Kaniyar are a caste of India with origins in the states of Kerala and Karnataka. There are regional variations in the name used to define them. The Kerala Public Service Commission considers Kaniyar Panicker (otherwise known as Kaniyan, Kanisu, Ganaka, Kanisan, Kamnan, and Kani) to be one group in their list of designated Other Backward Classes, and Kalari Panicker (otherwise referred to as Kalari Kurup) to be another.
Traditions of origin
Kathleen Gough has recorded that the caste believe they were descended from a degraded section of the Tamil Brahmins and that they ascribed their "rudimentary" knowledge of Sanskrit, medicine and astrology to those origins.
Edgar Thurston reported in 1909 that the caste was not flourishing because its members relied on their traditional occupation of astrology and were averse to manual labour. He stated that they were generally intelligent people who were "well versed in both Malayam and Sanskrit", punctilious in both manner and appearance, and conservative in cultural matters. In some areas they were strictly vegetarian but in others would eat meat and fish.
Gough has argued that the caste in many ways played the role of
pseudo-Brahmans in relation to the lower castes ... Their lore was, of course, a much simplified version of Brahman lore. Through them, however, some of the elements of Sanskrit religious belief and practices were filtered to lower caste people who could not attend high-caste temples or receive Brahmanical services ... [They] served as media for the Sankritisation of the lower castes ...
Although the modern dances (which occur in the temples of Alappuzha, Kollam, Pathanamthitta and Kottayam) are performed by Nairs (a caste which had a social rank higher than the Kaniyars), it is the Kaniyars who decorate the elaborate costumes.
Thurston also reported that many Kaniyars were once teachers but that by the time of his writing the occupation was in decline due to "the abolition of the old methods of teaching". The teaching had been primarily of low caste children in village schools. The arrival of the British in the area saw the demise of traditional teaching, with Sanskrit teaching being deprecated in favour of its English counterpart, disruption due to various wars and also a discouragement of the village schools in general. The standard of literacy declined greatly for nearly a century and began to improve once more with the advent of state aid for (principally English-based) education at the end of the 19th century.
Aside from general teaching,they also taught fencing to the Izhava caste. Kalari Panicker and Gurukkal are other names used for the northern group because of their involvement with these schools. They asserted that because of this they were superior to the Asan members of the caste, who were primarily to be found in southern Travancore.
- The Niranam Poets, (1350–1450)
- Singh, Kumar Suresh (2003). People of India 26. Anthropological Survey of India. p. 717.
- "List of Other Backward Classes in Kerala State". Kerala Public Service Commission. Retrieved 3 May 2011.
- Gough, Kathleen (2005) . "Literacy in Kerala". In Goody, Jack. Literacy in traditional societies (Reprinted ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 148–149. ISBN 0-521-29005-8.
- Thurston, Edgar; Rangachari, K. (1909). Castes and tribes of Southern India 3. Madras: Government Press. pp. 186–188.
- "Padayani". Government of Kerala portal. Retrieved 28 April 2011.
- Thurston, Edgar; Rangachari, K. (1909). Castes and tribes of Southern India 3. Madras: Government Press. p. 194.
- Gough, Kathleen (2005) . "Literacy in Kerala". In Goody, Jack. Literacy in traditional societies (Reprinted ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 155. ISBN 0-521-29005-8.