campus. Thus it is to be assumed that there was not a military training (Fencing school) course of arms in the Sala. If it was such a teaching centre, this prohibition becomes meaningless. Students who study Vedas and  are Brahmacharis and they are not permitted to use arms or the are never allowed to make contacts with ladies. This is customary  for Brahmin System of Education.    There are references of caththirar/cattar in the inscription .Reference of 175 chattas is seen in the 10th cAD Thiruvalla plates. The expenses incurred in preparing daily food for them is elaborated in the inscription .But the lengthy inscription never mentions anything about the training school. Kanthalur salai was on the southern extremity of Kerala- Ay country .Thiruvalla is on the northern border of Ay country of that period.   No details about the Muzhikkulam sala are available.

“It is quite possible that to political vacuum that was Kerala, came the Brahmans with their peculiar Para -military organization. This would suggest that it was not only by the “art of peace “ but also by “force of arms” that they expanded to this part of the   country.”(Kesavan p4)

Was this paramilitary force , a migration of warrior class dominant peasants lived in South Canara and Pallava land during 5-7 c.AD?


Sabha , Kazhakam, Muzhikkala Kaccam

According to Kesavan  and  MGS, kazakam is an institution like ghatika seen in kanjchi.Kazhakam is a political Division under utaiyavar system and kazhakam was a title to identify the family of valnampi families. They are sword wearing ruling families.   The present enquiries show that the theory of a large Brahmin military force and a network of salas for the military training of Brahmins and military centres of  kazhakams are all imagination of historians like Ilamkulam. No scientific or logical evidences are put forward to make such conclusions.

It is proved beyond doubt that all “sabha” or temple administrative councils were headed by the Kulasekhara king, koyilathikari, nutuvar, utaiyavar and naluthali (Representatives of four kazhakams.)Sabha is always met in the external mandapa or vathilmatom because of this non- Brahmin participation.Uraalers is only one unit among the administrative Council. Four families-mutthil ,karingam palli, elamthuruththi and kadampanad–pointed out by historians as representatives  of  Muzhikkalam,Airanikkalam and Paravoor sitting as thaliyathiris in the four thalis are all Kazhakam families.They are Semi–Brahmans having only 11 brahmin rites.So it is clear that there were representatives of ruling groups as naaluthali.Paravuur was a kazhakam.Their representatives are Gramaniis and not nampoothiri vaidika group. There were four kalakams. Perinjchellur, Panniyur, Paravur, and Chengannur. Four temples were the centres of kazhakams. Thus it is to be assumed that the representative of four kazhakams were  “Ruling Social group”

Recent researches prove that there were more than 145 kazhakam families distributed in the four kazhakams. In Perimchellur kazhakam there are 14 kazhakam families widely distributed in the region between perum puzha and korappuzha.In Panniyur kazhakam there are 28 urilparishamuus families in the area between korappuzha and bharathappuzha. There are 48 gramani kazhakam families under Paravur kazhakam in between bharathappuzha and Miinachchil River. The Chengannur kazhakam consisted of 20 pantaraththil families as kazhakam ruling group distributed between Miinachchil River and Pampa River.

This means there existed an average of four or five ruling families in a taluk, who ruled the region wearing sword. All these families still exist. Kazhakam is a Political division existed even before the Kulasekharas of Mahodayapura under the utaiyavar rulers. Thus the kazhakams were assumed to be sitting in the four thalis of Mahodayapuram. These ruling groups are supporting kulasekharas because they are the representatives of naatuvazhi utaiyavar. There were 14 natuvazhis in the Chera land according to the inscriptions and major decisions are taken by the kulasekhara. They are present in the Sabha. They witness agreements entered by the king in trade activities. These regional rulers became very power full and by 1102AD kulasekhara rule collapsed. These utayavars became swarupams. The valnampi and kazhakam rulers became the sthanis or local rulers of swarupams.

It is to be pointed out that Utayavar system is discussed in detail in my book Kerala samskaaram-akavum puravum chaptersVII-XI  Pp:194-542(Calicut 2000)and Details of swarupams in Malabar pathanangngal-samuthirinatu(2007). The power structures ruled over Kerala are thus:

1Early cheras

2Utaiyavar system

3KulaSekharas of Mahodayapuram



A detailed analysis of utayavar system , Kaavuthattakams (Devine land)of the early times are given in the work Kerala charithram ezhuthaappurangnga (2012)

There are no evidences to point out that the king or sabha discussed matters of administration with these naaluthali at any point of time. There are only a couple of inscriptions to prove the existence of naaluthali.

Kesavans remarks:1 “There are  inscriptions which suggest that the perumal  had a council  called  Naluthali .At least a  couple of them speak of the Perumal  having taken important decisions in consultation with  it.”

2 “What is more important is the political role which the Naluthali played.  Epigraphic evidence tells us that this body functioned as king’s council. It seems that it influenced the decisions of the monarch considerably in administrative and fiscal matters. An inscription from  the Rameswaraswamin  temple  at kollam speaks of the amends that king  Ramavarmakula Sekhara had  made for the  wrong he had  done the “aryas” “an expression  used to, indicate  the Brahmans. This shows the extent of power that the Brahmanas had whereby they could force such an act of atonement on the ruler himself. That the document makes specific reference to presence of naaluthali, on the occasion is significant. In  fact the accounts in keralopathi say that the  naaluthali  had extracted  an oath of  habitual  allegiance from the ruler  and that it was  the naaluthali that was responsible for establishing  king of the  throne.” (Kesavn, Thapasam.2006).

kazhakams  and naalu thali groups are mentioned in temple inscriptions. Three inscriptions of Kulasekharas written during 10th cAD mention the presence of Naluthali attending the  sabha.There are more than 175 kulasekhara inscriptions available. Except the three records pointed out , naluthali is not mentioned in any other inscriptions.There were various ruling groups in the sabha. Sabha is headed by Kulasekhara and attended by nurruvar,utayavar,patanayar,koil adhikarikal etc.

“Gramas”  are  not  organized groups of Brahmins with a central controlling Brahmin political  authority. Gramas are under the control of Non-Brahmin utaiyavar and semi-Brahmin kazhakam group of ruling class who ruled the natu . Venattutaiyavar ,valluvanattutaiyar and other natuvazhis are mentioned in the inscriptions. Moozhikkalakkachcham is not an evidence to prove the central controlling Brahmin authority.

“These rules must have been designed by the assembly of mulikkalam grama probably meeting under the Perumal or his representative as usual.As mulikkalam happened to be one of the four leading Brahmin settlements their leadership could have been accepted in the matter of this code of conduct in other places too—These indications are sufficient to show that it was the policy enunciated at mulikkalam to see  that those who violated an agreement arrived at unanimously by the uraalar and govt officers had to be excommunicated after the confiscation of their rights and properties.” (P114-115 MGS)

It is very clear that Brahmin authority is very nominal and Perumal is attending the meeting.Naaluthali mentioned by MGS belongs to Paravur kazhakam.All members are kazhakam families.

 Fabricated story of Kings embracement of Islam and Brahmin Oligharchy

     kazhakam families adopted limited Brahmanism(ekadasa samskaras) and followed brahmanical rites to attain permission  to wear sacred thread. Paravur was the most powerfull kazhakam.This kazhakam region is very extensive. It spreads in between bharathappuzha and miinachchil river and this form the hinterland area of Kodungallur port. Circumstances prove that most important Port at Kodungallur belongs to  Paravurkazhakam. So Paravurkazhakam might be the local political power who helped  the  Chera family to emerge as Kulasekhara Power.  A detailed study of kazhakam system  and the part played by utaiyavar  system in Kerala History are to be rigorously studied. The historians made conclusions based on very few references of Kulasekhara system.

