Some interesting customs existed in Kerala decades and centuries ago

Through this column I would like to share some interesting facts and customs existed in Kerala decades ago in the pre-independent era during King’s rule, and I shall begin with Wedding Tax of Kochi Kingdom. Watch this space and I shall add more facts as soon as I collect more.

Vivaha Nikuthi (Wedding Tax)

During old days, there existed an interested tax in Kerala; a wedding tax that’s leveled when people belonging to certain communities enter marriage bliss. A proclamation of Kochi Divan Nenchappayya in year 1821, June 5 was so – As tax collected from Suriyani and Nasrani groups of Christians has given sorrows to these groups of people, and government is now not at all interested in it, this tax system has been abolished. As it was not told earlier that this amount was removed legally, it has been collected by government authorities, which gave difficulties to poor Christian people. That’s why King has given the final decision that this tax has been excluded, and government authorities don’t have the right to levy from people in future. For the benefits and welfare of Suriyanis, they have also been exempted from its arrears. If any government authority person tries to collect this tax in future, he will be trialed in court and given punishment. The wedding tax collected from Suriyani Christians was abolished in the year 1821 by Kochi Raja.  

Ammachi & Ammaveedu

Travancore adopted matrilineal custom (Marumakkathaayam) where power was passed through female heirs. For the same reason, male members of Royal family were allowed to do sambhandhams (marriages) from Nair families and its sub-castes. Such ladies known as ‘Ammacchi/Ammacchis’ or children born in this wedlock don’t hold any royal title and can’t enter palace; nor can they keep relationship with any other members of royal family. But they lived a luxurious life and enjoyed high social status. Children were known by mother’s caste, and the relationship with royal family seizes with husband’s death. Ammachis remain single throughout their life too. In short, male members of royal family had morganatic marriages outside their caste, and they often had more than one consorts too. Read more.

Meesa Kaazhcha – Tax given to flaunt a moustache

When you hear the term, ‘Meesa Kaazhcha’ you may think that it’s a fashion quotient to flaunt a moustache in the public. But it’s not true. It’s tax given to the rulers to place a moustache, and this strange tax existed in Kerala once, centuries ago. In those days, when society was divided into four classes as Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Shoodras, only the lowest sector Shoodras were allowed to place a moustache. If any person belonging to other caste groups wants a moustache, he should pay tax. In those days, tax was also levied for wearing rings, high class sandals known as Methiyadi as well as headband (urumaal). Each tax had its own name, that’s the only difference.

Easy trick to capture petty thieves

In the 18th century, thieves of Travancore targeted rich people looting them very often. Though the king sent his soldiers across the state, they couldn’t put an end to robberies. Maharaja Rama Varma put forward an interesting trick to capture thieves with the aid of his subjects. His idea was that villagers should also participate in the mission to catch thieves, and he chose those villages looted by thieves. If they fail to capture thief or get the mainour back, the whole villagers should together collect the same amount of money and give it to the victim who was looted. When people started losing money from their hands, they turned more vigilant and it became impossible for thieves to get out of their homes. Thus Rama Varma’s trick gave a positive result at end.

Dukhacharanam (Mourning over the death king)

In the travel records of Italian traveller D. Varthoma, who reached Kozhikode in the 16th century certain interesting facts are told about what subjects do following the death of their beloved ruler. All the men go bald head soon after the death of their king. Only the high-class people of the society reserve a little hair on their heads. Till the period of mourning ends people or family members can’t use fish or meat. Members of royal family as well as close relatives should remain so for the next one year. The successor to the throne can’t cut his hair or nail till the period ends. After one year when the mourning period ends, it’s celebrated in the palace, and those who participated in the customs are given a grand meal.

When subordinates punish their higher officials

Long before independence, the king of Kochi made a strange and bizarre law. A worker should take permission in advance before he takes a leave. If anyone breaks this law, the punishment is not given to worker. Interestingly it was given to his officer, who was careless about his subordinate’s disappearance. The funny part is – the whip is given in the hands of the worker who took leave without permission and he is asked to punish his officer. In most cases, the employee takes it as the golden opportunity to punish his officer and he would also take occasional leaves without permission so that he can teach his officer a lesson.    

