1. What is Laterite?
(Latin `Lateris` = `Brick`)
Laterite is a compact rock composed of a mixture of Hydrated Oxides of Aluminum and Iron, with small amounts of Manganese Oxides and Titanium.
It is created under monsoon conditions of alternating wet and dry seasons, when the silica and alkalis get washed away leaving deposits of brick-like rock. This rock has a very useful quality - it cuts like cottage cheese when it's quarried but, after being exposed to the air for a short while, becomes hard. This makes Laterite an excellent building medium and most of the temples and old houses of Kerala were constructed of red Laterite.
2. Who was Ayyappa?
Lord Ayyappa is the apotheosis of Ayyan Adigal Thiruvatigal, the Chera king of Venad. His stepfather - Rajashekara of Pandalam - was the last Perumal of Kerala, Rajashekaravarman Cheraman Perumal. All three were contemporaries of the great Shankaracharya (788-820 AD).
Mahishi represents the Chola and Pandya forces Ayyan defeated in the high ranges of the western ghats. The seven battlefields on the pilgrimage route commemorate his victorious campaigns: Kottapuram, Kalaketti, Utuniparamalai (also called Inchippara-kotta), Karimala, Sabaripeetham, Saramkuttiyal (symbolic arrows are offered here) and Trippaty.
Association of Ayyapan with the Muslim Vavar and Christian Katutha indicates that all the communities of Venad had united to fight against the invaders. The leadership and bravery he inspired, immortalised him as a folk hero. Later, this Dravidian king was deified by the Brahmins as Hariharasutan (son of Vishnu-Shiva).
3. How was the Caste System introduced in Kerala?
Kerala, during the Tamil Sangam Age (1-500 AD) was a very egalitarian society. Untouchability was unknown, manual labour was respected and women held in high esteem. After the defeat of the Cheras by Cholas, Buddhism declined and Brahmins introduced the Chatur-Varna caste-system. Behind this apalling caste system they introduced, lay a brilliant strategy aimed at usurping power using religion as a tool. Here is how it was implemented -
This absurd social structure and ostracism lasted for more than 500 years. The system ensured the rapid rise of Namboothiris as a powerful landed aristocracy. In places like Chambakaserry and Edapally, the Namboothiris became kings themselves. Thanks to them, Buddhism & Jainism was completely wiped out from Kerala; Later, Christianity and Islam became very popular; and Malayalam emerged as a sanskritized cousin of Tamil.
But today, it does not take a discerning anthropologist to notice that for all the barriers they created, the `Aryan` Namboothiris look no different from the rest of the people of Kerala. It is also a tribute to the community that the greatest, assimilative social reform movement in recent Kerala history was led by a Namboothiri Brahmin.
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