Aug 27, 2016

The Chekavars of Malabar

Chekavars and their Tiyya origins 

I had written an article exploring the origins of the Tiyyas of Malabar some years ago and many comments came in, some asking new questions, some adding new insights, but I missed covering something which could have provided a more definite angle. Recently I got back to studying the Vadakkan Pattukal or Northern ballads and some books on that subject, notably the volume 1 on the Ballads by C Achyutha Menon, some fine articles by the eminent MD Raghavan and an explanatory volume by the great historian KS Mathew. All of them spent a few pages on the first set of Ballads dealing with Aromal Chekavar, also Tacholi Othenan and dwelled a bit on the time period of these dueling heroes. In particular they explored the origin of these Chevakars or Chekavers, living among the other traditional communities of Malabar such as Nairs and Chetties and also pointed out the lack of importance or presence of the Namboodiris who were mentioned only in passing in the ballads as temple priests (perhaps they were mostly settled between Tirunavaya and North of Trissur and minding their business).

It could be good to peruse this subject now, for it provides good pointers to the origins of Tiyyas, a well-accepted legend for many centuries, forming part of these popular ballads and covered in detail by all three of these historians, succinctly. The discussion will cover mainly the Chekavars of the Puthuram house located in Kadathanadu near Nadapuram and close to Korapuzha (Geographically, Kadathanadu is north of Koyilandy near Calicut, an area near Vadakara), and the information in the ballads provides ample pointers.

Before we get to the point, let us start with the fact that these Chekavars and Nairs in general were warring communities in the early medieval ages, and both stayed away from any kind of farming (or in the case of the former – toddy tapping) activity. The Chekavars were likewise involved in warring matters, especially in the settlement of disputes. We did talk about the ankahms (duels) of Malabar in an earlier article, we will get to more details in this one.

The ballads in particular takes us to a point of the origin of the Chekavar lot. The time period is connected to the Cherama Perumal. Historians have analyzed certain sentences from the ballads to determine not only the origins and the caste of Chekavars, but also the time frame of their arrival in Malabar. The paragraph attesting to the origin is a narrative by Araomar, before he set out to fight an angam related to the Kurungattidom succession. The paragraphs in discussion are appended below. While they clarify a lot, it also raises many a question.

A rough translation states that ‘our ancestors lived their life fighting duels for the last 368 years and that they originated from the land of the Ezhavas after a formal request by the Cherama Perumal to the king of the Ezhavas. So that begs the question, now which Cheraman perumal was he talking about? A second question is, where is the Ezhava nadu? Many a historian including Achyuta Menon, SK Nair, Balakrishna Warrier, and Percy Macqueen chose to calculate the life period of Aromal Chekavar by basing the calculation from the ascendancy of the Zamorin as the Puntura ruler (which was just after the departure or demise of the Cheraman Perumal). It is recorded by Manaveda Raja in Kerala Charitram that this was in the 9th century and that puts Aromal’s period as the 12th century. This also concurs with the identity of Cheraman Perumal Nayanar (one of the 66) of the 9th century which we discussed earlierbased on KV Krishna Ayyar’s analysis and established a date of 826AD. 

In contrast one must also note that the Tacholi Othenan ballads date to the 17th century based on the fact that Othenan was born in 1584. Other historians (Ulloor P Iyer, T Karunakaran, SK Pillai, PKP Nair, N Panikkar), believe that the two ballads were from the same period and that Othenan and Aromal originated around the same time (based on words such as guns which were introduced in Kerala after the Portuguese ascendancy, or the possibility that the perumal was the Ramavarma Kulashekara of 1103AD) and that the events happening in the 15th century took some more decades before becoming ballads.

Achyuta Menons analysis however mentions another possibility, for the Aromal ballads do not indicate any Kolattiri Raja or Zamorin and talk only about local chieftains, so it must have predated the formation of the nadus, the Kolathiri, the Zamorin etc and fits into the 12th century. Historians in general agree that the rulers of Cheranaad were trying to fight off the Cholas and so it is likely that they sanctioned the requisition for fighters or mercenaries from Ceylon, something which was often done. After arrival they were formally provided land to set up home, by the local ruler.

