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Nayar is a Hindu caste of the India state of Kerala. The region contained small, feudal kingdoms, in each of which royal and noble lineages, the militia, and most land managers were drawn from the Nayars and related castes. Unlike most Hindus, Nayar traditionally were matrilineal. Their family unit, the members of which owned property jointly, included brothers and sisters, the latter is children, and their daughters’ children. The oldest man was legal head of the group. Rules of marriage and residence varied somewhat between kingdoms.
This paper will include the examination of aspects of the life of the Nayar marriage, political organization, and belief and values. The Nayar family consists of all the descendants from the same ancestress, counting relationship exclusively from the side of the mother. Ordinary families consist of relations four or five degrees removed. In old and aristocratic families, one finds sometimes fifty to eighty people, though one or two families can be mentioned in Malabar, which contain one hundred and fifty to two hundred people.
The undivided family generally lives under the same roof. In the house, it only the female’s live, while the male members of the family occupy rooms set apart for them, or, if they are rich, live in houses in neighboring compounds. The Nayar house has always a large piece of enclosed ground in front of it, which is called Muttam. Often it is used as an ornamental garden, and no man of the lower caste may enter it. There the children walk about and play in daytime, and the women have their dance and general merriment in the evening.
Behind the house are a vegetable garden and a bathing tank, which is reserved exclusively for women. The dominant idea in the arrangement of the house is the proper separation of sexes in the family. The family owns property in common. What a private individual earns belongs to him exclusively, but when he dies, it is joined to the rest of the family, according to the old Nayar law, which is still prevalent in some parts. When the family becomes unwieldy, or certain members show insubordination, the family property is partitioned equally among each female line.
The is to say, if there are three sisters in the family, each having daughters and granddaughters, the partition is done in such a way that each of the ancestresses founds a separate family among whom the original property is equally divided. The partition of property does not affect the relationship. The members of a divided family are called by the classificatory names, and a birth or death in one family creates pollution to the whole stock. Centuries might pass, but they would remain strictly exogamous groups, and the rights of relationship would continue, though in a lesser degree.
There are many instances in which, though family partition took place at least a hundred and fifty years ago, the members continue to call each other brothers and sisters, as if they were the nearest blood relations. The marriage restrictions prevalent among the Nayars have nothing much peculiar from the rest of the Hindu society. The bride must always be younger than the man, and must in strict orthodoxy belong to the same generation as his. He may not his mother’s sister’s daughter, who is to him as his own sister. All his sisters, own and collateral, together with women of a previous generation in his family, form a legal incestuous group.
A man has, therefore, to marry either entirely out of the circle of his relations, or from among his cross cousins. Marriage customs among the Nayars have evoked much discussion and controversy in India among both jurists and social scientists. There was considerable sub regional variation as well as variation by sub caste and family prestige. There were two kinds of marriage: talikettu kalyanam (tying ceremony) and sambandham (the customary nuptials of a man and woman). The tali-tying ceremony had to be held before puberty and often the ceremony was held for several girls at the same time to save on expenses.
According to Gough, at a convenient time every few years, a lineage held a grand ceremony at which all girls who had not attained puberty aged about seven to twelve, and was on one day ritually married by men drawn from their linked lineages. The ritual bridegrooms were selected in advance on the advice of the village astrologer at a meeting of the neighborhood assembly (Gough, 1959). There after various ceremonies, each tied a gold ornament around the neck of his ritual bride. The girls had for three days previously been secluded in an inner room of the house and caused to observe taboos as if they menstruated.
After the tali-tying each couple was secluded in private for three days. It was traditionally, if the girl was nearing puberty, sexual relations might take place. As stated by Gough “the pre-puberty tali-rite was essential for a girl” (Gough, 1959). If she menstruated before it had been performed, she should be expelled from her lineage and caste. This tail-rite brought girls social maturity. She now thought to be a least ritually endowed with sexual and procreative functions and thenceforward accorded to the status of a woman.
After the rite, people addressed the girl in public by the respectful title “mama” meaning “mother”, and she might take part in the rites of adult women. Second, after the tali-rite a girl must observe all the rules of etiquette associated with incest prohibitions in relation to men of her lineage. She might not touch them, might not sit in their presence, might not speak first to them, and might not be alone in a room with one of them. Third, after the tali-rite and soon as she become old enough, a girl received as visiting husbands a number of men of her sub caste from outside her lineage, usually but not necessarily from her neighborhood.
In addition, she might be visited by a Nayar of the higher sub castes of the village like the headmen, chiefs, or royalty. In Nayar the attitudes of big private business to the government are economic planning that dominated the economic life over the past decades has found persistent conflict and only incidental adaptation. The quest for profits conflicts with the goals of mass welfare or “power. ” The fluctuations in these attitudes over five planning sequences testify to cooperation only during periods of short lived, now-and-then nationalist fervor on the part of usiness, or during the temporary economic crises that compelled occasional indulgence of private enterprise on the part of government. Such private business progress as there has been reflects the inadequacies of public sector planning and program implementation more than any success for business in politics. As written by Malenbaum (1971), it is not surprising therefore that the conclusions on the public-private interplay in Indian economic life correspond with Nayar’s. Mostly business in politics is a record conflict. There are temporary adaptations but these are scarcely additive in their influence.
They sum to limited achievement toward an interplay that contributes effectively to India’s economy and society, “since business cannot be relied upon to practice self-restraint, government must provide a strong harness for the monster it feels it has to with” (p. 846). With Nayar, emphasizes the philosophical and emotional gaps that separate governmental and business elites. The recent efforts by younger and better-educated business leaders primarily to improve the business image and to exercise larger political influence through election activities have had no systematic success.
The traditional political organization was feudal in nature with many small states. Rulers had only limited control. After the British occupation of Malabar and the posting of British resident officers in Cochin and Travancore, the state came to have greater influence. Some independence, large units of approximately 10,000 to 12,000 people has been governed by an elected panchayat (village council). There is a large bureaucratic structure and an elected legislative assembly in the state. Politics and political parties, especially those of the left, have penetrated into every niche and hole the state (Panikkar, 1918).
Finally, the religious beliefs of the Nayars show an extraordinary mixture of Hindu and Dravidian cults. According to Panikkar, all the temples are dedicated to Krishna Siva or Kartyayani (Panikkar, 1918). There are also a few kavus or groves for the worship of the lesser Hindu deities. Nevertheless, the important point with regard to this is that the Nayars are as whole people almost without a religion and they use the Hindu temple for practices, which receive no sanction even in the generous vagueness of that creed. The religious conceptions of Hinduism have but the slightest influence on the Nayar community as a whole.
Nothing shows so much the extreme persistence of primitive culture, even in the face of higher civilizing agencies, than the wide and almost universal acceptance of spirit-worship, and the almost entire absence of religious life, among the Nayars, after least twenty centuries of contact with Hinduism. Their contact with religious has not been limited indeed to Hinduism. According to Panikkar, “the Jews flying after the destruction of their Temple found refuge among the Nayars, and have lived in their midst for nigh 2,000 years” (Panikkar, 1918). According to Panikkar (1918), Nayars have any religion apart from a veneer of Hindu influence.
Their beliefs are mainly magical. The orthodox French opinion that the difference between magic and religion is that the latter is social while the former is anti-social, which has been proved by Mr. E. S. Hartland and Dr. Marett. To be untenable; while the contention of Dr. Marett himself, that the difference between magic and religion lies in the attitude of society towards them, seems also to be inadequate (Panikkar, 1918). Among the Nayars, there is an implicit distinction between practices to propitiate a GOD and those with which to bully a spirit.
Bullying a spirit for purposes of social benefit, which have not considered religion, though it is recognized by society as beneficial. In addition, to that it does not possess the emotional and the psychological elements which Dr. Marett himself has with great truth insisted on as the essence of religion. This such practices is called practices magical, not only because they lack the emotional and the psychological elements of religion, but also because the fundamental presupposition in such performances is the power wielded by the magician, the orenda which he has acquired, over the ghosts (Panikkar, 1918).
As written by Panikkar (1918), the Nayars are at present an essentially agricultural population. The vast majority of them are peasant proprietors owning small farms. Rice and coconuts are the chief things cultivated, though in North Malabar pepper. With regard to these matters, the Nayars have attained a certain stage of excellence. Their coconut estates are planted with a considerable amount of scientific skill and they are proficient in the industries, which are allied to coconut and rice such as coir matting, copra making, and extraction of coconut oil.
Extensive coconut plantations owned by the same man are very few. The position is much like that in England before the Enclosures. Even if the same person owns all the land in a particular area it is seldom enclosed and transformed into one large estate. On the other hand, they continue to be regarded as separate compounds and the houses on them are generally occupied either by Nayar tenants or by Pulaya slaves. The fact that Nayar families live in garden houses is one of great significance. Horticulture is practiced with great interest in all families, rich as well as poor.
It is, in fact, very seldom that any Nayar family uses vegetables bought from the market. All that is necessary is grown in the compound. The great difficulty of village life, effective sanitation, becomes an easy matter. Rice cultivation is still based on self-labor (Panikkar, 1918). In conclusion, this paper discussed some importance aspects of the Nayars life. Marriage among the Nayars has evoked much discussion and controversy in India among both jurists and social scientists. There was considerable sub regional variation as well as variation by sub caste and family prestige.
Thus, there are ready explanations for private industry as against public enterprise, for big business as against small business, for industrialization as against agricultural development. This was discussed as the symposium as they are, at length, in growing literature of politics and political action in poor lands, and in India notably. On the other hand the evolving theories of economic development place more emphasis on closing internal gaps within a poor nation than on closing external gaps through net imports to meet the problems of scarcity.
Finally, Nayar practices are carried on in secret, and nobody knows what they do except those initiated. Only people who want to do harm to others, or satisfy ignoble desires procure their assistance. A man often gets the help of a magician of this sort to perform his “art,” so that an enemy of his who has gone on a pilgrimage may not return. All decent people, and society avoid them in general, though it fears their “art,” consider them charlatans.
Gough, E. K. (1959). The Nayars and the Definition of Marriage. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2642776 Panikkar, K.M. (1918). Some Aspects of Nayar Life. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2843423
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