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Ambalavasi (Ampalavasi) is a generic name for a group of castes among Hindus in Kerala, India, who render temple services. Some Ambalavasi castes are patrilineal, while the others are matrilineal. Those that practise matrilineality share many cultural similarities with the Nair caste and, according to some anthropologists, may be related to them. Their ritual rank in Hinduism lies somewhere between the Brahmin castes and the Nairs.
The castes which comprised the Ambalavasi community each contained only a few members.
Kazhakams or Ambalakkazhakams refer to associations of ambalavasi peoples in a temple to perform specific duties in the temple. The Malayalam or Tamil term Kazhaka is believed to be originated from the Sanskrit word घटकः (ghaṭakaḥ) meaning a unit or part or component.
Traditionally, Ambalavasis are associated with various types of temple arts. Earlier, each of these temple arts were performed only by specific Ambalavasi castes. Now there is no community or caste barrier.
|Kooth||Chakyar, Nangyar (women of Nambiar)|
|Certain roles of Krishnanattam||Nambeesan or Pushpaka Unni[page needed]|
|Mizhavu (Musical Instruemnt)||Nambiar|
|Kuzhithalam (Musical Instruemnt)||Nangyar (women of Nambiar)|
|Theeyattu||Theeyatt Unni, Thiyyadi Nambiar|
|Vadyams (Musical Instruments) like
Chenda, Idakka, Udukku etc.
|Sopanasangeetham||Marar, Pothuval|
|Brahmanippattu||Brahmani (women of Nambeesan)|
They lived in villages either where the land was owned solely by one Nambudiri Brahmin family or where the land was owned by a temple, the running of which was in the control of a group of Nambudiri families. The latter villages were called sanketams.
The temples in which they worked comprised four basic types: