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Sambandham was an informal mode of marriage system followed by Nairs, Kshatriyas and Ambalavasis with Nambudiris in what is the present day state of Kerala.[1] All of these were matrilineal communities. The custom is no longer observed. Alternate names for the system were used by different social groups and in different regions;[2] they included Pudavamuri, Pudavakoda, Vastradanam, Vitaram Kayaruka, Mangalam and Uzhamporukkuka.

During ancient times progeny out of these morganaic union were considered higher rank in caste system and had given special titles such as Nambiar in North Malabar.[3][4][5]

Act IV of the Madras Marriage Act, 1896, defined Sambandham as "an alliance between a man and a woman, by reason of which they, in accordance with the custom of the community to which they belong, or to which either of them belongs, cohabit or intend to cohabit as husband and wife."


While marriage is generally expected to bind the man and woman involved in a permanent alliance, the Marumakkathayam law of Kerala did not consider this kind of lifelong alliance to be the most important part of marriage. Sambandam marriages were more contractual and could be dissolved at will by either party. By the late 18th century, changes started appearing in the system and the Sambandam started becoming more regularised. Under this matrilineal or matriarchal system, women had property rights; children inherited from their mothers and not their fathers. As a result, fathers were excluded from almost any responsibility in the upbringing or care of their children. The maternal uncles of the children were more important to their upbringing. Sambandam was a ceremony to establish the right to cohabit and acknowledge a sort of partnership between a man and a woman. Families arranged these, which did not depend on individual choice, though divorce could also be contracted. A woman could have Sambandam with a male of her same caste or of superior caste.

Nambudiri veliEdit

The veli system was beneficial to the matriarchal upper castes as well as to the patriarchal Nambudiri and other Brahmin castes of Kerala. Among the Nambudiri, only the eldest son was permitted to marry; this was intended to maintain the integrity of ancestral property and prevent its being divided among too many descendants (primogeniture). The remaining males contracted Sambandams with Kshatriya princesses, aristocratic Nair ladies, or from the other matriarchal castes, allowing the priestly Brahmins to cement ties with the ruling aristocracy. Since the offspring of these alliances were, as per Marumakkathayam, members of their mother's castes and families, the Nambudiri father would not be obliged to provide for them. For the matriarchal castes in turn, Sambandams with Brahmins were a matter of prestige and social status. Thus both castes benefited by contracting Sambandam. Nambudiri-Kshatriya and Nambudiri-Nair Sambandams may also be considered morganatic marriages. While the father was of higher social status and the mother of relatively lower status, the children were still considered legitimate, although they did not inherit the titles or wealth of their fathers.

Due to the majority of Nambudiri men having marital alliances with women of other castes, the number of Nambudiris rapidly dwindled. Many Nambudiri women were forced to marry men much older than themselves, resulting often in young widows, or else to die as spinsters. Due to the imbalance in the system, the numerical strength of the Nair Tharavadus and other matriarchal castes increased at the cost of the Nambudiri women.

Changes in Sambandam in KeralaEdit

The Malabar Marriage Act, 1896 was a failed attempt to legitimise sambandam. Similar legislation in the southern parts of the region followed much later, namely, the Travancore Nair Act of 1912 and 1925, and the Cochin Nair Act of 1920.

Nambudiri Yogakshema Mahasabha, a revolutionary group of Nambudiris founded in 1908, from 1919 agitated for all Nambudiris to marry within their own community. The Sabha declared the marriages of younger brothers from within the community as official, irrespective of whether the elder brothers were married or not. They decided to boycott Sambandams. This revolutionary meeting deciding this was held in "Bharatheebhooshanam" at Thrissur on 25th Medam 1094 (1919 A.D.). The Madras Namboothiri Act of 1933 confirmed this change. In the same year, the Madras Marumakkathayam Act was passed, by which Sambandam was acknowledged as a regular marriage, conferring on the children rights of inheritance and property as held by children whose parents were both Nambudiris. The declaration and these Acts led to a sudden decline in the number of Sambandam marriages and the practice died out within around a decade.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Opinion: Marriages not made in heaven". 19 April 2019.
  2. ^ Kodoth, Praveena (May 2001). "Courting Legitimacy or Delegitimizing Custom? Sexuality, Sambandham and Marriage Reform in Late Nineteenth-Century Malabar". Modern Asian Studies. 35 (2): 351. doi:10.1017/s0026749x01002037. JSTOR 313121.
  3. ^ "പോലീസുകാര്‍ ചരിത്രം പഠിക്കാറുണ്ട്; പുസ്തകവും എഴുതാറുണ്ട്". 14 August 2014.
  4. ^ "Kolathunadu:nalvazhi charitham/". 2013.
  5. ^ Bombay (India : Presidency) (1883). Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency. Govt. Central Press. p. 195.
  • Moore, Melinda. "Symbol and Meaning in Nayar Marriage Ritual." American Ethnologist. 15 (1998) 254–273
  • Gough, K. (1961) Nayar: Central Kearla, in Schneider, D. M. & Gough, K. (Eds.) Matrilineal Kinship. Berkeley & Los Angeles, p298-404
  • Karl, R. (2003) Women in Practice: A Comparative Analysis of Gender and Sexuality in India. 2003 Marleigh Grayer Ryan Student Prize ; Moore, M. (1998) Symbol and Meaning in Nayar Marriage Ritual, American Ethnologist 15:254-73
  • Damodar Dharmanand Kosambi (1975) An Introduction to the Study of Indian History.
  • Dirks, Nicholas. "Homo Hierarchies: Origins of an Idea." Castes of Mind. Princeton: Princeton University Press 2001.