Instructor Wendell Johnson
April 25, 2011
Nayar of India
Nayar is a Hindu caste of the India state of Kerala. The region contained small, feudal kingdoms, in each of which royal and noble lineages, the militia, and most land managers were drawn from the Nayars and related castes. Unlike most Hindus, Nayar traditionally were matrilineal. Their family unit, the members of which owned property jointly, included brothers and sisters, the latter is children, and their daughters’ children. The oldest man was legal head of the group. Rules of marriage and residence varied somewhat between kingdoms. This paper will include the examination of aspects of the life of the Nayar marriage, political organization, and belief and values.
The Nayar family consists of all the descendants from the same ancestress, counting relationship exclusively from the side of the mother. Ordinary families consist of relations four or five degrees removed. In old and aristocratic families, one finds sometimes fifty to eighty people, though one or two families can be mentioned in Malabar, which contain one hundred and fifty to two hundred people. The undivided family generally lives under the same roof. In the house, it only the female’s live, while the male members of the family occupy rooms set apart for them, or, if they are rich, live in houses in neighboring compounds. The Nayar house has always a large piece of enclosed ground in front of it, which is called Muttam. Often it is used as an ornamental garden, and no man of the lower caste may enter it. There the children walk about and play in daytime, and the women have their dance and general merriment in the evening. Behind the house are a vegetable garden and a bathing tank, which is reserved exclusively for women. The dominant idea in the arrangement of the house is the proper separation of sexes in the family.
The family owns property in common. What a private individual earns belongs to him exclusively, but when he dies, it is joined to the rest of the family, according to the old Nayar law, which is still prevalent in some parts. When the family becomes unwieldy, or certain members show insubordination, the family property is partitioned equally among each female line. The is to say, if there are three sisters in the family, each having daughters and granddaughters, the partition is done in such a way that each of the ancestresses founds a separate family among whom the original property is equally divided.
The partition of property does not affect the relationship. The members of a divided family are called by the classificatory names, and a birth or death in one family creates pollution to the whole stock. Centuries might pass, but they would remain strictly exogamous groups, and the rights of relationship would continue, though in a lesser degree. There are many instances in which, though family partition took place at least a hundred and fifty years ago, the members continue to call each other brothers and sisters, as if they were the nearest blood relations.
The marriage restrictions prevalent among the Nayars have nothing much peculiar from the rest of the Hindu society. The bride must always be younger than the man, and must in strict orthodoxy belong to the same generation as his. He may not his mother’s sister’s daughter, who is to him as his own sister. All his sisters, own and collateral, together with women of a previous generation in his family, form a legal incestuous group. A man has, therefore, to marry either entirely out of the circle of his relations, or from among his cross cousins.
Marriage customs among the Nayars have evoked much discussion and controversy in India among both jurists and social scientists. There was considerable sub regional variation as well as variation by sub caste and family prestige. There were two kinds of marriage: talikettu kalyanam (tying ceremony) and sambandham (the customary nuptials...