A Call to the Righteous
By C. Radhakrishnan
Ever since I wrote Theekkatal Katanhu Thirumaduram (the fictional biography of the Father of Malayalam Language) I am under no-holds-barred attack from an organization called the Ezhuthassan Samajam, a caste-based outfit falsely claiming to represent the whole of a miniscule community in Kerala. Their war-cry is: I have portrayed the Father of Malaylam as a member of the Nair community. Their presumption puts him in the Kaduppottan-turned Ezhuthassan caste, a jaina community originating from Karnataka.
My school-leaving certificate classifies me as ‘Hindu - Nair’ – an appendix inherited at birth which, however, has been no impediment in acquiring the cosmopolitan perspective of unity in diversity, the essence of Indian thought.
The Father of Malaylam nurtured the same worldview of universal oneness, fought the forces of segregation and divisionism all his life and lit the lamp of renaissance in Kerala. It was a great surprise to me when my grandparents revealed that he was our ancestor. But, in sharp contrast with the life-sketch of his that I got from them, the canards in popular parlance (probably spread intentionally by offended parties) painted him as a bastard and a hopeless drunkard even despite the fact that the poetic works attributed to him could not emerge except from a noble and elevated soul. So the search for the truth of the matter in this regard became part of my life from age 11. It took half-a-century to mature.
After higher education at Tanjore he had inherited the family’s residential school – akshara kalari – where students from all castes, communities and religions were taught and teachers bore the title Ezhuthachan. This title had nothing to do with any caste. There were people from all castes and even religions among them. But, all hell broke loose as the biography began to appear in the Sunday Magazine of the Mathrubhumi Daily. I was abused by phone and mail on a daily basis; the paper was threatened with community boycott; letters to the editor written in unseemly language were forced on the paper.
Till then, I was not aware of the fact that a small community by the name of Kaduppattan had requested the British government in 1920 to get their caste name changed into Ezhuthassan and also for sanction of backward status. Gazette notifications and census records vouchsafe for the requests and the approval thereof. An article on the issue written by lexicologist N. S. Mannadiar was therefore appended to the biography as a record of truth while it was published in book form in the previous versions.
Maybe because every divisive organization needs an enemy to serve as target for their hate-campaign aimed at promoting loyalty among its members old and new, the poisonous affront is being steadily escalated. Newspapers have been ‘forbidden’ from publishing any appreciation of the book; critics have been threatened; my effigy has been burnt at several places; protest marches have been organized; when the Bharatiya Gnana Pith announced their Murthi Devi Award for the book, representations were made to them to withdraw the award because purportedly, ‘the book misappropriated the sacred guru of the Ezhuthassan community - a jaina saint - and transformed him into a Nair’; when the Kochi Devaswom Board announced the Narayana Pisharoti Award for the book, a press conference was called by the Association to declare that the presentation and acceptance of the award would not be allowed to take place; a march was organized to the venue and the police had to be called to ward of untoward incidents. The latest is their meeting the Minister for Culture, Government of Kerala, the President of the Kerala Sahitya Akademi, the Director of the State Institute of Languages, the Vice-Chancellor of the Malayalam University and many others who matter, with the threat that if this book is conferred the Ezhuthachan Award, their community will en-mass vote against the ruling front and tilt the balance against it.
If this book shouldn't be give the recognition it deserves just because it adds to the belief that Thunjath Ezhuthachan was Nair; then works like Ulloor's Keralasahityacharithram and Logan's Malabar Manual should be taken off the government's established list of textbooks and should be avoided in all historical reference because, they have all categorically declared that Thunjath Ezhuthachan belonged to the Nair community.
I conclude by reproducing an article here compiled some time back, along with excerpts from the article of Sri N. S. Mannadiar.
Article on Thunjath Ezhuthachan's caste
It is well known that Ezhuthachan was the name used to denote teachers and learned people in olden days. (Ezhuthamma - female counterpart.) People who performed Shaktheya puja were also called by the same name.
