Caste division in Hindu Society: Diversity or Discrimination? (Case study of historical Kerala)

There are many attempts made by leftist liberals, Ambedkarites, evangelists etc to paint Dalits and lower castes as non-Hindus, as they were not given any right or respect in the society. Many claim that it was only after the rise of Dr. Ambedkar that Dalits throughout the country were given due rights in the society. They also claim that the lower caste people (Dalits) were not allowed in temples till the “Temple entry proclamation” came into being by the efforts of Mahatma Gandhi.

But how is that the lower caste people didn’t oppose the practices of oppression for centuries? Why didn’t they claim their rights to enter the temples and worship the Gods, pursue education etc, till the rise of Ambedkar and Gandhi?

So let us study the case of Dalits in historical Kerala, the land which was successful in maintaining its Dharmic traditions as it was less affected culturally by Islamic invasions till the 18th century. Back in those days, each Hindu Jati (caste/tribe or community) whether Brahmin or outcastes (Avarnas) practiced their own local rites.

Let us take the example of a lower caste community called Parayars in southern Bharat. As many would know, the English term ‘pariah’ originates from their very name. But despite being from lowest strata of society this community practiced their own form of Mantravada or magical rites & worshipped popular Hindu deities on their own as it is recorded in the early 20th century book titled ‘Castes and Tribes of Southern India’ by the author Edgar Thurston. The book says the following about the rites of Parayars:

“The Paraiyars of Malabar and Cochin are celebrated for their knowledge of Mantravada and are consulted in matters relating to theft, demoniacal influence, and the killing of enemies. Whenever anything is stolen, the Paraiya magician is consulted. Giving hopes of the recovery of the stolen article, he receives from his client some paddy (rice) and a few panams (money), with which he purchases plantain fruits, a cocoanut or two, toddy, camphor, frankincense, and rice flour. After bathing, he offers these to his favourite deity Parakutti, who is represented by a stone placed in front of his hut.

Rattling an iron instrument, and singing till his voice almost fails, he invokes the god. If the lost property does not turn up, he resorts to a more indignant and abusive form of invocation. If the thief has to be caught, his prayers are redoubled, and he becomes possessed, and blood passes out of his nose and mouth. When a person is ill, or under the influence of a demon, an astrologer and a magician named by the former are consulted. The magician, taking a cadjan (palm) leaf or copper or silver sheet, draws thereon cabalistic figures, and utters a mantram (prayer). Rolling up the leaf or sheet, he ties it to a thread, and it is worn round the neck in the case of a woman, and round the loins in the case of a man. Sometimes the magician, taking a thread, makes several knots in it, while reciting a mantram.

The thread is worn round the neck or wrist. Or ashes are thrown over a sick person, and rubbed over the forehead and breast, while a mantram is repeated. Of mantrams, the following may be cited as examples. “Salutation to god with a thousand locks of matted hair, a thousand hands filling the three worlds and overflowing the same. Oh! Goddess mother, out of the supreme soul, descend. Oh! SundaraYaksha (handsome she-devil), Swaha (an efficacious word).”

“Salutation to god. He bears a lion on his head, or is in the form of a lion in the upper part of his body. In the mooladhara sits Garuda, the lord of birds, enemy of serpents, and vāhana (vehicle) of Vishnu. He has Lakshmana to the left, Rāma to the right, Hanumān in front, Rāvana behind, and all around, above, below, everywhere he has Srī Narayana Swaha. Mayst thou watch over or protect me.”

Further it says:

“…has heard well-authenticated instances of Brahman women worshipping at Paraiyan shrines in order to procure children, and states that he once saw a Paraiyan exorciser treating a Brahman by uttering mantrams (consecrated formulae), and waving a sickle up and down the sufferer’s back, as he stood in a threshing floor.”

