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Marumakkathayam is a matrilinear system of inheritance which was followed by all Nair castes including of Royal Families, some of the Ambalavasis, Arayars, Ezhava, some tribal groups and Mappilas in North Malabar of Kerala state, South India. Unlike other Brahmin families, Payanoor Nambootiris also followed Marumakkattayam. Marumakkathayam was also extensively practiced by Srilankan Tamils, later fused with patriarchal under the influence of migrant India Tamils and was known as Thesavalamai. It was one of the few traditional systems that gave women some liberty, and the right to property. In the matrilinear system, the family lived together in a Tharavadu, which comprised a mother, her brothers and younger sisters, and her children. The oldest male member was known as the karanavar and was the head of the household and managed the family estate. Lineage was traced through the mother, and the children "belonged" to the mother's family. All family property was jointly owned. An example is the former princely state of Tiruvitankoor, where the royal lineage passes from the king to his nephew, rather than his son.

Marumakkattayam among Nairs & North Malabar MappilasEdit

The chief representatives, by lieu of their social standing and past research interest, of the castes practicing Marumakkattayam were the Nairs and Mappilas (Muslims) of North Malabar. Their line of descent was traced from the common female ancestress, and it was not a man's own children, but his sister's sons who were his heirs. The family or tharavadu consisted of women living with their brothers and their children in one house. All family property, other than that acquired through individual exertions, belonged to the family jointly, and except through common consent, was indivisible. Each member was entitled to be maintained out of the profits of it, but not to sell or otherwise dispose of it. The management and control of all family property was vested in the eldest male, who is called the Karanavan. Even property individually acquired, although their own to deal with during their lifetime, could not be disposed of by will. On their death, such property merged into the family property. This state of affairs indicates the possibility that in an earlier “classical” form of marumakkattayam, the institution of marriage was absent and that the union of the sexes might simply have been a state of concubinage into which the woman entered out of her own choice, being at liberty to change her consort when and as often as she pleased.

Women in MarumakkattayamEdit

The word Marumakkathayam itself is gender-neutral. It is not Matriarchy. To an extent, it is matrilineal, albeit male-centric. In social anthropology, matrilocal residence would best describe the practice. However, Marumakkathayam extends certain concessions to women, who were the carriers of the man’s family name and legacy. Unlike in many other Indian traditions, they were not considered unwanted births, to be married away and never to return. They were conferred a higher social status, they inherited family property and the family home. The sister of the man came first in affection and responsibility before his own "wife". They did not live in the otherwise common fear of the mother-in-law. At their husband’s homes, where they visited occasionally, they were treated as special guests. But, it still meant that their happiness was determined by the men folk, like many other social systems. Families without an elder male member felt a certain sense of insecurity.

Further descriptionsEdit

In Kerala, Marumakkattayam is often contrasted with Makkattayam (descent through sons), connected with patrilineal, patrilocal castes such as nambutiri brahmins, kollan, Aasaari and the Syrian Christians. Constructed as ideal types based on the treatment of women, they can be conceived of as the two ends of a continuum, between which, there was much variation in each individual case.

Modern changes and adaptationsEdit

By the beginning of the 20th century, marumakkattayam was increasingly seen as an undesirable remnant of a feudal past, and discontented groups including Nair men sought to bring reform. In the states of Kochi and Tiruvitankoor, and the British Indian province of Malabar, which later joined together to form Kerala in 1957, laws came into force in 1920, 1925 and 1933 respectively that prohibited polygamy, installed formal marriage and recognised land as formal property that could be inherited. The following regard of the husband as the wife's guardian undid the very concept of marumakkattayam. However, the system continues to hold sway over Keralite culture and social personalities, and the tharavadu remains the focus of the emotional make-up of many Nairs. Even today, in some families, children carry their mother’s last name, and not of their father.


This was practised by Jaffna tamils. It included practices of marriage and inheritance and right of property or devolution of property through the female line. The property devolves on the females of a family from generation to generation. When a married woman dies intestate, her property goes to her children or the children of her sister. The husband may give the property of his wife to his children as dowry. Tesavalamai not only conserves the right of women and allows them to have separate property, a portion of the acquired property but also prohibits husbands from disposing of their property. According to it, sambandam or marriage is forbidden between close relations except cross cousins, namely children of a brother with children of a sister. The Hindu rite of omam (fire ceremony) may be dropped but the tying of a necklace called tall is essential to the validity of marriage. A wedding saree called koorai or pudavai is also given to the bride. If the parties cannot afford the services of a priest, Vannan and Ampaddan should be present.


  • Culture, creation and procreation: Concepts of kinship in south Asian practice- Monika Bock & Aparna Rao

See alsoEdit

This page uses content from the English language Wikipedia. The original content was at Marumakkathayam. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with this Familypedia wiki, the content of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons License.

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