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The Mannanars of Chirakkal

Posted by Maddy Labels:

The rigors of the caste system in Kerala during the medieval times was horrendous and many a silly thing was practiced in the name of adhering to and maintaining one’s caste. People would not touch or look at people of inferior castes; people could not eat food touched by cooks of lower caste etc, you lost caste if polluted by a lower caste and so on... But the worst happened if a woman was to have sexual relations (or were polluted otherwise) with a man below their caste. In those times if a Nair woman was convicted she would be sold away as a slave to Pardesi’s or given away as a wife to a Moplah or a Coromandel Chetti. In extreme cases, they were even killed.

However if a Namboothiri woman were implicated for infidelity, loss of chastity, violation of pollution rules etc, the case took a formal route. She is then hauled up in front of Vedic scholars called Smarthans who conducted a highly ritualistic trial called Smartha Vicharam after being ordered to by the king. If she is implicated, she together with the man or men are stripped of their case and excommunicated. The girl is then considered dead & inanimate by the Namboothiri family and cast away (Brashtu kalpikkal). In an upcoming blog, I will narrate to you the sad, notorious and immensely popular story of a brave woman named Kuriyedath Thathri.

Ever wondered what happened to these wretched girl’s who were sent away? Some wandered away or killed themselves; some were taken away by Paradesi’s, Chetty’s or Moplah’s and some drifted away looking for asylum. Curiously there was a solution to their sad plight; there was an asylum giver, but only in certain cases and sometimes upon recommendation. The asylum provider was the Mannanar of the Varakat Illam.

But first an introduction to the Mannanar family in the Chirakkal region of Tellichery is needed. Close to the old Coorg border, on the banks of the Thoniyar River ( Is it the present day Kooveri?) is a place called Eruvasi or Eruvasseri (NE of Thaliparamba). From historic times, it was home to the Varakat Illam from where a Thiyya king of Buddhist origins ruled. The Thiyyas of Varakat illam far from having any disability arising from untouchability, were permitted to enjoy all privileges of the higher castes and moved about in palanquins, carrying their swords and shields. They also had a retinue of 200 Nair soldiers (Logan). The only requirement was that these Thiyyans hung their leg out of the palanquin if they saw a Nair or a Rajah, in token of submission. Some others say that the Mannanars are the descendants of an outcasted member of the Chirakkal ruling family of north Malabar or even a Nambuthiri woman.

They were also permitted to provide asylum to outcaste Nambuthiri women.

This family were called the Izhathu Mannanars. The 200 Nairs who fought for the Mannanar were from the Edavakutti Kulam. The Mannanar ascended to the throne after a ritual ‘Ariyittuvazcha’ like the Zamorin of Calicut did. He lorded over four manas, the Mothedathu, the Elayedathu, Puthan, Puythiyedathu & Mundaya. The last Mannanar sthani who passed away in 1902 was named Kunji Kelappan. The Mannanar’s followed a matrilineal system like the Nairs. The main palace was the Mothedathu Aramana.

In some cases the Mannanar Sthani’s were proactive, they heard of a Smarta Vicharam in session and went to the location to take away the sentenced and excommunicated girl. In the old times, the system worked thus – The couriers took the girl away and left her at a pair of crossroads at the Mannanar palace in Taliparamba. The girl then took one or the other route to her future. If she took the eastern gate, she became the Mannanar’s wife, if she took the road to the North gate, she became his adopted sister. After this, her birth ceremonies were performed and she started a new life.

Thurston in his ‘castes & tribes of S India” states- The Varaka Tiyans were further allowed to wear gold jewels on the neck, to don silken cloths, to fasten a sword round the waist, and to carry a shield. The sword was made of thin pliable steel, and worn round the waist like a belt, the point being fastened to the hilt through a small hole near the point. A man, intending to damage another, might make an apparently friendly call on him, his body loosely covered with a cloth, and to all appearances unarmed. In less than a second, he could unfasten the sword round his waist, and cut the other down. This for those who do not know, is the weapon called ‘Urumi’ of the warriors of Malabar.

Logan adds that if the Nambuthiri girl is convicted of illicit liaison with a man of caste lower than a Thiyya, then the girl was sent to Kuthira Mala deep in the jungles of the Western Ghats.

Interestingly, should the Mannanar family have no offspring they were provided one by the Namboothiris – Thurston states - It is said that, when their chief, Mannanar of the Aramana, is destitute of heirs, the Tiyans of Kolattanad go in procession to the Kurumattur Nambutiri (the chief of the Peringallur Brahmans) and demand a Brahman virgin to be adopted as sister of Mannanar, who follows the ‘marumakkatayam’ rule of succession. This demand, it is said, used to be granted by the Nambutiris assembling at a meeting, and selecting a maiden to be given to the Tiyans.

References
A social history of India - S. N. Sadasivan ( Pgs 352, 353, 382, 383, 416, 705)
Castes & tribes of Southern India – Thurston, Rangachari ( Pgs 224, 225 - Vol 5 Nambutiri Brahmins, Pg 44 Tiyan Vol 7)
Namboothirs – F Fawcett, F Evans (Pg 76)
Malabar Manual – W Logan (Pg 125)
The ethnographical survey of the Cochin state - L. Krishna Anantha Krishna Iyer (Pg 5)

24 comments:

  1. Maddy

    I received an interesting comment from an anonymous person which in addition to other statements of personal attack said

    "Except Sadasivan, I have read & taught students for three decades on the other four of your references. No where is any allusion made to your story."

    I am only happy to prove him wrong. The exact page numbers from each of the books is now provided under references. It should now be relatively easy for one to check ...

  1. P.N. Subramanian

    Very strange ways of yester years. Initially I was confused as there an Arakkal ruling family as well. Ypour post made an interesting reading. Thanks.

