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Ambalavasi is a generic name for a collection of castes among Hindus in Kerala who render temple services.[1]

Castes and professions[edit]

The castes which comprised the Ambalavasi community each contained only a few members. They lived in villages either where the land was owned solely by one Nambudiri Brahmin family or where the land was owned by a temple, the running of which was in the control of a group of Nambudiri families. The latter villages were called sanketams.[2]

The temples in which they worked comprised four basic types:[2]

  • those in sanketams were large and were dedicated to deities which were worshipped throughout India, such as Shiva and Vishnu.
  • private temples, owned by Nambudiri families, which were smaller versions of those found in the sanketams.
  • the private temples of the royal lines, feudatory chiefs and vassal chiefs of what is now Kerala, which were dedicated to Bhagavati and Bhadrakali
  • village temples dedicated to Bhagavati and run by senior Nairs who had been appointed by local rulers

A brief description of each of these castes are given below:


The Chakyar were the highest ranked of the Ambalavasis in ritual terms, along with the Pushpagans. They recited stories from the Puranas.[2]


Nambiars were a matrilineal caste whose traditional temple servant role was as players of drums.[2]


Main article: Pothuval

Pothuvals were a matrilineal caste whose traditional temple servant role was as players of drums.[2]


Main article: Pushpaka Brahmin

Pushpagans ranked with the Chakyar and were the gatherers of flowers for the temples. As with the Chakyar and indeed the Nambudiri Brahmins themselves, they were a patrilineal caste.[2]


Muthats, also known as Moosads, were considered as the highest of the Ambalavasi castes and are said to be degraded Brahmins, the cause of degradation being that they tattooed themselves with Shaivite images.[citation needed]


Main article: Variar

The Variyar (also spelled as Warrier, Varier and Variyar) were temple stewards, and practiced matrilineality.[2]


The Pisharodis were temple stewards, and practiced matrilineality.[2]


Marars were a matrilineal caste and they played the percussion instrument called a chenda during temple festivals.[2]


  1. ^ K. Rama Pisharoti The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 56, 1926 (1926), pp. 83-89
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Gough, E. Kathleen (1961). "Nayars: Central Kerala". In Schneider, David Murray; Gough, E. Kathleen. Matrilineal Kinship. University of California Press. pp. 308–310. ISBN 978-0-520-02529-5. Retrieved 2011-06-09. 

External links[edit]