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NairNair, a, Dravidian people of south-west India, formerly dominant in Malabar and Travancore, where they are still numerous and influential. Although classed as Sudras by the Brahmans, they claim to belong to the higher Kshatriya, or warrior, caste, with eleven minor divisions, numbering altogether nearly a million. The Nairs - i.e. "Masters" - are an extremely haughty people, great sticklers for their assumed social privileges, and holding in contempt all other classes except the Brahmans. They still retain the primitive matriarchal usages and traditions in full vigour and till the middle of the 18th century Travancore was ruled by Nair princesses succeeding in the female line. In the family group also authority is exercised by the mother and eldest daughter, whom the maternal uncles and brothers obey implicitly, while the husbands are of no account, often dismissed altogether after the marriage, or else only tolerated as guests in the household. Land also is transmitted in the female line from mother to daughter, and cultivated by all the sons for the benefit of the community. Polyandry, formerly universal, appears to be disappearing, and unions, as at present constituted, may be described as "a contract based on mutual consent and dissoluble at pleasure." (Thevenot, Clements Markham.)
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