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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

community interest groups (SNDP) in Kerala

Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam is an organisation formed to propagate and promote the moral teaching and Dharma of Shree Narayana Guru. Dr. P. Palpu, a devotee of Sree Narayana, was one of the founders. According to the biography of Narayana Guru written by Moorkoth Kumaran, the organization was registered on 15 May 1903 under Travancore Regulation 1 of 1063 (Indian Company Act IV 1882). Sree Narayana Guru was the Patron and life time President of the Yogam. Mahakavi Sri. Kumaranasan was the first General Secretary. Kumaran Asan was the peerless pioneer among modern Malayalam poets. He was one of the dedicated disciples of Sree Narayana Guru. In fact the spiritual philosophy and the battle against caste that illumine Kumaran Asan’s poetry were inspired mainly by association with and inspiration from the great Guru.

History of SNDP Yogam

The history of Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam is the rise of the socially backward, depressed classes in Kerala. It is the social development of Ezhava from (according to the 824 Royal Order) mere 'owner of thalappu and ladder" to the present state. It is also the shining story of the change of an almost food-gathering society into a cosmopolitan world order. Yogam is the first organisation which envizaged Kerala as a whole. Earlier organisations represented only part of Kerala, say, Malabar.

Caste system in Kerala

To know the history of Yogam, one has to learn the social set up of Kerala during that period. It was a Renaissance from the darkness brooded over Kerala society. In 1897, Swami Vivekananda said in Madras: "All Malabaries are lunatics. Their houses, lunatic asylums...." This was the reaction of his towards the caste system and the unique untouchability system that prevailed in Adi Sankaran's Kerala at that time. The worst form of untouchability in India existed in Kerala.Pulaya should not reach more than 96 feet near to a Brahmin. A Nair or Ezhava would strike down a Pulaya who violated the untouchability rule. Thiyya (Ezhava) kept 12 feet from Nair and a Nair would strike an Ezhava who violated the 36 feet barrier to Nambudiri. Whenever the caste Hindus went through public roads, they would shout, "Go! Go!". The untouchables or backward classes had to run away from the road immediately after they heard the voice.

Besides, they were not permitted to cover their upper part of the body. Footwear, umbrella, special dressing ornaments etc. were not permitted to them. In public places, it was the sole right of Brahmins to wear umbrellas even it was raining. It was by bearing their breasts that the lower caste women showed their respect to upper caste people.

The first event which questioned this caste system was the order issued by Tippu Sultan, the then ruler of Mysore Empire. At that period, the Mysore Empire spread even in the Malabar region of Kerala. Besides, the works of Christian Missionaries also helped the untouchables a lot to free themselves from the social incapabilities.

It was Dr. Palpu who started works towards getting the rights of Ezhava community. With the 1891 Malayali Memorial Revolt, he came forward by taking the leadership of the community. He tried to make an organization called 'Ezhava Sabha'. In 1896, he created the bye-law of it and published the same in Malayali, a newspaper published from Thankussery. Even though he organised some meetings at Paravur and Mayyanad, that movement failed.

The Guru and SNDP Yogam

Before these, a noble, great power had been working towards the spiritual and social awakening of the community. It was none other than the great Sree Narayana Guru Devan. By installing a rock from the Neyyar River as Sivalinga at Aruvippuram on the Sivaratri day of Kumbha month in 1888 (1063 Aandu), he started a silent revolution in the history of Kerala. It caused a social revolution, which uprooted the old social system of Kerala.

Gradually, Aruvippuram became a pilgrim center. On Vavu (Full moon) day, people began to come there to offer sacrifice. The deciples of the Guru which included the famous poet Kumaran Asan, decided to give food to the pilgrims which led to the creation of 'Vavoottu Yogam' (serving food to the people who come as pilgrims).

In 1889, Vavoottu Yogam had been expanded. Thus an organization, 'Aruvippuram Kshetra Yogam' had formed.

On Malayalam Era 1078 Dhanu 23, (1903), a special meeting of Aruvippuram Kshetra Yogam was conducted. They decided to change that into a big Yogam for the progress of Ezhavas both in religious and material ways. Thus, on 1078 Edavam 2, (1903, May 15), with Narayana Guru as its President, 'Aruvippuram Kshetra Yogam' has been registered as'Aruvippuram Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam' according to the Indian Companies Act, No.6, 1882.