Ezhuthachans used to copy important grandhas also, in the thaliyola. We can see their names in the end of the old thaliyolas or grandhas. The castes of many of these teachers may be thus inferred.
When some of the Nair families vied with each other to have had marital alliances with high caste Namboothiris, the Edappal House maintained through generations that they were descendents of Thunjath Ezhuthachan, even in later years when he was rumoured to belong to the lower caste Chakkala Nair community.
The names of traditional Ezhuthachans who initiate children to the alphabets in Thunjan parambu in Tirur even today during the Vijayadashami festival are printed in all leading newspapers like the Malayala Manorama and Mathrubhumi every year. They belong to the Nair and Menon castes.
There are numerous legends (aitheehyam) about Thunjath Ezhuthachan. Two of them pertain to his caste and birth -
1. Because of his intelligence, and stories regarding his correction of recital of Vedas by some Namboothiris at a very early age of 3, it was thought that his father was a Brahmin. There was a system called "sambandham" among the Nair caste, by which a Brahmin could become the father of the child.
2. Because he operated the chakku (oil-press), he was later thought to be a Chakkala Nair. Such alliances were also possible in the Nair community.
About Ezhuthachan (formerly Kaduppattan or Kaduppottan) caste:
Families of the Kaduppattan caste came to Kerala from Kadu village in Karnataka according to tradition, at about the 17th century. They settled in Calicut.
In the caste strata they were considered lower than the Nair community, and were not allowed to enter temples. The present day caste leaders claim that they were originally Brahmins, but later became so degraded that they became eligible for reservations.
Some of the members of the community later took up teaching, and also adopted the Ezhuthachan status. These are what the records say:
Castes and Tribes of Southern India by Edgar Thurston, page 30 (Published in 1909). - About Kaduppattan caste - 'The members of this caste are, Mr. H.A. Stuart writes, at present mostly palanquin bearers and carriers of salt, oil etc. The educated among them follow the profession of teaching and are called Ezhuthachan, ie master of learning. Both titles are used in the same family.'
The evidence gives a hint about how the caste name "Kaduppattan" originated. 'Pondan" is the caste name given to palanquin bearers. Since these palanquin bearers came from 'Kadu" village in Karnataka, they would have been called Kadu Pondans. Kaduppondan must have became Kaduppottan with time. Since it is offensive to call a person "pottan" in Malayalam, they might have been alternately called Kaduppattans too. No other Pattar group is called in that fashion. It is definite that it was not named just for ridiculing them, as that name has been in use for a long time. Obviously it came from "Pondan" which was their occupation.
Dr. Gundart writes that the Kaduppattan caste was a caste of embalers and carriers. There is no mention about an 'Ezhuthachan caste' in his writings.
When some of the members of the Kaduppattan community became teachers, their teaching method was different from that of the higher communities. In contrast to Ezhuthachans of the Nair and other higher castes, Kaduppattans were not allowed to learn or teach Sanskrit or other religious texts.
The Cochin tribes and castes (Vol 2) - By Ananthakrishnaiyer (written in 1912) : Has recorded the stories given by the people of the Kaduppattan caste during that time. Page 104 - "The tradition is that the Kaduppattans were Brahmins of the Kadu village who were banished from the country. They went to Kerala and sought the protection of the then Zamorin of Calicut, who allowed them to settle in his territory. Then they met Sri Sankaracharyar who directed them to teach Sudras and other low caste men. The date of their arrival in Kerala is commemorated by "Kaduka thyaktha stheya (1447 A.D.)." However, in a footnote, Ananthakrishnaiyer has also written - "The account appears to have been cooked up to prove their Brahmanical pretensions. Sri Sankaracharyar lived more than 1000 years ago."
Page 105 - "Ezhuthachan (teacher) is a title originally given to the educated members of the caste.... Even now this title is conferred on them (Kaduppattans) by the rulers and chieftains on payment of some thirumulkazhcha (nuzzer). Panikkar is another title possessed by some."
