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Of the London Missionary Society



The indigenous inhabitants of the Malabar Coast may be referred to three principal classes — Brahmans, Nayars, and the various Low castes. For some four or five hundred miles along the coast northward from Cape Comorin, the mass of the population speak Malayalam, and have strange customs and characteristic laws of their own.

Having been driven by subsequent waves of immigration to the very extremity of India, and being both protected and hedged in by the great range of the Western Ghauts running nearly parallel with the coast at an average distance of some fifty miles, these races retain very primitive and semi-civilized usages and peculiar practices. Amongst these may be named polyandry, polygamy, and nepotism in domestic economy; demon-worship and Brahmanism in religion; and the institute of caste in its most rigid form.

The law of Nepotism — by which relationship is traced obliquely, only through the female line, so that not one’s own but the sister’s children are regarded as the nearest heirs — can only be understood, and its origin investigated, by first examining the marriage and inheritance laws of the Malayalam Brahmans, or Namburis, and those of the Malayalam Sudras, or Nayars, both of which are inseparably connected and interdependent.

The Namburis and other Malayalam Brahmans are the special priests of the Malabar Coast, and are regarded as most sacred. None of them reside in South Travancore, which is only visited by them from time to time for the celebration of religious festivals and ceremonies for the kings and temples. They are extensive landowners, often possessed of much wealth.

The family property is owned and enjoyed in common by all the members of the family; and to preserve this intact for the general welfare and protection, a kind of law of entail is observed. In order that the family property may descend undivided, the eldest son alone is permitted to marry, the younger sons being only provided with subsistence, and obliged to form temporary connections with Sudra and other females of inferior caste, who abide in their own ancestral dwellings, with whom, however, these Brahmans cannot, on account of caste, eat food, and whose children, being by Hindu law, of necessity illegitimate, can only be supported by, and inherit property from, their mothers’ brothers.

The law by which property descends to heirs of the body is called Makkathyam or “children’s inheritance”; that law by which the nephews of Nayars are their heirs is called Marumakkatayam, the term marumakkal being used for nephews, or sometimes for son-in-laws, from maru “to dwell or fondle”— those who reside with one, and are affectionately treated as his own children.

The following summary of the laws of the Malayalam Brahmans, relating to marriage and inheritance, is taken, in substance, from a native work by G. Kerala Varmman Tirumulpad, one of a class who profess to be Kshatriyas, and who usually consort with the royal family of Travancore : —

“Parasu Raman ordained that only the eldest son in a Malaylam Brahman family should marry. How then are the younger sons to attain heaven without children to perform the necessary ceremonies on their behalf? Manu says: ‘If there be several brothers, the sons of one brother can perform ceremonies for all, so the sons of the eldest brother may do among the Namburis.’

‘If the eldest son be without issue, he may marry one or two additional wives; but the younger brothers must not marry. The wives, so long as they do not disagree, live together in the same house. If the eldest brother still have no children, or die without issue, the next in succession may marry, and so on.

“Though the wife be alive, and have children, yet if the Brahman is unable to meet the expense of giving his sisters or daughters in marriage, he may, in exchange, take one or two addtional females, as wives, from the family to whom he gives wives. Thus accounts will be balanced. Yet, however many wives he may have, only one among their children can marry; and that according to seniority of birth, not of the mother’s marriage.

“If in a poor family there be four or five virgins, the eldest son in another family cannot, according to Dharmma Sastra, marry more than three of them in exchange, but may consent to one or two of his younger brothers marrying; but should the younger brother have issue before the elder, the order of seniority of such issue shall not be that of the fathers, but of the children themselves.

“The general rule is that girls should be married before arriving at maturity. But as only one man in a family is at liberty to marry, available husbands are scarce and women plentiful, so it is customary to marry after maturity; and many women are left to live and die in celibacy. Widows are never permitted to re-marry. Marriage of a female after puberty involves the payment of a considerable dowry to the husband.

‘’Should a Malayalam Brahman die without issue or relatives, leaving a widow and an unmarried daughter only, the widow may cause another Brahman to perform the funeral mourning and oblations for her late husband, and may, in order to continue the family, give him her daughter and the whole of the property.

‘If an elder brother die, leaving only an unmarried daughter, the next younger brother should marry to perpetuate the family. The orphan daughter is not to be given in marriage with the whole of the property, but merely with a fair portion.

“Division of family property is forbidden among these, and is not practised. The eldest brother is to see that no loss is suffered by the family; the younger brothers are to remain unmarried, to aid the increase of the family estate as much as possible, and to honour and obey the elder like a father. The eldest alone has authority over the family and the property; the younger sons have merely daily subsistence (for which they may sue at law), and the property can never be divided.

“But if the family be numerous, and one brother wishes to separate and live apart, the karanavan (elder brother or manager of the united family) should give him a share sufficient for food and clothing, &c., or may make a regular allowance for this.

