Kerala Iyers

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Kerala Iyers
Regions with significant populations
Palakkad district, Kerala
Travancore Region
(Trivandrum district, Alappuzha district), Kerala
Thrissur district, Kerala
Ernakulam district, Kerala
Malappuram district, Kerala
Coimbatore district, Tamil Nadu
Kanyakumari District, Tamil Nadu
Nagercoil, Tamil Nadu
Tanjore district, Tamil Nadu
Thirunelveli Tamil Nadu
Chennai
Mumbai
Bangalore
Languages
Kerala sub-dialects of Tamil
Religion
Hinduism
Related ethnic groups
Iyers, Malayali people, Tamil Brahmin, Malayali Brahmins

Kerala Iyers or Bhattars, are Tamil Brahmins of the Indian state of Kerala — people who were residents in Kerala region, and also people who migrated from present day Tamil Nadu in different waves starting from the medieval period onwards. They are also called as "Pattars" which is the corruption of the word "Bhattar" which has its roots in the Sanskrit word "Bhat" , meaning Bhramin.

The community consists of two groups - the Palakkad Iyers and Iyers of the Cochin and Travancore regions. The first wave of Iyers settled down in Palakkad district at the beginning of the medieval period. Migrations to the Travancore and Cochin regions took place mostly in the 16th and 17th centuries AD. Many of the Diwans or Prime Ministers of the princely state of Travancore were Tamil Brahmins.

Kerala Iyers, like the Iyers of Tamil Nadu and the Namboothiris of Kerala, belonged to the Pancha Dravida classification of India's Brahmin community. They mostly belonged to the Vadama and Brahacharanam sub-sects. The Vadama Iyers and The Brahacharanam Iyers did not intermarry until recently. The Vadama Iyers were considered to be northern in origin, from whom the Iyengars split and gave rise to the Vadakalai sect among Iyengars. The Vadama Iyers mostly indulged themselves in teaching in Vedic schools known as Veda pathashalas and showed less interest in temple rituals, whereas the Brahacharanam were more into temple rituals.

The Namboothiri Brahmins of Kerala initially resisted the arrival of the Iyers into Kerala. So the Iyers demanded the Palakkad king to expel all the opposing Namboothiris. The King expelled many Namboothiris and then when the Kerala Iyers gained power in Palakkad they expelled the remaining Namboothiris. Till the 19th century there were hardly any Namboothiris in Palakkad. They enjoyed autonomy in Palakkad ( later Malabar ) and in Travancore Kingdom but faced some discrimination in the Kingdom of Kochin. Since Temple worship in Kerala is more Tantra based than Mantra based. The Iyers who were not experts Tantric form of worship were therefore denied the posts of priests in all the temples managed by the Namboothiris in Kochin Kingdom. The Iyers on were not allowed to conduct pooja as the priest (shanthi) in some regions of Kerala where temples followed Tantric rituals. So Iyers being Vedic scholars built their own temples in their Agraharams to conduct pooja, since they followed the Vedic rituals and not the Tantric rituals of the Namboothiris.[1] The most famous one being Viswanatha Swamy Temple, Kalpathy, Palakkad which was constructed as per Vedic Rituals and not as per Tantric Rituals. The Vedic practices of Iyers and the Tantric practices of Namboothiris differed somewhat. For example, Tamil Brahmins in Palakkad, celebrate Lord Rama's birthday in association with Valmiki's Sanskrit epic and not Kampan's epic. The Namboothiris also had a practice called "Sambandham" wherein only the eldest son of the Namboothiri family would marry a Namboothiri girl and the younger sons would marry Nair girls. Only the eldest son of the Namboothiri family would be considered a Namboothiri, this practice was never followed by Kerala Iyers.

Kalpathy in Palakkad is the most famous among the collection of agraharams. Other Agraharams include the one in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala called Valiya Sala which is the lengthiest Agraharam in India. There are two main cluster Agraharams in Kottakkakam (Fort) and Karamana in Thiruvananthapuram, capital of Kerala State, India.

