Cultural Formation of Kerala - B. Rajeevan
The Formation /The Caste and Varna / The Joint-Family System / The Kerala Brahmans and the Problems of Joint-Family System
The Matriarchal Joint-Family System / Emergence of a Linguistic-Cultural Identity / The Regionalized Community of Culture
The Renaissance / Formation of Modern Kerala Culture _ Forces and Tendencies
Studies that scientifically evaluate the factors that account for the distinctive features of Kerala culture, the historical circumstances that brought about their formation and transformation, the structural reorganizations that they underwent during various historical periods and their ideological functions have not yet been properly undertaken. What stands on the way is the hegemonic historical ideology that gratifies the common sense notions, and glosses over contradictions and the text book methodology that sustains it.
The only way to get over this stagnation is the recognition that any reference of any time to the past is formed within a discourse of the present. The historian can, through this recognition, become aware of the social interests that operate unconsciously behind his practice. The historian who thus becomes aware of the interests of the present operative behind his activity, can take on a conscious position through breaking away from the unconscious forces; and adopt a scientific approach to history.
This introduction is nothing but the beginning of an attempt to study the history of Kerala culture with this kind of an awareness of the contradictions of the present that impel to present different portrayals of the past.
Such an attempt is mainly to get over the two methodological approaches which, though are fundamentally the products of one and the same field of discourse, assume antithetical forms on the practical plane. The first is the manner of viewing the culture of a people as an absolute force that transcends the material life and that is self-determined and autonomous. It would have each culture taken as an external manifestation of an eternal and absolute essence. It views the history of culture as that of the series of rise and fall of these archetypes. This concept, while on the one hand, sees the human history as that of the challenges and responses that the essential identity of such cultural essence confronts, on the other, reduces the history of each people to its cultural specifics. This method that considers the history of culture as the determining force is fundamentally the same religious method that by keeping the inexplicable as the hidden parameter employs itself to explain everything else. In effect, it is a reductive process that integrates abstractly the various streams and breaks of history into the abstract discourse called culture. Though this culturistic reductionism that sees culture as all-embracing and all-determining, often masquerading as materialistic and sociological, is basically none other than the fundamentally religious cyclic production of knowledge that produces nothing new.
The next is the limitation of the sociological approaches that keep itself apart from the abstract humanism that attends on these culturistic reduction. Most of the sociological studies that claim to be objective and scientific are caught up in an unscientific notion of science itself. Its method is to see the concept of objectivity as one of positivism; and it tends to consider the reduction of social phenomena into the formation of inductive - deductive logic as scientific. In the absence of concrete theories that reach beyond the generalization of tangible facts and that could be of use in the study of history and culture, these sociological studies eventually become reductions to some determining essence or the other. By reducing in this manner the culture specifics of a people to its geography or to race or to some social institutions or even to its food habits, it can be presented as scientific truth. When those historians who would like to be known as Marxists assume this scientificity, the culture of a people gets reduced to economic essence more than to other essences. It is not the Marxist concept of science but the positivist concept that operates here. According to the Marxist concept of history, the determination of the economic factor is not a concept based on the method of considering the economic factor as the supreme truth and everything else as its ephemeral phenomena. Marxist historiography when seen as on empiricist methodology, becomes one among the many reductionist methods of sociological kind.
It is only by taking these culturistic and sociologistic reductions as points of divergence that the history of a people's culture can be subjected to a scientific analysis. Such an analysis cannot consider culture as located within the limits of the discourse of culture as formulated by the European bourgeois nationalism that has come into being in the wake of the decline of feudalism, in its attempt to perpetuate its own ideological forms. It has also to steer clear of the orientalistic cultural studies that were formed in an attempt to extend as world-wide this concept of culture that had been the basis of a new system of knowledge originating from the eighteenth century.
Orientalism was mainly another outcome of the studies on oriental countries within the field discourse of culture that was a concomitant of the attempt to perpetuate the ideological forms of bourgeois nationalism by generalizing them. The privileged western position characteristic of the Euro-centric concept of man and the infatuation for the east were its inherent contradictions. The contradiction involved plundering the colonies and at the same time to have to bring them under new production relations and to have to incorporate the old world into the new without shaking its foundations. Orientalism was nothing but the ideological sphere that theoretically legitimized the oriental studies of the Europeans necessitated by this contradiction. The ideologues of Indian nationalism studying its culture, by following and imitating the Europeans, were also acting within this sphere. Even today, those who go into raptures over such matters as the Indian religion, Indian philosophy and Indian aesthetics are conditioned in their thinking habits by this field of discourse.
The task that a study of Indian culture or of the Kerala culture as its part faces is not so much that of answering the polemics formed within the former problematic as that of shifting that problematic itself. Such a shift does not call for a redefinition of an abstraction of an essence-culture, but instead an explanation of how such definitions themselves have come about. What it really calls for is the concrete materialist interpretation that is at variance with the value world of abstract universalist humanism that is the undercurrent of such definitions. It is because the study of culture is nothing but the objective analysis of the functions and of the concrete mode of operation of the ideological forms and the contradictions implicit in it, that are necessitated by each historical phase. It is the material life and not the abstract essence called culture, that develops in the process of human history. This is not to say that it is only the economic life of man that is real and that the ideological forms are false. Economic structure and ideological forms do not operate as mutually exclusive. They are interrelated and interdependent realities. The ideological sphere is as much concrete and real as the economic one, being the different fronts of struggle of the very material life.
In short, a scientific study of the history of Kerala culture cannot be bound down to the ideology that bodied forth in terms of the newly formed Kerala nationalism. The ideology of Kerala nationalism, though it is a historically generated reality is one that tends to view culture as the continuation of an abstract human essence, like that of any other nationalisms elsewhere. In fact, a class that came into being at a certain stage of Kerala history, by projecting its value system on to the past, was endeavouring to confirm its own existence as that of man of all times. Such an outlook of history can only perceive the forms of family, of the state and the allied social institutions that existed from time to time in the past, from within its own frame. A historian who adheres to such a frame can conceive of the sexuality of any other time only in terms of the sexuality which he himself partakes of; and can consider the structure of power-relations of any other time only with reference to those which he himself is a part of. Even the best of our history text books would bear this out.
Now, understandably, this can lead to a series of questions in this context. Cannot the limitation, described above, be justified in the light of the statement made earlier, that any reference of any time to the past is formulated only within a discourse of the present? Accordingly, what else can even those who try to break away from this limitation hope to do other than to project from within another perspective, their own self image on to the past? If so, is it not pointless to call to question this perennial inadequacy of historiography of any time?
It is here that the matter of the contradistinction between subjective and objective concepts of history grounded in class positions, makes itself felt. It is a matter of the contradistinction between ideological subjectivity and the scientific-theoretical objectivity. History being the projection of self-consciousness of a class and being the object of knowledge of a science are two contrary concerns. Incidentally, it may be noted that what is proposed here as the science of history does not imply the generalization of factual data, derived from the parameters of other empirical sciences, as is common in sociologistic reductions.
These are the issues of an emergent new science through the coming into practice of a specific theoretical field and its own object of knowledge together with a mode of discourse that relates them. It is in Marxism that history by thus becoming the object of knowledge of a specific concrete theory transforms itself into a science. It is at this point that historiography by ceasing to be the projection of the subjectivity of class positions evolves into objective scientific practice. It is from there onwards that historiography by ceasing to be the expression of the self-consciousness of the present and by waking into the theoretical consciousness of the contradictions of the present, orients itself to perceive any historical period with such an objectivity.
Still, the Marxist periodization of history, the determinacy of the infrastructure and the relation between the infra and superstructures are taken as empirical generalizations evolved from European history both by most of those who approve of it and who denounce it. That is why while some hold that periodizations of history like primitive communism, slavery, feudalism, capitalism etc., being relevant only to the European society, have no bearing on the history either of India or Kerala, others go on to prove that those periods in western society repeat themselves in Indian history. The former discard the Marxist theory of historical evolution as just the empirical description of European history and, the latter hold the empirical description itself to be the scientific theory. Both equally stop short of distinguishing the concreteness and universality of a scientific theory from the generalization of empirical data. The Marxist scientific theory of history about historical stages holds true the world over equally well. Because, it is not the generalization of the history of any particular society. It is a concrete theory that goes to embrace and interpret the infinite complexities and specificities of each particular society.
It is in this respect that the scientific concepts regarding periodization as well as relation between the economic structure and ideological forms of each period, are applied in this outline of the history of Kerala culture.
