Skip to content

The old matriarchal families of Kerala.

August 17, 2014

Updated: March 7th, 2016

Happy to update this page in connection with this year’s International Women’s Day. Found this rather interesting link online today that I am sharing here. Yeah I have seen women with uncovered breasts in Kerala in my younger years.  Looks almost like another age, another planet in the present. Thanks TOI for the valuable article and the informationa.


Kerala is my dear neighbouring state, my best friend KC is based in Thrissur.

Kerala has always had matriarchal families with old grandmothers for the head of the family. Called the ‘Tharavad’ until now, their homes used to be so huge and always attached with a pond in the backyard. The ‘tharavad’ estates/properties used to be inherited by daughters, not sons. My friend, a Nair by birth, became the first in her family to adopt her father’s surname. Her parents use until today their maternal surnames/initials.

I went with family to Guruvayoor for the first time in 1979. From the train I was shocked to see that women went topless in Kerala. I was a young girl at that time still it registered in me that I was looking at something strange.

I learned then, even upto 1980s or so, old matrons and generally Kerala ladies went topless, draping themselves with a simple off-white mundu in their hip. None used to stare at them. It was only with the arrival of outsiders in the state in a big way and with penetration of mass media like the television into nook and corner of the country that Kerala changed from the ’80s..

Even today in my friend’s home, her grandmother and great grand aunts in villages (butwith most of Kerala urbanized, where are the villages) wear only a short blouse and a mundu (like dhoti) (an improvement keeping with times compared to complete baring of the torso as in early days) without draping themselves with a dupatta/sari pallu. Most importantly men don’t stare. Very old matrons go topless as they have been always.

This is local tradition. Crimes never used to happen. People down south were used to Kerala family traditions but other state people’s reactions changed things. Besides, Keralites began arriving in large numbers in middle-east and also began migrating to other states of India. Slowly they have now fallen in step with the rest of India when it comes to dress codes and other family laws.

Look at this song from superduper hit ‘Chemmeen’ made in mid 60s. This is how the state used to be. Even now in rural TN, in very remote villages, some women go blouseless. No one gives a stare. My friend’s mother in Kerala wears a sari only when she steps out of her home. Her aunts too. Culture is what we think it is. My friend though, raised in Tamil Nad is different. Now in our generation none is like this. It will be like inviting trouble in the present age. How innocent our folks were once.

Often it makes me wonder what civilization is all about. Not staring at and not committing crimes in a place where women go topless, or covering yourself up totally still at the risk of being molested/raped in crowded cities, even in moving cars/buses…

Have a girl cousin married to a Keralite. He is the first (by way of son/male heir) in his family to be inheriting his mother’s property.

And then finally, in a land where ‘sati’ was practised once upon a time, Kerala was progressive in that, women widowed remarried which is unthinkable to most hindus even today. Again my friend’s grandmother had 2 husbands. She had a couple of children via the first one who died early, and then some more through the second. The family estate was divided among the daughters of the family. My friend’s father has none to his credit except for the home he built with his bank housing loan. My friend’s mother has some great inheritance. In a way, my friend is still inheriting only her mother’s property.  All through centuries these coconut groves (her share of estates) have passed through women’s hands only.


Appearances are rather deceptive. For those who skim only bollywood & metro scenes of India, northern Indian women with their fashion sense and cool attitude appear more modern and progressive. But the truth is, women in the south are far more assertive completely belying their looks. A wife/mother is the pivot around whom the whole family revolves. Women wield the power, not men although technically & superficially it may appear otherwise. Women have always enjoyed equal rights as men when it came to inheritance etc. We did not require any statute to award us our legal rights.

Reminds one of Maharashtrian women – clad in shorts and jeans and briefest tops and skirts most of the time, they are still the most religious than most of us. Fastidious. Never judge a book by its cover.






From → Bharatiya Naari

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: