Despite the Avedic environment that was surrounding the whole of India those days, there was one place where Vedic Anushtaanaas had not been given up completely and that place is Kerala. God had pre-decided that he would be born as a son to a very pious Brahmin couple in that Malayala Desam of Kerala, in a place known as Kaladi, as it may be known to most of you all. You may also know that the Avatara’s parents were Siva Guru and AryaambaaL.
The Malayala Desam is located on the west of the long series of hills known as Western Ghats. KeraLam is the Sanskrit name. ‘Kera’ is coconut and that entire area is full of coconut trees, hence the name KeraLam. One the one side are the hills – that is Malai and on the other side is ‘aazhi’ or ‘aazham’ so the Malayalam = Malai + Aazham!
There is a story about how this narrow strip of land came into being.
Parasurama killed and vanquished 21 generations of Kshatriya kings and took their lands all over India, as you may have heard about. The whole world was virtually under his control. By that time he was seized by dispassion and regret! ‘Having taken birth as a Brahmin, it is sad that instead of doing things for the good of the society I have ended up killing so many people! OK, whatever has happened, I can’t even let the past be permitted to be by gone. How can I get away from the responsibility of having to rule all these lands? It is not correct to further get mired in the worldly affairs of administration and management!’
So, he donated all the lands to Kashyapa Maharishi. Why Kashyapa? Because all the animate life forms of this world came into being from him only. People born in Manu’s lineage are human beings aka Man or Manushya. Manu’s father was Vivasvan and his father was Kashyapa. Not only that, he was the forefather of Devas, Dhaityas, Dhanavas, Raakshasaas, Nagas and many others! Though there are many Prajapathis, only he is specially called the Kashyapa Prajapathi. So, ‘let him manage all these men and lands or do whatever’, was how Parasurama thought and donated it all to Kashyapa!
If you have a house and given it as a donation to somebody, can you continue staying there after that? That is how Parasurama thought about the situation. “Having given away this land as a gift, it is not correct for me to stay here anymore. Let me find a suitable place for me to stay and do Tapasya”, he thought.
Instinctively Kashyapa could read his mind. So, he further escalated the situation by saying, “Please do not think of claiming ownership on any part of the land that you have gifted away. Better go outside the outer borders of this land.” Parasurama started out. He went to the Western Ghats on the western borders of the whole of South India and reached the Sahayadri Mountain peak known nowadays as Aanaimalai or Elephant Top. Close to the western side of the mountains was the sea. Those days there was no Kerala or Malayala Desam, but only water of the seas.
Parasurama spoke to the Samudra Raja (the Lord of the Oceans), “All the lands that I had captured have been given away in charity, as I have endowed them to Kashyapa. So I cannot live anywhere on the existing lands. I cannot also die or go to the heavens as I am one of the Chiranjeevis! There is a command of God that I should do Tapasya forever for the sake of the well being of the whole world. Under the situation I seek your benign help for some spatial adjustment. By withdrawing yourself a little away from these mountains, can you kindly create some ground on the west of these ranges of mountains, for me to live?”
Samudra Raja who was ordered to control his waves when Rama had to construct the land bridge on the straits between India and the island of Lanka decided to help Parasurama. Knowing Parasurama to be a Brahmin very quick to take offence, he wished to give Parasurama as wide a margin as possible.
So, Samudra Raja told Parasurama, “Dear Sir! In your hands you hold that Parasu (Axe) which you got from doing Tapasya to Parameswara. Throw it as far as possible in the ocean and I shall recede that much away, up to the point beyond where the water drops are thrown up to by the impact of the axe and make all that land available to you.” Accordingly Parasurama threw the axe in to the ocean as far as possible. Water from the impact splashed in all directions many miles in the N-S direction and less in the E-W axis. All that area was exposed to the Sun and the sea withdrew.
That is the Malayala Desam or Kerala aka Parasurama Kshetra.
Initially populated by fisher folk talking an unorganized cacophony of languages. Parasurama did not wish to be the only one doing Tapasya in such a vast area.
So he decided to bring in and settle a whole lot of Brahmins who would be doing their share of Vedic activities of Homa, Pooja, Japa, Upaasana and other such Karma Anushtaanaas.
From the land of the Sozha Kingdom he invited Brahmins known as Sozhiyas to this new land of his creation. They were Tamil speaking Dravidian Brahmins as any other community in Tamil Nadu. The Brahmins from Tamil Nadu are comfort loving, used to the moderate climate of the area.
Those comfort loving Sozhiyas from the banks of Cauvery River on arrival in Kerala were out of their elements literally. Endless rains, overflowing rivulets, with wet grounds full of mire everywhere, it just did not suit them at all. They were afraid of telling Parasurama who had a reputation as being quick to take offence. They were actively considering running away from there, secretly on the quiet.
He knew all that. Let us just change one of their customs and they can never get back to their mother land after that, he thought. On the pretext of giving them a special identity, he made them wear their hair in their head differently. Normally Brahmins in Tamil Nadu shave off the front portion of their head above the temple and let the hair at the back grow abundantly long. Their long tresses are then cared for, oiled, braided and rolled into a knot at the back of their heads. This is known as Kudumi which would typically identify them.
Parasurama introduced a twist in this custom. He made them wear what is known as ‘Oordva Shika’, in which the back of the head is shaved off and the hair on the peak of the head is permitted to grow long, which is tied in to a knot to fall forward just on top of the temple! Till date Namboodri Brahmins of Kerala follow this system only.
But the Sozhiyas thought that this one small change in the identity will not be such a hindrance in their acceptance back in Tamil Nadu, when there is no difference in the other customs and traditions. So, most of them did go back to the banks of Cauvery River once again and were accepted with open arms as expected.
But the Oordva Shika remained on top of the head, giving raise to the proverb, ‘Sozhiyan Kudumi does not shake easily’, to mean that he does not listen to others suggestions and also that he is not easily ruffled!
Parasurama’s plan however, had back fired.
So, he imported Brahmins from Andhra and Karnataka en-mass and as a precaution, out of the 108 Aachaaraas that are there for the Brahmin, he changed some 64 of them to give them totally a new traditional identity. This worked and for generations they started staying there.
They are known as Namboodri Brahmins, stricter in their observance of traditional Aachaaraas, than Brahmins elsewhere in the whole of India! There is a book by the name of ‘Keralotpatti’. I have given you the details from that book and a few PuraNas.
There could be one question in your minds. If the Namboodri Brahmins were mostly from Kannada and Telugu background and others were mainly fisher folks from the Arabian Sea islands with some local dialects; how is that Malayalam as a language contains a mix of words from mainly Tamil and Sanskrit languages?
The Malayala language evolved some 1,000 to 1,200 years back only. Before that Tamil was the main stay. Still some of you can say, ‘How can it be?’ I will answer that.
No society can be complete only with Brahmins and fisher folks. There has to a king, army, traders and so on. Most of these were Tamilians only. The mountain ranges of Western Ghats are literally hugging the Tamil Nadu from North to South with many passages between Tamil Nadu and Kerala. From time immemorial Tamilians are known to trade across the oceans and their reach included Sri Lanka, Burma, Java, Sumatra, Borneo, most of East Asia and Western shores of Africa and the islands in between. So, the point to be noted is that the major population in Kerala after Parasurama created were Tamilians who had moved there from across the Sahayadri Mountains.
When I said that Tamilians are too fond of their comforts, I meant only the pulse-eating-brahmins and not the non-brahmins! (PeriyavaaL smiles while saying this.) Others are very hard working capable of high levels of tolerance. They knew all the tricks of agriculture and capable of doing aggressive marketing of their produce. So it was the Tamil non-brahmins who populated Kerala in a big way and started planting and cultivation of Black-Pepper, Oak trees, Coconut, Sandal Wood and a variety of Spices in a big way, making use of the plentiful water supply. Then fish was available both from the seas and a number of rivers, rivulets and ponds. Life was plentiful and satisfying. The Chera Kings were all of Tamil origin only for long.