“Those who can claim support from the common fund are — (i) all the males of the family; (2) their wives; (3) their virgin daughters and sisters; (4) widows — and this for the last two classes only while residing in the house.”

Sudras or Chetries have sometimes to pay heavily for engagements with men of higher caste to consort with their families. The nieces of the Cochin Rajahs, whose male children succeed to the throne, form such morganatic alliances with the Namburis, who, however, lose to some extent in caste, and forfeit all ancestral privileges; and, becoming dependent on their new connections, receive in compensation large marriage portions and separate establishments at the palace.

The nieces or sisters of the Travancore royal family intermarry with Chetries only, and this seems to be the sole reason why the Cochin Rajahs are admitted to be superior caste to those of Travancore : the former manage to procure Namburi Brahmans as consorts; the latter only Chetries of the class called Coil Tamburan.

The Malayalam Sudras, of whom the better class are called Nayars (or lords), are the bulk of the respectable population — the landholders, farmers, soldiers, officials, and rulers of the country. There seems reason to believe that the whole of the kings of Malabar also, notwithstanding the pretensions set up for them of late by their dependents, belong to the same great body, and are homogeneous with the mass of the people — if, indeed, the so-called Brahmans and Kshatriyas of the Western Coast are not also of identical origin.

Nayar customs admit of no real marriage — nothing, in fact, that can rightly be called marriage, the trivial bond being dissolvable with a word at the will and pleasure of either partner. Such a temporary association, or concubinage, even if it should be continued till death, as it sometimes is (the people being often better than their laws), cannot in any proper sense be dignified by the sacred name of marriage, though in such cases the union may have much of the effect of marriage through the mutual affection and fidelity of the parties.

The females of a wealthy Nayar family, especially where there is but one sister, are visited at their own homes by Brahman paramours, or by persons of their own caste; and their children are reared up in the same house, and inherit from their mothers’ brothers, as the fathers have nothing of their own to give them. Females of poorer and less fashionable families go to reside with partners of their own caste, so long as they agree together, or permanently : the average duration of such unions happily is increasing through the spread of civilisation and enlightenment.

There is, indeed, a ceremony called “marriage,” which is performed in the infancy or childhood of every Sudra girl; but it is the merest pretence — never consummated as a marriage, and conferring no connubial claims or obligations on the nominal bridegroom, who has thenceforth no further connection, but rather serving to set the girl at liberty, as soon as she arrives at maturity, to form temporary associations, or to change them as she pleases.

The Malayalam Sudra laws are as follows : —

Sudra women usually marry in their own caste, but sometimes are married by men of higher caste. But the mere ceremony of marriage does not make her a wife, unless the same man should also “give cloth” and cohabit with her. The trifling ceremony of “giving cloth” is rarely omitted in any case of cohabitation. It is not now usual for a woman to enter into such concubinage with several men at one time, except she resides with several who are brothers. Nor can she ever associate with a man of lower caste. In no case can an inferior male have intercourse with a female of superior class.

Their children have no claim to inherit from the father. The nearest heirs of a Sudra man are his mother, brothers, sisters, and sisters’ children. The woman’s property goes first to her children, male and female.

The Nayar family is undivided, and by theory the ancestral property is impartible, though it sometimes is divided by consent of all the members, and this should be more and more allowed and approved of for the advancement of the country and the welfare of society. The family property is enjoyed by all in common as a kind of commonwealth or civil family, administered by a karanavan or head of the family — either the maternal uncle, or the eldest brother. The common property is vested in him as executive officer or trustee, but without power to make arbitrary alienation.

He is authorised to alienate it only to meet necessities, in order to save the family from greater loss, or for some such similar purpose. The theory is that the unanimous consent of every co-proprietor is required to each valid act of the karanavan because each member claims, not through another, but through himself.

This would make the transaction of business well-nigh impossible, but for various legal rules; as, for example, it is presumed that every act is done by him for the good of the family, and the negative must be proved by a complainant, which is difficult . A transfer of land by a single member is quite invalid : at least one other member of the family must sign the document, and in fact all should do so.

Each member of the Tarawad, “household,” is legally entitled only to subsistence, and the acquisitions of each merge in the common fund, excepting movables and jewels individually acquired by gift or otherwise.

A man’s sister’s son, and a woman’s own son, as their respective nearest blood relatives, perform (if their age permits) the funeral rites on their decease, and observe mourning, remaining one year without shaving or cutting the hair.

Should a Nayar woman, after bearing a son to a man, reject the latter, he having presented to her some property, then bear children to another man and receive some property from him also, the whole property is common to her and her children. But if the grant was made in the name of particular children, it is theirs individually.

