We had another strike yesterday in Kerala. The number which seemed to go down has come up all of a sudden, and soon we will go back to having more number of strikes than it can ever be predicted. If you wander around Kerala, you can see that there are more banners, posters and boards about strikes than anything else. Yes, there are the political and religious ones, but nothing can match the need for purge, the legendary harthals and random strikes of God’s Own Country. It is more like campaigning for an upcoming movie – participate in the strike, and make it a big success, it is what we are supposed to do?
So, it becomes only a necessity to remember those great leaders who lead the renaissance in Kerala at a time when the state was desperately in need of one. It is due to the work of these selfless personalities that Kerala could achieve the progress that it managed to. I have been reading a lot of related information for the PSC examinations, and will share what I can remember right here. Well, sharing something about these people is nothing less than a privilege. May be we need more social reformers to stop these ridiculous harthals and strikes. So, let’s remember a few of the great men of our past, and a dose of Kerala Renaissance.
1. Sree Narayana Guru: As the father of Kerala renaissance, the guru was the one who lead the movement against casteism and worked for equality. For the man who gave the message “One Caste, One Religion, One God for Man”, Sree Narayana Guru Jayanthi and Sree Narayana Guru Samadhi are public holidays in Kerala. He was a fighter against all kinds of social injustice which the lower caste had to face. He hoped for social equality in the future, something which Kerala managed to achieve as the state moved out of the caste system with grace. Two other significant messages from him are “Whichever be one’s Religion, it is enough if the Man himself improves” and “Liquor is Poison; do not Drink it; do not Produce it; do not Distribute it”.
2. Ayyankali: You might have noticed a statue at Kowdiar square in Thiruvananthapuram, of this famous social reformer who worked for the untouchables of his time. The social structure of Kerala at his time was complicated or rather ridiculous and had too much of caste system, which this man dared to defy. Mahathma Gandhi himself called him Pulaya Raja, and he was the founder of Sadhujana Paripalana Sangham for protecting the subaltern which has tremendous support at that time. A member of Sree Moolam Popular Assembly, Ayyankali might be the most significant Dalit leader of this part of India, and do spend some time to learn about this man who defied the odds.
3. Mar Kuriakose Elias Chavara: This priest and social reformer from Kerala was the second canonised saint of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and the founder of two religious orders Carmelites of Mary Immaculate, and the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel. The significance of this man is that he played a higher role in educating people of the lower castes, and hoped to make the situation better for untouchables. He found a printing press at Mannanam from where Nasrani Deepika, the first Malayalam daily which still exists, was printed. He believed in the education of women as well as the education for all. He started noon day meals in schools and began “pallikoodam” which meant that every church should have schools to give free education to all.
4. Chattampi Swamikal: As a contemporary of Sree Narayana Guru, he also worked for those groups of the society who were marginalized and needed certain upliftment in the world which clearly belonged to the upper castes. The man who followed non-violence and vegetarianism, managed to make people have second thoughts about following the caste system and degrading the lower castes. He was a fine scholar and wrote a number of books. He had knowledge in religions other than Hinduism too, especially Christianity, and had the idea that all religions were the same, and there was no need for conversion into any. He is credited with a lot of works, and had a good number of disciples who carried on with his words of wisdom.
5. Vaikunda Swamikal: Known more as Ayya Vaikundar, but in Kerala as Vaikunda Swamikal, he was social reformer who worked for the betterment of the situation of the lower castes in the Kingdom of Travancore which had about the half of the present Kerala along with the Tamil district of Kanyakumari. Ayyavazhi is a belief system which is centered around his life. He found an organization called Samatva Samajam which might be one of the earliest social organization in Kerala with a strong cause, and he was indeed one of the first to do so. He was also the first person to come up with the message about one God for all humanity, despite the wide variety of difference whch prevailed around the world.
***The five social reformers of Kerala Renaissance were randomly selected and there are certainly more who deserves a mention in such a list. ***The images used in this blog post are taken from the Wikipedia page of the History of Kerala.