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Brahman Settlements in Kerala

Tradition has it that Brahmanans (Namboothiri) were established in Kerala in sixtyfour villages. However, in this context Kerala means the land between Gokarnam and Kanyakumari. Thirtytwo of them are said to be between Gokarnam Perumpuzha in Tulunadu.In seeking to identify the remaining 32, to the south of Perumpuzha river in Kerala proper, it could be seen that eighteen have yielded inscriptions from the locality itself mentioning the village settlement, four figure prominently in inscriptions from other places, three are mentioned in contemporary or near-contemporary wors and six have carried to this day their continuing Brahmanical traditions and temples. In fact twentythree of them survive today. Thirtyone out of thirtytwo could, therefore, be identified satisfactorily. Apart from these thirtytwo original villages, several others emerged by fusing together elements from the already existing ones. Thus, many Upagramams and other independent settlements developed, constituting a network throughout Kerala, with command over land, a large number of tenants and the entailing feudal privileges. In fact, by the close of the eighth century, the Brahmanan settlements had become a vital force in society to such an extent that society itself was completely reoriented with these groups as the superior elements. This has been shown to be one of the causative factors in the revival of the Chera kingdom. The power of these settlements was expressed through the king's council known as the Nalu Tali, which represented the brahmanan settlements of Kerala in the Chera capital, Mahodayapuram. (Click Here for a full list of 32 villages.)

A very important fact about the Brahmanan settlements in Kerala is that they were essentially temple-centred and that the temple was synonymous with the Brahmanan settlement and vice-versa. The temple committee was the village assembly and it looked after the affairs of the property belonging to the temple and the Brahmanan settlers. As a case study, it is seen from the old words that the temple in Thiruvalla village possessed a literally fabulous extent of land. Donors from very distant places including Srilanka (Ceylon) had made donations to the temple. In addition to land, the temple possessed wealth in the form of gold. The temple used to grant loans and act as a bank. Often, the right to extract taxes from certain villages was made entirely over to the temple and in one case the temple committee was placed above the " wrath of Kings and feudatories". The different daily and seasonal ceremonies of the temple have been described in detail. In describing the Onam festival, the responsibility of each functionary is given, indicating thereby the position of each in society and pointing to the level of social stratification. It is also seen that the practice of granting land on service tenure, whereby occupations were made hereditary, had already begun. The development of feudal institutions and the proliferation of sub-castes also could be discerned from the document. The temple looked into such public utility services as education, banking and health. In short, the process by which a small Brahmanan colony  grew both in space and in the range of economic, social and political activities, into a large agrarian feudal corporation can be clearly discerned. Proofs from records belonging to the 9th century and later suggest that these temple council members were Brahmanans for whom qualifications like ownership of property and proficiency in the Vedams appear to have been prescribed.

Chellur - An early settlement: Chellur or Perumchellur is a village identifiable with the present-day Taliparamba in Kannur district. It is one of the northernmost of the traditional Brahmanan settlements of Kerala. It lies on the banks of the river Parassini, near Ezhimala; These two factors have made the village geographically important.

The never-extinguishing sacrificial fire points of the Vedic culture of that village, and the association of the place with Parasuraman indicates that the Brahmanical culture of Chellur conformed to that of the Brahmanan settlements elsewhere along the west coast of peninsular India.It is well-known that Parasuraman or Bhargavaraman tradition is cherished by all the Brahmanans of the west coast. The tradition originated in the Sourastra region and moved gradually southward. Archaeological evidences also go to suggest that the Brahmanical tradition of Vedic sacrifices moved to the south along the westcoast. For instance, the Vadagaon-Madhavpur inscription, discovered from a site associated with ancient brick structures and Satavahana coins, speaks of a Vajapeya Yajnam performed by a person of the Kasyapa Gothram. This reference, attributed to the 2nd or 1st century B.C.,has its counterpart in the mention of a sacrifice in literature in a village further south. This is further endorsed by another song by the same poet, Madurai Marutan Illanakanar, in which Chellur is described as a place where gods receive sacrifice. Prof. Elamkulam believes that the Cheri in Chellur, mentioned in Akam 216, is a Brahmanan colony - at Parpanacceri. If this is relied on, the present day Pappinisseri in the vicinity of Taliparamba may be taken as a relic of the old name. However, it can be safely asserted that a Brahmanan colony, with strong Vedic culture and sacrificing tradition, and also cherishing the Parasuraman legend, was firmly established at Chellur as early as the Samgam, and that it was part of a long chain of migration originating from Gujarat.

