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:
- 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.
- The whole of Kerala belongs to the Brahmins according to the heirship granted by the donor.
- Redemption from sin is possible through making offerings to Brahmins.
- You can be absolved of multiple murders through such offering to Brahmins.
- Brahmins are the highest and finest caste and their lives are most valuable.
- As the whole of the earth belongs to the Brahmins, other castes are their mere tenants.
- 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.