Brahmins - hardworking Palakkadu Iyers and their seasaw fortunes

Agraharam house  Kalpathy.
homes from kalpathy cultural heritage village in palakad,kerala,india.
Nuranivillage temple,Palakkad district,
 The Tamil Brahmins, living in Palakkad district of Kerala, South India for centuries, are frequently referred to as ''Palakkad Iyers.'' Their mother tongue  is Tamil but the dialect that Kerala Iyer speaks is highly accented due to the influence of Malayalam, the regional language spoken there. Their Tamil accent has typical Malayalam flavor. Perhaps, one may wonder how Brahmins of Tamil Nadu are commonly refereed to as Palakkad Iyers of Kerala state which was once part of Chera Nadu ruled by Chera kings. The term Keralam was a derivative of Chera or Cheralam. After the invasion of Chera Nadu by King Raja Raja in 999 AD, the area was under the Chola for some periods. After the Chola power declined several small rulers formed independent kingdoms and  the areas east of the famous Palakkad pass became part of Kerala Nadu and it lost their close connection with the Tamil rulers for several Centuries. The beautiful Malayalam language, composed mainly of Sanskrit and Tamil words, saw rapid development during the decline of Tamil rulers and it is believed that Tamil Brahmins  used a lot of Sanskrit words which got mixed with Tamil spoken there. Now Malayalam has become a separate language with its own alphabet and is rich in literature.

The Palakkad Iyers were a land-holding community owning extensive cultivable land in Palakkad, Chittoor and surrounding areas. If you go back to 14th century or earlier they were inhabitants of mostly of  Mannargudi,  Satyamangalam, Needamangalam, Vaitheeswaran Koil, Kandarmanickam  and other areas in the erstwhile Tanjore district of  the State of Tamil Nadu (earlier Madras Presidency). A major wave moved into Kerala  during the Muslim invasions in the 14th century by Ala-ud-din Khilji. From Palakkad later they settled in  other parts of North Kerala which were part of the erstwhile Madras Presidency like Kozhikode and Malappuram. They were responsible citizens and held several public posts in Kerala. Early migration of Iyers in the 8th century and their settlement near the Nila river banks around Palakkad was not ruled out.

Chera  Kings, it is believed, was not on good terms with the Nambootheri Brahmins who wielded a lot of influence and in order to break their dominance they welcomed  and settled these Brahmins  in their areas in 64 settlements around Palakkad, granting them lands and privileges and allowing them to perform religious rituals  in Palakkad  temples, despite protests from the  Namboothiri communities.

Namboothiri Brahmins of Kerala were very orthodox and caste-conscious  and were stickler for discipline with respect to matters related to Hindu religion and rituals. In the case of Tamil Brahmins, Iyers take care care of Shiva as well as Amman temples  while Vaishnavaites - Iyengars take care of  mainly Vishnu, Rama and Krishna Temples. It is also stated that the continuous drought over many years in the Kaveri Delta area also triggered migration of Tanjore Brahmins to Kerala.

In the wake of the worst Delhi Muslim ruler's treacherous invasion here 1311, Brahmins of Madurai and the surrounding areas  whose main source of income was from the temples, fearing livelihood and persecution, began migrating to the neighboring  Chera country via Palakkad Pass 
Dindigul and Pollachi.  The Iyers always live  around temples and rivers as it had been their wont mainly for the simple reason, it will give them easy accessibility to the temples. The religious traditions of Cheranadu were different - only Namboothiris were allowed to perform religious rites in Hindu temples based on ''Tantric Rituals'' as preferred by the Chera Kings and not ''Vedic  Agama Rituals'' of the Iyers  with which they were familiar, and Which Chola, Pandya and Pallava rulers ardently followed. Being  Vedic scholars, Iyers went on to build their own temples and conducted their Vedic rites in them. The temples were located in their places of residence  called  Agraharams - a series or rows of houses of similar design and appearance. Most of them are located  near the temples and rivers. The most famous one being  Viswanatha Swamy Temple, Kalpathy, Palakkad which was constructed as per Vedic  Sastras and not as per Tantric Rituals. Kalpathy, also known as Dakshin Kasi or the 'Varanasi of the South, is an early Tamil Brahmin settlement (agraharam) is close to the Olavakkot, now called Palghat railway station.

A research paper, 'Plight of Palghat Iyers', presented by M Lakshman Singh, a sociology professor with Bharathiar University, at the Tamil meet, traced the history of a successful community that has made rapid progress through education, hard work and endurance. According to him:

Brahmins from Kumbakkonam were requested to settle down in Palakkad on  promises of a prosperous life and other perks  several generations ago by Nair chieftains, who primarily needed their religious services for coronations, which the orthodox Brahmins of  Kerala - Nambootheries refused because they were not  Kshatriyas. Further, as pointed out earlier, Nambootheri Brahamins refused to accept the Brahmins of Tamil Nadu for the simple reason they followed  Vedic Agama Sastras, a common practice in many parts of India.

When Nairs were in power, the Brahmins were prosperous, but after they became powerless for many reasons, their prosperity also dwindled and they were pushed  to the point of enduring hardship and doing menial jobs for survival. Despite their misfortune, at this crucial juncture, never had they failed to pay attention to the education of their children. Equally responsible were their studious children who went to colleges on merit. Through sheer hardship, proper planning and commitment, the Iyers of  Kerala grew up in statures as time went by and  had held positions of eminence during the British period and later.  Late Sir Seshadri Iyer, the Dewan of Mysore kingdom,  and  late Sri. A.S.P. Iyer. ICS are just examples. Now, despite enforcement of caste quota in government jobs, almost poor employment prospects in the government they hold better positions  in private sector companies.

Brahmins and other forward communities have been facing reverse discrimination with respect to government jobs for more than two decades.  

Brahmins - Basic facts:

''Brahmin'' (also called Brahmana) is a varna in Vedic Hinduism and also a caste of people who are members of it.

The name 'Iyer' was used as a designation for all Tamil 'Smartha' Brahmins in the medieval period when different sects of Brahmins of the then Tamil country organized themselves as a single community. A breakaway sect of Brahmins  known as Sri 'Vaishnavas' later formed a new community called "Iyengars."

Brahmins normally adhere to the principles of the Vedas -  Sruti and Smriti which are pillars  of Hinduism and practice Sanatana Dharma with reverence.

To them God is one, but has no beginning(aathi) and no endn (andham), but has innumerable names and forms to chant and worship, depending on one's perception. This aids concentration and meditation on God.

God is one of the means or ways to salvation and realization of the truth, though there are many ways.

After morning ablutions, it is the foremost duty of  Brahmins to do daily prayer to God (or Eshta deivam) or family deity. Daily he must do sandhyavandana - prayers to Gayatri and Sun God.

They preach non-violence, partake only vegetarian food, preach religion and morality. It does not mean they are not courageous. They know violence begets violence and weigh pros and cons before undertaking misadventure.

Brahmins normally work for the welfare of the entire society and do ''Yagams'' (in Tamil Velvi) - fire-worships in specially built Yagasala and chanting mantras accordingly. They actively participate in the consecration of temples and temple related festivals and rituals.

They are traditionally Priests in all temples, Prohits (Prohithars) - conduct weddings,
childbirth, grahapravesam, upanayana and obsequies for Brahmins and other communities as well. Basically they are  teachers or ''Gurus'' or ''Acharyas.'' Because of compulsion, they have become professionals and employees in companies.
Avani avitam
Daily practices of Brahmins include sandhyavandana (prayers to Gayatri and Sun God), prayer to ishtadaiva (personal God) as mentioned earlier, besides  yoga, non-violence, vegetarianism etc.

All male Brahmins - both Smartha and Vaishnava normally pay obeisance to their Acharyas. In the case of Smartha Bramins of Tamil Nadu Brahmachari Brahmin  boy after Upanayana is chosen by the senior Acharya of a Mutt as his successor as in the case of Sankaracharyas of Kanchi of Tamil Nadu or Sringeri of Karnataka. Junior Acharya learns  all aspects Veda Sastras, Tamil Sanskrit, Kannda, Telugu, etc and  should practice celibacy throughout his life.

Shivali Brahmins of
In the case of''Vaishnava  Brahmins (who worship Vishnu),''the  Acharya was  grahasthar in his poorvasiramam ( Family man before becoming Acharya). Once chosen as Acharya, he must practice strict celibacy and has no link whatsoever with his family or children or relatives. Eligibility: Must be a scholar in  Veda Sastras, Tamil and Sanskrit and other languages.Deep knowledge of Vaishnavism is a must. The Ahobila Mutt Jeer, Andhra and Andavan Swamigal of Srirangam, Tamil Nadu  are chosen this way.

All  male  Brahmins should go through''Upanayana,'' an important ceremony (also known as sacred thread ceremony; in Tamil Upanayanam or Poonal Kalyanam) preferably before 14th year. It is Brahma Upadesam of Gayatri Mantra (initiation to the Gayatri hymn), recital or practice of Gayatri  jabam. It is an essential part of his life.
Likewise, the young girls or boys are encouraged to learn Carnatic music at an early age. Knowing Carnatic music is an added advantage for girls.

All Brahmins are identified by their ''Gothra''- origin of their genealogical roots to a Rishi or Saint; supposedly descendants of that particular Rishi,  Brahmins of same gothra should not intermarry each other. It is strictly prohibited.

Every stage, during the life span of a Brahmin, is a ritual, right through child birth, tonsuring, upanayana, adulthood, marriage, raising family till the end. They are supposed to uphold ''Dharma'' justice and fairness in his chosen profession
at any cost  and be an example, so that others may emulate them. In short they are a highly principled community.

All Brahmins aspire for salvation.