A study of the complete ballad reveals the following. The quarrel that brings this to light is the succession arguments between Unnichandror and Unnikonar of Kurungattidem (somewhere in kurumbranad) in Prajapatinadu. As the argument could not be amicably settled, an angam is called for. Unnichandror selects Aringodar to fight his duel (Aringodar is already preparing the wooden angathara and planning deceit!). Unnikonar is still in search of a suitable person and lands up in Elavannur with his retinue of 22 nairs, where a wandering bard directs them to the Putturam house, home of three eminent Chekavars. Ayappa Panikkar the father, who is old and a winner of may duels, the son Aromar who is an expert in the ring and the nephew Unnikannan. The next morning the group meet the father (a little discourteously by not getting up) who says he can still fight a duel, even though he is past his prime. They are more interested in engaging Aromar. Aromar steps in now in all glory, the group jumps up in respect and Aromar admonishes them for not standing up for his father. Hearing that he has to fight Aringodar, he demurs initially stating that he is not yet ready for that, as he is young and only 22, but after more persuasion and after some prayers, agrees and accepts the big angakizhi panam. His parents are alarmed that Aromar is going to fight the mighty Aringaodar and is unhappy and grief stricken. Aromar calls his brother and gives him the money. Unni is aghast, as he is sure he will lose his only brother and that is when Aromar tells him about their origins and responsibilities and that they cannot afford to send their old father to another duel. It was now time for him to take up the responsibility.

He explains their forefathers arrived as professional combatants (angachamayam
chamannu ponnu) and have to earn their bread with their sword and that they should never refuse to fight. He mentions that the date of the duel is not auspicious, that their forefathers came from Izhuvattunaad (Ceylon) 368 years ago, led by Chekavar Kulavirutan and carrying seven copper vessels. They met the Cheraman perumal formally thus ending the Kammalan penalty.

Readers might wonder what that is – It is well explained by Thurston and simplifies to the legend when they (7764 families) left Malabar and went to Ceylon en-masse, after a lower caste washer man (veluthedan) married one of their girls with support from the Perumal. Eventually they (except the coppersmiths – hence the copper vessels) agree to return after getting many privileges and come back with a Izhuva boy (as they wanted their leader or Tandan to be of Ceylon origin due to the fact that the Ceylon king had given them refuge when they came as assylees), a Nazrani escort etc and have her married to a warrier girl on the way, as a compromise. Perhaps this Ezhava boy was this Kulaviruthan chekavar, the originator of the Tiyya caste of Malabar, and the warrier relationship sets them apart in a higher social standing compared to other ezhavas.

They, as the ballads states, the chekavaors were then accorded special privileges by the Perumal, such as a crown with flowers, a carpet to make an entrance on, a daylight lamp, special brass lamps, seven umbrellas, four triumphal archways, gold palanquin, processions, panchavadyam, fireworks, tandan status, right to build an angam platform, the rank and status of chekor, and finally the abode at Putturam and the building of a kalari there. They become incredibly rich and powerful and displace the Tulavanad Garadi masters who used to carry out the angams previously.

The ballad then goes on explaining the angam, the preparations, the deceit and the eventual demise of the great Aromar after Chandu’s treachery. What is most interesting is the wealth of information which will interest any history enthusiast!

It is concluded by CA Menon that the Puthruam family belonged not only to the Tiyya community, but also that they were patriarchal and not matrilineal like the Nairs, he also concludes that the community like many others including the Moplahs of Malabar, eventually took to matrilineal practices. He does analyze this in greater detail, and this is borrowed by KS Mathew writing about ‘the society in Medieval Malabar’ and their practices at length. Mathew establishes that the ballads are typically sung by coir workers or people working in the paddy fields. There was also a practice that these ballads are sung for the benefit of the Karanavar as entertainment, after dinner, before retiring to bed. The ballad underwent changes over time with new words substituting the old and added only for the rhyme and tune adopted.

