THE NAYAR OF INDIA Janet Levels Introduction to Anthropology (GS 1241H) November 8, 2012 The Nair were classed as a martial race by the British, however were de-listed after rebelling against them under Valu Thampi Dalawa, and thereafter recruited in lower numbers into the British Indian Army. The Nair, as it can also be spelled more than not, have been described as a “race caste who do not owe their origin to function, although, by force of example, their organization is almost equally rigid, and they are generally identified with particular trades or occupations.
These race caste communities were originally tribes but on entering the fold of Hinduism, they imitated the Hindu social organization, and have thus gradually hardened to castes”. However, this does not constitute a homogenous ethnic group as it is possible that each sub caste or clan may have different origins. Example: Members from other tribes or communities were adopted into the Nair fold once Nair became to be known to refer to a caste such as Tamil Paden Nairs. There have also been incidents where the Nair caste status was bestowed upon persons favored by the Raja.
A member of Sociologists is of the view that the Nair are not indigenous to Kerala, as many customs and traditions distinguish them from other Pearlites. According to one theory, Nair’s are descendants of the NE wars of Nepal, who joined the Munds exodus and later migrated to Kerala. The most prominent argument given to support their theory are the presence of different pagoda – like architectural style of Nair Theravadas and Temples and the practice of Matrilineal system of inheritance similar to both Nair’s and Ne wars. In Kerala of Southwest India lives and indigenous people, called the Nayar.
They are known for having a highly complex and intriguing culture. The Nayar are a worrior caste who follow ,matrilineal dissention and are said to practice polygyny ( Nowak & Laird, 2010) Their villages are primarily sustained thru agriculture and display little significant difference between wealthy and poor families socially or economically. The society is unparalled in many cultural aspects by any other culture even within India. Their traditions, beliefs and customs have been the subject of much debate and fascination among scholars and authorities for generations.
As in any culture, the arrival of a Nayar child marks a blessed and celebrating event. It is the beginning of life, a journey of ups and downs, hardships and elations. For the first few days of a Nayar infants life, he/she will spend all of their time secluded in a sacred room in private bonding with his/her mother, no man of unmarried woman is permitted into the area. If a mother dies in childbirth the child may be raised by any other female who’s in milk within the village and will be seen as her child for all purposes.
It’s important for the child to be claimed by a woman with milk for two reasons, 1) Because that’s the only food the child will receive for days, and 2) Because Nayar children reside in the mother’s home for lifetime. ( Paniker, 1918). Once the child is 28 days old and the umbilical cord has been burned and buried, the child may then be brought out of seclusion and accompany its mother to the local temple. The first ceremony consist of a beautiful adorned belt placed around the child’s waist. This is a rite of passage which now allows for the child to be clothed and adorned with ornaments.
The waist garment often includes a special amulet or jewel which is meant to ward off demonic presences and evil. The second part of the ceremony is naming of the child, and is done by having a priest or astrologer read his/her horoscope. The clergyman then recites the initials of the stars, planets, or deities that accompany the reading and the child’s name is forged with the use of a chosen set of those letters. (Paniker, 1918). The child is part of the village now, and may receive its taste of food, usually cooked flour made of dried fruit.
Due to the fact that the Nayar are somewhat of a matrilineal society, the Nayar child has very little need for a particular figure (Lee, 1985) it is a highly beneficial set up since many Nayar children may not be aware of who the father is. They simply refer respectfully to all of their mother’s lovers as lord or leader and to her first husband as little father though even he has no ) authority over them (Lee, 1982). Nayar women have sole parental responsibility for their children. (Nowak & Laird, 2010).
Nayar boys are taught to be men by the same or by brothers or other men within their mother’s home but are primarily raised by their mother and aunts. Nayar girls also have little need for a male influence as they are traditionally wed in a special ceremony prior to reaching puberty and spend their youth preparing to be matriarchs (Panikkar, 1918). Now on expounding on the adult life of the Nayar boys and girls, this will give a look as to the kind of things that each group has to go through after they reach a certain age.