Volume 20, No. 1 – 2020

Volume 20, No. 1 - 2020



  • How Smarthavicharam Found us by P.K. SREEKUMAR and PRIYA JOSE K. Posted in: Literature & Literary Studies, Life writing, History, Feminisms, Culture, Society, Articles What do Sherlock Holmes, Count Dracula, the Vietnam War, the Holocaust and the two World Wars have in common? Apart from the elements of inherent drama and trauma that all of them share in varying degrees and measures, they have proved to be fecund sources for Hollywood and the flow of movies based on them is far from over. If we accept the existence of a public imagination and collective memory, we can postulate that this assorted group of fictitious characters and historic events somehow resonate with the viewers in a way that is not easy to explain and demonstrate. Perhaps every culture has its own spaces and zones with an enduring appeal which an outsider is almost always bound to lose sight of. Continue Reading
  • Preface: Temporal and Spatial Coordinates of Chastity Trials by P.K. SREEKUMAR & PRIYA JOSE K Posted in: Literature & Literary Studies, Life writing, History, Feminisms, Culture, Society, Articles I The erstwhile princely states of Travancore and Cochin (which were merged with the British Malabar in 1956 to form the linguistic state of Kerala) witnessed an unprecedented mushrooming of organisations which can generally be described as community-based in the decades around 1900. Most of them used caste as their principal rallying point while a few sought to forge larger religious identities[1]. It was during an unusually narrow span that every single community association that would play vital roles in the turbulent future trajectory of Kerala sprang into existence. South Indian Gospel Society in 1895;Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam in 1903, Catholic Maha Jana Sabha in 1905, Sadhu Jana Paripalana Sangham in 1907, Namboothiri Kshema Sabha in 1908, Prathyaksha Raksha DaivaSabha in 1909, Brahma Prathyaksha Sadhu Jana Paripalana Sangham and Kalyana Dayini Sabha in 1912 and Nair Service Society in 1914[2]. Organisations based on caste or creed were nothing new to the people or government of these princely states and British Malabar. They had been in place for long, occupying the center-stage in the personal and public life of the population. However, the new organisations were structurally and qualitatively different from their predecessors. While the old organisations had confined themselves to the relatively inconsequential and safe task of evolving and effecting internal rules to keep individual castes intact and redressing ‘deviations’, the newly emerged ones resolutely strove to recast the very founding principles of the society. They sought to meld sub-castes[3]into numerically stronger cohesive communities with enhanced political bargaining power with a view to gaining social recognition, economic resources, due representation in legislative assemblies and a prestigious rung in the social ladder[4], began to run industries[5], organised awareness programs and to found educational institutions. Most crucially, imbued with the newly attained sense of universal human rights and dignity, they posed serious challenges to the religious credos and theological discourses that had legitimatized stratification along caste lines and concomitant discriminatory practices for long. Secondly, the direct and indirect presence of the imperial regime had substantially reduced the martial power, economic might and governmental sway of these groups, resulting in their inability to act with impunity. Unlike in the past when a Brahmin or even a Nair could kill a low caste man for polluting the former by transgressing the prescribed distance for purity, the same crime would attract prosecution and lead to probable punishment within the British legal mechanism. What made these assertive organisations possible was a host of factors that germinated largely as a result of the colonial interventions and direct British rule in the nearby Malabar. In these places the hundred years between 1836 and 1936[6]witnessed an avalanche of unsettling structural changes that would not spare a single social institution, cultural practice, conceptual framework, epistemological matrix and customary law. Prohibition of slavery, right to dress, printing, publications, cash-based economy, modern/English education, memorials, census and other enumerative operations, registration of land, missionary discourses, proselytisation drives, newspapers, new representational mechanisms, inception of democratic institutions, anti-Christian rhetoric, subaltern empowerment, petitions and the birth of a public sphere, along with other factors, literally plowed the rigid soil of caste-induced restrictive norms. It was to the normative discourses, which had been deemed divinely ordained and inviolable