Thursday, February 16, 2017

History of Kaviyoor - 2

Part 2

Division of Brahmins - Kaviyoor Before 12th Century C.E - Temple Epigraphs-Kaviyoor from 12th Century C.E - Structure of Pathillam and Administration – Pathillam Pottis – Deshams of Kaviyoor – Manakkal Namputhirippads

Last Updated : July 28, 2019

Before discussing about the rulers (Brahmins) of Kaviyoor, I may venture to comment on the caste structure of the Brahmins. Their complex categorization too is not devoid of controversy. [Those who are familiar with social history of Brahmins may skip this].

Division of Brahmins

The Brahmins entered Kerala in batches mainly from southern Karnataka. The early immigrants, having arrogated the administration of villages, did not recognize the later immigrants on par with themselves. This resulted in division of Brahmins. The 32 Brahmin Grāmams set up by them are:

Payyannur, Perumcellur (Taliparamba), Alathur, Karanthola (probably near Mancheri), Chokiram (Sukapuram), Panniyur, Karakkatu (near Mancheri), Isanamangalam (near Pattambi), Trissivaperur, Peruvanam (Thrissur dist), Chamunda (Chemmanda, near Irinjalakkuda), Irungattikkudal (Irinjalakkuda), Avattiputhur (Avittathur, Thrissur), Paravur, Airanikulam, Muzhikulam, Kulavur (Kulur, Thrissur), Atavur (Thrissur), Chenganattu(Chengamanadu, Aluva), Ilibhyam (near Aluva), Uliyannur (near Aluva), Kalutanadu (not yet identified), Ettumanur, Kumaranellur, Kitangur, Chengannur, Kaviyoor, Aranmula, Neermanna, Katamaruku (Katamuri, Kottayam), Tiruvalla, Venmani (near Pandalam) [courtesy:]

Chattampi Swamikal, a Hindu sanyasi and Vedic scholar, presents a complex classification of Brahmins in his Prachina Malayalam (Ancient Kerala) in which there are eight types of Brahmins. Below these eight, some authors show additionally fourteen types of Brahmins -  two groups of Brahmins with non-ritual functions and another 12 types of lesser Brahmins with apparent support functions. Many similar complex categorizations are found in the writings of Brahmin authors and historians. All of them depend on the versified hearsay of late 19th century when the community was fading away from the top echelons of Kerala’s Hindu society.  Jaatinirnayam (ജാതിനിര്‍ണ്ണയം) is another source for most writers including Chattampi Swamikal.

The top four categories are the upper caste Brahmins. They are also called Shuddha Brahmins  or Pure Brahmins (ശുദ്ധബ്രാഹ്മണര്‍).

The four upper caste Brahmins are:
  1. Samrats (the ‘super elite’, സമ്രാട്ട്): Literally, Samrat means emperor. This category occupies the highest position among the Kerala Brahmins. Only the family of Azhvancheri Thampraakkal (ആഴ് വാഞ്ചേരി തമ്പ്രാക്കള്‍), the head of all the Malayala/Tulu Brahmins of Kerala, belongs to this category. Their residence is at Athavanadu (ആതവനാട്) panchayat, Malappuram. He is the spiritual leader of the Brahmins in particular and Kerala Hindus in general. The Thampraakkal is always referred to with the honorific ‘His Holiness’. His blessing was a must for the crowning ceremony of kings in Kerala. Their tutelar deity is Véṭṭakkarumakan (വേട്ടക്കരുമകന്‍). Thampraakkal is a word coined from Thampraan (തമ്പ്രാന്‍, derived from Thampuraan, തമ്പുരാന്‍, lord) and expressed in plural.
  2. Aadhyass/Ashtagrihaadhyas (The elite octad, ആഢ്യന്മാര്‍ /അഷ്ടഗൃഹാഢ്യന്മാര്‍): These are eight families of Namputhirippads/Bhattathirippads, who were landlords not required to perform rituals like yagnas and pujas because they were already a ‘blessed lot’!
  3. Vishishtas (The nobles, വിശിഷ്ടര്‍): These were Brahmins authorized to perform rituals and yagas; depending on the yagas performed by them, they were known as Adathiri, Somayaji, Akkithiri etc. Those who were assigned only Bhattavrithi (ഭട്ടവൃത്തി, teaching/explaining Vedas) were Bhattathiris. The last mentioned could work as priests and tantri of temples. 
  4. Saamaanyas (Ordinary, സാമാന്യര്‍): They were allowed to do sacerdotal functions at temples. The Namputhiris fell in to this category. They worked as priests and tantris (chief priests of temples).
(The book is not clear on other Brahmins. Only the four mentioned above were entitled to take part in the Murajapam rites (മുറജപം, a special ritual conducted at the Padmanabha Swami temple, Thiruvananthapuram, every six years for which only full-fledged Brahmins up to category 4 mentioned above were invited).

The four lower category Brahmins are:
  1. Jaathimaathrar (Other professionals, ജാതിമാത്രര്‍): Medical practitioners (Vaidyas), Warrior-Brahmins (Nambyāthiris). Poor Brahmins who were forced to do non-ritual jobs also fell in this category.
  2. Saankethikaas (The returnees, സാങ്കേതികര്‍): These were Brahmins who returned to where they came from (Karnataka?), but came back to Kerala at the instance of local kings. They were allowed to perform limited range of rituals in temples.
  3. Shaapagrasthaas (The cursed, ശാപഗ്രസ്തര്‍): These ‘cursed’ lots were the doubting Thomases. They did not believe the appearance of Parasurama who had come to Kerala to sort out the problems of Brahmins! They played second fiddle to others above them.
  4. Paapis (The sinners, പാപികള്‍):  These are the ‘condemned’ group because they had indulged in rituals not prescribed for Brahmins, though they did not indulge in any immoral activities. The use of the word ‘Paapis’ is quite unfortunate.
The first four categories appear to be somewhat factual. The functions of the remaining four groups and the twelve or fourteen groups of Brahmins further down in the hierarchy are not clear. The descriptions available now are reliable only to a very limited extent. Visit

[I do not know where to place Pappini (പാപ്പിനി) Brahmins if we follow the categorization as above – probably they were ‘Paapis’ or grouped in the categories further below the top eight. They were low caste Brahmins who stayed mostly in central and north Kerala. Pappinisseri (പാപ്പിനിശ്ശേരി, hamlet of Pappini Brahmins) of north Kerala derived the name from Pappini Brahmins. I remember reading an article which said that there was a settlement of these Brahmins near Kodungallur. The Pappini Brahmins conducted certain rituals for others, mostly Nairs. Their women sang ‘Brahmani Pattu’, songs in praise of temple deities, at Nair weddings].

Many groups mentioned above have subgroups with separate functions and strange hierarchies. To the common man, they all were Namputhiris. It is a fact that the superior sections among the Brahmins not only imposed themselves on the society as a whole but also tried to hold their sway on the lower castes in their own community. 

Since the Pottis probably fell under category 6, they did not have the privileges of the top four categories.

Madam (മഠം) is a common name used for the houses of Tamil and Malayala Brahmins including the lesser Brahmins who wear pooņool, the sacred thread.

Manas (മനകള്‍) are residences of pure Brahmins of category 1 and 2 . A Namputhirippad/Bhattathirippad ruled – rather owned - large areas  autonomously as zamindar (landlord)with the sanction of kings. Being the elite among the Brahmins, they would not perform any priestly/tantric functions in temples. 

Illams (ഇല്ലങ്ങള്‍) are the residences of all others from category 3. Though many Brahmins now refute this, it may be a desperate attempt to hide their lower status in their own community. Of late, some Namputhiris/Bhattathiris have changed their surnames to Namputhirippad/Bhattathirippad. Both ‘illam’ and ‘mana’ mean ‘house’ in Malayalam and Tamil. They were given different connotations by the ancient Brahmins to indicate the status of the occupants.

While the Bhattathiris/Namputhiris and Pottis worked as priests of temples, a few others below them were used for logistic and minor administrative/ancillary duties at temples.

Dr. N.M. Namputhiri writes: ‘…….Brahmins of Kerala are basically two groups: Vipra-kulam and Nyuna-dwija-kulam. (The) Vipra kulam has 8 sub-divisions. (The) Nyunadwijakulam has two divisions: Ampalavāsi or temple sevants like Ilayathu etc. Kazhakams or ruling class (sic) like moosad, pantārathil, thangal and grāmani. (The) Nyuna dwijas have no vedadhikaram. They are eligible to conduct only 8 or 11 samskaras. They have upanayana rite and they conduct (the) sacred thread wearing ceremony. But they are not Brahmins according to rites and norms”.

*The word ‘Thangal’ was borrowed by Muslims for their religious leaders. The Hindu ‘Thangals’ are found only in northern Malabar.
*Vipra kulam (വിപ്രകുലം) = clan of (pure) Brahmins
*Nyuna Dwija kulam (ന്യൂനദ്വിജകുലം) = clan of lesser Brahmins

Dr. Namputhiri seems to follow the ancient text of Jaatinirņayam.

Needless to say, there is no consensus on this intra-Brahmin hierarchy. All we should note is that the Kaviyoor Brahmins, i.e.  the Pottis were ‘lesser Brahmins’ (category 6).