Continuing on, we also note from the ballads that Cevakars were given a Tandan title or tandaima-stanam (usually by the senior Rani of the Ambadi Kovilakom in Calicut or the local cheiftain) and that Unniarcha was a tandatti. But interestingly the Tacholi Othenan ballads mention Tiyyas separately, as toddy tappers, for Tacholi Chandu goes to Badagara to collect kattipanam from Tiyyas.

The Aromal ballads further prove that the Cevakas were ilavas (from Elam – Ceylon) as the Jonakas complained through the Nadapuram chetti to Kunhiraman, Unniarcha’s husband that an ilavan and an ilavatti were standing beneath a banyan tree.

From these ballads, it is seen that the Chekavars (and Ezhavas in general) and Nairs shared an amicable relationship and were only separated by limited pollution cleared by a bath. However Chekavars held an elevated position on par with nobility and many special privileges such as special dress, the tandan title, movement in a palanquin, panchvadyam, use of an umbrella, copper vessels and other ceremonial articles as we saw previously and people in general respected chekavors. Not everybody in the same family can have the title, for example Kunhiraman was only an ezhava, not a chekavar.

Professionally, the chekavar was obligated to participate in a duel when requested and continued this even to an advanced age. They also ran kalaris or gymnasiums where their art was taught to younger students and this was a source of substantial revenue after their training. In spite of their lower standing compared to Nairs, the custom was that Nairs (even the local chieftain) stood up in respect when a well-known Chekavar like Aromal arrived, showing their relative importance compared to Ezhavas. However Chekavars employed Embranthiris in their temples, not nambuthiris and worshipped at the Omallurkavu and Allimalarkavu. We also note that women trained in these kalaris, exemplified by the heroic Unniarcha.

We talked about Angams earlier, to summarize, the angam was conducted to sort out a dispute, as a last step after other traditional diplomatic attempts. Once an angam is announced, the two parties go out to select a fighter for their side. Once chosen, the chekavar has to be paid in three lots, the angakizhi (duel fees), the veetukizhi (as insurance for his family) and the nattukizhi (for the local chief– as a tax and arrangements to conduct the fight). The Angam compensation was huge then and in today’s terms, many hundreds of thousands for a major duel. The fight does not have to end in death, but one can accept defeat and the other is proclaimed the winner. The first ankham fought by one of these winners who then obtained the chekavar title is called the puttari ankham. The notables of the city witnessed an angam.

Another interesting type of duel can be observed in connection with these mercenaries, namely Poithu. The poithu is quite different in purpose. It is more private and always resulted from a chekavars ego, it is a challenge without good grounds or reason, and usually based on a quarrel or just arrogance. The poithu can be fought between two people or two groups of people (sangha poithu) or desams. The main difference was that while the Angam was a fight between two hired professional fighters, the poithu was the fight between two fighters fighting for themselves, with some observers, not nobility.

The chekavar prepared for the ankham in a specific manner, observing celibacy, then took pains to wear the ankapattu or kacha, bid a formal goodbye to his family and then joined his entourage in procession to the angam location. During the fight no deceit was traditionally (it has happened though) resorted to, any new techniques were announced before it was tried. The weapons used in an ankham are typically the churika and the shield and a spare is usually carried by the support members.

On the appointed day a special wooden dais or ring is constructed at the city center, the reasons and rules announced, invited public, local chieftains and observers assemble and following a cockfight (not always) or kozhiangam which was adopted to provide a prophecy of what was to come (following which one of the parties can in theory accept defeat and withdraw), the alangam or man to man fight starts. Each chekavar has a Man-Friday or understudy available to take on the fight when he rests, to hand over the right weapons during the duel or to observe that no cheating is employed.

It is also seen that the chekavar community dwindled over time, we hardly come across them in later ballads. Perhaps the Nairs gained exclusivity for professional fighting after the leadership changed. It is believed that with the Zamorin and other kings coming into power during the latter medieval, new legal systems came into place for sorting out disputes and quarrels and angams became unpopular. But we can see that Travancore in later days employed Chekavars, especially Marthanda Varma, who invited Raghava Chekavar from Malabar for support.

