Nayar - Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriage customs among the Nayars have evoked much discussion and controversy in India among both jurists and social scientists. There was considerable subregional variation as well as variation by subcaste and family prestige. Details presented here refer to south Malabar and the former Cochin State. There were two kinds of marriage: talikettu kalyanam (tali [necklet]-tying ceremony); and sambandham (the customary nuptials of a man and woman). The tali-tying ceremony had to be held before puberty and often the ceremony was held for several girls at the same time to save on expenses. Depending on the group the tali could be tied by a member of a linked lineage (often two Nayar Lineages that frequently intermarried were linked to one another and called enangar lineages), by a member of a higher subcaste of Nayars, by one of the matrilineal Ambilavasi (temple servant) castes, or by a member of a royal lineage. By the mid-1950s, it became common for some girls to have the tali tied by their mothers. It is still controversial as to whether this ceremony was ever a formal marriage or if originally it was simply an age-grade ceremony, since it often included a large number of girls ranging in age from 6 months to 12 or 14 years. Women did observe formal mourning practices for the men who tied their talis, and in some instances—for example, if the girl was close to puberty—it was possible that the Marriage might be consummated during this ceremonial period. How often this occurred is unknown. By contrast, sambandan involved a man having a "visiting husband" relationship with a woman. While such relationships were considered to be marriages by the woman's family, especially when they occurred with males of higher subcastes or castes, the males tended to view the relationships as concubinage. Traditionally Nayar women were allowed to have more than one "visiting husband" either simultaneously or serially.

Domestic Unit. The size and composition of the domestic unit have varied over time. Before partition was permitted it could consist of as many as 50 to 100 people. However, once partition was allowed, the size of units decreased rapidly, so that by the late 1950s and 1960s the normal unit consisted of one or more married women with their children, their mother (if living), and possibly some adult male members of the matrilineage. Traditional Nayar family organization provided one of the relatively unique exceptions to the near universality of the nuclear family. The "visiting husband" had very Little importance in his wife's family and had no responsibility for any children he might sire. His main responsibilities were for his sister's children. The practice of polyandry also placed a limitation on relationships between men and their own biological children. Today households are even smaller, consisting often of only the nuclear unit, though a matrilineal relative of the woman might often reside with a married couple.

Inheritance. Traditional inheritance was in the matriline only. Any property a man possessed went to his sisters and their children. As men took to modern, Western professions and started accumulating personal wealth as opposed to Family property, they began passing it on to their own biological children. As a result, there are today slightly different laws regulating inherited and acquired wealth. However, even today it is customary for a man to put his self-acquired property in his wife's name so that it can then be inherited Matrilineally. Furthermore, a man feels greater responsibility for his sister's children than for his brother's children. Even men living away from Kerala in Delhi or New York are more likely to sponsor a sister's son or daughter than a brother's.

Socialization. Traditional socialization patterns involved a strong emphasis on the use of shaming as a technique of Control. Traditionally, in all but the poorest taravads, children (female as well as male) were expected to learn to read and write Sanskrit written in the Malayalam alphabet, and as soon as English education came to the region, boys started learning English. Girls only started learning English later. Socialization training strongly emphasized what people knew (i.e., keeping up appearances) rather than superego (i.e., internalized conscience and values).


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