Namboothiri Websites, Calicut, Kerala
(A Voluntary and Non-profit-oriented forum for documenting Namboothiri traditions in web)

"Gurukulams" in Namboothiri Community

The ancient view in India was that a student was a seeker of Vidya, the special holistic learning with the sole aim of seeking and realising the ultimate truth. The deep thirst for knowledge was satisfied through the relationship between the preceptor and the disciple. A disciple was accepted by a preceptor only after testing and determining his or her worthiness, but after which the relationship was established on a firm basis.

There is evidence that the ancient type of Gurukulam system of education was widespread in Kerala until a century ago. The students' aim of scaling the heights of learning was achieved through three stages: first, learning from the teacher through oral instruction while staying at the Gurukulam; second, learning through participation in seminar type discussions - Parishads; and third, through Vidwath sadas type of meetings where learned Pandithans presented effective arguments and counter-arguments on various issues and branches of learning.

The following were some of the celebrated Gurukulams of Kerala.

  1. Thiruvalla Saala
  2. Thrissoor Brahmaswam Mattham
  3. Thirunaavaaya Samooham Mattham
  4. Koodalloor Mana Gurukulam
  5. Moozhikkulam Saala
  6. Kodungalloor Kovilakam Gurukulam
  7. Punnasseri Gurukulam

The Thiruvalla Saala was a highly advanced and well-known Gurukulam of the central Thiruvithaamkoor area. It was supported by a group of patrons of the Sree Vallabha temple which still exists. The Gurukulam had as many as one thousand students, and it flourished for several centuries. The Vedams and Saasthrams were taught by Swaamiyaars (renunciates who had taken up Samnyaasam). In addition, the Gurukulam also taught the martial arts.


The Thrissoor Brahmaswam Mattham is also known as Swaamiyaar Mattham, and is a thousand years old, maintaining a full-fledged, near-perfect Gurukulam tradition for Rigvedic studies. Most of the students went there for higher studies after learning the Veda manthrams (Samhitha) at home. There used to be about 500 students in the Mattham at any time.

Recently, the UNESCO has approved Kerala's Vedic learning tradition as a World Heritage, recognising the ancientness of its oral transmission and presentation of deep philosophic and literary knowledge through the centuries.


The Thirunaavaaya Samooham Mattham situated north of Thrissur, used to be a centre for Yajurvedam studies, and to a small extent, Saamavedam and topics on Thanthram too.


The Koodlloor (locally, also known as Naareeri, apparently shortened from the locality name Naagalasseri or Naagaraajasree) Mana family-run Gurukulam could be described as a Samskritham University that operated for at least 14 continuous generations. Apart from their family patron goddess Durga in the form of Bhadrakaali, with a Vaishnava connection, and the Naagaraaja, their indoor shrine has also a kind of Prathishttha of sage Pathanjali, (see box) the great Sanskrit grammarian of ancient times, who authored a commentary on Paanineeyam, the first book of linguistic science (Vyaakaranam) in world history. Only those who had mastered the Vyaakaranam treatise, Siddhaantha Kaumudi had the right to climb the steps of the shrine.

Though Sanskrit Vyaakaranam (linguistic science) was indeed the specialised curriculum of this Gurukulam, other branches and Saasthrams like Meemaamsa, Tharkam, Ganitham (Mathemathics), Jyothissaasthram, etc. were also taught there. In their advanced studies and research, the students were required to do a dissertation on their topic of study to obtain certification from this Gurukulam, and this was considered as the Gurudakshina. This family is considered to be the descendants of the sixth century Yogi, Mezhathol Agnihothri (click) who had rejuvenated the Yajna Samskaaram by performing 99 Yaagams (click).

Disciples came from all over Kerala and the neighbouring regions such as Thiruchirappally, Chidambaram, Thanjavoor, etc. of the present Tamil Nadu state of India, and lived in the large house (Illam). Senior students assisted the scholars in teaching, guiding and discoursing with the juniors. At any time, there were 100 to 200 students, who were housed and fed there.

While specific scholars from all other Gurukulams were invited to participate in the periodically held scholars' conference at Thali, in Kozhikode, organised by the Saamoothiripad, known as Pattathaanam (Bhattadaanam) (click), the invitation letter to Koodalloor Mana asked for "anybody" from there, which speaks of the high quality of scholarship there. This differentiation seems to have surprised the renowned scholar from Tamil Nadu, Uddanda Saasthrikal, who was a regular participant in the conference. It has been recorded that Uddanda Saasthri visited Koodalloor Mana and was filled with respect and wonder about the curriculum and the tradition of deep scholarship there.

Narayanan Nambudiripad (7th century ME), author of the famous "Subhadraaharana Kaavyam", Neelakandhan Nambudiripad, author of "Vishnu Sahasranaamam commentary"- (a brief description), Neelakandhan Nambudiripad, author of "Kamalini Kalahamsam", and Vasudeva Saasthrikal (11th century ME) were famous scholars of the family. Many of the disciples wrote in praise of the scholars and of the Gurukulam, including the celebrated disciple of Kunchunni Nambudiripad, Chennamangalam Ayyaa Saasthrikal, a grammar scholar holding the title "Saabdika Thilakam", and Pudukkod P S Anathanarayana Saasthrikal.


Sage Pathanjali authored "Yogasoothram" and "Charakasamhitha". He is believed to be an incarnation ("Avathaaram") of Aadiseshan who fell down from heaven in the form of a small serpent from Paanini's palm. The term may have originated from the concept that everyone should worship by bowing at his feet.