Perhaps it is now time for us step over to Ceylon and check if they indeed had such martial arts there, in order for Malabar lords to requisition their exponents. The relations and intermingling between the lower geographical sections of India and Lanka dates back to time immemorial, so it is not fair to separate Lanka today in these discussions, it is just like somebody came from Tulunad or Maharashtra to Kerala. The immigrant population move inwards and emigrations outward always took place, and depended on where the opportunity was. Mercenaries simply moved to where wars were popular.

As it turns out the, Lankans did have the Haramba Salawa or an equivalent of the kalari in the Kandy region. These were the training centers where various forms of martial arts were taught, both the Angam pora or body combat and Mallawa pora or wrestling, dating back to many centuries (Kataragama Mahasen of the Yaksha tribe started it some 30,000 years they say). There were two clans Maruwalliye and Sudhaliye who had separate training centers and it is seen from records that exchanges of teachers in wrestling did occur between Sri Lanka and Malabar. Specific instances can be found in Sri Lankan history of similar angams, and connects back to Ravana who was considered an expert in such arts.

Angam in Lanka, is hand to hand combat, ilangam is combat with weapons. A third variety maya-angam uses mind power for combat. Maru nilaya shastraya is a Lankan method of attacking nerve centers to paralyze or kill, again seen in Malabar combat as marmath adi or marma prayogam. Just like in Malabar kalari, angam employs 18 techniques Aromal had developed a 19th!).

Kamalika Pires explains - There were two fighting clans, Maruvalliye or Sudaliye with their own flags in Kandy. The Maruvalliye base was in Hewaheta and Uda palatha, Sudaliye in Harispattu and Sinduruvana. The leaders of the schools were known as Maruwalliya Muhandiram Nilame and Sudhalaye Muhandiram Nilame, respectively. These positions were highly coveted.

If you make a quick study you will find similar weapons and dressing in Lankan Angam, and you can even see the 32 bladed urumi versions wielded with both hands (thunu kaduwa) in their retinue. In Lanka, it is believed that there was an unwritten law which demanded that any person wishing to attain kingship in Sri Lanka should have been well versed in Angam fighting. The scenes of complex Angam fighting illustrated on famous Embekke wood carvings prove that this form of martial arts existence. An ancient fabric paining found in Hanguranketha Devale illustrates two factions fighting each other with swords and shields. Angam was also taught in Burma and Thailand during the ancient times. Looking deeper, we observe a number of words such as 'Angam', 'Paniker', 'Churika', 'Sevakam', 'Palisha', etc. in Sinhalese dialects, suggesting a relationship with the system which prevailed in Kerala in the middle ages. Like it was done to Kalari in Malabar, the British outlawed the art of angam pora.

An ancient Sinhala verse runs thus — Sevakam, Angampora, Yudhaye, Du keli, Ankeli, me
hama yudhaye, Pancha kala, Pasdena, jaya ganniye, tunlovatama avulii moma vipaye…It is roughly translates as – In soldiering, ankham bouts and combat, gambling, horn pulling, and such contests, this island will be a beacon to all three worlds!!

These Sinhalese Angampora were probably the source from which the chekavar ancestors originated. Anyway one thing is clear, the Angampora was state supported in the medieval times in Lanka, and they would thus have had a number of warriors during the lull periods who could go on to fight ankhams or seek their fortunes in neighboring lands such as Malabar. Perhaps that is how they landed up in Malabar. Ankhampora continued on till the 18th century in Lanka while it slowly disappeared from Malabar in the early 17th century. Sankaranarayanan opines that the first Chekons or Chekavars came around 1000AD to Malabar. He believes that the Kurupus also originated from Lanka (How and why some Kurupus went back to Panadura in Lanka and merged into the populace, is a story I have kept for another day)

But it is also noted from Ceylon history records that they employed Malala mercenaries in their armies often so it could very well have come from Malabar ages ago. This Malabar region was known as Malala in Sri Lankan historic sources, and has had many interactions with Sri Lanka in both times of war and peace. At various medieval periods in Lankan history, the Kotte armies were composed of Demala (Tamil), Malala (Malabar) and Doluvara (Tulu) soldiers in addition to Sinhalese troops, and this shows movement of soldiers and mercenaries across borders.