Kesavan and MGS are of view that Ramakulasekhara  was forced to surrender on the basis of Brahmanical prescriptions .It is pointed out that the king left to Mecca after surrender . The arguments are based on a single inscription of Ramakulasekhara dated 1102 AD. There it is mentioned that the king conducted a praysciththa(pizha-Fine)to the temple and to Thirukkunavay deity. Naluthali ,nutuvar and all such members were there. There were no discussions or any demands from the part of the naaluthali or anybody participated in the function. There are three type of atonements; sarvaprayaciththa, vilichchucholli prayasciththa   and prayaschitha.Any atonement ritual never demands surrender of   throne by the king. Here Ramavarma had to pay fine to the temple treasury.  This is the simplest form of prayaschchitha. Remarks made by MGS about the naaluthali in this context is illogical:

“The last Chera king Ramakulasekhara is stated to have been sitting in council with naaluthali and Trikkunnappozhai at Netiyathali when he passed orders regarding the annual revenue to be collected from perunna temple.

Jewish copper plate:”The presence of the six feudatories and the commander of the army also show that this was the capital. More over two inscription of Ramakulasekhara from Perunna and kollam respectively refer to Naluthali in the council of the king. Naluthali finds mention in a 12th c AD record in Thirukkulasekharapuram in Kodungallur.

This was evidently a war council; the very object of the grant of privileges to the Jews to which all these persons were witnesses must have been the collection of funds for the prosecution of the war of resistance. There for it may be presumed that Naluthali advised the King in religious matters while a council of feudatories and commanders discussed the affairs of war and Pease involving defense.” (Thesis)

Veluththattu made some remarks depending on these observations and he made his own additions:

“In  fact the accounts in keralopathi say that the  naaluthali  had extracted  an oath of  habitual  allegiance from the ruler  and that it was  the naaluthali that was responsible for establishing  king of the  throne.”

All explanations of these crucial issues are based on legends stated in Keralolpaththi.

“It is now believed that Ramakulasekhara the last of the perumals, who fought bravely against the Cholas and maintained his independence against many odds and extended the chera domain up to kottar ,in the south ,did not rule beyond 1102AD.This is a mistake.”(MGS p63)

The theory that Ramavarma surrendered to naaluthali is thus baseless and is  a distorted version of history which has brought irrecoverable damage to the outlook  of Students and Society of Kerala as a  whole. This interpretation seem to be one of the starting points of  social friction in the Social outlook. This means the Brahmin naaluthali theory put forward by these historians is wrong. This again means the Brahmin settlement theory is wrong.

He continues:

”That the Chera king dom continued to exist under the same   Perumal until 1122 AD and fought   many wars against the combined forces of the Cholas and Pandyas could be proved with the help of chola-pandya inscriptions though no cera inscription after 1102 AD has been discovered in Kerala.The early records of VikramaChola (1118-1135AD) throw some light on the Chola wars —A Tanjore inscription of the Vikrama chola 4th year (1122 AD) mentions that :

“The chezhiyar (Pandyas)took to the Ghats, the Ceralar took to the sea, Simhalar got frightened ,the Gangar offered tribute ,the Kannadar turned their backs, and the Kongar became submissive. (Cheliyar vencuram puuka Ceralar Katalpuuka alitharu cinkalar anchi nenchalamaakee kankkar tiraiyita kkannatar vennita kkonkarotunka. (SII no 68.310-11 1.2)..

There is no distortion of the truth in the other statements and naturally the reference to the ceras must also be true. In that case it means that the Cera king fled from the country by embarking on a sea voyage. This agrees well with the Keralolpaththi brahmanical tradition, corroborated by the Muslim tradition recorded by Sheik Sainudin that last Cera Perumal embraced Islam, went on pilgrimage to Mecca and died there.”

According to MGS somebody made an offering of a thumbamala(Garland) to the deity of  Thiruvalanchuzhi temple in 1122 AD for the benefit of “Ceramanar Rama” as per an inscription  and it is the same Rama kulasekhara,  probably disappeared from the scene in 1122 AD .This was the 33rd year of reign of Ramavarma .

“Rama was the name of the last Cheraman Perumal of Kerala.Rama kulasekhara may safely be identified as this last Cheraman .”

There is no conclusive evidence to prove the act of religious conversion or Perumals journey to Mecca. All these are fabricated stories and fragmentary notices in inscriptions and legends.

Kesavan even attempted to re-name Brahmins as Kshathriyas.See the remarks:

“ Naluthali, and the Brahman power it represented have been demonstrated as the real power behind the Cera throne. It is that fact that is underlined by the verse quoted above upon whose bidding the King is the lord of the earth. ” vaacaayeeshaam bhavathi nrupathir naayako raajyalaksmyaa: it was not for nothing that Kerala was described as brahmashathra and where brahmans played the role of  Kshathriyaas. Several Brahmana families Kerala were even given training in the use of arms for this purpose,a tradition which is again attested by epigraphy and literature.”(Kesavan, thapasam) .

MGS is also not satisfied with his own explanations. It is clear in his remarks

”what really happened was the development of the districts of Cera kingdom into so many independent principalities following the disappearance of the sovereign– the sudden  disappearance of the central authority in the Chera  kindom in this manner demands an explanation but the circumstances under which it occurred are far from clear in the present state of our knowledge. The departure of the Perumal to Mecca thus became symbolic of certain revolutionary changes in the political and social set up of Kerala and was therefore deeply engraved in the memory of the people. This explains why the Cheraman legend is cherished everywhere…..”

Subdivisions of Brahmin Social group and Kerala Society

Till the “upanayana” or ceremony of wearing Sacred Thread (yajjnopaviitham) the brahmin boy is “Unni”or “Nampi”. During a permitted period, the boy takes essential “vruthas or sacrifices”to become a   scholar in Vedas, Brahmanas, Upanishads and Aranyakas.After “samavarthana” he is a “Nampoothiri”.A nampoothiri who conducted agnyadhana,is Atithiri,Somayaga is chomathiri,Agni is akkiththiri or agnihothri.Thus the word nampoothiri means a vedadhikari,not anything less.

There are many Brahmin Social groups  based on customs ,manners , and  religious and social rites. Eight groups include groups of various nature .They include samkethikas or astha  vaidyas(ayurveda), who study a branch of sasthra. The groups who study “para- military science” or dhanurveda are under chaththirar. These eight sub groups have 16 samskras.  Hence it is incorrect to group Brahmins under a single folder and evaluate them as a “monolithic Social group” .Thus the nyunadwijas who are ruling class and temple communities came into the Brahmin folder. There was enough flexibility in the Brahmin Social system to   accommodate ,include or exclude  non Brahmin groups into the folder. Thus the nyuna   dwijas are counted as lower grade Brahmins. A major group of nyuna dwijas is Kazhakams leadership and they were leaders of warrior groups and dominant peasant groups.

No researcher or historian of Kerala  studied the Social situations of Kerala  in a Scientific way. All are focusing the issue of Brahmin settlements but not studying anything about them beyond naluthali, gramahsethra Oligarchy etc. And the analysis is completely unscientific. No comment is seen about the other Social groups of Kerala. Brahmins of Kerala is only 5%.