As early as the age of the Sangam, Chellur was firmly established as a brahmanan settlement with strong Vedic culture and sacrificing tradition and also with Parasurama legend. This would link the brahmanan settlement in Kerala in general, and the one at Chellur in particular, with the long chain of settlements on the western cost of Peninsular India. The process of brahmanan migration and settlement in Kerala may be suggested to have begun as early as the age of Sangam. Epigraphic and literary evidences as well as the temple building suggest the continued prosperity of Chellur through the medieval period also. Since Kerala, it may be assumed to have been the point of Kerala's contact with Hindu brahmanical culture which played a crucial role in the formation of society in Kerala in the centuries to come.

(For details, refer "Brahman Settlements in Kerala" by Dr.Kesavan Veluthat)

The Original Settlements
Several Brahmanan settlements were founded in Kerala well before the re-establishment of the Chera kingdom with their new capital at Mahodayapuram. But they spread, establishing fresh settlements by fusing together elements of established ones and by amalgamating two or more settlements to form a bigger one.

The thirtytwo original settlements, as given in the Keralolpathi, are :

a) Between rivers Perumpuzha and Karumanpuzha:
1) Payyannur, 2) Perumchellur, 3) Alathur, 4) Kaaranthola, 5) Chokiram alias Sukapuram, 6) Panniyur, 7) Karikkat, 8) Isanamangalam, 9) Thrssivaperur and 10) Peruvanam;

b) Between rivers Karumanpuzha and Churni:
11) Chaamunda, 12) Irungatikkutal, 13) Avattiputhur, 14) Paravur, 15) Airanikkalam, 16) Muzhikulam, 17) Kulavur, 18) Atavur, 19) Chenganatu, 20) Ilibhyam, 21) Uliyannur, 22) Kalutanatu;

c) Between river Churni and Cape Comorin (Kanyakumari):
23) Ettumanur, 24) Kumaaranallur, 25) Katamaruku, 26) Aranmula, 27) Thiruvalla, 28) Kitangur, 29) Chengannur, 30) Kaviyur, 31) Venmani, 32) Neermanna.

Every Namboothiri Brahmanan, to this day, would claim his ancestry to one of the above thirtytwo villages. Thus, the traditional accounts about the original settlements of Kerala Brahmanans as given in Keralolpathi may be believed and we may proceed to take up the identification of the thirtytwo settlements.

1) PAYYANNUR: This is one of the northernmost villages as well as traditional Brahmanan settlements of Kerala. One peculiarity of the Brahmanans of this village is that they follow matriarchy, which is absent among other Brahmanans in Kerala, perhaps in the whole of india. Tradition has it, as an explanation for this, that the Aryan Brahmanan settlers of Kerala were requested by Parasuraman to adopt matriarchy for the atonement of his matricidal sin which the members of this village alone complied with. The Brahmanan residents of this village, however, are regarded to be of a lower status. The village temple is situated in Taliparamba Taluk in Kannur district and is dedicated to Subrahmanyan.

2) PERUMCHELLUR: Perumchellur, modern Taliparamba, is also in Kannur district. The antiquity of this village as an established Brahmanan settlement with a Parasuraman tradition and sacrificing background goes back to the Sangam age. Early medieval works like the Mooshikavamsa kavya (11th century) and late medieval works like the Kokilasandesam (15th century), Chellurnathodayam (16th century), etc. contain several words of praise for the Brahmanan centre at Chellur. Three temples are simultaneously regarded as the Gramakshetrams of this village, viz. the Siva temples at Taliparamba and Kanjirangat and Krisna temple at Trichambaram.

3) ALATHUR: Alathur is a village situated five miles to the south of Tirur railway station in Malappuram district. That this was an established Brahmanan settlement, is borne out by a medieval Manipravalam poem, Chandrotsavam (15th century). The identification is supported by the structural temple and continuing Brahmanan tradition.

4) KARANTHOLA: The village has ceased to be a Brahmanan settlement now.It is assumed that this village may be the present Trippanachi near Manjeri in Malappuram district. But some cadjan leaf records examined by Kesavan Veluthat refer to a place now known as Karathur as Karathola. The change from Karathola to Karathur is linguistically admissible. Karathola Nambi, a famous Ashtavaidyan of Kerala can be regarded as a native of this village since we find there a compound called Nambillathe paramba(the compound of Nambi's house), although the Nambi family is now extinct. Further, a ruined temple, recently renovated, has yielded a Vishnu image which shows characteristic features of Pallavan sculpture. Moreover, many compounds in this village, like the Muthedathe Paramba, Etamana Illaparamba, etc. compel one to believe that this village was once peopled by Namboothiri Brahmanans.

5) CHOKIRAM ALIAS SUKAPURAM: Chokiram alias Sukapuram is better known in its Sanskritised form, Sukapuram, and is situated 16 km east of Ponnani, the port town in Malappuram district. The temple is dedicated to Dakshinamurthi(Sivan). This temple has yielded four inscriptions of the Chera period. The Chandrotsavam refers to certain Brahmanan students of this village. This has been one of the most prominent settlements of Kerala and figures as witness, together with Panniyur, Viraraghava Copper Plates of A.D. 1225. The hostilities between Panniyur and Sukapuram figure prominently in medieval literature. There is a tradition that the chief of Valluvanad patronised this settlement from very early times.

6) PANNIYUR: The Varaahamurthi temple at Panniyur, 10 km west of Pattambi (Palakkad district) on the bank of Perar in Ottapalam Taluk, is the Gramakshethra of Panniyur settlement, and it has yielded an inscription. The Chandrotsavam makes mention of this village also. This village formed one of the prominent settlements during early medieval times.

7) KARIKKAT: This village is located in the present Nilambur and Ernad taluks in Malappuram district, three km north of Manjeri town in Malappuram district. The temple is dedicated to Subrahmanyan and has yielded five inscriptions. The inscriptions ascribed to the 11th century as well as the temple records of the medieval times suggest that this had once been a very prosperous temple with vast properties. There are certain peculiarities in the customs of the Brahmanans of this village, especially their women.

8) ISANAMANGALAM: Isanamangalam has been described in medieval Manipravalam works as a Brahmanan settlement. This settlement has now become extinct. The location of this village is disputed. There is a temple bearing this name near Puthukkad in Thrissur district. But an inscription from Rajadityesvaram in Tamil Nadu speaks of Isanamangalam to be in Netunkalaynatu in Kerala, which has been identified as Nedunkanatu of medieval times, very near Pattambi in Palakkad district. The Tiruvalla Copper Plates also refer jointly to Netunkalinatu and Isanamangalam. Another inscription from Neturupuram Tali, near Ongalloor, Pattambi also mentions Isanamangalam.

9) TRISSIVAPERUR: The village temple is centrally located in Thrissur municipal town.This temple has yielded two inscriptions assigned to the 12th century.

10) PERUVANAM: The Peruvanam temple in Thrissur district is praised in the Manipravalam work, Chandrotsavam. Six Vatezhuttu and Malayalam inscriptions have been noticed from this temple. An 11th century inscription from Thiruvatur in North Kerala refers to seven persons originally belonging to this village, along with others, being established there and a new settlement created. A similar case is registered in Kilimanur record of A.D. 1169, whereto a Brahmanan from this village is party. Peruvanam also has been a prosperous settlement, a status retained even to this day.

11) CHAAMUNDA: Chaamunda is the Sanskritised form of the word Chemmanta, and is a village three miles to the north of Irinjalakuda in Thrissur district. Two inscriptions from the temple, recently discovered by Kesavan Veluthat and deciphered by the epigraphist of Calicut University are palaeographically attributed to A.D. 13th century.

