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Adi shankara.jpgNarayana bhattathiri.jpg
Vazhakunnamnamboothiri.gifE. M. S. Namboodiripad (crop Kottayam-citu).jpg
Adi Shankaracharya · Melpathur Narayana Bhattathiri · Vazhakkunnam · E. M. S. Namboodiripad · Moothiringode Bhavathrāthan Namboothiripad · Poonthanam
Total population
approx. 250,000 (0.7% of Malayali population)
Regions with significant populations



Hinduism, Historical Vedic religion

Related ethnic groups

Nairs, Samanta Kshatriyas, Pushpaka Brahmins, Pancha-Dravida Brahmins, Embranthiri

The Nambudiri Brahmins (Malayalam: നമ്പൂതിരി nambũdiri, also transliterated Namputiri, Namboothiri) are Hindu Brahmins from the Indian state of Kerala, who are considered the most orthodox Brahmins in India.[1] Its members regard themselves as the true repositories of the ancient Vedic religion and of the traditional Hindu code[2]. They perform rituals in temples of Kerala based on Tantra Vidhi, a complex and ancient branch of Tantric traditions found only in Kerala, and some Mahakshetras ("Great Temples") around India (which have a Nambudiri acting as the Head Priest). Namboothiris follow the conservative and ritualistic Śrauta traditions and the ancient Purva Mimamsa, unlike the majority of other Brahmins in India who follow the Vedanta. Performance of Vedic rituals such as Agnicayana and Agnistoma, long considered extinct in other parts of India, has been maintained by the orthodox Nambudiris.

Nambudiris belong to the Pancha-Dravida sub-division of India's Brahmin community. They have the sole right of conducting rituals in Kerala and the Kanyakumari of Tamil Nadu. Some major Mahakshetras around India (including North India) have a Nambudiri priest as the Head Tantri. Only a Nambudiri can become the Rawal, Head Priest, at Badrinath in Uttarakhand,[3] and the Chief Priest at Mookambika Temple in Kollur, Karnataka, and other Mahakshetras around India. Until some 300 years ago this was also true for the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, Nepal, when the Head priest was changed to Bhattas from Gokarna, The reason behind this practice is that these temples were founded and sanctified by the great Saint Philosopher Adi Shankaracharya, who was born as a Nambudiri Brahmin.The Nambudiris along with their Naga escorts travelled from Ahichatram[4] in Uttarpradesh in the Indo-Neplaese border to Gokarna in South India in the year 345 AD on the invitation of Kadamba king Mayuravarma, who were allowed to stay at Gokarna in Uttara Kannada.Many of the Nambudiri customs may have its origins at Himalayas at Uttarpradesh and Nepal.The Gandaki River river was considered the holiest by the Namboothris.

The Nambudiri Brahmins are renowned for their rigid orthodoxy and sense of caste and purity (Shudham). Although untouchability is now absent in India; in the past Nambudiris considered themselves polluted by even the touch of other Brahmins: Embraan Shudham (by the touch of Tulu Brahmins), Eda Shudham (touch of Tamil Brahmins such as Iyer, Iyengar, Pattar which required the Nambudiri to bathe before resuming activities). [5] Also the Nambudiris were one of the only Hindu communities in India where women were required to wear a veil (Ghosha) in public (a practice abandoned since the 1930s). Members of the community who did not abide by these regulations faced excommunication (Brashtu), the last case occurring in 1918.[6]

The Nambudiri caste followed a distinctive marriage alliance with the warrior and ruling caste of Nairs and also other castes like the Samanta Kshatriyas and Ambalavasis like Poduvals, Pisharodys, and Variars. Nambisan is excluded in this list because they also belong to brahmins.Though the eldest son of a Nambudiri household customarily marries a Nambudiri woman, thus observing the typical caste practice of endogamy, the younger sons marry Nair women and obey the matrilineal-descent system of the Nairs. In contrast to other Brahman castes in southern India, the Nambudiris place great emphasis on their priestly status and do not normally engage in profitable professions. They derive their wealth from their landholdings, previously having been one of the chief landowners of Kerala along with the Nairs (before the Land Reforms Ordinance).[7]



Nambudri nambũdiri is derived from nambuka "to trust" and tiri (from Sanskrit śrī) "blessed". Popular etymology derives the name from Malayalam nambu "the Veda", ōthu "to teach" and tiri "holy".[8] It is also believed that "Namude Thamburan" (Malayalam: Our Lord) was condensed, and the honorific title of "thiri" (to show Brahminhood) was added to form "Nambuthiri".