Ananthakrishnaiyer has also recorded the activities of the Kaduppattan caste leaders during this time (1912). They formed an Adhyapaka Samajam, conducted a number of meetings and passed many resolutions. They demanded an equivalent status with the high castes among the Nair community. Some modifications were made to rituals pertaining to marriage and those after death. Other important decisions were : "The caste-men and women are prohibited from taking the food of any other caste-men except that of Brahmins..... The title of Ezhuthachan should be obtained chiefly by merit and not by the payment of money (thirumulkazhcha) to some chieftain or Namboothiri landlord." (page 114, Tribes and castes of Cochin, L. K. A. Aiyer) (written in 1912)
The Zamorins of Calicut by K. V. Krishnaiyer : "While the Nayars and Nambutiris were concerned with the political, religious and literary life of society, its essential economic functions were discharged by the Cherumas, the Tiyyas, and the Iluvans, the Muttans, the Kaduppattans, the Christians, the Jews and the Mohammedans." - Page 50.
Again in page 51 - "The Kaduppattans arrived at Calicut in A.D. 1447. (Kalisankhya 'Katukasteyaltyakthah' ). The Ampadi Kovilakom Valia Thampurati ordered them to earn their livelihood as Ezhuthachans or village school - masters." This information and Kalisankhya was provided by the then Kaduppattan community leaders (there is actually no proof that they ever met the Valia Thampurati), and this time there is no mention of Sri Sankaracharya.
Krishnaiyer has not written that Tunjath Ezhuthachan belonged to the Kaduppattan caste, contrary to claims of the caste-leaders.
Page 7 - "Desamangalam Variar is the hereditory tutor of the Zamorins."
The major statement that the present day Ezhuthachan caste leaders project to substantiate their claim comes from The Indian Antiquary (1878) : Here, an old story of Tunjath Ezhuthachan had been written down by Ellis: "A Brahman without a father must be born of an unmarried female of that tribe, whose celibacy ought to have been inviolate: he is considered, therefore, illegitimate, and has scarcely an assignable place in society. Elutt' Achan, or the 'Father of Letters', was a Brahman without a father, and on that account has no patronymic....The Brahmans envied his genius and are said to have seduced him by the arts of sorcery into the habit of ebriety.....he enriched the Malayalma with the translations, all of which, it is said, he composed under the immediate influence of intoxication...." This essay is reproduced in the antiquary by Dr. Burnell. In a small footnote, he has also added: "Eluttachchan lived in the 17th century; there is no reason for supposing that he was a Brahman father's illegitimate son; he was certainly an Eluttachchan ( or schoolmaster ) by caste." This off-hand statement is claimed to be the biggest evidence by the present day caste leaders of the Ezhuthachan caste, that Thunjath Ezhuthachan also belonged to their caste. But Dr. Burnell was only refuting the former statements and pointing out that Ezhuthachan was a non-Brahmin, as there were no schoolmasters among Brahmins. (Schoolmaster by caste means that he was a non-Brahmin.) Dr. Burnell was not concerned here about the details of the various castes who became schoolmasters. And he was obviously not making a statement that Thunjath Ezhuthachan belonged to Kaduppattan caste!!.
"Ezhuthachan" was only a title and not a caste name till 1921. The Kaduppattan community leaders decided to change the name of their caste to "Ezhuthachan" during this time.
Proof of this comes from the Census reports:
All census reports till 1921 - There is no mention of a caste named 'Ezhuthachan'. The caste name given in all these records is 'Kaduppattan'.
Report on the Census of Cochin, 1921, Chapter XI, page 60. - Ezhuthachan caste gets its first mention. The reason given in changing the name of the caste from ‘Kaduppattan’ to ‘Ezhuthachan’ is mentioned clearly in the census report:
'Consequent on the representations made by the community, the term 'Eluthassan' has been substituted this time for 'Kaduppattan' of the last census, with the approval of Government.' It is also stated that the status name Ezhuthachan (title) used by the learned members of the community is being taken by (assume) all people of the community and the caste name Kaduppattan is being discarded.
