Nayar - Orientation

Identification. The Nayars are one of a number of caste groups living in Kerala State, India. Most of the description given in this article refers to Nayar society as it existed around 1900. Traditionally they were warriors, landowners (who supervised but rarely worked the land), and rulers. Toward the end of the eighteenth century they began to abandon their role as warriors and gradually lost their political power. They took to Western education early on and came to form a Significant proportion of the professional and white-collar class by the middle of the twentieth century.

Location. Traditionally Nayars belong to the southwest coast of India, in what is now the state of Kerala. It is a long, narrow area bounded on the west by the Arabian Sea and on the east by the high ranges of the Western Ghats. The area may be divided into (1) a narrow alluvial coastland extending only a few miles from the sea and mostly confined to the area south of Ponnani (the lower two-thirds of the coastline); (2) low lateritic plateaus and foothills between 75 and 200 meters above sea level, covered with grass and scrub; and (3) the highlands. The central region forms the main area of traditional village settlement as well as the main area for rice cultivation. It consists of a continually undulating countryside, with long, narrow, winding paddy fields surrounded by hills and slopes that were earlier covered by thick vegetation. The climate is monsoonal with heavy rains from both the southwest (oncoming) and northeast (retreating) monsoons. The average temperature is 27° C.

Demography. The state of Kerala has the highest rural population density in India with 1,244 persons per square kilometer in Alleppey District, 1,182 in Trivandrum District, 1,052 in Ernakulam District, and over 800 in Trichur and Kozhikode districts (1981). Despite an exceptionally successful family planning program, these densities are expected to be even higher in the 1991 census because of the demographic pyramid. Sex ratios in Kerala approximate those in the "developed world," with 1,032 females to every 1,000 males (1981 census). Extrapolating from the census of 1911, which gave great detail about caste, it can be estimated that the Nayars make up approximately 15 percent of the present population of Kerala, or a number close to 3.8 million (as of 1981) or 4.3 million (based on approximate figures for 1990).

Linguistic Affiliation. Nayars speak Malayalam, a Language belonging to the Southern Branch of the Dravidian Family.

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