SNDP 100 Years

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Acknowledgment: Unless Otherwise stated, the text and pictures are mostly taken from Kerala Kaumudi, Trivandrum.

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SNDP Yogam centenary celebrations

A yearlong centenary celebration of SNDP (Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana) Yogam began on May 15th at Aruvippuram, where the organisation was first registered in 1903. The period from 1890 to 1947 was a tumultuous period in Kerala history. Travancore and Cochin were separate states and Malabar was with Madras presidency. Travancore and Cochin States were ruled by Maharajas.

This was a period of renaissance in Kerala. It emerged from being a feudal State to a communist state. In a span of 5 decades, the social structure of Kerala was turned upside down, SNDP playing a crucial role in the historic struggle. Slave trade was widespread in Travancore, Cochin and Malabar areas. It was the British Government, which abolished this odious practice in 1854. A despicable form of untouchability was in vogue throughout the Travancore and Cochin area.
Life then was centered on temples and mobility was limited. Temple entry was banned for all some communities. The majority of the Travancore and Cochin communities were living under segregation. Ezhavas and Thiyyas were then denied access to education, jobs in government service, temple entry and political freedom. It is to systematically fight against these inequities. The SNDP Yogum was founded under the spiritual leadership of Sree Narayana Guru.

One of the early heroes, who understood the deplorable living conditions and social segregations of the so-called backward communities, was Dr Palpu. Himself denied admission at Madras Medical College, though he passed the entrance examination administered by the Travancore State, Dr Palpu was undaunted. He joined LMS medical course (diploma) in Madras and passed. When he applied for job in Travancore State service, he was again denied it because of his communal status (caste). He joined the Mysore Government service as an assistant surgeon. From Mysore, Dr Palpu embarked on a relentless program to eradicate the evil social system in Travancore. Though he tried to form Ezhava Maha Sabha by organising grass root meetings in Mayyanad and Paravoor, it did not gain the necessary momentum. Dr Palpu was not disheartened. While working in Bangalore, Dr Palpu was determined to meet Swami Vivekananda, who was then making a state visit to Mysore. Dr Palpu met Vivekananda several times and apprised him about the plight of the oppressed castes in Travancore and Cochin. He sought Swami's advise on how to once and for all get rid of the inhuman social structure. Vivekananda informed Dr Palpu that because of the existing social set up in India; any organized struggle will be successful, only if led by a spiritual leader. Dr Palpu had by then known that Sree Narayana Guru was spending time at Aruvippuram. Dr met Narayana Guru and asked him to lead the social transformation. Swami introduced Kumaran from Kaikara to Dr Palpu who sent Kumaran to Bangalore, Madras and Calcutta for higher education in Sanskrit and English. Dr Palpu not only bequeathed his enlightened leadership, but also advanced the cause for freedom by showing moral courage and galvanizing an essentially a benighted populace. He was the force behind the "Malayalee Memorial" and "Ezhava Memorial" two prominent social movements in Kerala. Narayana Guru became the catalyst for the social change. For Guru, economic and political freedom can be accomplished, only through education and organization. He also spearheaded a movement to eradicate many superstitious customs prevalent among the Ezhava community. His call for one caste, one religion and one God had universal appeal.

The struggle to gain access to schools and colleges was achieved only by the hard sustained work organized by the SNDP Yogum. The now famous Vaikom Sathyagraha was the first organised effort to obtain the right to walk on public road and entry to Temples. This attracted national attention. Many national leaders visited Vaikom for first hand information including Mohandas Gandhi and Akali Dal leaders from Punjab. A nationalist leader form Mavelikkara, T K Madhavan, played a key role in organizing the Vaikom Sathyagraha, under the leadership of Indian National Congress. Travancore Maharaja's temple entry declaration has to wait till 1935. This was a major victory for SNDP Yogum.

The Thiyyas of the Malabar regions enjoyed certain privileges including education and jobs, since they came directly under the British rule. They had access to English education from 1806. There are many prominent Thiyya families in Kannur and Thalassery who were the beneficiaries of the higher education. Still the economic conditions of the majority of the Thiyyas were below average.

Many stalwarts volunteered to fight the injustice. Prominent among them included M Govindan, N Kumaran, C V Kunjuraman, C Kesavan, K Sukumaran, V K Velayudhan, Thazava Kesavan, A K Bhaskar and R. Shankar from Travancore area, A Ayyappan and Ayya Kutty from Kochi and Murkoth Kumaran, C.Krishnan and Rarichan Moopan from Malabar. Shankar deserves credit for leading the establishment of several SN Colleges during a span of two decades. Kerala Kaumudi played a decisive role throughout the struggle against the injustice and to this day continues to be an eloquent voice for the aspirations of the oppressed classes.

A slow decline of the SNDP and SN Trust began towards the end of R Shankar's reign. Subsequently, the organisation went to the hands of less able and unqualified individuals. Rivalry and infighting sapped the vitality of once powerful organization. While major advances were made in the social front, the discrimination continues to this day. Though the largest community in the State, Ezhavas is denied due political representation. The Communists and the Congress systematically sidelined deserving Ezhava leaders. The ejection of K R Gauri Amma from Communist party and the treatment meted out to Vayalar Ravi and V M Sudheeran are some of the blatant examples of the political deceptions played by the so-called upper caste (Nambuthiris and Nairs) Hindus. Vestiges of feudalism are still prevalent in modern Kerala.

For SNDP Yogam this should be a time for introspection. It is ironic that even though SNDP was the first organised movement in the state, Christians, Muslims and Nairs all have overtaken SNDP, by projecting a united front. The only way to regain the confidence of the community is to have grass root organization at the SNDP branch level. A cadre of dedicated, selfless workers for the cause should be developed. There are legions of retired persons who are qualified to engage in such efforts. Only by enlisting the services of able, competent, honest and sincere people, will success come to such endeavors. Hostels for boys and girls should be built in every taluk. Establish one medical college and at least three engineering colleges under S.N Trust. Scholarships should be established in S.N. colleges for poor students from backward communities based on merit. A memorial should be established for Dr. Palpu for his outstanding contribution to the community. Perhaps overseas Sree Narayana organizations can take a lead for this cause.

Vaikom Sathyagraha and temple entry declaration should be required reading for middle school students. In the pre independence era, discrimination was overt and lurid. Today it is covert and subtle. Only by united action and following Sree Narayana Guru's teaching, can SNDP regain its lost glory and be an effective force for continued social changes.

Courtesy: This appeared on Kaumudi USA Page at