12) IRUNGATIKKUTAL: The word Irungatikkutal has undergone a change and become Irinjalakuda in Thrissur district. This temple was a wealthy one. Two inscriptions datable to A.D. 855 and c. 1000, discovered from the temple, show that the prosperity can be traced back to such early periods. The second part of the name, Kutal, has been Sanskritised into Samgamam and is mentioned in the Kokilasandesam and Chandrotsavam. Around the word Samgamam has been fabricated a legend that a precious stone borrowed from the ruler of Odanad merged with the forehead of the deity and that the temple properties were since hypothecated to the ruler of Odanad. That the temple and rulers of Odanad had some connections is, however, shown by the temple records dating as early as A.D. 1442.

13) AVATTIPPUTTUR: Avattipputtur is now known as Avittathur in Thrissur district. This temple has yielded four inscriptions of which one is thoroughly damaged. Legends have it that the deity was consecreted by the sage Agastya and they derive the word Avittathur from Agastyaputhur, which, in fact, is based on the Sanskritisation of the sounds.

14) PARAVUR: Paravur is modern North Paravur in Ernakulam district. The village temple is situated north of the town. In an inscription from Chennamangalam, a nearby village, Paravur is mentioned.

15) AIRANIKKALAM: Airanikkalam is situated six km northwest of Muzhikulam. From the village temple, which enshrines Siva, has been discovered two inscriptions. So also the Kilimanur record mentions a Brahmanan from this village. An inscription discovered at Kizhtali near Kodungallur (Mahodayapuram, the capital city of the Cheras) speaks of this village.

16) MUZHIKULAM: This has been one of the most important settlements of Kerala. This temple is 10 km south of Angamali railway station in Ernakulam district. Two inscriptions of Indu Kota and Bhaskara Ravi, attributed to A.D. 948 and A.D. 1010 respectively, have been discovered from this temple.

17) KULAVUR: This is the present day Kulur on the Annamanada-Kuntur road in the Thrissur district. There are two undeciphered medieval inscriptions in the courtyard of this temple, which, together with continuing Brahmanan tradition, help the identification of this traditional settlement.

18) ATAVUR: Atavur is a place near Korattiangadi railway station in Thrissur district. Although this has ceased to be a Brahmanan settlement, legends, the structural temple and the continuing name within the geographical limits prescribed in Keralolpathi help the identification.

19) CHENNANATU: Chennanatu, written now as Chengamanad, a village 10 km to the southwest of Aluva. There is an undeciphered Vattezhuttu inscription on the left wall of the corridor in front of the temple. The Brahmanans of this village are called Gramani Namboothiris; and tradition has it that the Brahmanan army of Cattar was contributed by this village also.

20) ILIBHYAM: The identification of this village was very much in question till recently. A version of Keralolpathi, recently published, has brought to light an alternative name, viz. Muppattumuvarkkalam. This can, with no hesitation, be identified with the present day Thirumuppattu temple near Aluwa.It is possible that this village originally formed a settlement of thirtythree Brahmanans hailing from the Airanikkalam village, since Keralolpathi mention that Ilibhyam is subsidiary to Airanikkalam. It is interesting also that the Brahmanans now living in this village claim that they originally belonged to the Airanikkalam village.

21) ULIYANNUR: Uliyannur is a village three km southwest of Aluwa. The temple is dedicated to Siva and has yielded an inscription. The temple was till recently ruled by a body of ten Brahmanan families, but has since come under the management of Irinjalakuda Devasvam.

22) KALUTANATU: Nothing definite can be said about this village; tentative suggestions identifying it with Vetanad or Kilinad may be made; but these are not supported by evidence.

23) ETTUMANUR: Ettumanur is a village which attained prosperity during the medieval times. The medieval Manipravalam work, Unnuneelisandesam has praised Ettumanur temple. This temple is situated 10 km north of Kottayam, and is dedicated to Siva.

24) KUMAARANELLUR: Situated six km north of Kottayam, Kumaaranellur is famous for the Durga temple, which is the Gramakshetram also. This temple has yielded an inscription assigned to c. 11th century, A.D. Local traditions indicate that this was a Siva temple, later converted to Durga temple.