The Nayar ceremony called “marriage” is celebrated as follows : —

Every girl must somehow get married with the tali (marriage badge, a small gold ornament threaded on a cotton cord), before the age of eleven, to avoid reproach from friends and neighbours. In case of need, a sword may even be made to represent a bridegroom. The ceremony may be performed for nine or ten girls at one time. The pandal or marriage shed, is built and decorated in special style for the more distinguished families. On the day previous to the marriage there is an observance called “changing of clothes,” when the brides are brought into the shed, clothed with new clothes and gorgeously adorned. Some relative usually acts as bridegroom, for which he receives a present of money; or a Malayalam Brahman is invited for the purpose.

An astrologer having previously determined the auspicious hour for the marriage, and the agreement of the bridegroom’s natal star with that of the bride, the former is met in procession, his feet are washed by the bride’s brothers, to each of whom he presents a piece of cloth, and he is then seated along with the bride on a board covered with cloth, the manavadei or marriage-altar.

Then the Maran, or drummer, places a light in the front yard along with a measure containing paddy, some cocoanuts, flowers, betel, &c., and the cousins of both bride and groom sing a bridal song. At the propitious moment the tali is tied. If the make-believe bridegroom be a Brahman, one will suffice for all, and he ties the tali beginning from the eldest girl to the youngest in due order.

Often there is one boy for each girl. Finally the Brahman washes his hands in expiation of the sin against caste, and in token that he has nothing further to do with the brides, receives his dues according to the number of girls, and goes off. The ordinary officiating bridegroom receives at the end of the ceremonies two pieces of new cloth. During the ceremony the musicians play, and the women present make a curious cry called kurava.

In a Sudra “marriage” recently witnessed in South Travancore, a manavadei was put in the centre of the pandal, the bride and bridegroom were seated upon it, and a Brahman guru was performing the ceremonies. Near the manavadei stood a small image of Pilleiyar, made of cow-dung, ornamented with garlands, and before it was placed some boiled rice, a measure full of rice, and a light. A silk towel was spread on the ground, and a grinding-stone laid upon it, which was taken and first given into the hands of the father and mother of the bride, who gave it into the hands of the bride, and she again into the hands of the bridegroom. He having this on his hands, they both came round the manavadei three times, then laid it on the same silk towel.

After this the bridegroom put the tali on the neck of the bride, while the Brahman priest was uttering some mantrams. Then the couple were led into the house. Four days are spent in feasting and merriment; then a ceremony called. “bathing” is observed, at which the marans must be present, as well as the relatives. On the fourth day, the bride and bridegroom go to a river in procession with music to bathe, and ceremonies are performed the same as on the first day.

At any time subsequently, the girl may “receive cloth” from any suitable man, and consort with him. There is no fixed rule that the person who “married” her must not “give cloth” to the same girl, and this sometimes happens, but not very frequently. The girl continues to reside with her brother, or in a house built or given by her relatives, and the husband may be sent off at any time. The person who ‘married’ the mother is called by the children ‘appan’ the actual father ‘achan’.

The ceremony called ‘giving a cloth,’ or agreement for concubinage, is also performed in the presence of relatives and neighbours, at an appointed time, usually in the night. The girl is set, with the young man, on a mat on the ground, the emblems called lingam and yoni being marked in front. A valuable cloth being offered by the youth, the girl asks her uncle, “Shall I receive it?” “Yes.” The same question is put to the mother, who also gives her consent. A cheaper cloth is given to the woman’s father, mother, sister, brother, and other near relatives.

Rev. J. Abbs, in his “Twenty-two Years in Travancore,” gives the following narrative, related to him by a Sudran, which well illustrates the subject in hand : — “Being a tall, handsome man of respectable family, although poor, I was engaged several years ago by two rich men of my own caste to be the husband of their sister. As they did not wish to give me a dowry, or to let their sister leave them, it was agreed that I should have a monthly allowance, go whenever I pleased to see my wife, and when at the house of her brothers, eat in common with the males of the family.

This I expected would be permanent. But a few days ago, when I went to the house, I was told by the elder brother that I could not be admitted, as another husband had been chosen for his sister. Her brothers have taken the two children to train them up as the heirs of the family property.”

The Ilavars, or cocoa-palm cultivators, who are the highest representatives of the Malayalam low castes, also perform a sham marriage in the infancy of the girl, generally by a near relation : when she is grown up she “receives a cloth,” and goes to live with some man of her own caste. Like Sudras, they may separate at any time; but it is proper to call in four respectable men of their caste to see that accounts are duly settled, and to write a deed of separation. Ancestral property, or that acquired by the man before his taking a woman, goes wholly to the children of his sister, not to his own; but property earned by both during the continuance of the union is divided — half to the wife and children, and half to the sisters’ children. Some other castes have a similar custom.

On review of these singular laws and usages it will be observed that —

(i) They materially deviate from orthodox Hindu law, and are, in fact, quite opposed to it. They are recognized and administered by the British Indian Courts as a distinct and separate code. According to Hindu law the marriage bond is permanent, and of most sacred obligation — so much so, that the widow can never re-marry, being considered as still virtually a part of her deceased husband. Christian missionaries regard the marriage of Brahmans, Shanars, and others, as perfectly valid, being a life-long contract, of legal force; but those who have only “given a cloth,” and may, therefore, at any moment separate from one another, are required to be re-married in Christian form. Amongst Hindus, children inherit equally, after deducting the widow’s share; or, if there be no children, the father succeeds, or the mother.

