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Authored by
Of the London Missionary Society



The laws of this remarkable people respecting marriage and inheritance being fully discussed in the chapter on Nepotism, we have only room here to add a curious glimpse of their inner life given in the Census Report (p. 214) by an official, who, as a Brahman, though of another class, could obtain admittance to their dwellings. The accompanying engraving is from a photograph of a priest in the temple at Trevandrum.

“The women are guarded with more than Moslem jealousy : even brothers and sisters are separated at an early age. When the Nambdri lady goes to worship the village god or visit a neighbour, a Nair maid, who accompanies her, commands the retirement of all the males on the road, while the lady moves all shrouded in cloth, with a mighty umbrella, which protects her from the gaze of profane eyes. At home they are simple in their habits, dressing, like Nair women, up to the waist.

"The way in which the cloth is worn is slightly different with them, one end of the cloth being passed between the legs in addition to covering all round, while with the Nair women, the cloth is simply wrapped round the waist. They are not extravagant on the score of their ornaments. A necklace consisting of a number of gold coins, through the eyes of which a silk cord is passed, constitutes the most important of the set : gold bangles, and in the case of the poor silver and metallic ones, nearly exhaust the list The males wear only a cloth, like all other Travancoreans, with the usual complements of a waist string, an under-cloth and a scarf used as an upper-cloth.

"When the Namburi eats alone, the wife generally serves him; but if strangers are invited, the master of the house, or one of the younger members in it, serves them, when the wife sends on the dishes from within the kitchen, where only the husband could go.

"The Namburi’s hospitality and charity are proverbial. The Brahman guest in the family is most kindly treated; and in spite of the uncouth manners and queer conversation which he may meet with, he is certain to carry away the happiest recollections of the Illam (Namburi’s house). On entering the gate of the extensive property, in the midst of which is situated the palatial mansion with its suburban buildings severally dedicated for the household god, the younger members of the family, the cutcherry of the proverty officers, and for the weary Brahman traveller, the visitor is received by the lord of the manor, who, in his native simplicity, inquires whether he has bathed, without any further ado about the health or other concerns of his guest.

"If the answer is in the negative, he himself leads the guest to the bathing tank, with its cool shed and refreshing waters, most politely inquiring if oil and cleansing materials are required — all the time innocently gaping at the dress, the walk, the arrangement of the hair, the moustaches on the face, the absence of the scarfcloth, and the conventional waist-string and under-cloth, while the stranger, accustomed to more formal society, smarts with shyness at the gaze of his host. The Namburi must be asked to leave the bath for a short time before he can be expected to go.

"The visitor is next led into the Illam, and asked to sit before the leaf spread out, not where the inmates generally eat, but in one of the outer rooms : the inevitable thought occurs that you are treated like an outcast. Even the ghee and dhall (peas) eating propensities of the visitor are attended to, though these are carefully eschewed and even disliked by the Namburi in his own meals.

"Before serving rice, the Namburi inquires whether the morning prayers are over, which he thinks improbable on account of the speed with which the visitor has returned from the tank; and feels a conscientious but unexpressed hatred of the light manner in which religious observances are regarded by the Brahmans of the other coast. The feeding of Brahman travellers is not, however, a rare business with the Namburi, and he is often a victim of indebtedness caused by the ruinously expensive character of the marriage of his daughters, and by his unbounded hospitality.”

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