So clearly, the Parayars despite being one of the lowest caste of Hindus, worshipped mainstream ‘Brahmanical’ Hindu deities with their traditional rites and utilized chants like Svaha, made in Vedic Yajnas while offering to Agni or sacred fire, contradicting the claim of them not allowed to pursue education which existed as the right of upper caste people. There are even records on certain instances where Parayans wore the sacred thread worn by upper castes. Even Brahmins sometimes consulted Paraya priests as the book says.

A better understanding of the social status of Parayars can be obtained from the fact that Pulayars (another lower ranking peasent caste of southern Bharat) used to excommunicate their women if they married Parayan men. So this means that there existed discrimination even among the lower castes and Parayars were from the lowest strata of castes, but yet they were devout Hindus.

The Pulayas or Cherumakkal too were devout Hindus despite being the peasant caste who worked in the fields owned by upper caste Nairs & Brahmins of Kerala. The above mentioned book says:

“The Pulayas worship the spirits of deceased ancestors, known as Chavars. The Matan, and the Anchu Tamprakkal, believed by the better informed section of the caste to be the five Pandavas, are specially adored. “

So the elements from the Hindu Sanskrit epics were popular among lower castes just like it was among upper castes once again contradicting the popular claim of liberals that Sanskrit was taught only to upper caste people.

It is true that the lower castes were not allowed to enter the temples owned by upper castes. But they practiced their traditional rites on their own and worshipped their gods in their own temples, without being bothered about the temples owned by the upper castes. Neither did the upper castes interfere with their traditional rites or the practices of their temples. 16th century Portuguese traveller Duarte Barbosa stated that lower castes like the Thiyyas of Malabar had their own temples and they were protected and cherished by upper caste Nair lords.

Temples like Parassinikkadau Muthappan temple had non-Brahmanical rites performed since time immemorial contradicting the popular claim of the liberals that it was they who fought for the appointment of non-Brahmins as Pujaris in temples. Theyyam rites dedicated to folk heroes and popular Hindu deities were also performed by all, regardless of castes.

Parassini Madappura Sree Muthappan Temple
Parassini Madappura Sree Muthappan Temple located on the banks of the river Valapattanam, where non-Brahmins are also pujaris

Also, during early 20th century temple entry movement in Kerala, many upper castes like Kurur Nilakantan Namboothiri, K. Kelappan etc also came forward to abolish untouchability and allow temple entry for the lower castes as the cultural practices of the lower caste people were affected by the socio- cultural attack on the society inflicted by the Islamic invasions and colonisation.

In fact, in a book named “What Congress and Gandhi have done to the untouchables?” by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar which faced a ban by the Congress soon after independence as it exposed their lies of working for the cause of untouchables, Ambedkar speaks about how lower caste people were allowed to enter Guruvayur temple. He says –

“When people in power were not interested in allowing lower caste people to enter the temple, Gandhi instead of going for a fast modified his position and said that he would refrain from fasting if a referendum was taken in Ponnani taluk in which the temple was situated (taluk of the temple in the year 1932), and if the referendum showed that the majority of people who were then entering the temple were against opening the temple doors to the untouchables. Accordingly a referendum was taken. Voting was confined to those who were actual temple goers. Those who were not entitled to enter the temple and those who would not enter it were excluded from the voters’ list. It was reported that 73 percent of eligible voters voted. The result of the poll was 56 percent in favour of entry, 9 percent against the entry, 8 percent neutral and 27 percent abstained from recording their votes.”

This shows the falsity of the liberal claim that upper caste were forced to open their temple after the temple entry proclamation was forced by the Congress.

Hence this shows that divides in the Hindu society were more about diversity than discrimination unlike the claim of liberals. Today, it is the duty of all Hindus regardless of his/her caste to come forward to defend Hindu Dharma against anti-Hindu elements.

This article has been written jointly by @dauhshanti & @paanchajanyaa

Disclaimer: This article represents the opinions of the Author, and the Author is responsible for ensuring the factual veracity of the content. HinduPost will not be responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information, contained herein. 


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About the Author

Paanchajanya

Yato dharmas tato jayah…

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