When lease is not given

In ancient days, only landlords and rich people owned agricultural fields which they used to lease to farmers. Landlords were known as ‘Janmimaar’ in Malayalam. Under certain conditions, they give lands to farmers to cultivate. In return farmers need to give fixed amount of cultivated crop to the landlord. Such a procedure known as ‘Paattam’ is still followed in many remote villages, through which both farmer and landlord are benefitted. If farmer couldn’t give Paattam as decided before, he may need to work as slave for long years till the amount/crop is cleared. In Malabar regions, there was one more interesting custom. If the farmer makes a golden harvest much beyond the expectations of the landlord, he will be awarded. It may be in the form of rice or other grains and this custom was known as ‘Vydageni’.

Right to take custody of goods of strayed passengers

A time when Kerala was spread as minute kingdoms, there was a small kingdom named Ezhimala near Kannur which was near to seas. In case any ship mistakenly reaches the place, the locals would take the full control of the ship and loot everything. Literally it’s a form of theft through waterways. In their opinion if the travellers lost their path somehow, they are obliged to face its consequences too.  They have set their own rules and laws, and it says – “It’s god’s decision for you people to reach this place as guests and we are here to treat you as hosts. In return you people need to gift us your belongings for the treatment we offer you.” After looting everything the travellers are allowed to continue their journey.   

Kazhuveruka – A severe punishment which existed once

Now ‘Kazhuveri’ is listed in foul language, and it closely resembles ‘hanging’. But there was one strange custom in Kerala a few centuries ago. Yes it was ‘hanging’ as a punishment for thieves given by kings. In the travel records of Barthalyoma who visited Kerala once, it’s told about this punishment. Iron rode is fixed in the neck portion of the thief and he is made stand on a wooden slate. Nobody is allowed to give him food or water, and he faces a severe death. This cruel punishment existed till the rule of Karthika Thirunal Maharaja of Travancore. Chithravadham and Uzhachu Kollal are other names given to the same punishment.   

A strange way to discuss secrets in public places

Do you want to share some secret with your friend/friends/colleagues in a public place? During ancient days in Rome, such people use to tie a thread around their heads and place a rose flower inside. Other people used to stay away from their privacy as long as they wear rose. In Kerala too, such strange customs existed once. It was in Travancore. When members of royal court want to share or discuss something secretly, they wrap their shawl (randaam mund) around their head in a particular style. When others see it, they should divert from there – as per rules. When those members unlock the shawl, others can return back and sit in their respective seats.

Coercion of old days

If you want a favourable decision from someone, you can stop them anywhere and force them to take a decision. This procedure, known as Kharavo in local terms is unlawful and is also considered a criminal offense now. This form of strike was earlier known as ‘Varacha Varayil Nirthuka’, a phrase still used by we people, which means strictly force someone to obey you.  You might be interested to know that such a custom existed in ancient Kerala. When a lender gives loan to someone, he will be given a fixed time for the repay. But if the buyer doesn’t give in back in the given time, there is a trick by lender. When he meets the other person in some public place, he draws a line before him, and the other person can’t cross it. If he does so, the problem reaches king’s court and the buyer may get punishment for not repaying the loan.

Achara Bhasha (Custom based language) which existed once

In the ancient days, as per customs different castes and sectors of people used different words for communication. In short each community in the society used their own language and it was known as ‘Aachara Bhasha’. When a king dies, the terms “Naadu Neengi” or “Kaalam Cheythu” were used to communicate it. To say ‘I am leaving’ a subject can’t use “Jnan Pokunnu”. Instead he should say, “Adiyan Vida Kollunnu”. Such interesting words, phrases and sentences existed in Kerala centuries back. Now many of those terms may not be easy to understand, and here I list a few such interesting ones.

Here are some of the terms used by royal members of the society as well as upper caste people.

Marriage – Thrithali Charthu, Pallikettu

Delivery – Thiruvayarozhiyuka, Palliperu

Sleep – Pallikkuruppaavuka

Wake up – Palliyunaruka

Ring – Thiruvaazhi

Upanayanam – Thirumadamb

Recognition (Bahumati) – Thiruvadi, Thirumeni, Thirumanass

Some of the terms used by lower sections of the society then

Meals – Karikkaadi

Bath – Cheru Nanayuka

Sleep – Nilam Pothal

Dress – Kuriyand, Kuriyamund

Disease – Padukedu

House – Kuppamaadam


Read a few articles related to Kerala Culture, Traditions & Social Life. Here is the page link. Click on the images in the gallery to read


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A freelance writer and blogger by profession since October 2011, interested in writing over a wide range of topics. Hope you enjoy my writings. I belong to one of the beautiful places of the world, Kerala, nicknamed as 'God's own country'.

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