Burton Stein, the renowned South Indian Historian (Peasant State and Society in Medieval South India 1980) made the following remarks.

“Also important fact that most locality warriors of South India, in Pallava times and somewhat later, were obviously of peasant origin and derived a part of their local authority from their continued identification as such; many other warriors of lower social origins (e.g. hill people on the fringes of peasant society appeared to have been content to rise to the status of respectable peasants…”p71

“Only in Kerala did there emerge warrior lineages whose rule over relatively large territorial units persisted through substantial periods. It is important to note that these warriors never lost their identity as Nayars, the bulk of whom were regarded by Brahmans at least as Sudras. Nayar “Kshathriyahood” has thus been a base of enriched Sudra status. However modest an accomplishment, the investment of sections of the dominantnon-brahman population with durable Kshathriya status was not replicated in other parts of the  southern peninsula except in very remote and miniscule hill tracts This is an important reason for excluding Kerala from the macro region.”(p50)

“The crucial element for victory apart from individual military ability that the capacity of a warrior leader to mobilize a large contingent of armed Kinsmen and their retainers to defend against or aggress upon a neighbor. In the South Indian macro region, during the earliest period surveyed here, the political context was also confined to a small territory in which Brahmins and high non-Brahmins shared authority over the population of lower caste people, whose major political function it was to dispose of the corporate interests expressed by various Kinds of groups informal assemblies.” (P.49)

In Tulu nadu  system, there also such gradations are visible.There existed the Original Brahmins who were brought from Ahichchathra for conducting Yagas etc.It was objected by the indigenous Brahmins and there arose a social friction. The indigenous Brahmins were earlier group of local people, Fishermen community etc who were converted to Brahminsm by the legendary Parasurama. They were degraded when new migrants came to the land.These issues are not at all addressed by Nagendra  Rao who prepared his M phil dissertation on Gramapaddhathi in 1995 under the guidance of Dr.Veluththattu Kesavan.

“Thus here we find that attempt for justification of the position,the social status claimed by the brahmanas.There is also an attempt to claim the owner ship of large tracts  of  land on the west coast.D D Kosambi  says that this ownership of land was facilitated  by acolaboration with native communities on the west coast and  these native population were the actual cultivators of land the produce of which was ultimately appropriated by brahmana landlords.the statement in the gramapaddhathi that the peasants such as nadavar or nayars were brought from ahichchathra by Mayu ravarma himself acquires better sense inthis light .So also the way in which the fallen Brahmans or the defeated chandalas were accommodated as farm peasants or farm labourers as given in the text can be explained in this way.thus these traditions of the needs of the Brahman land souhcanara we find there was no complete dominationof brahmanas as far as land ownership and economic power is concerned.It was largely the community known as the bants or nadavar who owned land in a big way .They are considered as Sudras in accommodating themon the hierarchy of caste.this itself means the acceptance ofbrahmanical hegomany .the brahmanas were successful in getting thisaccepted although they did not have any domination over the means of production.yet whatever land was owned by the brahmanas was sought to be justified and along with it their position in society.  Along with the control of the temples and the land owned by those institutions,as we find in the inscriptions,it was possible for at least a section of  Brahman community to accumulate properties. Both had to be legitimized.”(Nagendra Rao p.188-189)

These  are  the  same views put forward  by Kesavan and other Kerala scholars.D D Kosambi has not surveyed the Tulunadu situations. The  land was owned and  utilized by local warrior groups  like nadavar and nayar ,Dominant peasants in Tulunadu.

“ The most distinctive feature of the social order in South India from the medieval period was alliances between brahmins in the localities and respectable cultivating group” (Franklin quoted D. D. Nampoothiri. )

“The core of social relationship involving the land in medieval South India was that between Brahmins and peasants. It is this nexus, despite variations over time and over the complex macro region, which provides a fundamental defining characteristic of the medieval period.”

“ In general the segmentary states of medieval South India assume, rathar than create, an agrarian order maintained and managed by dominant peasant groups, their chiefs, and prestigious communities of Brahmans. this has been true from the time of Pallavas when the basic structure of agrarian relations were first clearly exposed by contemporary documents. what is revealed in these Pallava documents is an agrarian order which endured for a Millennium. (P.63.)

“Hart in the “Ancient Tamil Literature…” P.33 FN suggests that there is much validity in speaking of the Tamizhisation of brahmans as the Sanskritisation by them” Some convenient way is required for reffering to the interaction between Dravidian elements, or other sub-cultural variants within the Indian cultural sphere, and the set of elements with which the great tradition of India is associated.” (p 63,p.66 FN. P66-67. Burton Stein)

The Kerala studies must be done taking these observations in to consideration. It is a desideratum.

Now, according to this social classification all the 32 Brahmin settlements are not “Brahmin” settlements. Recent researches reveal that at least 3 gramas are not pure Brahmin settlements in it’s basic meaning. There are centres of kazhakam gramas.  Panniyur ,and Karikkat and Paravur are also need further investigation.  Brahmin settlement system has to be re-defined and put into further analysis based on inter disciplinary methods, cultural  anthropological principles, cultural signifiers  and rigorous surveys.

Arddha brahmana gramas or gramas of mixed social groups are not gramas of Vedic Brahmins. There exists  pure nayar groups as kazhakam families . The semi Brahmin groups are Local warrior groups as seen in Pallava regions.These local warrior groups are “nurruvar” groups of the local rulers or utaiyavar ruling group.Later we see that these local warrior groups are the micro-local  land segment rulers .During the  period of the traditional rule of Cheraman Perumal , Kerala was divided into kazhakams. Even now these non-brahmin kazhakam families exist.There were other divisions also.4 talis constituted one nalpati . 4 naalpaatis constituted one kazhakam.Two kazhakams formed a perumkazhakam.Two Perumnkazhakam formed the keralam. It reveals that there was a local Non Brahmin power structure in Chera land.

a.  Present studies clearly  prove that the Venmani Gramam was  not occupied by   “yagadhikaari” nampoothiris.Chengannur kazhaka centre was chengannur Temple.TheirVaidikas were Itamana pantaraththil whose ancestors were supposed  be belonged to chemkotta,in Tamil naatu.Tradition says that ancestors of  Vannjippuzha pantaarathil were migrated from Andhra pradesh.In chengannur and Venmani  gramas most of the families come under kazhakam group.kazhakam familes are valnampis (sword bearing nampii group ,who were ruling families of chengannur kazhakam.)They are nampyathiris and kaulathanthra purohithas. There exists 14 familes in this gramam.

b  The Payyannur gramam is also not a vipra brahmananampoothiri gramam.There were 16 familes in thi  graamam.They follow the matrilineal system of inheritance.They are called thirumumpu.They are yajurvedi vedadhikaris.But they never enter the sanctum sanctorum of the temple and do puujavriththiis.

c . Tradition   says that there were only 11 (Ten and a half ) gramas of vedadhikariis and Four gramas of yagadhikaris in the so called settlements in Kerala. Survey’s  in the  families of the Gramas also prove this situation.

The Utaiyavar or chieftains who ruled the sacred grove thattakams called chieftaincies(naatu)during the Kulasekhra period were 14 in number. Venattutaiyavar, Eranaattutaiyavar, Valluvanattutaiyavar ,Netumpurayurnattutaiy avar  etc were the Utaiyavars who gradually became the Swarupams  after the decline of Kulasekhara rule by 1102A D. All these utaiyavars were belonged to

Non-Brahmin social groups . “Arya Brahman settlements “   are very few.    A mixture of  various social groups is the  major part of  Kerala Brahmin settlements.   The observation that they were “well organized under a central leader ship” etc is also not evidenced by inscriptions.