The Kerala culture thus attaining identity has got its own peculiar traits which mark it off from all other Indian regional cultures. The Malayalam language, the life style of the Malayali, the arts and the literature, the faiths and the political consciousness make Kerala a different cultural region that set itself apart as much from the north Indian cultures as from the other south Indian cultures. But the Kerala culture is an essential part of the Indian culture which is nothing but that which came into being through the development of the various regional cultures. The such-vented Indianness is not an abstract eternal essence which transcends all other regional cultural forms in India. Indianness has been nothing but a reality that is closely related to the development of regional cultures. It figured differently in accordance with the different phases of the development and unity of regional cultures in different times. In this sense the medieval and the modern Kerala culture partake in the general characteristics of the Indian culture at large.
Linguistically and culturally the pre-Aryan tribal situation in Kerala had been definitely a part of the south Indian primitive life. As has been elsewhere in India the basic structure of feudalism in Kerala also was introduced through the plough agricultural system. Like all other feudal societies in India the feudal system in Kerala also emerged and flourished under the Hindu Brahman religion. The process of formation of Kerala culture as a regionalized community of culture also was parallel to those that evolved politically and linguistically in almost all other parts of India. And when considering the relation of the birth of nationalities in India with the struggle against the colonial domination, the modern Kerala scene is a constituent of the broader Indian spectrum.
Thus the peculiar traits of Kerala culture that set itself apart from all other national cultures in India have been evolved by the necessary inter-relations of Kerala with the different phases of the history of India.
The elements responsible for the peculiarities of the Kerala culture took shape under the feudal set up in Kerala. But the structure of feudalism in Kerala had been different from that of north India as well as of south. The land relations, the political set up, the caste system, man-woman relationships, modes of succession, the forms of worship and rituals, the language, the art and literature and the dress - in all these Kerala feudal society had its own peculiar forms. The conditions out of which these peculiar features originated can be traced only through a scientific and historical elucidation of the factors at work in the formation of social life in Kerala.
The modern historians with a scientific perspective since D.D. Kosambi are in agreement that the process through which the different regions of ancient India came under the plough-agricultural village system had something in common in their diversity. It was a process of diffusion of the plough-agricultural village system of the Aryan tribes which formed in the Gangetic plains into the vast Indian territories, and that of accommodation and of absorption of different tribal societies as castes into the structure of the agricultural village system. This was the process at work in the beginning in the formation of the various regional cultural forms in India. But this being the general process the diversity of the products were immense. Thus the question arises, how the resultant product became different from one another though the process was the same. By endeavouring to answer this question we get ourselves closer to the factors determining the specific features of the various cultural forms in India including that of Kerala.The plough-agricultural village system in the Gangetic plains itself had emerged out of the disruption of the Aryan tribal social structure. The division of labour reflected in the chaturvarnya system represents a higher form of production relation which makes impossible the primeval unity in the tribes. This agricultural village system depending upon the iron plough, the calendar and the rain making rituals was one in which the separation between mental and physical labour was complete. This developed class society with its mode of production and value system interfered in the tribal social forms which were set in different levels of development. The forms of contradictions generated by this confrontation of antagonistic systems might be at the root of the diversity of the cultures which emerged out the general process by which the tribes were transformed and frozen as castes at a definite stage in their development.
The agricultural village system and culture that took shape in south India too were having its own unique traits evolved from the specific nature of contradictions at work in its formation. The proportion and strength of non-Aryan elements were comparatively much more determining in this case. The division of labour in the tribal societies in the Kaveri delta where the tribal heads had become kings, was at a higher stage of development and it could be accommodated in the Aryan varna system. The Kaveri delta had been connected to a trade route which trod from south to north and then to other Asian countries in the early centuries of the Christian era. There were castes in that society denoting the nature of work performed, but not as an inalienable quality by birth. This was the tribal society which had been at a higher stage of development of transition from classless to class society, and this transition was completed by its interaction with the feudal agrarian order structured by the varna-jati system that was transformed into the form of Aryan agricultural village with varna system. The contradictions which determined the peculiarities of the agricultural village societies in the Kaveri delta were specified by this nature of transformation. The conflicts of this transition from the tribal to the class society moulded by the varna-jati system of chaturvarnya have been reflected in the ancient Tamil literature.
Is this process of transformation applicable to the formation of agricultural village system in Kerala? Is the agricultural village society in Kerala a mere continuation of the south Indian model with a difference? There are many among the scholars who think so. But all of them are in agreement that the Kerala culture has got its own peculiarities the reasons of which are yet to be disclosed.
The discrepancy found between the theoretical and practical forms of the varna-jati chaturvarnya system in Kerala, the observance of tindappad, (certain distances to avoid pollution) among the upper castes and lower castes, the joint family and customs of Kerala Brahmans which separate them from their counterparts elsewhere, the matriarchal joint family and succession among the castes included in the varna-jati system, and above all the peculiar forms of the feudal land relations in Kerala; it is evident from all these realities that the formation of the agricultural village system in Kerala took shape in a different situation from that of south and north. This means the nature of contradictions that evolved from the process of accommodation and absorption of tribes into the village system were of a different sort in Kerala. That difference might be at the root of the identity of Kerala culture.
The absence of a trader caste in the Kerala model varna system is highly significant against the background of the minute division of castes and sub-castes for each minor occupation.
The most notable characteristic of the caste system in Kerala is the practice of untouchability which figures even the upper castes as untouchables. Usually the Brahmans elsewhere in India do not observe untouchability except towards castes outside the varnas, yet in Kerala the Brahmans observe a form of untouchability towards the caste even inside the varna system.
Another notable feature of caste system in Kerala is the observance of the forms of untouchability prevalent among all the low castes including the lowest ones.
Nayadi is the caste which has to observe the farthest distance from the Namboodiri Brahmans to avoid the polluting effect caused by it. If a nayadi pollutes a Brahman the latter can regain his purity not only by a ritual bath but after the ritual bath he has to change the sacred thread and to eat the five products of the cow (milk, curd, butter, liquid and solid excreta used in the rituals of purification). For this most abhorred nayadi the food polluted by a Pulaya or Paraya is forbidden but this Pulaya and Paraya are castes mutually polluting by touch and have to be themselves purified through a bathing by immersion. If an Ullada pollutes a Pulaya he can only be relieved from it by a seven course bath and by trickling out a few drops of blood from his little finger. But this Ullada is one who considers himself as holy as to abandon the food touched by a Pulaya.
These two main above mentioned characteristics of the varna-caste system in Kerala definitely brings to light one fact relating to the origin of the system. Each of the pre-Aryan tribe which had been accommodated into a model of Aryan class society was mutually excluding itself in the name of tribal purity. These tribes might have been deployed in the division of labour of the agricultural village system along with their mutually excluding purity concepts. Thus the old tribal concepts of purity was retained in the tribes turned into castes as the mutually polluting caste purity concepts. In this way the universal observance of untouchability became a structural characteristic of the caste system in Kerala. That is, the caste system with untouchability in Kerala became a mechanism that enables the self deployment of human bodies by their mutual repulsion without any unified application of pressure from above as usual.
Since the consolidation of the agricultural village system, without any fundamental change except the proliferation of sub-castes caused by the development of division of labour till the advent of the modern democratic struggle, this caste mechanism functioned as a political structure. To say that the caste system in Kerala served as a political device based on the human any change is not to mean that there was no history in Kerala. This mechanism was able to perform different functions according to the different phases of history and thus could survive the changes in history. If it once functioned as a political structure of an economic base which combined the relations of slavery and feudalism, at another phase it functioned as a clever device of the feudal-colonial exploitation.
But one question remains to be answered. How this transitional forms got ossified without natural transformations despite the structural breaks in the history of Kerala. The reason for this might be the insertion of tribes which were at the different levels of their developments into an alien structure which has got its own mechanisms that can operate at the expense of the former's natural growth. So the continued existence of the tribal forms of joint-family system in Kerala was ultimately determined by the advanced structure of the Aryan class society and its economy. Thus the undeveloped tribal forms were kept intact for centuries to come. The logical explanation for this contradiction is that the relatively autonomous sphere of culture with its own specific laws will not mechanically reflect the changes in the economic structure.
