Nairs and Bunts
Nairs of Kerala and Bunts of Karnataka and Konkan coast share many features. Some of the websites of Bunt Community have pointed out these similarities. However, Nair community in general and Nair organizations in particular are yet to realize the relations between these two communities. Being from Southern Kerala I never thought that both the communities share similarities. But close contacts with Bunts changed my perception. Both communities are share many things.
My first encounter with Bunts occurred at Kasaragod, the northernmost district of Kerala bordering South Kanara district of Karnataka. Friendly Bunts of Kasaragod and Manjeswaram are hardworking people who have proved their worth in agriculture, business and arts and culture like their Nair counterparts in Kerala.
Numerically Nairs outnumber Bunts. It is estimated that there are more than 75 lakh Nairs in India with around 60 lakh in Kerala and the rest in other parts. Bunts could be less than 20 lakh, mainly in coastal Karnataka and Mumbai. (Estimates are rough and average of figures from different Census)
Both castes have been warriors and feudal lords in the past and turned to agriculture in the later years. Bunts and Nairs share many common customs in social life. The form of Hinduism followed by both communities traditionally involves worship of Serpent (Naga) Gods at Sacred Groves (Sarpa Kavu) in Tharavads. Both worshipped mother goddess traditionally (Devi).
The languages of Malayalam spoken by Nairs and Tulu spoken by Bunts have many similarities and number of common words in both the languages is very high. It is said that in the past both Ancient Malayalam and Tulu were written using same script. In business both Nairs and Bunts are especially successful in hotel industry. Both community members share similar physical features too. A large section of Nairs and Bunts are fair complexioned. However, while one could find many people with blue, light brown, grey and green eyes among Bunts it is not that common to find blue and green eye colour among Nairs. However light brown and grey eyes are not that rare among Nairs too. Perhaps Nairs who are mythically from North who migrated to further South might have mixed more with local communities.
Historical evidence of relation between Nairs and Bunts
Nair community’s origin is often attributed to Nagas of Ahichatra in Bareilli taluk of Uttar Pradesh who later migrated to the South. (This is not a verified conclusion as there are many theories) Similarly, myths about Bunts also share the same origin. In Mahabharata it is mentioned that Drupada ruled Ahi Kshetra mening land of Nagas. Thus taking this direction it is likely that first group of immigrants from Ahichatra had settled in coastal Karnataka before a large section moved further South to Kerala settled here and intermingled with existing groups in Kerala. (The blog http://tulu-research.blogspot.in/2008/01/67-bunts-and-nairs.html has details of this history.)
A visit to a Bunt Tharavad in Kasaragod or coastal Karnataka will itself explain the Bunt-Nair relationship. The architecture of houses and the sacred grove are exact replica of Nair Tharavads in north Kerala and only slightly different from Nair Tharavads in Central and South Kerala. Food habits of both communities have also lots in similar. Both communities enjoy non vegetarian dishes.
Similar to the art form Yakshagana popular in coastal Karnataka, native place of Bunts, Nairs have Kathakali. I am not an expert in history but feel that serious studies need to be done to find the relation between Nairs and Bunts.
Possibility for Bunt-Nair tie ups
Bunts and Nairs will both benefit if the two communities establish relations with each other. Bunts are influential in Karnataka and Nairs in Kerala. While Billavas of south Karnataka has already established relations with their counterparts Ezhavas in Kerala it would be quite natural for Bunts and Nairs also to establish friendly relations.
Now one finds Billavas celebrating Birth anniversary of Sree Narayana Guru, Sage from Ezhava community, in South Kanara and Udupi districts. The Billava-Ezhava tie up has helped both. As now Nairs and Ezhavas are now acting jointly on many fronts in Kerala for protecting interests of Hindus, Bunt-Nair unity would make protection of Hindu interests more easy. In the face, of changing demography of Northern Kerala and South Karnataka, a Bunt-Nair tie-up will have great relevance.