So, a parallel civilization came into being as in Tamil Nadu. As the majority was Tamils, others also spoke the same language. All this happened even before the historical times till Sozha, Chera and Pandya dynasties were alternately predominant at various times. When others from the East went there some Brahmins also must have migrated to Kerala due to divine interest as many temples and temple towns came into being in that land. Parasurama himself created some of them. Initially there was a restriction against immigration as imposed by Parasurama which got diluted over time.
Anyhow he himself went incognito, not seen by anybody and after that some Brahmins from the mainland could have gone on visiting the religiously important temple towns and settled there.
Historically recorded period starts around Asoka’s time. In his Saasanam inscribed on stone slabs, about places where he spread his views on peaceful co-existence, there is mention of Kerala also along with other places of India. This is proof of the fact that there was civilized social life in that part of the country already. It was part of Chera Kingdom and Tamil was the language there.
Silappadigaram a Tamil classic literature is from that land only. Cheramaan PerumaaL Naayanaar, who sang the Tamil divine songs of Thirumarais as part of Saiva Thevaram collections was a King in Kerala.
So also Kula Sekhara PerumaaL, who sang the poems as part of the Vaishnava’s Nalayira Divya Prabhandam collections in Tamil was a King in Kerala. Therefore our AachaaryaaL also in his time must have spoken Tamil. All Brahmins those days must have been well read. There could not have been any Brahmin who had not done Adhyayanam and knowledgeable in Tamil and Sanskrit. Within themselves they must have spoken in Sanskrit and with others used the Tamil language.
Though our AachaaryaaL came down to the Earth as an Avatara for rekindling and rejuvenating the Sanaatana Dharma and did his all for re-establishing it on very strong footings, with the passage of time there was deterioration set in once again! In that flow of events, suitably misusing some of the traditions introduced by Parasurama, other than the first son of the families even amongst Namboodri Brahmins, started resorting to marriages with women of other castes. When such relationships were created, a mix of Sanskrit and Tamil did come about, which could have been the seeds of for a new language to sprout. By this intermingling causing some dilution of standards of austerity, some good by-products were also there.
By this, in Kerala all castes became knowledgeable in Saastras and Puranas. The education standards did improve especially fluency in use of Sanskrit words. For example more than any other part of India, taking a bath early in the morning and visiting the nearby temple wearing clean clothes with much noticeable devotion and piety is the practice by people of all castes in Kerala.
I do not for a moment wish to say that non-brahmins are uneducated, unclean and things like that at all. Due to the type of work that they have to do especially the proletariat, cannot afford to care for cleanliness so much. Whether a factory worker or involved in agriculture or in the job of clearing the garbage, they just cannot be too finicky about cleanliness as a Brahmin is required to be in his duty!
Then if you take any of the craftsmen, their children learn their trade from childhood from their elders, whether it is carpentry or masonry, separating and spinning the silk thread or sculpting a stone in to shape! Going to school would be a double unaffordable loss as it would mean, missing on the job training and being coached by one’s grandfather / father / uncle, and loss of cheap labour. So generally they would send one of the children to school so that he could act as the in house accountant, manager and correspondent, while others would be given on-the-job-training!
Since such people contribute substantially to the well being of the society, the very Saastraas have been liberal in the standards of cleanliness expected of them and in their case Adhyayanam is also not a requirement.
Still, the fact that in Kerala the standards of education, knowledge of the Saastraas and Do’s and Don’ts of the Sanatana Dharma, are way ahead of the rest of the country; indicates the apparent effect of the brahmin influence.
