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Unni is used as a first name in Kerala, India. In the Malayalam language, it is also used as an adjective meaning an infant boy. Thus, Unnikrishnan means Lord Krishna in the infant form and Unniyesu means Yesu (Jesus in Malayalam) in the infant form. The word is also the name of a caste among Hindus in the Southern India State of Kerala.
Unni is a sub-group of Pushpaka Brahmin (Ambalavasi) caste, which comes under the Pancha-Dravida regional group of Brahmins. They belong to the Viswamitra Gotram. They wear the sacred thread "Yajñopavītam" (Pūnūl) and adhere to the 'Gayatri mantra'. They follow makkattayam (patrilineal) heritage system.
Origin, Etymology and History
It is believed that Unnis, like other ambalavasis, are the successors of the brahmins brought to Vaikom Thrikkovil by Parasurama.
In the early days they were a group of brahmins who provided "immediate assistance" to the main priests in the temples. They assisted the main priest by gathering flowers, leaves and water, making garlends, lightening the lamps (Vilakku), and in preparing and distributing temple materials. They also served as teachers in Pāṭhaśālas associated with temples and as managers of different activities in temples.
Since they entered in their career at an early age (of about 16 or 20), soon after their formal education, generally they were very much younger than the main priest. So the main priest used to call his assistants by the name Unni (meaning 'Young Boy') or by suffixing the name Unni with their actual name. Gradually this name became the surname of this group of Pushpaka Brahmins.
There is a common belief that Unnis are sub-divided into Pushpaka, Tiyattunnis, Pattarunni etc. which is actually absurd. In fact these are entirely different communities in a common class of Kerala Brahmins and there were no inter caste marriages among these communities anciently. Tīyāttunnis were traditionally the performers of an ancient art form called Tīyāttu. The famous Malayalam writer Kottarathil Sankunni was a Tīyāttunni whereas famous essayist D. Padmanabhanunni was a Pushpakanunni. Some of the tiyattunnis are known as Sharma. Theeyattunnis have the right for Tantric Poojas and other privileges enjoyed by the Nambudiri caste.
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