All posts by jdevika

Against Aaacharam : Kuttippuzha Krishna Pillai on the veneration of Parasurama

This is the fourth in a series titled Against Aachaaram: A Dossier from Malayalam on Kafila. The note below is by J Devika. The excerpt from the essay by Kuttippuzha Krishna Pillai is translated by UTHARA GEETHA.

The formation of the linguistic state of Kerala was the culmination of a long process of negotiation around Malayalam as a common cultural ethos for the new Malayali. It ultimately became a battle-ground on which the defenders and opponents of aachaaram clashed.  Aachaaram – and the brahmin-sudra nexus – had taken a sound beating when the avarna rose up against these in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. However, both these did not go under. Instead, they were transformed – aachaaram was put through the seive of Victorian values, and the part of it that survived this process was hailed as the ‘quintessence’ of Malayali Hindu culture. The brahmin-sudra social contract, long existent as the major axis of both exploitation and oppression in the Malayalam-speaking regions, was soon resurrected as ‘savarna Hindu’. This new elite defined itself in terms of the newly-recovered ‘ Malayali Hindu cultural essence’.

One important way this elite and this insidious cultural identity manoeuvred itself into public discourse was by depicting itself as the cultural core of the new United Kerala. However, the best of Malayali intellectuals of the time, especially the poets — Balamani Amma, Vailoppilly Sreedhara Menon, Edassery Govindan Nair, and even P Kunhiraman Nair – crafted a vision of Kerala that was still rooted in many ways in local culture, nature and ethos, but was removed from aachaaram and its despicable connotations. The degree to which they succeeded in this, and their level of commitment to the destruction of aachaaram varied, but there was a general effort to seek other cultural moorings for the New Kerala. The most prominent of the moves made in this direction was perhaps the resurrection of the myth of the Asura King Maveli and the reimagining of Onam around him, rather than Vamana.

In the excerpt below, Kuttippuzha Krishna Pillai (1900-1971), one of Malayalam’s finest modern intellectuals and champions of free thought and unfettered conscience, makes a scathing critique of the attempts to sneak aachaaram back into imagination of new Kerala during the discussion about it as a unified cultural entity. He takes unerring aim at an image of the father-figure of aachaaram in Kerala, Parasurama, which was mounted at the entrance to a major conference on United Kerala, held at Thrissur in 1947.

[Kuttippuzha Krishna Pillai, ‘Parasurama chithram’, Kuttippuzhayute Prabandhangal Vol.3, Thrissur: Kerala Sahitya Akademi, 1990, pp.85-88]

The Image of Parasuraman

The newspapers have reported that an image of axe-bearing Parasurama has been installed on the tower at the entrance to the Aikya Kerala Nagar. It would be useful if the organizers explained what they mean by this image. The myth of Parasuraman, in sum, is a tale about his act of gifting the land of Kerala which he created by throwing his axe into the sea to Brahmins, to atone for his sin of having murdered Kshetriyakings twenty-one times. Do the organizers assign any value to this grandmother’s tale? Does this picture or this story contain anything that could inspire the creation of United Kerala in the future? Whatever that may be, there may not be many in these times of the twentieth century who will passively suffer the sight of the coffin of such made-up stories carried out and put on display. This image will only be perceived as a black flag symbolizing superstition and slavery by those who desire freedom. If we confer significance to Parasuraman’s history today, that means accepting ideas that besmear the face of humanity, free conscience and modern science. Let us see what all makes up the story:

  1. A Brahmin with supernatural powers strong enough to create land by drying up the sea with just a throw of his axe lived in India.
  2. The whole of Kerala belongs to the Brahmins according to the heirship granted by the donor.
  3. Redemption from sin is possible through making offerings to Brahmins.
  4. You can be absolved of multiple murders through such offering to Brahmins.
  5. Brahmins are the highest and finest caste and their lives are most valuable.
  6. As the whole of the earth belongs to the Brahmins, other castes are their mere tenants.
  7. Due to the same reason, the ruling powers are also Brahmin.

