Pulappedi, Mannappedi or Parappedi

Posted by Maddy Labels: ,

 A sanctioned ritual, a social evil, or disciplining?

I still remember that in our younger days, women going to temples or neighboring houses in the village always took along – or were told by the elders of the house, to take one of the youngsters, strong, or weak, as ‘Thuna’ (accompanying protector). To a certain extent, I now feel that it was perhaps to assuage the fear of getting abducted.  It was indeed a strange custom of unknown origins and though initially observed and documented by the renowned Portuguese scribe Barbosa and later, the revered Muslim Cleric Zainuddin Makhdoom, it has only been studied sparingly by two or three academics and a few enthusiasts. The academics do not quite agree with each other and offer widely differing theories to its origins.

While one stalwart feels it was a custom inculcated to maintain a balance of the slave population, another feels it was just there to assuage the ego of the wronged lower castes, more a rite of symbolic revenge. A third feels it was a type of moral policing to bring some control on loosening morals among womenfolk during a particular period. Yet another adds it was to keep the powerful Nair’s who were licensed to kill, in check, while lone voices explain that it was simply a ploy used by powerful Nair Karanavers to keep the women in the household, under his thumb.

In the middle of it all is a Travancore Royal who wrote out a writ banning its practice, only to get assassinated, for that very reason. Studying this topic was not just heady, but downright frustrating and confusing, what with so many ‘newfound information spreaders’ coming out with salacious, tainted and copy-pasted, and caste-ist forwards. So much so that it took quite some time to decipher and understand the different approaches and present them to an interested reader.

Barbosa (Written around 1518 A.D.)

Barbosa – Trans. Mansel Longworth Dames

In certain months of the year, they do their utmost to touch some Nayre woman by night as secretly as they can, and this only for the sake of doing evil. They go by in order to get into the houses of the Nayres to touch women, and during these months the women guard themselves carefully, and if they touch any woman, even though none have seen it, and there may be no witnesses, yet she declares it at once, crying out, and she will stay no longer in her house that her caste may not be destroyed; in general she flees to the house of some other low caste folk, and hides herself, that her kinsfolk may not slay her; and that thence she may help herself and be sold to foreigners, which is ofttimes done. And the manner of touching is this, even though no words are exchanged, they throw something at her, a stone, or a stick, and if it touches her, she is touched and ruined. These people are also great sorcerers and thieves; they are a very evil race.

Barbosa – Trans E J Stanley

These low people during certain months of the year try as hard as they can to touch some of the Nair women, as best they may be able to manage it, and secretly by night, to do harm. So, they go by night amongst the houses of the Nairs to touch women, and these take many precautions against this injury during this season. And if they touch any woman, even though no one see it, and though there should be no witnesses, she, the Nair woman herself, publishes it immediately, crying out, and leaves her house without choosing to enter it again to damage her lineage. And what she most thinks of doing is to run to the house of some low people, to hide herself, that her relations may not kill her as a remedy for what has happened or sell her to some strangers as they are accustomed to do. And touching is in this manner, that even if there is no contact from one person to another, yet by throwing anything, such as a stone or a stick, if the person is hit by it, he remains touched and lost. These people are great charmers, thieves, and very vile people.

Zainuddin – Lt Rowlandson 1833

The Rowlandsen translation translates the original text differently, and connects it to males - Indeed, he seldom finds security, except in flying to some place where his degradation, and the cause of it, shall be unknown; otherwise, the head magistrate of the district to which he belonged would probably seize him and sell him as a slave to one of an inferior rank, being even indifferent whether his purchaser be a boy or a woman. Sometimes, one thus situated will come over to us, and embrace Islamism, or will turn Yogee (or religious mendicant), or Christian.

Zainuddin (written circa 1583-90)– Trans SMH Nainar Jan 1942

Whenever a man of the inferior caste treads during certain nights in a year in the chamber of a woman who is above his rank, she will be degraded from her rank even though the male had not had commerce with her, or she had become pregnant. The ruler will seize her and sell her. Or she comes to us and embraces Islam, or she becomes a convert to Christianity, or she turns a yogi.

Zainuddin – SMH Nanar (Other books - 2005)

If a woman of a higher caste, on certain particular nights of the year, happens to be hit with a stone or something else from the hands of a man of inferior caste and she was not at that time accompanied by any man. she will be turned out of her caste. In such circumstances, she has no alternative other than embracing Islam, and Christianity or become a yogi. Otherwise, she will be sold by the local ruler.

Now let’s look at the castes as understood in those days. One cant be sure if these scribes have mistaken Nayadis for Pulayas.