Female Nambudiri Brahmins have the surname Antharjanam which literally means "People inside the house".


The ancient Sangam literature mentions Brahmins of Chera Kingdom (which became Kerala) who may be Namboothiris as there is mention of Perinchellur(Taliparamba) village, which is one of the most important villages for Namboothiris, as a great Vedic village. However the Sangam literature does mention the existence of Brahmins.

The Nambudiri feudal states

Nambudiris became immensly powerful following the invasion of Malik Kafur in 1310 when all the Tamil Kingdoms were replaced by Matriarchal kingdoms.The New Matriarchal kingdoms with surnames of Bunt (community) favoured the Nambudiris.During the rule of matriarchal Kolathiri,Samuthiri Kingdom of Cochin and Travancore kingdoms were formed in the fourteenth century most of the Dravidian people of Kerala who followed Patriarchal descendencey were enslaved.Edappally was ruled by Nambiyadiri ruler and Ambalappuzha was ruled by another Namboothiri ruler called Devanarayanan.The Nambudiris who had taken up Kshatriya status were called Nambi, Nambidi and Nambiadiriy and were classified as Val Nambis according to Keralolpathi[9]. Kerala was divided into five hundred Nambudiri Sangethams feudal estates managed by Nambudiris making them immensly powerful.Nambudiri Sangethams were abolished by British Diwan of Travancore John Munroe (1811-1814).

Lord Parshuram with brahmin settlers commanding Lord Varuna to make the seas recede to make the Konkan.

According to the Parashurama legend, the land that Parashurama retrieved from the advancing seas was of 160 "Katams" (a measure of area) in size. The land from Gokarna in the north to the River Chandragiri Puzha in modern Kasargod District of north Kerala is Tulu Nad where Lord Parasurama established 32 villages. South of Chandragiri river he established another 32 villages which are normally referred to as Namboothiri Gramams or villages. Although there are 32 Namboothiri villages spanning from Kasargod in north Kerala to the south, all the important Namboothiri villages both in number of Namboothiri population and importance with respect to Veda prominence and the like are located between river ChandragiriPuzha (Kasargod District) and River Karivannoor Puzha just south of Cherpu in Thrissur District. The Namboothiri Gramams between these two rivers are ten in number. They are Perinchellur(Taliparamba), Payyannur, Alathur, Panniyur (Anakkara, Palghat District), Karikatt(Manjery) and Sukapuram(Edappal); both in Malappuram District, Perumanam or Peruvanam(Cherpu) in Thrissur District and three more. The other 22 Gramams are located in southern parts of Thrissur District and Southern Districts of Kerala. Malayalam was not developed at the time of Adhi Shakaracharya. Hence the etymology could be taken from Tamil language which he know. There are two aspects in finding the etymology. One is that in Tamil'nam'means'our' and puthiri is from putham which means something of immensity. Namputhiri simply means our 'great people'.Also words Nambi Othi Iri in Tamil means the believer who chants. The other aspect is that the ancient Tamil Grammar of Tholkappiyam was from Kerala. In the section of Marabial, mention is made of the five elements of earth, water, fire, skies and space. These are even now called the five puthams or buhthams. Hence they are called Namputhiris.