The Malayalam Brahman system may be characterized as “primogeniture run mad.” Hindu marriage is monogamous; but Namburi Brahmans practise polygamy up to the number of seven wives; and Nayars, Ilavars, and others occasionally practise polyandry — that is, a woman will reside with two or more brothers who are unable or unwilling to support a wife for each, as concubine to all.

Amongst Hindus, the family property is owned by the members of the family individually in shares, not by the family as a corporation. But in the Marumakkathayam family it is otherwise. Brahmans cannot even adopt a sister’s son, or any child whose mother they could not have married; while Malayalis ignore their own children, and value their nephews as sons and heirs.

“By Hindu law, only men and women of the same caste can intermarry. But in Malabar by far the greater number of the Brahman men, as will be obvious, are obliged to cohabit with females of some inferior caste, while the offspring of Sudra women may have either Sudras, Chetries, or Brahmans as fathers; and no distinction of caste is made from the circumstance of the father’s caste. Those descended from Brahman fathers are simply Sudras like others, and merge without distinction into the caste.

Even in the case of the royal families, who can afford always to have Brahmans or Chetries as consorts for their females, their children marry ordinary Nayar women, and fall into the mass of that caste, with no more distinction than the very natural one of having been descended from royal blood. “The king’s sons,” remarked Forbes, “whether by his wives or concubines, have no privileges annexed to their royal descent; neither are they by birth entitled to any importance in the government.”

Under the circumstances described, no widowhood is possible to Marumakkathya women, while the Hindu widow is for ever incapable of remarriage. The marked contrariety between the two usages appears in a celebrated case which occurred in 1872, and which still remains a serious blot on the civilisation of Travancore. An Iyengar Brahman nobly and courageously gave in marriage again a young virgin daughter who had been left nominally a widow by the death of her betrothed.

The father was formally excommunicated from the temple and from the society of his fellow-castemen, and the temple was cleansed at great expense and with solemn ceremonies from the pollution supposed to have been caused by his having entered it after the re-marriage; while on the other hand, about the same time the consort of one of the royal ladies having deceased, a cousin of his was quietly called in soon afterwards to fill his place, with the trifling observance of “giving a cloth.”

(2) These regulations are all astutely planned for the exclusive interests of the Malayalam Brahmans, as indeed everything in the State is supposed to be devoted to the enjoyment of this very small minority of the population. They are free from tax on land and from capital punishment; about one-fifth of the annual income of the State is expended on religious entertainments and ceremonies, chiefly for their benefit. Of course the Brahmans of the present day are not the authors of these laws; but they maintain and enforce them, and are prepared to resist any measures of reform. The preface of the native work on this subject, already quoted, says : —

“As Malabar is but a small country, and other countries are extensive, should no exact account of these laws be prepared for the guidance of foreign priests, they may be found fault with, and fall into contempt. And it might come to pass that even Malayilis, without sufficient information, might say. Such and such are the traditions and customs of our land, but all men object to them, therefore it will be better for us to adopt the usages of other countries; and thus they may, without fearing to sin, reject the ancient customs and observances prescribed by Parasu Raman and others.”

The whole is placed on religious, or rather superstitious grounds. “Parasu Raman ordained it.” This personage may be altogether mythical, or may have been the leader of some immigration of Brahmans into Malabar.

Whether the Brahman colonists found such aboriginal laws in operation, and adopted and maintained them for their own convenience and aggrandizement, or whether the present Malayalam Brahmans represent simply the highest class of the primitive inhabitants, raised to this position in imitation of the orthodox Hindu system, by circumstances or by popular vote, it is not easy to discover. But it is clear that they have endeavoured to make the Sudras not only in theory, but in fact, their social slaves, and wicked threats are used to some classes if they do not place their females at the disposal of the Brahmans. G. K. Varmman says : —

“Muttathus marry females of their own caste; but they only perform the customary ceremony, while Brahmans cohabit with them and beget children. Should men of their own caste dare to approach them, it is like incest with a mother — there is no atonement possible for them — and such progeny are sacrilegious!”

No wonder that these and other statements in the same book formed the ground of a complaint in the Courts of Travancore, the decision in which is understood to have been, that they did not constitute a personal libel, but mere historical statements, the accuracy or untruthfulness of which was simply a question for literary debate.

(3) Such loose customs respecting marriage are only suited to semicivilised races, whose ideas of the sacred bond have not risen much above that of the association of the lower animals. These usages are not far dissevered from promiscuous intercourse of the sexes, or free love. Friar Jordanus, who resided at Quilon, and wrote his description of the Wonders of the East some five centuries and a half ago, assigns as the reason for the nepotistic law the following : —

“In this India, never do even the legitimate sons of great kings, or princes, or barons, inherit the goods of their parents, but only the sons of their sisters; for they say that they have no surety that those are their own sons; but ’tis not so with the sister, for whatever man may be the father, they are certain that the offspring is of their sister, and is consequently thus truly of their blood.”

