On the Origin of Nayars

There is absolutely no evidence to show that there was any hostility between the Tamils and the Nayars who succeeded them as the rulers of the laud. This latter community had originally no name. In the grants of the kings and chiefs they are referred to simply as the Three Hundred, the Six Hundred, the Ten Thousand, which must have been administrative divisions, deriving their names from the number of soldiers furnished by them. In the granthavaris of the Zamorin they are called Lokar, literally people of the land. However wide the connotation of this word might have been at the beginning, in historic times it did not denote even all those who were governed by the Marumakkattayam law of inheritance. It was applied only to those who were required by custom to follow the profession of arms, who had undergone the customary military training and received their arms from the chief or the elders of the community. The Lokar were in ancient Kerala what the Spartiate were in ancient Greece.

The word Nayar is of a much later origin than Lokar. There is no connexion between Nayati and Nayar, the former one of the lowest, the latter one of the highest castes of the land. The former is derived from the Tamil Nayattu or hunting with dogs, the latter from the Sanskrit Nayaka or leader. At first Nayar had the same meaning as its Sanskrit parent. It was a personal or hereditary title conferred by a chief on the commandant of a fortress or the commander of an army. The Portuguese writers widened its meaning to include the military followers of the chiefs of Kerala. With the annexation of Malabar by the British in A. D. 1792 and the consequent disbandment of the Nayar militia not only in Malabar but also in the native states of Cochin and Travancore, the Nayars lost their distinctive occupation. They began to take to those peaceful pursuits which they had disdained in the past. Hence, now, all those between the caste of the Ampalavasis or temple servants on the one band and the polluting castes on the other call themselves Nayars, irrespective of their original rank or occupation in society.

Kanakasabhai says that the Nayars are of the same race as the Tamils and both of them came from Mongolia. But the Nayars trace pollution and property through the female, the Tamils through the male; the Nayar family centres round the mother, the Tamil family round the father. Further, the prevalence of Sati in ancient days among the Tamil warriors implies the inferiority of woman, which is totally at variance with a matriarchal form of society. Other writers give the Nayars a Naga origin. But succession to the throne and property among the Nagas was from father to son. In all probability the Nayars were originally hill-tribes living on the slopes of the Western Ghats different from both the Tamils and the Nagas.

When and bow the Nayars established their principalities in the valleys and spread even beyond to the islands off the coast are at present unknown to us. Slow and silent encroachment must have had its share, as in the formation of the Gurkha kingdom in the eighteenth century. The Nayars might have taken advantage of the weakness of the central government to extend their authority, and the imperial rulers of Tiruvanchikkulam might have thought it expedient to recognize them as feudatory governors of the lands from which they were powerless to expel them. The Tamil rulers, again, might have sought the help of these highlanders in their wars and conferred upon their leaders provincial governorships and military commands in much the same way as the Pathan sultans and the Mughal emperors set up Abyssiniana and Persians all over their


Not only the process but the date of their occupation is also a matter of conjecture. There is not even a single reference to them in the vast mass of the Sangam literature. The Samanta or the Nayar chiefs are mentioned for the first time in Bhaakara Ravi Varman’s grant to the Jew, Joseph Rabban, and the Lokar in a grant of Stanu Ravi Gupta’s reign. The dates of these grants are highly controversial The former is assigned to A. D. 192, 377, 700 and 1014; the latter to A. D. 311, 824 and 880. As these kings were later than the Samgam age the Nayars could not have risen to prominence before the fourth century.

The evidences for regarding the Nayars as indigenous hill-tribes, having no racial connexion with tbe Nagas or the Tamila, are;

  • Tirunelli in Wynad is their most sacred place, more sacred than Perur and Benares,
  • The Zamorin’s title, Kunnalakkonatiri, is perhaps reminiscent of their mountain homes,
  • The plantain leaf, very abundant on the hills, still plays a very important part in the life of the Nayars. Offerings to deities and chiefs are presented on it; the moment life departs from the body the corpse is placed on it; food is served even to the most distinguished guests on it, silver and gold being considered less pure than the plantain leaf.
  • In the recesses of the hills are still to be found people resembling the Nayars in every respect calling themselves Lokar and lords, of the hills,
  • Lastly, the military system of the Nayars was more suited to the hills than to the plains. While the Tamil warrior protected himself with ponderous armour, the Nayar trusted himself to agility of limb and suppleness of body, to the sure eye and the deft hand. The Nayars had no cavalry and their knowledge of fortification was rudimentary, artificial defences of moat and rampart being more imperatively required and more easily constructed on wide open plains than on the tops of woody hills.

Spring – Nikola Vaptsarov

Spring of mine, O spring of mine so white,
as yet unlived, as yet unfeasted,
alone in visions vague yet dreamt of,
how low above the poplars do you skim,
yet without pausing in your flight.

Spring of mine, O spring of mine so white!
I know you’ll come with rain and hurricanes,
stormy and terrible, fiery, riotous.
To bring back hopes in thousands, wash out bleeding wounds.

How loud the birds will sing then in the cornfields,
how merrily will soar up to the heav’ns,
how people will enjoy their work,
how lovingly as brothers will they live.
Spring of mine… O spring of mine so white!

O once again but let me see your soaring
and giving life to squares so desolate,
O once again but let me die then on your barricades!

The Matla Chiefs

The dying days of Vijayanagar Empire was a saga of betrayals and superhuman struggles for survival till the complete empire except a few areas completely disappeared. It is interesting to note that Vijayanagar is one of the very few empires where literally everyone in the top are self made including the Emperors. Take the case of Matla Chiefs. They are just nobody who just got lucky. But, then, they proved themselves scintillatingly till they hit a bad patch.
The genealogy of the Matla Chiefs comes primarily from Kakutstha Vijayamu by a scion of the family and Abhishiktaraghavamu. Based on both the books, it is estimated that the Matla Chiefs are Kshatriyas of Chola lineage. In Abhishiktaraghavamu, the author Nidimanti Venkatapati says, the founder of the line Bommaraju has an alternate name – Devachoda and that they are of Kasyapa Gotra, Apasthamba Sutra and Yajus-Shakha indicating they are from one of the Telugu Chola families.
The family according to them, was founded by Bommaraja. Nothing is known about Bommaraja and his son Timmaraja. We enter the realm of history only by the time of the third in the line, Konaraja.
During the reign of Sadasivaraya, Vengali Konaraja, the third generation in the dynasty moved to Matli of Rayachoti taluk in Guttivishaya. From then on, they were called as Matla people. He reached Matla, a ruined village with no houses with just four bullocks and three horses. He stayed in the ruined Siva temple, where during a thunderstorm, he found a treasure, hidden inside the Nandi statue of the temple and appropriated it. He got two sons during his stay in the temple – Ellamaraja and Tirumalaraja. Konaraja was followed by Ellamaraja, who married four Kshatriya women – Dademamba, Tirumalamba, Ellamamba and Rangamamba. The story becomes clear only after that. These marriages indicate that whoever he was, Konaraja got hold of some money and settled in a far off place where people don’t know him. Then, they invent a lineage for them and get social legitimacy. Another classic example we have is that of the Recehrla family which ruled Rachakonda and Devarakonda. May be, this is a standard way in that time? If we dig deeper, we don’t know how many such obscure families exist.
Ellamaraja gained control of Matla with the strong arms of his five sons, one of his sons Tirumala gained access to the royal court and got a grant of three villages, Ponnapalli, Penagaluru and Pondaluru. He donated Ponnapalli to the temple of Raghunayaka in Vontimitta with the inscription dated 18 June 1570. This date is important because it sets a starting date for the start of the Matla chieftainship. Pengaluru was renamed Ellamaraja Samudram and donated as an Agraharam. This grant was made by Tirumalaraya, the Vijayanagar Emperor on request of Matla Tirumala. Pottapinadu is also granted to the family. It is important to note that the military services expanded their areas.
In 1579, in a feud, Dasariraju Kondaraju and his brothers occupied the estate of Sari Obana who applied to Velugoti Kasturiranga who marched promptly in their aid. Kondaraju enlisted the services of Ellama stating Kasturiranga insulted Matla Tirumala by crossing his territory without permission. In the Battle at Kodur, Matla Tirumala and his brothers Chinna Timma and Varadaraja were killed and another brother of his, Ananta was captured. It was a decisive victory for Kasturiranga.
Matla Konaraja, the eldest, died fighting against some local palayagars and Ananta was the only one left among his father’s sons who is alive.