Here the theoretical problem of the relation between a form of culture and the group of people who practice it or live in it becomes significant. Just like what was stated above as there is no one to one relation between the economic structure and culture, synchronizing a cultural form with the blood heritage of the people who practice it is not a necessity. That is, the blood flowing in the veins of those who practice the Aryan way of life need not necessarily be Aryan. Just like this, a group of people who belong to the blood heritage of the Aryans need not necessarily be entrenched eternally in the cultural form of Aryan religion. It is the racial interpretation of history which forcefully identifies blood and culture as an inalienable unity and as a self-evident natural truth contrary to the fact that blood heritage and cultural heritage are of different levels and have got their own specific structures and history. If we consider the structural specificities it becomes clear that all Brahmans in India belong to the Aryan religion and culture, but racially they may not necessarily be so. Like any other religion and culture Brahman religion and culture has nothing to do with the blood of those who owe faith to it.
Following the racial interpretation it is believed that all the people belonging to different castes in Kerala, except the primitive dwellers, had physically migrated to Kerala in different times. If it is true the Christians and the Muslims in Kerala also might be the direct descendants of those who came here with these religions. Without any theory it is evident that the fact is not so.
In the case of Brahmans in Kerala it is indisputable that the bearers of the Brahman religion and culture came into Kerala from outside. But as the racial interpretation of history becomes unscientific the stake of blood heritage itself disappears over which the scholars have hitherto been making disputes. Just as the formation of the Brahman caste in the Kaveri delta, where there was an intellectual group prior to the advent of the Brahman religion who could easily be transformed into Brahmans under the village system, in Kerala from among the most advanced tribal groups who came under the village system and Brahman religion, some adapted themself as Brahman to meet the needs of religious dispensations. In these days religion was not as spiritualistic in the sense as it is now and it worked as a direct material force to co-ordinate a definite production relation. The section of the people who had to take the role of the Brahmans here also had to study and safeguard the secrecy of the Vedas. So they had to make themselves a group with a difference while they shared the tribal traits of life in common with others who came under the village system. The Kerala Brahmans thus acquired a dual cultural existence.
All the institutions of the Namboodiri Brahman culture directly reflect or suppress and ideologically represent this duality. The family system, the concept of man-woman relationship, the forms of worship, the rituals and customs of Namboodiris have got two faces: one that of the Brahman religion in general and the other that of the tribal culture shared by all the caste Hindus in Kerala.
Though the Namboodiris accepted the concept of chastity and father-right to make themselves as Brahmans in the strict ritualistic sense, they continued the old form of joint family. In order to introduce father-right in family system the man-woman relationship should be modified so as to enable the father to identify his own offsprings from that of others. So the Namboodiris introduced strict monogamy for the women. But the men-folk continued polygamy and participation in the remnants of the group marriage system prevalent in the other castes. Thus the tribal group who turned Brahman while living in polygamy and participating in the remnants of group marriage system and continuing the joint-family system as before, they became the priestly class like all other vedic Brahmans. The contradictions that emerged from this duality have been found epitomized in certain institutions that support the Namboodiri family system. The most important one is the ritual trial to prove the chastity of Namboodiri women - smarthavicharam. The existence of this unique institution itself tells much about the functional importance of chastity of the Brahman woman then a moral concept cherished by the society. In a society where polygamy and relics of group marriage system were the order of the day, it was natural that chastity had become an element to be safeguarded with such tedious and prolonged rituals.
While the eldest son in the Namboodiri family was allowed to marry from his own caste the younger ones were prohibited to do so. And according to the custom the younger ones had to receive ascetic life and they had to consider the eldest brother's son as their own in principle to perform their funerary rituals. The ghosha system of the Namboodiri women towards their husband's brothers had been considered as a very important custom failing which might even lead to a chastity proving trial. This prohibition and understandings that prevailed inside the Namboodiri joint family inevitably leads to the consideration of the emergence of the Namboodiri family system. It may be suggested that the Namboodiris emerged from a group of people who practiced fraternal polyandry which is one form of group marriage system in the tribal society.
Thus the family system of Namboodiri being only a modified one among other forms of joint-family system, it does not offer resistance to the conclusion that the joint-family system prevalent in Kerala till recently was nothing but a manifestation of different transitional forms.
While the theory of re-introduction of matriarchal joint-family system consciously tries to negate tribal origin of the system. A historian of the high stature like K.P. Padmanabha Menon boldly traces the origin of the family system back to the primitive forms of life. His unequivocal statement like the following is highly significant in this respect.
seeking, however, to ascertain the origin of the Marumakkathayam
institutions, now extant in Malabar, it becomes necessary to go
back to their early stages and examine the conditions of society which
gave rise to them. If, in doing so we find that the Nairs belonged
originally to a stock that practiced polyandry or even promiscuity in
an early stage of its history, we need hardly be ashamed of it. For,
there is nothing strange or peculiar in the phenomenon. It has been
the common lot of all. While others have thrown off their shackles forged
by this relic of ancient barbarism, the Nairs who had hitherto
been prevented from doing so by a concatenation of circumstances over
which they have no control, are endeavouring their level best to free
themselves from * The term matriarchal is used here not in the
sense that women in medieval Kerala acted as a public power, as in the
case of matriarchal tribes in other parts of the world, but that they
exercised dominance in the joint-family systems, which in turn exercised
the chains of the self-same barbarism which still binds them. Bachofen, Mc.Lennan and Morgan have shown that polyandry and kinship through females are phases or stages, in the evolution of human societies."
But to pursue this different course and investigation we have also to set aside the theory of migration of the castes in Kerala which is methodologically connected with the theory of re-introduction, because the matriarchal joint- family system of the Nairs cannot be analysed as an isolated phenomenon. It is to be studied against the background of the other joint-family systems in the same society in the same epoch. If we take all the forms of joint family among all the caste Hindus, altogether it becomes clear that they are nothing but definite articulations of a total system. While comparing the different forms of joint- family system with one another the determining structural factor which unites this forms as a total system gets emerged. It is that of the pre-Aryan tribal group marriage system. Engels when he refers to the marriage system of the Nairs in his famous book Origin of Family touches upon this basic nature of the matriarchal joint family in Kerala, though he misses the details.
But the apparent differences of all these family systems, ranging from that of the Brahmans to the Nairs, are basically due to the levels of social stratification in which they have been deployed by the division of labour set by the new mode of production i.e., the plough agricultural economy. This means the difference in the degree of adaptation of the group marriage system according to the difference of the level might be behind the diversity of the joint-family system of the caste Hindus. The Brahmans being at the highest in the hierarchy their family system had to adapt the most and the Nairs being at the lowest had to adapt their's the least.
Thus the tribal group marriage system continued with a difference in the institution of matriarchal joint family and it could continue without change even in the class societies, because of its contradictory nature; i.e., structurally being tribal and functionally being classy, historically being transitional and institutionally being static.
The above mentioned mode of adaptation and preservation which is peculiar to the form of Kerala culture is not confined only to the realm of caste and kinship. But this extends to the complex form of worship, rituals, art forms, superstitions and popular customs. Form of worship in Kerala is an archive in which the combined forms of Aryan and primitive styles are preserved at the various levels of their evolution.
Serpent worship and Kali cult in Kerala are two significant forms in this respect, since the genealogy of which specifically reflect the evolution of cultural form in Kerala through the process of adaptation, symbiosis and preservation.
A detailed study of these forms could throw light upon several special features of ancient Kerala Society. For example Kerala Brahmans also took part, just as other castes, in serpent worship, offerings to Kali and other superstitions. However, in
order to differentiate themselves from other castes, the Kerala Brahmans have introduced separate form in the modes of worship and the related rituals. Thus parallel forms in the same mode of worship, one belonging to the Brahmans and the other to non-Brahmans, came into being. The basic unity and artificial differentiations seen in the modes of worship throw light on the double faced character of the Brahmans described above and the contradictions in the agricultural village society in Kerala which gave shape to the brahmanical social form.
This description of the formation of the plough agricultural village system of Kerala and the ideological structures that developed from the contradictions in that system, can be completed only by considering certain spatio-temporal factors also.
The geographical region in which the Kerala model of plough agricultural village system took shape does not comprise the entire stretch of the present Kerala state. This is restricted to the region from Kollam in the south upto Putuppattanam in the north. The northern Malabar which has become Kasargode district, and the parts of the Kerala state to the south of Kollam are not included in it. Wayanad and Palakkad were also outside the cultural frontiers of the Kerala agricultural village.
The coastal reclamations and the network of back waters from Kayamkulam to Kozhikode where majority of the population in Kerala live at present, had not been formed then. Besides, large parts of the area suggested above as comprising the Kerala cultural region consisted of dense monsoon forests.
