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Nairs of Malabar : The Hindu warriors of medieval Kerala

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Indologist. Specializes in Southern Indian history. Always open to learn and teach.

Hinduism or Sanatan Dharma, the eternal religion was first shaped into an organised from on banks of Sapta Sindhu in Northwestern part of Bharat. From there became widespread in North India with evolution of the Dharma happening in Gangetic plain. The area of Hindu influence in North India eventually came to be known as Aryavarta. It was filled with the 4 varnas doing their Swadharma and leading a satisfying life.

When time passed Aryavarta expanded into Bharatvarsh extending from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. Many Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras expanded from Aryavarta region to many other parts of India.

One clan of such Kshatriyas known as the valiant Nāgās in many Hindu texts, migrated towards Southern India from Ahicchatra or Ahikshetra in North. On the basis of studying contemporary texts of Greek travellers of early centuries AD, it seems that those Nagas first went a little southwest from Ahikshetra and reached the land situated beneath Aravalli range (mentioned as Capitallis range by Periplus).

From the area beneath Aravallis, they traversed further down to a place in Karnataka, which later came to be known as Nagarkhanda or Nayarkhanda, some of these Nagas even managed to establish a dynasty there known as the Sendraka dynasty. While others served as their warriors. Tulu Gramapaddhati inscriptions mentions the migration of these warrior Nagas from North. The remaining Nagas embarked on their journey further South and diverted to two regions. In Coastal Karnataka They migrated, assimilated and became known as Bunts. While in Kerala they came to be known as Nairs / Nayars.

The contribution of Nairs in protecting Hinduism and helping it expand in Kerala, has been huge. The Nair rajas (kings) of Kerala like the Zamorin of Calicut (Samoothiri of Nediyiruppu Swaroopam) built and patronized many temples. They were the main sponsors of many Vedic Shrauta rituals like Athiratram. Many of them even wrote treatises in Sanskrit and one even created an artform known as Krishnattam based on life of Sri Krishna.

However the main contributions were martial ones, the Hindu Nairs who were Vratya Kshatriyas had always kept the influence of Islam in check. Throughout history you can see from various sources that whenever Mappilas exceed the limits of incivility Nairs gave them a befitting reply via the way of the sword .

Nairs also kept in check , the intrusions by foreign powers. The famous Siege of Chaliyam done under Zamorin of Calicut broke the Portugese power in Kerala, the Battle of Colachel by Travancore King Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma broke the backbone of Dutch VOC in India. And who can forget the famous battle of Nedumkotta, whenever Tipu Sultan and his Mysorean Islamic forces were defeated by commander Vaikom Padmanabha Pillai and king Dharmaraja Karthika Thirunal Rama Varma.

Although the power of Nairs greatly reduced after British outlawed arms and practice of Kalaripayattu in Malabar, they still resisted the white imperialists. Pazhassi Raja’s guerilla warfare against the British, which was the longest armed struggle against them in history, stands as a testimony to this martial spirit of Nairs and the love for their Hindu beliefs and motherland.

I conclude this article with an ancient Malayalam verse “Ariyathe Pormidame Kureyathe Nayarpathi” which means “the Nair commander does not weaken even in the unknown battlefield”. I urge the Hindu Nairs of modern day to not weaken themselves in the uncertian political environment of Kerala and instead rise up in memory of your ancestors and uphold your martial spirit and love for your motherland. Jai Hind Hai Keralam!

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Indologist. Specializes in Southern Indian history. Always open to learn and teach.
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