Unnithan (Malayalam: ഉണ്ണിത്താന്) is the modern form of the older title of Thankal (താങ്കള്). Unnithans were among the highest of the Nair aristocracy in the Travancore region of the Indian state of Kerala. Unnithan ladies (Kunjammas) of the Edassery Pattaveettil family were often married by the Rajahs or princes of the royal families such as Mavelikara, Ennakad, Prayikkara etc. They are mostly of Central Travancore origin.
Unnithans were never addressed in gatherings by their first names but instead by their family names with the title of Eman (ഏമാന്, a corruption of Lord),and as Thankal, even by the Maharajahs. Their women used the honorific title of Kunjamma, indicative of their greater status among the Nair community, where ladies unanimously used the title of Amma.
While other titles of nobility such as Panicker, Pillai, etc.were used by members of various castes, Unnithan or Thankal was a title of high status reserved only for the highest class among the Nair aristocracy. All Unnithans were, in the past, addressed formally only as Thankal while the later term was a general surname.
These classes of Nairs dominated the civil, administrative and military elite of the Pre-British era in Kerala. The ban on their kalaris and personal army by the British along with the Land reforms (which happened during the british times) in early 1900s which led to massive loss of land-ownership was a major blow to their social standing and power. However, they continued to be feudal Land-lords, and still owned large estates, till the Land Reforms Ordinance, which set a ceiling on the land holdings that a person or family could possess was enacted by the Kerala State Government which was the first communist state government popularly elected to power in India, which reduced many of these families to poverty overnight.
Edgar Thurston says in his "Castes and Tribes of Southern India" that:
The titles Unnithan and Valiathan were owned by only a certain families in Central Travancore which were very wealthy and powerful. They were to some extent self constituted justices of peace and settled all ordinary disputes arising in the Kara (village) where they resided.[page needed]
- Travancore State Manual by V.Nagam Aiya (1906)
- Travancore State Manual by Velu Pillai (1940)
- Travancore Census Report of 1901
- Castes and Tribes of Southern India by Edgar Thurston
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