It should be surmised that the Kerala plough agricultural villages were formed on the river valleys in the region excluding Kolathunad, Wayanad, Palakkad and southern Tiruvitamkur. The group of plough agricultural villages were formed in this well defined region much after the formation of similar villages in Tamil Nadu or Karnataka. The plough agricultural villages in Kerala were formed only as late as seventh century A.D. If these spatio-temporal peculiarities, and the nature of material life that might have prevailed there are taken into account, it should be surmised that they had a determinant influence on the cultural formation of Kerala agricultural village. The passing reference by D.D. Kosambi on matrilineal system, help us to enter into the cultural specificities of the Kerala agricultural village:
"Matriarchal institutions still survive in the parts of the country that took last to the plough economy, e.g., Tiruvitamkur, Kochi and among some tribesmen. The reason is that, originally there existed no concept of property except for the few tools prepared by the individual, which supposedly contained some extension of his personality. Land was territory, not property, game and food gathered was shared out to all."
This reference by D.D. Kosambi which touches upon spatio-temporal features throws light into a number of contradictions that resulted in the formation of Kerala
agricultural village system and its cultural specificities.
The consolidation of the plough agricultural village system in Kerala ended up in smashing the basic structure of the old tribal mode of existence though retaining its live relics in social life. Thus a temple centered class society based on the division of labour of varna and caste came into being.
It is quite natural in this division of labour of the new mode of production that the Namboodiris were the most privileged section, being the core of the village system. They who kept themselves totally away from the manual labour gradually could engage themselves completely in the realm of intellectual revelry. But then their mother-tongue being only a tribal dialect, in the intellectual activities they had to alienate and confine themselves within the terrain of Sanskrit language only. But this situation made them qualified to imbibe the tradition of the Sanskrit literature and thought. Thus they could raise themselves upto a level so that they were able to make contributions to and enrich the Indian Brahmanic philosophy and other branches of knowledge. Not only this much, but certain debates in the history of Indian Brahman religion was supposed to have been connected with the contributions of some Kerala Brahmans. The relation of Sankaracharya myth to Kerala is most telling in this respect.
But the early agricultural villages which flourished along the three main rivers of Kerala, would not have continued in this state forever. The growth of material production set by the introduction of the new system had naturally paved the way to the increase in population. But the family system of the Namboodiris was such as we have seen, that had been checking their proportionate increase in number. Within a few centuries the population of non-Brahmans might have considerably increased. Naturally this might have caused the spread of the Nair villages, taras, by pushing back all the other upper and lower castes and the formation of a cultural style of its own in which matriarchal joint family with all its clannish vestiges and primitive forms of worship and superstitions persisted, though at the same time being incorporated with the Brahman religion.
William Logan who wrote the first history of Malabar after having completed his expansive work, added a preface in which he epitomised the result of his long and laborious enquiry. In this preface the one and only thing he has to state about the Malayali society is thus:
"I would more especially call attention to the central point of interest, as I look at it, in any descriptive and historical account of the Malayali race - the position, namely, which was occupied for centuries on centuries by the Nair caste in the civil and military organization of the province, - a position so unique and so lasting that but for
foreign intervention there seems no reason why it should not have continued to endure for centuries on centuries to come."
After the early stages of the self-sufficient village societies this clannish Nair culture that emerged within the Brahman religion became a total system which determined the self identity of a group of people under the feudal system in Kerala. This cultural self identity of a major section of the Nair caste though it was different from that of the modern mass societies, might be a regulating force in the power relations of caste system, it being a political system than a mere form of the division of labour. It was a force that consolidated itself in the later stages of the feudal Kerala as a morale booster to resist the alien interferences in culture and in politics.
It might be with this diffusion of the Nair villages that the feudal system in Kerala had attained its typical traits by passing from its early stage to a higher one. The initial impulse of the village system had been getting feeble by this time.
A reading of Logan's description of the role of the Nairs in the feudal system and the change occurring in the land tenure since the fall of the perumals, from a point of view which takes into account the material reality behind the mythical history, would definitely bring to light certain facts regarding the above mentioned change in the feudal society of Kerala. Logan's description is thus:
"The Nairs were as the Keralolpatti expressely says, the people of "the eye", "the hand" and "the order" and it was their duty to prevent the rights from being curtailed or suffered to fall into disuse. So that they had as a guild higher functions in the body politic than merely ploughing the rice fields and controlling the irrigated lands... The Six Hundred were the heads of the Nair militia of the nad, the karanavar (elders or managers) of the families of authority - taravads - in the taras (Nair villages) constituting the Nad (country)...In fact the other function appertaining to the Six Hundred, namely kanam (supervision) appears to have been the function of giving the land in trust to the proper workers in the body politic and of gathering from them in due course the shares of produce due to the persons in authority. The Nairs were no doubt spread over the whole phase of the country (as they still are) protecting all rights suffering none to fall into disuse. But with the extinction of the supreme Kon or King in the 9th century A.D. the share of produce due to him did not pass to those (the present Rajas) who supplied in some measures his place, but the great bulk of the people - the Nairs, the Six Hundred - with whom in their corporate capacities all power rested."
The first point which can be read from this text is that there occurred a qualitative change from the early stage of the agricultural village system to a higher one. The second point is that despite this change the role of the kings had continued to be
confined to the ceremonial political dispensations without any power over the hereditary land holdings as it might have been in the early Brahman theocratic agricultural village systems, the distant memory of which lingers in the perumal myth, though it was originated out of a later contradiction due to the power conflicts between the kings and the priestly class.
These points are much revealing with regard to the economy and polity of the feudal system in Kerala which marks it off from the rest of India in this respect.
As had been elsewhere in India the land was not 'tilled in common' under the system of village community. The evolution of private property in Kerala took a different course. Though land was not tilled in common it was not private property in the modern sense. The land was not related to its traditional holders - janmis - so as to endow them with the status of the sole owners of the property. Contrary to this the land functioned in Kerala under the feudal set up as a natural means which relates to it certain socially determined status and rights of the different groups of people in the society. Logan while correcting the British officials who confused the land ownership in Kerala with that of the modern private ownership thus makes clear this fact which comes up in the context of the traditional land exchanges.
"What in fact the Malayalis were buying and selling in this instance was not the soil, but a position with emoluments (in Malayalam sthanam, manam) conferring authority of different kinds, and of varying degrees over the classes residents within the limit to specially laid down in the deeds the European looks to the soil, and nothing but the soil. The Malayali on the contrary looks chiefly to the people located on the soil. And the surprising fact which has frequently been commented on that even the soil itself might drop away from the owner of a janmam holding and yet leave him as completely as before the Janmi of the whole of it, becomes under the above interpretation a perfectly natural - nay, a necessary - consequence."
It becomes evident from this description that the right of the janmi had been nothing but a status which determined his right for a certain share of the produce from the land and he was not the sole owner of the land in the modern sense. Yet this traditional right for the share of the produce from land was not confined only to the janmi. All the different groups in the village life including the manual labourers and craftsmen had their own traditional right over the produce from the land.
Thus though the land was not tilled in common, the elements of village community system were at work in the feudal land relation of Kerala. But what caused it to be different in short, was the consolidation of the caste system as a political structure which fixed the status and rights to certain castes. As again, Logan states:
"If however the fundamental idea of the Malayali land tenures referred to above is
borne in mind, namely, that the land was made over in trust to certain classes for cultivation, the above will be seen to be a most natural outcome of the Hindu system."
This peculiar nature of land relations in Kerala, because of its theocratic nature, determined, the position and role of the naduvazhis. The king in Kerala was not a sovereign whose power was unconditional and total over the land and people within the reach of his reign. He was only one among the other traditional landholders having certain duties to dispense according to custom. He was denominated as koil adhikarikal, or koyma, the supervisor of the temple which is self explaining of his duties and position. So the king in the feudal political structure of Kerala was not one who occupied the highest position in the power hierarchy, not having tamed the priestly class so as to make use of the religious ideology as a state apparatus.
Though the naduvazhis gradually became powerful and power conflicts between the naduvazhis and the Namboodiris were progressively at work, as Logan states, the Hindu religion being a determining factor in the production relation and the core of which being the priestly class, the Namboodiris in the feudal system of Kerala had a different role. In short, in the Kerala feudal society the kings were not a centre of power exercised from above; the priestly class were not mere ideologues of the ruling section; and the peasant slaves were considered as if they were the natural extension of the land. Thus the feudal society in Kerala, where the economic life and civil society, the private and public existence of individuals had been identified into one structure and where the undemocratic stratification of the society attained a general consensus as if it simply manifests a natural truth, had been similar to the same elsewhere in the world in basic aspects. But empirically it had a different existence.