During the course of time, the Iyers who came to Kerala started getting increasing acceptance from Namboothiris outside of Palakkad and Travancore. There is a story that Mezhattor Agnihotri, the Namboothiri member of Parachi Petta Pandeeruvar married an Iyer girl. There is also a story that a Namboothiri household accepted A Iyer named 'Uddanda' as a priest.

Kerala Iyers were called Videsi Brahmins meaning "foreign Bhramin" or "immigrant Bhramin" in ancient land records.

In the modern day Kerala Iyers have become an integral part of Kerala culture. There is no hatred or rancor among other communities towards them. In fact they are equal members of society. Kerala Iyers constitute one of the most educated segments of society.

Some of the proverbs in Kerala about Kerala Iyers are self-explanatory regarding the attitude of others towards them. Some of them are:

"Pattaril Pottanilla" - There is no fool among Kerala Iyers.

"Onnum Kanathe Pattar Kinattil Chadilla" - The Kerala Iyer will not jump into the well without any motive.

They also have become very interesting characters in Malayalam literature. The most notable is their description by Kunjan Nambiar in Ottan Thullal. They are the butt of jokes by many even during the modern times. But there is no rancor in these jokes. The common man in Kerala likes them, loves them and respects them.

There has been a long debate on the linguistic background of the Kerala Iyers, most Kerala Iyers came to Kerala as early as the 13th century. Thus their constant interaction with Malayalam and Malayalis eventually highly increased the level of Sanskritisation into their Brahmin dialect of Tamil which in itself was sanskritised thus as time flew most of them started to speak a form of Tamil highly concentrated with Malayalam.

History[edit]

The waves of Tamil Brahmin migration into Kerala continued till the first half of 14th century, a few centuries after the decline of all the great Hindu empires of Tamil Nadu (such as Chola and Pandya dynasties). However there are also other accounts which point to earlier migrations around the 8th century. Most of these migrants settled close to the Nila river banks around Palakkad.

Palakkad Kings had their own reasons to welcome and settle these Brahmins in their area, to break the hegemony of Namboothiri Brahmins who seemed to have protested and boycotted Palakkad Kings. The Palakkad King in retaliation brought in Tamil Brahmins and settled them in 64 settlements around Palakkad, granting them lands and privileges and allowing them to perform rights in Palakkad temples. The Namboothiri Brahmins of Kerala initially resisted the arrival of the Iyers into Kerala. So the Iyers demanded the Palakkad king to expel all the opposing Namboothiris. The King expelled many Namboothiris and then when the Kerala Iyers gained power in Palakkad they expelled the remaining Namboothiris. Till the 19th century there were hardly any Namboothiris in Palakkad.

They enjoyed autonomy in Palakkad ( later Malabar ) and in Travancore Kingdom but faced some discrimination in the Kingdom of Kochin. It is also stated that continuous drought over many years in the Kaveri Delta area also triggered migration of Tanjore Brahmins to Kerala.

During the invasions of Malik Kafur and subsequent Muslim kingdoms, large numbers of Tamil Brahmins migrated and settled down on the western side of the Western Ghats which provided them security and safety from the invaders. Occasionally, Iyers also migrated from Tamil Nadu at the invitation from the Rajas of Kerala. The waves of Tamil Brahmin migration into Kerala continued till the first half of 20th century.

Over the years these migrants built up their own individual culture and established an identity of their own. In Kerala, they are commonly referred to as Bhattars. The word 'Bhattar', a Sanskrit word indicating Brahmins. This was one of the earlier surnames used by the Tamil Brahmins.

Palakkad Iyers[edit]

The Tamil Brahmins who originated from Palakkad district of Kerala, which is close to Tamil Nadu, are known as Palakkad Iyers. They were mainly from the Tanjore district in the State of Tamil Nadu. From Palakkad they migrated to other parts of North Kerala which were part of the erstwhile Madras Presidency like Kozhikode and Malappuram.