Classes of Namboothiri

There are five subdivisions within the Nambudiri caste: The Tampurakkal are the highest in status, the Adhyas, who are temple priests and who form an endogamous subcaste with the Tampurakkal, the Visistas, the Samanyas and the Jatimatras, who practice Ayurveda.[10]

The original Namboothiris are classified into ten sects:[citation needed] These ten classes and their rights and duties are

File:Erkkara Nambudiri.JPG
1. Aadu: They are specialised in Yaagam, and have Yaagaadhikaaram or the right to perform Yaagam.
2. Edu (a page in a book, symbolising knowledge): They have the right to acquire knowledge and teach Sanskrit, Vedam, Linguistics, Astronomy, Astrology, Architecture and so on.
3. Bhiksha (alms, symbolising a saint or a samnyaasi): They have the right to become a saint (or samnyaasi).
4. Picha (also means alms, in crude form): They are Othikkans, helping other Namboothiris to perform rituals.
5. Othu (Spiritual hymns): This class of Namboothiris was basically teachers of Othu (Vedam).
6. Saanthi (temple priesthood): These Namboothiris are priests in temples.
7. Adukkala (kitchen, symbolising cooking): These Namboothiri families were specialists in large-scale cooking and catering. A family belonging to this group has to be consulted on all catering-related issues including for Yaagam.
8. Arangu (stage): This special group of Namboothiris, called Chaathira Namboothiris, was a military group. Their evening entertainment was Panemkali (Sanghakkali).
9. Panthi (dining structure): Namboothiris like Graamani, Thangal, Vaal-Nambi and Ashtavaidyans (all Mooss families except Vaidhyamadham) belong to this category. Vaidhyamadham, though an Ashtavaidyan, belongs to Aadu class, as they are the Vaidyans in the Yaagasaala (the hall where Yaagam is performed). Mooss families are not included in the above eight classes as these physicians perform surgery. Graamani Namboothiris, Thangal Namboothiris and Vaal Nambis are Namboothiris performing village administration and hence excluded from the above eight classes.
10. Kadavu (bathing points in the pond): Elayath and Adikal are Namboothiris belonging to this category. In elite sub-class of Aadu class above, is a special group of Namboothiris known as "Ashtagrihathil Aadhyanmaar" (eight elite families).

The Bhatta title

Bhattathiripad and Bhattathiri are surnames of some Namboothiri families. They are titles gained due to their scholarship. The three types of bhattathiris are Saasthra Bhattathiris, Smaartha Bhattathiris and Bhaagavatha Bhattathiris. The Saasthra Bhattathiris are Namboothiris who were honoured by this title after receiving the "Bhatta" title from the Zamorin raja of Kozhikode after passing various examinations conducted during the famous "Pattathaanam", on their scholarship in Sanskrit, Vedam, Linguistics, Astronomy, Astrology, Architecture, Meemaamsa, Tharkam (logic) and so on. Many elite Namboothiris became Bhattathiripad in this way. The Smaartha Bhattathiris specialised in conducting trials and bringing out the evidences from the mouth of the culprit, if a Namboothiri (man or woman) committed sins in social life. Vellakkat bhattathiri, Kavanad bhattathiri, were the major four smarthas. Bhaagavatha Bhattathiris specialize in oratory and recitation of "Puraanams" (epics) like Bhaagavatham. Many Namboothiris became Bhattathiris in this manner.

Azhvanchery Thamprakkal

The Azhvanchery Thamprakkal is considered the highest authority among the Namboothiris and for any important matter on caste, religion, society etc within Kerala his opinion was final.[11]


At present,the only known migration of Brahmins to Kerala is that of Tulu Brahmins, The Tulu Brahmins brought to North Kerala (today's Kasaragod & Kannur Districts) during the 17th century, many of whom were resettled between today's Kottayam & Trivandrum Districts, and the later immigrants from Tulu and Chola regions constitute the Saagara, Samudra, Thonnoorukaar, and Thukalasseri Bhattathiris. Many of them were known as Embraanthiris. Many of them have, for practical purposes assimilated into the original Namboothiri community - practising rituals in the Namboothiri style, considered as equals, and even called Namboothiris, especially after the Temple-Entry Proclamation of the Travancore king in early 1900s.