Under this feudal system, in its new phase which sets in with the growth of Nair taras and the interference of the foreign traders since Arabs, the tendencies of Kerala becoming a different linguistic-cultural region are getting manifested. The number of people who could subsist totally relieved of manual labour increased in this phase due to the growth in production. These quantitative changes might have led to a change in quality consisting the emergence of Malayalam language and culture which began to find itself throwing the shackles of alien linguistic and cultural domination. At this background, a literary culture peculiar to Malayalam also emerges setting itself free from that of Sanskrit and Tamil and by the sixteenth century which marks the colonial penetration, this process attains completion.
In the cultural history of Kerala the period from the sixteenth to the close of the eighteenth century stands out for its complexity and change of momentum. This is
the span of time which is marked out by the coming of the Portuguese on the one end and the takeover of the political power by the English on the other. And this is the period in which the feudal society in Kerala has been integrated as a regionalized community of culture.
Though the disintegrating elements of castes and sub-castes continued to be vital, it was in this period that in the realm of art and literature cultural streams which transcended the social sections took shape. And it was at this period that the political power of the petty chieftains had been crushed and the small principalities began to be integrated into large kingdoms. Thus this integration was not merely a continuation of the feudal social structure. But the production relations of the society being not yet capitalistic, it cannot be stated that the feudal society had been transformed into a capitalist one in this period. As had been elsewhere in India this structural change occurs in Kerala only under the British colonial rule. So this intervening epoch between feudalism and capitalism is to be considered as a special one in which the political and cultural life took a new orientation. The modern historians have tried to define this interim formation as the 'regionalized community of culture.'
Such integration of a people based on their language and culture is not restricted only to the process of the development of language and culture. The linguistic cultural integration of a people will be realized only by their mutual relations becoming a necessity impelled by their day-to-day life. In short the precondition of such an integration is the formation of a people as an economic community.
Though the disruption of the autonomy of the agricultural village system had been under way, by the interference of the Portuguese in the economic and political life of Kerala it becomes almost complete. The impact of the Portuguese on Kerala was a different one from that of the early foreign traders as Jews, Christians and Muslims. While these early foreign traders and their religions were absorbed in different ways into the erstwhile economic and cultural life of Kerala, the Portuguese stood apart being the offshoot of a new world market which was in the making. Thus their interference made a different effect which could make the beginning of Kerala becoming a community of economic cohesion.
But the changes due to this in the economic and political life of Kerala did not lead to the formation of a new society by breaking away from the feudal relations and thus from its superstructures as it happened in the European societies.
From this perspective, behind this tendency of political and cultural integration, a struggle for the survival of feudalism facing the new economic challenges can be discerned. So the formation of the cultural life in Kerala as a regionalized community of culture was definitely a resistance to the foreign elements, but at the same time it was the re-organization of the feudal culture impelled by the new challenges.
With the political interference of the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English the power relations of the feudal system in Kerala began to change. And as the role and function of the kings began to change, they became centres of power in contradistinction to their posture in the theoretically determined feudal disposition. The nature of power acquired by the new type of kings who came up from the old relations, the centre of which was the priestly class, was different. This new change in the power relations demanded a transformation in the ideological sphere. That is, the new ruling sections in whom the state power began to concentrate was in need of a corresponding ideology as an apparatus supporting the new power structure. Due to this power shift, the Hindu religion which was identified with the production relation and political structure in the typical feudal system of Kerala, was now severing its connection with the concrete life and becoming an ideological shell devoid of content enough to contain anything abstract. Thus this Hindu religion which was being disconnected from the concrete life, itself became capable of serving the spiritual needs of the changing political structure centering the kings. In short, the Hindu religion was thus transferred into the ideology of the new ruling section. Most of the chieftains who got the upper hand in the political life became patrons of poets and artists who upheld this new ideology of Hinduism. Thus this ideology worked as a motive force behind the linguistic - cultural integration and because of it the flowering of a new kind of art and literature which was rooted itself in the folk cultural traditions.
Though this ideology helped the ruling section to maintain their power by breaking the use of all out dated beliefs and customs and thus being the ideology of a new state power, it was set against the old system of temple oriented Brahman centered feudal culture. That is, the ideologically transformed Hindu religion attaining a new content, was itself set against its old political function. This was the contradiction of the religious ideology which functioned as an integrating force in this epoch.
Ezhuthassan and Poonthanam were the great poets who distinguished themselves, their work being the best examples of this new religious ideology with its contradictions. The linguistic style and the poetic effect of their work were radically against the old Brahman religion though consciously they did partake in the old beliefs and customs.
The above mentioned economic, political and ideological changes and shifts thus prepared the background for uniting the people of Kerala as one who shares the same culture of tradition and language. It was at this time that the emancipation of Malayalam as a literary language got itself proclaimed. The works of Ezhuthassan are also the record of this struggle and emancipation in the realm of language as well as of culture.
Just like this, in the case of art forms the development and transformation that took place were tremendous. During this time the art traditions so far separated
devoid of mutual contacts, were complexly integrated into new forms. The best example for this is kathakali.
In kathakali not only the elements of the temple ritual art but the elements of the tribal ritual forms, extending from south Canara to the southern Kerala coast which belongs to a common tradition though diverse in manifestation, and even the Christian and Muslim elements also were brilliantly integrated. Till then almost all art forms in Kerala were confined to rituals of temples or forms of tribal worship. And because of this, those art forms were strictly adhered to by certain castes who traditionally practise it. But kathakali is the first to become a national art form transcending this caste-bound ritualism.
Thus the important cultural trend of this period essentially connected with the above mentioned ideological shift is the growth and spread of the peripheral cultural forms into the mainstream which stood stunted for centuries outside the temple centered life and culture. Though this trend is commonly applicable to the work of Ezhuthassan and kathakali, it finds its highest expression in Kunchan Nambiar. As an art form and literature the tullal of Kunchan Nambiar represents not only the awakening of the peripheral folk traditions but its irresistible advance even in outdating the upper tradition.
Another notable feature of this period is the consolidation of Christian and Muslim communities as cultural groups with their own identities. This phenomenon is directly connected with the political and ideological changes and the corresponding new orientation of the Hindu religion. The new cultural demarcation which gave the Christian and the Muslim their own group identity also found expression in their art forms. These art forms are also to be considered as another mode of awakening of the folk culture, as these sections were set aside along with other non-caste Hindus from the mainstream of feudal culture. The Mappila songs and chavittu natakam are best examples though the chavittu natakam is a Christian counterpart of kathakali. But structurally it is modelled after the European opera and ballet.
With these specific trends, the making of Kerala as a regionalised community of culture, functioned as a cultural unconscious producing the dream of a united Kerala and later the struggle for the realization of it.
It was under the British colonial rule that a basic change took place in the life of Kerala. It was a period of break from the continuity of the past. The colonial rule shattered the old stubborn structure of economy. Though the production for local consumption had been gradually giving way to the production for market, it was only during the British rule that Kerala has been integrated to the world market.
This change deeply affected the feudal structure and subsequently the social and cultural life.
But the economy of colonial exploitation was one that hindered the development of Kerala as a modern society which was lying shackled in the old feudal relations. The colonial economic policy resisted the internal development of productive forces. Actually the colonial rulers were making use of the external forms of the old structure as a less expensive tool for exploitation. They made the kings the chieftains and the landlords their servile mediators. As for the former ruling section they were given back the formal status and privileges and as for the janmis they were made owners of the land, in the modern sense, and all of them in return accepted the supremacy of the British ultimately at the loss of the freedom of the people. Thus the colonial rulers retained feudal disposition as a form devoid of content to make the exploitation more smooth. Hence this period of feudal-colonial exploitation in which old customs and faiths were used as ideological state apparatus to exploit the people with their own consent, is the most complex and grotesque one in the history of Kerala.
The feudal colonial system which could only function by making use of old forms for new purposes was naturally full of contradictions. On the one side the growing market economy was uniting the people of Kerala into a national economy despite their political and social fragmentation. On the other side the feudal-colonial system and its administration were trying to perpetuate the political divisions and social hierarchies. On the one side the process of alienating land as commodity was gaining momentum and on the other side the clutches of feudal forms were being accelerated. Thus the contradictions in this period, brought about by the irresistible formation of new relations and new classes, and the resistance offered by the political system, were complex.
The Kerala scene from the close of the eighteenth to the close of the nineteenth century was that of the co-existence of change and changelessness. In those days Kerala was connected with the modern world as part of the growing world market but at the same time it was being shackled in the world of the past. It was a society in which tribal, slave and feudal forms co-existed under colonial domination. The caste, sub-caste system, untouchability, joint-family, serpent worship, devil worship, witch craft, evil-eye, all these relics from the co-existing phases of history turned Kerala a living museum under the colonial protection.
