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
Kozhikode district, Kerala
Coimbatore district, Tamil Nadu
Kanyakumari District, Tamil Nadu
Nagercoil, Tamil Nadu
Tanjore district, Tamil Nadu
Thirunelveli Tamil Nadu
Kerala sub-dialects of Tamil
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 the Kerala region, and also people who migrated from present day Tamil Nadu in different waves starting from the medieval period onwards. The community consists of two groups - the Palakkad Iyers and Iyers of the Cochin and Travancore regions. 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 first major wave of Tamil Bhramin settlement in the 18 villages of modern-day Palakkad district happened in the 13th Cnetury. Migrations to the Travancore and Cochin regions took place mostly in the 16th and 17th centuries AD. More than 10 of the Diwans or Prime Ministers of the princely state of Travancore were Tamil Brahmins. Though there is proof that Tamil Bhramins had settled in Kerala prior to the 13th century from Chola history. Rajaraja 1 had invaded Chera territory and established his rule in the 11th Century.

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 18 villages comprising 96 small agraharams around Palakkad, granting them lands and privileges and allowing them to perform rights in Palakkad temples.

The native Namboothiri Brahmins of Kerala initially resisted the arrival of the Iyers into Kerala because in the basic difference in their ideologies. Many Tammil Brahmins came also because of great employment opportunities in Kerala, as teachers, religious facilitators, pundits, accountants, musicians and music teachers, ministerial helpers etc. They were encouraged to come in by allurements of free food, housing, grant of lands, cash gifts, recognition at the highest levels, titles etc.

Priesthood in Kerala Temples[edit]

Kerala Iyers, like the Iyers of Tamil Nadu and the Nambudiris of Kerala, belong to the Pancha Dravida classification of India's Brahmin community. They mostly belonged to the Vadama and Brahacharanam sub-sects. But, it is very rare to find Tamil Bhramin priests in Kerala temples which follow Tantric worship. In most big Kerala temples managed by Travancore Devaswom Board or Kochin Devaswom Board the priestly duties are taken up either by Namboodiris (Kerala Brahmins) or Embranthiris (Kannada Brahmins) belonging to coastal Karnataka. Tamil Bhramin priests are not recruited in Kerala temples, due to the difference in the Bhraminical philosophy of the Tamil Bhramins with the Temples of Kerala. Kerala temples recruit priests trained in Shakta Agama, also known as Tantra., whereas Tamil Bhramins train in Saiva or Shiva Agama. An exception is Uthralikkavu near Wadakkancheri which follows Kerala Tantric worship, where a Tamil Iyer is a priest. Tamil Bhramin priests are mostly found in their Agraharam Temples which they built for themselves.

It was common misconception of many writers that Namboothiris were Brahmins who perform pujas as per Vedas and Tantric method, unlike Tamil Brahmins who follow Vedanta, Vedanga and Mantram based method.

Difference between Tamil Bhramins and Malayali Bhramins[edit]

Classification based on Vedas- The Namboodiris and Iyers fall into first 3 Vedas, in which they are born into - Rig,Yajur,Sama. While majority of Namboodiris perform their Nitya Karma as per the Rig Veda, the majority of Tamil Bhramins perform as per the Yajur Veda. The nitya karmas include:

Classification of Agama/Tantra - Iyers follow Vedas and Shivaagama (Agamas related to Lord Shiva). Namboodiris follow Vedas and Shakta Agama (Tantric Agamas related to Devi worship).

So the question of Namboodiri worship being non-agamaic or non-Vedangic looses credibility as Tantra is a part of Agama Shastras. Other Tantra Shrauta texts are present in the Kalpa (Vedanga) part of Vedanga.

Classification based on Vedanga - Vedanga mean (Veda+Anga), meaning limbs of Vedas. They are pre requisite for any student of the Vedas They contain 6 parts which consists of Phonetics, grammar etc.

Classification based on Darshana Shastra - Namboodiris follow Poorva Meemamsa by Sage Jaimini and Tamil Bhramins follow Uttara Meemamsa, also known as Vedanta by Veda Vyasa.

Recent historians have made mistakes in understanding the difference between Vedas and Vedanta. They are of the View that Namboodiris perform yaagas as Per Vedas and Iyers perform Non vedic puja as per Vedanta. Vedanta is a school of philosophy and does not tell anything about Yaagas.

Classification based on Dharma Sutra - Namboodiris have significant population of Boudhaayana or Koutthuma, while Iyers have Aapasthamba, Boudhyayana and Draahyaayani. No Namboothiri is found as Aapasthamba Yajurvedis or Draahyaayani [1]

Classification based on Dharma Shastra - Both sect of Bhramins follow Manusmriti. [2]

Criticism in writings[edit]

Just like in Tamil Nadu during the Self Respect Movement. It was during the early communist era that a lot of rancor against them was displayed starting from the Pattar Prashobhanam of 1891, where agitation was started against Tamil Iyers who had established themselves in most of the high ranking jobs of Travancore state. During the communist era Iyers were usually branded as a community of cooks,musicians and temple assistants.

It was due to the ignorance and bias of the historians towards a community which produced more than 10 Prime Ministers of Travancore Kingdom, owned vast lands in Palakkad and Thrissur areas and lived in closed Bhramin quarters called Agraharams was dubbed as a community which could take up cooking and music as full-time jobs.

In fact, majority of Iyers studied vedas in the Veda patashalas of Palakkad, only some sects of Iyers from poor families were usually employed as cooks in the Oottupuras or Namboothiri Brahmin feeding shelters, along with the Adukkala group of Namboothiris as these Namboothiri families were classified for cooking and catering as per the Namboodiri sub caste classification. This was also due to the fact that only Bhramins could cook in temples and other Bhramins would not accept food cooked by a non-bhramin.

Tamil Bhramins in Kerala today[edit]

Apart from a few sections of the society who disrespectfully recall an entire community of Bhramins as cooks or musicians, 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. In the modern day Kerala Iyers have become an integral part of Kerala culture. 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.


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 Manipravalam which later developed into Malayalam. It is said that Iyers from Tamil Nadu can instantly point out a Palakkad Iyer from the latters language.

Palakkad Iyers[edit]

Palakkad Iyers mainly reside 18 villages 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 have Vaishnavite settlement, whereas the rest of the villages have Shaura-smartha Bhramins. 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.

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. 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. The migration continued for decades, and thus Iyer population is concentrated around this temple in Trivandrum.[4]

Notable people[edit]

Journalists and writers[edit]


Politicians and administrators[edit]


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ [2]
  3. ^ "Landmark Legislations - Land Reforms". Kerala Legislative Assembly. Retrieved 2008-08-27. 
  4. ^ Nandakumar, T. "Agraharams on the way out?". The Hindu. Chennai, India. 
  5. ^ "The trio in action again". Chennai, India: The Hindu. 2005-08-26. Retrieved 12 September 2011. 
  6. ^ "Never Say Never Again". The Indian Express. 2005-07-03. Retrieved 12 September 2011. 
  7. ^ Mahadevan, Shankar (8 September 2013). I am a Malayali grew up in Mumbai: Shankar Mahadevan. Interview with John Brittas. 0:38. Kairali TV. Retrieved 4 January 2010 – via Kairali Archive on YouTube. Interviewer: You have some connection with Kerala in fact, your family migrated from Palakkad or something like that. Shankar Mahadevan: Yes, I am an Iyer from Palakkad actually 

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