However, neither they nor those who retained the Embraanthiri surnames may participate in rituals along with original Namboothiris. There is no ritual to convert others into Namboothiri community. So, practically, original Namboothiris do not accept these Embranthiris to participate in their ritual. Those Tulu Brahmins who are called Embranthiries still speak Tulu and are considered as Tulu Brahmins. The Malayalam speaking Embranthiris who have the Namboothiri surnames of "Namboothiri" and "Potty" are now considered Namboothiries but as secondary citizens. However there are very few Embranthiris who have assimilated to Namboothiri community fully and are now considered equal to original Namboothiries. In south Kerala, many old Namboothiri families keep the surname of Potty. (E.g the Thanthri family of Taazhman). In earlier times, males of their families were used to affix 'ru' to the end of their names (E.g Kantharu Sankararu). This practice is still continued by some families. The ending 'ru' is a honorific suffix in the Dravidian languages. A large population of embranthiris are settled in malabar especially palakkad district of kerala. They belong to the karnataka community of havyaka brahmins who came to kerala for temple priest ship. Embranthiri samajam is established by them.

Gothras and Pravaras

Each Namboothiri male (or unmarried female) is identified by his/her respective paternal family name. A married female adopts her husband's family name. Each family is affiliated to a Gothra and Pravara. The Gothra name demonstrates the family's traditional style of knowledge acquisition and expertise in ancient theories. Based on the fact that cross-breeding of excellent but different species yields better quality, marriage from a family belonging to the same Gothra was and is still banned for Namboothiris. Looking from another angle, Namboothiris believe that marriage from the same Gothra has a better chance of generating mentally retarded or physically handicapped children or at least children of less intellectual capacity. Each Gothra has several sub-classes known as Pravara. If by mistake, a boy marries a girl of same Gothra, he is not allowed to have sex with her. He has to treat her like he treats his mother.

Common gothra (and their pravara in brackets) among Namboothiris are Bharadwaajam (Amgirasam, Bhaarhaspathyam, Bharadwaajam), Kousikam (Viswaamithram, Akhamarshanam, Kousikam ), Vaatsam ( Bhaargavam, Chyavanam, Aapthavaanam, Ourvam, Jaamadagnyam ), Koundinyam (Vaasishtam, Maithraavarunam, Koundinyam), Kaasyapam (Kaasyapam, Aavatsaaram, Naidruvam), Vaasishtam (Vaasishtam, Indrapradamam, Aabharaswath), Jaamadagnyam (Bhaargavam, Chyavanam, Aapthavaanam, Ourvam, Jaamadagnyam), Viswaamithram (Viswaamithram, Devaraatha Oudalam), Gouthamam (Amgirasam, Aayasyam, Gouthamam ), Athri (Aathreyam, Archanaanasam, Syavaaswam). Eight more Gothras also exist among Namboothiris, as branches of the Gothras listed above. They are Kutsam, Mudgalam, Aamgirasam, Gaargyam, Naidruvam, Saandilyam, Dhaananjayam, and Samkhyaayanam.

Vedic tradition

Late Paara Thrivikraman Namboothiri, Priest of Guruvayoor Temple holding the keys of the Sanctum. Image from 1960's

Namboothiries belong to three different Vedic groups, those who follow Yajur Veda, those who follow Rig Veda and those who follow the Sama Veda. However there are Namboothiries who are barred from chanting of Vedas. These Veda-less Brahmins lost their right to chant Vedas due to some violations of the Dharma sutra rules at some point of time.[citation needed] The Yajur Vedic Namboothiries follow the Black Yajur Veda.

Each Veda is divided in to Samhita, Brahmana and Aranyaka. The Namboothiries follow the Taittiriya Samhita.

Namboothiries divides the Black (Krishna) Yajur Veda in to Samhita and Sakha (Bramhana and Aranyaka part). Samhita consists of about 48 modules known as Parchams. Sakha consists of 36 Parchams. Each Parchams have sub-modules known as Anuvakam (Sanskrit) or Oath (Malayalam). Hence the Namboothiri name Oath for Vedas. Sree Rudram is a parcham with eleven Anuvakas(Oaths) dedicated to Lord Rudra (Shiva). Another important Parchams are Chama koottam(Chamakam), Arunam and Aswamedham. All these Parchams are important to Namboothiri Yajur Vedi Bramhanas. The collection of the last three Anuvakas(Oaths) of the last Parcham (named Valli) of Sakha is known as the Tythireeya Upanishad. All the ten major Upanishads belongs to the three Vedas mentioned above. Majority of Namboothiries are Rig Vedic and are spread throughout Kerala. Then comes the Yajur Vedic ones, whose prime settlements are Perinchellur or Taliparamba of Kannur district and Perumanam (Cherpu) of Thrissur district. Less important ones are Irinjalakuda (Thrissur Dt) and Karikatt (Malappuram Dt). Samavedic Namboothiries form a minority and are located in pockets of Kottayam District and in Panjaal near Wadakkancherry division of Thrissur District.