Cochin census report 1931, Part 1 - Gives more information about Kaduppattan caste, and also states that the community have stopped using the previous caste name of Kaduppattan and is now using ‘Ezhuthachan’ as their caste name.
Madras census report 1921 - The caste name given is Kaduppattan itself.
(The census reports till 1941 gave records of castes also.)
Eventhough Kaduppattan caste became Ezhuthachan caste in Kochi, the same did not happen in Malabar at that time. Malabar, which was under Madras state till 1956, did not accept the caste name 'Ezhuthachan'. Madras government has given special privileges of a backward community only under the caste name 'Kaduppattan'. (The reason may be that Ezhuthachans belonging to other communities were present at that time in Malabar.)
So, in 1858, as per Government Order (No. 15184.108.40.2068) and Gazette notifications (No. 220.127.116.118), privileges and reservations were given separately to both Ezhuthachan caste (Item 18), and Kaduppattan caste (Item 26). Thus, when the Kaduppattans of Kochi became Ezhuthachan caste by 1921, Kaduppattans of Malabar had to wait till the formation of Kerala state to officially obtain the caste name Ezhuthachan.
This is how all members of the Kaduppattan caste; irrespective of being learned or not; came to be called as 'Ezhuthachan'.
There is nothing new in changing the caste name. Dheevaran, Sambasivan, Vishwakarma etc. are all changed caste names. "Pattar" was changed to "Aiyer" in a similar style.
To differentiate the Ezhuthachans in the Kaduppattan community from Ezhuthachans of other communities, they were called Kaduppotta Ezhuthachan or ‘Kaduppottezhssan’ in South Malabar.
Malabar Gazette 1908 - Mentions the various stories about Kaduppattan caste. But there is no mention of a caste named 'Ezhuthachan' in the Gazzette.
And it is also stated in the Gazette that Thunjath Ezhuthachan belonged to the Nair caste.
Since Thunjath Ezhuthachan himself has mentioned that he was a Sudra, he definitely did not belong to any Budhist or Jainist group, contrary to the argument of the Kaduppattan caste leaders. Also, Acharyan's works are not Buddhist or Jainist oriented, as anybody with any sense who read those books will say.
None among the disciples of Tunjath Ezhuthachan belonged to the Kaduppattan caste. No person of the Kaduppattan caste has any home or property in or near Thrikkandiyoor where Thunjan Parambu is situated. There is no evidence that anyone belonging to this caste had lived there at any time in the past.
The 'kalisankhya' which the caste leaders of the Ezhuthachan community quote, on which their first families came to Kerala was before the Acharyan's time, is also not reliable. Their method of teaching, position in society, religious beliefs, places where they stayed, origins, are all indicative that they are in no way connected to Thunjath Ezhuthachan. Also Ezhuthachan's family details, his wife-house, his disciples, and numerous other evidences prove beyond argument which caste he was.
In the past, there was a suggestion that Thunjath Ezhuthachan belonged to the Chakkala Nair caste, on account of his using the oil-press (chakku). However, being a lower sub-caste of the Nair community, it was almost impossible for someone of the Chakkala Nair caste to run an influential school in Thunjan Parambu.
Therefore Ulloor and other scholars had no difficulty in pinpointing the caste of Thunjath Ezhuthachan:
- From Ulloor's KeralaSahityaCharithram.
And where were the Kaduppattan caste leaders when Ulloor wrote this?!! Why no controversy at that time?!
It is worth noting that there has been no suggestion linking Thunjath Acharyan to the Kaduppattan caste, till about a few decades back. Or till the caste got some leaders who needed a symbol to project.
The Kaduppattan community leaders had made many claims in the past- that Sri Sankaracharyar himself sent them, that they were originally Brahmins, that they became school-masters by the orders of the Ambadi Kovilakom Valia Thampuratti, and a lot of other claims also (which are of no interest here).. and all these various statements were recorded by people like Ananthakrishnaiyer (even in 1912 AD). But NEVER EVER in the past, had they claimed that Thunjath Ezhuthachan belonged to their community. THAT claim is new and it promptly points to new caste leaders behind the whole idea.