In a note on the above. Colonel Yule says that this remarkable custom of inheritance exists, or has existed, also in Canara; among the aborigines of Hispaniola and tribes of New Granada and Bogota; among negro tribes of the Niger; among certain sections of the Malays of Sumatra; in the royal family of Tipura and among the Kasias of the Sylhet mountains (both east of Bengal); in a district of Ceylon adjoining Bintenne; in Madagascar; in the Fiji Islands; and among the Hurons and Natchez of North America.

(4) This peculiar patriarchal and primitive system seems to suggest that both the Brahmans and Sudras of the Malabar Coast are of homogeneous descent, and of a primeval Turanian race. It appeared to W. Taylor that “the Nayars are the descendants of the aboriginal inhabitants of Kerala, who probably were brought into some measure of civilisation by the colonist Brahmans, yet retaining so much of their own manners as to be a people, inclusive of mixed tribes, very different from genuine Hindus.

There are traces of resemblance between their customs and those of the Maravars; and there is little doubt that they were aboriginally portions of one homogeneous, but excessively barbarous people. The Maravars have peculiar customs contrary to those of the Hindus, particularly the frequency of remarrying allowed to the women, either upon voluntary separation from their husbands, or at their death.”

Dr. Gundert defines the Nayars as the “Sudras of Kerala, raised to the rank of Kshatriyas by their intimate connection with the Brahmans.” Thus the so-called Kshatriyas or Chetries of Malabar may be but the higher classes among the Sudras; indeed, from their usages and history this would appear to be the case.

And as it is known that the original partitions of caste early broke down, so that it is difficult to find pure Brahmans or Kshatriyas anywhere, more especially in the south of India, the popular traditions may embody some fragment of truth regarding the transformation of fishermen into Brahmans by Parasuraman investing them with the sacred thread. Dr. W. W. Hunter remarks that the Brahmans throughout India are of two classes — more ancient settlers, and aboriginal superior natives raised, as tradition generally asserts, to this rank.

The Namburis, for example, are said to originate from fishermen: they follow different customs from the orthodox caste, allow only the eldest male to marry, practise polygamy, and their ideas of marriage closely resemble those of the aboriginal Nayars. But in spite of their descent from a low caste fisher-tribe and semi-aboriginal customs, they make high claims, and despise other Brahmans. (“Orissa,”vol. i. p. 254.)

It will be evident, from the preceding remarks, that under the Marumakkathyam system of law there is a marked absence of the peculiar advantages and benefits of true marriage, and of family privileges which men highly and justly prize. Virtuous love and the noblest affections, parental rights and domestic order, the obligation to protect wife and children as the weakest party, the right of men and women to domestic felicity, all are more or less ignored; and this violation of the Divine law carries with it its own punishment, in the promotion of family dissension and of sensuality in various forms.

As to the evils and inconveniences of nepotism— (i) Polygamy, with its accompanying demoralisation and cares, is prescribed to the eldest son of Malayalam Brahmans in order to offspring, in place of the happy marriage of the sons to one wife each.

(2) The revolting system of polyandry is not rare among Sudras, Carpenters, Ilavars, and other Marumakkal castes, and has been thought by some to have been the origin of these laws. But they rather appear to be traceable to the Brahman prohibition of marriage to all but eldest sons.

Rarely is there ever felt such strong and elevated affection in these cases that the brothers quarrel, or are jealous about possession of the common partner; on the contrary, we have known an elder brother offended because the younger, on becoming a Christian, very properly took a wife to himself.

(3) The natural relationship and reciprocal love of parents and children are interfered with, and perverted by this pernicious law. It is somewhat odd that notwithstanding the introduction and spread of enlightenment among the higher classes in Travancore, so far as to lead to the preparation and publication of interesting native works, some are yet found who are not ashamed to defend this distortion of the law of nature and of God, and to represent the love and relationship of the father as something merely conventional and legal, rather than natural : just as some tribes ludicrously go to the opposite extreme of obliging the mother to rise, and the father to go to bed with the new-born babe.

“The reckoning of blood relationship,” says G. K. Varmman, “through the mother is more natural than through the male parent : the latter is rather by a legal rule. Among animals the mother alone cares for the progeny.

Amongst men we find by experience that commonly the mother has more affection for the children, the father a little less. But as mankind are rational beings, besides that the father has some parental affection (by nature), he cherishes it also by obligation to law, and on account of the children performing funeral ceremonies for him and inheriting his property. And we see amongst Nepotists greater affection, arising from reason, towards sisters’ sons, who are not their own children, and merely by law their heirs and mourners.”

Here the love and care and discipline of the father are systematically absent. And if children do not know, or scarcely know, their own fathers, how can they love them? Should there be a natural longing for the love of the father, it cannot be gratified. I have known a fine Sudra youth bitterly lament that his own father, a Brahman, cared nothing for him; and, in fact, the father could not under any circumstances, eat with him, nor touch him without ceremonial pollution. If in any case we do find the same affection entertained for nephews as for children, it is but ‘a forcing of nature, there being no other way of preserving the unity of the household and family property.

Mr. Abbs remarks : “I have often been astonished to observe how natural affection is perverted and transferred by these customs. It was common for a man to have his nephews living in his house and attending to his affairs as sons would have done, while his own children would be with their mother’s family at a distance — seldom, if ever, having communion with their father.

A Nair came to me one morning and told me very unconcernedly that his wife had died on the preceding day. He was married again in less than three months. In about a twelve month afterwards, he came to me weeping bitterly, and told me that he had lost one of his nephews by death, and could not, therefore, attend to his usual vocation for a day or two. I asked him how it was that he grieved so much for his nephew and so little for his conjugal partner; he said that he considered his own sorrow more according to nature, as, being a rich man, when his wife died he could easily obtain another, but, having lost his nephew, he might live to see his estate fall into decay by neglect.”

(4) The security of the marriage bond is affected. Indeed, there is no recognized form of marriage by which a Nayar man and woman could bind one another, even if they wished, for life. A poor man engaged as husband by a wealthy family may be sent off at a moment’s notice, without wife or child, beggared in the domestic charities as well as in purse : sometimes for failing to send a present on festival days, or on other trivial pretexts, he is discarded. Or his partner may be seduced away from him by a richer or younger man, and he left heart-broken and desolate.

Still less has a woman any assurance that she will not be deserted in her advancing years, when her need is greatest, though she had been maintained while young and fair. We have known a Sudra, hard to satisfy, and of an imperious temper, who had eleven women, one after another. A Sudra woman may be dismissed with a word, “Go, leave the house,” and another may be brought into her place next day. Concubines are frequently changed before having children, or even after bearing several children to one man.

(5) Much misery and heart-burning are caused to the victims of this social tyranny, the youngest sons of Brahmans being prohibited honourable marriage with persons of their own class, and forced to form illegitimate connections with strangers, and the larger proportion of Brahman women mercilessly doomed, notwithstanding the high estimation in which the Hindus hold marriage, to perpetual celibacy, with all its risks and privations. Many of these females live and die unmarried : yet, strange to say, the corpse undergoes all the ceremonies of marriage.

To prevent their falling into unchastity, they are closely shut up and guarded. Occasionally they do fall, and then are irrevocably expelled from family, friends, and society. In such case they must join the lower castes, to whom they were formerly sold as slaves and concubines, or go over to the Roman Catholic or Syrian Christians, uniting with some one in marriage. And before a case of this kind is decided by a committee of the heads of the Brahman caste, the expense of the investigation is sometimes so great as to ruin the family.

(6) It is evident that sensuality and lust are fostered and encouraged by such usages. The union of the sexes is viewed in the lowest and most degrading light, and the whole country becomes saturated with immorality and vice. Castes which have the institute of marriage, as Shanars and others, are tempted to adopt more or less of these rules; and some branches of these castes have become so corrupted. Individuals of some castes are allowed to form connections with Sudra females which are to them irregular, but which they attempt to justify by pleading the Nayar usages; and many cases of prostitution occur, even among the respectable classes.

(7) Community of property naturally tends to discourage individual activity, personal exertion, and independence of spirit. The expenditure of a large family thus united may be less than if divided into several separate families, but the aggregate income would be much larger, and the peace and comfort enjoyed by the latter plan would be incomparably greater. Misery, idleness, ignorance, and poverty follow from these laws; life is wasted in listless inactivity. Such a home is “no true home, but rather a sort of family club, where all the male members of the household take their meals together. Employed or unemployed, active or indolent, he and his may live here and take their share with the rest as long as there is, property enough, or employment enough, among them all to keep things going.”

Sir H. S. Maine observes: “Where people are living in a ‘state of Arcadian simplicity, without the desire or the possibility of advancement, the family system is a very sound one, as it prevents properties being split up, and enables a number of persons to be supported with a maximum of comfort on the minimum of means. But as soon as society begins to dash ahead, then the effect of the corporate union is deadening in the direct ratio of its strictness. Who will work with full energy when the benefit of his labour goes not solely, nor even chiefly, to himself ? Who will work at all when some one else is working for him? Ingenuity could not contrive a more effectual plan for damping the spirit of the industrious, and extinguishing the spirit of the idle. It makes the best member of the family a slave, that the others may be sloths.”

(8) Though some large Nayar families are known to live in peace and unity, the tendency of the law of nepotism is to promote family dissensions and discord. The Marumakkatayam system of law is in itself intricate and complicated, and is one of the most difficult to administer in Travancore, because of the cheating to which it gives rise. A junior member of the family pretends that he owes a sum of money to a friend, with whom he is in collusion, and whom he gets to file a suit against him for the sum, in the hope of somehow squeezing it out of the Tarawad property.

