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Dress of  Namboothiris

Namboothiris in general were no sticklers for fashionable dress. There was no place in their life for fancy colours and shiny clothes. On this issue there was no difference among the rich, middle class or poor. The present day media (cinema, TV, etc.) often portray Namboothiris as wearing ear-rings, gold chains, rings on all ten fingers, broad-bordered or gilt-edged ("Kasavu") cloth ("Mundu") and towel ("Veshti"), and so on. This is contrary to reality. They were much too simple, at least until recently.

The same is true about Antharjanams (Namboothiri women). They never used colourful and silky clothes and glittering jewelry, unlike most other communities. The concept of beauty was non-existent or limited to natural and simple tastes. While most other South Indian Braahmana women drew beautiful designs ("Kolam") daily in front of the house, Antharjanams made a perfunctory sketch ("Aninju Mathilidal") with rice paste, that too only on special occasions. Their stress was on the daily rituals and observance of "Vrathams" (solemn vows).

Namboothiris (Male)

Until the early twentieth century, male Namboothiris wrapped around their waist only a bath towel ("Thorthu"). This was true even among the aristocracy.

When they had to travel to other villages, they usually hung a second towel ("Randaam Mundu") on their shoulder; the aristocrats wore a long cloth ("Valiya Mundu") instead of the wrap-around towel. It was customary for most Namboothiris to perform a daily ritual called "Swaadhhyaayam", for which they had to wear a double towel or cloth ("Vasthram") in a special way ("Thattudukkal"). This Vasthram was often used later in the day as the Randaam Mundu. Normally, the Vasthram was changed to Mundu only after lunch, though many wore it till evening. On special days, they wore a long cloth with a thin border of gilt or some colour (Kasavu or Eerkkilakkara), which perhaps, was their best dress. During marriages, bridegrooms wore a Vasthram of four lengths, and another similar cloth was twisted and worn ("Uthareeyam") in the form of a large Poonool ("Yajnopaveetham" or sacred thread).

Everyone from little boys after "Choroonu" ("Annapraasanam" or rice eating ceremony) to old men, invariably applied ("Kuriyidal") "Bhasmam" (ash), while additionally "Chandanam" (sandal paste) was also quite common. The daily "Vaisya-homam" (for married men) require Chandanam application, and after the Homam, the "Vaisyappottu" - wet application of Bhasmam taken from the Homam fire, which usually looked greyish.

Boys (Before "Samaavarthanam")

Boys wore "Ilakkonakam" (loin cover made of a strip of plantain leaf softened by heat treatment, over fire) before "Upanayanam", and "Seelakkonakam" (cloth loin cover) afterwards. "Upanichunnis" (between Upanayanam and Samaavarthanam) wore Poonool and "Krishnaajinam" across the chest and a white thread (to support the loin cloth) and "Mekhhala" at the waist. Krishnaajinam is an inch wide untanned leather from the skin of "Krishna Mrigam" - black buck (Antelope cervicapra). Mekhhala is a three-strand string worn around the waist and made of a special kind of grass called "Mekhhalappullu".


Antharjanams and older girls wore clothes ("Udukkuka") with border lines, and alike. There were two types - with "Koluthu", or with "Paappam". The former was for Aadhhyans on ordinary days, while Aasyans used the latter, also called "Okkuvechu Udukkuka", or "Njerinju Udukkuka". For Aadhhyans on special occasions, a gilt-edged cloth (Kasavukara Putava) with the gilt border made somewhat reddish by washing the border area with water mixed with dried and powdered flower of Plaasu (Butea monosperma) - "Pilaasam" (a process known as "Poovittalakkal") - and worn in a manner called "Eduthukuthi Udukkal". Aasyans, even on special occasions, dressed in their normal way. While performing religious rituals ("Vaidika Karmams"), Aadhhyans wore a four-length new Vasthram in a manner called "Poovuvechu Udukkal".

Ghosha (veil) was prevalent in the community. When women had to go out, they used to cover themselves with "Puthappum Kudayum" (wrap-around shawl and palm leaf parasol). The shawl was a smooth, nice and broad "Chelapputhappu", which was also used as a bed-sheet.

The shape and size of the parasol differed among Sukapuram, Perumanam and Irinjalakuda Graamams. The first used a large one, the second was larger than ordinary parasols but with shorter handle (called "Manakkuda"), and the third used "Kundankuda", a deeper one with a very short handle.

Women applied sandal paste daily on their forehead in the form of a crescent or a horizontal line and also a "Chaanthu" dot. Earlier, "Ambilikkuri" (3-tier crescent) for Aadhhyans and "Varachu Kuri" (three horizontal lines applied from left to right) for Aasyans were the norm. The latter was also called "Kolkkuri", perhaps because a stick ("Kol") had to be used to make it look good. Applying of mascara was also common. Betel chewing - "Moonnum Koottal", with betel leaf, lime and specially treated arecanut called "Kaliyatakka", and with no tobacco, ofcourse - was quite common to make lips red. Older girls followed the same, but did not apply Chaanthu.


Girls till the age of 8 or 9 wore just a loin cover (like boys) of heat-treated palm-leaf. After they come of age ("Uduthu Thudangal"), they dress like Antharjanams do. Girls do not decorate their hair with jasmine flower, until after marriage.


Even the bride's dress was quite simple. A four-length Mundu was worn ("Muzhuvan Udukkal") and another was pleated and worn covering the upper part and the head including the face. Muzhuvan Udukkal was done also during some ritual offerings ("Nedikkal" with 16 or 7 lamps) and during "Kutiveppu" (ceremonial receiving of the bride in the groom's house after marriage). The palms and feet of the bride were decorated with henna ("Mailaanchi" - Losonia inarmis).


Widows wore plain clothes without borders. Application of Chaanthu on the forehead was taboo, but sandal paste, "Bhasmam" (ash) and "Gopikkatta" (yellow ochre) are permitted, the latter too only after wetting them.

The traditional dress described here is not very relevant anymore. Now-a-days, Namboothiri women cannot be distinguished from others, and even among themselves - Aadhhyan, Aasyan, etc. - as they all wear the same kind of dress like churidar, maxi, sari or Mundu and Veshti (set-Mundu). Even widows cannot be distinguished.

| Article No:10 | Last update of this article:16th August 2001 |
Article by : Leela Nambudripad ["Sumangala"], Desamangalam Mana, Kumaranellur - 680590, Vadakkancheri, Thrissur Dist. Phone: 0488-432690 

Reference : "Ente Smaranakal" - Vol. 1, Kanippayyur Sankaran Nambudiripad
Publishers : Panchaamgam Pusthakasaala, Kunnamkulam - 680 503

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