 

How many of those celebrating the United Kerala celebrations today at Thrissur believe the notions listed above? We ought to introspect on how these kinds of superstitions have pushed Malayalis, especially Hindus, into utter degradation, and about the many ways in which they were reduced to mere menials of the Brahmins. So many are the aachaaram-procedures and blind beliefs well-established over centuries, that this disgusting servitude has permeated the blood of the Savarna and is now dried up into an ugly stain. The blind aacharam of making offerings to the brahmins has cost the savarna Hindus so many lakhs of rupees! [And yet] isn’t this idiotic practice still embraced by many? Brahmin landlordism has its roots in this story of Parasuraman. How many lakhs of Keralites were exploited by the economic system built upon this! Have they attained freedom from this economic exploitation even today?

Even today, it is upon the slogan Go brahminaibhya shubhamasthu nithyam that the Hindu kings wield their sceptre. Good things should befall the Brahmins and the cows which provide them with milk and butter; to hell with others! Look how deep the Brahminical roots have sunk! Can’t you see its dark shadows on all aspects of a Keralite’s life? This image of Parasurama is in actuality the very slavishness of the savarnas to brahmins sunk deep in their subconscious raising its head. It is a disgraceful self-espoused flag of slavery even to them. When that is the case of the savarna, not to speak of the avarna!  They cannot bear it even for a moment. It is the veritable caste-devil which has given rise of six or seven lakhs of abjected and oppressed people. And this is just about the Hindus. Think about another side. Does ‘Keralite’ only refer to Hindus? What worth does this image of Parasuraman hold for the people belonging to other religions? Do not Christians, Muslims, Jews and other communities have an equal status in United Kerala? The utter inappropriateness of an image of a Brahmin clutching his weapon belligerently, reiterating Brahmanical control over the whole world placed in front of a hall in which the United Kerala conference is held for all Keralites irrespective of religion and caste, is surely worth thinking about. Such images do not encourage friendship among different religious groups. Rather, they sow the seeds of disharmony and competition. Some might strain hard to reinterpret this picture and confer new meaning(s), attempting to connect it to modern ideas. They should understand that the common people would still comprehend it with reference to existing meaning conventions. It is impossible to uproot centuries-old deep-rooted meanings and channels of faith with a new interpretation. Is it not evident that Mahatma Gandhi is failing miserably in his attempts to reinterpret the Varna system and the chanting of Ram’s name as he strives to advocate the unity of all religions and to develop goodwill among Hindus and Muslims? Aren’t the bloodbaths of North India today a result of his journey through this dangerous path for well over twenty-five years? Religion, in its everyday meaning and tradition, would culminate in collective insanity. Gandhiji’s toils only helped to inflame it all the more.

We should particularly remember that people trying to dig up the Aryan culture under new names and forms are manuring religious fanaticisms dormant in humanity. The display of monsters from the past, like this image of Parasurama will result in such ugly outcomes. I think there are already disputes and clashes regarding the same in the newspapers. Only images that inspire brotherhood among over the one and a half crore of Keralites should be exhibited. This image of Parasuraman which proclaims Kerala’senslavementto brahmins and blind belief in religion should hereby be removed immediately. It would be amusing to know how the non-violent followers of Gandhi view this representation of a man who committed murder twenty-one times. As it is, they who are the chief trumpeters of United Kerala. It is also very amusing that the very first sight that will fall upon the Hallowed Eyes of the Rajah of Cochin, who will arrive in honour to inaugurate the conference, will be of a Kshatriya-slayer!!

 

Uthara Geetha is currently an Erasmus Mundus scholar at the Centre for Women Studies, University of York.

Against Aachaaram: When is Your Cloth Clean/Pure/ Both?

This is the third in the series titled Against Aachaaram: A Dossier from Malayalam on Kafila. Both excerpts have been chosen and translated by HARIKRISHNAN S. The prefatory note below is by J Devika. They are about the notions of purity of clothing harboured by the traditional caste elite in Kerala, which were revised by the neo-savarna of twentieth century Kerala.

