During our recent visit to Kerala, my friend, his wife and his mother (seen, rather, not seen in this picture) took us to their ancestral house, Koodali Tazhathu Veedu. The village near Kannur in North Kerala goes by the name Koodali and tazhathu veedu means a house – a veedu – that was below. Once upon a time, the family lived on the foothills, and hence the name. Incidentally, K and T are the initials used by all the descendents whose mothers, grandmothers, great grandmothers etc. once lived in this house. The people who use these initials today are in thousands.
Why mamas and grandmas, and not papas and grandpas? Well, the Nairs (or Nāyars) of Kerala were a matrilineal people. I have written about them in my short story The Materfamilias, but a brief repetition here might be in order.
Originally, the Nairs were a matrilineal community. A Nair family owned property jointly and included brothers and sisters, the sisters’ children, and their daughter’s children. As property passed by inheritance to the female offspring, Nair women had an important position in the family. But the legal head of the family was the oldest man, known as the Karnavar. Interestingly, neither the Karnavar nor the senior-most woman wielded absolute power. Rather, they were two fulcrums in the family power structure. This system has been abandoned over time and Nairs have switched over to the patriarchal structure of kinship and inheritance.
These pictures offer a glimpse into a slice of history. They were taken on a sunny morning of May in 2009, 23rd to be precise, as Thompson and Thomson would have said.
No one lives in this house anymore. It is used only for reunions and occasions like Theyam, when the entire family gathers at this place. The huge landed property belonging to the family was partitioned after the Land Reform Act was implemented in Kerala in the 1970s, but the ancestral house was not divided. It remains in the name of the Karnavar and cannot be sold or partitioned. There is also a plot of agricultural land earmarked for maintenance and upkeep of the property. Income from this land is used for this purpose alone.
A very practical arrangement, isn’t it? I am sure that many families in North India that lost everything over land disputes should have met the Nairs of Kerala.
The diamond shaped and banister like motifs are distinctly un-Indian. They show Dutch influence on Kerala architecture. -->
The following picture shows a cottage that was used to entertain the British residents who ruled Malabar. They had to be wined and dined, but the sanctity of the house had to be defended. Hence another cottage, right next to the main entrance.
A gabled window on the cottage meant for entertaining the sahibs
The family temple with my friend's mother in front
|The turret on the temple|
|The common dining room: note the system for rainwater harvesting|
Some of the utensils used in the kitchen
|This family tree is almost four hundred years old|
The old faithful. Doesn't his body language tell you that he is the "puratan bhritya" of the family?
|The Karnavar's parlour overlooks the entire property|
|Looking back: In the Karnavar's bedroom|
This lamp glows 24x365. May it glow for centuries! And may the KTs all over the world prosper and be in peace.