THEEYARS OF MALABAR.
Theeyars (also spelt as Thiyya/Thiyyar) are the largest single Hindu community in Malabar region. The most cultured, highly educated and influential in every aspect of social life, they have outshone other segments of people in every walk of life. Their population is estimated to be over 35 lakh When Malabar was a constituent district of the erstwhile Madras State, Theeyars were included in the list of forward Castes. After the formation of Kerala State they were added to the list of Other Backward Classes presumably for enjoying the advantage of reservation. That was how they were equated to a distinctly different caste, Ezhava of Travancore, who have their origin in Dravidian migrants from Ceylon.
Theeyars, the earliest inhabitants of Malabar are descendants of Indo-Aryan race who came over to Tian Shan region of Central Asia when their mother land - Crete Island – was inundated by a terrific flood in BC 1470-1450. Some historians say that their ancestors were the inhabitants of North Africa. From Tianshan area they spread over many regions including uninhabited land of Malabar, South Canara and Coorg. Some groups travelled still further and settled in Bali and Thahithi islands.
Social historians like Kambil Anandan Master, T. Damu and M.M. Anantharam hold this view by and large. They are unanimous in their opinion that Theeyars and Ezhavas have nothing in common. They are distinctly different in their culture, lifestyle, customs and social practice. Anandan Master deals in detail with the history of “Mannanars”, a Theeya Dynasty who ruled over an area of highland in present Kannur District. The last Theeya King Kunhi Kelappan Mannanar was stabbed to death in AD 1902. There is another version about the origin of Theeyars. Alexander the great invaded India with a huge army numbering about 50,000. During the heavy battles nearly 30,000 of them lost their lives. A few thousands of the dejected soldiers left battle field and came down to south. Ultimately they settled in the uninhabited land of Malabar, South Canara and Coorg. They were the forefathers of Theeyars. Stories and legends may have some elements of truth in them, though we cannot take it for granted for hundred per cent accuracy. It is amply clear from these varied stories that Theeyars came to settle themselves in the uninhabited land of Malabar several thousand years ago.
There are unique ethnic, social, cultural, spiritual and physical features of the Theeyars of Malabar, which no other community can claim. In this connection the following things are to be taken cognizance of :-
- Theeyars belong to any of the eight clans (Illams). Ezhavas have no such illam. Marriage between individuals of same illams is prohibited and it is still strictly followed in Northern parts of North Malabar.
- Theeyars, till recently, were followers of Matriarchy. Ezhavas followed Patriarchy right from the beginning.
- Theeyars do not give or accept dowry. Theeyars look down upon any caste or people who accept or give dowry. In sharp contrast, certain other castes of Travancore, whose organizations are striving to merge their caste with Theeyars and propagating the one caste theory, bargain for dowry.
- Theeya ladies have right to property.
- Rights and rituals of Theeyars are distinctly different from other castes. .
- Theeyars have their own way of worship (Kavu, Kazhakam, Theyyam etc).
- Theeyars of Malabar have Mediterranean features.
- Theeyars, anthropologically, have an architectural style totally different from any other castes including that of Ezhavas.
- Theeyars had suzerainty over lower castes in Malabar.
- Traditionally, Theeyars only have the right to be the Kalasakkaran in their Kavu as well as in the Kavu of other communities.
- During the period when local judiciary existed Theeyars (Tharayil Karanavars) only were on the jury.
For generations, Theeyars worshiped Sree Vayanattukulavan as “Kuladeivam” and Sri Muthappan as “Kulanathan”.. The spiritual worship of Theeyars is through Kavu and Kazhakam. Large number of Kazhakams exist in Malabar, especially in North Malabar, who maintain hundreds of Kavus and hold annual Theyyam Kaliyattam. Theeyars have four Adi Kazhakams which are in existence for last several centuries, namely (i) Kuruvanthatta Kazhakam, Ramanthali, (ii) Ramavilyam Kazhakam, Thrikkaripur (iii) Nellikkathuruthi Kazhakam, Thuruthi, Cheruvathur and (iv) Palakkunnu Kazhakam, Uduma. Earliest Sub Kazhakams are Kanakathu Kazhakam and Koottamangalam Kazhakam. Now there are 3 several Sub Kazhakams in North Malabar which control Theeyars’ Mundyas and Kavus. No other castes in Kerala have any such kind of spiritualism and culture. Kavu and Kazhakam are unknown to them.