All the elements of feudalism which had been identified with the custom bound human existence in the past now transformed completely into ideological tools of the new janmi-naduvazhi system, re-organized by the colonial rule. The caste, sub-caste system became a new oppressive apparatus which has been deprived of its deep relations due to the transformation in the concept of the land ownership. Thus
the nineteenth century Kerala, though it had been connected with global system, culturally remained bound up far back for centuries. For the resolution of these extreme contradictions, Kerala had to make a giant leap from the remote past to the modern present. The history of renaissance in Kerala which laid out the background for the setting of modern Kerala is the story of this long leap.
So the cultural renaissance in Kerala was a complex and multifarious process in a phased manner from the close of the nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century. The motive force behind this process was the anti-imperialist and anti-feudal struggles of the people corresponding to the class relations that took shape in different phases.
The feudal colonial system in Kerala attained its consolidation by crushing the early anti-imperialist revolts. These early revolts have got a cultural significance also. These were the resistance offered by the cultural past of Kerala against an alien power to protect its identity. But being the resistance of the old world against an historically advanced force its failure was inevitable.
As the revolts like these held under the leadership of Pazhassi Raja and Velu Tampi have been suppressed, all the former ruling classes as a whole acquiesced themselves and accepted Britain as the supreme ruler. But though this feudal-colonial alliance could abandon the common people like those who rallied behind Velu Tampi and Pazhassi Raja into frustration, it was not able to prevent the formation of new class relations thanks to their means of exploitation. Thus though meagre, new class relations were in the making. The contradictions of the formation of this new class relations were the impetus that worked behind the launching of the leap of Kerala from the cultural remoteness to the present.
The primary condition necessary for the existence of any modern society is the freedom of the people to move, associate, and co-habitate themselves at their will. But in the case of Kerala even these primary conditions for the existence of a civil society had to be attained only through fierce struggles. The strict observance of untouchability prevailed in the caste system of Kerala forcefully maintained the separation of the people lived within the limits of the caste without mutual contacts. Not only this much, but even the possibility of mingling together within the same caste was also hindered. Because the caste system of Kerala itself was based on the mechanism of the caste within the caste. All the castes in Kerala were divided into sub-castes devoid of inter-marriage and inter-dining.
Another necessary elements for the formation of a new civil society is the modern bourgeois family system. The possibility of natural emergence of this new family system was also closed down in Kerala due to its deep entanglement in the different forms of joint-family system. So at the outset, the content of the renaissance in Kerala
was the spontaneous and conscious struggles for the creation of the primary conditions of a civil society by breaking the barriers of caste and family systems.
The following were the first explosive events which set out transforming the people of Kerala from their state of being as bodies, the movements of which were limited by the ritualistic dispositions of caste and joint family, to human individuals endowed with the power of will and self consciousness. The consecration of the temple in Aruvippuram by Sri Narayana in 1888, the publication of the novel Indulekha written by O.Chandu Menon in 1889, the presentation of the Marumakkathaya Marriage Bill by Sir C. Sankaran Nair in 1890 and the Malayali Memorial in 1891. The temporal closeness and sequences of these events occurring just before the onset of the twentieth century were not accidental. They were nothing but the specific manifestations of definite historical process. But to flatteringly generalize this process at the loss of the specificities of the trends and events will be distorting it.
To be precise the renaissance in Kerala was a historical process of subversion of the structure of the old world into which different specific streams, the one which manifested in the form of Sree Narayana Movement was the most significant. Because this was a movement which acted as an external force in toppling down the structural deployment of the caste system based upon the feudal relations.
The basic structure of the caste system in Kerala was a Brahman centered and caste Hindu oriented. This structure was a closed one which cannot help act upon itself to effect a subversion but moving around itself. So an external force was needed to carry out this historical necessity. The downtrodden castes beginning from the Ezhavas though they were included in the production process found their existence outside the core structure of the caste system consisting the caste Hindus. Among these peripheral castes Ezhavas were the first to engage themselves in the production for the market as cultivators, craftsmen, while others confined themselves in the production for the local consumption as before. Thus the Ezhavas happened to be the first section by becoming the part of the national market who had to unite themselves spontaneously outside the feudal mode of production tied up by the colonial system as a parallel mobilization. It was because of this that the Ezhava caste could enable itself to function as an external agent to break-open the closed structure of the caste system.
Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (S.N.D.P.), the caste reform movement of the Ezhavas under the leadership of Dr. Palpu was launched in 1903. At the outset it was confined to the upper strata of the caste which was economically advanced and socially backward. Drawing inspiration from this model all lower and upper castes began to organize themselves to fight social inequalities, and bad customs prevalent among the upper castes. Among them the Sadhujana Paripalana Yogam
led by Ayyankali deserves special mention not only for its low caste origin but for its militancy which was unimaginable on the part of the agricultural slaves.
Though the caste reform movement of the Nair caste, Nair Service Society (N.S.S.) came into being in 1914 the community began to participate much earlier in the renaissance of Kerala. This had been set out from the resentment of the Nair youth hailing from the landlord class who could catch a glimpse of the modern world through English education. The Nairs being the protectors of the caste-hierarchy and thus bound to the Brahman stipulation, it was natural that the first target of their attack had to be the Brahman domination, in order to set themselves free and rise up to the level of the free individuals. Chattampi Swamikal the spiritual leader of the Nair renaissance stressed the need of regaining the Nair community from the shackles of the Brahman domination in his writings.
The Malayali Memorial of 1891 was the result of a movement sprang from the resentment of the educated Nair youth against the Tamil Brahman domination in the government civil service. Ezhavas and Christians who were also kept at a distance from the civil service also joined hands with the Nairs in the Malayali Memorial. Dr. Palpu and Father Immanuel Nidhiri were also there among the leaders of Malayali Memorial movement.
The pamphlet named 'Tiruvithamkoor for Tiruvithamkoorian' written by Barrister G.P.Pillai deserves to be considered as the manifesto of the Malayali memorial movement, since it contained fierce criticism against the Tamil Brahman domination and the then Dewan, who was also a Tamil Brahman. Though this movement was apparently motivated by the interest of the Nair youth, politically it was nationalistic. Thus Malayali Memorial was the first political event which marked out the beginning of the latter series of political struggles in Tiruvitamkur for freedom and democracy. But it was significant in another way also. The government could make a rift in the movement by indulging a section's communal feelings and thus could succeed in breaking away the rising sense of unity beyond caste seclusions. But another section could resist this exploitation of caste feelings and manipulation. This section which pursued the path of secularistic nationalism, led by Barrister G.P. Pillai, Swadeshabhimani Ramakrishna Pillai and C. Krishna Pillai, the eminent nationalists, who bravely carried forward the political spirit of secularism at the risk of facing bitter challenges from the part of the state.
The general effect of the caste reform movement was the internal re-organization of the castes which were actually divided as sub-castes devoid of mutual contacts, into coherent mass communities. So the basic task of these caste movements was the fight against the old customs and practices mainly regarding marriage system and succession prevailing within each caste. The separate legislations as Nair Regulation,
Namboodiri Act, Kshatriya Act, Ezhava Regulation etc., were the results of these struggles.
The renaissance of Kerala naturally involved the process of the creation of a public sphere, through which the people can identify themselves as members of a new civil society. Without a structural change in the realm of language, literature and arts the creation of a public sphere could not have been carried out. It is the historic importance of the novel Indulekha that it epitomises the different dimension of this structural break which resulted in the formation of a civil society in Kerala. The transformation occurred at the linguistic, artistic and social ideologies converge in this work as a condition of its own existence and at the same time as an effect of its functioning.
Indulekha is not a phenomenal mirror reflection of the life of a matrilineal Nair family of its time. But it is realistic in a deeper sense. The novel artistically resolves the contradiction between the social background which was yet to be liberated from the past and the field of western values without which the portrayal of life in the novel was not possible. So this work could involve the reader in the deep contradiction reflected in the different levels of ideology.
In the feudal literary culture, Malayalam was subservient to Sanskrit. But this state of affairs underwent a change through the work of Ezhuthassan which was widely disseminated by the local vernacular schools run by village teachers known as asans. However Malayalam language was quite different from the modern prose. The language of Malayalam was developed into modern prose, by the activities of Christian Missionaries. This fact will become very clear if we make a close examination of the conscious activities of missionaries for the formulation and development of Malayalam prose from the formulation of the Canons of Synod at Udayamperur. The formation of Malayalam prose was completed by the spread of English language by the missionaries.
