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Unnithan is the modern form of the older title of Thankal. 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,(a 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 their land reforms in the 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 landlords, and still owned large estates until 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. That measure by the first communist state government popularly elected to power in India reduced many of these families to poverty overnight.
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