According to Samuel Mateer of the London Missionary Society, the varied culture of Travancore is an interesting study material. The accounts given by him regarding the traditional life style of the people of Travancore in 19th century is in a very detailed format.
There was no magnificent architectural style in Travancore in the 19th century. According to Samuel Mateer, even the residences of the rich families were also not very big in size. The houses of the lowest incoming groups were almost in brittle and terrible condition. These were built near the sides of narrow streets with wide-open gutters. The huts had thatched roofs and the entrance doors were of 3 feet high and were just 8 feet square in size. Those who were in better condition constructed their houses with clay bricks dried in the sun or burnt in kiln. These better class people of Travancore used to plaster their houses with 'Chunam' or 'lime'. These walls used to shine like marbles after polishing. These houses were generally two stories in height and had a verandah round the lower storey to protect the walls from sun and rain. The ceilings, rafters and beams were made of teak, jack or palmyra wood. Again, the roof was covered with small tiles of burnt clay. Some of the houses of Travancore in the 19th century were constructed entirely of wood with beautiful carvings. These could last for centuries if thoroughly taken care of.
The houses in Travancore, which were used to dwell with family, had several small rooms. As per Samuel, there used to be one-room form women, one for entertaining and another, the strong room, which was carefully fitted with bars and locks, to safeguard valuables and money. The rooms had minimum number of small windows. Proper ventilation was not available and hence the rooms were dark inside. The little place available between the dwellings and the public road was used for drying grains or housing cattle in sheds. The kitchens were always kept separate and walls were erected inside the courtyard for convenience.
In the 19th century, the entrance of the houses in Travancore was covered with a small roof-like frame, thatched to protect the woodwork. The joint families used to have a number of buildings to accommodate all the members and even had a small domestic temple. The people used to have minimum number of furniture. They kept only one or two benches, indigenous beds or bed frames with a mat, a brass lamp dangled by a chain, a wooden mortar for pounding rice and a few cooking vessels in most modest dwellings. The wealthy families, who could afford, used the European furniture.
The people of Travancore wore ordinary costume, which were simple and primitive.
The men used to wear very little clothes while at work. Those who lived in Mountains used green leaves for covering themselves. Those who wear in a little better condition used light clothing and Tamilian could be identified by the plenty of clothing he wore.
During any auspicious occasion or in any public gathering, the wealthy wore a long jacket or coat of white or printed calico with trousers. Usually, the teachers, government servants and police used to put on such clothes. The costumes of the peons were embroidered belts with brass or silver badges inscribed with the name of the department they belonged to. The general headband of Travancore people of 19th century was a turban of white or coloured muslin tightly and neatly folded in a great variety of fashions. All the men of any caste used to shave their head and face for coolness and cleanliness. A little part of the hair was always left uncut, which was called 'Kudumi'. This was avoided only during mourning.
The kudumi of the Nambudiri Brahmins used to be in the front of the head loosely knotted. The sectarial marking on the forehead with ashes or sandalwood was common among the people of Travancore in the 19th century. Those men who could afford used to wear small gold earrings and rings on fingers. They also wore necklaces and rosaries of nuts of trees. The royal family males or the Brahmins, goldsmiths and others of higher caste used to wear the 'Punul' or cross cord. They wore a scarf like cloth around the neck or on their shoulders and a single cloth was tucked around their hips. The footwears of the people of Travancore were wooden or leather slippers and sandals of various patterns. The umbrellas of palm leaf or cloth were allowed to use only by the people of high castes.
The females of Travancore in the 19th century wore their hair in knots and flowers and gold ornaments were adorned in them. They used to wear different varieties of ear ornaments. The 'Shanar' or 'Sudra' women wore heavy leaden rings and the often use of it made their ears elongated. During festive season, they wore gold earrings and on normal days, palm leaf or wooden earrings were used. The nose rings, nose drops, necklaces of gold, silver and brass or bead were in fashion at that time. But widow women could not wear them.
All communities of Travancore used the thali or marriage badge. There was a peculiar custom according to which the lower caste women were not allowed to use clothes above the waist, which was banned in 1865. All other women used to tie a loose cloth over the breasts or wore it across the shoulder. The women of higher caste could wear an upper cloth and they even wore coloured jackets fastened in the front. The women also wore a piece of calico, of silk white colour or with checks, several yards in length. It was tightly wound around the waist and arranged in smart folds. They looked very graceful and attractive wearing those clothes with appropriate jewels and anklets.
The food habits used to symbolise the orthodoxy of the people of Travancore in the 19th century. People of different caste were not allowed to dine together. The concept of pollution by touch was very much prevalent then. Even a European physician needed to have special baths before touching his patients. Several rituals were required to perform to be free of pollution. The inhabitants of Travancore could not take food, cooked shipboard at that time. So, long voyages by sea were not permitted.
Brahmins were vegetarians but others ate mutton, poultry and even pork freely but beef was prohibited. Among the foods, curry and rice was the favourite of Travancore people. They used to sit on the ground and eat on plantain leaves and spoons were not used then. For the liquids, they used cups and spoons of jack tree leaves. They ate vegetables, fruits, milk, curd rice and flour cakes and coffee was also in their trend. They used to buy sweetmeats from markets. Gruel or kanji were also liked by them. The women and men of Travancore could never eat together. Women used to serve the meal, attended to the needs of family members and then they took the remaining part.
(Last Updated on : 21-01-2010)
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