25) KITANGUR: Kitangur is a village near Palai in Idikki district. Though the village temple, which enshrines Siva, has not yielded any inscriptions, on account of the continuing orthodox Brahmanan traditions built around the structural temple, one may identify this village also to be a seat of one of the original Brahmanan settlements.

26) KATAMARUKU: Katamaruku is now known as Katamuri and is a village near Kottayam. There is a Brahmanan family bearing the name Katamaruku near Thodupuzha. Their ancestors may perhaps have migrated from this village.

27) THIRUVALLA: Thiruvalla is 26 km south of Kottayam. The temple has yielded the lengthiest of Kerala inscriptions. The temple is dedicated to Visnu and is praised by Tamil saints like Nammalvar and Tirumangai Alvar. Two Brahmanans from this village figure in the Kilimanur record.

28) ARANMULA: Aranmula is situated 16 km east of Thiruvalla. A Brahmanan from this village is referred to in the Kilimanur record of A.D. 1169. The temple, dedicated to Visnu, has been praised by Nammalvar in Tiruvaymozhi. The temple is now famous for the boat race.

29) CHENGANNUR: Chengannur is six km south of Thiruvalla. The temple is dedicated to Siva. The two sets of Mampalli Plates, dated A.D. 973, speak of Tiruccengunrur. The Kilimanur record of A.D. 1169, refers to two Brahmanans of this village also. Tradition has it that Tamilians came in and peopled Chengannur and that in course of time they fell out with the Brahmanans of Chengannur.

30) KAVIYUR: Kaviyur is famous for one of the few rock-cut temples of kerala. The Gramakshetram, situated six km east of Thiruvalla, has yielded two inscriptions. The hostilities between Kaviyur and Aranmula was notorious in the later times, although it was by no means comparable to that between Panniyur and Sukapuram.

31) VENMANI: Venmani is situated three km west of Pandalam, a town on the Main Central (MC) Road. The Visnu temple at Venmani and the continuing orthodox Brahmanan culture help the identification of this village settlement.

32) NIRMANNA: Written variously as Niraman, Nirmanna, etc., in different versions of Keralolpathi, the present name of this village is Niramankara. Dr. Stella Kramrisch has given the photographs of a ruined temple and Visnu image of c. 14th century enshrined therein. This village has now ceased to be a Brahmanan settlement.

The above survey, when made against the backgrounds of the geographical setting of these settlements, would reveal two things. It was on the fertile plains on the valleys of rivers that the settlements took shape. Another and more important fact is that some settlements are found in clusters. For instance, the group consisting of Ettumanur, Kumaaranallur, Katamuri, Aranmula, Thiruvalla, Chengannur, Kaviyur, Venmani and Niramankara form a cluster along the Pampa valley. Another comprising Chemmanda, Irinjaalakuda, Avittathur, Paravur, Airanikkalam, Muzhikulam, Kulur, Atur, Chenganatu, Thirumuppattu and Kalutanatu make a second one on the greater Periyar. The settlements on the banks of Perar, viz., Karattur, Alathur, Chokiram alias Sukapuram, Panniyur and possibly Isanamangalam constitute a different cluster. The fact that the settlements are generally found along river valleys and more particularly that they are populously found in the more fertile regions, together with the inscriptions which record land-grants and which emerged by the revival of the Cheras in Kerala, indicates and perhaps accounts for the rapid increase in agricultural production.

Although the above thirtytwo settlements form the traditional original ones, there took shape others as well. The neighbourhood of all the temples of the ancient and medieval periods served as Brahmanan settlements. This is clear from the fact that almost all the temple inscriptions of this age are of similar character.

About the constitution or pattern of these settlements, one is utterly in the dark. But later records of the 11th and 12th century A.D. typify certain cases which could have been the pattern in the immediate past also.

| Article No:2.1 | Last update of this article:26th October 2000 |
For more information, contact Dr. Kesavan Veluthat, Dept. of History, Mangalore University, Mangalagangothri-574 199, Karnataka.

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