There are a number of social groups in Non- Brahmin societies in Kerala like Nayars etc .illathu nair,kiriyaththu nayar, veluthetathu nayar,vilakkiththala nayar etc  But vilakkiththala,veluthedaththu etc are not Proper  Nayar sub divisions according to traditional Nayar groups.

In this way Brahmins of Kerala are basically two groups; Vipra kulam and Nyuna dwijakulam.Vipra kulam has 8 sub-divisions . Nyunadwijakulam has two divisions 1.Ampalavasi or temple servants like Ilayathu etc.2.Kazhakams or ruling class like moosad, pantarathil ,thangal and gramani. Nyuna dwijas  have no vedadhikaram.They are eligible to conduct only 8 or 11 samskaras ( rites). They have upanayana rite and they conduct sacred thread wearing ceremony.But they are not Brahmins according to rites and norms. The Paravur kazhakam member sitting as representative of muzhikkalam is pointed out by historians.

“The Caste Suffix Namboothiri – The Braahmanans in Kerala are designated as “Aaryan” and “Aarya Braahmanan” in one inscription. But the caste suffix “Namboothiri” which their descendants employ in present day Kerala is not found in the records. The Aaryan Braahmanans of Chera period and Namboothiris of the present day are one and the same people.”This observation of MGS is not based on facts.

Preliminary survey and comparative study of Brahmin settlements described in Gramapadhdhathi ,a traditional history of  Thulunadu and situations of Brahmanism in Pallava regions ( 5-7 c AD) prove that the nyuna dwijakula social groups of Kerala are to be taken as indigenous people, incorporated  into the Brahmin Social class of  Kerala and theyhave a minimum bhrahminical rites. They are Ruling class and Dominant  peasants.They wear sword as a sign of political power. Details of such groups are discussed in the studies of Zamorins records. Thus the Agricultural labourers and occupational groups of non agricultural-angaati(market)were out of this folder.    Gramapaddhathi records these important evolutions. It   clearly elaborates this traditionally accepted Social system.

Social interactive layers of Society during Kulasekhara Period

The Kerala society of Kulasekhara period can be put under three divisions.

1  Highly privileged group

2  Privileged group

3. Un privileged group.

Rulers, Brahmins, and ruling group under Dominant peasants make division one. They include Brahmins and non -Brahmin warrior groups .Ownersip of land was vested in temples as devaswams and given to Brahmins as  brahmaswams.Both these type of land was utilized by the privileged groups. utaiyavar land was ceerikkals. All the land belonged to brahmins,  utaiyavars and leading non Brahmin groups as per records. The land was distributed to the Dominant peasants for cultivation  for  lease. Thus the means of production was controlled and utilized by Privileged  groups . Here there is a clear Brahmin- Non-brahmin-semi-brahmin axis.It is thus formed to control the wealth of the state.

The land was cultivated by labour   class and it was supervised by Dominant Non Brahmin peasants. They collected the produces and one sixth of the produce collected was returned to the janmi .In this transaction the Dominant peasants who were the karalar  (Non Brahmin groups) accumulated wealth. This situation is clearly explained with all evidences in studies of Zamorin’s   records. The land records were not collected or studied by the academic historians. The third layer, un-privileged groups ,were land and market  laboures.

According to the historians Brahmins  were able to appropriate landed properties of  Non-Brahmin groups. However Veluthat  Kesavan has rejected this argument. He comments thus:

“Prof. Elmakulam has argued that it was by appropriating the property given to the temples by non-Brahmin land owners that brahmins in medieval Kerala become land lords. This prejudice of cruelty and caprace on the part of brahmans was a result of his hypothesis of the non-brahman constitution of the village councils and the “Hundred Years War” both of which have been rejected by recent researches.  ”(p. 56,)

The situation is explaind as follows:

“ The popular matrilineal caste of  Nayars along with Brahmans in South India had, by and large, conceded higher social status to clean sudras whose economic and political supremacy was built on land-control, territory and force” (DDN)

Kesavan in his settlement studies has pointed out that enormous wealth was manipulated even for the feeding of Brahmins in Thiruvalla temple in 10th cAD

“An important section of the temple properties comprised land .Thus we have 12634 Kalam(a measure) seed capacity of paddy fields and some garden lands, the income from which was used for feeding Brahmans in the temple.” (P.42 KesavanThiruvalla settlement a case study.).

According to the standard measure  this will give an annual income of 31,56000 paras of paddy with which 63,19000 persons can take food per year. It means that on an average of,17819 persons can take meals  two times a day for 365 days from the temple. There must be 10000 Brahmins around the temple to take food on every day.  This is the way of exaggeration in writing history of Brahmin settlements of Kerala. The temple had extensive lands, enormous  storage of Gold and large amount of cash  income  from devotees as temple property . These are re-distributed among the privileged groups because they are the karalas. It is not correct to say that all these properties were looted by Brahmins. The temple property was a Social asset. But Agricultural  laborers or unprivileged groups had nothing to do with the wealth. They are landless group.

Kesavan traces the evolutionary history of medieval Brahmin settlements in this way:

“The corporate character of these council (Naluthali) gradually gave way to domination of individual families for many reasons. These individuals themselves owning huge estates as Brahmaswom or Brahman’s property controlled the properties of the temple also…..each settlement was becoming a law unto itself. They came to posses extraordinary powers and each settlement became something like a legally constituted political sub region. This was called Samketam within limited temporal power within its jurisdiction independent of the local chieftain. The Samketham organization controlling the landed property dictated the pattern of the land tenure. The Fixity of tenure enjoyed under the Cera Kingdom was gradually removed and feudal landlordism came to develop in Kerala.”(Kesavan)

In his grandhavari studies ,MGS placed the above situation in this way.

” Recent studies of Brahmanical institution of medieval Kerala such as Vanjeri grandhavary have clearly brought out the dependent and vulnerable character of  Nambudhiri Sankethams(Brahman asministered territories of medieval Kerala consisting of different villages organized around a Brahman temple) Most historical writings had, until recently, treated these Sankethams as independent Republics of medieval Kerala free from the control of neighbouring chieftains and Kings from outside. Vanjeri Grandhavari has conclucively shown that the Nambuthiri administered Sankethams depended on the neighbouring chieftains for everything from the constitution of their Yogam to the maintenance of law and ordering areas under their jurisdiction. The chieftain appointed Nayars for policing within the Sanketham for which they received a part of the revenue.”

D. D. Nampoothiri’s  remarks are important here:

” It can only be claimed that the Sankethams were technically self governing units but really very much subservient to the neighbouring chiefs like any feudal vassal moreover they were, quite helpless in implementing law and order due to the absence of a private militia for their own use”( D. D . Nampoothiri. M.G.S. Vanjeri. 432-433)

There was no private militia for Brahmins. The system of land and Militia of Natuvazhis under Kulasekharas and  local chieftaincies of Kochin is given below.

I Utayavar system :Kulasekhara period.

1 Kolaththiri–  3,50000Nayars of 944 illoms,(fencing militia) nampyanmar,1200 nayars for each nampyar.

2.Venat-35000 nayars.

3Perumpatappu-52karyakkar,18 chieftains.