Vedic chanting

Namboothiris, who are entitled to recite Vedams, have evolved a rich and diversified culture of Vedam recitation, following the Seeksha rules while chanting the Vedas. Most of Yajur Vedic Namboothiris (especially Boudhaayanas) follows the Seeksha of Vasishtha (Sage Vasishtha). The Veda chanting way divides all words in to Udatha (High Pitch), Anudatha (Low Pitch) and Swarita. Their recitation is quite different from traditional vedam recitations in other parts of India. This is due to a variety of features, such as the pronunciation of Sanskrit in Kerala. An Important feature is nasalization, a feature of Malayalam in general which seems to be relatively ancient (In Sanskrit it was called "anunaasika athiprasaram"). The methods of chanting by Namboothiris is thought to be one of the oldest forms in existence, and this has been confirmed by various linguists and scholars. The reason for the uncorrupted Vedic chanting by Namboothiris may also be connected with the isolated development of the Namboothiri tradition, which was not exposed to contact with other traditions.

Some Vedic scholars are called "ghanapaathins". It means they have learnt the chanting of the scripture up to the advanced stage called "Ghana". "Paathin" means one who has learnt the "paatha". Ghanapaathins chant the Ghana by intoning a few words of a mantra in different ways, back and forth. The sonority natural to Vedic chanting is enhanced in Ghana. Similarly, in the other methods of chanting like karma, jata, sikha, mala, and so on the intonation is nothing less than stately. The chief purpose of such methods is to ensure that even not even a syllable of Vedic chanting is altered to the slightest extent.

There two special schools for the teaching of Rigvedam, one at Thrissur and the other at Thirunavaya, in Malappuram district. The Thirunavaya School was formed by several Namboothiris and financed by Saamoothiri Raja of Malabar. The Thrissur school was supported by the Perumpadapu Swaroopam (Raja of Cochin). There are differences in the style of recitation of the two Rigvedic schools. The Thrissur school (Brahmaswam Madhom) has a few students even now, while the Thirunavaya school is not fully functioning. Fortunately, a few of its students are being taught at home. The Thrissur school recently started admitting children of families, which originally followed Thirunavaya style. In the Yajurvedam, there are also two traditions that differ slightly in style of recitation, the Peruvanam School tradition and the Irinjalakuda School tradition. Now mostly, the Yajurvedam and Saamavedam are being taught in homes.


Being Śrauta Brahmins, Namboothiris perform mostly two types of yajnas: Agnistoma, generally known as Somayajna, and Atiratra (Agnicayana), popularly known as Agni. While performing of Somayajna makes a Namboothiri a complete (Nityam) Brahman, Atiratra is only optional.

The three types of Atiratra altars constructed by Namboothiris are six-tipped, five-tipped and Peetthan. The six-tipped Agnichayanam and five-tipped are the most common and Namboothiris still practice them. The Peetthan (square bird) has not been constructed for some 150 years.[citation needed] The Yajamaanan (master / leader) is the person who actually performs Yagna. Not all Namboothiris are permitted to perform Yanjna. Only Namboothiris of Aadu class can perform Yajna. The Yajamaanan has to be a male Namboothiri having several pre-requisites and qualifications. After yajna, the Threthaagnis (the three spiritual fires attained through Yaagam) are shown (Kaachi) at and invoked back to the Arani. Once the Threthaagni is invoked back to Arani, the remaining fire in the Yaagasala has conceptually become forest fire with no spiritual content. Also, the Yaagasala has lost its divine nature. The Yaagasaala is set fire to with this fire. The Threthaagni is taken to the Yajamaanan's residence (Illam) and placed in an appropriate location like Vadukkini or Padinjaatti (two rooms in a Namboothiri Illam). The Somayaaga (or Athiraathra) is now over and the Yajamaanan now becomes a Somayaaji (or Akkithiri) and his wife (wives), Paththanaadi. It is using this Threthaagni that the Somayaaji (or Akkithiri) and Paththanaadi perform the rituals, viz., Agnihothram, twice daily, and other rituals throughout their married life.

