Essay topic: The Nayar of India
Abstract: summary of the whole essay
a. Definition of who the Nayar are and location
b. Brief summary of the Nayar’s political system mode of subsistence, kinship and social organization.
c. Statement of thesis
2.1 Mode of Subsistence
3.0 Political system
4.0 Kinship and social organization
5.0 Efffect of the mode of the Nayars way of life: Political system and culture.
6.0 Conclusion: Concluding statement on the impact of the subsistence mode of the Nayar of India on kinship, political system and social change
The Nayars of India were a powerful community within the Kerala region of South India. They were also administrators, writers, artists, land owners and religious leaders in addition to being warriors (Nayar, 2002). Agriculture was their main economic activity but augmented to it by engaging in trade hence they could make up for any deficits within the local economy in addition to obtaining weapons and being responsible for the distribution of locally produced goods. They were matrilineal; their ancestry to a female ancestor. The family unit was made up of a woman, her daughters, her sister, her sister’s children and her daughter’s children . The oldest male member of the family was the leader of the home. They had a devolved government in which each village had an autonomous leader who had little or no allegiance to the king (Nayar , 2001). The lowest political unit was the Karayogam which was headed by Nattukoottam. Like every other culture, the Nayars underwent social change which would later be evident in the political system, their kinship and their social structure. The change could be attributed to their main economic activity, agriculture. It was through trade that the influences which would later lead to the changes in the Nayars way of life hence the gradual fragmentation of the social structure and political structure of the Nayar of India.
The Nayars of India were an integral aspect of Kerala which is found on the western side of south India. They were a warrior tribe whose name Nayar was derived from either the Sanskrit word “Nayaka” which means leader or “naga” which means snake. The community was made up of warriors, diplomats, writers, bureaucrats, administrators and artists. They were also land owners but they rarely worked on the land themselves. The Nayar race was further grouped into sub-castes and surnames .
The Nayars were mostly agriculturalists who practiced large scale farming for quite a long time. Working on the farms was the preserve of lower castes and not them given the prominence they had due to their military superiority. Their kinship system was matrilineal which was an aspect they had assimilated due to their interaction with the Brahmins. During this period, a lot of resources and focus were directed to developing their military prowess hence the male members of the Nayar community were expected to be part of the military service from a tender age. It was therefore sensible to free them from family responsibility so that they could concentrate on their military service .
The Nayar had an autonomous political system that comprised of villages which were responsible for their social, economic and political system. The lowest political unit was called Karayogam or Tharakoottam that was led by Nattukoottam who could independently make decisions on behalf of the village.
This paper will analyze the Nayars of India with focus on their mode of subsistence, political system, kinship, social organization and how the impact of their mode of subsistence on these aspects of their life.
2.0 Mode of subsistence
The Nayar were mostly agriculturalists. They were also involved in the manufacture and distribution of products derived from coconut fiber. Rice was their main staple food was rice but it was often difficult to meet the demand through their own effort. The deficit was therefore met by trading locally produced goods with other nations in order to acquire rice.
The production of food due to the practice of agriculture gave rise to trade among the Nayar of India which was practiced at three different levels. At the local level the Nayars traded their products with other inhabitants of Kerala. They were also involved in long distance overland trade in which they travelled to other places on land in order to trade their goods with other nations. They were also involved in long distance overseas trade in which they used boats and ships to travel across inter coastal waters .
The reign of Marthanda Varma marked a significant period during which there was reorganization of the land ownership system hence shifting the way agriculture was carried out. Marthanda Varma took away the land that belonged to land lords and revoked land owning privileges of the Nayar. They were obliged to pay taxes derived from the practice of agriculture to the state. This considerably reduced the economic influence that the Nayars could yield.
The agricultural dominance had long been the preserve of a ruling class of the Nayars but once the Portuguese arrived, there were realignments in the agricultural sector with some landlords getting into trade alliances with the Portuguese while some were resistant adamant to budge to outside invasion and interference. In 1524, Vasco da Gama became the Portuguese viceroy of Kerala. Their commercial dominance negatively impacted the agricultural sector, an effect that contributed to the mistrust within the political elite who were the Nayars.