4 Polanaatu—vazhunnavar(val nampi) 1200 tara’s.

5kurumpiyathiri 30000 nayars, 1200 tara

7 valluvanatu 10000 nayars

8 saamuthiri

II Sthanis or local chieftaincies of Eralanatu. or Samuuthiri

Thirumanasseri-3000 nayars,2.kozhikkolli nayar-3000 etc .

There are 36 sthanis having Nayar militia.For these 36 chieftaincies the militia consisted  of 36000 Nayars.

III According to Keralolpaththi there are 33 sthaani regions in 5 Taluks. anaverage of 600 regional sthani rulers in Kerala. There are 18 naatu or regions according to Keralolpaththi

IV In AD  1767,the following Local chieftaincies were there in Cochin state according to Venugopalan. They possessed militia as given here:

1.Mataththumkizh thavazhi and 4 other branches- 15000-army men

2 kotasseri kaimal-30000,2 korattikaimal-5000  3changaram kothakaimal-5000 and 6 others-Total 106000-All natuvazhis are non-Brahmins.

Kesavan or MGS never addressed these issues. T R Venugopalan says that all wealth of a Samketham,or Temple state was with Yogiathiri and other Brahmins. It is  rejected by MGS in his Vanjeri  Grandhavari studies. Venugopalan and others  are purposefully avoiding the situations of this privileged group, particularly the issue of Dominant peasant groups. These are traditional families and most of them are there even today. It is not possible to write the History of  Kerala based on Myths. We have to address the    Privileged and Unprivileged Social groups  and their evolutionary changes . It is to be noted that the contradiction of interests between these groups is much more than the contradiction between Priveleged and Highly Privileged social groups. But we are addressing only the Brahminism of Kerala.

Dominant peasants and administrative groups form the second layer. The most predominant Social group thus existed was Dominant peasants. They are warrior class as well as ruling class. The unprivileged groups were agricultural laborers. Brahmin “social group gramas” are very few and is only a small segment.

The description given by MGS is not based on any factual findings.

Braahmanans and Caste Symbols of Perumaals :

The tendency on the part of the kings to adopt the caste symbols and legendary claims of the northern rulers and the readiness on the part of the Braahmanan priesthood to confer such honours, would signify close co-operation between kings and Braahmanans. Recruitment of the traditional rulers of Dravidian origin into the Kshathriya caste represents definite stage in the progress of Aaryanisation of south India. According to orthodox Braahminical theory, it was the duty of Kshathriyans to protect the cow and the Braahmanan and uphold “Dharma”.

These implications of caste status in terms of king’s rights and privileges could be found in contemporary Chera practice. The king himself or his representative called “Koyil Adhikaarikal” and “Aalaakoyil” is often found presiding over the assemblies in Aaryan settlements which met inside the temple. His chief councilors were the Braahmanans of “Naaluthali” or the four chief temples.

Braahmanan Oligarchy :

The royal dramatist Kulasekharan claimed that his hand was the “sun to the darkness of poverty among Braahmanans”. An extreme case of subservience to Braahmanans may be noticed in the Kollam inscription of Rama Kulasekharan, 13th year, which says that the king offered “Praayaschitham” for having offended the Aaryans of the place. Such surrender of royal authority to Braahmanans is extremely rare elsewhere in India.
In this context the remarks made by Hart that  “there is much validity in speaking of the Tamizhisation of brahmans as the Sanskritisation by them and Some convenient way is required for reffering to the interaction between Dravidian elements, or other sub-cultural variants within the Indian cultural sphere, and the set of elements with which the great tradition of India is associated.” is very important (Burton Stein p. 63)

All interpretations of Brahmanism and its relation to Perumals of  Mahodayapuram are based only on :

1.Keralolpaththi ,a legendary history of 14-15th  c AD

2. Three or four inscriptions of  Kulasekharas of   11th c AD .The inscriptions says  that Naluthali is also present in the “Sabha”.

3  Kollam  Rameswaram  inscription  of  Ramakulasekhra. Presence of naluthali is mentioned in the inscription. Ramakulasekhara paid  fine to temples and Thirukkunavay.

4.  There is no details and conclusive references of sala, kazhakam( Brahmin military training centres)and cattirar(brahmin militia) for Brahmin settlements.

5   There is no inscription or other records or descriptions to prove the investiture ceremony of any type in the case of Kulasekharas of Mahodayapuram.

6.   King or his representative is seen attending the Council .It is a usual procedure and not anything related to Brahmin Oligharchy.

List of references.

1. Dr N M Nampoothiri .A study of Place names in the Calicut District. Growth of Settlements (Calicut University 1988)

2.   Do            Samuuthiri charithraththile kaanaappurangal (Vallathol Vidyapeedom Sukapuram1987)

3    do          Keralasamskaaram Akavum puravum. (Central co-operative store, Calicut University2000)

4   do            Keralacharithram-Ehuthappurangal (State Institute of languages, Trivandrum.2012-under publication.)

5        do         MamankaRekhakal (Vallathol Vidyapeedom Sukapuram.2007)

6        do           Sthaanaarohana rekhakal (Vallathol Vidyapeedom Sukapuram2006)

7    do         Malabar padanangngal-saamuuthiri naatu (State Institute of languages, Trivandrum. 2007)

8     do        Report submitted to UGC .Cultural geography of Nila river valley. (SNGS College Pattambi 2000) 9 Kesavan Veluthattu, Brahmin settlements of kerala,( Calicut 1978)10 MGSNarayanan Perumals of Kerala( Calicut 1972)

11       do            Aspects of Aryanisation (Trivandrum1976)

12 cultural symbioses in Kerala (Calicut 1972)

13   MGS  Index of chera inscriptions

14    Rajan Gurukkal      Kerala temple 800-1100 A D (Sukapuram 2004)

15   Raghavavariar, Rajan Gurukkal Kerala Charithram (Sukapuram September 1991 )

16    Raghava varrior     Keraliiyathayute charithramanangal (sukapuram 1990Ativerukal kozhikkod 1989)

17 Burton Stein Peasant State And Society in medieval South India (1994 Delhi)

18 Venugopal TRsampaththum adhikaravum.(Trichur Feb 2012)

19 DD Nampoothiri Perspectives in Keralahistor y: Caste and Social change in Colonial Kerala( KCHR 1999)

17 Nagendra Rao.The historical Tradition of South CanaraAnd brahminical groups A study of gramapaddhathti and sahyadrikanda Phil Mangalore university1995.

18 Puthusseri Ramachandran  Keralacharithraththinte Atisthaana rekhakal,(Language institute Trivandrum 2000)

19    Prof Scaria sacaria Ed:Keralolpaththiyum matum ( Kottayam 1992)

20 Keralamahathmyam Translation( Vaidyamadom 2012)

Karthika                                                Alappuzha


Dr. N M Nampoothiri,

Member .Governing Council,Centre for Heritage Studies

Hill palace Thrippuuniththura.Kerala

(Karthika,Irumpupalam P O

Alleppy 11   Mob.9446460755/9388603201

Appendix 1

This  Article give the major arguments and the analysis of sources by MGS and others .The article is given in Namboothiri web site. 2.4 November 2004

Legendary Perumaals

The people of Kerala have cherished the legends of the Perumaals for centuries. The memory of the last one of them, who is said to have partitioned the kingdom and left for Mecca, is vividly enshrined in tradition and literature. This “Cheramaan Perumaal” is often associated with the founding of principalities, temples, churches and mosques, the establishment of the Kollam era, the inauguration of the Onam festival, the introduction of the matrilineal system and the settlement of different communities, in short with everything important in the life of Kerala. His personality pervades everything in the past to such an extent that anyone is left wondering whether this is one individual or a series of them, though it was difficult until recently, to distinguish fact from fiction. It is now clear from the numerous inscriptions of Cheras that Cheramaan Perumaal was a dynastic title enjoyed by all the rulers of the family.

Chronology of Perumaals

The earliest Perumaal known to epigraphy is Rama Raja Sekhara (800 – 844 AD). He is followed by Sthanu Ravi Kulasekhara (844 – 883 AD), Kota Ravi Vijayaraga (883 – 913 AD), Kota Kota Kerala Kesari (913 – 943 AD), Indu Kota (943 – 962 AD), Bhaskara Ravi Manukulaaditya (962 – 1021 AD), Ravi Kota Raajasimha (1021 – 1036 AD), Raja Raja Ravi Raja Adityan Kota Ranaditya (1036 – 1089 AD) and Rama Kulasekhara (1089 – 1122 AD).

The history of the origin and early development of this Chera kingdom of Mahodaya (Makotai) remains obscure. It is distinguished from the earlier Chera kingdom (of Karur) of the Sangham Age by its new capital Mahodaya.

Chaalookyaas and Braahmanans

The Chaalookyaas were great patrons of Braahmanans* and the Aaryan culture and their kings had issued several copper-plate charters to Braahmanan settlers all over their territory.

* The Caste Suffix Namboothiri – The Braahmanans in Kerala are designated as “Aaryan” and “Aarya Braahmanan” in one inscription. But the caste suffix “Namboothiri” which their descendants employ in present day Kerala is not found in the records. The Aaryan Braahmanans of Chera period and Namboothiris of the present day are one and the same people.

Braahmanans Choose Governors

There is no clear picture of the political history and administration in the Chera kingdom of Kongu during this period when they were subordinate to the Chaalookyaas. The earlier Sangham works and inscriptions would suggest that at least during the close of the Sangham age, some members of the Chera royal family lived in the capital, Karur (Salem district of Tamil Nadu) while others ruled in Tondi and Muziris. This same system would have continued in the post-Sangham period from the 4th century onwards, and when Chaalookyaas and Pallavaas, and later the Paandyaas, became the overlords, they must have exercised their right to send governors to this part of Kerala. Perhaps this is what the traditional Braahmanan chronicle of “Keralolpathi” describes as the system of Braahmanan assembling at Tirukkaariyur (Karur) and bringing Perumaals from the other lands (or “Paradesam”). When the organised Braahmanan settlers of the new 32 colonies became prosperous and powerful, they naturally must have had an important role in the administration and also in the choice of the governor stationed at Muchiri (Muziri of Greeks and Romans and Muyirikod of the Jewish copper plates).

Foundation of New Chera Kingdom

The governors from outside must have been appointed by the Cheraas of Karur in Kongu or by their overlords in the Chaalookyaas, Pallavaas and Paandyaas at later times. However, the exact point of time when the Cheraas or other governors were discontinued following the foundation of a new Chera kingdom at Makotai cannot be ascertained with the help of the sources available at present. It is possible that a political revolution supported by the new powerful Aaryan Braahmanan oligarchy enabled some governor belonging to the Chera dynasty to become the founder of a new kingdom with its capital at Makotai near the site of the ancient Muziris of the Sangham age. As pointed out earlier, the Braahmanans of the Aaryan settlements had become established and prosperous by the 8th century. They could well have had a share in promoting the foundation of this kingdom at sometime in the beginning of the 9th century. Their traditional chronicle, “Keralolpathi” gives an account of such a development which may be summarised here.

Cheraman Parambu

Cheraman Parambu

Finding anarchy and mutual conflicts intolerable, the representatives of the 64 Braahmanan settlements (32 of Tulu and 32 of Kerala) elected the representatives of four settlements as leaders and they brought Perumaals from outside Kerala. These Perumaals were to rule for periods of 12 years according to certain rules and regulations. After a long time of rule by Perumaals, they brought the Cheramaan Perumaal, a Kshathriyan once. He was not sent back after the term of 12 years. His sister, a Kshathriya princess, was married to a Braahmanan so that the offspring could be good Kshathriyas of the solar race. When this Perumaal ruled for 36 years, and did not return after that, the overlord, called Krishna Raayar, invaded Kerala. The subjects were divided in their loyalties, but they finally decided to forgo the pattern of government laid down for them by Parasurama and allow Cheramaan Perumaal to rule over Kerala. In spite of some discrepancies in detail, this account is convincing in its outlines. In the absence of clear-cut epigraphic or literary evidence regarding the foundation of this Chera kingdom, this Braahminical tradition may be provisionally accepted. It has the advantage that it suits the known background of Kerala’s early connection with Kongu in the Sangham age, the subsequent conquest of the old Chera capital in Kongu by the Chalookyaas, Pallavaas and Paandyaas, and the emergence of the new Chera kingdom of Makotai.

Cheraman Masjid Cranganur

Cheraman Masjid Cranganur

The tendency on the part of the kings to adopt the caste symbols and legendary claims of the northern rulers and the readiness on the part of the Braahmanan priesthood to confer such honours, would signify close co-operation between kings and Braahmanans. Recruitment of the traditional rulers of Dravidian origin into the Kshathriya caste represents definite stage in the progress of Aaryanisation of south India. According to orthodox Braahminical theory, it was the duty of Kshathriyans to protect the cow and the Braahmanan and uphold “Dharma”.

These implications of caste status in terms of king’s rights and privileges could be found in contemporary Chera practice. The king himself or his representative called “Koyil Adhikaarikal” and “Aalaakoyil” is often found presiding over the assemblies in Aaryan settlements which met inside the temple. His chief councillors were the Braahmanans of “Naaluthali” or the four chief temples.

Braahmanan Oligarchy

The royal dramatist Kulasekharan claimed that his hand was the “sun to the darkness of poverty among Braahmanans”. An extreme case of subservience to Braahmanans may be noticed in the Kollam inscription of Rama Kulasekharan, 13th year, which says that the king offered “Praayaschitham” for having offended the Aaryans of the place. Such surrender of royal authority to Braahmanans is extremely rare elsewhere in India.


The “Naalu Thali” must be the four chief temples of the capital city, Mahodayapuram, near Kodungallur. They are referred to in “Keralolpathi” as “Mel Thali”, “Kizh Thali”, “Netiya Thali” and “Chingapuram Thali”. Of these, Kizh Thali and Chingapuram Thali are still known by their old names. Since “Kizh” means east and “Mel” means west, Mel Thali might be some temple to the west of Kizh Thali temple of Siva. The great Thirukkula Sekharapuram Vishnu temple can still be seen to the west of Kizh Thali and a record of the 12th century found there clearly shows that it was one of the Naalu Thali or four chief temples. Netiya Thali literally means the great temple and this title must certainly go to Thiruvanchikkulam Siva temple which is the biggest and the oldest in the capital of Kerala.

It may be gathered from Keralolpathi that each of the four chief temples was the seat of the representative from a Braahmanan settlement near the capital. Thus the representative of Moozhikkulam Graamam sat in Mel Thali, the representative of Airaanikkulam Graamam sat in Kizh Thali, the representative of Paravoor sat in Netiya Thali and the representative of Irinjalakuda sat in the Chingapuram Tali. Several other records also mention that close relationship existed between the four chief temples in the capital and the four chief Braahmanan settlements around the capital.