Not being high caste or shuddha (ശുദ്ധബ്രാഹ്മണര്‍, pure) Brahmins, the Pottis were not entitled to be invited for Murajapam. They were not assigned the role of tantri either. Their women did not have to undergo the notorious smaarthavichaaram (സ്മാര്‍ത്തവിചാരം, trial of female Brahmins for transient sexual relationships aka chastity trial. The trial was confined to ‘erring’ women of shuddha Brahmins). In Prachina Malayalam, the category 6 has subdivisions – Thiruvalla, Thripūnithura, Akkara, Ikkara, Karnataka, Tulu Nadu (southern Karnataka). It seems that the Pottis of Kaviyoor were from Tulu Nadu. The Brahmins from category 5 onward were also not allowed to have ‘sambandham’ (‘socially acceptable concubinage’) with women of lower caste Hindus like Kshathriyas and Nairs.

The Brahmins are generally fair-complexioned. In the past, marriages of men from the four upper groups of Brahmins were restricted to the eldest sibling who would marry a woman from his own community. It was called Veli (വേളി). The younger men, barred from marrying, had no option but to approach women of lower caste Hindus for sambandham. If such a Brahmin was not able to find women from Kshatriyas or Nairs, he would seek women from other castes and even Christians and Muslims. Such a Brahmin was called ‘kootan’ (കൂടന്‍, the wicked; from Kootah, कूटः, in Sanskrit which actually means fool). After his ‘visit’ to lower caste women, the man indulging in sambandham with Kshatriyas and Nairs was required to have one dip in a pond while taking bath to ‘sanitize’ himself whereas the kootan had to take three dips because he had gone ‘too far’! The fair complexioned children of kootan were called koota-santhathis (കൂടസന്തതികള്‍) who mostly were fairer than the rest in their castes or communities. This does not mean that all fair people outside the upper Hindu castes were the result of adventurous liaison of kootans.

In southern Kerala, only the Pottis created Brahmin gramams by establishing the Pathillam system of management (discussed in detail later). Other Brahmins were not part of such ‘group management’. But they also lorded over many villages that did not have the Pathillam set up. The Pottis never extended their authority over the top 5 categories of Brahmins although the Namputhiris and Bhattathiris had worked for the Pottis in temples within the Pathillam villages.

Elevating oneself from lower category to a higher category was a deceitful practice started by Brahmins in 19th century, especially after the authority of the Brahmins diminished. Some Pottis began identifying themselves as Namputhiris. Some among the Namputhiris ventured to become elite Namputhirippads. There was also deliberate ‘elevation’ accorded to the lesser Brahmins by aristocratic Brahmins through certain rituals. ‘Demotion’ to lower levels and excommunication were also practised.

Sometimes even non-Brahmins were granted Brahminhood. This must have been a practice for increasing the Brahmin population right from the time the Brahmins reached Kerala. Thus, there are instances of Nairs, Ezhavas, carpenters and even fishermen becoming Brahmins through rituals. The last such ‘elevation’ occurred in Kerala over 15-20 years ago, when the son of a Namputhiri-Nair couple, both film actors, conducted a ceremony to make their son a Brahmin. Traditionally, such rituals are deemed valid by the Brahmin community.

As regards the lesser Brahmins masquerading as higher Brahmins, the following excerpts from vol. 2 of Prachina Malayalam (written around 1900-1910 C.E.) are self-explanatory: 
  1. The Empran (Potti) of Kulangara (illam) from Mankompu, Alappuzha, elevated himself to ‘Namputhiri’ during the reign of Ayilyam Thirunāļ (of Travancore). On being admonished by the next king Vishākham Thirunāļ, he reverted to being an ‘Empraan’. He became ‘Namputhiri’ again during the reign of Sri Mūlam Thirunāļ and was invited for Murajapam. It is the same person who was a plaintiff at the Munsif Court, Alappuzha in the case no. 498 of 1069 M.E. (1894-5 C.E.) in which he had identified himself as an Empraan. 
  2. Keshavan Madhavaru of Idamaram Madathil, Nedunkunnam was a ‘Potti’ when he had filed the civil suit no. 71 in 1069 M.E. (1894-5 C.E.) at Munsiff Court, Kottayam. Now he is a Namputhiri. 
  3. The Potti of Othikkon Madam of Thrikkariyoor has become a Namputhiri. Later a hapless woman of the family had to undergo smaarthavichaaram and was excommunicated. 
[In the third case, Swamikal hints that had the Potti not become a Namputhiri, the accused woman would not have faced smaarthavichaaram].

There are 13 more instances of Empraan/Empraanthiris becoming Namputhiris in the book.

All readers, especially those associated with management of temples and festivals, must note that no Namputhirippad/Bhattathirippad becomes a priest or tantri of temples because it is the function of the Brahmins below them.

The word ‘Bhatta’ refers to one who received the award ‘Bhattasthānam’ഭട്ടസ്ഥാനം/പട്ടത്താനംfrom the Zamorin (സാമൂതിരി), the ruler of Kozhikode in north Kerala. It was given to winners of Vedic contests called revati pattathānam held under the Zamorin’s tutelage. The title, actually called Māpāratha Paṭṭathānam (മാപാരതപട്ടത്താനം, slang for മഹാഭാരതഭട്ടസ്ഥാനം), made the winner eligible to change his ‘surname’ to Bhattathiri, i.e., one who was authorized to read and explain the epic Mahābhārat. [Vedic experts say that a temple that does not have the arrangement for the discourse on Mahābhārat by Bhattathiris cannot be called a ‘Maha’kshéthra, great temple].

A Brahmin family was deemed to be extinct, if it did not have a male heir (അന്യം നില്‍ക്കല്‍). Its properties would be merged with other Brahmin families of the village under a strange custom of escheat (സ്വത്തു ലയിപ്പിയ്ക്കല്‍). This ensured that nothing went outside the Brahminical class.

The Brahmins follow the patrilineal system of inheritance. But a section of the Brahmins in Payyannur village in north Kerala follow the matrilineal system. They are called Thirumumpu (തിരുമുമ്പ്). They are regarded by other Brahmins as an inferior sect.

Pottis, The Rulers of Kaviyoor

Before 12th Century, C.E - Migration of Pottis to and from Kaviyoor

Up to circa 300 C.E., Kaviyoor might have had a few hamlets of the indigenous people and Nairs. It is not clear whether the Nairs brought with them any kind of Hindu worship. If not, all the villagers worshipped Mundiyan, a pagan deity (discussed further below under Mundiyapalli). Thereafter, Jainism and Buddhism became the religions of the people. During 8th century C.E., Vedic Hinduism arrived with the immigrant Brahmins. Nonetheless, the indigenous people continued to worship the pagan deities, probably following at the same time the Jain, Buddhist and Hindu tenets sequentially as these religions were introduced.

It is to be presumed that Kaviyoor did not fall under the Ay kingdom which extended from Nāgarkoil to Pampa river, south of Thiruvalla. However, the inscription at Thrikodithanam temple and the copper plate from Vazhappally temple hint that the whole area including Kaviyoor was under Venad kings, successors of Ay kings. The Kaviyoor temple’s epigraphs speaks of a ‘Perumal’, probably a Chéra  king. Well, theories galore about religions and rulers of ancient Kerala.

Since the roots of the Kaviyoor Pottis have been traced to Pulloor in Periya (പെരിയ) village of Kāsaragōd they were obviously immigrant Tulu or Thoulava (southern Karnataka) Brahmins (തൌളവം=തുളുനാട്, തൌളവര്‍=തുളുനാട്ടുകാര്‍). They belonged to the Padumahathulu Yogam (പടുമഹാതുളുയോഗം) of Periya, i.e. a closed community of the village. Another version says they belonged to Thirunavaya, which might at best have been only a transit village in their migratory route to south Kerala. Panniyur, Shukapuram, Ponnani and Thirunavaya were all early Brahmin settlements of north Kerala.

The grouping of these immigrants in to Malayaļa (Kerala) or Tulu or Karnataka Brahmins is absurd in that most of these Brahmins came to Kerala via Karnataka; hence, Malayala Brahmins per se never existed. A few of them might also have come via the east – through what is now Tamilnadu where they are said to have reached from the Rayalaseema region (the four southern districts of Anantapur, Chittoor, Kadapa and Kurnool) of modern Andhra. The fair-complexioned Brahmins of Kerala were given to ridiculing the dark-skinned Brahmins who, the former believed, came from Rayalaseema, a hot and drought-prone area.

According to Mr. Thiruvalla Unnikrishnan Nair, the Brahmins in Kottarakkara, Kuzhimathikkadu, Ummannoor, Kalanjoor, Paipad (near Thiruvalla), Vaypoor, Keeẓhvaypoor, Thrikkodithanam, Puthoor, Kavungumprayar, Kuļathoor, Parankodu etc. are known as 'Kaviyoor Gramam’ Brahmins. It does not mean all the Brahmins of these villages branched out of the Kaviyoor Brahmins, but many of them could have. Changanassery, which was a province (Desham) of Thiruvalla Brahmin Gramam, incidentally, was not a significant place in the map of Brahmins.

Having wiped out Jainism and Buddhism, the ancestors of most of the Brahmins we see now in Kaviyoor, assuming their lineage has been intact, had taken control of the village by 9th century C.E. They lorded the village under the nominal supervision of the Naduvazhi (നാടുവാഴി) of Nanruzhai Nadu.