Pulaya caste

Dames - And there is yet another caste of Heathen lower than these whom they call Poleas, who among all the rest are held to be accursed and excommunicate; they dwell in the fields and open campaigns in secret lurking places, whither folk of good caste never go save by mischance and live in huts very strait and mean. They are tillers of rice with buffaloes and oxen. They never speak to the Nayres save from afar off, shouting so that they may hear them, and when they go along the roads, they utter loud cries, that they may be let past, and whosoever hears them leaves the road, and stands in the wood till they have passed by; and if anyone, whether man or woman, touches them his kinsfolk slay him forthwith, and in vengeance therefore they slay Poleas until they are weary without suffering any punishment.

Stanley - There is another lower sect of gentiles called Puler. These are held as excommunicated and accursed; they live in swampy fields and places where respectable people cannot go: they have very small and abject huts, and plough and sow the fields with rice, they use buffaloes and oxen. They do not speak to the Nairs, except from a long way off, as far as they can be heard speaking with a loud voice. When they go along the road they shout, so that whoever comes may speak to them, and that they may withdraw from the roads, and put themselves on the mountains. And whatever woman or man should touch these, their relations immediately kill them like a contaminated thing: and they kill so many of these Pulers until they are weary of it, without any penalty.

Paraya caste

Dames - Yet another caste there is even lower and baser called Pareens, who dwell in the most desert places away from all other castes. They have no intercourse with any person nor anyone with them; they are held to be worse than devils, and to be damned.

Stanley - There is yet another sect of people among them still lower, who live in desert places, called Pareni. These likewise do not converse with anyone. They are looked upon as worse than the devil, and as altogether condemned: so that by looking at them only they consider themselves as defiled and excommunicated, which they call contaminated.

Mannan Caste

Purification is known as mattu (change), and it is effected by the washerwoman, who, in some parts of South Malabar, is of the Mannan or Vannan caste, whose responsibility is to wash clothes for the Nayars and Nambutiris. It is also mentioned that it was the female, the Mannathi who had the responsibility of washing clothes, the male carried out an assortment of other tasks, including the art of medicine. These castes were allowed into Nair households, so I wonder why they had to be feared!

The Pedi – or fear of such castes

Having defined some of the bases, we observe that this Pedi or fear concerns the three lower castes, Mannan (Mannapedi), Puulaya (Pulappedi) and Paraya (Parappedi). At that time, all three were polluting castes, and untouchables for the upper castes comprising Brahmins and Nairs in Kolathumad, Malabar, Cochin and Travancore (and other smaller principalities).

Why would the upper castes who had the power to kill without reason anyone from the lower castes, have anything to fear from them? It was because of a peculiar custom, when on a particular day (or a certain time frame) the lower castes could touch, stone and thereby pollute and claim women from the upper castes, for themselves.

The period when this was permitted was during the annual month of Karkidakam according to the Malayalam Kollam Era, (some others mention - from the closure of harvest in Kumbham and about the third of the month of Medam) when women were not allowed to leave their homes after dusk, unless accompanied by a male chaperone at least 2 years of age! This was called the Pulappedi kalam.

Pidi or Pedi – also created confusion. While some writers used the term pedi or fear others concluded it was pidi or capture of upper caste women. If the captured girl was pregnant, she was confined by the lower caste abductor until delivery, and if the newborn was a boy, the mother and child were returned to the family, who had to accept her!

Seminal accounts


C Achyutha Menon, whose study of Ballads and Kali worship in Malabar is considered quite exemplary provides this input in his Kali Worship book - In old times, the lower castes were permitted once a year to enter and freely conduct poojas and festivals at the various Kavuus. During this occasion, they could also touch women they come across, upon which the defiled woman has to accompany the said Pulaya. This particular ‘free’ day was announced well in advance and all upper-caste women were told clearly to stay indoors. It was also clear that the Pulaya could not enter an upper-caste household and create any kind of nuisance. This period of danger for the upper caste women was the Pulappedi or Parappedi.

Likewise, Menon adds that on a particular day, Nairs were allowed to do what they wanted, and anybody who wanted to remain safe had to stay indoors.

All said, there had hardly been any documented case, unlike Smartavicharam cases which were discussed and reported with many a salacious detail.


That the Pulya was supplanted by the Paraya in Travancore becomes apparent with the use of the term Parayappedi. Samuel Mateer mentions it in his “Native life…” but does not really provide any details of specific cases.

LAK Ayyar mentions inclusion of Syrian Catholic women to the list of kidnapped - A curious custom also existed, which is said to have added to the number of the enslaved. Among the various caste men at the fighting grounds at Pallam, Ochira, etc., at this season it was 'supposed that low caste men were at liberty to seize high caste women if they could manage it, and to retain them’. Perhaps this practice took its origin in some kinds of faction fights. A certain woman at Mundakayam, with fair Syrian features is said to have been carried off thus. Hence arose a popular error that during the months of Kumbham and Meenam (February and March), if a Pulayan meets a Sudra woman alone, he may seize her, unless she is accompanied by a Shanar boy. This time of year, was called Pula Pidi Kalam. (Gundert says that this time of terror was in the month of Karkadagam (15th July to 15th August), mainly on the Atham naal, during which high caste women lose caste if a slave happens to throw a stone at them after sunset, so the slave owners had their own troubles to bear from this institution.

