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Cattira Brahmins Of Kerala – They Took Up Arms – Warrior Brahmins

Cattira Brahmins of Kerala did not devote themselves exclusively to the study of Vedas. They practiced the use of arms along with their study of Vedas. Cattira literally means student. The circumstance that led to the appearance of martial or warrior Cattira Brahmins are not fully known.

When there was no central power-wielding authority in the land, the people including Brahmins were being harassed by the petty local chieftains; thus the centers of Vedic studies had to be converted into military schools. This must have happened during the chaotic period following the Chola invasions (about 12th century CE).

From Malayalam literary works, like Chandrotsavam (16th century CE), we know that the Cattira Brahmins had established themselves firmly in the land. They described as well-dressed gallants carrying swords or daggers along with palm leaves and a stylus. They were adept in the art of writing love songs about beautiful women of the land and coining literary surnames for them.

The Sanskrit poem, Sukasandesha, of the late 13th century, refers to Kerala as the land where Brahmins were the rulers (brahmaksattra) and where the brahmins like Parashuram, were experts in both Shastra (weapon) and Sastra (the systems of religious philosophy).

Cattira Brahmins were divided into 18 groups called sanghas, each having its own area of jurisdiction. The names of these groups of families as given in Candrotsavam are:

  1. Vaiyakaranas – those well versed in grammar – kandarama, pulikkil, velapparambu, purappatinnakam, tattamangalam and pullipulam.
  2. Prabhakaras – (practitioners of a school of Mimamsa) – kilviti, vallannallur, bhaskara, tittappalli, calikkad and palekkad.
  3. Bhattas – practitioners of another school or Mimamsa – nattiyamangalam, cundakkanna, cokiram, attupuram, tamarssaeri and nenmeni.

Many of these families still exist.

A full sangha had to include high class Namboothiri Brahmins to hold the posts of leader and treasurer. Each sangha had its own favorite deity: Kali, Sasta or Vettekkaran.

The Shiva of the temple at Thrikkariyoor was the common deity of all the sanghas. On important festive occasions, the sangha was invited to avert quarrels and keep the peace; they performed a type of variety entertainment called saghakkali or cattirakkali.

Some of the early teaching centers of the Cattira Brahmins were associated with temples such as Kantalur, Parthivapuram, Molikkulam, and Tiruvalla. Among the disciplinary rules mentioned in inscriptions in some of these temple (12th century CE) are those prohibiting students from fighting with weapons in class, carrying weapons to class, keeping women in hostels, and gambling within the temple precincts. From this we can conclude that by then Brahmin students had begun to use weapons at least outside the temple.

Source – Encyclopedia of Hinduism Volume III – IHRF – Rupa – 2011 page 96
Kerala Brahmins in Transition – A study of a Namputiri Family (2000) Marjatta Parpola – Finnish Oriental Society Helsinki.