K.G. Paulose

Historical Background

The history of vedic studies is closely related to the migration of Brahmins to the state. Legendary accounts tell us that Parasurama brought them here. Anyhow, the migrations took place at different phases. Of them two are important, the first during Sangama period (3 c. BCE.) and the second during the rule of Kadamba dynasty established by Mayuravarman (4c. CE). By the fall of the central administration of the Cheras (11 c. CE) the Brahmin settlers became powerful. The agamic worship flourished. Everything came to be centered round the village temple. The Nambutiris, expanded their influence by forming a grand alliance with the kings and with the lower strata by way of marital relations.1 By 13th, 14th centuries they came to be accepted as the overlords not only of the spiritual world but also of the temporal. Their penetration into the cultural field providing an all round sanskritisation2, had far reaching consequences. In short, the Kerala Brahmins though numerically small, became like their legendary ancestor Parasurama, well-versed both in śastra and śāstra and the land came to be called Brahmaks.atra.3 The intrusion of Portuguese posed a challenge, but the British regime compromised with them. By the beginning of the last century they began to loose their grip mainly due to political reasons. The land reforms brought an end to their feudatory rights. It can be seen that Kerala Brahmins presided over the destinies of Kerala for the past ten hundred years.

Distribution of Different Branches
There is an interesting scene described in the stage manual of Bhagavadajjuka4 (13 c. CE) where in the jester enquires the details regarding a person who is dead, 18 Vedic Studies in Kerala in order to ascertain the funeral rites to be performed. These are the words of theharacter.

“To which caraṇa does the deceased belong-either to Ṛgveda, Yajurveda or Sāmaveda ? There are twenty one branches for Ṛgveda.Two of them are famous- Pakazhiyas and Kauśītaka. Among the hundred and one śākhas of Yajurveda that of Bodhāyana andVādhūlaka are important. Sāmavedins are spread in a thousand branches of which talavakāras and chāndogas alone are countable. Oh ! dead man is a Ṛgvedin ; then whether an ekāgni or a tretāgni ?
Yes, he is a tretāgni. Then the funeral rites prescribed for a tretāgni has to be observed”

We have to note three things in this description :

i Only the trayī-the three Vedas of Ṛg, Yajur and Sāma was popular in Kerala. Atharva had no takers here.5 The description given here closely corroborates the account of the distribution of vedic Brahmins enumerated by Burnel.

According to him, the Atharva was not accepted by Kerala Brahmins. Majority of them (80%) belonged to the R. gveda following Kausītakī recension which is extinct anywhere else. 19% of the Kerala Brahmins follow Yajurveda ; there too 90% are adherents of Bodhāyana school, the rest belongs to Vādhūlaka. There is only a small number for Sāmaveda - 01%.

ii Each sect had maintained their separate identity. The rites and ceremonies for them are well defined and no violation is tolerated. Though loosely denoted by a common name each of them were particular to maintain their ancestral lineage which they inherited before migrating to this land.

iii This manual gives us a picture of the process of sanskritisation that took place during that period. Art, especially the visual art was the major instrument for the kind of enculturation they wished to attain.

It has to be borne in mind here that all the Brahmins were not vaidikas - there were others who did not study the Vedas. They were called ottillāttor.

According to a rough estimate, 35% of R. gvedins, 50% of Yajurvedins and 8% of Sāmavedins belonged to this group.