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Nambiar (also written as Nambyar) is a Hindu caste in Kerala. They belongs to the Ampalavasi community. Based on their profession, there are two subcastes - Mizhavu Nambiar and Thiyyadi Nambiar. Mizhavu Nambiars are associated with temple art forms like Koothu, Koodiyattam and Ottanthullal, where as Thiyyadi Nambiars are associated with the art form Ayyappan Theeyattu. Nambiars followed the marumakkathayam (matrilineal) system of inheritance.
The Sanskrit name of Nambiar is Pānivāda. 'pāni' means hands and 'vāda' comes from the verb 'vādanam' meaning playing; altogether meaning the one who plays with hands, since Nambiars are assigned to play the holy drum "Mizhavu", which they play with their hands only. Nambiars are assigned to play the drum "Mizhavu" in ritualistic temple performances like Koodiyattam and koothu in Koothambalams inside the temples. These highly refined art forms narrating stories from Hindu epics and puranas, combined with prevailing socio-political events, were originally performed in temples in connection with festivals by members of this community along with Chakyar community.
The Nambiars who play mizhavu are sometimes called Chakyar Nambiars or Mizhavu Nambiars. Their ladies are called Nangyarammas. While Nambiars were allowed to play mizhavu, Nangyarammas performs lady characters in Koodiyattam along with Chakyar. Another ritualistic performance done by Nangyarammas inside the temple is Nangiǎr Kūthu, which is an allied art of Kutiyattam.
There were originally 18 Nambyar families (Madhams) in Kerala. Kochampilly, Kalakkattu, Meledath, Villuvatattu, Kuzhuppully, Trikkariyur and Cherumanattu are some among them.
There is another group of Ambalavasi Nambiars called Thiyyadi Nambiars. The adjectival word Thiyyadi is used to denote that they are the performers of an art form called Ayyappan Tīyāttu. Their ladies are known as Marumakalammas.
Nambiars are traditionally Sanskrit scholars and held prominent positions in academics. The famous Malayalam satire poet Kunchan Nambiar, who is believed to be the Sanskrit poet Rama Pānivāda, belongs to this caste. The chief contribution of Kunchan Nambiar is the invention and popularisation of a new performing art known as Thullal.
A service organisation named Chakyar-Nambiar Samajam is in operation at Kochi.