Iyers like all other Brahmins trace their paternal ancestors to one of eight rishis or sages. Accordingly they classify themselves into eight gotras, based upon the ancestor rishi. The term Iyer derives from the term Ayya used by the people of the Tamil regions to denote a respected person and are seen as representatives of Vedic Culture. The term is believed to have originated from the Sanskrit word 'Arya' which means a 'noble person'.
Iyers have many sub-sects among them, such as Vadama, Brihatcharanam, Vathima, Sholiyar or Chozhiar and Ashtasahasram. Each sub-sect is further subdivided according to the village or region of origin. Iyers do not have a single origin, as they have come to Tamil lands at different periods of time, for different reasons and from different parts of India, even though it has become common for them to intermarry in modern times. They also maintain a similar culture regardless of specific origin, due to cultural interaction for more than a millennium. It is possible that males of some sub-sects have intermarried with Dravidian castes, outside the Brahmin fold. The children of such marriages have generally acquired the caste of the mother.
Iyers follow one of the four Vedas - Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda. The Veda that an Iyer follows forms an important part of his identity, another being the gotra that he belongs to. The gotra is the name of the rishi who founded the clan one is born into. A woman belongs to gotra of her father until marriage, and then during kanyadaan changes to that of her husband.
There was formerly a lot of disunity among Iyer sub-sects over numerous issues. Such divisions and disagreements reduced with the adoption of Adi Shankaracharya as a teacher, by most Iyers. In later times, when many Vaishnava sects proclaimed themselves Iyengars, the word Iyer was used to usually refer to either Smarthas or to Saivaites. Contemporary Iyers are mostly smarthas and follow Adi Shankara's teachings.
Though initially divided into distinct groups, they have slowly evolved into a single community with similar culture and habits, the members of which take pride in being called Iyers. They have preserved their unique common identity, even after migrating to other places.
For example, a few centuries back, some of them migrated and settled down in various parts of Kerala. They integrated themselves into their new homeland and built up an identity of their own. The people of Tamil Nadu easily identified them as Palakkad Tamil Brahmins or Palakkad Iyers while the Malayalam-speaking people of Kerala referred to them as Pattars (often as a very derogatory form). The term Kerala Iyers is also popular because of their presence all over Kerala. They are known as Palakkad Iyers only because many of them settled down in the Palakkad district of Kerala which is close to Tamil Nadu. Palakkad was a part of Madras state till 1956.
The mother tongue of all Iyers is Tamil but the form of Tamil that a common Palakkad Iyer speaks is influenced by Malayalam vocabulary and grammar to some extent. Their slang is highly influenced by Sanskrit as well. This might have resulted partially due to the absence of sufficient number of Tamil language schools in Kerala, where Iyers are a linguistic minority group.
Iyers place great importance in learning and knowledge and unsurprisingly they are scholars in many languages including Tamil, Malayalam, Sanskrit, Hindi, English, Kannada and Telugu.
Rituals, ceremonies and festivals
The Iyer rituals comprise rites as described in Hindu scriptures such as Apastamba Sutra attributed to Apastamba.
The most important rites are the shodasa samskaras or the 17 essential Saṃskāra.
Although many rites and rituals that were practiced in ancient times are no longer followed, some traditions are continued to this day.
Iyers are initiated into rituals at the time of birth. In ancient times Iyers...