About 300 years later, the Chera kingdom collapsed and a new dynasty, Idathil Nairs (ഇടത്തില്‍ നായര്‍) of Thekkumkoor, wrested most of the south-central Kerala, circa 1110-1150 C.E. There might have been hardly six Brahmin families – all Vaishnavites - at that time in Kaviyoor, but their rule remained undisturbed. By 10th century C.E., these few families, joined by a few Shaivite Brahmins, were able to make Kaviyoor a large ‘Brahminborough’ of about 60 which is evident, to a certain extent, from the two epigraphs available at the Mahadeva temple. All these Brahmins were Pottis.

The Epigraphs of 10th Century C.E.

The two epigraphs on the granite base running around the Sri Kovil (sanctum sanctorum) of the Mahadeva temple confirm that the Pottis were in total control of the village by 10th century C.E.

The two epigraphs on the granite base running around the Sri Kovil (sanctum sanctorum) of the Mahadeva temple confirm that the Pottis were in total control of the village by 10th century C.E.

The first epigraph of 950-951 C.E. tells about a donation of land/rice field by Makizhancheri Thevan Chennan (മകിഴഞ്ചേരി തേവന്‍ ചേന്നന്‍). There is no ‘chéri’ (hamlet) or house/family by the name ‘Makizhancheri’ in Kaviyoor now. Even the word Makizham (മകിഴം) has disappeared from Malayalam. Makizham is a tree now known to Malayaļis as ‘elengi/ilanji’ (ഇലഞ്ഞി).  But Makizham is still used by Tamilians. For instance, there is a village called Makizhancheri in Nalliļam taluk of Thiruvārur District in Tamilnadu. Of course, it does not have anything to do with the donor mentioned in the Kaviyoor epigraph. He might have been a Nair landlord of Kaviyoor or Kuttanadu (കുട്ടനാട്) owning vast properties at both the places and probably a displaced Nair chieftain. The inscription mentions Chennankari (ചേന്നങ്കരി), eponymously linked with, perhaps, the same donor. (A person with the same name had also donated properties to Sri Vallabha temple, Thiruvalla - ref. Thrikkaviyoor). Kuttanadu, once the rice bowl of Kerala, lies between the hilly lands of central and north Travancore and the Arabian Sea.

‘Donation’ is a misnomer. The property was ‘acquired’ by the Brahmins, apparently suggesting the end of Nair dominance. There is no mention of any ‘village council’ in the epigraph, but we have to presume that the promise to donate the land was extracted during the meeting of the village council.

It may be correct to guess that the property ‘Makizhancheri’ near Thiruvalla could be the place Thevan Chennan belonged to. A Brahmin occupied the property later. Thevan Chennan might have been banished to another place as the priestly community wrested control of Kerala from Nairs.

The second inscription of 951-952 C.E. (4052, Kali Era) talks of two persons ‘donating’ properties to the temple at a meeting of the council of the Kaviyoor Brahmin gramam held at the Mahadeva temple. (The Kali Era started at 02:27:30 AM on February 18, 3102 B.C.E, according to some researchers).

I think we may deduce the following from the second inscription:
  1. The two donors were apparently Nair brothers belonging to Mangalath family (of the Kaviyoor Brahmin Gramam?). Like the donor appearing in the first epigraph, they seem to be from a family that wielded considerable influence as landlords. Their property was virtually snatched by the Brahmin rulers in the name of god for augmenting the income of the temple. Since the temple was owned by the Brahmins, the surplus, after meeting the expenses of the temple, went to their pockets. The properties donated were at Ettikkari, Kuzhikkottakkari and Eera (എട്ടിക്കരി, കുഴിക്കൊറ്റക്കരി, ഈര) - all in or around Kidangara and Kumarankari, which are in Kuttanadu, near Changanassery, according to one version of decipherment. There are two families by the name Mangalath in Kaviyoor and Kunnanthanam. But it is difficult to prove their antiquity.  Note that the ‘donation’ was made over 1100 years ago!
  2. The area of land donated to the temple, expressed in kalampādu (കലംപാട്), a kind of measurement of agrarian properties in ancient Kerala and Tamilnadu, is not available. The figures on the Sri Kovil have faded away. [1 Kalampādu/കലംപാട് = an area where seeds of 1 Kalam (earthen pot) could be sown in. 
    • Pādu/പാട് = land/field, ഭൂമി/നിലം). 
    • 8 (Nāzhi/നാഴി) = 1 Marakāl (മരക്കാല്‍) = 2 idangazhi
    • 48 Nāzhi = 12 idangazhi/ഇടങ്ങഴി = 6 Marakkāl = 1 Kalam.
    • 1 Kalampādu means an area where 12 idangazhi seeds could be sown. 
  3. Out of the donated land, 50 kalampādus was to be used for meeting certain specific expenses of the temple. Another table I referred to says 24 idangazhi = 1 Kalam. In yet another table, 1 kalampādu is equal to 12.5 marakkāls, sufficient to cultivate one acre of rice field. There are variations and discrepancies in almost all the tables available. If the last-mentioned measurement is accepted, the Brahmins managed to get about 50 acres of land and rice field from the donors.
  4. The Koyil Adhikāri and Perumāl appearing in the inscription were, respectively, the crown prince and king of the Chera dynasty of Thiruvanchikkuļam (Mahōdayapuram or Mākōtha/Kodungallur). Perhaps, they could be the royals who ruled from Kollam. The Naduvazhi mentioned in the inscription was the ruler of Nanruzhai Nadu (capital: Thrikodithanam), a province of the Chera kingdom. The Perumāl or king was Indukōtha Varma (944-962 C.E) and the crown prince Bhāskara Ravivarma (962-1019 C.E.). Both were not present at the meeting, but they were ‘informed’ of it. The Naduvazhi might have been present, but the epigraph is silent about this.
  5. There is reference to ‘local people’ who all might have been Brahmins and Nairs, the latter being mere spectators. This reinforces the belief that the opinion of the locals was ‘respected’ by the Chera rulers, but it is doubtful if any caste other than the Brahmins had any say in the local councils.
  6. The income from the properties was to be used for the temple rituals. Breach of the rules was not venial. Every Brahmin custodian, irrespective of his position, was amerced with about 35 sovereigns of gold to the king and 17 sovereigns of gold to the local ruler (Naduvazhi), in case of violation of the rule/decision. (These conditions were imposed by the king through a kacham (see below) throughout his domain only because corruption and self-aggrandizement were rampant among the bumptious Brahmins.
  7. The donation of the property and utilization of income from it were subject to the rules referred to in the Muzhikkuļam Kacham (മൂഴിക്കുളം കച്ചം). Kacham means system/procedure (മുറ, ചിട്ട).
  8. By 951 C.E., the Brahmins, deeming themselves nonpareil, were able to wield immense control over the villagers of Kaviyoor, even though followers of Buddhists might have outnumbered the Hindus. Proxy administration in the name of the temple deity was in its early phase. Such a situation could not have existed within a small period of their arrival from north Kerala. It leads one to accept that these Brahmins must have ensconced themselves in Kerala’s villages by 700-750 C.E. Most of the Buddhist vihaaras and pagan fanes of Kerala might have been changed to Hindu shrines during 700-950 C.E. The temple at Kaviyoor might have been in its ‘infancy’ and the Brahmins needed funds – a reason why they were usurping properties of the locals.
  9. The inscription mentions date under the Kali Era (കലിവര്‍ഷം). The Malayalam Era had started on August 15, 825 C.E. The Malayalam calendar was not being followed at the time of the ‘donation’, may be because it was yet to reach many places of Kerala.
  10. There was no tantri (തന്ത്രി), the chief priest. The system of having tantris was started only after 13th century C.E.
  11. The inscription says that the meeting was held at ‘Mukkaal Vattam’ (മുക്കാല്‍ വട്ടം, 3/4th circular, an old synonym for the near-circular sanctum sanctorum) suggesting that it was held near the sanctum sanctorum (Sri Kovil). The use of the word Sri-Kovil came in to use hundreds of years later. (‘Mukkaal Vattam’, in construction parlance, is the shape of the floor of the Sri Kovil. Although it looks perfectly circular (വട്ടം), the edge of the floor at the eastern door is straight, not an arc. Actually, the floor is almost 90% circular. The southern door and nada were built only in the early 1900's).

The directives for running temples were introduced in the early days of the second Chera dynasty (circa 800 C.E). The Kacham was decided at a meeting of the king, his officials and important Brahmin functionaries from different parts of the kingdom held at the Lakshmana temple at Muzhikkuļam (മൂഴിക്കുളം), now a village north of Aluva. Although, references to the Kacham are available in many temples, the original Kacham inscribed at the Muzhikkuļam temple was never found. It is said to have been lost during the raid of Tipu Sultan of Mysore in 1789.

Outrageous it may seem, but in the guise of maintenance, the self-appointed wizards of maintenance of the Travancore Devaswom Board disfigured the granite structure of the sanctum sanctorum by dabbing paint repeatedly over the years. The multiple coatings have obscured the fading etched letters. It is imperative that the Archeology Department of the government of Kerala take up measures to remove the paint and protect the inscription for the benefit of reasearchers and devotees.