He continues - The Parayans in North Travancore formerly kidnapped females of the high caste, whom they were said to treat for rewards in a brutal manner. Their custom was to turn robbers in the month of February just after the in-gathering of the harvest, when they were free from field work, and at the same time were excited by demon worship, dancing and drink.

They broke into the houses of Brahmans and Nayars, carrying away their children and property, in excuse for which they, on pretended motives of revenge, rather than interest, brought forward a tradition that they were once a division of Brahmans, but were entrapped into a breach of caste rules by their enemies making them eat beef.

These crimes were once committed almost with impunity in some parts, but have now disappeared. Once having lost caste, even by no fault of their own, restoration to home and friends was impossible to Hindus.

Kunjan Pillai

Most readers are acquainted with the article on the subject by Elamkulam Kunjan Pillai, however he seems to have used personal discretion in framing the entire explanation to his satisfaction, which includes a little bit of manipulation of source material. Going back and forth and touching on various areas, he concludes that it was a sanctioned ritual, stemming from an age-old period where Pulayas and Nairs were from the same community strata. Owing to the imbalance brought about, the depressed Pulayas, Parayas or Mannans were allowed once a year to get even, take revenge even.  He goes along with Achyuta Menon’s observations and limits the custom to Nairs, not all upper castes.

SN Sadasivan

He opines thus – The pulayas, so the parayas and mannans had the knowledge that the so-called upper castes starting with the sudras were none other but a part of the Malayalam population. Initially, to assuage their feelings and to neutralize their enmity against the sudras, once a year, in Feb-March, they were allowed to go round at night in places they had some numerical strength and pollute by touch or other means Sudra women whom they could carry away. Depending on the caste which roamed around, the custom was called Pulpappedi, Parappedi or Mannapedi.

RN Yesudas consolidates the many accounts and toes the evangelical line, stating that the significance was in protesting slavery, caste degradation, and showing attempts at breaking the shackles of Hindu caste rigors. He also adds that the lower castes scrupulously followed the rules of this game, were praise-worthy and humane.

MGS Narayanan however, after referring to Pillai and Menon, subtly sidesteps and mentions – The pulayas and mannas often tried to pollute Nair women during the month of Karkidakam when the Nayars were away in Kalari practice. If they succeeded, the women were excommunicated and sold as a slave. MGS adds that the ritual may have been to prevent women from leaving secluded homes during the month of Karkidakam when the menfolk were away training at the Kalaris.

How it could be avoided

-        - Taking along with her a boy at least three years old, if traveling during the pulapeddi kalam, after dusk. In Travancore, it appears the boy has to be from the Shanar (Channar) caste.

-        - Taking a parasol made of the male tar panai palmyra tree.

Some women, Ramnatha Ayyar says - dressed young girls like boys and took them along - This proviso appears to have been utilized by the ready-witted women who dressed up their own little girls (when a boy was not available as escort) with a loin cloth and went about on their business flouting the incubus of pulappedi and mannapedi, so long as their trick went undetected!

Prof PP Sudhakaran

Sudhakaran analyses Kunjan Pillai’s article and concludes that he has done severe injustice by writing a manipulated essay on the subject, without the required study, diligence, or research. Systematically, he takes apart each premise used by Pillai with counter arguments and concludes that the position taken by Pillai is untenable for the following reasons.

-          No Nair woman would have risked going out after dusk, at the risk of losing caste, especially during a period/era when the caste rigors were so severe. It was simply impossible, if not improbable.

-          During those announced periods, Nair sentries with drawn sword patrolled the Thara and larger dwellings (Nalu-ettu kettus).

-          Family honor in a Nair family has always been paramount, there was no question of a Pulaya entering a Nair household and kidnapping a woman of his family.

-          Strange also is the fact that this depended on the innate honesty of the Nair girl, that she had to declare it herself, or the event had to be witnessed by another (the pulayan had to scream ‘kande kande’ as well, to gather onlookers!).

-          Now why on earth should a lady admit that she was touched by somebody or stoned, and get herself excommunicated? People lied for lesser things daily! Also, nobody would believe a Pulyan’s declaration that he did, anyway.

So, while the Nambuthiris resorted to the Sankara Smriti based Smarta Vicharam strictures to maintain caste purity, was the Manna-Pula pedi a custom resorted by caste Nairs to keep their women in track, and maintain purity? Does it signify that Nair women were flouting traditional norms? Some sociologists and anthropologists believe so. Which leads us to wonder - Was it like the imposition of the medieval chastity belt, to keep wayward women locked up at home? That too is unlikely, for this permission/period was valid only for a day or two.

