Strange Practices in Kerala

The great brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity was driven home in the Chicago religious meet when Swami Vivekananda addressed the interreligious crowd as not “Ladies and Gentlemen” but “Brothers and Sisters”. The same Vivekananda when he visited Calicut in 1898 called Kerala, the God’s own country, a lunatic asylum. Because at that time when a Brahmin passed through a way, the poor undercaste had to position himself at 65 feet away.

I myself had this experience when I went to attend secondary school classes 4 km away. As a Christian boy, I did not have to give way to the Brahmins visiting the Chottanikkara temple dedicated to Goddess Saraswathi. Christians were considered high caste because of the King Mar Thoma who was converted to Christianity by Saint Thomas in 52 AD.

I have seen with my eyes the undercastes, when the “Antharjanam” (those Brahmin women who never go out except to go to the temple) went by, going away 65 feet in mud. The women of undercaste had to go down in the mud because they were naked. They were never allowed to cover the upper part of their body.

During this period the uppercastes were fed by taxing the undercastes. Women were taxed according to the size of their breasts and men, according to the size of their head. I still remember in Panavally where my great Aunt was married, the government representatives used to come for measuring the breasts of a poor undercaste lady and her husband’s head. The breast tax and head tax of the undercaste was paid into the government treasury and which contributed to the tax of the poor.

There was a similar custom in ancient Rome where poor women were asked to pay breast tax and men, head tax according to the size of their breasts and head.

In times of Dutch possession, similar unethical practices were prevalent. There was an instance when the local queen became upset by a Nair lady’s coming to her durbar wearing a blouse in a style copied from the Dutch ladies. Since she did not observe the prevailing customs, her breasts were cut and she had to give up her life bleeding.

The brother-in-law of our President K. R. Narayanan, Dr Paulose had entry into the Thripponithura temple way because he was treated as a Christian and Christians were high castes.

Pulayanaar maniyamma, poomulla kaavilamma, kalamaante mizhiyulla kalithathammaThe Goddess of the Pulayanaar Kingdom was a beautiful lady and her praise used to be sung by undercaste ladies in Kerala.

My poem on Harappa speaks about the Pulaya Kingdom in the Indus Valley and how the Pulayas were pushed to the South by Aryan Invasion. The Aryans had superior armaments (Bow and Arrows) whereas the Harappan Pulayas were non-violent and practiced peaceful co-existence with the world around them. They were pushed to the South and to the southern-most part where the Pulaya kingdom ruled the country till 52 AD. When the Aryans came the Pulayas and Parayas were the outcastes in Kerala for thousands of years until Ayyankali was elected to the Assembly of Travancore Maharaja on the basis of temple-entry proclamation.

We ourselves travelled a lot on the waterways of Kerala, whether to go from Udayamperoor to Keechery and from Keechery to Panavally, etc. The market near the Udayamperoor Church was called Ulladan Chanda where undercastes sold their artistic creations of daily use. Udayamperoor had a chapel at the undercaste market.

I remember Pulayas and the Parayas used to come to our family for selling the articles which they made and which would be bought only by Christians who did not practice untouchability.

I even remember a Christian in Kandanad who was called Kalidasa because he had a concubine called Kali on whom he practiced adultery although he had his house very near the Kandanad Saint Mary’s Church. On festival days he used to entertain his concubine with so much food that she could take it home and give to her children and husband whose name was Thevan. Thevan means God in Tamil.Thevan Pulayan was a great storyteller. He used to tell so many stories about Gods and Goddesses.

Coming to Aluva where I used to go for taking bath a Venus-like figure with perfect feminine beauty used to come to the bathing ghat. All other women, many of them fair, and men were completely taken away by the appearance of the dark Venus in the bathing ghat until she went away. Men and women who were taking bath were flabbergasted by the perfect Venus-like beauty of the lady. She was truly a dark Venus. She had regular time of bath and men waited for her arrival to take their bath in the bathing ghat.

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