until recently, that these events inflicted crippling, if not mortal, blows. Obviously the turn of events buoyed up the downtrodden social strata, ushering in an era of unprecedented apostasy and iconoclasm. The new political consciousness and aggressive civic assertion displayed by the hitherto unprivileged and unrepresented caste groups began to enfeeble the economic and administrative preeminence of savarnas, to dent their cultural capital and to eviscerate the prevailing polity. In the process, power equations began to get redefined, gradually weakening the grip of the dominant castes on the social hierarchy, economic engines and production relations. In 1905 Ayyankali, one among the most influential social reformers of the period, founded the first pre-primary school for the dalits in Venganoor with a view to educating and eventually emancipating agrestic slave castes; the building, however, was set ablaze by the upper caste members before daybreak. In the same year there erupted a fierce clash between the Ezhavas and the conservative Nairs of Travancore as the latter opposed the movement of the former to enrol at government schools on the basis of a government order[7]. In literature the age under reference witnessed the proliferation and consolidation of the novel, a derivative discourse liberally borrowed (and deftly customised) from colonial-continental literary traditions, though the genres of poetry and drama would continue to be influential for a few more decades to come. The persisting charm and appeal of verse and poetry can be understood from the fact that Kavanakaumudi, a journal in which every single item including advertisemtns would be in verse, was launched in 1905 and lasted till 1931 (Raghavan 102). The popularity of plays was such that in 1893 Anthappai published a short novel which mounted a scathing attack on the unprecedented and ludicrous proliferation of the genre and playwrights in Travancore (Irumpayam 117- 25). In May 1905, the first Malayalam short story by a woman—‘Nanichupoyi’—was published in the now extinct magazine Sarada[8]. The Industrial exhibition organised by the S.N.D.P. Yogam in 1904 symbolically signalled a decisive shift from agriculture to industry by tapping the emancipatory potential of technology within the limiting conditions of colonial modernity. In other words, it was a historic era bustling with concerted and unprecedented modernisation drives in most arenas of life. However, during the same period, the uppermost rung of our complex caste ladder[9]—the Namboothiri community—was experiencing a moral implosion that would reverberate generations down the line and would burn itself indelibly in our public imagination: a chastity trail, more popularly known as Smarthavicharam. Needless to say chastity was an attribute exclusively earmarked for women; most men of the same community wallowed in every kind of conceivable sexual adventure, throwing away moral and ethical considerations into the air. Conceptualised in this way, Smarthavicharam was highly gender-biased and can be productively understood as an entrenched social mechanism designed… Continue Reading
  • Smarthavicharam from the journal Vijnanachintamani by Sri Punnassery Nampi Neelakanta Sarma Posted in: Literature & Literary Studies, History, Feminisms, Culture, Society, Articles Abstract: This is the translation of an article written by Sri Punnassery Nampi Neelakanta Sarma and summarised by his biographer K.P. Narayanapisharodi. It was originally published in the journal Vijnanachintamani (Meenam 8, 1080). The author criticizes the practice of Smarthavicharam. Continue Reading
  • Smarthavicharam from the Malayala Manorama Newspaper by Anonymous(Gentleman) Reporter Posted in: Literature & Literary Studies, Life writing, History, Feminisms, Culture, Society, Articles Abstract: This document is noteworthy for the arguments that it puts forth on the question of the chastity trial regarding the credibility of the woman in question. Continue Reading
  • Smarthavicharam from Archives by Anonymous Report, Malayala Manorama Posted in: Literature & Literary Studies, History, Feminisms, Culture, Society, Articles Abstract: The chastity trial of Thathri in 1905 stands out not only for the staggering number of men accused but also because for the first time a chance to defend themselves was granted to those accused. The new system bodies forth the intersecting spaces of feudal/ colonial logics and jurisprudential systems. The following documents would bear testimony to the same. Continue Reading
  • Smarthavicharam: Caste, State and the Regulation of Female Sexuality by K. M. SHEEBA Posted in: Sexualities, Literature & Literary Studies, Life writing, History, Feminisms, Culture, Society, Articles Abstract: This article provides a historical-theoretical understanding regarding how the institution of chastity trials was intertwined with the larger social concern of women’s perceived purity and the circumstances under which the exercise would be carried out. Continue Reading