In the process of renaissance in Kerala, along with the propaganda of the Christian morality, the growth and development of Malayalam prose by which the common people were brought near to new knowledge forms had a very significant role. The modern Malayalam prose emerged from a parallel culture, which gets its clean and clear appearance in Indulekha and which developed to communicate with the people who were outside the folds of the caste Hindu society.
Christian values are not merely related to a religious belief. Today, civilized people all over the world in one way or other share the concepts of Christian morality. Victorian Christian morality is a major factor which shaped civilized civil society's concept of sexuality. The conflict between the opposite worlds represented in Indulekha became intensified in this background of Christian morality.
Indulekha epitomises the conflict between the contradictory value systems of modern capitalist society and feudal society but also the conflict between the two contradictory concepts regarding aesthetic values associated with them. Modern novel is a new art-form, which with its very existence negates feudal aesthetic conceptions that art and literature are only accessible to upper castes who are connoisseurs disciplined in aesthetic appreciation. Accordingly art-form like the novel is closely related to modern democratic society. It is not a fortress that could be entered only by a titled connoisseur. But any literate man regardless of caste discriminations can make his entrance into it. Thus in this sense, Indulekha was a heavy blow to the upper caste literary conceptions.
Taking Indulekha as the model, the process by which democratic values came to operate within the spheres of language and literature during the renaissance in Kerala has been described above. Another cultural sphere which was different but related to the trend described above also arose as part of the renaissance in Kerala.
The literary and cultural sphere was attempting to compromise with new situations in order to sustain the feudal aesthetic concepts against new challenges. This sphere came into existence, centred around the ruling families of Tiruvitamkur, Kochi and Malabar. This cultural tendency obtained its clear manifestation through the literary activities under the leadership of Kerala Varma Valiakoil Tampuran and Kodungallur Kunhikkuttan Tampuran.
Literary controversies like 'Rhyme Debate' exemplifies the clear evidence of contradictions which existed among the poets and within the mind of individual poets who were involved in it. All of them had tried to protect Malayalam literature with Sanskrit and Sanskrit literature with Malayalam. But it should not be forgotten that certain positive consequences related to the renaissance could be generated by their activities because of the special nature of the historical context.
Most of the poets of venmani school composed their poems using mythologies as well as the day-to-day experiences as their subject matter. Their literary compositions very well shook the old literary concepts of those who considered poetry as an eternal model of deriving aesthetic pleasure and subject matter as its attribute for craftsmanship. They transformed the poetry as the tool for the narration of the routine life experiences rather than mere craftsmanship. But because of the limitation of their experiences they were not able to use meaningfully the changed approach towards the poetic art itself. But their works made the poetic language more dynamic, communicative and descriptive.
Thus Malayalam language as means of poetic communication became respectable among the elite as the elite literary tradition began to use the inherent strength of Malayalam language to overcome new challenges. The translations of Sanskrit classics
including Vyasa Mahabharata indicate the growth and prominence of Malayalam language during this period.
The dynamic forms of narration and expression which emerge in this atmosphere as a time related entity in the poetic structure later developed into a strong tradition in the Malayalam poetic composition. The creation of this poetic tradition which was the most prominent in modern Malayalam poetry was the contribution of the great poet Vallathol Narayana Menon who applied this to the history and life of the people.
In this defensive feudal literary atmosphere a new prose style was developed, in order to communicate with the sub-literate sections who were excluded from the elite cultural sphere. This developed as a parallel to the prose style formulated by activities of the missionaries and which rose to the literary plain with the publication of Indulekha. This prose form developed even as the tendency to use poetry for all the functions envisaged by the use of prose like writing letters, diaries and giving speeches continued to persist. This prose style was complex and filled with Sanskrit words. Kerala Varma Valiya Koil Tampuran's prose writings are the best examples for this. Nonetheless this style deeply influenced the academic community which developed with Tiruvananthapuram as its centre for a long period.
Even though C.V. Raman Pillai's Sanskrit inspired Malayalam prose belonged to this tradition, as a novelist in the context of the renaissance he had a distinct role. The three novels of C.V. Raman Pillai named Marthanda Varma, Dharma Raja and Ramaraja Bahadur came into being in the background of the newly emerging national consciousness in Tiruvitamkur. A new class imbued with self awareness developed from a stagnant society which had no past, present or future, it was necessary for the emerging class to create a past that would give meaning to their identity. They had to consolidate their existence by seeing their own reflections in the mirrors of the past. It is because of this feature that bourgeois historical writing and historical fiction operate in the same sphere of discourse. This meant that history was written in the form of fiction and fiction was written in the form of history. In this sense the work of C.V. Raman Pillai are huge mirrors to a past that would ensure the sustenance of a new present. The folk tradition embedded in the rural life of Tiruvitamkur permeates the Sanskrit style of C.V. Raman Pillai. The novels of C.V. Raman Pillai become great works of art and play their role in the Kerala renaissance because they overcome the Sanskrit dominated prose style with descriptions of rural culture and royal eulogies manifested in the plot with self-pride based on genealogical glory.
The emergent fact of literary renaissance linked with feudal families later laid the foundation for the prevalence of Tiruvananthapuram based academic intellectual circle. At that time it had direct relations with different streams of renaissance.
However, as far as Malayalam language was concerned it was enriched by a great contribution that emerged from this heritage, viz, Kerala Paniniyam by A.R. Raja Raja Varma. It should be noted that he was able to produce this grammar text, on the solid foundation laid by the missionaries in the realm of grammar and linguistics for more than one and a half centuries. It is a reality that another grammar text that could surpass this work which was published in 1894 has not been produced so far.
Another sphere of poetic culture also developed in relation with the Kerala renaissance. This new poetic form developed in contradiction with, and perhaps, as a strong protest to the poetic form developed from the feudal culture. Kumaran Asan was the best representative of this literary culture, which was directly opposite to the literary culture of the venmani Namboodiris. Modern poetry in Malayalam language actually began from Asan onwards.
The poetry of Kumaran Asan reflects the conflicts involved in the Kerala renaissance in considerable depth. It is in this sense that Asan has been called the greatest people's poet to emerge in Malayalam language after Ezhuthassan.
The nature of the usage of Sanskrit words in Asan poetry is different from the manipravalam style of Kerala Varma Valia Koil Tampuran and others. The Sanskrit usage of Asan is part of the effort to counteract the superficiality of venmani style with depth in meaning. Sanskrit language and the works of Ezhuthassan provided the basis for a new literary culture among the avarna group who became literate through traditional asan pallikkootams. New kaikottikkali songs, ammana songs and vanchipattu became popular among them, as illuminations of their newly developing social identity. Just as Pandit K.P. Karuppan and other asans, Kumaran Asan also entered the arena of poetic composition by writing such songs. This tradition of popular songs, which provided a distinctive background to the poetic works of Asan where meaningful words appear to reverberate in Sanskrit metre, were the real poetic tradition of Asan.
The politics of Kumaran Asan, who was the founder-Secretary and activist of the S.N.D.P. Yogam was the politics of a class that could not make the transition from caste consciousness to class consciousness. However, the politics of Asan poetry reflected the conflicting values of a class that arose as the leader of Kerala renaissance. It is because of this that Asan poetry also overcomes the limitations of the age in which it was written just as Veena Poovu by Asan marked the beginning of modern Malayalam poetry. Duravastha was the direct predecessor to the progressive literature in Malayalam.
The distinctive features of the efforts made by Kerala society which was trapped
in the remnants of a primitive tribal village mode, to transform itself to a modern civilized society and their results can be summarised as follows:
In earlier times, caste system in Kerala had been functioning not only as a form of division of labour, but also as a political structure. When the British introduced their administrative system, caste system lost its political relevance in Kerala society as an administrative form. Feudal colonial dominant class began to use the caste system, which lost its earlier relevance due to the civil administrative system introduced by the British, as a means of economic exploitation. However, the newly developing class relations gave a new beginning to the caste frame work which had lost its old essence. Thus the peasants and craftsman who were oppressed by the British became organized as the mass component of the caste organizations, under the leadership of the new classes. Caste organizations destroyed the essence of caste within the caste and organized the members of the caste as people's organizations.
However, these newly emerging organized movements were organizations of people who had severed themselves from the earlier social structure, but had not ascended to the new class consciousness. They were the natural organizational forms of the people who opposed the feudal colonial system that was a hindrance to the birth of a new order. It is because of this that such caste organizations became irrelevant, or if they survived, continued merely as instruments of oppression, once a political sphere that organized the members of different caste groups as classes, came into existence, and a new class conscious leadership developed.