This last event clearly demonstrates that the Braahmanans of Naalu Thali and the 32 Aaryan settlements whom they represented had the upper hand in this kingdom and that the kings were guided by their advice. Even the Cholas have described Kearla as the state founded by Raman (Parasuraman), the killer of all Kshathriyans and inhabited by the “Sistajana” or the best people – a term obviously intended for Braahmanans. Thus a kind of Braahmanan oligarchy prevailed in Kerala though the government was monarchical in appearance.

The king was entitled only to “Vritti” (maintenance) but not to “Shadbhaaga” (one-sixth of revenue) and he was to do everything according to the advice of the Braahmanans and never to question their action. Thus an oligarchic pattern and theocratic character were manifested within a monarchical frame. This political set up reflects the dominant position attained by the Braahmanans of the traditional settlements in the social, economic and religious life of Kerala.

Braahmanans as Councillors and Secretaries

The king’s council of Naalu Thali consisting of the managers of the four Thalis or temples which were the seats of the four leading settlements of Braahmanans around the capital, has already been mentioned. The word “Stthali” in Sanskrit means a natural spot of ground, and Thali in Tamil is derived from it, but is commonly used in old Tamil and Malayalam records in the sense of a temple. Therefore, Naalu Thali as applied to individuals, referred to the representatives of the four chief temples of the capital. The temple officers called “Thaliyaathirikal”, in the inscriptions, must have been intended here. As pointed out earlier, tradition supported by fragments of evidence shows that the four chief temples of the capital were allotted to the four chief Graamams or Aaryan settlements around the capital. Tradition affirms further that the four chief Graamams were the leaders of the four “Kazhakams” (see box) in which the 32 Aaryan settlements of Kerala were organised.

The names of the families in the four Graamams which had a hereditary right to send Thaliyaathiris* into the capital have been mentioned in some versions of the traditional chronicles. Thus,

* Muthil and Kothamangalam families represented Moozhikkulam;
* Karingampalli represented Airaanikkulam;
* Elanthuruthi and Kadambanaad represented Paravoor.

The names of the families representing Irinjalakuda Graamam have been lost or omitted. These Thaliyaathiris, according to tradition, represented the interests of the 32 Braahmanan settlements in Perumaal’s council. Even if a margin is left for possible exaggeration of Braahmanan’s rights in the Braahiminical chronicle, it is established by the epigraphic records that Naalu Thali formed an integral part of the king’s ministry.

* Thaliyaathiris = Thaliyaathirikal or Thaliyaathirimaar

The fact that the Aaryan Braahmanans of Kerala were well-organised under a central leadership is proved by the information pattern of temple inscriptions, and above all, the reference to the Moozhikkulam Kachcham or Agreement of Moozhikkulam as the precedent in records from different parts of Kerala. Moozhikkulam is actually one of the four leading settlements mentioned in this tradition. Therefore, Keralolpathi-claim in this regard may be taken as largely and substantially true.

“KAZHAKAMS”The “Keralolpathi” mentions that the Braahmanans were organised into four Kazhakams under the leadership of Perinchelloor, Payyannur, Paravur and Chengannur respectively. One from each of these four Graamams was appointed as “Rakshaapurushan” (protector) for three-year periods. When the protector became corrupt and this arrangement broke down, the Braahmanans assembled at Thirunavaya (in the present Malappuram district)¸ and decided that they must have a king, and entrusted the work to the four Kazhakams. They brought a Kshathriya prince and princess from outside. An oath was administered to the Kshathriyan to govern the kingdom according to the wishes of the Braahmanans and the capital at Kodungallur was established.

This is followed by a confused story of several Perumaals brought from outside for 12-year periods – a story which is most probably an interpolation at some later stage. However, there is an account of four new Kazhakams to replace the old group of four Kazhakams which were at a distance from each other and from the capital. The four new Kazhakams of the Perumaal period were led by Moozhikkulam, Airaanikkulam, Paravur and Irinjalakuda.

Two persons were jointly put in charge of the four temples. Therefore, Perumaal had an eight (Braahmanan)-member council. Evidences show that a representative of the Budhist Vihaara was included in the council as the spokesman of that section of the people. On certain important occasions the king used to have a joint meeting of the Braahmanan councillors and Kshathriya and Saamantha feudatories.

Oor or Graamam

The Chera king allowed the village assemblies and temple committees of Aaryan settlements, which were rural agrarian corporation in character, to enjoy partial autonomy and take part in local administration as the urban guilds and corporations. The term “Oor” means village and “Ooraalan” (“Ooraalar”, if joint partnership) means master (masters) or proprietor in these villages. The villages with assemblies that we come across in the Chera inscriptions are only temple-centered Aaryan settlements and the observations that are made in regard to these local bodies called Oor, “Paratai” (“Parishath”), “Konam” (“Ganam”), etc. are limited to them. The original characters or endowments of the major Braahmanan settlements of this period have not come down to us, probably because most or all of the settlements were in existence even before the Chera kingdom of Makotai.

However, several charters to Braahmanan families have been registered in the dated and undated records of the periods of Jayamaani (1020 AD), Serivallavan Kotha (Governor of Venaattu, 974 AD), king of Venaattu (1189 AD) as well as the records of Kilimanoor (1168 AD).

Ooraalar and Decision-making

The number of Ooraalar in a village (Graamam) varied. The Avittiputhoor settlement built around a Siva temple had 27 Ooraalar while the Kumaaranelloor settlement built around the Bhagavathi temple had 16 Ooraalar. The Ooraalars were Braahmanans by caste.

In Kerala, the term Oor is applied to Braahmanan settlement which is also Graamam while non-Braahmanan settlements were known as “Cherikkal”. The Oor usually met in the precincts of the temple. A separate “Yogamandapam” is mentioned in Thiruvalla temple inscriptions. They passed all important resolutions in the presence of kings, governors or some royal officers or representatives. There is no reference to quorum and the expression “Kuraivu Teerttu Kooti” shows that full attendance was the rule. Perhaps the hereditary membership of the family was exercised by some junior member in the absence of the head of the family. Records say that they were always unanimous. There is no reference to any system of lots or voting.

Agreements and Notifications

The agreements arrived at were first committed to writing on palm leaves and some of the important resolutions were transcribed on stones. These were then planted in the courtyard of the temple within the Praakaaram (outer wall). In many cases, these records were caused to be inscribed on the granite blocks of the foundation, rising three to six feet above ground, either in the Sreekovil (sanctum sanctorum) or the Mandapam or the first Praakaaram. Sometimes records are found on a Sthambham (pillar) or Balikkal (sacrificing stone). There was also the practice of recording the decisions at that time or later in copper plates.

Moozhikkulam Kachcham

Several inscriptions of the 10th and 11th centuries from Chokkur, Porangattiri, Trikkakara, Thirunelli, Moozhikkulam, Thiruvalla, Ezhimala, Kaviyur, Thiruvanvandur, Maaniyoor, Ramanattukara, Pookkottoor, Alanalloor, Triprayar, Kumaaranellur, Navaykulam and Thirunandikkara show that Moozhikkulam Kachcham was followed as model by Braahmanan settlements all over Kerala. It has been suggested that the Moozhikkulam Kachcham was a grand agreement between the representatives of all Kerala temples arrived at in a meeting under the President-ship of the Perumaal or his representative.