  • Example is Better than Precept in Revolution by V.T. VASUDEVAN Posted in: Literature & Literary Studies, Life writing, History, Feminisms, Culture, Society, Articles Abstract: This article summarises the responses of three men, M.K. Kumaran,V.T. Bhattathirippad and the writer to Thathri and her life . Continue Reading
  • Harlot or Heroine? by N. R. GRAMAPRAKASH Posted in: Sexualities, Literature & Literary Studies, Life writing, History, Feminisms, Culture, Society, Articles Abstract: This article from Malayalam, July 2005 seeks to vindicate/exonerate Thathri of all the accusations labeling her as a whore and a seducer. It makes an attempt to locate and validate the true motives that may have driven Thathri to execute her elaborate scheme. V. T. Bhattathirippad assumes that it is not lust or the greed for wealth that instigated her, but her strong desire to protest against the grossly unfair patriarchal system of her days when woman was reduced to insignificance, into a mere Sadhanam. In fact, V.T. suggests that, in truth, Thathri is the torch-bearer of the various reform movements that were soon to follow within the Namboothiri community. Many a murderer and a bandit have turned heroes with the passage of time. The writer argues in favour of Thathri being recognised as a Renaissance heroine instead of a harlot. Many a person accused of crimes has later turned great heroes, but Thathri has no redemption in sight. Continue Reading
  • What Befell Thathri next? by N. P. VIJAYAKRISHNAN Posted in: Literature & Literary Studies, Life writing, History, Feminisms, Culture, Society, Articles Abstract: This offers a glimpse into the probable conditions enveloping Thathri before, during and after the trial which have left us guessing about her whereabouts. By walking down the memory lane with persons connected to Thathri in different measures and degrees and piecing together their reminiscences, the author deftly weaves the fragmentary recollections and associations into a cohesive whole, resulting in something akin to a study in unarchived history. The end product is open-ended, granting the reader the right to imagine and create. The article raises a lot of questions which need to be addressed in right earnest. Continue Reading
  • The Gloomy Ostracized by K. B. SREEDEVI Posted in: Literature & Literary Studies, Life writing, History, Feminisms, Culture, Society Abstract: This article which appeared in Samakalika Malayalam Weekly in July 2005, offers a glimpse into the world of men who were ostracized and is a different take on the Thathri effect in their lives. The author well known for her novel Yajnam which deals with Smarthavicharam is brutally honest when she confesses that she doesn’t think much of what Thathri is said to have accomplished. Continue Reading
  • Transmuting Traditions: Thathri and Others by P. S. MANOJKUMAR Posted in: Literature & Literary Studies, Life writing, History, Feminisms, Culture, Society, Articles Abstract: This paper, attempts to locate and historicize the activities of some women from the dominant Namboothiri community who fought on their own to achieve greater causes and staked claims to their natural rights during the early decades of twentieth century, without the support of the male reformers of the community. Continue Reading
  • Antharjanam by OLAPPAMANNA SREEDEVI Posted in: Literature & Literary Studies, History, Feminisms, Culture, Society Abstract: This article which appeared in May 1968 in Mathrubhumi Weekly chronicles the different stages in the life of a Namboothiri woman and holds up a mirror to reflect the living hell inside the illam. Keywords: sartorial practices, habits, male privileges, puberty, marriage, wifehood,widowhood. Cloaked in cloth, providing only a faint glimpse of the feet, walking demurely under a cadjan umbrella, glancing sideways at the world outside… this is the image that the term Antharjanam brings to one’s mind. She is saddled with this umbrella, which incidentally cannot be folded, not only when she takes a walk outside, but also when she travels in a car, bus or a train! The space underneath the canopy is nothing but living hell. The enduring efforts of the social reformers have managed to erase it to some extent. However, the Antharjanam still stands bewildered and hesitant: the attire might have changed, but how can one break age old customs and conventions! Childhood The birth of a girl child is never celebrated in the Namboothiri household. While the arrival of the boy is welcomed happily with cheer and delight, a light knock on the door is the only signal to inform that the girl child is born. As far as the illam, the Namboothiri household, is