Nayar - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Nayars themselves are Hindus. However, in Kerala there are also many Christians (of various denominations) and Muslims.

Religious Practitioners. Nayars frequently attend Hindu temples. The main pujaris (temple priests) are Tamil Brahmans or Brahmans from South Kanara, though in a few Temples there are also Nambudiri or Kerala Brahmans. Kerala has been innovative in providing training and certification for well-trained lower-caste pujaris.

Ceremonies. The most important ceremonies celebrated in Kerala among Hindus are Vishu, Onam, and Thiruvathira. Traditionally, these were the three ceremonial occasions when a "visiting husband" was expected to bring new clothes to his wife. Vishu occurs at the same time as the Tamil New Year in mid-April. It is a time for wearing new clothes and also is considered the beginning of the summer. The first things a person sees that morning upon arising are said to Influence his or her life throughout the year. Onam (in August-September) is the harvest festival associated with the first paddy harvest. It is also the Malayali New Year. For Nayars it is extremely important not only as a time for getting new clothes but also because of the many rituals associated with it. Thiruvathira is in December, and it is said to be especially important for Nayar females, who have to take a bath in the family tank in the early morning before sunrise, sing a number of special songs, and perform a dance said to be especially beneficial as exercise for women.


Arts. Nayar culture is closely associated with the Kathakali dance dramas that developed in the 16th century. They involve elaborate headdresses and makeup. It takes many years to master the intricate dance techniques (traditionally performed by males only, though today some females are involved in them). Other arts associated with Nayars include the famous Kalari pattu (Kalari or armed gymnasium play) and female Kaikuttikali (a kind of dance). All art forms traditionally were related to caste. Nayars were often patrons of art forms that they themselves did not practice.

Medicine. The traditional medicine in Kerala is Ayurveda. It has been highly developed there, especially by the Variars, an Ambilavasi (temple servant) caste group that is also Matrilineal and shares many traits with Nayars. Today they run Ayurvedic medicine factories, nursing homes, and dispensaries. In addition, Kerala has a well-developed scientific medical system. Kerala doctors (including many Nayar doctors) and nurses may be found all over the world. There is no clash between Ayurvedic and modern or allopathic medicine, as they tend to be used to treat different diseases.

Death and Afterlife. As among all Hindus there is a strong belief in reincarnation. The dead are usually cremated.

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