The Dutch did also arrived in Kerala sometime after the arrival of the Portuguese. Their sole concern was trade hence they sought to gain as much control as they possibly could of the trade in Kerala. They monopolized the inlets to Kerala by building a cordon therefore giving them control over the trade routes. They acquired exclusive rights from the local leaders for the yearly supply of fixed qualities of pepper at a cheap price .The terms of the agreement also stipulated that merchants could export limited amounts of pepper at low prices and the native merchants were only free to export stipulated quantities of the spice only if the Dutch agreed to it. Dutch passes were necessary for any trader to have an easy transit through the sea. This clipped the growth of the blossoming agricultural sector and steered the control of trade and agriculture from the Nayar.
The Dutch also sought to control the local trade that had long been the preserve of the Nayar. They had great interest in the cloth produced at Kottar and later on engaged in the exportation of Indonesian spices and sugar aboard ships that docked at Kochi . This provided a much needed boost to the agricultural sector of the Nayar and by extension an economic boost. It provided the villages with a means of sustaining themselves economically and made Nayars prominent as a race that was a crucial trade partner.
The British dominance lasted for about 200 years and commenced in the mid-17th century. They had great interest in vast mineral resources in addition to wanting to have dominance over trade. They had a significant effect on the agricultural sector, the backbone of the Nayars. They abolished slavery gradually, a cheap source of labour in the farms owned by the Nayars. This resulted in a serious decline of the productivity of their farms since they now had unreliable labour. This affected the economic influence that they had previously had and in turn weakened them as political elite .
The arrival of the British also marked the improvement of the agricultural sector for those who opted to continue with the trade. They constructed the railway tracks, roads and bridges. Transport for the produce from the Nayar farms to other markets was therefore made easier and faster as compared to the past. That marked an increment of their agricultural productivity and the profitability of the agricultural industry as a whole. The farmers within the Nayar community were able to be economically stable though there other challenges that came with British presence. The Nayars therefore still had their political dignity and respect although it did not necessarily translate into the political power that they had previously wielded.
Pepper was among the plants that the Nayars grew in their vast farms. The Travancore Maharaja was trained the army and equipped them with modern arms. By the trading of the pepper from the farms for small arms required for by the military which also comprised of Nayars during battles the army was Europeanized. The presence of the Nayar in the military aided in the maintenance of their military superiority but this was unlike in the old Nayar militia where they were a power house as a community by virtue of being the militia.
3.0 Political System
The political system greatly emphasized on the need for self-sufficiency. All matters pertaining a particular village whether economic, social or political were discussed at the yogam or grama sabha which were headed by Nayars .The lowest political unit was known as Karayogam or Tharakoottam that was headed by Nattukoottam made independent decisions. Onnu Kure Ayiram Yogam was an example of a grama sabha which was located in Kodungallur, which was the political capital of Kerala
Sub classes of Nayar community from ‘Kiriyam’ to ‘Vattakkadan’ were well represented in the yogam. The yogam held meetings on the first day of the month at the front entrance of Kodungallur Bhagavathy temple. All the members of the yogam were also local leaders as well in addition to being leaders at the Bhagavathy temple of Kodungallur. They discussed all aspects affecting the residents of their jurisdictions and made appropriate decisions.
The self-sufficient political system of the Nayars of India survived several historical threats. To begin with, the Portuguese and later on the Dutch sought to consolidate the chieftains with some level of success but later on the British successfully consolidated several district as from 1792. With that there was a decline of the political and social influence that the Nayars exercised. Moreover, the self-sufficient villages require enormous economic resources to maintain. This has gradually become impossible due to the ever increasing economic strain at the individual and family level .
4.0 Kinship and social organization
The Nayars were matrilineal; their ancestry could be traced through the female lineage. The family was therefore comprised of the relatives of a common female ancestor and was considered a taravad. The traditional taravad comprised of a woman, sisters, sisters’ children and the daughter’s children. Land was considered the property of the family. The oldest member of the family was considered the legal head of the family (Adams, 1999).
Although the Nayar were a matrilineal society, genders in marriage were not treated as equals. The women were married off young and as part of their marriage rituals; they could also be divorced almost immediately. Polygamy was a widely accepted practice among the Nayar. The men did not necessarily have an obligation to take care of their children hence each woman had the responsibility to fend for her children .
During the reign of Marthandavarma, the traditional Nayar militia was eventually disbanded since they no longer had as much control over agriculture but they still held land as tenants. It was replaced by a new army that pledged greater allegiance to the Maharaja which mostly comprised of Nayars. Since the militia was socio-economic in nature, the shift in the economic system had an effect on their lives as the militia. This had a direct impact on the Nayar marriage system as well as their kinship. The taravad was no longer an integral aspect of the family structure because the Nayars were now permanently home.