concerned, a girl is nothing but a problem. Her destiny was to move from one kitchen to another. Right from birth, this sense of unbelonging, of insignificance is ingrained deep in her. The birthday of the boy child is invariably celebrated with pride and merriment. While the boy celebrates his birthday with palpayasam and sweets, the girl child’s birthday passes by without any events supplemented only with prayers and pindipayasam. As she grows, so grows her parents’ apprehensions about her. On turning eight or nine years of age, she starts wearing earrings and dress. It is now that she begins offering nivedyam. She has to take bath early in the morning, followed by offering appam and ada to gods and prostrating before the deity. During some auspicious days there is a special offering to Lord Ganesha. The abundance of ada and appam and other such sumptuous sweets made on the day of this ritual called ganapathiyidal fills the whole household in a festive mood. The girl children are not supposed to eat dinner during the month of Thulam (October- November). They must only have lunch. The same ritual is observed during Thiruvathira too. Puberty The beginning of menstrual cycle marks the transition of the girl into a woman and it also marks the end of the peaceful, free existence of the girl child. She is restrained from running and picking a mango as it falls down ripe and sweet, she is allowed only to see it from the portico. It is even forbidden for her to come to the front if there is someone in the portico . Thus without friends, without freedom she recedes into a lonely world of her own. Getting flowers ready for the garland, making karuka garland, applying cow dung on the floor, assisting in kitchen, making food for the family members – her life is reduced to these household chores and arrangements for daily prayers. A girl has nothing much to learn beyond this basic education. Learning to write on the floor and reading the Ramayana and Bhagavatha was all she needed by way of education. Today the situation has changed a lot. She has started attending schools and colleges. But the ultimate aim of this education is nothing but marriage. Self-reliance does not come into the equation. No one is even bothered about it. As a result, even today, the ‘basic education’ mentioned earlier is deemed more important than college education. An Antharjanam, a graduate or not, is destined to confine her life within the precincts of the prayer room and kitchen. She cannot survive without learning to cook and make ritual offerings of food to god. She has to make offerings to god every third Monday which is considered an auspicious day. During these days, she is permitted to have anything only after the devotional offering made to Lord Shiva at dusk. Menstruation is a period of austerity and penance. Her fasting and worship have the sole aim of getting a good bridegroom. Each flower that she picks, each garland she makes is for him and him alone. Marriage is her only hope out of this prison of rituals and beliefs. Marriage A Namboothiri woman is not supposed to nurture any dream or have any opinion about her own marriage. She has absolutely no say in this regard. She marries whoever is selected by her parents. He then becomes the centre of her world, whether she likes him or not. Her life becomes a tale of obedience, an absolute compliance in thought, word and deed to whatever her husband says. Only the eldest son of the Namboothiri family used to marry from the same community in olden times. They followed the system of primogeniture. During those times, polygyny was prevalent among Namboothiri men and many Antharjanams had to bow down before elderly men for marriage. Remarriage and widow remarriage are impossible even today. There have only been one or two cases of widow remarriage, that too were conducted disregarding the disapprovals around. After marriage, she becomes a guest in her natal home. She holds absolutely no rights to the ancestral property. She forfeits her claims to property with her marriage. She must live as per the financial conditions of her husband’s home. Sometimes the four sisters of a household may live in four diverse financial states. The girl who was born with the silver spoon in her mouth may end up with a ladle in her hand and vice versa. Marriage makes her a member of her husband’s home so much so that she has to observe only three days of pula even when her parents pass away. The first ritual associated with marriage is aayaniyoonnu. The bride and bridegroom light… Continue Reading
  • Excerpts from Smarthavicharam by P. BHASKARANUNNI Posted in: Literature & Literary Studies, History, Feminisms, Culture, Society, Articles Abstract: This piece, a compilation of excerpts from the monograph Smarthavicharam by P. Bhaskaranunni, provides the basic bearings and orientation of the Namboothiri community which entailed rigorous measures like the chastity trial. Continue Reading