The mother tongue of all Iyers is no doubt Tamil but the form of Tamil that a Kerala Iyer speaks is modified to a large extent by their constant interaction with Sanskrit and Malayalam. Malayalam which has very large number of words owing allegiance to Sanskrit and which is endowed by the most phonetic alphabets among the Indian languages has influenced the way that a Kerala Iyer speaks. The amount of mixture of Malayalam in spoken Tamil of Kerala Iyers varies from place to place. While the Tamil of Palakkad villages is corrupted to the extent of 20%, those in the western parts of Kerala speak Tamil with a mixture of more than 80% Malayalam.

It is said that Iyers from Tamil Nadu can instantly point out a Palakkad Iyer, the moment he starts speaking. It is often said that a Palakkad Iyer prefixes most sentences with an Ooo, Eii, Ooh, Aiyye and uses words like aakum, ktela and tia wherever he can.

Apart from being priests the Palakkad Iyers were also a land-holding community owning extensive cultivable land in Palakkad, Chittoor and surrounding areas. They were in a majority in Palakkad town. The members of the community held the office of the Municipal Chairman for a number of years.[citation needed]

Palakkad Iyers arrived to the Chera Kingdom (Kerala) in waves. A major wave entered during the Muslim invasions in the 14th century by Ala-ud-din Khilji. However there are also other accounts which point to earlier migrations around the 8th century. Most of these migrants settled close to the Nila river banks around Palakkad.

History records that, King Maravarman Kulasekhara Pandyan (1268 - 1310) had two sons Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan and Jatavarman Veera Pandyan. The elder son, Sundara Pandyan, was by the king's wife and the younger, Veera Pandyan, was by a mistress. Contrary to tradition, the king proclaimed that the younger son would succeed him. This enraged Sundara Pandyan. He killed the father and became king in 1310. Some local chieftains in the kingdom swore allegiance to the younger brother Veera Pandian and a civil war broke out. Sundara Pandyan was defeated and he fled the country. Sultan Ala-ud-din Khilji who was ruling much of northern India from Delhi. At that time, his army under General Malik Kafur was in the south at Dvarasamudra (far to the north of Tamil Nadu). Khilji agreed to help Sundara Pandyan and ordered Malik Kafur's army to march to Tamil Nadu. With Sundara Pandyan's assistance, this Muslim army from the north entered Tamil Nadu in 1311. Kafur and his troops created mayhem in the area for a full year, looting and pillaging, finally carrying an immense treasure on 312 elephants, 20,000 horses and 10 crore gold coins.

It was apparently during this period that the Brahmins of Madurai and the surrounding area started to feel insecure about their existence and livelihood. Fearing persecution and forced conversion to Islam, these people started to migrate to the Chera country through the well-traveled Palakkad Pass and the routes through Dindigul and Pollachi. The southern route from Karur passes through Dharapuram and Udumalpet to Pollachi and Palakkad. The Iyers congregated around temples.

Nevertheless, the systems of Cheranaad were different since only Nambuthiris were allowed to perform religious rites in temples as the Chera Kings preferred Tantric Rituals and not Vedic Rituals of the Iyers. Since Iyers were Vedic scholars, they went on to build and conduct their Vedic rites in their own temples called Agraharams. The most famous one being Viswanatha Swamy Temple, Kalpathy, Palakkad which was constructed as per Vedic Rituals and not as per Tantric Rituals. Kalpathy also known as Dakshin Kasi or the 'Varanasi of the South is an early Tamil Brahmin settlement (agraharam) is close to the Olavakkot ( Now called Palghat railway station ). The legend of the temple goes like this, An Iyer widow Lakshmi Ammal tracing the route of Kannagi, ventured out to Cheranad around the early decades of the 15th century. She carried with her some 1,320 gold coins. Legend has it that this Lakshmi Ammal, a widow of Sekharipuram, brought the Shiva Lingam from Kasi (Varanasi) during her visit to that holy place and gave the prince Ittikombi Achan, 1320 of those gold coins in 1424-25 AD and requested him to consecrate the Siva Lingam and construct a temple on the banks of Nila River. However the actual temple is believed to have been much ancient. Legends also say that Lakshmi Ammal handed over the responsibility of managing the temple affairs. Lakshmi Ammal also constructed three other temples in nearby Kollengode, Koduvayur and Pokkunni.