Thirunelli and Koloth (തിരുനെല്ലി, കോലോത്ത്/കോളോത്ത്)

The villagers believe that the Naduvazhis stayed at some ‘palace’ in Kaviyoor during their visits. Thirunelli and Koloth are said to be the two likely places in Kaviyoor for the sojourn of the Naduvazhis of Nanruzhai Nadu.

Thirunelli is situated north of the ‘rock-cut’ cave temple – or about 2 km away from the Mahadeva   temple. Whoever be the royals that stayed here had their own family deity which was said to be Mahadeva (Siva), goes the story. This could obviously be a figment of imagination of the locals. Although some of the remnants of the shrine could be seen till about 25 years ago, there was no evidence of a palace. The so-called connection the ‘palace’ had with the Ezhumattoor (എഴുമറ്റൂര്‍) branch of the Travancore royal family, erstwhile rulers (1750-1947) of southern Kerala, can be rejected since the shrine predates the history of the Ezhumattoor royals. Thirunelli and surrounding areas have been under occupation of the local people even centuries before the Brahmins had arrived. The name ‘Thirunelli’ was probably the contribution of the Brahmins. (see Etymology of Provinces and Places later in the article). Besides, it will be naïve to say that the Naduvazhi would stay at a place over 2 kilometres away from the Mahadeva temple.

Another argument is that there is a possibility of the Naduvazhi having stayed close to the Mahadeva temple. The house might have been called Kōvilakath (or Koloth, കോലോത്ത്, residence of the royals). The argument goes on to say that the Kovilakam was demolished and Kolamangalath (കൊളമംഗലത്ത്) Illam came up at the same spot later. This cannot be accepted because the Brahmins never allowed non-Brahmins - barring some artisans - to stay within the kshethra-sanketha (the periphery of temple), even if they were royals. ‘Koloth’ (കോളോത്ത്) is in fact the colloquial word for Kolamangalath.

The Naduvazhis never stayed at Kaviyoor because their capital Thrikodithanam was only an hour away on foot. We may, therefore, conclude that there was no royal residence of a Naduvazhi at Kaviyoor. The Naduvazhis were defeated by the Thekkumkoor kings by 1150 or 1250 C.E. and the latter never set up any camp at Kaviyoor. They shifted their capital from Vennimala to Kottayam before 14th century C.E. and also ruled from Changanassery by 15th century C.E.

If at all there was a sivaling at Thirunelli it must have been installed by the local Brahmins for converting the fane in to a Siva temple, retaining at the same time, an idol that the aborigines had worshipped.

This is discussed separately under ‘Mundiyappalli’.

From C.E. 12th Century – The Thekkumkoor Dynasty

The Brahmin Rulers – From 12th Century

Rāmavarma Kulashekhara’s reign ended in C.E 1102. He was the last king of the ‘second’ Chera dynasty of Kodungallur. He died at Kollam because the dynasty had fled Kodungallur much earlier. It was all mayhem during the next 100-odd years. Across Kerala, the principalities - from Vénād (descendants of the Ay kings) in south Kerala to Puraikeeẓnadu in the north - lived precariously. The 14 or 18 principalities (including Nanruzhai Nadu comprising what is now Thiruvalla and Changanassery) of the Cheras disappeared. Wriggling out of this mess, the immigrant Brahmins emerged with more power and acceptability.

(Remember that elsewhere in India societies were far advanced than Keralites. By C.E. 1010, the famous Brihadeshwara temple of Tanjore was completed. The Chandela kings had completed about 85 marvellous temples in stone, in and around Khajuraho. Keralites did not have anything to show during this period).

Thereafter, the development of Thekkumkoor as a kingdom in central Kerala from the middle of 12th century C.E. might have taken about 200 years. It involved many quid pro quo deals among the kings of the new born kingdoms of Kayamkuļam, Ambalappuzha and Vadakkumkoor. During this period, the Brahmins had set up their own administrative system in Kaviyoor and other villages of south Kerala like Thiruvalla and Chengannur. With this, the old 4-tier system of administration (King→Crown Prince→Naduvazhi→Council of Brahmins) of the Cheras vanished from the Brahmin gramams. 

As far as Kaviyoor is concerned, in addition to the illams of the Pottis who ruled the village, there was a mysterious mana (residence of an elite Brahmin) of an unknown period. The history of the village is blurred till 16th century C.E.

The Pottis of Kaviyoor never married from the families of Pottis of Thiruvalla, who were considered an inferior subsect by the former, till about 75 years ago.  The reasons are not clear. The hostility towards the Brahmins of Thiruvalla who were also Pottis had more to do with a dispute over the right to priesthood of the Mahadeva temple, which is discussed further down, than the caste hierarchy. It is also learnt that the Kaviyoor Brahmins were at loggerheads with the Brahmins of Aranmuļa, but the reasons are not known.

The Pottis are all Yajurvedis, followers of the Vedic traditions of Yajurveda. In Karnataka and Mahārāshtra, Yajurvedis are a sub-sect of Deshastha (ദേശസ്ഥ, local) Brahmins.

Appointment of tantris, the controllers of rituals of temples, is as per the centuries-old customs that the Brahmins of Kerala follow strictly. I believe the system of having tantris began only after C.E. 13th century.  Migration of the elite Brahmins to southern parts of Kerala also might have begun around the same period. The tantri system was invented by the elite Brahmins led by Azhvancheri Thamprakkal to dilute the near-sovereignty of the Tulu Brahmins. That was why only 26 families of Bhattathiris or Namputhiris (category 3 and 4 resp.) were granted the right to be appointed as tantris. The Thiruvalla Bhattathiri Grāmam in Tholiyamala (തോലിയമല, also called Thukalamala, Thukalasséri, Cheranallur) came up only after C.E. 13th century. The Parampoor Bhattathiris belong to this Grāmam which at best could be called only a chéri (ചേരി, hamlet) because it had only three Bhattathiri families initiallyThe three families were: Parampoor, Kuzhikkaattu and Mulavana. In ‘Thiruvalla Kshethra Charithram’, p. 304, the author Mr. Thiruvalla Unnikrishnan Nair mentions that ‘there is a notion that these (three) families settled in Thukalasseri (Cheranallor) in M.E. 4th century (12th century C.E.)’. Mr. Nair, however, had not taken in to account,caste difference within the Brahmin society. Though the Kuzhikkaattu and Mulavana Brahmins are called Bhattathiris, certain documents mentioned in Mr. Nair’s book confirm that they are Akkithiris.

As far as the Brahmins of Kaviyoor are concerned, we shall focus only on the illams and a mysterious mana.

Although the Pottis were the masters of Kaviyoor Brahmin village and were never troubled by the Thekkumkoor kings, the same freedom was not granted by the Travancore kings who had defeated the Thekkumkoors circa C.E. 1750 and won their territory. The British, the new looters of the nation, realized that the economy was being controlled by the priestly caste. Eventually, they stepped in to depose the Brahmins in a series of administrative measures from circa 1816 C.E. which in a way helped lay foundation of a modern governmental machinery in Kerala. In 1900, the government of Travancore totally abolished the rule of all the Brahmins and took over their temples. Thus, a sad chapter in Kerala’s administrative and religious history that lasted over 1,200 years ended. The takeover affected the running of temples, though. Between 1816 and 1900 over 10,000 small and medium sized temples of Travancore, had reportedly become non-functional due to financial crunch. The British created a department for administration of the temples taken over by it in 1900. Later in 1950, the Travancore Devaswom Board was instituted to control the temples. The Mahadeva temple of Kaviyoor is one of the 1,248 temples being managed by them. Similar Boards were created for Cochin and Malabar. The last takeover of a temple was effected in 1971 when the state government led by C. Achutha Menon nationalized the Sri Krishna Temple of Guruvayoor. Now, the management of about 3,000 Kerala temples vests with the boards.

Though most of the personal properties owned by the Brahmins were not touched by the British, as time went by, they had become economically weak and sold their assets to others and joined the main stream as commoners. An interesting question that youngsters may ask is: What would have happened if Brahmins had not migrated to Kerala? The answer could be long or short, depending on one’s knowledge of the long socio-political history and analytical skills. Keep in mind that a society always creates different classes of people. We still create different classes people based on wealth and political connections.

By the beginning of 20th century, it dawned upon the ‘divine’ rulers that, after all, they too were mere earthlings like the others around.

Pathillam System (പത്തില്ലത്തു പോറ്റിമാര്‍)

Let us see how the Pathillam system of government introduced by the Pottis worked in Kerala villages. [Those with knowledge of the Pathillam System may skip the paragraphs in blue]:

The Brahmins began to dominate inordinately the villages (the Brahmin Grāmams) they had settled in by converting tribal or Jain or Buddhist temples or erecting new ones after convincing the local kings and general public that they were ‘representatives’ of the Hindu gods.

There were two types of administration: 
  1. The elite Brahmins enforced their authority on some villages by ruling individually or in small groups.
  2. The Pottis controlled villages by forming a phalanx of usually ten Potti families. This is the Pathillam system. (pathu, പത്ത് =10, illam, ഇല്ലം=residences of Brahmins except category 1 and 2)

 The huge area under their control was the Grāmam. The entire Grāmam was Devaswom (ദേവസ്വം), i.e. ‘owned by the lord, the deity of the temple’. The temple, in turn, was managed by a few Brahmin families, normally numbering 10. They were called Ooraalar, i.e. custodians. Another word used is Brahmaswom (ബ്രഹ്മസ്വം), ‘belonging to Brahmins’.

