Malabar a tract of country extending along the western coast of India, from Cape Comorin to the River Chandragri, in N. lat. 120 30'. Frequently the name Malabar, however, is erroneously applied to the whole country from Bombay to the southern extremity. British Malabar is situated between the 10th and 13th degrees of N. lat., belongs to the presidency of Madras, and has a population of 2,261,250. By far the most extensive portion of Malabar lies in the vicinity of the Ghaut Mountains, and consists of low hills, separated by narrow but fertile valleys. The upland is barren, and the cultivation much neglected; and it is in the valleys, and extensive ravines, and upon the banks of the rivers that the inhabitants chiefly reside. Until a recent period slavery existed in Malabar, but in 1843 a legislative enactment was passed by the British government, by the provisions of which slavery has been abolished throughout the whole extent of the British possessions in the East. The country is distinguished by the neatness of its villages, which are superior to any in India, being built of mud, neatly smoothed, and either whitewashed or painted; their picturesque effect is heightened by the beauty and elegant dresses of the Brahmin girls. The villages, as well as the bazaars, are the work of foreigners, the aboriginal natives of Malabar living in detached houses surrounded with gardens. The higher ranks use little clothing, but are remarkably clean in their persons, and all ranks are free from cutaneous distempers excepting the very lowest castes.
History. — It is supposed that Malabar was, at a very early period, conquered by a king from above the Ghauts. The Nairs may have been established at the same time by the conqueror, or called in by the Brahmins, as a military body to support the government. In process of time they obtained settlements in the land, and the chiefs, taking every opportunity to aggrandize themselves, became rajahs, and from a remote period continued to govern Malabar like independent princes. In 1760 the Mohammedans first effected an entry here under Hyder All, who subdued the country in 1761, and expelled all the rajahs except such as conciliated him by immediate submission. Disturbances were occasioned by these proceedings, but he succeeded in establishing his authority, and in 1782 appointed a deputy, who made still further progress in subduing and settling the country. In 1788 Tippoo Sahib, his son, attempted forcibly to supersede Hinduism by his own faith, Mohammedanism. This produced a serious rebellion, which, however, was soon quelled by his vigorous administration, but in the mean time the country was laid waste by his tyrannical proceedings. On the breaking out of the war between T'ippoo and the British in 1790, the refractory rajahs and Nairs joined the British, and Tippoo was driven from the country; Malabar he came a portion of the British possessions of India, and, with slight disturbances, has since remained in the hands of the English. Under the management of the British the country is said to be advancing in prosperity.
Religion. — The original manners and peculiar customs of the Hindus have been preserved in Malabar in much greater purity than in other parts of India. Besides the Hindus, who form the greater proportion of the inhabitants, the population consists of Moplays or Mohammedans, Christians, and Jews. The Hindus are divided into the following castes, namely, Namburies, or Brahmins; the Nairs of various denominations; the Leers, or Liars, who are cultivators of the land. and freemen; and, lastly, the Patiars, who were slaves or bondmen. Of these castes the most remarkable are the Nairs, the pure Sudras of Malabar, who all lay claim to be born soldiers, though they are of various ranks and professions. There are altogether eleven ranks of Nairs, who form the militia of Malabar, under the Brahmins and rajahs. They are proud and arrogant to their inferiors, and in former times a Nair was expected instantly to cut down a cultivator or fisherman who presumed to defile him by touching his person, or a Patiar who did not turn out of his road as a Nair passed. It is a remarkable custom among this class that a Nair never cohabits with the person whom he calls his wife; he gives her all proper allowances of clothing and food, but she remains in her mother's or brother's house, and cohabits with any person or persons she chooses of equal rank; so that no Nair knows his own father, and the children all belong to the mother, whose claim to them admits of no doubt. This state of manners also prevails in neighboring countries. The native Mussulmans (Moplays') form about one fourth of the population; they are descended from Hindu mothers by Arab fathers, who settled in Malabar about the 7th or 8th century.
Christianity appears at a very early period to have made considerable progress on the Malabar coast, and there is a greater proportion of persons professing that religion in this country than in any other part of India. The accommodation theory of the Jesuits was practiced here in the 17th century by Pater Nobili. See INDIA. Three ecclesiastical chiefs — two appointed by the Portuguese Church at Goa, and one by the see of Rome — rule over this establishment, besides the Babylonish bishops, who preside over the Nestorian community. The last-named Christians consider themselves descendants of converts made by the apostle Thomas in the 1st century. At the landing of Vasco de Gama, the native Christians are said to have numbered 200,000 souls. Dr. Buchanan, in his Journey from Madras, etc., however, computes them to number now only 40,000, with 44 churches. The total number of Christians on the Malabar coast, including the Syrians, or Nestorians, is estimated at 200,000; 90,000 of them are settled at Travancore. There are also some 30,000 Jews in Malabar. See Cyclop. Britannica, s.v. SEE MADRAS.