ROBIN JEFFREY, THE DECLINE OF NAYAR DOMINANCE: SOCIETY AND POLITICS IN TRAVANCORE, 1847-1908, Vikas Publishing House (P) Ltd, New Delhi 1976. pp xxii -+- 376. Rs 150.
NOT SURPRISINGLY, plenty of scholastic skill has been lavished for the study of the culture and politics of Kerala,1 the erstwhile theocratic society which rapidly seemed to move to the vanguard of communism and radicalism, and which, ironically perhaps, SwamiVivekananda once compared to a lunatic asylum because of its deep-rooted caste system and staunch theocracy.
This book is the history of the Travancore society which, according to the author, plunged into a sea of change after having survived fundamentally unchanged for seven centuries. Jeffrey contends implicitly that the process was a movement from ascribed to achieved status, from interdependence of castes to competition of individuals, and from traditional authority to modern bureaucracy. As the introduction itself admits, political and social changes in Travancore from mid-nineteenth century have resulted mainly from the impact of a cash economy, western education, improved means of communication and rigid English interpretation of traditional law on the complex social structure.
The central theme is the story of a dominant caste, Nayars, being pulled down from a vantage-point over its neighbours to a struggle for survival with them. Its focus is on the process of their decline consequent on the breakdown of the matrilineal joint-family system (Marumakkatta-yam), and on the growth of social assertiveness and political aspirations among the low-caste Hindus and Christians.
' The traditional society of Travancore was characterized by a rigid caste system with Brahmans at the apex, Nayars and Syrian Christians in the middle, Ezhavas and Mukkuvas (Fishermen) below Nayars, and Pulayas, Parayas and Nayadis at the base of the hierarchy. One of the characteristics of the caste system in Kerala was that pollution which in the rest of the country was transmitted only by touch was carried