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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Nairs and Bunts: Two castes with common roots?

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)
Similarities

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.

7 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Sir, The number of nairs in Kerala - 60 lakhs- is that number correct?- Isnt it around 40 lakhs?

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  3. From where did you get this statistics of 40 lakh. It had been a ploy of organisations which oppose Nairs to downplay the number of Nairs in Kerala The number of Nairs in Kerala is definitely more than 55 lakhs. Basis of this is socio-economic survey of 1968 according to which population of Nairs is 14.5% of total population. In the light of this 14.5 %current Kerala population which is 3.3 crore comes to around 48 lakh.

    Now why did I give the number of around 60? This is because that survey did not include many lower sections of Nairs in Nair community. For eg. Vilakkithala nair, Veluthedath Nair, Chakkala nair and many more groups, At least in Central and Southern Kerala integration of all groups of Nairs is complete. Groups like Chakkala Nairs have significant presence in some parts, especially Northern part of Kollam district. As they integrated into Nair community and got NSS membership the number of Nairs rose significantly at those places. If you look at the number of Nair MLAs in Kerala assembly you can realise strength of Nair community in Kerala. Population of castes is one of the main yardsticks of CPM and COngress while fixing candiates after 1980s.

    If you check the Joshua Project of Christian groups aimed for converting they have given a realistic figure. This is around 60 lakh Nairs in Kerala.

    Now several groups who want to suppress Nairs have come forward with a strategy aimed at downplaying number of Nairs to deny Nairs their rights. This should be opposed tooth and nail. They inflate their numbers while downplaying Nairs population. I hope you don't belong to that group

    ReplyDelete
  4. From where did you get this statistics of 40 lakh. It had been a ploy of organisations which oppose Nairs to downplay the number of Nairs in Kerala The number of Nairs in Kerala is definitely more than 55 lakhs. Basis of this is socio-economic survey of 1968 according to which population of Nairs is 14.5% of total population. In the light of this 14.5 %current Kerala population which is 3.3 crore comes to around 48 lakh.

    Now why did I give the number of around 60? This is because that survey did not include many lower sections of Nairs in Nair community. For eg. Vilakkithala nair, Veluthedath Nair, Chakkala nair and many more groups, At least in Central and Southern Kerala integration of all groups of Nairs is complete. Groups like Chakkala Nairs have significant presence in some parts, especially Northern part of Kollam district. As they integrated into Nair community and got NSS membership the number of Nairs rose significantly at those places. If you look at the number of Nair MLAs in Kerala assembly you can realise strength of Nair community in Kerala. Population of castes is one of the main yardsticks of CPM and COngress while fixing candiates after 1980s.

    If you check the Joshua Project of Christian groups aimed for converting they have given a realistic figure. This is around 60 lakh Nairs in Kerala.

    Now several groups who want to suppress Nairs have come forward with a strategy aimed at downplaying number of Nairs to deny Nairs their rights. This should be opposed tooth and nail. They inflate their numbers while downplaying Nairs population. I hope you don't belong to that group

    ReplyDelete
  5. Infact is a nice article, being you are from south kerala u dont know the realtionship between Nairs and bunts, as i heard both belong to Nagavamshi kstariya clans and in a bunts of tulunadu have sirname called nair which now rarely used, and in kasragod Bunts service scoiety has started i dont whether it is affliated to NSS, and bunts mathru sangha being the biggest bunt sangha which has 100 years of history, started 1904 and united all kannda, tulu, feudal, soldier, farmer bunts in one umbrella, in kasragod every one knows bunts and nairs are counterparts and recently nairs statrted settling down in kasragod and previously there was belief in both communities that bunts lady should not cross river payaswini/chandragiri which is considered as real border of tulunadu and kerala, so if any nair marrying bunt lady for plotical relationship or administartive relationship he was staying at her home only as its marumakktahaya/aliyakttale, but you wont find any tulu speaking traditional bunts that side of payaswini ,like placess nileswara, kanchangad, uduma. but you can find tulu speaking brahmins, daliths even billwas tradtionally settled in those regions. Hope you will study more in this.

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    Replies
    1. kya sir aap yahan bhi - this page was a great source of info for me also.

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  6. Nairs of Malabar(Kerala) and the Bunts of southern Tulu Nadu are they same..?

    ReplyDelete