When the people of Kerala for whom existence and consciousness had not been separated under the operation of caste system, joint family and the endless repetitious cycle of traditional occupations which had no place for independent initiative began to discover themselves as human beings, a new consciousness became necessary for their new existence. New means of emotional response became necessary in order to recognise themselves as individuals in a new society. New modes of self-expression in accordance with their new essence also became necessary. This made the creation of a public sphere, which had hitherto not existed in Kerala society, inevitable. It is from this inevitability that a qualitative leap forward took place in all aspects of cultural life including language and literature. Thus this culture of renaissance became the foundation of the cultural life of modern democratic Kerala.
During the last years of the first World War, the development of the cultural sphere, which was related with the renaissance of Kerala passed over to a new phase. In this phase also social movement was determined and controlled by struggles against the colonial and feudal systems. But certainly in this phase national movement in
Kerala was able to acquire a clear political nature apart from the social reform movements.
Both the peasants and the middle class of that time became part of the national political agitation which got momentum in all India level. 'Home Rule Leagues' were organized all over Malabar. In Tiruvitamkur students entered into political scene. Similarly, the political activities which was individually started by Swadeshabhimani K. Ramakrishna Pillai obtained a social character in Tiruvitamkur. In Malabar a situation came into being in which Congress Committees and Tenancy Committees tried to work together. Thus the entrance of the middle class into the political life of Kerala enabled the people of Kerala who were leaderless after Velu Tampi and Pazhassi Raja to acquire political leadership through the national movement.
But the political leaders who were expected to give leadership to the anti-feudal agitations of the peasants kept aloof so that the colonial rulers are able to suppress those peasant struggle. This kind of the withdrawal of the leadership strengthened the hands of the British to subdue the peasant uprising branded as Moplah Rebellion which began as an anti-feudal, anti-colonial movement but eventually came in the grip of the religious fundamentalism. This was a set back for the growing democratic movement which had acquired a clearer political identity than that of Tiruvitamkur and Kochi. Subsequent Vaikkom Satyagraha and Guruvayoor Satyagraha helped to revitalize the Kerala politics.
Meanwhile, changes were occurring in the national movement and in the casteist organizations. These changes determined the factors of Kerala politics and its cultural atmosphere. A powerful broad-minded and revolutionary youth wing who were unsubmissive to the conservative leadership emerged inside the Congress. Inside the caste and communal organizations a new force of radical youth who challenged the orthodox hierarchy within their own castes emerged who, began to see social problems from a political angle. United political struggles developed between different castes, community groups in Tiruvitamkur. The activities of T.K. Madhavan, C. Kesavan and Kesari A. Balakrishna Pillai were the manifestations of new political culture which broke through the boundaries of caste and creed.
In these circumstances, new streams of thought which were free from the clutches of religion were formed. Thus apart from the caste-oriented communal reform movements, there appeared powerful social-reform movements based upon secular perspective and materialist outlook. Men like Sahodaran Ayyappan's activities, which were inspired by the Russian revolution and the socialist ideology, indicate the changes in the intellectual atmosphere of the period.
The national freedom struggle strengthening all over India found its expression
in Kerala through the creative writings of Vallathol Narayana Menon. The Sahitya Manjari which was the largest collection of his poems were also the record of the cultural atmosphere of that period. The poem written by Vallathol in 1928 named Ente Prayaga Snanam (My Bath in Prayaga) was the response of a far-sighted Malayali who saw the imminent political changes due to the emergence of new forces in Kerala.
The poet who came to participate in the Indian National Congress meeting at Calcutta was inspired by watching mass of workers who 'contaminated' the 'clean' atmosphere, prevailing in the session. This incident, which angered the conservative minded Congressmen was seen by the poet as the meeting of those who "were entitled to meet."
He was able to form a new literary culture to fight for the cause of national freedom, democracy and social equality not only through his poems but also as the leader of Vallathol school. The most prominent among the adherents of the school was Nalappat Naryana Menon. His translation of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables in Malayalam was a revolutionary one and its influence was multi-dimensional among the people of Kerala of that time.
During the last years of 1930s tremendous changes occurred both in the political and cultural spheres of Kerala. In that period anti-imperialist, anti-feudal, national, democratic movement strengthened in an unprecedented fashion all over Kerala. Modern value concepts which was confined to the upper strata of the society in the early phase, now began to spread to the lower layers of society. In addition to the middle class, various other sections consciously entered into the mainstream of public life. Consequently political and cultural spheres became more popular based and it acquired democratic character.
Thus the most significant factor that separated this popular phase of renaissance of Kerala from the past was the appearance of the new class who had not yet acquired a political identity. However, working class emerged as a strong force to reckon within the socio-political movements. Subsequently, left wing of the national movement got strengthened and they took the leadership of the working class movements. Thus working class became the leader of the peasantry and the other exploited sections of the society.
In this phase, there emerged two trends in the cultural sphere which tried to fight against the retrogressive and reactionary tendencies. Among them, one trend was represented by democrats who were inclined to the left wing of the national movement, and offered to fight against the life style and aesthetic concepts of feudalism. Kesari A. Balakrishna Pillai was the best representative of this cultural trend. Literary critics and thinkers like M.P. Pillai, Kuttipuzha Krishna Pillai etc., and in a broader sense
poets like Changampuzha Krishna Pillai were the spokesmen of this trend. The other trend was represented by those who recognized the working class politics and gave leadership to fight feudal and imperialist systems, separating themselves from the left wing. E.M. Sankaran Namboodiripad, K. Damodaran and M.S. Devadas were the major representatives of this trend.
The representatives of the first, gave invaluable contribution to modernize the cultural atmosphere of Kerala. Though introducing European literary culture in Kerala, 'Kesari' was able to destroy the prevailing literary and artistic concepts of feudalism. His thoughts exposed the inner contradictions of the concepts of Christian morality. A new intellectual circle was formed in south Kerala under the leadership of 'Kesari' and from them a new generation of writers came into existence. Story writers like Thakazhi, Kesava Dev, Ponkunnam Varkki and poets like Changampuzha were adherents of this school.
The second trend was different and distinctive from the first. This was led by the leaders of the Communist movement which was only formed during the culmination of the 1930s. They were the spokesmen of a new aesthetic perspective that rejected all established literary concepts of the east and west. The main force that functioned behind this trend was the formation of the progressive and democratic culture in India and abroad. This movement's salient features were revealed and its position was clarified by the theoretical works of E.M.S. and the creative writings of K. Damodaran, Cherukad and the like. They were more than intellectuals of the cultural scene and they were always with the common people. They reflected a new culture that emanated from the popular base of the democratic movement which was strengthening distinctly in northern Kerala than from the south.
Second phase of the second World War saw the unity and consolidation of the progressive forces and it also influenced the cultural scenario of Kerala. Consequently a new chapter was opened in the cultural history of Kerala with the unification of these two tendencies and groups except some of the political scholars. In these circumstances in 1944, 'progressive literary organization' came into being which was very different from the old literary associations. Even though political changes of the post-independent period caused the decline of its organizational form, its contribution in giving shape to the modern democratic cultural atmosphere is great and invaluable. In 1950s a large number of artists and literary luminaries drawing inspiration from this movement produced dramas, stories and poems which became a part of the life of the common man. In that way the art and literature confined within the affluent and academic circles came to the laity and through that they were able to make major contributions to raise the populace into a 'civil society' imbued with a high degree of self-awareness.
With the commencement of the state of Kerala in 1956 on linguistic basis, the cultural and political unity of Kerala which had been obstructed by the colonial and feudal forces, became now a reality. Thus the cultural renaissance was developed in different stages through the anti-imperialist and anti-feudal struggles and it culminated in the formation of modern Kerala.
The growth of democratic institutions and the economic steps like land reforms made the cultural milieu of Kerala, different from other states as it was not separated as rural and urban. However, the backwardness of economic development in Kerala substantially affected its cultural life. The divisive forces like caste and communalism are attempting to attack the secular content of the culture. Because of the scarcity of other fields, cultural sphere became the area of capital investment. This tendency is very obvious and clear in the spheres of film, journalism and education.
to certain extent, cultural scenario in Kerala is in a disoriented stage
because of its possibilities of marketization caused by the contradiction
of the economic backwardness and the popular character of the renaissance
of Kerala. The quantitative growth occurring because of these tendencies
in art, literature and in educational field can be transformed through
the conscious and organized activities, to the qualitative growth. In
that way Kerala can be totally liberated from the clutches of primitive
and reactionary cultural forms, which fill up the voids in consciousness
created by the culture industry.