Brahminization through community “Upanayanam”
Thiruvananthapuram: The community “Upanayanam” (holy thread ceremony) held at Ramana Mattom, within the Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple complex in the heart of Thiruvananthapuram city on May 25, brings to the fore several lessons to illustrate the kind of manipulatively – controlled, social atmosphere prevailing in today’s Kerala, known as India’s foremost literate and progressive state.
Held under the auspices of the RSS-body, “Kerala Kshetra Samrakshana Samithi” (Kerala Temple Protection Forum), nine children from different castes were given the holy thread amidst chanting of vedic rites and performance of various rituals under the control and guidance of “Thantris”, the Brahminical priests. The nine children who thus attained the “noble status” of Brahminism through wearing of holy thread belonged to the non-Brahminical upper castes of “Kshatriyas” and “Nairs”, the Backward “Ezhava”, the OBC “Viswakarma” and the Dalit “Araya” castes.
The function was held under the ostensible ground that a person could attain “Brahmanyam” through performance of duty and not by right of birth. This, according to the organisers, was the “important essence” of what is known as “Paliyam Declaration” of 1987 following the congregation of Kerala’s Vedic Pandits and scholars at Paliyam, near Chennamangalam in Thrissur District. According to the “Paliyam Declaration”, anybody can attain “Brahmanyam” through “Karma” (duty), even if he was born in a different non-Brahmin caste. All such Brahmins through performance of duty can also become priests to perform “Pooja”, including in Temples, according to the “Paliyam Declaration”. The organisers of the community “Upanayanam” claimed that the function was a fulfillment of the 14-year old “Paliyam Declaration”. It was also claimed that this would be a land-mark event in Kerala’s history of social progress to eliminate caste.
On the previous day of the function, a congregation of top Vedic scholars was held which was presided over by the “reigning Maharaja” of Travancore Royal family, “Uthradom Thirunal” (read Mr.) Marthanda Varma. In his address, the “Mr. Maharaja” said: “We must impart added cultural ethos to the future generation. Changes should be made according to changing times. We should not go backward when the fast changing time goes forward. One can get over the initial problems and difficulties while imbibing the new changes as it will vanish later.”
The RSS “Dakshina Kshetriya Pracharak”, Krishnappaji, as the next important speaker at the congregation eulogised : “Those who handle Vedas seriously are becoming fewer now. All those who are going to schools and colleges want to become only engineers and doctors, and not Vedic “Acharyas” or “Pandits”. The parents should take initiative to make their children Vedic “Acharyas” since only Vedas contain all good qualities.” The RSS South Indian “Pracharak” also added: “All good people should learn Vedas. Only through learning Vedas can one become good. And, all such Vedic good people also must become Vedic “Pandits”.”
Other important Vedic “scientists” who participated in this congregation were: Paravur Sridharan Thantri, Mithran Namboodiripad, Akeeraman Kalidasa Bhattathiripad, and Chairperson of “Thanthra Vidya Peettom” Azhakath Sastra Sarman. Notably, there was none from the non-Brahmin castes in this supreme Vedic congregation presided over by “Mr. Maharaja” of Travancore. After the Vedic congregation although it was announced that a total of 18 children would be performed the “holy thread” ceremony, the organisers could corner only 9 of them willing to undergo the rituals to be recognised as Brahmins by these Brahmin heads.
Interestingly, the entire long drawn out ceremony on May 24 was started with sprinkling of holy water on all the nine children from different castes before they were initiated to “Brahmaniyam”. Symbolically it simply meant that only Brahmins, as a caste, have the pious holiness and all other castes are unholy even in today’s “progressive and literate” Kerala State Capital. The ceremony was performed under the supervision and guidance of Kerala Temple Protection Samithi office-bearers like P. Kerala Varma Raja (belonging to Travancore Royal family and who lost the 1996 Lok Sabha poll as BJP candidate from Thiruvananthapuram seat), Kadamban Namboodiripad, P. N. Gopalakrishnan and V. K. Viswanathan.
It is to be recalled that there is a growing movement, especially led by the Ezhava body SNDP, demanding the right of non-Brahmin caste members to become Priests in temples, including in the famous (read profit-making) ones like Guruvayur and Sabarimala Temples. In places like Guruvayur, the chief priesthood is still controlled as hereditary right of a particular Namboodiri Brahmin household, the Chennas “Illam”, whereas at Sabarimala it is being decided through drawing of lots every year from a list of Namboothiris belonging to various traditional “Illams”. The new demand of SNDP and some Dalit organisations was the right of non-Brahmins to become priests by sustaining their distinct caste-identity. Viewed from this angle, the performance of “community Upanayanam” was a clever method to counter this growing demand in order to convert all non-Brahmin caste members as Brahmins and, thereby, to continue the Brahminical supremacy to control all the temples.
However, it is quite unlikely that the newly converted Brahmins through such “community Upanayanam” will be given a chance to become priests in the highly rich and profit-making (read five-star) temples like Guruvayur and Sabarimala. The fact is that there are a lot of small temples under each government and private Dewaswom Boards which are poor and depends upon the income of the profit-making major temples for their mere survival. On the other hand, there is a dearth of “born Brahmins” to become priests in these “poor temples”. As was rightly recalled by the RSS leader Krishnappaji at the Vedic congregation, “very few are taking Vedas seriously since students in schools and colleges are becoming doctors and engineers and not Vedic Pandits”. In other words, while the newly converted Brahmins from the lower castes will fill the vacuum of priest-hood in the relatively poor income bracketed temples, while the born-Brahmins will continue to thrive upon the rich and famous Temples apart from filling the posts of doctors, engineers, ambassadors, IAS-IPS personnel, and top bureaucracy within the present modern democratic social polity.