A main reason for the rapid rise of Matla Chiefs is their staunch support to Venkatapati Raya during the chaos after the death of Sriranga I. It looks like even this is opportune for the governor of Pottapinadu Kondraju Tirupatiraju annexed a few villages from Matla Ellama in the process of declaring independence. Venkatapati Raya appointed Ellama as his commander, who destroyed Tirupatiraju’s fort at Utakuru after a battle in which Tirupatiraju was killed. The defeated armies were chased and massacred. This was followed by his brother Matla Tirumala’s attack on Tirupatiraju’s brother Venkatadri where Venkatadri was killed. The areas Pulugulanatisima, Pottapi nadu, Siddhavatam were handed over to him in recognition of his services by the Emperor. That was followed by annexation of vast areas in Kamalapuram, Porumamilla, Duvvur and Badvel with royal consent and subjugation of many forest chiefs. It looks like this Matla Tirumala was killed in one of those fights. Ellama was a also part of the forces which tackled that of Nandyala Krishnamaraja’s, the governor of Nandyala and a relative of the Emperor.
A poet, Uppu-Gunduri-Puri Venkata Kavi told Ellama the most meritorious thing is to get a book dedicated to him. Ananta was assigned the task to write the book and Kakutstha Vijayamu was the product. However, it should be noted that Ananta had a fine grip on Telugu and Sanskrit and the book is a fine piece of later Vijayanagar literature.
Since whatever Ellama acquired is through force of arms, a rebellion of the local chiefs broke out immediately on his death approximately in 1605. Konaraja, Ellama’s eldest son died trying to crush the rebellion. Matla Ananta, Ellama’s youngest and only surviving son crushed the rebellion and succeeded his father.
Ananta, as time progressed, got the titles Aivaraganda, Mannehamvira, Rachabebbuli.
During the Golconda Invasion of 1588, Ananta, possibly under Kasturiranga was one of the commanders who rushed to the aid of Venkatapatiraya during the siege of Penugonda and forced the Golconda armies to retreat. Though it is given as Venatapatiraya was not ready, the presence of Raghunatha Nayaka in that area with full force is no coincidence. The Vijayanagar counterattack led to Golconda forces on the back foot from Gutti to Kondavidu. Matla Ananta and Velugoti Kasturiranga defeated a Muslim army supported by the governor of Gurramkonda, Ravella Venkatadri at Kamalakuru. While Kasturiranga went after the Muslim forces, Ananta had Gurramkonda under siege – he killed Venkatadri and occupied Gurramkonda. Ananta was a part of the 1599 invasion of Madurai led personally by Venkata to chastise the Madurai Nayak who launched the banner of rebellion.
When Lingama Nayaka, the governor of Vellore fort rebelled, all his estates were completely annexted. This clearly indicated what fate awaited the Tamil Nayaks if they are reclariant and united against the Empire, with Lingama Nayaka in tow. Matla Ananta was sent to crush the rebellion. First Lingama was defeated. Then, Tanjore Nayak and Madurai Nayak, Muttu Virappa by 1610. In the meanwhile Lingama Nayaka fortified Vellore and got ready for a siege. But, he was taken down by Ananta returning from the southern campaign.
Next was the rebellion of Tammaya Gouda in Kolar – while Ananta took Kolar, Venkatadevaraya himself intercepted Tammaya Gouda marching in aid of Kolar at Krotta-Kanuma and crushed him in battle.
Matla Tiruvengalanatha was a warrior of note by the time he succeeded his father. As a recognition to his services in crushing Muttu Veerappa of Madurai, Venkatapati Raya granted him golden drums, the Pandyan fish standard, his own horse and elephant along with their trappings. He held the titles of Pekkandru-rajula-kokkettu-manya-mandalikara-ganda, Airavanaganda, Suryavamsoddharaka among others. His military exploits include
1. Capture of Gutti, Enumugonda, Surapura, Rayavara, Rayavidu, Vellala
2. Battle of Macholu where he defeated the combined forces of Gandikota and Kandanavolu,
3. Took Pandillapalli, Kokatam and Kallur in a single campaign.
4. Capture of Nandimangala and Kamalapura
5. Battle of Bahuda
6. Battle of Narasapura where he defeated the Hande Chiefs
7. Battle of Porumamilla
It is important to note that during the rebellion of the Gobburi family, Tiruvengalanatha forced the Velama armies of Yachama to retreat from Vogur where Gobburi Ramaraya is based. But, he joined the bandwagon against the Gobburi family after Gobburi Jagga Raya massacred the royal family and helped declare Ramadeva as the next emperor. Though there is no direct reference to the involvement of Matla chiefs at Toppur, it is estimated that they would have fought in support of the Emperor, lead by Yachama and Raghunatha Nayaka of Thanjavur.