Or, money is lent to one who seems, from all outward appearance, to be the actual manager of the family, till it is discovered long afterwards that he is not in this position. Complaints are frequent against the karanavan that he is dissipating the common fund; he is provoked, and sometimes becomes really indifferent to the general welfare. Since many individuals in each caste, sometimes even two brothers, bear the same name, a member of the Tarawad may have the same name as his karanavan . He asserts that it is his own name that appears in the deeds and legal documents; and may thus succeed in gaining possession of property.

A man may be left with several sisters, all of whose children are dependent solely upon him. On the other hand, there may be two or more uncles responsible for the support and training of the children of one sister, and disputing among themselves as to the share of expenditure devolving upon each. Amongst the Ilavars and others, the temporary wife sometimes’ secretly accumulates property in anticipation of being left unprovided for by the death of her husband; or she obtains, by clever management from him while he lives some gift of property.

The sons might, of course, be quite content to inherit from the uncle, and to profit by this law if he be more wealthy than the father; but cases have occurred in which the sons felt sorely aggrieved by their unnatural exclusion, and desired a change of the usage. A century and a half ago, two of the sons of a recently deceased Rajah of Travancore were slain by the new king, because they demanded the right of succession to the throne instead of their cousin, the nephew of the deceased.

There are, it is true, one or two incidental advantages of this system; or rather, we should say, there are certain evils of the orthodox Hindu social system which it is impossible to unite with the nepotistic regime. For instance, Malayalam Brahman girls are not married till after puberty; and Sudra girls, though nominally married, are usually left free till the same period, when they enjoy more or less freedom of choice in the selection of their temporary partners. From this curious law of succession, the sister, being the mother of the heirs, becomes a person of great importance; daughters are longed for, and sons treated as of less account.

The whole arrangement tends to give Nayar women (though not Brahmanis) much influence, and admits of their being to some extent educated (1.19 per cent, of their number), and saves them from the sad privations of Brahmanical widowhood. But it will be observed that it is all for the pleasure of the Brahmans; and the same benefits would accompany any just or rational marriage law.

The end should be attained by other means. No mercy is shown to the Brahman women: the men only have the whole world (down to a certain grade) cast at their feet. The only hope of continued subsistence and increased comfort to the dense and ever multiplying population of India consists in the adoption of prudential restraints on improvident and early marriages irrespective of the means of subsistence; but the plan adopted by the Malayalam Brahmans only removes the burden of providing for their progeny from the shoulders of this small but influential and wealthy community (10,762, or a half per cent, of the total population) to those of the more numerous and sturdy Sudra caste (440,932= 19.1 per cent.).

Some of the more enlightened and educated Nayars are now beginning to realise their degradation, and to rebel against the Brahmanical tyranny, and absurd and demoralising laws under which they are placed. The Nanjinad Vellalars have addressed petitions to the Maharajah, praying to legalise their reversion to the law of nature instead of nepotism. This may easily be done if all agree.

Nepotism is felt by a considerable number of Sudras to be a special grievance because a man’s own acquisitions, as well as the ancestral property, devolve to nephews; and only during his own life can he bestow anything on his sons. Even this is difficult of accomplishment. Many intend to do so, but go on procrastinating till it is too late.

Ilavars have not such a grievance, as half of a man’s own earnings goes by law to the children. Many Sudras would like a change, but it is impossible, they say, “unless the Maharajah commanded it, and led the way.” It is not easy to see how the native Government could make such a change before public opinion is ripe for it and demands it.

Division of property and individual ownership might, however, at once be allowed, as throughout British India; and the clear head of Sir Madava Row many a year ago discerned the necessity for this. In his Administration Report for M.E 1050 he says: “It is evident that some effective legislative action is required without delay in certain directions. For instance, it has to be declared lawful for any member of a Malayali (native) family to insist upon a division of common property so far as he or she is individually concerned, if he or she wishes to separate.

Not that such a law would be generally acted upon at once : the feeling in favour of relatives living together in an undivided state of property is too strong to yield to reason in the present generation. But it is obviously the province of Government to see that a general feeling of the kind does not operate as an instrument of tyranny over individuals.” We fear this enlightened intention has dropped almost entirely out of sight, and that the tendency of more recent action has been rather to rivet more tightly the chains of this barbarous system of law. But the Government has no authority whatever over the social usages of Brahmans.

A good deal of controversy has taken place on the subject in the public prints, and a society for the reform of the Malabar laws of marriage (and inheritance) has been formed at Calicut by the leaders of the Nayar community, especially those educated in English.

Besides being opposed by orthodox Hindus and Muhammadans, this system of laws also forms an obstacle in the way of the spread of Christianity. Civil rights are lost by the change of religion. R. Moothookristna Naidoo says, in his work on the subject : “Females who will not obey their karanavan and who apostatise to other religions, lose all right both to subsistence and inheritance from the family property.”