Nevertheless, the two styles developed over time and exponents questioned over similarities and differences between Kalaripayattu and Angampora clearly identify how the two arts became distinct from each other and unique in their own right. The 'Garadi salais’ of the Tulu speaking South Canara is another direction to look, and existed well before the Kalaris of Malabar. They had expert trainers and are often mentioned in the Northern ballads.

It is difficult to be totally factual in these matters, that the Chekavars originated from Lanka is something I would find hard to disbelieve, but how it connects up with the agricultural Ezhava population in Malabar, their Lankan origins, and the resulting timeline, is still not clear, though very likely. That many Malabar mercenaries settled down in Lanka, and rebelled often due to non- payment of arrears, is recorded. It is also possible that a returnee clan formed the Chekavar lot in Malabar (people who at first originated from Malabar and returned) a contention which cannot be ruled out, but I find unlikely, for it would have been narrated so in the ballads.

Ballads of North Malabar – C Achyuta Menon
Society in medieval Malabar – KS Mathew
The Kalari and the Angam – Institutions of Ancient Kerala – MD Raghavan
The Angam, a common factor of the middle ages of Kerala and Lanka – MD Raghavan
A ballad of Kerala – MD Raghavan
Castes and Tribes Vol 7 (section Tiyan) - Thurston
The medieval society of Kerala as reflected in the ballads of N Malabar – E H Devi
The medieval society of Kerala as reflected to the customs and practices in the ballads of N Malabar – E H Devi
The Keralites and the Sinhalese – Dr KC Sankaranarayanan
Vadakkan Pattukaliloode- MK Panikootti
Angampora - SL magazine - 1st Quarter, 2012,
Buddha in the Crown: Avalokitesvara in the Buddhist Traditions of Sri Lanka - John Clifford Holt

Military Manpower, Armies and Warfare in South Asia - Kaushik Roy


Unknown said...

Dear Mr Maddy ,

why are you depend only on Ithihyamala or kerplpathy purely created by Brahmin supremacy for them to rul over the dravidian land .... it is not historic facts , but there might have facts ... izhavas or thiyyas are a common community and common type of people with same phisical features we can in any caste anywhere in kerala except higher casts . if we examine diferent csate peaople like kammalas, mukkuvas, local nairs even some namboothireesare having similiare appearances .

in kerala Aryans(Budhist, Janist & Brahman missionerys) are the only outcomers , in the period of their arrival around 6 th or 7 th century AD all other local peoples were dravidian Budhists or Jainist peoples at that pereod there were no cate system like this

Budhist or Jainist Religion were not forcible religion were as these Aryan Brahmans not like that and started to influence the local cheifs ( these pereod was totaly deminishing pereod of Budhism & Jainism all over india )
these Aryan Brahmans were slowly get powerfull over local cheifs and made them kshathriyas like in north india

slowly Budhists and jainist sidelined , Brahmans with the support of newly kings offered new positions forthe weekened both communitys in the new system ,some of them ready to join with Brahmans they promoted as nairs .. but the majority opposed to join were become backward like Ezhavas and others ...

that is why in many Ezhava (Thiyya) famillys are well scollors in Sanskrit and Aryavaidya , being beared castly suppressions from higher casts for centuries

how can it take as fact that , a cast or group of migrated people which can be very easiliy spread over the migrated land within the short span of 1000 years with which statitics ..? even after the convertion to both islam and christian , till today ezhava remain major share of keralite people ... / how can it be possible ..?

all over kerala ezhava or thiyyas called as , chon/chekon/Thandan /thandathi even today .. In thoes days of migration of Aryan Namboodiries they might afraid of majority and strength pre baudhist people kerala , so the spread a falls propoganda of Sreelanka because there still the Budhists are remaining

ezhavas or thiyyas is very huge community in kerala , it is common that , few famillys are rich and majority remains as poors

all over kerala might have ballds like vadakkan pattu , but few may be remaining like vadakkan pattukal that is why we are always thinking about that heroes only ...