The permanent chairman of Yogam was Sree Narayana Guru Devan. N. Kumaranasan was elected as the General Secretary. Up to 1919, July 20, he was on the post, except in 1904 (1079 Vrischika 10). Difference of opinion exits about the role of the Guru in its establishment. On verifying the original records of registering the SNDP Yogam with the Government as a limited company, the following facts can be derived. The Government file (No 8338) regarding the registration has two parts. Pat I contain the bye -laws and proceedings, having sixteen clauses. Non of the clauses speaks of any caste. The sixteenth clause clearly states of the 'casteless' nature of the organization . Below the bye-laws, eleven persons have put their signature. The first signatory witnesses to the document were resident of the Siva Temple, P. Narayana Pillai. Narayana Pillai was the most trusted deciple of the Guru. He installed the first idol of the Guru at Thellicherry together with Moorkoth Kumaran.

Part II of the file (No 8338) gives a different picture. It is an application to the Dewan of Travancore to register the SNDP Yogam as a limited company. The applicants are P.Parameswaran and Marthandan Krishnan . Here the caste provision of the organization is clearly stated: " promoting and encouraging religious and secular education and industrious habits among the Ezhava community". The license of the Yogam was issued to the applicants P. Parameswaran and M. Krishnan.

Guru's view

The Guru wanted the Yogam to function as the vanguard of his 'Liberation Movement'. But the leadership of the Yogam could not rise Up to the expectation of the Guru. It could function only in a caste organisation. Hence, in 1916, the Guru sent his resignation letter to Dr. P. Palpu. The Guru attributed 'caste pride' to the leaders of the Yagam and declared that he belonged to no caste non-religious.

Early stage of SNDP Yogam

From 1078 Dhanu 28, (1903), issuing of memberships was started. One member had to give Rs.100/- as share. On Makara 5th, Guru himself started a journey towards the northern areas as part of the membership campaign. By Makaram 28, Yogam had 90 members. In the same year on 14th Kumbha, the first public meeting of the Yogam held in the Sivaratri festival day at Aruvippuram. The first annual public meeting started on 1079 Makaram 30 and Kumbham 1, at the Northern Matt of Aruvippuram Kshetra. Matancheri

First Managing Committee

The first Managing Committee consisted of Sree Narayana Guru (Permanent chairman), Dr. Palpu (Vice Chairman), N. Kumaranasan (General Secretary), Mattancheri Govindan Vaidyar, B. Kochujutti Muthalai (Muttathara), Mangalasseri Govindan Channar, Perinad Govindanasan, P. Madhavan Vaidyar, Thiruvananthapuram, Paravur Kesavanasan, Kottaikkal Kumaran, Madan Neyyattinkara, S. Krishnan, Korothuparambu, Peringottukara, Koyikkara Kochayyyan Channar and Kuttiyappi Asan, Kurichithottatha, Karichal.

After 15 months of the registration of the SNDP Yogam, on Malayalam year 1080 Kanni 21 (1904), under the leadership of Paravoor V. Kesavanasan, an Ezhava Mahasammelanam was convened at Paravur, Kollam. It was in that meeting that the decision to stop the ill practices of talikettu, thirandukuli, Pulikudi etc. which were leading Ezhava Community into social and economic decline, had taken. Further, the decision to start practicing new marriage ceremony was also taken according to the order of Gurudeva.

The second annual of Yogam was conducted in Kollam on 1080 Dhanu 24 and 25 (1905). A public exhibition (10 days) conducted as part of the Annual caused the rise of self-pride and confidence in Ezhavas. The desire of upper castes to suppress them led to the Nair-Ezhava riot. The riot spread strongly towards northern parts like Paravur and Kollam. The rioters set fire to Kerala Bhushanam Publishing Company and Sujananandini Newspaper Office, both owned by Paravur Kesavanasan.

By the time of 3 years of its establishment, SNDP Yogam was able to get the attention of both the Government and the public. In Travancore, it was not just a Communal organization; rather, it was a political organization . The relentless attempts of Kumaranasan, the General Secretary, were behind it. When he retired after his 15 years service as General Secretary, SNDP Yogam had 1783 members (Rs.25) and 2472 shares. At that time, Yogam was not a common people's organization. Because one had to pay Rs.25/-to get a share of the organisation. Due to his 15 years of restless works, all schools were open to backward classes and, even though on condition of nomination, they were permitted to enter into the Sabha.