With the whole empire split vertically, Bijapur put siege to Kandanavolu. The first one was beaten back with the help of Golconda but the second siege, three years later, turned disastrous. Possibly, the weakening of Vijayanagar after Talikota was due to the fact that governors directly pitted one Bahamani Sultan against another instead of the Raya.
After the failure of the first siege, Adil Shah sent a bigger army to take Kandanavolu. On appeal of Gopalaraja, Matla Tiruvengalanatha and two minor chiefs, Dharmaravu and the Hande Chief joined him. Inspite of the fact that it was understood to be a lost cause and Dharmaravu and the Hande Chief withdrew, Tiruvengalanatha preferred death over surrender or withdrawl.
Kumara Ananta succeeded him and it is said he did a Tulabharam against him and distributed the gold among the Brahmins. It is possible he is not so old when he came to the throne and consequently, a considerable number of polygars instigated his brother Ellamaraja to rebel. Ellamaraja was captured, Kumara Ananta defeated all the polygars, advancing almost till Udayagiri. Matla Kumara Ananta built three gopurams in Tirupati – the one for the Govindaraja temple and two on the steps from Alipiri to Tirumala – Gali Gopuram and Kotta Gopuram. Ellamaraja was later pardoned and an estate was given to him. Kumara Ananta himself is a poet of note, writing Kumudvati Kalyanamu. Due to the quantity of food he had for a meal, he was popularly known as Manuvu Bhojanam Kumara Ananta. He had no sons and adopted his brother Chinna Ananta’s son Anantaraja. His reign saw Mir Jumla’s invasion which crushed the life force out of Vijayanagar. First to fall was Udayagiri through treachery. Next in line was the Matla fiefdom. Ananta, even after surrendering territories, had to buy peace with a large sum of money. With no hope left, Sriranga left to Mysore forcing the Amaranayakas to fend for themselves. The next invasion started from the Matla fiefdom. Ananta, with the support of his uncle Ellama defeated the Golconda army under Bakshi Tryambakrao at Siddhavatam killing two Subedars. Ananta understood that the next war is going to be the end of his fiefdom and migrated with his people to Ikkeri, thus ending the Matla fiefdom for good.
The territories were assigned to Tryambaka Sankarji Pantulu. After the death of Ananta, his sons, Anantaraja and Venkataramaraja migrated to Golconda and as military commanders, help subjugate major Vijayanagar forts like Gutti, Gurramkonda and Penugonda. For the services they offered, their ancestral territories were handed over to them – they made Yerragunta their capital city, a place which they acquired from Yarra Vennkatapati Rayudu, the local chief of that area. Venkataramaraja was succeeded by his nephew Tiruvengalanatha in place of his son Kumara Ananta. But, his Diwan Panchiraju Govindaraju started acting as if Tiruvengalanatha chief is non-existent. He was assassinated after taking permission from the Nawab of Cuddappah. His cousins, who were denied the chieftainship migrated out of the territory out of discontent and launched an invasion after some time with the help of some discontent family members. In the Battle of Tanguturu in 1711, Tiruvengalanatha and his brother Kumara Ananta were killed. The estate reverted over to Chennamaraju and Narasingaraju. The next rebellion was launched by the sons of Tiruvengalanatha’s heir Venkataramaraja. In the Battle of Rallacheruvupalle, a prominent supporter of Chennamaraju, Ranga Reddi is killed and the chief decamped. The fiefdom reverted to Kumara Ananta, the son of Venkataramaraja in 1712. The Nawab of Cuddappah, Abdul Nabi Khan, his suzerain asked Kumara Ananta to suppress a rebellion in his territory which Ananta did successfully. In return, Abdul Nabi Khan granted him all the estates of the subjugated Polygars. Kumara Ananta is noted for his religious and secular donations and was succeeded by his brother Ananta. The bandit, Venkata, who infested Pulugula Nadu and whom Kumara Ananta was able to subdue, Ananta captured him and blinded him. He died in Yerraguntla in 1730. From then on, they were one of those just another Polygars in that area, ending the show as the Rajas of Chitvel.
Dynastic Succession to the fiefdom till 1730.