If a few elite Brahmins happened to be residents of a Pathillam Grāmam, they would not interfere with the administration of the Pottis. The latter would not do anything that would displease the elite Brahmins either.

The expenses of the temple and its properties were footed by the Pathillam Brahmins from the temple’s income. The surplus income from the temple operations was divided by ten and distributed among the ruling Pottis. It is compared to corporate ownership; or the tithing system practised in Britain.  If there were only 10 families, each would get a tenth of the dividend. If the number of families was more than 10, some got more and some got less, depending on their status. So the 4-tier system instituted by the Chera kings now had a new set up for managing temple properties, with the Thekkumkoor kings as nominal heads.

The Pottis shrewdly ensured that the expenses were met mostly by gifts and donations from other Brahmins, kings, members of royal families, merchants and rich Nairs in cash or kind, like land, elephants, materials for rituals like silverware and brassware, ornaments of gold/silver etc. The major chunk of tax collections from the inhabitants of Grāmams, however, went to kings. 

By 12th century C.E., most of the land in the villages came under the personal ownership of the Brahmins through the Pathillam system or where there was no such system, through the hegemony of the other upper caste Brahmins. If the land was not ‘sufficient’, kings of Kerala would grant them additional land, often free of rent and rate.

Administration of Kaviyoor Brahmin Village

The Political Map of Kaviyoor Brahmin Gramam

The Brahmins divided a Grāmam in to divisions called Déshams (ദേശങ്ങള്‍). Each Désham was further divided in to karas (കരകള്‍, territories). The karas were also called tharas (തറ).

The main temple of the whole Kaviyoor Brahmin Grāmam was the Mahadeva temple located in Njaalbhagam (ഞാല്‍ഭാഗം) Désham. It was called the Grāma Kshéthra. The temples of the divisions were called Désha Kshéthras (not listed here). There were Brahmins in Déshams too where they ruled as the vassals of the Brahmin-custodians of the Grāma Kshéthra.  These subordinate Brahmins ruled the Déshams with the help of Nairs. Thus, the Nairs were not the absolute rulers of karas.

Till a few decades ago it was believed that the 5 karas (regions) of the Brahmin Gramam were: Kunnanthanam, Eraviperoor, Anjilithanam, Vallamkulam and Padinjattumcheri. This is wrong. This error has crept in to the book Thrikkaviyoor too. Padinjattumcheri and Anjilithanam were two karas or territories of Njalbhagam Désham which, in turn, was only a province of the Kaviyoor Brahmin Grāmam. The Njalbhagam desham was also called the Kaviyoor Désham.

Deshams of Kaviyoor Brahmin Gramam

There were seven Déshams    - listed below - under the Pottis. Together they formed the Kaviyoor Brahmin Gramam. The Njalbhagam desham (ഞാല്‍ഭാഗം ദേശം) was the ‘capital’ of the gramam. All the Pottis stayed in Njalbhagam.

Kaviyoor Brahmin Gramam and its Deshams
  1. Kunnanthanam Désham: The Désham included Vaļļamala area. Kunnanthanam is a separate panchayat now. It lies to the north/north-west of modern Kaviyoor.
  2. Kallooppara Désham: It lies to the east of modern Kaviyoor. It is a separate panchayat now.
  3. Nedungadappalli Désham: It lies on the north-west of Mallappalli. It is now under Mallappalli panchayat.
  4. Murani Desham (some areas of Mallappalli) – the western and southern parts of modern Mallappalli; Mallappalli lies east of Kallooppara. The area is no longer in Kaviyoor.
  5. Vallamkulam Désham: Now it is a separate panchayat. It lies on the eastern side of river Manimala.
  6. Eraviperoor Désham : It is a separate panchayat now located east of Vallamkulam.
  7. Kaviyoor Désham (also called Njalbhagam Désham): It comprised a vast area i.e, from Anjilithanam-Mundiyapalli-Kottor to Thottabhagam (This is what we will focus on hereafter)
(Courtesy: Late Mr. M.V. Sivarāma Iyer, Méchéril Madam)

There is no way one can now get the names of the old territories (karas) of the first 6 deshams mentioned above. Therefore, from the Kaviyoor Brahmin Grāmam, we shall narrow down to the Kaviyoor Désham. The territories (karas) of Kaviyoor Désham are discussed below.

Note: Kallooppara was gifted to Edappalli kings, may be between 1400 C.E. and 1700 C.E. The circumstances leading to this benevolent act are not known. It is said that a palace employee of an Edappalli king saw a dream in which goddess Bhadrakaali had asked him to instruct the king to build a temple for her at a particular place. The place shown by the goddess was identified as Kallooppara Désham of the Kaviyoor Brahmin Grāmam. The Edappalli kings ruled the Désham after constructing a Bhadrakaali temple. The real reasons for handing over Kallooppara to the Edappally kings could be political.

Kallooppara was famous for its kalaris. Training in warfare was given to the local youth and others who had come from different parts of south Kerala. The real name of Kallooppara (കല്ലൂപ്പാറ) is Kalloorppara (കല്ലൂര്‍പ്പാറ), a place with large boulders (Kallu, കല്ല്‌ ) and rocks (പാറ). It is the semi-literate revenue officials of the Travancore kingdom that began referring to the village as ‘Kallooppara’.

Karas Under Kaviyoor Désham (Birth of Modern Kaviyoor)

After reorganization during the British Raj, the Kaviyoor Brahmin Grāmam ceased to exist because Kallooppara, Nedungadappalli, Vallamkulam, Eraviperoor and Murani were lost to others at some point of time. What remained of it was the Kaviyoor Désham and Kunnanthanam Désham.

The Kaviyoor Pottis were then left with only the following:
  1. Kaniyaan Para to Thottabhagam which included the site of the Mahadeva temple. This area was renamed Njalbhagam Pakuthi (ഞാല്‍ഭാഗം പകുതി).
  2. Padinjattumcheri (the high terrain west of Polachira, the reservoir behind the Mahadeva temple).
  3. Anjilithanam, on the west
  4. Mundiyapalli (Kottoor included) on the north
  5. Kunnanthanam: (It was earlier graded as a desham, but accorded a lower status later as a kara for reasons that are unknown) 
There were further losses. When Kunnanthanam too was separated, Kottor was sliced off Mundiyappally and became the 5th kara of Kaviyoor. In 1953, Anjilithanam was taken off and added to Kunnanthanam. Thus was born the modern Kaviyoor.

The words like desham and kara disappeared from the official vocabulary of the Thiru-Kochi government in 1953.

The Brahmin Families That Ruled the Gramam (Pathillam Pottis) 

The names of families of Pottis who arrived in Kaviyoor circa 700-800 C.E. are not available. They might have numbered about half a dozen. Others might have settled in the village much later. As per a document of 705 M.E. (1530-1531 C.E.) the custodians or Oorānmakkār (ഊരാണ്മക്കാര്‍, plural, synonym for Oorāļar) were from the following illams of Pottis:
  1. Moothedathu Vadasséri (മൂത്തേടത്തു വടശ്ശേരി), Padinjattumcheri
  2. Neythalloor (നെയ്തല്ലൂര്‍), Njalbhagom; the family became extinct subsequently but adopted a child from Chathyakāttu Vadasséri illam for continuity of lineage.They are Pottis but theu use the surname Sharma. In India and Nepal, Sharma is a common surname used by Brahmins, irrespective of their social standing within the Brahmin community.
  3. Chāthyakāttu Vadasséri (ചാത്ത്യകാട്ടു/ചാത്ത്യാട്ടു വടശ്ശേരി), Padinjattumcheri
  4. Kaviyoor Illam (കവിയൂര്‍ ഇല്ലം), Kottoor: Being late entrants to Kaviyoor, they used the name of the village for their illam.
  5. Véngasséri; (2 branches):
    • Thekkinédathu Véngasséri (തെക്കിനേടത്തു വേങ്ങശ്ശേരി), Kottoor
    • Kiẓakkinédathu Véngasséri (കിഴക്കിനേടത്തു/കിഴക്കിനേത്ത് വേങ്ങശ്ശേരി), near Govt. School, Njaal Bhāgam; when it became extinct, their properties were merged with Thekkinédathu Véngasséri
  6. Maṭṭalāttu Puram (മട്ടലാറ്റുപുറം/ആറ്റുപുറം). Thottabhagam, southern Kaviyoor
  7. Thachira (Kachira?) Vadasséri (തച്ചിറ/കച്ചിറ വടശ്ശേരി), Padinjattumcheri, now extinct. Properties merged with Moothedathu Vadasséri
  8. Thengumpaļļi (തെങ്ങുംപള്ളി), Thottabhagam. The illam split in to three subsequently: Padinjāréth, Thekkédath and Kizhakédathu. The Padinjāréth branch left Kaviyoor for Kalayapuram (Kottārakkara) and their properties merged with Kaviyoor illam. Kizhakkédath family left for Kuļakkada (near Kottārakkara) and their properties were appropriated by the Kaviyoor Mahadeva temple. No information is available about Thekkédath branch.
  9. Koļamangalam (കൊളമംഗലം); this illam exists north of Kaviyoor temple. Later it was called Kolothillam (കോളോത്തില്ലം); The Brahmins who established the illam are believed to have come from Mūvattupuzha and therefore obviously do not belong to the group that arrived in 700-800 C.E.
(Courtesy: ‘Thrikkaviyoor and Keezhchirakkal family. I have also confirmed this with the elders of some other families)

Notes: Although Véngasséri, no. 5 above, had two branches, the total number of families remained ten. The Brahmin family missing here is the Nedungala (നെടുങ്ങാല, from the word Nedum-kala, നെടും-കാലാ) Illam, a branch of Koļamangalam illam. The list pertains to a period when Koļamangalam Illam had not split to form Nedungala Illam.

There were many subsequent divisions, additions to and mergers with the Pathillam families mentioned above. According to another belief, (period unknown, probably a few centuries later), the organization of Pathillam group was different:
  • Kaduthanam (കടുത്താനം) illam, probably immigrants from north Kerala, was added to Pathillam. Its branches existed in Thrikkodithanam and Perunna till a few decades ago. A member of Kaduthanam illam, Kaviyoor insists that they are different from the Kaduthanam families of Thrikkodithanam and Perunna. This may not be true. A branch of the Kaduthanam Brahmins from Thrikkodithanam might have come to Kaviyoor and Perunna in the 16th or 17th century. (The family at Thrikkodithanam might have adopted its name from the place name Thrikkodithanam which was called Thiru-Kaduthanam centuries ago).
  • Koļamangalam illam was replaced by Nedungāla (നെടുങ്ങാല) illam; the latter is believed to be a branch of the former. It seems, at any time, only one branch was entitled to the income from the temple due to consanguinity. But the same rule was, somehow, not applied to other families. This probably means that within the Brahmins of Kaviyoor, there was a ‘lower’ faction whose benefits were not on par with those of the ‘upper’ faction.
The families in the original set up continued to be in charge of the temple and village for centuries from C.E. 8th or 9th century.

At the time of abolishment of Pathillam system (C.E. 1900), the share (in brackets) of each Brahmin family was:
  1. Āttupuram Illam (1/3)
  2. Chaathyāttu (Chaathikāttu) Vadasséri Illam (1)
  3. Kachira Vadasséri Illam (1)
  4. Kaduthanam Illam (1/3)
  5. Kaviyoor Illam (1)
  6. Kiẓakké Thengumpaļļi Illam (1)
  7. Moothedathu Vadasséri Illam (1)
  8. Neythalloor Illam (1)
  9. Nedungāla Illam (1/3)
  10. Padinjāré Thengumpaļļi Illam (1)
  11. Véngasséri Kiẓakkinéth Illam (1)
  12. Véngasséri Thekkinédathu Illam (1) 
(The shares in brackets add up to 10)
[Source: Keezhchirakkal family]

Only the following illams exist now:

  1. Chāthyakāttu Vadasséri (ചാത്ത്യകാട്ടു വടശ്ശേരി), Padinjattumcheri
  2. Kaduthanam, Kottoor
  3. Kaviyoor illam (കവിയൂര്‍ ഇല്ലം), Kottoor
  4. Kōļothillam (കോളോത്തില്ലം, shortened name of Koļamangalam illam), north of the main temple
  5. Moothedathu Vadasséry (മൂത്തേടത്തു വടശ്ശേരി), Padinjattumcheri
  6. Neythalloor (നെയ്തല്ലൂര്), Njaalikandam
  7. Véngasséri Thekkinédathu (തെക്കിനേടത്തു വേങ്ങശ്ശേരി), Kottoor
Low-caste Brahmin
(കൈസ്ഥാനികള്‍/കഴകക്കാര്‍, Administrative Assistants)
  1. Moosaths of Chennéttu (ചെന്നേട്ട്) Illam, near the main temple
  2. Sharmas of Keezhchirakkara  - Slang:Keezhchirakal - (കീഴ് ചിറയ്ക്കല്‍) Illam, near the main temple. This is a family Sanskrit scholars, musicians and poets.
  3. Sharmas of AkkaraChirakkal (അക്കരച്ചിറയ്ക്കല്‍) Illam, on the western bank of the chiŗa (reservoir).
The low caste Brahmins were utilized only in temples. They were not involved in the administration of the village.

All the three families belong to the category of Moosaths.

It was all quite complex. There is hardly anybody living in the village who can throw light on the divisions/disappearance of some of the Kaviyoor Brahmins.

The Moothedathu Illam and Neythalloor Illam were the most powerful and wealthiest among them and the former acted as the Koyma (lord or controller) of the Mahadeva temple. The Neythalloor Brahmins were the ‘judges’ of the village with powers to mete out even capital punishment. A Nair family (discussed under Capital Punishment) was responsible for carrying out the murders. The unfortunate accused were either beheaded or hanged. The hanging or beheading was done somewhere near the N.S.S. High School or at Thuļļalkaļam (see under discussion on etymology of names of provinces). Executions were done with the help of Ezhava/Paraya/Pulaya communities under the supervision of, probably, a Mazhuvan (മഴുവന്‍). This is also discussed separately under ‘Capital Punishment’ elsewhere in the article.

The Melshanti (മേല്‍ശാന്തി), the priest of the main sanctum sanctorum, used to be selected from the following families of Brahmins from Kasaragod, according to a local Brahmin:

1. Ōrankuļam Illam 2. Mooļiyaar Kākkol 3. Kozhapādi Vārikkōttu 4. Churūr 5. Kottukunnam 6. Thambalamkōttu 7.  Meenathu Kākkol 8. Varokkōdu Kākkol

He was called Kudashānthi (കുടശ്ശാന്തി) because he would be given an umbrella made of palm leaves (ഓലക്കുട) by the custodians at the time of taking charge.

The vedic instructors (Othikkons, ഓതിക്കോന്‍) of Kaviyoor Brahmins were Panakkamattam (പനയ്ക്കാമറ്റം) Namputhiris of Aluva. Their ritual instructors (Vaidikan, വൈദികന്‍) were Kapļingattu (കപ്ലിങ്ങാട്ടു) Namputhiris from Pootharakkal, Chérpu, Thrissur. (Source: Late Mr. Mahadeva Sharma, Keezhchirakkal Illam)

The head of the Bhattathiri family of Parampoor Illam (പറമ്പൂര്‍ ഇല്ലം) from Thukalasséri, near Thiruvalla, is the chief priest (Tantri, തന്ത്രി) of the Mahadeva temple. The Bhattathiris are Rigvédis, who follow the tenets and rituals per Rigvéda.

There is another Potti family that was not part of the Pathillam system. They belong to Kazhanoor illam (കഴനൂര്‍ ഇല്ലം). They were brought from Kanam (കാനം), Kannur, exclusively for working as the priests at the Keezhthrikkovil, the small temple dedicated to Mahavishnu behind the main Mahadeva temple.

The Brahmins connected with Desha Kshéthras (of other deshams like Eraviperoor, Kunnanthanam etc.) had no role in the administration of the Mahadeva temple, the Grāma- Kshéthra.

A comprehensive list of illams in the ancient Kaviyoor Brahmin Gramam is not available. Shankaramangalam (ശങ്കരമംഗലം) of Eraviperoor and Airedath (അയരെടത്ത്/ഐരേടത്ത്) of Mallappalli were two prominent Brahmin families. They were not included in the Pathillam group since they did not belong to the main group of Brahmins of Kaviyoor Desham and were probably vassals of the latter. The Shankaramangalam illam became extinct long ago – probably in the 18th century. It is believed to be a branch of the famous illam by the same name that figures in the history of Sri Vallabha temple, Thiruvalla. Their property was acquired by the Kaviyoor Pottis under the custom of escheat. When the recipient Pottis became financially weak, these properties were sold to others. Similar fate befell Airedath Illam.

Kaviyoor Brahmins and Thrikodithanam Temple

The Brahmins from Kaviyoor and Thiruvalla Villages are said to have been the Ooraalar (temple custodians) of the Mahavishnu Temple, Thrikodithanam. The period is not known, but the Brahmins of Kaduthanam illam of Kaviyoor listed among them could actually have been a branch of the Kaduthanam illam of Thrikodithanam. It hints that Kaduthanam illam of Kaviyoor is branh of the latter.

Moothedathu Vadasséri Illam

Hinduism had two pseudo-divisions of worship: Those who gave prominence to worship of Siva were called Shaivites. Devotees of Vishnu were called Vaishnavites.

All the evidence suggests that the Kaviyoor Brahmins, except the Moothedathu Vadasséri Pottis, were Vaishnavites. The Vishnu temples of Kaviyoor had been their family shrines.

The Moothedathu Vadasséri Brahmins are Shaivites. They may have reached Kaviyoor much after the Vaishnavite Brahmins had settled there, but, became the ‘Primate of All Kaviyoor’, acquiring the Koyma (the overall in-charge) of the Mahadeva temple. They were also owners of the property on which the Mahadeva temple was built. Their good equation with the Thekkumkoor kings, might certainly have helped them. The tutelar deity (ഭരദേവത) of the family is not Siva or Hanūmān of the Kaviyoor temple, but Bhagavathi of Nettoor, Kurumbanadam (കുറുമ്പനാടം) at Madapaļļi (Changanassery). Therefore, many non-Brahmins in the area (Padinjattumcheri) also regarded the same goddess as their tutelar deity. Such was the puissance of the Brahmins once upon a time! Even now there are Nair families that deem Nettoor Bhagavathi as their tutelar deity.