The early inhabitants of Malabar consisted of different tribes as well as a most advanced and main Gothra communes of Theeyars, whose civilization was built around their own places of worship called Kavu and with their own administrative set up at different levels. The Theeyars worshiping of god was under Thanthrik, Saktheya and shivite system. Their spiritualism was always distinctly different from Brahminical order. Theeyars resisted the spiritual invasion, protected their age-old ethnic continuity without allowing any racial mixing (varna sankara) and any kind of submission to Brahmins and other castes and formulated their own form of worshipping in kavu. The personnel of Theeyar community were the owners of land in Malabar for thousands of years till about 1315 CE. Although the main occupations were agriculture and trade, a large sections of Theeyars were warriors protecting various kings and naduvazhis (chieftains) from the enemies. Their devoted gallantry services as warriors and loyalty and sincerity were widely acclaimed by several kings who deployed them in large scale into their army and with a Theeyar Chief of the Army. The historical evidence available and the research done by several historians substantiates that the Theeyars were originally in the status of kshatriyas and the archaeological evidence such as stone inscriptions in Theni District of Tamil Nadu etc prove that the Theeyars were warriors even prior to the year 2000 BCE. Sangam literature and hero stones found in Tamil Nadu show that Chekavars were engaged in combat often on behalf of a lord and in this hero stone, Chekavars (Theeyars who get the title of Chekavar after excelling in sword fighting) generally bear an idol of an armed man along with a Shiva Linga. The erection of hero stone for these men fallen in battle on behalf of his lord and villagers was the tradition during sangam period.
The Komarams of Gurukkanmar Kavu, Mavilai were able to conduct Sarpa pooja (Sarpa bali) to get rid of any kind of Sarpa dosha, known as the most dangerous Dosha in Hinduisam. Even Brahmins have lot of limitation in this area. Brahmins of Pambamme Kavu have maximum 50-60% ability to get rid of sarpa dosha but not complete. It shows Theeyars had a higher level spiritual power, which is better than that of Brahmins.
Majority of Vaidyas (Ayurvedic Doctors) and Astrologers are from Theeyar community. The community had large number of Kalari Gurukkanmars who taught Kalaripayattu (A martial art of warfare using sword) in their Kalaris. Notable among them was the Koodan Gurukkanmar who obtained a proclamation order from the Kolathiri Raja that no Caste difference and untouchability will exist between Nairs and Theeyars in “Randuthara”, which now comprise of three or four Panchayaths. Koodan Gurukkanmar Theyyam is now performed in Gurukkanmar Kavu every year. The Theyyam visits every house in the region and reminds them about the proclamation of Kolathiri. Kottakkal Kanaran Gurukkal (who taught Kalaripayattu to CV Narayanan Nair of CVN Kalari) also was a Theeyar. Oorachery Gurukkanman who established many schools in Thalassery area and taught Sanskrit language including to Hermen Gundert, was also a Theeyar. Most of the Ankachekavars of Kadathanadu, Valluvanad and their Kalari Gurukkanmar etc were from Theeyars community. Among them the name of Aromal Chekarvar, Unniyarcha, Aromalunni etc still live in the hearts of many in Malabar through the “Vadakkan Paattukal” ( then usually sung by Pananmar). Certain vested interests were spreading rumors in social media that Unniyarcha was defeated and taken as wife by Tippu Sultan. They deliberately forget the fact that the life time of Unniyarcha was centuries before the period of Tippu Sultan.
The spiritual ritualized art form of Theeyars include Poorakkali and Marathukali in Kavus of North Malabar. Marathukali is a variant of Poorakkali. Poorakkali is a traditional dance ritual performed by men during the nine-day Pooram festival in Bhagavathy temples across Northern Kerala (formerly known as Kolathunadu), south India. Marathukali is a form of Poorakali performed by two parties (two panikkars from both sides) competently. Big disputes ensue between two parties while performance of Marathukali is on, engaging in arguments in various historical and contemporary aspects, using their expertise in Sanskrit, Hindu Sasthras and in Tharka Sasthra and the dispute is finally settled by a judge who is also a well known Marathukali Panikar and Marathukali expert himself. The well acclaimed history book “Castes and Tribes of Southern India” by Edgar Thurston (1855-1935), Vol-VII, clearly describes the rituals performed in marriage of Theeyars which itself proves that it has nothing in common with Ezhavas. Eight illams of Theeyars in North Malabar, as per this book, are:-
There are local variations in names of these illams at certain regions as given below:-
Another renowned historical reference book “Malabar Manuel” by William Logan also proves the fact that the culture, customs, art form and spiritualism of Theeyars are different and they have no connection whatsoever with Ezhavas.
Why Malabar Thiyya Mahasabha was formed?.
