Nair is the name of a caste in the Southern Indian state of Kerala. Nairs are an integral part of
Kerala's culture and have a long and illustrious history. Nairs are a warrior class (a martial
nobility). In this regard, they are similar to the samurai of Japan. The word Nair is either derived from the Sanskrit word Nayaka (leader) or Naga (snakes, which the Nairs worshipped). The Nair class name also encompasses Menons, Panickers, Kurups, Pillais, Unnithans, and Nambiars.
Origins and History
According to Chattambi Swamigal, who interpreted ancient Tamil texts, Nairs were a Dravidian nobility called the "Naka Lords". Ancient South Indian history refers to the Nairs as a martial nobility, eminent historians, and foreign travelers.
The origin of the Nair caste is uncertain. Some anthropologists are of the view that the Nairs are not indigenous to Kerala. One theory is that Nairs are actually the descendants of the Newars of Nepal, who migrated to Kerala. There are many facts to support this view. The first is the lighter complexion, and sharper features of Nairs. The second is the distinct pagoda-like architectural style of Nair Tharavaadus and Temples. Finally, there is the Marumakkathaayam system of inheritance. This system is a matrilineal system which is also practiced by the Newars of Nepal. Another view is that the Nairs are actually descendants of the Chera Kings.
Yet another theory is that the Nairs are indigenous to Kerala, but gained the sharper features and fairer complexion due to intermarriages with the Namboothiris.
No one is sure when the Nairs actually arrived in Kerala. However, they were definitely present in Kerala before the arrival of the Brahmins in the seventh century A.D. One finds the first mention of Nairs during the reign of the Chera King Rama Varma Kulashekhara (1020-1102), when the Chera Kingdom was attacked by the Cholas. The Nairs demonstrated their bravery, courage, and nobility by forming suicide squads (Chavers) against the invading force.
The martial art known as Kalaripayattu was created by the Nairs. Kalaripayattu is believed to be the oldest form of martial arts in the world. It is thought that all other forms of martial arts are descended from it. There is some truth in this because Kerala had intense contacts with Buddhist monks, and Kung Fu, popularized by monks of the Shaoling Temple, traces its ancestry to Bodhidharma - an Indian Buddhist monk and Kalaripayattu master.
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