Temple rituals

Namboothiris follow vedic tradition for their spiritual life and Smartha tradition for their social life. They follow the concept of "Sankaranarayanan" (combination of Shaivism and Vaishnavism), unlike other brahmins. Namboothiris do poojas in temples based on Tantra Vidhi. Tantra Vidhi clearly describes the Moola (Basic) mantra of the Gods and Goddesses and their form, and weapons they hold on their arms etc. It begins with chanting of Punyaha Mantra which is in the Samhita part of Vedas. Many Mantras from Tythireeya Samhita of Yajur Veda , Rig Veda and Sama Veda Mantras are used in special poojas and Kalasam, Panchagavyam, Sreebhootavali and Navakam rituals done by Namboothiris in Temples.


Tantra Vidhi forbids use of utensils made of iron/steel in temples. Only utensils made of earthen pot, copper, silver and gold are used. Also Namboothiris perform poojas in a very Satwik way consisting of Jala, Gandhah , Pushpa, Dhoopa, Deepa tradition. Use of meat and alcohol is strictly forbidden. Offerings to God are mostly payasams, rice, puffed rice, coconut and Kadali (Banana) fruit. Flowers used for Pooja are different for different Gods and Goddesses. The clothing used for many Gods' and Goddesses' are: Satwik Durga - Green, White. Flower- Tulasi, Sandalpaste. Kali- Red. Flower- Red Flowers. Vishnu/Krishna -Yellow. Sastha (Ayyappa) -Black, Blue. Shiva - None.

The daily rituals in Kerala temples are traditionally performed by Namboothiris, and often by Embranthiri migrants from the neighbouring Karnataka, but not by Tamil Brahmins. Even among Namboothiris, only certain designated families deserve to become "Thanthris". Thanthris have to perform the incredible task of transferring ("Aavaahanam") the aura ("Chaithanyam") of God and energizing the idol ("Praana Prathisthaapana"). There have been numerous books on this topics, written by Namboothiris. The treatises may be divided into three categories - Aagamams (Shaivam), Samhithas (Vaishnavam) and Thanthrams (Saaktheyam). Aagamams include Nigamam versions too. The former are Shivan's advice to Parvathy, while Nigamams are spoken by Parvathy to Sivan. Other classifications are regional, like Vishnukraanthaa, Rathhakraanthaa and Aswaakraanthaa, and also like Yaamalams and Daamarams. Usually, all branches of knowledge are dealt with in Thanthra Granthams.

In Shiva temples Namboothiris perform Abhishekam chanting the Sree Rudram which is one of the forty eight modules of Tythireeya Samhita of Yajur Veda. In other temples Bhagya Sooktam, Purusha Sooktam, Narayana Sooktam are chanted. Namboothiries also perform Othoottu in temples were entire Samhita part of Vedas are chanted.


The Namboothiri women are called Antherjanam, the literal meaning being "people inside the house." The travel of Namboothiri girls were limited to the temples or to the house of their immediate relatives, but that too had to be accompanied by a maid servant.

The Namboothiri believed that the girl, during infancy, childhood and youth, is under the wings of gods Soman, Gandharvan and Agni respectively. God Viswavasa protects her virginity. Hence the bridegroom has to thank Viswavasa for protecting her till marriage and then marry her in the presence of Agni. Namboothiri marriage is a four day long ritual.


Until 1933, only the eldest brother in a Namboothiri family was entitled to legitimate marriage within the Namboothiri caste. His younger brothers were supposed to practice pure Brahmacharyam by being unmarried and to dedicate themselves towards the study and preservation of the Vedas and rituals. Apart from this, those younger brothers, who opted to marry within the caste were excommunicated from the family. Except for a few intelligent and studious ones,[citation needed] most younger brothers turned to more lucrative and worldly affairs like Sambandham.

