"But you said that your mother tongue is Tamil, so shouldn’t you be from Tamil Nadu? "
"Wait a sec…your Tamil has such a strong Malayalam slang..how come? "
These are some common questions that come my way at any Indian social gathering.
Then, a light bulb goes on in my acquaintance's face!! "Ohhhh!! Are you a Palakkad Iyer???"
I nod in the affirmative, and then get teased about the quirky ways (language, food etc) of Palakkad Iyers. I often wonder, “What is Palakkad Iyer culture?” "What defines us?" I posed this question in an online forum and was thrilled to hear from so many Palakkad Iyers who shared my thoughts. Here is a modest compilation. Please note that some terms are in typical Palakkadan and I have attempted to translate when possible.
PALAKKAD IYER Culture is inherited, experienced, assimilated and passed on in unique ways depending on each PALAKKAD IYER's family background, childhood experiences in cultural immersion and strong presence of patriarchs or matriarchs in the tharavadu/madom (ancestral household) or agraharam (village). PALAKKAD IYER culture is the collective characteristics of PALAKKAD IYERs or Kerala Iyers, defined by everything from language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts. Language: The charming 'avial' bhashai (medley language) of Talayaalam.......morumchaam, sheevishul, chaana-choranai, kottathalam, chella petti, kollai, machumel etc are neither used in pure Tamizh nor in pure MalayaLam, but unique to PALAKKAD IYER Talayalam (Medley of Tamil and Malayalam) Religious practices: Invoking and seeking Ishwara's/Kula Deivam's blessings for any endeavor; Saligrama pujai, Shiva Pujai, Bhagavati Sevai, Maa Velakku, Saastha-preeti and a discipline to perform nithya karmas.
Cuisine: Unique PALAKKAD IYER dishes include Palada Prathaman, Ammini kozhakkatai, veppalakatti, chithu-murukku, puliyakuthi, arachu kalakki, verumarishi adai, (green) pepper corn oorugai, chakka varatti, thamara kizhangu vathal, chakka pappadam, thair molagai; all home-made and gifted to friends and relatives with love.
Social aspects: Most PALAKKAD IYERs were land lords and owned a lot of agricultural land. Most of that changed owing to the Land Reform Acts. However, there still seems to be a lingering feudal attitude among some high placed PALAKKAD IYERs; a sense of entitlement and superiority because, "we were all that great then".
Although purohitam (priest-hood) was the chief profession in the early days, many illustrious PALAKKAD IYERs have excelled in a wide range of professions: industrialists, lawyers, doctors, engineers, teachers, entrepreneurs, artists, you name it, PALAKKAD IYERs have made a mark.
Owing to the predominantly vegetarian and saathwic lifestyle, PALAKKAD IYERs practice Ahimsa; don't have much trouble with the law and attach high value to education and industriousness.
PALAKKAD IYERs (as per my observation) contribute to social causes in their own private way. Most do not participate in institutionalised giving. I have noticed a lot of petty politics in various Brahmana sabhas, although individually, each member is quite harmless. PALAKKAD IYERs just don't buy into "herd mentality" and are highly individualistic.
Music and arts: PALAKKAD IYERs are great connoisseurs of music and other forms of art. Music is intricately woven into our cultural fabric; We burst into song during ponnu paakkal, kalyaana oonjal, nalangu, valakaapu, thottil podal, navarAtri etc.. As T. N. Seshan aptly stated about PALAKKAD IYERs are "cooks, crooks, carnatic musicians or civil servants".
Over the last 6 decades, PALAKKAD IYERs have migrated to several other states within India or have ventured abroad in search of a 'better life'. Their innate ability to adapt as has helped them excel in any chosen field anywhere. Most PALAKKAD IYERs have a relatively simple, often times, frugal lifestyle; this need for contentment puts a glass ceiling for most of their career growth, as they lack aggression when compared to their counterparts at work.
No matter where they go or what they become, they will always be in the warmth of the PALAKKAD IYER cultural blanket.