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Ambalavasi (Ampalavasi) is a generic name for a group of castes among Hindus in Kerala, India, who render temple services. Some Ambalavasi castes are patrilineal, while the others are matrilineal. Those that practise matrilineality share many cultural similarities with the Nair caste. Their ritual rank in Hinduism lies somewhere between the Brahmin castes and the Nairs.[1][2]


Ampalavasi women with flower baskets- An old image

The castes which comprised the Ambalavasi community each contained only a few members. The castes may be broadly classified under the two main heads of - (i) the thread-bearing Ambalavasis and (ii) the threadless Ambalavasis.[3] Under the former head come the castes such as Pushpakan, Nambeesan, Thiyyadi, Kurukkal, Muthathu, Chakyar etc. who wear the Sacred-thread and under the latter Pihsaradi, Varyar, marar and Poduval.[citation needed] Owing to their similarities in social customs and manners, some castes among the sacred thread bearing ambalavasis are together called Pushpaka Brahmins.[citation needed]

Sacred-thread wearing Ambalavasis[edit]

Pushpaka Brahmins[edit]


Threadless Ambalavasis[edit]

The feminine names of threadless ambalavasi castes are formed by adding the suffix -syar to the masculine names as Adkikal-Adisyar, Pisharadi-Pisharasyar, Marar-Marasyar, Variar-Varasyar, Poduval-Poduvalsyar.

Temple services[edit]

Though all Ampalavāsis have to do service in temples, they have sufficiently distinct functions to perform. Pushpakans and Nambeesans are teachers in the Pathasalas or Mutts and suppliers of flowers to temple. Chakyar stages drama. Marar serves as temple musician. Variar and Poduval did managerial and executive functions of temple committees and served as storekeepers [8]


Kazhakams or Ambalakkazhakams refer to associations of ambalavasi peoples in a temple to perform specific duties in the temple.[9] The Malayalam or Tamil term Kazhaka is believed to be originated from the Sanskrit word घटकः (ghaṭakaḥ) meaning a unit or part or component.[citation needed]

Temple arts[edit]

Idakka artist
Sri. Chendamangalam Unnikrishna Maarar in action - In the middle.

Traditionally, Ambalavasis are associated with various types of temple arts. Earlier, each of these temple arts were performed only by specific Ambalavasi castes. Now there is no community or caste barrier.[citation needed]

Temple Art Associated
Ambalavasi castes
Koodiyattam Chakyar[citation needed]
Kooth Chakyar,[10] Nangyar (women of Nambiar)[11]
Certain roles of Krishnanattam Nambeesan or Pushpaka Unni[12][page needed]
Mizhavu (Musical Instruemnt) Nambiar[13]
Kuzhithalam (Musical Instruemnt) Nangyar (women of Nambiar)[citation needed]
Thullal Nambiar[citation needed]
Theeyattu Theeyatt Unni, Thiyyadi Nambiar[citation needed]
Pathakam Nambiar[14]
Vadyams (Musical Instruments) like
Chenda, Idakka, Udukku etc.
Marar[citation needed]
Panchavadyam Marar[citation needed]
Sopanasangeetham Marar, Pothuval[citation needed]
Brahmanippattu Brahmani (women of Nambeesan)[15][16]

Temple types[edit]

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 the 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 (Bhadrakali)
  • Village temples dedicated to Bhagavati and run by senior Nairs who had been appointed by local rulers


  1. ^ a b Fuller, Christopher J. (1976). The Nayars Today. Cambridge University Press. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-52129-091-3.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Gough, Kathleen (1961). "Nayars: Central Kerala". In Schneider, David Murray; Gough, Kathleen (eds.). Matrilineal Kinship. University of California Press. pp. 309–311. ISBN 978-0-520-02529-5.
  3. ^ Pisharoty, K. Rama. "Pisharoti Rituals". The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. Vol. 56 (1926): 83-89. doi:10.2307/2843601.
  4. ^ a b c d Report of the Commission for Reservation of Seats in Educational Institutions, Kerala, 1965. Kerala: Commission for Reservation of Seats in Educational Institutions, Kerala, India. 1966. p. 140.
  5. ^ Temple, Richard Carnac (1908). The Indian Antiquary Vol-xxxvii. Brotrtu, London: British India Press. pp. 335–337.
  6. ^ Daugherty, Diane. "The Nangyār: Female Ritual Specialist of Kerala". Asian Theatre Journal. Vol. 13, No. 1 (Spring, 1996: 54–67. doi:10.2307/1124302.
  7. ^ People of India - India's Communities N-Z. Oxford University Press. 1998. pp. 2861–2863.
  8. ^ Madhavan, K.S. "INTERNALIST PERCEPTION OF "JATI" — A STUDY OF BRAHMANICAL CANONICAL LITERATURE IN KERALA". Proceedings of the Indian History Congress. Vol. 62 (2001): 84–97.
  9. ^ People of India - India's Communities N-Z. Oxford University Press. 1998. pp. 3605–3607.
  10. ^ "Latest India News | Breaking News | World &amp Business News | Sports &amp Entertainment news". Retrieved 30 September 2013.[permanent dead link]
  11. ^ "The `Florance' of Nangiar Koothu" (10 September 2015). Mathurubhumi Daily. 10 September 2015. Retrieved 17 February 2019. Quote: Nangyarkoothu is a traditional artform performed by the women of the Ambalavasi Nambiar community of Kerala, called Nangyaramma. However, people from other castes also has been performing the artform since the second half of the 20th century.
  12. ^ Sikora,, Martha Bush (1993). Krishnanattam. Oxford & IBH Publishing Company.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  13. ^ Dutta, Madhumita (2008). Let's Know Music and Musical Instruments of India. Star Publications. p. 16.
  14. ^ "Padakam, the poor cousin of Chakyarkoothu - Times of India". The Times of India. Retrieved 16 January 2018.
  15. ^ Nampoothiri, M.V. Vishnu (2012). Folklore: The Identity of Culture. Department of Information & Public Relations, Government of Kerala. p. 73.
  16. ^ V.T., Induchudan (1969). The Secret Chamber: A Historical, Anthropological & Philosophical Study of the Kodungallur Temple. Cochin Devaswom Board. p. 260.