Nair – Hindu Caste of the Indian State of Kerala. Before the British conquest i.e. 1792 the region contained small feudal Kingdoms in each of which the royal and noble lineages, the militia and most land managers were drawn from Nairs and related caste. During British rule, Nairs became prominent in position, Government Service, Medicine, Education and Law. --- (Encyclopedia Britanica)
Nair – A people of Malabar coast of India that are probably Dravidians with Aryan admixture.--- (Oxford Dictionary)
Nairs are the Malayalee warriors (Kshatriyas) of Kerala. They are the owners of this land. --- (Sabdatharavali)
Nairs are the savama Hindus who constituted the warriors, landed gentry and yeoman of Kerala. Nayars are the largest and most important section of the society of Kerala. They were the lords of the country and guardian of public weal. --- (Robin Jeffrri – The Decline of Nair Dominance)
The word ‘Nair’ means one who leads, a leader, a guardian, a teacher or a father. Nair is not a caste, but a society of the Dravidian culture. ---- (Nair Samudayathinte Ithihasm – Pattom G.Ramachandran Nair)
It is not easy to trace out the exact date of the origin of Nairs. They belonged to the Dravidian group, not the Aryan. It is believed that in the Aryan society the rulers were Kshatriyas. Chera rulers who ruled over Kerala from AD 130 to AD 1100 were not Kshatriyas. But they belonged to this place. So it can reasonably be presumed that they were Nairs. In his account of ancient India, Greek ambassador in the court of Chandra Gupta, Megasthenes refers in around 300 BC about the Nairs and the kingdom of Cheras, where there were female sovereigns. There is no evidence to prove the advent of Aryans to Kerala or their establishment of kingdoms here. But there are clear evidences for the involvement of Nairs in the rule of the country.
It can be assumed that as a result of the Aryan insurgency to the South the Non-Kshatiyas of Kerala were converted as Kshatriyas. Though the rules of Venad, Onat (Kayamkulam), Deshinganad, Ilayidathu Swaroopam, Thekkumkur, Vadakkumkur, Kochi, Kozhikode and Kolathumadu were known as Kshatriyas, they were actually Nairs. The profession of the Ksyathriyas was warfare. According to this interpretation, Nairs would seem to be more like Kshatriyas since they were a martial class as well. Similar to Kshatriyas, Nairs were second to the Brahmins (Namboothiris).
The word ‘Nair’ was first recorded in the 9th century Thirukodithana (Trikodisthanam) command of Vijayaragadeven. Mention to Nair was also seen in the Thirunelli Pattayam of Bhaskararavi Verma. There are inferences about ‘Padanairs’ (warriors) in two stone carvings of Nedumpuram Thali. In the stonewall of Suchindram Dwaraka Temple which belongs to AD 400, it was recorded that ‘Pallikkan Nair’ was the temple uralan. During the beginning of the 19th century Nair became a caste name in Venad. Before that, the word was used to mean ‘warrior’.
One finds mention of the Nairs during the reign of the King Rama Varma Kulashekhara (1020-1102) of second Chera dynasty, when the Cholas attacked the Chera Kingdom. The Nairs fought by forming suicide squads (Chavers) against the invading force.
There are differences of opinion about the origin of Nair community. One argument is that Nairs are descendent of Nagas. Nagas were the oldest and strongest group lived in India before the Aryan insurgency. They were in India even before the era of Ramayana. They were warriors in the Mahabharatha battle and mention to this effect was seen in Harivamsa and Vishnu Markandeya epics. The Surya and Soma dynasties were related to the Nagas.
After the Mahabharatha battle the Nagas became more powerful. It was Nagas who killed the King Parikshit. There is historical evidence to believe that Nagas inhabited in all suitable places even from time immemorial. There capital was Thakshasila. Their rule extended from Thakshasila to Assam on one side and from South India to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) on the other. The Nagas who came to Kerala became Nairs. Snake worship is a special feature of Nairs. There were Sarpakavus (snake parks) attached to almost all the Nair Tharavads. The Nair ladies and men had a habit of combing and tying their hair just like a serpen’t head. Nairs followed matrilineal (marumakkathayam) system. Before the advent of Namboodiris, an organized war-like group of people exercised supremacy over Kerala. Their origin was unknown. Owing to the worship of Naga (snake), this set of people came to be known as Nagas. They exercised control over Adivasis, put them to hard fieldwork and made them slaves. Kodungallur Kunhikuttan Thampuran in his book ‘Keralathil’ firmly ascertains that Nairs are same as Nagas.