Sambandham was the system of marriage amongst the Samanta Kshatriya,Nair and Ambalavasi communities in Kerala. Namboothiris entered into Sambandhams with Nair, Samanta Kshatriya and Ambalavasi women. Since these castes followed the matriarchal system of family and inheritance, known as Marumakkathayam and Tharavadu respectively, the issue of Sambandhams with Namboothiris were considered as members of their mother's Tharavadu and caste. Thus the father had no legal duties towards the child.

Sambandham was beneficial for both the groups involved.[citation needed] For the Namboothiris is prevented disintegration and division of property. Also it allowed the secluded Brahmin families to have more influence on social and political decisions, since often a Namboothiri would have a Nair chief or prince as a first cousin. For the matriarchal castes, particularly the Royal Kshatriya families and the Nairs, Sambandham was a way to ensure the husband, being a Brahmin, would remain in the area, unlike Nair husbands who often were required for war in other areas. This way the population of Nairs could be maintained during times of war. Thus Sambandham as a system was encouraged by both, the Namboothiris and the Marumakkathayam Savarna castes.

The rituals in Sambandham are not sanctified according to Vedic rites, since Sambandham is not supported by blessings from God through Mantras and advises to the bride, through "Veli Othu", a part of Rigveda which is considered legitimate marriage. This is why Sambandham was considered a unsolemnised marriage. However Sambandham did have a Hindu religious aspect to it as the actual ritual included the necessity of the presence of Agni or sacred fire in the form of a simple lamp as also a piece of red silk, the colour of matrimony. Thus it was considered a form of marital alliance which was held legal and the children of such alliances were considered legitimate. Thus the children of a Namboothiri, from his "Veli" Namboothiri wife as also from his Nair Sambandham wife were considered legitimate. The only difference was that while the issue of the former, being Namboothiris, succeeded their fathers while the latter had no right of succession to their patrimony since they fell under the existing law of Marumakkathayam. Thus Sambandhams were marriages, but morganatic in nature. This system was applicable to Royalty as well. For instance, the famous scholar of the Kodungalloor Royal Family, Kunjikuttan Thampuran was the son of Venmani Achhan Nambudiripad, who besides his mother, had a first Brahmin wife and children as well. The latter stayed in Venmani Illam, while the Thampuran's mother was visited by the Namboodiri in her own palace.

Till the early ages of the common era there was no practise of Sambandham and the practise might have started and encouraged by the Malayala Kshatriyas of Kerala in the later ages when Kshatriyas of Kerala who fought amongst themselves found it difficult to establish marriage relationships among themselves. Sambandhams, besides, gave the Namboothiris a position of importance in the politics of Kerala. By marrying girls from powerful Nair (and giving Kshatriyahood to them Kshatriya) Royal houses and Nair families they secured a hold over both, the royalty and the nobility of the land, which benefitted their establishment in Kerala. Thus, till recently the princesses of the Cochin Royal Family were espoused only by Namboothiris while the princes consorted with Nair ladies known as Nethyar Ammas.

The practise of Sambandham badly affected the Nambudiri community. Though it avoided partition of property and Temples administered, it prevented the family size from increasing. Newer Namboothiri families also didn't rise due to this practise. Namboothiri population became dependent on the number of houses (Illams) already existent while the population of Nair and other savarna castes steadily increased and Namboothiri population remained stagnant due to Sambandham. This led to a steady decrease in the percentage of Namboothiri population in Kerala. Today there are only an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 Namboothiries world wide.

With the spread of western education by the late 19th century modern thought within Kerala moved towards the end of Sambandham connections between the Namboothiris and Nairs. With the passage of legislation in 1933 in the Madras Presidency district of Malabar and previously in the princely states of Travancore and Cochin, by which Sambandham was considered equal to "Veli" or legitimate marriage, thereby giving right of succession to the non Namboothiri children of Namboothiri men to their paternal estate, within a short period of less than a decade, the Sambandham system of informal marriage which bound the Namboothiris and Nairs together came to an end.

