Namboothiri Websites, Calicut, Kerala
(A Voluntary and Non-profit-oriented forum for documenting Namboothiri traditions in web)

About Namboothiris

Definition: "Nam (vedam) poorayithi Namboothiri" is the commonly accepted etymology of the word Namboothiri. It means, the person who completes vedam is Namboothiri. Namboothiri "completes" vedam as he studies and practices vedam and performs the rituals, srouthakriyas (yagam) and other "Kriyas" (like Shodasakriyakal, Nithyakarmam, Cremation, etc.) as prescribed in vedam. This definition carries the message as to how important the vedam is to Namboothiri community.

A Typical Namboothiri
A Typical Namboothiri: Holding the key bunch of the sanctum sanctoram of the Guruvayoor Temple is the then Chief Priest, Late Paara Thrivikraman Namboothiri, Nedungottoor, Near Thiruvegappura, Palakkad District. This Photograph dates back to 1960.

There are a couple of other versions, especially since the word 'Namboothiri' is not found anywhere in the literature prior to the 17th century, by which time the spiritual deterioration of Namboothiris had already begun, and some believe that such a meaning could not have been assigned thereafter. A second version is that the word 'Nambudheeran' a name given to the trusted advisors of the earlier Budhist Kings became 'Namboothiri', who infact, had been advisors to Kerala Kings. This has been rejected by most since Budhist influence had waned several centuries earlier.

A more plausible version is said to be: Nalpu -> Nanpu -> Nampu (goodness) + Sree -> Thiri (Lakshmi) = Namputhiri, with the changes confirming to Tamil or old Malayalam. It also conforms to other names like Adithiri, Bhattathiri, Nambyathiri, etc.

How to Identify a Namboothiri ? A Namboothiri or Antharjanam (Namboothiri lady) can be identified by asking him/her,
1. the name of his/her family by birth,
2. the name of his/her mother's family,
3. in case of a married Namboothiri woman, the name of her husband's family, which is also her's after marriage.
As a mark of respect, a Namboothiri wife does not utter the name of her husband as well as husband's family name. Hence usually Namboothiris do not pose this question directly to her. Also, someone standing nearby has to answer this question.

His/her name is given only the last preference during self-introduction or while being introduced by others.

Identity of a Namboothiri Family: Generally, a Namboothiri family can be identified by the following five parameters:
a. The family name
b. The Gothram and Pravaram, which the family belongs to
c. The Graamam, which the family originally belongs to
d. The Griham which is the original ancesteral family
e. The Vedam, being followed by the family

Let us take these parameters one by one.

a. The family name: The concept of family name has already been discussed in the previous section. A family name need not be unique. For example, there are several families with the same name Moothedath Mana. In such case, the place name, where the family is originated from, may precede the family name, like Vadassery Moothedath Mana and Thalamunda Moothedath Mana. Sometimes one may be known as Mana and the other, as Illam, in documents. For example, there is Mangalath Mana and Mangalath Illam. While documenting, the usage of the word Mana or Illam depends on the traditional style followed by the respective Graamam to which the family originally belongs to. Families from certain Graamams chose the word Mana while others opted for the word Illam. For example, all families in Sukapuram Graamam use only the word Mana in official documents. However, during conversation, generally a Namboothiri refers to his family name as Illam only.

b. The Gothram to which it belongs: The Gothram name demonstrates the family's traditional style of knowledge acquisition and expertise in ancient theories. Based on the fact that cross-breeding of excellent but different species yields better quality, marriage from a family belonging to the same Gothram was and is still banned for Namboothiris. Looking from another angle, marriage from the same Gothram has a better chance of generating mentally retarded or physically handicapped children or at least children of less intellectual capacity. Each Gothram has several sub-classes known as Pravara. If by mistake, a boy marries a girl of same Gothram, he is not allowed to have sex with her. He has to treat her like he treats his mother.

Common Gothrams and their Pravarams

1. Bharadwaajam
2. Kousikam
3. Vaatsam
4. Koundinyam
5. Kaasyapam
6. Vaasishtam
7. Jaamadagnyam
8. Viswaamithram
9. Gouthamam
: Amgirasam, Bhaarhaspathyam, Bharadwaajam
: Viswaamithram, Akhamarshanam, Kousikam
: Bhaargavam, Chyavanam, Aapthavaanam, Ourvam, Jaamadagnyam
: Vaasishtam, Maithraavarunam, Koundinyam
: Kaasyapam, Aavatsaaram, Naidruvam
: Vaasishtam, Indrapradamam, Aabharaswath
: Bhaargavam, Chyavanam, Aapthavaanam, Ourvam, Jaamadagnyam
: Viswaamithram, Devaraatham, Oudalam
: Amgirasam, Aayasyam, Gouthamam
: Aathreyam, Archanaanasam, Syavaaswam

Eight more Gothrams also exist among Namboothiris, as branches of the Gothrams listed above. They are Kutsam, Mudgalam, Aamgirasam, Gaargyam, Naidruvam, Saandilyam, Dhaananjayam, and Samkhyaayanam. (Click here for more details of Gothram and Pravaram)

c. The Graamam (Village) to which the family belongs: A Graamam was like a village or a large settlement. (To know more about Graamam (village) Click Here). Namboothiri families which migrated from other Graamams were considered still affiliated to their original Graamam. For example, the Karuthedath Mana in Kudamaaloor, Kottayam (Kumaraanalloor Graamam), had originally migrated from Sukapuram Graamam. This Mana is still considered affiliated to Sukapuram Graamam and must follow these styles. Interestingly, lifestyles, rituals and rights vary from Graamam to Graamam. Each Graamam had a Namboothiri administrative chief by name Thampraakal. The Thampraakal of Sukapuram Graamam is Aazhvaancheri Thampraakal, that of Karikkad Graamam is Kidangazhi Mana and that of Peruvanam Graamam is Kirangat Mana, just to name a few. Under each Thampraakal, there are two Vaidikans. One Vaidikan does "Karmam Vidhikal" or prescribes and solves doubts on rituals to be performed by Namboothiris. The other Vaidikan is for "Praayaschitham Vidhikal" or prescribing rectification processes in case something goes wrong in ordinary life or Vedic life. Since even the last expired member of Aazhvaancheri Mana led more or less a perfect vedic life, they have become the only Thampraakal in modern era. Other Thampraakals have lost their importance long age. With kings no longer ruling Kerala, Graamams became officially irrelevant. Hence Aazhvaancheri Thampraakal also lost their importance except that he is now the head (Ooralan) of a few temples. (Aazhvaancheri Mana is situated near Puthanathani in Malappuram district.)

d. Griham: Some of the present day Namboothiri families had different family names in the past. (Refer "Classification" for examples). Hence, members of these families were and are still banned from marrying each other, for obvious reasons. Several other families are branches of single roots (ancestors). Only a very few families like Chemmangad Mana (near Thrissur) still remain as single entities with the original ancient family names. Yet another point of concern as far as Griham is concerned, is the affiliation of a family to another Griham. For example, Poomulli Mana adopted a boy from Mathur Griham and thus got itself affiliated to Mathur Griham, a member of "Ashtagrihathil Aadhyan" (elite group of 8 families). But Mathur Griham still exists as Mathur Mana. Obviously, marriages between Mathur and Poomulli were and are still not allowed, as respective generations of Mathur and Poomulli are to be considered themselves as siblings. Due to lack of awareness of the original Griham name, several 'illegal' marriages have occured in various Namboothiri families. After a specified number of generations, a branch of family may perform the specified rituals, meant to cut itself off from other branches or from the root. Modern medicine also believes that after seven generations, it may not create major casualites. If by mistake, a boy marries a girl of the same Griham, he is not allowed to have sex with her. He has to treat her like he treats his mother, as with Gothram.

e. Vedam: Each Namboothiri family is traditionally and strictly a follower of  only one of the three Vedams, namely, Rigvedam, Yajurvedam and Saamavedam. (To know more about Vedam, Click Here). Followers of Rigvedam are called Rigvedis. Two sub-divisions of Rigvedis are Kousheethakan and Aswalaayanan. Followers of Yajurvedam are called Yajurvedis, with two sub-divisions, Boudhaayanan and Baadhoolakan. There is no sub-division for Saamavedis. Each of these five divisions has its own unique style of performing certain or all rituals. Reference books, called "Chadangu pusthakam", is available for each of these five sub-divisions. These books clearly describe the step-by-step procedure to perform all kinds of rituals like Shodasakriyakal (various rituals from birth to death), Samskaaram (cremation), etc. (To know more about these rituals, Click Here). For example, Kousheethakan Namboothiris refer the book "Kousheethakan Chadangu", Aaswalaayanan Namboothiris refer "Pakazhiyan Chadangu", and Boudhaayanan Namboothiris refer the book "Boudhaayanan Chadangu".

Hence sub-class level awareness on Vedic identity of the family is essential for performing rituals by members of the family.

Click here to know more about the exclusive nature of Namboothiris.

| Article No:1. | Last update of this article:10th April 2006 |
Home | What is New.. | Members | Welcome, Sponsors ! | Search For.. | Your Feedback

Copyright © 2000 Namboothiri Websites Calicut. All rights reserved.