Ezhavas are the inhabitants of Kerala, a southern most state of India, bounded on
the east by the Western Ghats and the west by the Arabian Sea. Related ethnic groups
are the Billavas of Tulunadu in Karnataka.
History states that Keralas original inhabitants were Animists followed by Dravidians. Anthropologically, the Dravidians are a mixture of Proto-Austroloids,
Mediterranean and Negritos. Genetic studies does not support the South Indian ancestries but the distinctive Dravidian language do substantiate.
Studies of the distribution of alleles on the Y chromosome, microsatellite DNA and mitochondrial DNA in India have cast overwhelming doubt for a biological Dravidian race distinct from non-Dravidian in Indian subcontinent. This genetic genetic study which show that the allelic distribution of Ezhavas in a bi-dimensional plot (correspondence analysis based on HLA-A,-B,-C frequencies) has a rather strong East Eurasian element due to its proximity to the Mongol population in the same plot.
Various theories regarding the origin of Ezhavas
The land east of Tigris in Iran, now called Khuzistan was once called Elam, a civilization that flourished five thousand years ago had distinctive culture and language similar to that of the Dravidians. They crossed the Tian Shan mountain ranges which lies to the north and west of the Taklamakan Desert in the border region of Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan and Xinjiang province of China and in to the northern areas of Pakistan where it joins the Hindukush. Hence the name Thiyyas were designated to Ezhavas in northern Kerala as they came from beyond the Tian mountains.
According to the “Vadakkan Pattukal” a long standing legend Ezhavas arrived by sea from Ezham which is interpreted as the present day Srilanka. The king of Ceylon sent four bachelors to establish coconut farming in Kerala in the 1st century A.D at the request of Chera king Bhaskara Ravi Varma. And their progenies were called as Ezhavas/ Thiyyas throughout Kerala.
Ezhavas are a group of Munda-Dravidians who eloped from Tamilnadu to escape from the hands of their political allies and setteled alongside the fishermen of Kerala and formed a part of the original ethnic population. They were later outcasted by the Namboothiris in 5th century B.C onwards.
A migration theory which ties the Ezhavas with the ancient Phoenicians who supposedly arrived by sea in the Gujarat and Sind area about 5000 B.C and who eventually established the Indus Valley Civilization. In this case Ezhavas are a part of the Dravidian stock which was pushed eastward and southward by the invading Aryans in the 2nd millennium B.C.
Ezhavas are the descendents of the early Dravidian settlers of Kerala. Other than the Namboothiri Brahmins who arrived from the north in the 5th century B.C, the black outcastes such as the Parayas, Pulayas,Ulladas etc who were the aboriginal tribes in the area and the Syrian Christians who migrated from the Middle East all other communities of contemporary Kerala descended from the same ethnic group.
Ezhavas were the followers of Buddhism and hence they were made outcaste by Brahminic domination. The arguments that support Buddhistic past of Ezhavas are the preponderance of Ezhavas in disciplines like Ayurveda and Astrology that has grown significantly in Buddhist India.
Ezhava has a strong ethnic similarity with the Nair community in rituals connected to death, cremation, childbirth, menstrual period of women etc that add weight to their common heritage. Ezhavas alongside with Nairs served as Chekavars(warriors) in the armed forces of important kings. Mannanar dynasty of Malabar are the royal families of Ezhavas who maintained their royal status even after the Brahmanization of Kerala.