The temple, regarded as one of the oldest in Malabar is also known as Kundukovil and of course as mentioned previously, Dakshina Kashi. The temple houses the deities of Lord Shiva and his consort, Parvati, who is worshipped as Visalakshi. The temple as such is built on the banks of the Kalpathy River a tributary of the Nila or Bharathapuzha, and surrounded by New Kalpathy, Old Kalpathy, Chathapuram and Govindarajapuram. The Kalpathy temple is linked to the Kasi Viswanatha Swami Temple, because the main deity here is Lord Siva and the temple is on the banks of river Kalpathy, like Kasi on the banks of river Ganges. This is the reason for the saying, Kasiyil Pathi Kalpathy, that is, half of Kasi is Kalpathy

Kuzhalmannam Agraharam is another prominent Agraharam in Palakkad.[2] Each Palakkad Iyer family is associated with a temple or kavu close to their Agraharams. The next generation of Iyers is named and their horoscope is documented.[citation needed]

Palakkad Iyers mainly reside 19 gramam’s of Palakkad being Kalpathy, Pazhaya Kalpati, Chatapuram, Govindarajapuram, Vaidyanathapuram, Kumarapurama, Lakshminarayanapuram, Mukka, Chokkanathapuram, Puttamkurichi, Sekharipuram, Ramanathapuram, Tarekad, Vadakkanthara, Noorni, Nellisheri, Thondikulam, Pallipuram, Tirunellayi. Mukkai is where the rivers of Palayar, Walayar and Malayar unite to form the Kalpathy River. Out of the 18-19 gramams in Palakkad, Thirunellai and Pallipuram are settled by Vaishnavites, whereas the rest by Saivaites. It is also said that migrants from Madurai established themselves first near Chokkanathapuram, and those from Pollachi and Dindigul established the villages of Kollengode, Koduvayur, Chittoor, and Thattamangalam which were nearer to their travel route. Sekharipuram, was perhaps founded by migrants originating from the village of the same name near Tanjore (It is also possible for Sekharipuram to have been named after Rajashekara Varma of Palakkad). Those from Vaitheeswaran Koil called their village as Vaidyanatha puram, those from Madurai called their village as Chokkanathapuram , those from Champa called their village as Chempai.

Nevertheless, the lands where they settled in became their Karma bhumi as against the east coast ( Tamil Nadu ) which they consider their Punya bhumi or Gnana bhumi. Interestingly, in a Karma bhumi you attain salvation only by good deeds whereas in a Gnanabhumi you attain it by the mere fact that you were born in it, irrespective of their actions. That is the reason Palakkad Iyers try to maintain that they are Tamilians and not Malayalis, even though they started settling in Chera Kingdom/Cheralam/Keralam a thousand years ago.

The arrival of Tamil Brahmins to Kerala is shrouded in some amount of mystery. No specific details are available and only general conjectures can be made. While the migrations to Palakkad can be summarized to be from Kumbakonam or Trichy, the arrival of Brahmins to the Tali area of Calicut was for other reasons and happened much later.

The Palakkad Iyers were greatly affected by the Kerala Agrarian Relations Bill, 1957 (repealed in 1961 and substituted by The Kerala Land Reforms Act, 1963) which abolished the tenancy system.[3]

Travancore Iyers[edit]

Many of the Travancore Iyers were the original residents of Travancore. There were many Iyers in Venad which later on grew to be the Travancore state. Shungoonny Menon calls them natives of Travancore.[4]

There has also been a continuous inflow from Thirunelveli and Ramnad districts of Tamil Nadu which are contiguous to erstwhile princely state of Travancore. Many parts of the present Thirunelveli district were part of the old Travancore state. Some of these migrated to Cochin and later to Palakkad and Kozhikode districts.