  • Economic Undercurrents of Social Transformation in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Kerala by E.A. IBRAHIM Posted in: Literature & Literary Studies, Culture, Society, Articles Abstract: This article is a look at the structural economic changes which transmuted the social sensibility and habits of Kerala in the last decades of the nineteenth century and the first few of the next.  Continue Reading
  • Thathri: Event, Gender and Evolution by AJI K.M. Posted in: Literature & Literary Studies, History, Feminisms, Culture, Society Abstract: This article conceptualizes the well-documented trial of Thathri in 1905 not as an objective historical incident, but as an event the contours and lineaments of which are constantly changing due to continuous processes of repetition and imagination. Continue Reading
  • Vicharams: Evental Pointers, Possibilities and Intensities in Liminal Phases by MATHEW A. VARGHESE Posted in: Literature & Literary Studies, History, Culture, Society, Articles Abstract: This article discusses the trial of Thathri in terms of the sociological concepts of space and liminality, and illustrates how both the communitarian domain and the modernizing order in Kerala had significant differences in terms of the treatment meted out to the female gender, compared to other orders within the Indian subcontinent. Continue Reading
  • Choice and Chastity: Quest for Self-discovery in Ishti by MADHU IRAVANKARA Posted in: Literature & Literary Studies, History, Culture, Society, Articles Abstract: Ishti (2015), the directorial debut of Dr. G. Prabha, is the first ever Sanskrit movie to handle a socio-political theme. Smarthavicharam as such figures in it only tangentially; in fact though the stage is set for the spectacular event the accused—both the woman and the man—walk out on the decadent system and express their quest for freedom which is possible only after discovering their own inner selves. The rationale for including the article in this volume is that it vividly and vehemently visualises the Brahminical economic structures and belief systems which necessitated many a custom including chastity trials. The film is yet to have a theatrical release as it is embroiled in a litigation. Continue Reading
  • Certain Technical Terms Related to Smarthavicharam by Satheesh K.V & Reena Nair Posted in: Articles Azhivuchollal— term used to denote re-integration into the community if it is established beyond doubt in the Smartha-trial that the accusation of sexual promiscuity levelled against the accused is baseless. Azhivupanam—amount received by Smarthan and Koyimma for their participation in Smartha-trial. Akakoil-Akakoimma— government official entrusted with the power to assist Smarthan during Smartha-trial. Antharvicharam—questioning of the accused (referred to as ‘Sadhanam’) Udakavichedam—Padikadathipindam—ritual act by which family members sever familial ties with the ostracized person. Family members are not obliged to observe the customary purity rituals when the expelled member dies. Kazhakavicharam—a stage in Smartha-trial. Kalavicharam—questioning by priests out of suspicion during Smartha-trial. Kaikottuka—Kaikottipurathakkuka — clapping rite by which the member proclaimed as outcast is ostracized from the community. Koyimma—the royal member who gives assistance to Smarthan during Smartha-trial. Koyimmakricham— Alms given to Koyimma made at the temple after Smartha-trial (done after family members sever familial ties with the ostracized person) Njathikricham— offering put on the wooden pedestal at the temple; done after both Smartha-trial and the ritual of severing of familial ties with the ostracized person. Dasivichara—testimony from lady’s maid during a particular stage of Smartha-trial. Padikadathipindam—Padiadachupindam— ritual done in secrecy by the family members after observing ten days of pollution if the person under Smartha-trial dies before the rite of severing familial ties. Padikadathuka— severing of familial ties with the ostracized person Panthibhojanam— feast by Brahmins in the house of the ostracized person, after Smartha-trial and the rite of severing familial ties. An endorsement act that affirms that the family members have become pure again. Pambu—approval letter given by Smarthan if the person proclaimed as outcaste is claiming innocence and wishes to go to Sucheendram temple to undergo the hand-immersing-on-hot-ghee test. Purakoil — Purakoimma—administrative official who assists Smarthan in the trial. Translators: SATHEESH K.V. Assistant Professor of English, Government College, Tripunithura REENA NAIR. Assistant Professor of English, Maharaja’s College, Ernakulam Continue Reading

Physical Address

304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124