The period of British dominance was marked by the rise of various social reformers. Some of the reformers including Sree Narayana Guru, Chattambi Swamikal and Ayyankali were active in advocating for the upliftment of the downtrodden within the Nayar social structure. They also participated in emancipation of the women among the Nayar who in the kinship structure of the Nayar were meant to have little or no say when it came to marriage. They were married off young and could be divorced at will to fulfill the rituals of the Nayar.
The social reforms as a result of British presence among the Nayar community trickled to the family structure. They instituted laws that required the children to be taken care of by their fathers unlike in the matrilineal society of the Nayars that solely dedicated that responsibility to the mother of the children. The land which was previously divided in a manner that favored the matrilineal lineage was redistributed and hence equally divided between the male and female members of the society.
5.0 Effect of the mode of subsistence on culture
Agriculture had a profound effect on the political system, kinship and social organization of the Nayar. The British also penetrated the otherwise closely knit kinship structure of the Nayar. They took away the vast land tracts from the Nayar which they used in the construction of administrative offices, educational institutions and hospitals. The huge agricultural pieces of land became a scarcity among the Nayar as the colonial influence of the British continued to spread. The families had to look for alternative ways of fending for themselves. This presented economic challenges such that the polygamists could no longer provide for their many wives which discouraged the subsequent generations from taking up the practice.
Colonization of the Nayar by the British led to a loss of the labor that was previously available to the Nayars in form of slaves from the lower castes. The productivity in the farms was therefore on a sharp decline hence this affected their economic influence that they had and by extension they could no longer exercise as much political influence as they previously could. The autonomy of the villages which formed the basis of their political system underwent a serious decline.
The effect of the agriculture on the political system was also evident during the reign of Marthanda Varma who was at the forefront in the introduction of the viruthi system of land ownership. The Brahmin Prime- minister of Travancore Ramayyan Dalawa (1736-1756) instituted this viruthi tenure and subsequently gave rise to 21000 tenants who were mainly Nayars. As viruthikaars the Nayars employed slaves and other depressed communities in their viruthi lands and feudalized the society. The lordship that the Nayars enjoyed over other people offered some form of restoration of political influence to the Nayars as they now had a say in the agricultural activities being carried out hence had a say in economic matters that revolved around agriculture.
The agricultural dominance had long been a major economic activity for the Nayars but with the arrival of the Portuguese, they were realignments in the agricultural sector with some landlords forming trade relations with the Portuguese while some were resistant to any outside invasion and interference. In 1524, Vasco da Gama was appointed as the Portuguese viceroy of Kerala. Their commercial dominance affected the agricultural sector, an effect that contributed to the mistrust within the political elite who were the Nayars.
During the reign of Marthandavarma, the traditional Nayar militia was eventually disbanded since they no longer had as much control over agriculture but they still held land as tenants. In its place came a new army that pledged greater allegiance to the Maharaja which mostly comprised of Nayars. The Nayars were therefore available on a regular basis, a change which led to the change in their marriage and kinship system. They no longer placed emphasis on the matrilineal system of kinship and in addition the men took a more active role in taking care of their offspring.
In modern times, the economic muscle that was available courtesy of agriculture and trade is no longer at the disposal of the Nayar. Thus polygamy which has serious economic ramifications is no longer as rampant as it used to be. In addition to that, the taravad has severely fragmented as the roles of a man and a woman in society are constantly being redefined in the society due to the education of the Nayars and subsequent embracing of foreign culture.
The decline of agriculture as an industry led to a shift in the trade relations that the Nayar have with other communities and the world at large. The attention shifted to building industries that make use of the vast natural resources in the manufacture of various goods that are exported to various parts of the country. The trade has had several benefits such as placing the region of Kerala on the world map but on the down side it has also led to loss of the social identity of the Nayars as agriculturalists.
Kinship and marriage have undergone significant change in modern times. The economic muscle that was available courtesy of agriculture and trade is no longer at the disposal of the Nayar. Thus polygamy which has serious economic ramifications is no longer as rampant as it used to be. In addition to that, the taravad has severely fragmented as the roles of a man and a woman in society are constantly being redefined in the society.
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