Prof Sudhakaran then explains – yes, indeed, if the poor woman was being ostracized by the Nair family due to some internal reason – Land is of course in the name of the female inheritor but managed by powerful uncles who become the de facto estate manager, the Karanavar. Perhaps if the lady of the house had a falling out with the ever-powerful Karanavar, or because she had disobeyed him. This then was the ultimate punishment which cast out the woman, without debate, and of course there would have been a happy Pulaya taker, anyway, who did not risk censure or death on this day.

Travancore proclamation and the King’s murder

The Edict of Jan 26th, 1696, A. D. of Kerala Varma.

In the Kollam year 871 when Jupiter stood in Kanni, on the 25th day of the month of Tai, which was a Saturday with Satyam nakshatra, first tithi (pratipada) of the first fortnight simha-Karana and Parigam – yoga on this day, the following regulation was passed by the two mahajanas who had assembled under royal command, when king Kerala Varma Siraivay-Mutta-tambiran (the senior member of the Siraivay family) was pleased to stay at Kalkulam.

The King having been pleased to order that Pilappedi and Mannappedi shaII not be in practice in the territory lying to the west of Tovala, to the east of Kannerri and between the mountain range and the sea, the two popular assemblages of mahajanas met in deliberation and had this order (Kalpana) engraved on stone.

If, in transgression of this order pilappedi and mannapedi should again become prevalent, the very embryo in the womb among the pilayar and the mannar, shaII be extracted and slain. It was also ordered that if (the pollution consequent on) pilappedi and mannappedi should happen to a woman, the pollution shall be considered as removed if the woman bathe (in a tank) and come out.

Jn this manner, this was ordered to be in force till so long as grass, the earth, the stones, and the Kaveri exist.

It was also ordered that this order be engraved (on-stone) and (the stone) set up.

This was (accordingly) written on a stone and it was set up at the Northern entrance of the Kendappadaividu in Tiruvidangodu.

If anyone should cause any damage to this stone, he shall incur the sin of having killed a tawny cow on the banks of the Ganges.

As Sreedhara Menon says – Judged by contemporary standards the proclamation of Kerala Varma was a bold step, and it has given him an honored place among the great social reformers of Kerala.

But the aftereffects on Kerala Varma were severe, especially following the attack by Mukilan, a topic we will address soon, but separately. The times were bad, the local nobles – the eight and a half yogam were at loggerheads with the king and they refused to follow the rules set above. Following this, Valiya Kesi with his brother decided to identify the recalcitrant nobles and punish them, with royal backing, but he was murdered by the Pulayas, duly supported by the nobles. Unfortunately, the King was also assassinated within the next few months.

As historian Velu Pillai says - Kerala Varma met with a tragic fate as the result of his high-handed acts, to which the ministers and other leaders of the people would not submit. But it is said that mentions of these acts after this promulgation have been rare.

As for me, I agree with PP Sudhakaran, I feel that it was an obscure concept, never put into practice, but used to instill fear over the women of the house, perpetuated by the elder men of the family. As the rain clouds gathered, the fear of the unknown – excommunication and losing caste was used to avoid any dissent or adventurousness in large households.


Mannapediyum, Pulappediyum – Annanthe Keralam – Elamkulam Kunjan Pillai
Pulappedi – our Puthiya Anweshanam – PP Sudhakaran, Kerala Padananagal Vol 4
Pulappedi in Kerala – RN Yesudas, Journal of Kerala Studies
Pulappedi and Mannapedi in South Travancore – AS Ramanatha Ayyar (Man in India)
Pattompatham nootandile Keralam – P Bhaskaran Unni
The book of Duarte Barbosa, A Description of the Coasts of East Africa and Malabar: In the Beginning of the 16th Century – Trans ML Dames, HEJ Stanley
Valiyakesi Katha – G Thrivikraman Thampi
Tuhfat Al Mujahidden – Zainuddin Makhdoom
Calicut A city of Truth revisited – MGS Narayanan
Kali Worship in Kerala – Chelanat Achyuta Menon
Anthropology Of the Syrian Christians – L Ananta Krishna Ayyar


  1. Mithravindha

    Considering the fact that a KING was assassinated for abolishing the rule , your conclusion at the end seems suprsing and counterintuitive . Or did I miss something.

  1. Maddy

    Thanks Mithravindha,

    The politics involving the murder of Kerala Varma is quite complex and it was not just concerning the abolition of the practice. As I mentioned, I will get to the details of that chapter separately.

    What it generally signifies is that it was a practice instituted by the powerful Nair nobles and when the King interfered to outlaw it, he infuriated them (one among other issues, but perhaps the proverbial straw which broke the camel's back)