During the rule of Travancore kings, many Iyers (Tamil Brahmins) were invited to Thiruvananthapuram for administrative requirements of Travancore kingdom and for participating in rituals related to Padmanabhaswamy Temple. Some Padamangalam Nairs involved in temple service are thought to be descendants of Travancore Iyers. The migration continued for decades, and thus Iyer population is concentrated around this temple in Trivandrum.[5]

Palakkad Iyer characters in Movies[edit]

Lots of Tamil Directors have used Palakkad Tamil in their movies. The Palakkad Tamil is a mixture of tamil and malayalam. Padmashree Kamal Hasan in the movie 'Michael Madana Kamarajan', a mega hit movie played the role of a Palakkad Iyer in an outstanding way. Kamal Hassan's Kameshwaran character and Urvashi's Tiruppura Sundari character both acted as Palakkad Bhramin, rocked the screen. Another notable movie is 'Nala Damayanthi' acted by Madhavan. His character Ramji a cook from Palakkad is widely appreciated by the audience.

Actor Jayaram who himself is a Palakkad Bhramin has acted as Palakkadan in lots of movies. Mammooty has also acted as a Kerala Iyer in 'Iyer the Great' and 'Sethurama Iyer CBI'.

Palakkad Iyer's cuisine[edit]

Palakkad Iyers have their own special cuisine which vary with the cuisines of Iyers of Tamil Nadu and the Malayalis of Kerala. Some of them are -

Over the years some of the very special dishes have gone out of fashion from the Kerala Iyer family. It is not because they are not good nor because they are difficult to prepare but because of the migration of families to different areas and their adopting to the recipes of the new area, that these are not prepared. Some of these are given here.

  1. Paalada-pradhaman
  2. Moru Kootan
  3. Mezhukku Peratti
  4. Puliyitta Keerai
  5. Puliya Kuthi Upperi
  6. Mulagooshyam
  7. Mulagu Vellam
  8. Moru Charu
  9. Podi Podicha Pulungari
  10. Murunga ilai Adai
  11. Chakkai Adai
  12. Koozhu.
  13. Koozhu dosai
  14. Aracha Kozhakattai
  15. Mooda Kozhakkattai
  16. Arachu Kalakki
  17. Molakootal

This cuisine is authentic to Palakkad Iyers, apart from this one can also find other Tamil Bhramin cuisine in their homes.

List of famous Kerala Iyers[edit]

Journalists and writers[edit]

Advocates and social activists[edit]

Sportspersons[edit]

Musicians[edit]

Scientists and academicians[edit]

Actors[edit]

Politicians and administrators[edit]

Raju Narayanaswami, IAS

Businessmen[edit]

Religious leaders[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Temples of Kerala
  2. ^ http://www.kuzhalmannamagraharam.info/
  3. ^ "Landmark Legislations - Land Reforms". Kerala Legislative Assembly. Retrieved 2008-08-27. 
  4. ^ A History of Travancore, by P. Shungoonny Menon.
  5. ^ Nandakumar, T. "Agraharams on the way out?". The Hindu (Chennai, India). 
  6. ^ "The trio in action again". Chennai, India: The Hindu. 2005-08-26. Retrieved 12 September 2011. 
  7. ^ "Never Say Never Again". The Indian Express. 2005-07-03. Retrieved 12 September 2011. 

References[edit]

  • P.Sangunny Menon (1878 (Reprint 1983)). A History of Travancore. Kerala books and Publications Society, Cochin. ISBN 81-85499-14-4. 
  • Thurston, Edgar; K. Rangachari (1909). Castes and Tribes of Southern India Volume I - A and B. Madras: Government Press. 

External links[edit]