Some years back there had been some confusion regarding whether Thunjath Ezhuthachan belonged to the Chakkala Nair caste, and maybe that was why the caste leaders of the Kaduppattan community also decided to stake a claim. They provided their own "version" for people to write on the idea. A few years back people would have laughed at it. But now the Ezhuthachan status among Nair community is no longer assumed among the new generation, so the caste politicians may have reckoned that people would forget the old Ezhuthachans soon. After all, in the present Kerala scenario it is politicians who rule, and community politics decides things.
Why stake a claim on only Thunjath Ezhuthachan? Why not claim the Acharyan's disciples too? Suryanarayanan Ezhuthachan was also a talented poet. And why not Karunakaran Ezhuthachan? Or the Acharyan's other family members? His wife-house? Why not try to convert them all to Kaduppattans?!
There are numerous legends (aitheehyams) concerning Thunjath Ezhuthachan. Never in any one of them had he been linked to the Kaduppattan caste.
Other important documents:
a) The Vanneri Grandhavari : The Vanneri Grandhavari is from Thrikkandiyoor near Thunjan parambu -
An Ambalamuli Ezhuthachan appears in the Vanneri Grandhavari (Ola 89, page 1). This is a post which is related to the administration of the temple. This post is taken by 'Thirumulpad'.
There is mention about an 'Ezhuthachan Kumaran' in the Vanneri Grandhavari. (Ola 26 page 1). [In his study of the Vanneri Grandhavari, under the column occupation/caste, Dr. M. G. S. Narayanan has doubtfully mentioned 'Ezhuthachan?' for this Ezhuthachan Kumaran.] Ezhuthachan Kumaran is witness to a sale of land. He is a deed bond (document) writer. 'The term 'Ezhuthachan' indicates his post. There is nothing which indicates his caste in the grandhavari. (Caste names are not written first. It would be a good joke if it were - like Nair Gopalan, Menon Narayanan, Pillai Sivan)
The Vanneri Grandhavari gives names of all castes like the Nair, Ezhava, Poduval, Marayar (Marar), Embran etc. who were present at that time in Thrikkandiyoor. However, very importantly, there is no mention of the Kaduppattan. (AD 1541 to 1886). More evidence that no one belonging to this caste had lived there at any time in the past.
The Vanneri Grandhavari also gives evidence that Ezhuthachan was not only a status name but a post name also, indicating certain official posts.
b) The Kozhikkode Grandhavari: The one who takes care of records is Pattolachan, one who writes is Ezhuthachan, and the minister is Mangattachan. None of these are caste names.
Mangatt elder Achan is Mangatt Unniramamenon in a document pertaining to Pattathanam (A.D. 1679) in the Kovilakom grandhavari. The Ezhuthachan of that time is Kalathil Ittikkarunakara Menon.
In a document of 1583 A.D., there is a description of punishment given to Mangattachan for selling the Zamorin's elephant without his knowledge, to one Choorichetti. This Mangattachan is Mangatt Unniramamenon.
In kollavarsham 1075, there is a record relating to the shift of palatial residence of the Zamorin from Kottakkal to Thirunavaya. The Kovilakom record keeper (Pattolachan) is Ozhukil Chathu Menon. He is the one noted as managing the proceedings.
It is evident that people belonging to the Menon caste were appointed in all these posts.
There is NOTHING in the Kozhikkode Grandhavari that mentions the 'Ezhuthachan caste', or the Kaduppattan, contrary to the claims of the 'Ezhuthachan caste' leaders.
c) William Logan's Malabar Manual, (New Edition) pages 139 and 92 - States that Thunjath Ezhuthachan was Nair and Suryanarayanan Ezhuthachan was Tharakan.
Prof. K. P. Narayana Pisharodi's work Thunjathe Acharyan
Information about Ezhuthachan from Ulloor's works
Granthakshara, Vattezhuthu, Kolezhuthu, Malayanma, Devanagiri and Tamil alphabets
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