Caste system

The caste system enforced by certain sections of the Namboothiris in Kerala was one of the most rigid in the whole of India.Following the 1310 AD invasion by Malik Kafur all the Tamil dynasties of Kerala such as Chera dynasty and Ay kingdom were defeated and replaced with Matriarchal dynasties with surnames of Bunt (community) such as Samantas.After this periods the Kshatriyas with Tulunadu Bunt (community) surnames ruled kerala along with Nambudiris with Tulunadu roots who once migrated from Ahichatram in Uttarpradesh.The high castes after 1300s had Tulunadu roots while the indigenous Malayalis with Tamil roots and other Dravidian people of Kerala, who still followed Patrilineal descendency, were pushed to servitude. Elayath and Moosad were liberal and progressive in their attitude and mingled with non-Brahmin communities and fought against the rigidity of caste system. The rules of untouchability across various levels of castes, and sub-castes also. They considered all other castes as Shudra, and they practiced untouchability and "aiyitham" with their own lower subsects and with Ezhava and Thandan. They kept away Pulaya from 18 feet, Viswakarma from 14 feet and Ezhava from 108 feet. They did not allow Ezhava to enter their home compound for toddy tapping. The regulation on the language used, the regulations on the dress, the regulations on the place of dwelling and also on the construction of the houses were either extreme form of caste rules or unheard of in other parts of India.[citation needed]

Swami Vivekananda, a Hindu monk and disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, famously declared Kerala "a lunatic asylum of castes" after observing the strange caste practices in the society.

Social reforms

Nambudiri Brahmin's house, c.a. 1909

The influence of communism during the start of 20th century made drastic effects on this otherwise orthodox community. The Land Reforms Ordinance, also caused a heavy blow on this community along with their Nair cousins, as large ancestral estates were taken away from them.

Namboothiri Yogakshema Mahaasabha, an association of Namboothiris founded in 1908, took a decision in 1919 and agitated for marriage of all Namboothiris within the community. Sabha declared the marriages of younger brothers from within the community as official, irrespective of whether the elder brothers were married or not. The aim was embodied in the Madras Namboothiri Act of 1933. In the same year, the Madras Marumakkathayam Act was passed, by which Sambandham was considered as a regular marriage, conferring on the children the same rights of inheritance and property as held by children whose parents were both Namboothiris. The declaration and these Acts led to a sudden decline in the number of Sambandham marriages, and this practice ended shortly (in about ten years). Following these acts, Namboothiri land was increasingly partitioned and property dispersed.

The stoppage of Sambandham led to a liberation of Namboothiri wives and girls. They were the major sufferers due to unavailability of Namboothiri boys for marriage because of the above mentioned social taboos, and lot of these girls were married to the same Namboothiri and polygamy was the norm of the day.


  1. ^ [1],
  2. ^ "Nambūdiri." Encyclopædia Britannica. Ultimate Reference Suite. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2008.
  3. ^ [],
  4. ^ Keralolpathi P.1 compiled by Velayudhan Panikkacherry 2008
  5. ^ [2],
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Nambudiri." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 6 June 2008
  8. ^ A. C. Burnell, H. Yule, A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases: Hobson-Jobson, Routledge (1996), ISBN 0700703217, s.v. "Nambooree".
  9. ^ Keralolpathy P.10
  10. ^ Encyclopedia Britannica, s.v. "Nambudiri".
  11. ^ Travancore State Manual Vol II 1906 by Nagam Aiya

See also


  • Swami Sahajanand Saraswati Rachnawali (Selected works of Swami Sahajanand Saraswati), Prakashan Sansthan, Delhi, 2003.
  • Marjatta Parpola, Kerala Brahmins in Transition: A Study of a Namputiri Family, Studia Orientalia, vol. 91. Helsinki, Finnish *Oriental Society (2000); review: Rich Freeman, American Oriental Society (2004).
  • Nambutiris By Fred Fawcett , published by Asian Educational Services New Delhi* Madras*2001
  • Travancore State Manual by T.K. Velu Pillai (1940)

External links


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