Thacholy othenan and his tharavad is more likely historic wheras puthuram is not like that .. it is unclear or vague ..

nadapuram is not near korappuzha it is more 30 km away from it

in anywhere in kerala anybody can see ancient thiyya or ezhava vydya famillys even in history Itti Achuthan from Cherthala

as I am concluding my point is that , dont look to sreelanka or nagaland to find out a pure Dravidian keralite peoples except Aryan Brahmans ....

Maddy said...

thanks sunil,
for the detailed comment, your points are noted.
I will get to the Buddhist angle another day. Barring Sadasivan, very few have written emphatically about that possibility. But i will check that soon..

Uma said...

Hi Maddy

Have been a reader of yours for long. Dropped in to say that you've been a huge inspiration. Your references have through the years been eye-openers and propelled inquiry. Thankyou for blogging your readings and findings.

Best regards

Maddy said...

thanks uma
always a pleasure hearing from a discerning reader

Unknown said...

Hi Maddy ,

I could not include some points yesterday that , in Vadakkan pattukal , describes Aringoder as belongs to kolathiri praja , famous chekavar in kolathiri nadu , it may be the areas of Thalassery ,Kannur , Payyannur etc... Aromal is a resident of karuthenar nadu , may be a very remote village some where near Nadapuram , Kallachi or Mayyazhi Area because daily early morning Aromal goes for the kalari training in pudussery ( may be some where in Mahe)

Aromal'father is Kannappa chekavar not Ayyappa Chekavar ... Unnikkannan is not his nephew but described as kannappas son , and he is not a Chekavar , but nephew is Chandu he is described as famous Chekavar

actualy these heroes may be the very local heroes of the very far remote areas of kadathanadu desam ..even if there might have valor definitely... but in those days ,it is not a an extra ordinary thing (die or do was the rule) but due to the repeated sing of these ballads they becoming macho men...

we can see many heroes in kerala or any medival or ancient history , such heroes with vigour and valor like Ithappu ,Chandunni , Kandar Menon of Mamankam stories .. they were not Chekavars but Nairs ... it tells us that where the ballads /ghadas/songs remaining there would be Heroes for ever ... it is not specialty of Kadathanad .. Kadathanadu has got a special attention of Malayalam movies also ... in any local area there were HEROES with as valor and vigor like kadathanadan ...

there is no need to specify about zamoodiry or kolathiry in puthooram pattu bcoz their Ankam may not be that much notable matter in those days..bcoz zammodiri is avg 50 km far from specified area , kolathiri also the same distance ...but they mention about "Rjavu Kolothu pokunnundu " it may be kadathanad Rajah Purameri near Nadapuram , still existing

all ezhavas or thiyyas are not toody tappers or cocunut climbers , but there were small businessmen like coconut, areacanut, grocers etc , in there many Aristocrats as vydyars .. almost all of the keralite villages are having such vydyar familys even today

if we take the Sreelankan theory as historic fact, how much people would have come to kerala( there is not mentined such a migration in kerala history ) , 10000... how that people will become major share of the migrated land in within a shorttime span of 1000 years ... ? isn't it a miracle ..! (after the vast conversion to Christian or Muslim ,ezhavas remaining 25% of kerlalite population ... ) if it is right , then Jews came to Kerala around 2000 years would have be like that much huge share ...

I tried to indicate that Ezhavas are common keralite dravidian people , once who were strong part of strong Budhist culture existed here ...

Sunilkumar P

Maddy said...

Thanks Sunil, again
As I mentioned, it is not my intention to prove or disprove these matters, I am only summarizing my own reading and studies and hoping that you use that as an input in whatever you do. I have no other motives.