Sri Vidyadhiraja Chattambi Swamikal has reproduced some old ballads calling Nairs and Nagas in his book ‘Pracheena Malayalam’. He in his work ‘Pracheena Malayalam’ has reproduced the following details about Nagas found in the old vattezhuthu records. “Nagas wearing caps made of areca nut and wooden shoes with long moustache and hair, with beams in forehead and sword in hand, and moving elegantly were treated with respect by all country men. The Nagas treated ‘dharma’ as all in all. To them it was their life, their organs, their Gods, their knowledge, their very existence and all in all”.
Sri Chattambi Swamikal also quoted some other information about Nagas. Wherever Nagas were mentioned special mention about their forehead was made. This shows that they were devoted shoats or worshippers of Lard Shiva. They believed in the gospel of Dharma. They were the followers of Shiavait movement. They became Nairs later. These shoats in course of time became the followers of brahmnical faith. Brahmins treated the Nairs as Sudras. Therefore, it is proved beyond doubts that Nairs were a group of people who recognized the supremacy of the Brahmins.
P. Damodaran Pillai says that Nagas were the group of people who moved southwards from North India during pre-historic times. They became the Nairs of today. It is difficult to trace the origin of the word ‘Nair’ which might have a connection with snake worshippers, known at one time as ‘Nagas’. Some are of the opinion that the ancestors of the Nairs were a sect of snake worshipping Scythians. They came to India through Northwest border and settled down in different parts of the country. According to K. P. Padmanabha Menon, Keralan or Cheralan who ruled Kerala centuries ago, brought Nagas and permitted to settle here and these Nagas were later were known as Nairs and Ambalavasis.
There is another version that Nairs belonged to Dravidian group of people, which stretched from Europe to Eastern end of Asia. Some believe that Nairs were transitioned Naeri people who inhabited on the banks of Euphrates and Tigris rivers during very ancient times. Agriculture was the main occupation of this group. By about BC 3000 Urathier Naeri of Hurien tribe attacked their country. The war lasted for a very long period. In the end Sargan-1 conquered the Naeri land completely by BC 2018 (as evidenced from the stone inscriptions of Sargan-I). Naeris fled to different parts in different groups. Those who reached India settled in the Indus Vally and various places like Lothal area, between Goa and Kannur, Thakshsila, Katmandu, North Bihar, Bengal and in some places near Madras (now Chennai). Those who reached Karnataka settled in Tulunadu and Kadathanadu. Another group crossed the Sahya Mountains and reached Kerala. These Naeri settlers later became Nairs.
The prime group of idolaters in Kozhikode was called s Brahmins and the next as Nairs. Varthema (AD 1502) recorded that Naeris were just like decent people among them. The Thekkumkur and Vedakkumkur rulers of Kerala were saluted as Naeris.
Whatever may be arguments on the origin of Nair community, it is an indisputable fact that Nairs were strong group of people having deep-rooted influence over Kerala. No other society had possessed their status or standard. They were deeply immersed with the history and culture of Kerala. Truly speaking, the history of Nairs is indeed the history of Kerala.
The Special meeting of Nair Bhrithyajana Sangham held at Mannathu Bhavan on Midhunam 27, 1090 (M.E.) decided to change the name as “Nair Service Society”. On Midhunam 17, 1100 the Nair Service Society was registered under the Travancore Company Act.The proclaimed aim of the Nair Service Society is the unification of all Hindus along with the active coordination of the Nair community so as to ensure harmony of all communities and thereby progress in all walks of life. This aim is in consonance with the famous gospel of the Hindu culture “Loka Samastha Sukhino Bhavanthu” (Let the whole world be happy for ever).