Nairs who were once a factor to be reckoned with, in the socio-economic life of Kerala, lost their clout in the wake of the consolidation of British rule in the land. The life of ease and extravagance they led had made them indolent, incapable of hard and sustained efforts to improve their lot. They engaged themselves in mutual quarrels, abuse, backbiting, and other degrading activities which lowered them in the estimation of the authorities as well as the general public. The superstitious beliefs they held and practiced like Taalikettu, Therendukuli, Pulakuli, and the Marumakkathaayam system they followed not only impoverished them but also made them the laughing stock of others.
Deeply touched by the decline and degradation of the Nair community, into which he was born, Mannathu Padmanabhan, a school teacher turned social reformer and revolutionary, with the help and co-operation of his close friends, associates, and well-wishers set up an organization designed to help them, become united and strong and strive for their wellbeing as well as the welfare of others. Inspired by the example of the ‘Servants of India Society’ established by Sri Gopalakrisna Gokhale, it was originally named ‘The Nair Samudaya Bhrithya Jana Samgham’. Later it was named ‘Nair Service Society ‘on the advice of the learned scholar Sri K Paramu Pillai. From 25 August 1915 Mannathu Padmanabhan totally dedicated himself to carrying on the work of the society till his death. He remained the heart and soul of this social organization.
The growth of NSS since its inception has been phenomenal. Today it has primary units named ‘Karayogams’ 5794 numbers, Vanitha Samajams 4900, and Bala Samajams 3000 functioning throughout Kerala. The number of Taluk Unions affiliated to the central body is 60.
As Hindus in general and Nairs, in particular, could not reap the benefits of education, the Nair Service Society began taking steps to propagate education right from the beginning. The establishment of Karukachal English School in 1915 marked its entry into this field. Today NSS owns 13 Lower Primary Schools, 24 Upper Primary Schools, 74 High Schools, 47 Higher Secondary Schools, and 4 Teacher Training Institutes.
As an outcome of the deliberations of the All Kerala Nair Conference held under its auspices at Mannar in 1916, the NSS ventured into the field of higher education and set up its first college in Perunna Changanacherry. The NSS has 19 Arts, Science, and Commerce colleges to Kerala, Calicut, Mahatma Gandhi, and Kannur Universities which offer facilities for postgraduate studies, an Engineering College at Palakkad, a Polytechnic College at Pandalam, 3 Training Colleges at Changanacherry, Pandalam and Ottapalam, a Homeo Medical College at Kurichy near Changanacherry and an Ayurvedic College near Pandalam. NSS is also running a Co-operative College at Kottayam and two unaided Arts colleges for Women at Thripoonithura and Perumthanni.
The NSS is rendering yeoman service in many areas like Public health, Women’s upliftment and Child Welfare, Plantation, and for pilgrims and travelers who make the holy trek to Sabarimala. The NSS has Allopathy hospitals, 4 Ayurveda hospitals, 1 General Nursing school, 4 Estates, 16 working women’s hostels, 4 guest houses, industrial units, an Orphanage and Thantravidyapeedam.
The NSS has grown by leaps and bounds since it was set up on October 31, 1914, under the fostering care of Mannathu Padmanabhan and his devoted friends and supporters and due to the dedicated services of the persons whom he had groomed, to take over its leadership after him. The Nair Service Society has made its mark in the socio-cultural life of Kerala and has become a stout protector and ardent promoter of the interests of the community, a stout defender of communal harmony, and a body striving for the all-round progress and prosperity of all sections of the state’s population.