My primary source on this subject is the eminent MD Raghavan of Thalassery, one of the most brilliant ethologists and anthropologists India has ever produced. I think he would have had the best interests of the community when he wrote extensively about them or mentioned them..

He went on to become the main source not only for Kerala history, but also Sinhalese history and headed the government efforts of both countries, primarily Srilanka when it came to backward communities. His original research on Buddhism in Lanka and South India is still quoted by many. His books are still the main studies on these subjects.

He wrote about the ballads in 1932, much before Achyuta Menon or any others.

As I said I will also write about the Buddhist origin theories soon. I am still collecting data, presently I have only Sadasivan's and Alexander's writings.

leela muralidharan said...

Some different probabilities: Vedic Hinduism took a stronghold on Kerala Society only after Shankaracharya (750-850 AD). Till then, the Buddhists, Jains and those who practiced animistic Hinduism including the matriarchal Nairs and other communities lived together, worshipped in the ‘Kavu’ together. This was similar to the concept of village Goddesses in ancient Egypt. Agriculture was probably the source of income for all the communities. Traders were mostly Tamils. Each village had a Goddess who had a unique name. It could be that separated from the Vedic north by dense forests, a unique civilisation and culture flourished .These were later homogenised into the Vedic fold and Durga worship. Caste as seen now, was probably non-existent though many of the present day writings ,unfortunately, would make you wonder whether there was no population in Kerala prior to 850 AD ie. before Vedic Hinduism made strong inroads here.
The Chekavars are very similar to the Samurai in Japan. Both were mercenaries generally employed and paid by the rich to settle land disputes as instead of their men perishing, a one to one encounter was supposed to settle the dispute. They could initially be migrants from Eelam who were Buddhists. But in course of time, anyone who mastered the art of combat in the Kalaries may have joined their ranks. The valiant men dying in these encounters also may indicate why the race/ community died out. Many may have embraced Buddhism as the families were fed up of the violence. So to attribute a caste to the Chekavars may not be right.
Moving a little away from the main subject , the Buddhists were great teachers both of martial art and ayurveda . The monks who lived in the monasteries were the ones who popularised ayurveda in Kerala. The monasteries were centres of learning. Ashtangahridaya is their compilation. The Ashtangavaidyars in Kerala have been reportedly mentioned by the Greeks too. These were shortened to Ashtavaidyars and legend / myths implanted suitably later on . Many of the Buddhists were converted to Ezhavas as Vedic Hinduism tightened its hold. There are some who believe that the Moosaths were the highest ranking Buddhists and were taken into the Namboothiri fold as they were powerful property- wise and combat-wise.

Anoop Pattat said...

Interesting :D .Could you also do a feature on "Chenganoor Aaadi " He seems to be a southern equivalent of Aromal Chekavar . I tried looking up information on him but online sources are rare

Bharata said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bharata said...

Also check these related terms:

I think it refereed to paid fighters, regardless of caste :)

You can find the statement from Keralolpathi here "നായരെ ചേരമാൻ പെരുമാൾ കുറുമ്പിയാതിരിയുടെ ചേകവരാക്കി "


leela muralidharan said...

Wonder if the word Chekavar had a Sanskrit origin like sevakar; the word, like chaver may be more likely related to a tamil root; Most of the names like koman, chindan, aaromal ,aarcha etc.during that period did not have a Sanskrit root either.

Maddy said...

thanks leela and bharatan
Gundert's dictionary concurs with the meaning of the word itself - i have posted an extract on the blog, it explains the profession of course

Unknown said...

Hai Maddy, Read the blog only today. My aunt Mrs. Alice Ignatius Abslom,( English Teacher of OV Vijayan in Victoria college) mentioned about an oral history of the origin of our family from Tellicherry-Kudagu border during the padayottam period of Tipu. A Kurup family with their chekavar companions were fleeing the disturbed places and they settled in Mudappalloor& Athipotta (Palghat) areas as the servants for the Tarur Achans !! For their service tracts of land were given to them. They became 'thanders' untill some families converted into christianity under the influence of German missioners. So, the three names, Kurup, Chekavar and Thandan come into her stories !!