Though it was not an island all by itself, when it was not so well connected by means of transportation, Kerala was having certain benefits of inaccessibility and isolation from the Mainland, unaffected by some of the social irreligious tendencies! So, when a typical local lingo, developed into a full-fledged language by its own right, all people of Kerala accepted it with pride as their mother tongue. This is how the language Malayalam came into being.
Having spoken so much about the story of Malayalam let me tell you the balance also. After Malayalam had become well established, for some reasons some brahmins from Tamil Nadu migrated there and settled closer to the Tamil Nadu instead of going deep inside Kerala. Some shifted from the area of Coimbatore to Palghat and settled near Pallasena. Others from Tenkasi through Sengotta went near Trivandrum. Their Tamil is another version with a scattering of Malayalam in pronunciation.
When I said that Kerala developed with its own culture unaffected by the happenings in the Mainland, you should not think that it was totally isolated and that its culture was alien to that in the Mainland. The Vedic culture is the culture of what is India. Like a main river in which a number of tributaries come and join, many flows such the different cultures of Kashmir, Punjab, Central India, Rajasthan, Bengal, Karnataka, Andhra, Kerala and Tamil Nadu joined to make what is the Indian Vedic culture. To give yet another example, if you think of Indian culture as a tree, these were its branches and the roots were the Vedic one.
So when Parasurama settled brahmin-s from Tamil Nadu as the original citizens, he ensured that Indian Vedas, Puranas, Temples, Yagnas, Vratam-s such as for Shivaratri, Ekadasi, and Somavaaram; Karma Anushtaanaas, Adhyayanam, Adhyapakam, chanting of Veda mantras and establishment of Veda Patashaalaas were all brought in. So, even when elsewhere in India these were not being observed or becoming subdued, with the expanding influence of Buddhism and Jainism (Muslims followed by Britishers were to come much later), in Kerala these were more assiduously being observed. So, it was in the rightness of things that our AachaaryaaL’s Avatara also took place there.
Later, things happened topsy turvy, trending in the opposite way and I must mention that also.
Since the whole of the eastern border of Kerala was the range of mountains, it was not much affected by the upheavals that occurred in the Mainland India alright. But what was in the west of Kerala? It was all the Arabian Sea. So with the thriving trade of Black Pepper, Cardamom, Sandal Wood, Oak timber and Ivory, there was also in influx of traders and visitors from the west and they started settling there. For many Jews, Christians and Muslims, Kerala became the Mother Land!
Though unaffected by the changes in the mainland, they ended up accommodating all and sundry! Anyhow, all this is part of the side effects of our own culture which believes in ‘Atiti Devo Bhava’!
Let me tell you one more surprising thing.
Though the people of Kerala accepted foreign religions, when it comes to Hinduism, after our AachaaryaaL, they did not accept the other Sampradaaya-s of Vaishnavas and Madhvas. Do we not see that even in Padmanaabha Swami Temple or Guruvayoorappan Temple they do not have Vaishnava Bhatta-s, but only Namboodri brahmin-s including in Sabarimala Aiyappa Temple. This can only be considered as their devotion to our AachaaryaaL who took Avatara there, after searching for a suitable place in the whole of India.
In recent times with the laying of roads and rail communications to and fro between Kerala and rest of the country and advanced education available all over, the somewhat secluded society of Kerala has started spreading all over the country as well become more international. In every foreign country today among expatriate Indians, Keralites form a major chunk. Without standing on prestige, they are ready to go anywhere and do any sort of work and thus have proved to be as industrious and ubiquitous as the Sardarjis of Punjab, making their presence felt in every nook and corner of the world!
People from that part of the country where our AachaaryaaL was born are leading in literacy, today in the whole of India!
There are still those in Kerala who are assiduously safe guarding our oldest religious traditions of Sanaatana Dharma on the one hand and on the other, it was there that ‘Aalaya Pravesam’ was done for the first time (entering of the temple by those not traditionally permitted from times of yore) and the first communist Government was installed democratically!
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