Commentary on
William Logan’s ‘Malabar Manual’
Nairs / Nayars


Now, that I have created the framework on which to work on, let me first start with the population group mentioned in the book as Nairs or Nayars.

I will be mentioning items about this population which might seem quite mean. However there is no antipathy that I bear upon this population. In fact, I can understand their urges and their terrors and claims and their aspirations. And also their desperation to create a corridor of distance, when a new entity called the English East India Company was slowly diffusing into the social system and literally erasing a lot of carefully placed social-fences. Beyond all this I am aware of a very resounding quality-feature expression from their side. Something not many other populations groups in this irascible nation would dare to do. What that is, I will mention later.

However as of now, I will go through items which definitely will sound dreary to the Nairs. But before commencing on this, I will make another quite drastic mention.

In a feudal language social ambience, the lower placed persons and populations naturally acquire a demeaning quality. Their very presence, touch, stare, seeing, commenting, association etc. convey a most debasing emotion. Why this is so, can be made clear only by explaining the whereabouts and the ways and manners of feudal language verbal codes. I cannot go into them here.

First let me give a description of the Nair caste as understood locally and from the various books such as the Travancore State Manual, Native Life in Travancore, Castes and Tribes of Southern India etc.

Nair caste in its pristine form was the Sudra caste. The word Sudra connects to the Aryan four Caste (Chaturvarnya system of division). It is the lower-most caste in that system. In which case, they should be of Sanskrit ancestry and antiquity. It is quite doubtful if they have any known Sanskrit ancestry of antiquity.

I have found this quote in Travancore State Manual: QUOTE: These Nagas became the Kiriathu Nayars of later Malabar claiming superiority in rank and status over the rest of the Malayali Sudras of the west coast. END OF QUOTE

I do not know how to understand this statement. It is presumably taken from Keralolpathi, which is a book with a lot unmentioned issues.

In the Malabar region, the dominating religious group was the Brahmin religion. This is what actually can be mentioned as the local version of the Hindu religion. But then, how much content of the Sanskrit antiquity and ancestry is there in the Brahmins of Malabar is not known to me. I presume it to be quite feeble. But then, they do have a religious heritage which is different from that of the others.

Then there are populations known as the Ambalavasis. They are an array of population groups who can be defined as those allowed entry into Brahmin places of worship, like the temples. They, by vocation, are those who can do the various kinds of work inside a temple. Such as sweeping, gathering flowers, cleaning, cooking etc. How much they belong to the Brahmin religion is not known to me. However, Brahmin religion is the religion of the Brahmins. This is what should be known as Hinduism.

Then comes the population group known as the Nairs or Sudras. Looking at the words Nairs and Sudras, it should be felt that there is some dichotomy in the sense they convey. For ‘Nair’ is a word that is understood to mean the ‘higher caste’, by the population groups who identify themselves as lower to them.

At the same time, the word ‘Sudra’ can mean that they themselves are the lowest population group among another set of population. Now, this is a point that has to be very clearly and delicately discussed with a razor sharp precision.

If the old caste-hierarchy of Malabar region is compared with the modern police hierarchy in Kerala, the corresponding layers are thus:

The various layers inside the Brahmin group can be compared to the IPS officers’ cadre (Indian Police Service cadre). This is the royalty of the police administration in India.

Below them come the Ambalavasi (Temple worker) population groups. They can be compared to the below-IPS officer cadre. This would include the DySp., Circle Inspectors and Sub Inspectors.

Below them would come the Nairs / Nayars. They would correspond with the Head Constables and the Constables.

This is one point for more inspection with regard to claims in the book.

It is quite easily understandable that the Nairs were quite comfortable with the extremely low-level populations of the social order. That is the lower castes such as the Pulaya, Pariah, Malayan, Kurichiyan, Kurumban, Cherumar etc. For, they were so lowly in every aspect that they would not pose any kind of immediate threat to the Nair layer.

However, the Thiyya group of population was a different proposition altogether. They came just below the Nair layer. They had to display a verbal and body posture subordination to the Nairs and above. However, they themselves acted superior and touch-me-not to the various population groups below them.

In a feudal-language social set-up, having some layers of people below is a great personality-enhancing experience. This was one querulous plus-point that the Thiyyas experienced in north Malabar.