Maddy said...

Thanks Oliver
The Padayottam period has many stories which are still not published. if only we could get a few of them and consolidate...The period after and before are recorded in some way, but after the scribes fled Malabar, only a few records were made

Gopika Hari said...

hi I am doing a mid term assignment on vadakkan paattukal about aromal chekavar but cannot find the song anywhere..could you please please please send the pdf or image of the ballad you have qquoted from into my email adress:

Maddy said...

hi GM
Pls contact H & C publishing - Trissur
0487 2421467, 2442881. They have a book named 24 vadakkan pattukal by KV Achutanandan which provides all aromal songs.

Jeffrey said...

Hi ,
Great post.I found this post when I searched about origins of Chekavars after watching the movie Oru Vadakkan Veeragaatha.
I liked your other post as well about the origins of Thiyyas.

Scythianculture said...

It's not true, The izhavarthi nadu in Vadakkan pattu is not Srilanka.
Ilavarthi is the ancient name of greeko bactria.
The Chekhover's of north malabar are probably from greece/ bactria not Srilanka.
The physical features mentioned in Vadakkan pattu also justify this argument.

Tourist said...

Hello Sir,

This one is beautifully written like various other articles on your blog. Thank you for doing this,it has been a great place to read about history for people like me.Could you write shed some more light on the life of Raghava Chekavar known as Rana Keerthy raghava chekavar if i am not wrong? I searched for it a lot online but barely gathered any information. It is for a book I am trying to write and would really appreciate if you could help in some way.Thank you Sir ...You got a reader for life in me. Good day and cheers.

NairGuy said...

I cant help laugh at the first comment. It seems the person is highly influenced by modern political narratives. It is very evident that no community in india can claim racial superiority as almost every community is outcome of a mixed race. Kerala is situated in the south eastern corner of Eurasian continent. No wonder it became the natural habitat for communities who are fleeing war. Historically, the middle easterners often raided eastern territories for food and other resources. Northern india was invaders paradise. And there has been several waves of migrations. Kerala was an unoccupied land made uninhabitable by venomous snakes. The keralolpathi book was written by Germans which mention how Parashuram and his communities created first settlements. Aithihyamala talks about Shudra prabhus. Rich shudras who helped poor brahmins. It is not a book of Brahmin supremacy. Merely brahmin literature. Ezhavas are also not one ethnic group or caste but a community which is migrated together to kerala. When we compare land possessions of ezhavas and Shudras(nairs), It is evident that ezhavas migrated at a later point to kerala than Nairs. Harivamsha origin of Nairs made them follow vaishnava worshipping traditions. This was alien to ezham land people. Their beliefs originated after shaiva traditions were started by shankaracharya with bhakti movement to resist foreign ideological invasions.

Anish Kumar Nadelkar said...

Chekavars are Gladiators Cluster in Thiyyar Warrior community largely located around Kadathanad Province of Kerala, those who practice Vadakan (Northern) style of Kalari.

By profession they are soldiers involved in Kolathiri’s Galadiatorship

JAY A said...

I have been watching and re-reading your blog for the last two years. I appreciate the great efforts you put in to bring the history of Chekavar and the related communities of their past history.
It is really amazing to know that, you have brought to light the facts with the backing of historical evidence, to the envy of historians.
Even the deductions or opinion you made were approprite and enticing the truth.
The material in your blog are gold mine to persons researching in the subject.
The minor lacunae is, you have not analysed Tamil literature from Jaffna and authors like gananath Obeyasekare, Indrapala and senarath Paranavithana.
Thank you, we are carrying forward your good work.

Jay A Chennai.

Maddy said...

Thanks Jay,
The Raghavan references were written when he was working in Sri Lanka and studying records there. However, I have not come across anything specific from Gananath, other than his work on Pattini. Now that you mention it I will look out and check, maybe you can provide me specific leads/references from those Lankan authors?