The story goes that Sage Pathanjali prayed to Lord Sivan at Chidambaram for blessings in his effort to write Bhaashyams on the Vyaakarana-Vaarthikams of Kaathyaayanan, and that the Lord blessed him. He had a large number of disciples. There is a belief that when he teaches the higher levels of Grantthams, the Sage sits behind a curtain, and that the image of Ananthan appears there.

Only three places in India have the consecrated idol ("Prathishttha") of Sage Pathanjali: (1) at Chidmbaram; (2) in the Padinjaatti (western part of the central quadrangle) of Koodalloor Mana, also known as Naagaraajasreni (locally corrupted to Naareeri); and (3) in Orissa. Folklore has it that during one of the Sage Pathanjali's aerial travels (he had acquired Yogasiddhi), a Granttham fell from his possession and landed in the quadrangle of Koodalloor. The learned scholars of the Mana realised this, consecrated the Sage there, worshiped and pleased him.

The idols of Koodalloor and Chidambaram are alike, the head containing a number of serpent hoods, and the worship in Vaishnava style. There is another view that one Nambudiri of Koodalloor went to Chidambaram and prayed for a long period, and during his return trip, he brought along Sage Pathanjali with him. Koodalloor Nambudiri's trip to Chidambaram may perhaps be related to the belief that Koodalloor people were descendants of Mezhathol Agnihothri (click : Vararuchi and Mezhathol Agnihothri), who had acquired "Yogasiddhi". In any case, Sage Pathanjali is also their "Bharadevatha".

There is an opinion that the author of "Yogasoothram" and that of "Bhaashyam" are two separate Pathanjalis; while one lived in the pre-Mahaabhaaratham period, the Bhaashyam author's period was earlier than 150 BC.

- K B Sreedevi, Koodalloor Mana, Thrissur - 680 005
English Translation : K D Nambudripad

The library at Koodalloor was quite extensive and modern, and covered music, literature, astronomical mathematics, geology, and of course grammar and linguistics, which were the focal themes of the Gurukulam. During the 20th century, a number of foreign scholars visited the Koodalloor library in search of its invaluable treasures. According to an estimate made during the late nineteen thirties, the collection contained 13,804 books. During the social changes that followed, all of them ended up somewhere else, with many in the State Manuscript Library.

The last link in the long chain of scholars at Koodalloor Gurukulam was Narayanan Nambudiripad who passed away in the late nineteen twenties. He had deep knowledge in Vyaakaranam and Meemaamsa, and is recorded to have told Kochi Mahaaraaja how sorry he was to see the sad end of almost fourteen centuries of continuous scholarly tradition in Koodalloor grammar studies.

His father's brother, Kunjikkaavu Nambudiripad was a scholar well versed in Puraanic lore, and active in spreading the word of Bhaagavatha Puraanam, and wrote a book, "Bhakthi Rasaamrutha Samgraham" which describes in detail the secrets of the path of devotion.

The Koodalloor Mana and Gurukulam were originally said to have been situated near Thrithala, on the banks of Bharatha Puzha (river), and later moved to Nagalasseri in the present Palakkad district. The contribution of this Gurukulam to Kerala culture is immense indeed.


5.1. THE KAADAMPATTA MANA of Chalavara village in the erstwhile Valluvanad was, at one time, a renowned centre for Vedam studies. Many learned Namboothiris have come out of there after their studies in Vedam in the traditional Gurukulam style.

5.2. THE KIRAANGAATT MANA, situated near Thrissur was also a Gurukulam with a long-lasting tradition of scholarship and teaching. They produced some of the most prominent Yajurvedam scholars of Kerala. They ensured that the students understood the meaning of the Vedam also. Their brilliant scholars taught this after the students learned the Vedam by heart. The Kiraangaatt Nambudiripads were also great connoisseurs of art and culture.

5.3. THE PAKARAAVOOR MANA, near Mookuthala Bhagavathy temple ran a Veda Paattha Saala, teaching Saamavedam in the Gurukulam style. It existed relatively for a short period. There used to be highly learned Visha Vaidyars who used to effectively treat snake bites and other venom ingestions.

5.4. KODUNGALLOOR GURUKULAM. The present day town of Kodungalloor used to be a famous Gurukulam run by the royal families. Vidvaan Ilaya Thampuraan born in 1800 was one who helped the Kodungalloor Gurukulam to grow and become renowned. Though it is not a Namboothiri Gurukulam, many learned and accomplished Namboothiri scholars came out from the Kodungalloor Kalari. The literary movement in Kerala known as Venmani Movement originated from the ranks of this Gurukulam. An ideal model of Kerala's Gurukulam system, the Kodungalloor Gurukulam had also employed women scholars as teachers, and welcomed female students.

5.5. THE PUNNASSERI GURUKULAM near Pattambi was a refuge for people with a thirst to acquire knowledge. It was established by Punnasseri Neelakandha Sharma, and many of today's Sanskrit scholars of Kerala were products of this Gurukulam. He ensured that the teaching and learning of Sanskrit was not limited to the elite class, and broke the borders of caste and religion. He had a vision to develop it into a grand university. While Sharma was alive, it flourished, but after his demise, the institution became lacklustre.

Collectively, these and other Gurukulams preserved our traditional knowledge and contributed to its corpus through teaching, research and text creation.

| Article No:29 | Last update of this article:9th June 2009 |
Article by :
K B Sreedevi
, Koodallur Mana, Kizhakkumpattukara, Thrissur - 680 005
Res.: Kuroor Mana, Sobha Heritage, PO.: Adat, Thrissur - 680 554
Phone : 0487-2308716

Abridged by : K D Nambudripad

English Translation : D K M Kartha, USA

Home | What is New.. | Members | Welcome, Sponsors ! | Search For.. | Your Feedback

Copyright © 2000 Namboothiri Websites Calicut. All rights reserved.