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Marumakkathayam was a system of matrilineal inheritance prevalent in what is now Kerala, India. Descent and the inheritance of property was traced through females. It was followed by all Nair castes, some of the Ambalavasis, Mappilas, and tribal groups. The elder male was considered the head known as karanavar and the entire assets of the family was controlled by him as if he was the sole owner. But the properties were not handed to his sons but to the daughters of his sons or to their sisters.

The word literally means inheritance by sisters' children, as opposed to sons and daughters. 'Marumakkal', in the Malayalam language, means nephews and nieces. The joint family under the matrilineal system is known as Tharavad and formed the nucleus of the society in Malabar. The customary law of inheritance was codified by the Madras Marumakkathayam Act 1932, Madras Act No. 22 of 1933, published in the Fort St. George Gazette on 1 August 1933.

Malabar was part of the Madras Presidency in British India. In the Madras Marumakkathayam Act 1932, 'Marumakkathayam' is defined as the system of inheritance in which descent is traced by females, and 'Marumakkathayee' means a person governed by the Marumakkathayam law of inheritance. 'Tarawa' means the group of people forming a joint family with the community of property governed by the Marumakkathayam law of inheritance. The system of inheritance is now abolished by The Joint Family System (Abolition) Act, 1975, by the Kerala State Legislature.[1]

Modern changes and adaptations[edit]

By the beginning of the 20th century, marumakkattayam was increasingly seen as an undesirable remnant of a feudal past, and discontented groups including Nair men sought to bring reform. The brahmins of Kerala even though enjoyed the benefits of this system as they were the main persons having relations with the women, did not accept this system into their family.The reforms were pushed through in spite of opposition from conservative factions led by Kesava Pillai of Kandamath in the Travancore Court, Sree Mulam State Council and by leading members of society such as C. V. Raman Pillai.[2][3] In the states of Kochi and Tiruvitankoor, and the British Indian province of Malabar, which later joined together to form Kerala in 1957. The notion of the husband as the wife's guardian, which became prevalent after these changes, undid the very concept of marumakkattayam. However, the system continues to hold sway over Keralite culture and social personalities, and the tharavadu remains the focus of the emotional make-up of many Nairs. Even today, in most families, children carry their mother’s last name, and not that of their father.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "CiNii - Transformation of the Marumakkathayam System in Malabar: The Malabar Marriage Act, 1896 and the Nayar Tarawads". Retrieved 9 March 2008.
  2. ^ Page 35-39 Kandamathu Kudumba Sangamam Published by K. K. N., Neyyattinkara, S. India 1995
  3. ^ Jeffrey in the Decline of Nayar Dominance in Travancore, See notes under C V Raman Pillai

Further reading[edit]