Thiyya Maha Sabha,Kannur is a formed to safeguard the interest of Theeyars community. Theeyars community always remained in the forefront in protecting the society at large whenever invading forces attempted to destroy their culture and spiritualism. After merging of erstwhile Malabar District with the Travancore and Cochin to form a unified state of Kerala, the Theeyars community was included in the list of Other Backward Classes. The economic conditions of Theeyars by and large remained comparatively low though they were socially a forward community, thanks to the grabbing of their land by dubious means with the connivance of the Kings and their henchmen by the notorious “Melcharthu” order. It constrained a large number of Theeyars, who lost their land, to become agricultural labourers. Keeping this degradation of economic condition, the Theeya leaders vigorously strived in getting Theeyars included in OBC list after the formation of Kerala State.
The classification of Theeyars in OBC later became disadvantageous to Theeyars. Instead of getting their rightful share in Govt jobs, thanks to the subversion of reservation policy and the clandestine attempt by certain Ezhava organizations of Travancore to merge Theeyar caste with them. The participation of some Theeyars with the SNDP was used as a ladder and boggy to mislead Theeyar community that both were same community. A large number of Pro-Ezhava writers were used to write fake history to show that Theeyars and Ezhava were one single community and by relying on such hand-picked writers’ books certain Ezhava organizations argued before the authorities
that both were one single community. The subversion of reservation policy aggravated the situation. Theeyars, Ezhava and Billava community were brought under one single group and allotted 14 % job quota for appointment through Kerala PSC. The group name was Ezhava/Theeyars/Billava (E.T.B). Those vested interests took advantage of this and gradually named it as Ezhava Group. While applying online for PSC jobs, the caste name of Theeyars were recorded as Ezhava and sub caste as Theeyars, thanks to the network system so developed. Since the percentage of reservation for each caste within the ETB group has not been specified, Theeyar candidates do not get their rightful share of the reservation, making Theeyars at great disadvantage. The number of Theeyars in Kerala Govt service is dwindling every month and this has been happening for the last several years. A very few Theeyars now exist in Govt service. During British regime in Malabar, Theeyars representation in Government jobs were comparatively higher. There were Theeyar Judges, Doctors, Scientists, Bureaucrats and teachers/College professors especially those teaching Sanskrit language. There were also Divan Bhadurs, Rao Bahadurs, Village Adhikaris etc among Theeyars of Malabar. Padmashree Dr E.K. Janaki Ammal, the world renowned Botonist was from Theeyars community. Bapu Veins was another universally known Astrophysicist from the community.. There are incidents of School Principals recording the caste of Theeyar students as Ezhava in SSLC certificates. When asked to change it they were reportedly misleadingly told that they would get reservation for higher education and job only if they write the caste name as Ezhava because the reservation was for Ezhava. Many Theeyars believed this misleading information and did not change their caste name in SSLC certificates. Malabar Thiyya Mahasabha (MTMS) took up the matter with the Kerala PSC during December 2014 and as per reply received from Kerala PSC they have now made changes in online network system and now the group name will be shown as ETB and the own caste of individual will be recorded. However, the injustice continues until and unless a 7% reservation exclusively for Theeyar community is allotted and they are listed separately in the OBC group delinking it from the ETB group. The tendency to socially denigrate and insult Theeyars by vested interest continues at various levels against which also MTMS remains as watchdog. Theeyars have major role in the Theyyam rituals in various Kavus. Poorakkali and Marathukali are mainly performed by Theeyars. The Ilaneer veppu (Tender coconut submissions) at the Kottiyoor Perumal temple, Kottiyoor was done by Theeyars for generations. Now certain news papers, who seems to have taken quotation for making the Theeyar community extinct and to clandestinely
convert it to Ezhava, report that such rituals are performed by Ezhavas. Similarly the rituals performed by Thiyyars in various Kavus are reported by such Corporate media houses as performed by Ezhavas. They are reluctant to call us Theeyars apparently to please certain elements with whom these news paper big houses have business interest. The Theeyar Kavus which our forefathers built, protected and worshipped are being taken over by spiritual invading forces and the ownership went into the hands of committees comprising of men from other castes, thus destroying its’ status as Theeyar Kavu. Certain well established marriage bureaus Register Theeyar boys and girls for marriage but in their records their caste is recorded as Ezhava and they are sent proposals of Ezhava boys and girls. While all these kinds of negating the Theeyar community and it’s Swathwam at all levels in an organized manner is happening, there should be a strong Theeyars organization to safeguard the interest of Theeyars and to protect their age old culture, traditions, spiritualism including spiritual arts. Thus, when our Asthithwam is being lost and Theeyar Caste is being systematically and clandestinely being made extinct, a group of spirited and committed Thiyya Maha Sabha is conducting a Marriage Bureau viz. TMS Matrimony in it’s Central Office at 2nd floor, ,Brigade Centre,, Fort Road,Kannur-1. to continue our endeavour to safeguard the interest of Theeyars and to keep our Asthithwam (ethnic originality) alive, and to keep this organization alive, we appeal all Theeyars to become life members of TMS Matrimony .