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Namboothiris and The 1901 Census Report

NOTE: This is a translation of an interesting essay "Malayaala Braahmanar" written by Mathur Vasudevan Nambudiripad (1885 - 1965) in the book "Namboothirimaar", edited by Paarayil Raman Namboodiri and published in 1917 by Mangalodayam Company, Thrissur. Though written in the early 1900s, it had relevance till the recent past. - EDITOR.

Kerala is differentiated from other parts of the world in almost all factors including topography, custom, costume and culture. As a result of the recent popularisation of modern education and better interaction with foreigners, there has been a minor change in the attitude and life style among Keralites, but these changes have not affected our communal harmony; it may not in the near future too.

Interestingly, a similar change among the Namboothiri community is not discerned, as they still tend to stay away from modern education and foreign interaction. Though this tendency is temporary in nature, there is no reason why we should not mention it publicly. I intend to present before you and explain the recent demographic trends in the Namboothiri community based on the Census Report of 1901.


The 1901 Census Report says that there are 19,279 Namboothiris in British Malabar, 5,290 in Cochin State and 5,326 in Travancore State. It shows that the net Kerala Namboothiri population is 29,895, a mere 0.47% of the population of Kerala. Only Moothathu and a few other communities are ranked below Namboothiris in terms of population. As the strength of the community is a major factor for pressure-tactics and favourable actions from the government and other agencies, Namboothiris with this tiny percentage of population, may miserably fail to grab benefits and make mileage out of it. On the contrary, Namboothiri families are shrinking and getting uprooted. I do not suggest a paradigm shift in the prevailing life style of Namboothiris, which is not a child's play, but needs research and much thought. I was just bringing to your kind attention this trend, which has far-reaching consequences.

Unmarried Female Population

Among other Kerala communities, females exceed males in terms of population. But Namboothiri community is blessed to have the reverse trend. According to the 1901 Census Report, among Namboothiris, for every 1,000 males, there are only 832 Namboothiri females in British Malabar, 912 in Cochin State and 851 in Travancore State. This situation should naturally offer better living conditions to females. But, is it so? Who cannot become kind-hearted after seeing the patience and mental agony of life-long spinsterhood of Namboothiri females? Who cannot feel sorry of this pathetic situation? Only those with selfish motives can show their lack of pity to the agony of Namboothiri females.

While the population of Namboothiri spinsters in the age group of 20 to 40 in British Malabar as well as Travancore is 4%, in Cochin State, it is a close 3.8%. Among other Braahmanans, it is unlikely to be even 1%. Among the married Namboothiri females, the count of those who are not victims of polygamy is negligible. With the law of primogeniture as well as with the prevailing custom that only the eldest son is eligible to marry from the community while other sons should carry on concubinage ("Sambandham"), there is no wonder why Namboothiri males, practicing polygamy, cannot wipe out the tears of their own sisters.

Impact of Abolishment of Child Marriage

It is a boon that Namboothiri community has already abolished child marriage while other Braahmanans still practise it. That could be the reason why the percentage of widows among Namboothiris, in the age group of 15 to 20, is just above 1% in British Malabar and Cochin whereas, among other Braahmanans it is 4% or a little more. Among Namboothiri females in Travancore State, it is just above 2%, while the trend is same, just 4%, among other Braahmanans. Anyway, there is absolutely no doubt that abolishment of child marriage among Namboothiris has brought down the percentage of young Namboothiri widows.


Now let us consider literacy. Though education has literally a broad meaning, the Census Report confines to just literacy level of citizens. The Census Report does not provide the statistics of Namboothiris proficient in their traditional education in Vedams, Tharkam and Vyaakaranam. It presents only statistics of the proficiency of reading and writing skills in Malayalam or English. So, we should also confine our attention to literacy.

According to the Census Report, among South Indian Hindus, Namboothiris stand at the top in literacy. In British Malabar, literacy among Namboothiris is 44.7%, while in Cochin, it is 70%. In Travancore, 66% of Namboothiri males and 20% of Namboothiri females are literate. Though male literacy is more among other Braahmanans, while taking both sexes together, the literacy rate is very high among Namboothiris. This is evidently due to the higher literacy rate among Namboothiri females. The fact that Namboothiris are at the top on female literacy is the victory of their distinguished ancient tradition of female education. I have personally felt the existence of priesthood among other Braahmanans still denying educational opportunities to their females. Though Namboothiris, from time immemorial, stood for "Dharmaadharmam", it is a blessing to their females that their male counterparts did not misinterpret female education as "Adharmam". Namboothiri females get the opportunity to enjoy reading epics like "Mahaabhaaratham" and "Raamaayanam" and thereby attain some level of spirituality, identity and eliteness. Recitation of "Krishnagaattha" and "Raamaayanam Kilippaattu" is part of their daily life. It could, to some extent, dilute their agony resulting from house arrest. Because the education of a large number of Namboothiri females is limited to reading and, to some extent, writing skills, their recitation of epics is mostly peripheral without perceiving the meaning of the content. Its results are also therefore limited. A study on it is beyond the scope of this article.

Though they read epics, my own studies show that among Namboothiri females, only a few have acquired writing skills. The census officials may not have looked into this aspect.

Some Namboothiris have not used their acquired literacy properly. Most of them avoid Malayalam literature. Though they boast of keeping the sole right of mastering Sanskrit, many of them have really not excelled in Sanskrit. It is a good trend that Namboothiri youngsters give less importance to their sole proprietorship over Sanskrit and appreciate quality and the need to acquire qualifications.

English Education

Namboothiris are at the rock bottom as far as English education is concerned. In Cochin State, not even 1% of Namboothiri males know English. Still, a few Namboothiri males are into it. Among other Braahmanans in Cochin State, 16% know English. The trend is better in British Malabar where 3% of Namboothiri males and 1% of Namboothiri females have some control over English language. It makes me happy that Namboothiri females too are into it. It could be due to the possible misinterpretation of English educated Embraanthiris as Namboothiris. I have not heard of Namboothiri females with English literacy. I need not be pessimistic, as subsequently, I have heard that some Namboothiri females in Cochin as well as Travancore have already introduced themselves into English education. It is a truth that there are some traditionalists among the Namboothiri community, who still discourage the advocates of English education in their own community. More and more Namboothiri youths are getting aware that they lack something without English education. Some aged Namboothiris, who stood firmly against English education, now regret it and urge their younger ones and the next generation to acquire skills in English. As someone said, "necessity is the mother of invention" and I need not feel sorry for his or her regret. People need English education and I am for it.


The percentage of Namboothiris who opted to work for a livelihood is quite low. In British Malabar, 23% Namboothiri males still practise priesthood. The percentage of working class among Namboothiris is almost zero, according to the Census Report.

Unaware of the fact that life has become difficult without a job, and the expenses spiralling upwards, if any Namboothiri still hesitates to opt for other jobs, nobody else can save him. "Pasudaanam" and "Sadya" will not help him to live a decent life. Money will not come to him naturally, in future.

Affluent Namboothiris must appreciate that money will not grow without properly investing it. They will become poorer unless they aggressively and intelligently enter into farming and trading.

Time is getting lost. So, Namboothiris should intelligently look forward and plan properly. Let me stop by thanking those who helped me to prepare this article.

| Article No:24.0 | Last update of this article:4th February 2006 |
Article by : (late) Vasudevan Nambudiripad, Mathur Mana, Panjal, Thrissur Dist.
Translated by : P Vinod Bhattathiripad

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