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One notable alliance was that of the Portuguese with the Kingdom of Cochin, with whom they sided in order to work against the power of the Zamorins of Calicut.Although Calicut remained the most significant of the kingdoms until the 1730s, its power was eroded and the rulers of Cochin were freed from being vassals of the Zamorins.Historically, Nairs lived in large family units called tharavads that housed descendants of one common female ancestor.These family units along with their unusual marriage customs, which are no longer practiced, have been much studied.Although trade with China once more went into decline in the 14th-century, it was replaced by trade with Muslim Arabs.These traders had been visiting the area for several hundred years but their activities increased to the point that a third Nair kingdom, based on the port of Calicut, became established.

Inscriptions on copper-plate regarding grants of land and rights to settlements of Jewish and Christian traders, dated approximately between the 7th- and 9th-centuries AD, refer to Nair chiefs and soldiers from the Ernad, Valluvanad, Venad (later known as Travancore) and Palghat areas.

The worship of snakes, a Dravidian custom, The origin of the Nair is disputed.

Some people think the name itself is derived from nayaka, an honorific meaning "leader of the people", while others believe it stems from the community's association with the Naga cult of serpent worship.

Christopher Fuller, an anthropologist, has said that it is likely that the first reference to the Nair community was made by Pliny the Elder in his Natural History, dating from 77 AD.

That work describes what is probably the Malabar coast area wherein could be found the "Nareae, who are shut in by the Capitalis range, the highest of all the mountains in India".

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