Traditionally, the Moothedathu Pottis would not accept any priestly job of the Kaviyoor temple because the land on which the Mahadeva temple was built was owned by them. If they entered, it was believed, the temple deities would have been forced to ‘get up’ from their pedestals (peethams, പീഠം) to pay obeisance to the landlord! However, this taboo came to an end when a member of the family became the Melshanti (priest of the main idol Siva) a couple of decades ago.

Brahmins from Kodungallur (Cranganore)

Once upon a time, in the days of travelling on foot, a man reached Kodungallur late one night and decided to halt there. He was not only tired but hungry too. The lane he had reached had a few illams on either side of it.  He knocked at the door of an illam, but was refused food. He knocked at the next door with the same result. Some of the overweening Brahmins he had approached not only refused to provide him with food but had also insulted him. Pointing to another door a little away, one of them said derisively that he could try his luck there. His intention was to make fun of the traveller because the door he was pointing to was the gate of the local temple of Bhadrakaali. The traveller knocked at the door the local Brahmin had suggested. Out came a lady who, on learning that the man was hungry, promptly gave him food and allowed him to rest there. She learnt from him how all the Brahmins had driven him away heaping insult. Devotees of Bhadrakaali believe she was none other than the goddess herself. She fumed with anger and banished all the Brahmins from Kodungallur. The fire that emanated from her eyes destroyed all the illams. The arrogant Brahmins are believed to have fled to different parts of Kerala. This is a well-known legend among the Hindus of Kerala.

The flight of Brahmins from Kodungallur is a fact. But the reason for it could be different. The temple was originally dedicated to a local pagan deity. When Buddhism reached Kodungallur, it became the pagoda of Buddhist monks. Later, the neo-Hindus converted it to a temple enshrining the goddess Bhadrakaali with the help of Brahmins, after driving away the Buddhist monks. The tactics included singing hymns peppered with offensive words and sacrifice of fowls which the Buddhist monks could not tolerate. The temple management continued with the sacrificial ceremonies and abusive songs even after the Buddhists had left. Since Brahminical rituals were not in agreement with such practices, all the Brahmins left the place and the temple authorities/local ruler appointed a non-Brahmin as the priest. He was called Adikaļ (അടികള്‍), an honorific plural. The Adikaļs, who are regarded as non-Brahmins, do not have the right to wear the sacred thread (poonool, പൂണുനൂല്‍/പൂണൂല്‍) normally worn by the priestly Brahmins. [The website says Adikals are Brahmins of the lowest order!].

The Neythalloor Brahmins of Kaviyoor might be one of those families who had fled Kodungallur. Along with them came two families who were working for them – the Nilakkal (നിലയ്ക്കല്‍) Nairs who were the caretakers of their property at Kodungallur and the Parakkattu (പാറയ്ക്കാട്ട്) family of Marayans or Marans, (മാരയാന്‍, മാരാന്‍), a sub-caste of the Nairs assigned to play drums at temples.

The lineage of the original family of Neythalloor does not exist now. They had to adopt a local Brahmin boy when faced with extinction. He belonged to the Chathyakattu family, one of the custodians of the Mahadeva temple. The Neythalloor family’s tutelar deity is Bhadrakaali of Kodungallur. They owned the local Bhadrakaali temple at Njaalikandam, till it was handed over to the local body of Nairs, the Karayōgam of the Nair Service Society.

Some Brahmins of the village regard Bhadrakaali of Maņņadi (മണ്ണടി), near Adoor (south of Chengannur) as their patron goddess. Initially the Brahmins did not migrate to places beyond Chengannur (mentioned in the para on migration of Brahmins earlier). Obviously, only after they spread to places beyond Chengannur did the Brahmins of Kaviyoor accept Bhadrakaali of Maņņadi as their tutelar deity. All those Brahmins who regard the goddess of Maņņadi as their tutelar deity must have come to Kaviyoor a few centuries after the first batch of the immigrant Brahmins.

[In Brahmin homes, worship of patron deities is called thevāra-pūja (തേവാരപ്പൂജ). Thevāram (തേവാരം) is allegedly a corrupt word for devārādhana-ദേവാരാധന, but actually it means ‘a room in a mansion’, in Tamil and ancient Malayalam].

Vaishnavism and Shaivism faded away in Kerala after 15th century C.E.

Thamarathu Pillai (താമരത്തു പിള്ളമാര്‍  )

‘Thamarathu’(താമരത്തു), mispronounced as Thamrathu (താമ്രത്തു), was an illustrious Nair family of Kaviyoor about 250 years ago. Their home was near the Neythalloor illam, in Njalikandam. It is said that the title of ‘Pillai’ (Malayalam for 'Prince') was given to them by a Venad king. Obviously, it was given much before Travancore came in to being. The head of the family was the chief administrator of the village. For generations, they had discharged their duty to the satisfaction of their Brahmin masters.

Their official chores included collection of taxes, lease rent and share of income payable to the temple as well as management of the temple’s realty. Trained combatants, the male members of the family also worked as security personnel of the village. They accompanied temple processions and guarded the Naduvazhis/kings whenever they visited the village. They also had the responsibility of overseeing the training centres of martial arts in Kallooppara Désham. Their high-profile life took a different turn due to self-indulgence of certain members of the family. The wayward life led to their decline. The Brahmins decided to sideline them and bring in fresh faces as administrators. Since, they did not find suitable replacements in the village and they were aware that able men were brought from northern Kerala by other Brahmin villages, they too made arrangements for two Nair families to be brought from somewhere around Calicut. Thus, a family of Adiyodis (അടിയോടികള്‍) and another of Nedungadis (നെടുങ്ങാടികള്‍), both Samantha Nairs, a class of Nairs superior to the local Illam Nairs, reached Kaviyoor. Both were accommodated near the temple. The former is believed to be the founder of the Chempakamangalam family. The Nedungadis stayed at what is now called Achamparambil (ആച്ചാംപറമ്പില്‍). It is not certain whether the present occupants of Achamparambil are the descendants of the Nedungadis. The Adiyodis were in charge of administration. The Nedungadis managed security and policing. There is no way can this hearsay be verified. The information regarding the Samanthars came from the famous writer Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai when he visited the village in the 1960’s. Thakazhi had said that there were fourteen Samanthar Nairs south of Vaikom.

By the 1850’s the Samanthars were marrying Nair women of south Kerala and thus lost the Samanthar status. (See Settlement around Kaviyoor Mahādéva Temple-Part 4).

Once out of favour, the Thamarathu Pillais were easy preys of other Nairs. Having fallen in to their debt trap, the Pillais were tricked in to selling their property to other Nairs of Njalikandam. An old woman of the Thamarathu lineage now lives in Laksham Veedu Colony, a settlement provided by the state to poor people.

I believe the role of the Nedungadis was that of Mazhuvan (മഴുവന്‍). In ancient villages of Kerala, security as well as law and order were entrusted to Mazhuvans, the equivalent of police chiefs. They lived close to the village temples. Only trained combatants were appointed as Mazhuvans. The Nedungadis stayed near the Mahādéva temple. I located a similar place near Mahādéva temple, Vazhappalli (Changanassery) where probably the local police chief of Changanassery desam stayed. Both hanging and beheading were in force, though there is no proof for this. However, it is believed that chitravadham (ചിത്രവധം, impalement) was not resorted to even in the severest of the cases. (Chitravadham was practiced in Thiruvalla).

Capital Punishment

Capital punishment was carried out in a strange way. The Nedungadi family was responsible for executing criminals. It is not known who was entrusted with this job earlier. 

Once a judgement was pronounced by the Neythelloor Potti, the head of the Nedungadi family would ask a prominent man from Ezahava community to bring the convict. He, in turn would send lower caste men to fetch the imprisoned convict. A sword or rope (depending on the mode of excecution) would be brought to Nedungadi’s house where a Christian would be asked to touch them for purification. Then the lower caste man would arrange an executioner (aaraachaar, ആരാച്ചാര്‍). He belonged to the lowest rung in the caste hierarchy.  The convict would then be led to a remote part of the village. Once he was killed by the executioner, the Ezahva would inspect the body to confirm death. (This is now the role of a doctor in modern jails). 

The sword would be returned to Nedungadi after cleaning and another Christian would touch to purify it. Nedungadi would then go to the Neythelloor Potti and inform about the punishment who would then distribute gifts to the entire team.   Thus, all the major communities of the village were involved in the execution of convicts. They also shared the sin thereof. This was to ensure that the sin of the Pottis would be 'less'. (Purification by Christians is dealt with separately in Part 4 of the article).

There was another family – the Peroor Nairs – which also played some role in maintaining the law and order affairs of the village. They had also been officially handling capital punishment, perhaps after the Nedungadis faded in to oblivion. The family is believed to have come from Peroor, near Ettumanoor.