  1. Anonymous

    Very interesting, Maddy. Completely new to me. Thanks.

    VG.

  1. CKMadhusudan

    Excommunications of Kuriyedathu Thathri and Arakkal Beevi from their castes are well known to the people of Kerala. But this tribe of people is a new one. It might have even evaded the notice of those who had taught the subject for decades. This only shows how ignorant we are about the things that took place around us. Let us not be arrogant about our scholarship in any subject.
    Coming to our subject, I had occasion once to visit Kurumathur Illam. Even though I have not seen the entire Illam I was told that the Illam is a Pathinarukettu. Nobody is residing in the Illom. But the Gate-House (Padippuramalika) of the Illam is occupied by a family. The Brahmins of Kurumathur Illom are known as Nambuthiripadu and not Nambuthiri as referred to in your article.

  1. Raghu Menon

    Interesting story indeed. The famous novel of Lalithambika Antharjanam must be the story you referred to Thathri.

  1. Maddy

    Thanks PNS, The Arakkal story is a long & well documented done, I will get to it later..

    Thanks VG & Raghu Thanks for visiting. The Thathri story has been covered by Lalithambika and many others, I will summarize it one of these days as most of those factual books are out of print.

    Thanks CKM, it does look like the Mannanar family sort of faded away.
    I have often wondered who gets the Nampoothiripad title, maybe you or someone reading this can answer..

  1. Anonymous

    Read CK's comment on Arakkal beebi. i doubt whether she was excommunicated.

    the story as i know it goes like this:

    The kolathiri ruler lived in ezhimalakotta. there were several brahmin, nair and muslim homes around the palace.

    one day 2 young unwed princesses went to the river to bathe.the elder sister was in danger of drowning and a handsome muslim youth rescued her.he also gave his clothes to the princess whose clothes had been washed away.

    the ruler was happy. however the princess refused to enter the palace. she belived that by giving her his hand and his cloth( 2 acts of marriage) the muslim youth had married her. and this act made her an outcaste. she came to be known as arrakal beebi. intersrtingly arrakal is the half of chirakkal. her male descendansts were called arakkal rajas.

    so we see that she wasnt forced to leave the community unlike the others we read about in this post. it was very much a voluntary act.

    however the mannanars were a total revelation. tks for the post maddy.

    Sriram.

  1. Maddy

    Thanks Sriram..

    Some day I will complete a more detailed article on the Arakkal family. As it is there are many nice books on the subject.

    The reason why 'they lived happily ever after' was because Mammally (who married the Kolathiri girl) himself was from a prominent Nair (Ramanthali Arayankulangara tharavad) family who had converted on his own accord earlier and was a prominent minister & naval chief of the Kolathiri.

  1. വേണു venu

    History tells something.But the untold history is always very interesting. Great work. Congratulation man.

  1. sureshan

    Please contact Mannanar's Grate Great grandson Mr. Ponnambeth Jayarajan at Eranjoly - The way from Tellicherry to Kuthuparamba by bus. From Tellicherry 3 Miles and 2 Pharlong far. House Name Ponnambeth.

    Mr Jayarajan's Mobile
    09446367240
    Residence 04902307240. You can contact him for more details

    P. P. sureshan, Parassinikkadavu
    Working in Sharjah Res: 009716 5688038, Mobile 00 971 50 7178827

  1. Maddy

    thanks Sureshan, I will contact him..

  1. Gautam

    Excellent work my friend.

  1. Gautam

    Excellent work!

  1. Premnath.T.Murkoth

    Very Interesting , hearing for the first time about a Thiyya Raja.Thanks for throwing light on unknown facts of History

  1. Maddy

    Thanks Gautam & Premnath..
    the tiyyas as other readers mentioned are much neglected in history and have been the reason for so many developments in the field of medicine, literature and art in the medieval malabar.

  1. Rama Chandran

    I saw this whenI was going to write on Mannanars.P Karunakara Menon(Dakshindndiayile Jathikal),C Kesavan(Jeevithasamaram),Kambil Ananthan(Kannur/Keralacharitra niroopanam etc have mentioned Mannanars

  1. Maddy

    thanks ramachandrqan..
    have to check them out

  1. Ramabhadran

    Venmanakkal Family at Vakkom Trivandrum (Chavarkodu Ayurvadic Family of Travancure Kings Palace )

    Maravazhcha Family Vakkom also have close relation with the Royal Family of Attingal, Kilimanoor & Trivandrum.

  1. RabidRambler

    Hello Maddy,

    I've been reading through quite a few of your blog entries, mostly because Google searches on my topics of research bring me to them! It's wonderful that you're setting aside the time and effort to write well-referenced articles on the lesser-known aspects of Kerala history. A lot of the books that record these in print are lapsing into oblivion, making your online articles more important than ever. As a researcher and an NRI recently discovering all of this, I deeply appreciate your work, and hope you keep up the output.
    Cheers!

  1. Maddy

    thanks RR...
    i am glad you enjoy them and find them useful.
    One of these days I will compile some of them into a book,
    keep reading, between my 3 blogs there are some 500+ articles

  1. Venki

    Very nice article indeed. Thank you for the post. It is such a wonderful and liberating feeling to live in a free country in 2015. yet my heart goes to Thatri and her likes
    Venkatesh.... Mumbai

  1. 11070 KODIAMME

    if availuable please mention the family names of each illams

  1. avanevan

    Thanks for the blog
    Very interesting to read the history of various communities of Kerala and how the Caste & social system was much divided based on cultural norms and customs of those times.
    Good Luck
    Kasturi G

  1. avanevan

    Thanks
    Very interesting to read about the social customs and norms of the then prevalent society
    Good luck
    Kasturi G