The neo-savarna refers to a twentieth-century social formation that comprises of the upper-caste elite of traditional Kerala – the sudras (nair and ambalavasi), the samanthas and kshathriyas (the members of erstwhile ruling houses, minor and major), and the brahmins. The richer sections of the ex-untouchable Ezhava caste-community who have in effect abandoned the teachings of their chosen Guru, Sree Narayana, now actively seek membership in the neo-savarna, but are yet to be accepted fully.

Continue reading Against Aachaaram: When is Your Cloth Clean/Pure/ Both?

Two Reports and Many Strategic Agents: Post-Disaster Thinking in Kerala

Two massive calamities, tremendous losses, continuing signs of serious ecological destruction impending — yet all we Malayalis seem to have produced in response: two reports, and even more frenzied strategic calculation. There is little doubt that the disasters happened in the first place at least partially because of the latter, but there seems to be no rethinking. Instead, we have strategic agents refurbishing their strategies to the new circumstances.

What else explains the Kerala government’s  Rebuilding Kerala Development Programme Report (RKDPR)? It popped up all of a sudden around the end of last year, after the UN-led Post-Disaster Needs Assessment Report (PDNAR), and even members of the Chief Minister’s Advisory Council were caught unawares.  The economist K P Kannan, whose life’s work has been focused on Kerala’s economy, a member of the Council, remarked in a recent interview in the Sastragathy that they did not know of it until the third meeting of the council. None knew who put it together, and there is no mention of this in the report itself. It draws heavily but selectively on the PDNAR, but also perhaps on the projects that were prepared for World Bank funding – and Kannan reaffirms this impression. The draft report was made available online for comments but there is no clear idea about these experts or the public consultations. Continue reading Two Reports and Many Strategic Agents: Post-Disaster Thinking in Kerala

Against Aachaaram: Lalitambika Antharjanam

This is the second in a series titled Against Aachaaram: A Dossier from Malayalam on Kafila. The note on Lalithambika Antharjanam is by J Devika. The excerpt from her story Vidhibalam (The Power of Fate) is translated by GEORVIN JOSEPH.

Lalitambika Antharjanam (1909-1987) was the first Malayali woman to achieve prominence in the field of modern Malayalam literature, and also among the first thinkers to reflect critically on modern gender as a framework for social existence in Malayali society. Born in the notoriously-aachaaram-bound Malayala brahmin community, she grew up to become one of its strongest and most vocal opponents. Her powerful short stories exposed the horrors that women suffered in conservative Malayala brahmin households. They indicted aachaaram again and again of dehumanising women, through heartbreaking accounts of their emotional and physical suffering, all sanctioned by the cold and ruthless workings of aachaaram.

Continue reading Against Aachaaram: Lalitambika Antharjanam

Healing Kerala: Thoughts after the Second Warning

 

Everywhere the talk is still about rebuilding Kerala: I say, we need to talk about healing Kerala. The change in phrasing is not trivial. When we admit that we need to heal, rather than rebuild, we are admitting much that we did not care to own up till now. That is, we would be agreeing that the problem at hand is a human one and not just one that can be resolved through technical intervention; that, as a complex process, it will take its time and quick-fixes will not suffice.  Thankfully, there is a widespread discussion on the recommendations of the Gadgil Committee Report and the Post-disaster needs assessment report of last year; quarrying has been stopped all over the state. Maybe we will heal, indeed. What do we need to do to heal, and not just rebuild? Continue reading Healing Kerala: Thoughts after the Second Warning

After Kavalappara: Is the Future that of Ecological Patriotism?

I guess bad habits in development take a very long time to unlearn. Even in the face of the direst of warnings.

I know that last year, when taken completely by surprise, Kerala rose to the occasion. It appeared that a new civil society had come to being around the flood rescue and relief work, and that promised a new lease of life for our flagging-if-still-working project of people’s planning and political decentralization. It appeared that there was a real chance to stop the bureaucratic-technocratic coterie from shoving this ecologically-fragile area down the path of utterly destructive infrastructure-obsessed growth. It seemed that we could now seriously expose the depredations of the predatory capitalists, especially in the construction sector. Continue reading After Kavalappara: Is the Future that of Ecological Patriotism?