There is nothing in the records to warrant such an assumption. They only prove that certain rules followed at Moozhikkulam in regard to the management were accepted as a model in several other settlements also. These inscriptions generally register the allotment of Brahmaswam and Devaswam land of that temple and state that Ooraalar who violated the agreement shall perish or be expelled (outcast) from the village, according to Moozhikkulam Kachcham. These indications are sufficient to show that it was the policy enunciated at Moozhikkulam to see that those who violated an agreement, arrived at unanimously by the Ooraalar and government officers, had to be excommunicated after the confiscation of their rights and properties. This was essential to build up a strong, well-knit and efficient system of local government in the Aaryan Braahmanan settlements. This was the secret of their unique success and continued prosperity in Kerala. Some of these records also give the court procedure in which the village assembly, presided over by the district governor is transformed into a judicial institution.

Even after the formulation and popularisation of Moozhikkulam Kachcham, there are references in some other Kachchams as precedent. Thus we have Kachchams of Katangaattu, Thavaranoor, Sankaramangalathu and Kaithavaarathu. There are some records of the Braahmanan settlements in which punishment in the form of temporary loss of rights or losses of tenancy or office or fine are prescribed for certain offences.

Braahmanans and Culture

Apart from the political predominance which the Braahmanans enjoyed and which has been brought out earlier and in the discussion above, it is necessary to mention the high standard of culture which they had already achieved even before the Chera kingdom was revived. It may be noted that Dandin, the 7th century poet and scholar who adorned the Pallava court at Kanchi bestowed high praise on his excellent Braahmanan friends, Maathrudatha and others from Kerala. Maathrudatha’s father Bhavathraatha is represented as a great scholar, the author of “Kalpasoothraadika”, the performer of 33 sacrifices (Yaagam/Yajnam) (click) and a man endowed with power to bless or curse. His son is described as equal to the father in all respects and unique in poetic ability, loyal to his teacher and friends, learned in the four Vedams and expert in interpreting Thanthram.

The position that Sankaraachaaryar (click : Sree Sankaraachaaryar), another Braahmanan from Kerala, achieved in the scholarly world of India by the beginning of the 9th century also speaks well of the cultural background and competitive training of Braahmanans of Kerala. Though numerically small in relation to the vast majority of non-Aaryan, non-Braahmanan population of Kerala, this Braahmanan community is found to have captured an enviable status in the land of their adoption through their unity, hard work, ability, resources and dedication to the cause of Aaryan culture.

Braahmanans and LanguageThe language of Chera was at first mistakenly described as Tamil. Later on it was recognised that there was some difference between this and Tamil, and scholars christened it as “western dialect of Tamil”. The development of a new dialect (old Malayalam) must have occurred in the 7th or 8th century, even before the rise of Cheras of Makotai.

The earliest literary work which has come to light in old Malayalam is “Bhaskara Kautaleeyam” by an anonymous author. The reference of “Achu” as coin and the operation of six rules would show that it was composed in 12th or 13th century.

In other words, the Braahmanan settlements created not only a temple-centered oligarchy and temple-oriented culture, but also a new temple-language in which the Vidooshakan’s (harlequin’s) speeches of “Koodiyaattam” composed by Tholan for performance at the Koothambalam constituted the earliest literature venture.

Temple Organisation

In fact almost all the artistic and intellectual activities of the period seem to have their centre in the temple so much so that there arose what we may call a temple culture. Separate records (copper plates / epigraphs) of different dates from Thiruvalla, Thrikkakkara, Nedumpuram Thali, Karikkad, Thiruvanvandur, Perunna, Chokiram (Sukapuram) and Avittathur were collected, studied and arranged subject-wise. The Vaishnava saints known as Aalvaars have composed songs on 13 temples of Malainaadu. These temples accorded a special place among the Vishnu temples in South India. They are Thiruvanparisaaram, Thiruvathaaru, Thiruvananthapuram, Thiruchengannoor, Thiruppuliyoor, Thiruvanvandoor, Thiruvallavaal, Thrikkadinjithaanam, Thiruvaaranvila, Thrikkaakkara and Thirunaavaaya. Thirumanga Aalvaar’s “Periya Tirumoli”, Nammaal- vaar’s “Tiruvaymoli” and Thirumangai Aalvaar’s “Periya Tirumoli” also sing about many of these temples. Kulasekhara Aalvaar’s “Perumaal Tirumozhi” refers to another, namely Thiruviruvakkode. Two of them happen to be the Graamakshethrams of the respective Braahmanan settlements of Kerala. Except Thiruvanparisaaram, Thiruvattaaru and Thiruvananthapuram, all were clearly within Chera kingdom.

Bhattar (Bhattathiri) and Chattar (Chaathira Namboothiri)

There are other items of temple routine which throw light on the temple’s patronage of sciences, arts and literature. Two classes of Braahmanans called Bhattar and Chattar are mentioned in the records of the age. From the available inscriptions, it may be inferred that it was a common practice to appoint a learned Braahmanan (Bhatta) in temples for the purpose of reciting and explaining the “Mahaabhaaratham” to the common people. Then there were other Bhattaas who conducted discourses among themselves on sacred literature. This is called “Vakkainikka” (“Vyaakhyaana” discourse) and “Pattakkal” (Bhaatta) who conducted a discourse within the temple on Thiruvonam day as mentioned in Thiruvalla copper plates. (click here : Three Types of Bhattathiris).

In course of time, “Bhattastthaanams” were instituted in temples for other subjects as well, so that we find the Kozhikode Thali having an institution called “Revathi Bhattastthaanam” (click: Pattathaanam and the Role of Namboothiris) in the 16th century.

A class of Braahmanans, called Chattar or Chaathirar or Chatra also figure in temple records. The Thiruvalla copper plates reveal a standing arrangement to feed three Chaathirar. More information about the Chaathirar and institution called “Saala” to which they belonged may be gleamed from Paarthhivapuram copper plates. They speak of the creation of a Saala and the institution of “Kalam” or seats for 95 Chaathirar on the model of Kaanthalloor Saala by the king in that temple.

It is clearly stated that out of 95 Kalam, 46 were set apart for Pavizhiya Charanam (Pakazhiya or Aaswalaayana Charanam – a Rigvedi Braahmanan sub-group), 35 for Thaithireeya Charanam (Yajuvedi Braahmanans) and 14 for Thalavakaara Charanam, adding that the seats to be endowed in future were to be divided equally between these three sections. These groups represent Braahmanans who specialised in particular sections of Vedam. Even these Braahmanans could join the Saala only when five other Chaathirar certified that they were competent as Vaiyaakaranan, Meemaamsakan and Purohithan and that they possessed “Othu” or Vedic training. The routine of Vedic recitation is mentioned.

The rules of discipline specified that the Chaathirar were expected not to quarrel within the temple, not to injure anyone or the tenants of the “Saalaabhogam” and “Devadaanam” lands, not to carry arms into the assembly, not to play dice within the temple and not to keep concubines in their residence. The regulations prove that they were a class of Braahmanans with Vedic scholarship and military training, leading to the life of Braahmanaachaarins in monastic centres (click : Classes of Namboothiris).

Chaathirar have figured in several poetic works of the medieval period in Kerala. These Braahmanans, with spiritual and political training, had great roles in founding kingdoms, fighting battles or choosing a successor to the throne. They appear as heroes in a number of medieval “Manipravaalam” poems, and a peculiar form of military entertainment with dance, drama and music known as Chaathirakkali (Sanghakkali) (click) has also survived in Kerala.

6 comments to Brahmin Settlements of Kerala : Myth and Reality – Dr N M Nampoothiri

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