Ironically, Kerala’s so-called “impartial intellectual” lobby of socio-cultural-literary activists maintained a meaningful silence over this conspiratorial “community Upanayanam”, although they were habituated to issuing self-publicity press statements on all other silly and sundry issues. Even Vellappally Natesan, the liquor giant-turned-SNDP leader who openly supported the Congress-led UDF this time, was silent more due to his inborn reverence towards the Travancore Maharaja and the RSS.
The only feeble voice of protest came from Adv. Saji Cheraman, Chairperson of Kerala Dalit Panthers (KDP). The “community Upanayanam” ought to be opposed since it is meant to cultivate casteism and Brahminical supremacy within the society, he said in a statement. “The claim of the organisers that by making non-Brahmin children as Brahmins through such rituals can eliminate casteism is bogus. The real intention of the organisers is to spread an impression that one has to become Brahmin to get social recognition and acceptability and, thereby, to impose the Brahminical supremacy and status-quo upon the present society. Since Brahminical supremacy is the basic essence of casteism, bringing non-Brahmin castes under Brahminical supremacy through performance of such “community Upanayanam” is the actual hidden agenda of the organisers.”
According to the KDP leader, the organisers of community “Upanayanam” also had the secret intention to counter the advancing people’s movements which totally reject the Hindutva-Brahmanical cultural notion of getting social recognition through status by birth and, thus, to re-establish the Brahminical supremacy. Terming the declared notion of the organisers that only by becoming Brahmin can one achieve progress portends an “open challenge and threat” to all other non-Brahmin castes and communities, Adv. Saji Cheraman raised a basic question : “Why are the same organisers, who ostensibly want to eliminate casteism by making all non-Brahmins as Brahmins, not willing to do it by making all other castes, including Brahmins, as the single Dalit “Pulaya” caste members in order to destroy the present caste system?”
It is here that the real intention of the organisers coming into the focal point of self-exposure, he pointed out and added : “All the ills of the present Indian society stems out of the Hindutva-Brahminical culture. And, events like community “Upanayanam” is meant to make the same culture acceptable to all and, thereby, to take back the present society into the dark ages of casteism. All the Dalits must maintain utmost vigilance over such attempts prevailing in the cultural arena meant for Brahmanisation and Hindutvaisation”.
It is an irony that although Royal titles like “Maharaja”, “Queen”, etc. were legally abolished in India following withdrawal of the Privy Purse in 1969, the Malayalam newspapers still use the same adjectives while publishing news items related to the erstwhile Travancore Royal family. The latest example was the participation of the “Maharaja Uthadom Thirunal” in the Vedic congregation prior to the community “Upanayanam”. Special words with reverence are also used whenever a death or even delivery take place in the Royal family.
Equally ironical is the fact that the Travancore “Maharaja” is still being held in high esteem as a “Progressive Maharaja” even by Kerala’s Communists since he was the first one to make the “Royal Declaration” sanctioning the entry of untouchables into all temples in erstwhile Travancore State. However, it was culmination of prolonged agitation by Kerala’s social reformers like Sri Narayana Guru and the Vaikom agitation for temple entry. At the same time, very few knew that special daily timings are strictly maintained even now for members of Royal family to worship at Sri Padmanabha Swamy Temple when entry of all commoners is prohibited both in the morning and evening. Also, the annual Temple festival procession is led by the “Maharaja”, holding the “Royal Sword”, and is accompanied by only other Royal family members and leading (read Brahmin) citizens, while all other common worshippers are kept behind at a far distance. Apart from the “Royal Temple Guards”, the police in full uniform also take part in this Royal procession to give it the sanctity of the present “democratic-secular” State.
Incidentally, the Sri Padmanabha Swamy Temple complex, picture of which is publicised by Kerala Tourism Department as the focal attraction for tourists, is controlled by the erstwhile Travancore Royal family headed by the present “Maharaja” Marthanda Varma. Unlike Sabarimala Temple, which is governed by Travancore Dewaswom Board, the Sri Padmanabha Swamy Temple is under the direct supervision of a Trust headed by the “Maharaja”. In recent years, the Temple complex has attained notoriety as the focal centre of Sangh Parivar activism. Different offices of various Sangh Parivar bodies, apart from Siva Sena, are operating in different buildings of this Temple Complex belonging go the Trust. After the violence unleashed unleashed by Sangh Parivar on Thiruvananthapuram on July 13 last year in connection with the Plus Two agitation, in which a bus conductor Rajesh was killed within the KSRTC depo at East Fort near the Temple complex, the police headed by City Police Commissioner raided several of these premises to recover arms and arrest the culprits, all of whom still face various charges including murder.
Last year, the same Temple complex was used by the Siva Sena for the widely published conversion of a Muslim youth (who face various criminal charges) into Hinduism in an attempt to counter the celebrated Malayalam-English writer, Madhavikutty (Kamala Das) choosing Islam and becoming Kamala Surayya.
After that, the same Temple complex is now used for the community “Upanayanam”. And, with all these, the Sangh Parivar nexus with “Mr. Maharaja” in Kerala’s capital city is alarmingly becoming more evident.