Ellama 1565-1600
Ananta 1600-1620
Tiruvengalanatha 1620-1624
Kumara Ananta 1624-1636
Ananta 1636-1656
Venkatarama 1693-1703
Tiruvengalanatha 1703-1710
Kumara Ananta 1712-1728
Ananta 1728-1730

Kacharis – Rice-Beer Preparation

In common with many other non-Aryan tribes on this Rice-beer frontier, e.g., the Nagas, &c., the Kacharis of Darrang habitually consume large quantities of what is usually known as rice-beer (Zu, Zau). It can hardly be said to be a beverage in daily use, for it is only prepared when specially wanted for immediate consumption. An essential ingredient in the preparation of this most popular form of refreshment is the condiment known as emao which Is usually composed of at least three, and sometimes four, distinct elements. To a definite proportion of husked rice is added (1) the jack-tree leaf and (2) that of the jungle plant known as bhetai, and in some cases the poison fern, though this last-mentioned does not seem to be really necessary. All these ingredients are vigorously pounded together into a powder, which is then passed through a very fine sieve, at least once and sometimes twice. The powder so prepared is then mixed with water so as to make a more or less tenacious paste, and this again is divided into portions sufficient to form solid discs, about three inches in diameter, and one inch thick in the centre, with thin edges. These discs are sprinkled freely with powder from similar discs of some weeks standing, and are for a short time kept covered up in rice-straw. They are then placed on a bamboo platform inside the house for some four days, and are afterwards exposed freely to the hot sun for another four or five days, so as to become thoroughly dry. Finally they find their way into an earthenware water vessel, which is kept suspended at a distance of several feet over the fireplace though they would seem to need no direct exposure to the action of fire-heat; and here they remain until required for use.

As mentioned above, rice-beer is not used as a daily beverage, but is prepared as required, especially for use at marriages, funerals, harvest homes and other occasions that break the monotony of village life. A common method of preparation is as follows : A quantity of selected rice, about 3 or 4 seers, is carefully boiled in an iron or brass cooking vessel, the contents of which are then spread out on a bamboo mat and allowed to become cold. Two cakes of the emao described above are then broken up into powder, which is carefully mixed with the boiled rice; and the whole is then stored in a thoroughly dry earthenware vessel (kalas). This vessel with its contents is then placed upon a platform some five feet high over a slow fire, in which position it is allowed to remain for some three or four days, the mouth of the vessel remaining open for the first day or two, though it is afterwards covered. It only then remains to add water ad libitum, and to pour out the beer, after well shaking the vessel, through a rude straining apparatus composed of rice-straw. It is said that the direct action of fire is not really needed in the preparation of this beer and that exposure to the sun is sufficient for the purpose, though the application of fire undoubtedly quickens the process. Rice prepared in this way may be kept in the earthenware vessel for six or twelve months, a fresh supply of boiled rice and condiment (emao) being added to the old from time to time; but the beer is rarely kept in this way for any very prolonged period, though its quality is said to be improved by such keeping.

It may perhaps be added that the beverage so prepared would seem to be a thoroughly wholesome or at least a comparatively harmless one. Very large quantities are, to the writer’s knowledge, sometimes consumed at a sitting, the consumer’s brain apparently remaining wholly unaffected thereby. There is, however, a far less innocent beverage, commonly known as phatika, prepared from this rice-beer by a process of distillation. This is a raw fiery spirit, somewhat resembling in taste the crudest possible whisky; and its use might very fittingly be put under severe restrictions by taxation or otherwise, with results most beneficial to the physical, mental and moral well-being of this very interesting race.