After India became independent in 1947, villages and towns of Kerala were reorganized. In 1953, the deshams were separated from Kaviyoor to form new panchayats. Kaviyoor became one of the smaller panchayats of Kerala. (The state of Kerala came in to being on November 01, 1956, merging Travancore, Cochin and the British Malabar).

The history of the Kaviyoor Brahmins is not complete without bringing in another character – a mysterious family of elite Brahmins.

Did any Namputhirippad rule Kaviyoor?

The presence of an elite Brahmin family (ആഢ്യബ്രാഹ്മണകുടുംബം), probably Namputhirippads, in the ancient Kaviyoor Brahmin village is debatable. Superior to the Pottis in the caste hierarchy, they entered the scene late. Till then the Pottis had unbridled control of Kaviyoor from circa 8th century C.E. If so, what was the role of the elite Brahmins? Though the history of the village from 10th century C.E. till 16th century C.E. is unclear and the name of their mana (residence of elite Brahmins) is not mentioned in any document, there are reasons to assume that a family of an elite Brahmins, whose mana was called ‘Valiya Manakkal’ (വലിയമനയ്ക്കല്‍), lived and vanished during the period. They must have reached Kaviyoor after 13th century C.E. (As mentioned earlier, the elite Brahmins Nampoothiris and Nampoothirippads moved to south Kerala circa 13th century C.E. A few Bhattathiris too settled in Thiruvalla Brahmin Gramam around the same period).

The proof of existence of the mana can be judged from some clues that still exist in the village. 
  1. There was a reservoir (chiŗa) used for irrigation purposes from the olden times. The rice field and land around it were obviously owned by the mana. Therefore, the Chiŗa was known as ‘Manakkal Chiŗa’. It means ‘reservoir belonging to Mana’.
  2. The area around the chiŗa also came to be known as ‘Manakkal Chiŗa’. The Thiruvalla-Kozhanchéri (കോഴഞ്ചേരി) road passes through Manakkal Chiŗa.
  3. A tract stretching about 2½ km from Manakkal Chiŗa to Pazhampalli, was owned by the mana. A few pieces of the land are still called ‘Valiya Manakkal’.
  4. In the same area, there is a hillock called ‘Kuthiravaṭṭam’ (കുതിരവട്ടം) with a small pond at the foot of it. The present occupants of the plot say that the pond was as large as half-an-acre in size till a few decades ago. The mana might have been built on this land.  (All Brahmins in rural areas still have ponds close to their homes).
  5. Another temple called Thrikkaņņapuram in Padinjattumcheri dedicated to Sri Krishna/Vishnu might have been the tutelar deity of Valiya Manakkal Namputhirippads. The idol is now kept at Kazhanoor Illam. The Valiya Manakkal Brahmins might have also patronized the Mahavishnu temple of Keezhthrikkovil, near the Mahadeva temple. This further confirms the belief that Kaviyoor was dominated by Vaishnavism.
  6. Near the Ayyappa temple at Padinjattumcheri too, there is a piece of land bearing the name ‘Valiya Manakkal’. One cannot accept the argument that this plot might have housed the mana. There is no vestige of any pond nearby. The Ayyappa temple might have been in use as a Buddhist shrine  even before the Nampoothirippads and Pottis had settled in Kaviyoor. The Pottis could have distanced themselves from all the Ayyappa temples for a few hundred years after they settled in Kerala till Ayyappa was converted in to a Hindu deity.
The Valiyamanakkal Pond (?) at Kuthiravattam

There are still unanswered questions:

  1. Why were the Pottis of Vilakkilimangalam, Thiruvalla asked to perform the daily pooja at the Kaviyoor temple, at least occasionally, when the Kaviyoor Pottis could have done it? The records of 16th century C.E. written by the Brahmins of Vilakilimangalam illam confirm that one of them had been performing poojas at the Mahadeva temple, Kaviyoor.
  2. The priests for Siva-Parvathi (eastern sacrarium or nada) were traditionaly Brahmins belonging to Kasaragod. Why were not they brought to the village instead of the Vilakkilis?
  3. Why were the Kazhanoor Brahmins brought from Kozhikode to be the priests of Keezhthrikkovil Mahavishnu Temple when the local Brahmins could have acted as priests?
  4. Why were the Kazhanoor Brahmins not included in the Pathillam system?
  5. Did the appointment of a tantri in the 14th century not reduce the role of the Pottis?
One can only suspect that there was some sort of animus between the Valiya Manakkal Namputhirippads and the Pottis. So long as the Valiya Manakkal Namputhirippads, who might have settled in Kaviyoor much after the Pottis arrived, were at the helm, the inferior Pottis were reduced to mere bystanders which they might have resented. The tantri (Parampoor illam), as mentioned earlier, belonged to the Thiruvalla Bhattathiri Gramam which came up only after C.E. 13th century. The late introduction of a tantri, perhaps in C.E. 14th century, might not have been acceptable to the Pottis. The temple administration was entrusted to the Pottis, but they functioned only under the supervision of the Namputhirippads. The Pottis thus might have been forced to play second fiddle to the Valiya Manakkal Brahmins. They must have also resented the assignment of the rituals of the temple to an outsider like the Vilakkilis of Thiruvalla. It is worth mentioning that when the Travancore government appointed a Brahmin from Thiruvalla as the Melshanti (മേല്‍ശാന്തി) of the eastern nada of Siva-Parvathi in 1926-1927 the Pottis had protested, submitting a memorandum to the authorities against sidelining the Brahmins from the ‘eight families (mentioned earlier) of Kasaragod. There is another view that Thiruvalla was a gramam controlled by Pottis and the Namputhiris displaced them around C.E. 13th century - which is not true because Thiruvalla was always lorded by local Pottis. The appointment of Parampoor Bhattathiri as the tantri also might have been done by the Namputhirippads. Thus the seeds of a cold war with the Thiruvalla Brahmins that lasted centuries might have been sown by the Valiya Manakkal Namputhirippads. The village Brahmins’ tiff with the Brahmins of Aranmuļa too must have started because the latter might have been in the good books of the Namputhirippads.

I presume that since the Vilakkilis made no reference to Kaviyoor in their chronicles after 16th century C.E. it seems to indicate that there were no visits of them to the village and that the mana became extinct. It is certain that the properties of the Namputhirippads were taken over by the local Brahmins led by the Moothedathu Pottis. The land where the Mahadeva temple exists now also might have thus reached them. All the Pottis of the village were only too happy to demolish the mana - probably in the 16th or 17th century C.E.

All these conjectures are wrong, avers Mr. Jayan, a member of the Véngasséri Thekkinéth illam. According to him there was an illam located between Vaļļamkulam and Eraviperoor, both provinces of the ancient Kaviyoor Brahmin gramam. The name of the illam is not known. A bachelor from the illam came to settle in Kaviyoor. The Moothedathu Brahmins granted him land to build a house and named it ‘Valiya Manakkal’. When he died leaving behind no legal heirs the properties were taken back by the Moothedathu Brahmins. This too raises some questions. Were the Moothedathu Brahmins so generous to grant a vast area from their estate? Was he an ordinary Brahmin? If so, he could not have possibly built a mana. His residence would have been called illam.

The Valiya Manakkal Namputhirippads will remain a mystery forever.

The suspected places where the mana might have been have changed hands a number of times and the topography changed due to hundreds of years of farming. No evidence whatsoever of the mana  is available.


1. This is in response to the comments of K. Ajith Kumar. The comments should have been under under Part-1 of the article. I have to put it under appendix because the 'reply' option is missing under his comments.

a. The pattern of ownership of land postulated by historians suggests that the Nairs began seizing lands by 1st century C.E. This continued amidst the rule of Cheras, Pandyas et al. Many were beneficiaries of their benevolence. This could be one reason for sections of the society continuing to pay tributes to them. The Makizhancherry family might have been one such benefactor. The traditional belief was that the family stayed west of the MC road between Thiruvalla and Changanassery. 'Makizhancherri' in Eraviperoor could have been a branch of this family or a family altogether different.

b. The place names Kidangu Paral, Eera etc have already been identified and they appear in Thiruvalla Unnikrishnan Nair's 'Thrikkaviyoor'.

c. 'Managalathu Matam' cannot be older than 500 years. The word 'Matam' crept in to local language only towards the middle of the last millennium. This might have been owned by Brahmins. The property might have changed hands many times.

d. 'Mazhuvancherry' of Kaviyoor Brahmin Gramam should be somewhere near the Mahadeva temple. There could have been 'Makizhans' for every Desham.

e. There is no reference to castes which is evident from the deciphered epigraphs. I have mentioned that caste system was the creation by the Brahmins and it might have been enforced only after Buddhism and Jainism vanished - probably during 11th-12th century C.E. However, communities existing then had distinct identities and life styles which made things easier for Brahmins for implementing the notorious caste system.

These points were dealt at length in 2001 when Mr. Unnikrishnan Nair began his research on Kaviyoor. My findings maintained in a notebook were given to him, but he lost it. He couldn't include them in his treatise. I could not gather much information again as the sources are no more. There were more points in my notebook which would have interested historians. Unfortunately, I cannot recall them either.

Thanks for your comments. Please leave the option for 'reply' open.

Part - 3 Christian Churches St. Stephen’s Church (CSI), Mundiyapalli Built in 1867, this is the oldest church of the...