A karanavan is also removed should he break caste by joining another religion. Christian fathers have been exposed to the interposition, in violation of natural rights, of the authority of the maternal uncle of their children to the extent of withdrawing them from their own control, and of preventing them from being received with the parents into the Christian community. The paternal right of converts to Christianity, who may have children at the time of their conversion, ought to be fully secured to them, notwithstanding anything to the contrary which may have obtained in the caste or people to whom they previously belonged.

Converts to Christianity in Travancore are liable also to be deprived of inheritable property on account of their change of religion. In some instances, as appears from the decrees of the old Appeal Court, Christians have been thus deprived of their property, though in other cases property has been awarded to Christians which belonged to their ancestors, or relatives who were not Christians.

And in a recent case, where an Ilavan convert to Christianity has long individually enjoyed property derived from ancestors, and paid tax for it separately in his own name, which, therefore, he devolved by will to his children, the decision of the Lower Court in favour of the will has been reversed by the High Court, on the ground that ancestral property can never be divided and, therefore, a share in it cannot be willed away to children, or others than the nephews.

Such a decision is prohibitory of all reform in the future, and scarcely in consonance with the altered habit of the people, which no longer entirely ignores the paternal relation. Objectionable laws and customs are sometimes brought into prominence, sanctioned and perpetuated by judicial recognition.

“There are cases,” says Lyall, “in which the action of law courts, in stereotyping and enforcing invariably customs that were naturally very elastic and varying, tend to check the natural modifications according to circumstances, the sloughing off of decayed forms.”

The law should be adopted in Travancore which was passed by the late East India Company in 1850 (Act XXI) that no one should suffer by loss of property, or in any way, on account of a change in religion. In one case, that of a Hindu dying without heirs, except such as have become converts to a different religion, the Sirkar has relinquished its claim to escheat, and permits the property to descend to the natural heirs independently of religious considerations (Procl. No. 90 of 1869). But where there are Hindu heirs, converts still lose their rights.

An additional difficulty is also cast in the way of Christian converts, who had formerly belonged to distinct castes, intermarrying, as the domestic usages and the laws of inheritance vary so widely. So in regard to Christians seeking to adopt the law of nature and of Scripture, in leaving their property to their own children by will. By the law of British India this may be done; but there is some uncertainty as to whether it is yet allowed in native States or not.

It is of great importance to future progress that this right be granted. Property might easily be divided according to existing customs of Marumakkatayam which are occasionally applied, and each might then enjoy in future his individual estate, and hand it down to his children, like other Hindus, by will; or, if intestate, in accordance with the provisions of the Indian Succession Act of 1865, with any modifications that might seem demanded by the circumstances.

Some effective form of marriage, instead of “cloth giving,” might also be settled on, and left to the option of individuals desiring to adopt it, which would no doubt come into repute in course of time with the more intelligent and welldisposed Nayars. It is said that some such Act has already been drafted in Malabar, intended for proposal to the Madras Government.

Any hasty or ill-considered attempt at change or legislative reform could not but cause infinite confusion. The facts should first be made accurately known, and a more enlightened public opinion created by free ventilation of the question.

But it is obvious that great difficulty would be found in altering, even for the better, the law of inheritance obtaining amongst a million or two of people, most of whom are possessed of some property. One singular advantage of the monarchic form of government is the avoidance, by the law of hereditary succession, of disputes as to succession, and of discussion as to the personal merits of candidates for power. An attempt to change the nepotistic law would naturally and reasonably aggrieve the next legal and expectant heirs according to the present system.

It so happens, however, that while in the Cochin State, which is but a small kingdom, with a population of only three-quarters of a million, no less than twenty-two princes are heirs expectant to the throne, and form a heavy burden on the public for maintenance in idleness and luxury; in Travancore, the only other, and much more important, State in which the nepotistic law carries with it royal power, there are but four princes still to reign, and no possibility of more, except by adoption. The family, in fact, judged by their nepotistic law, has come to an end, as there are no sisters alive of any of the present heirs, to continue the nepotistic line.

Indeed, all but the next heir are themselves the sons of ladies adopted some twenty-five years ago for the purpose of continuing the succession. As these princesses have no daughters, the dynasty is again near to extinction after the present four princes shall have had their turn, unless the children of the present Maharajah, or of future sovereigns, are taken into account. It happens, therefore, that it would be easy to alter the Travancore succession by the simple plan of adopting no more females into the family: no one would be personally aggrieved or injured, and sons or heirs of the body might succeed thenceforward.

There is no need to manufacture factitious heirs when there are natural ones. Who knows whether the next fifty years may not bring round such general enlightenment, or such a spread of true Christianity amongst the higher classes (which we look upon as the only true remedy for all social disorder), as to admit of the possibility of even this reform]

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