The first labour conference

As part of the SNDP Yogam annual, a labour conference was held at Kollam in 1917. It was the first labour conference in Kerala of this kind. Provision was also made for the representation of the labour in the 'Director Board' of the SNDP Yogam

If we search at the 44 years history of legislature between 1888 to 1932, no Ezhava was elected to membership of Legislature. Due to the continuous effort of SNDP, in 1911 February, Ezhava representatives could participate in Sreemoolam Praja Sabha. It was during this time that Yogam raised voice for population wise representation in Govt. services and legislative Assembly and for establishing abolition of caste, temple entry and teetotalism.

The 16th annual meeting at Kayamkulam relieved Sri. Kumaranasan of the post of General Secretary according to his request and elected Sri N. Kumaran BA.BL. as new General Secretary.

Penitence of T.K Madhavan: Organisation of the Downtrodden

When T.K Madhavan became the Organisation General Secretary of the SNDP Yogam, he noticed that the Yogam had been alienated from the common people. His attempt to strengthen the Yogam through massive membership campaign failed due to lack of popular co-operation. The only way to make the campaign a success was to gain the confidence of the Guru and make him to give a call to the people to join the Yogam. Accordingly, Madhavan went to the Guru, an assurance was given to the Guru that he would enlist as members of the Yogam, people of all castes and communities and that the Yogam work for the uplift of the downtrodden. Throughout Kerala, the followers of Narayana Guru took initiative to organize the workers. In Travancore, the SNDP Yogam under T.K. Madhavan took initiative to organize the labourers. In Kochi, the 'Aadi Thozhilali Sangham' was organized by Sahodaran Ayyappan. In Malabar, Moorkothu Kumaran, the prominent 'non-sanyasi' disciple of the Guru mobilised the workers.

Boycott of temple

On 17 Dhanu (2 January) 1924 at Sivagiri, the leaders of the SNDP Yogam took the decision to boycott temples. To make it a success, a committee consisting of T.K. Madhavan, Nl Mumaran and C.V. Kayyalakkal was constituted. They formulated a ten-fold programme of the boycott of temples and it was effectively propagated throughout Kerala through newspapers - Deshabhimani, Sahodaran, Kerala Kaumudi, Vivekodayam, Navajeevan, Thozhilali, Mithavadi etc. The propaganda works undertaken by the 'Karappuram Sevasangham of Sherthallai, made the message of 'Civil Liberty and Temple Entry' to reach at the grassroots level.

In the 18th meeting of SNDP Yogam, according to Guru's wish, Yogam envisaged activities not just for the prosperity of Ezhavas but for the whole depressed classes. Temple entry revolt was introduced as a live issue in this meeting. The forerunner of this was T.K. Madhavan. It was also decided that the branches of SNDP Yogam were being started in Taluk and Kara level. The responsibility was given to T.K. Madhavan, Assistant Secretary on 1102 Dhanu 17, (1927) Sri. T.K. Madhavan was appointed as Secretary.

Membership campaign

He started membership works from Kuttanadu. Even though there were only 3878 members when he became the Secretary of the Organization, at the time of his retirement, there were 63674 members which included 2000 women. Besides these, there were 300 branches, 10 unions and more than 60 cooperatives to the credit of the Yogam.

When the SNDP Yogam started, the share of it cost Rs.100/- which, without much delay, was reduced to Rs.25/- per head. Even in this state, the number of members were not increased so that on 1922, the share value was reduced to Rs.5 and membership was divided into two as permanent and temporary. Now the membership fee is Rs.10/-.

The Agro-labour strike in Kuttanad

Though serfdom existed in Kuttanad even during 1920s, due to the Sree Narayana Movement, the attitude of the landlords started to change. In 1927, the Yogam workers of Kuttanad requested through a resolution to T.K. Madhavan that the Yogam must interfere in the labour problem of Kuttanad. In 1929, Madhavan led the first agro-labour strike in Kuttanad. The incident occurred in Kainakari when female workers numbering forty were beaten by one landlord named 'Chirayil Kochuthomman'. There existed the practice of the landlord kidnapping any female worker as a matter of right. This time, when the female workers were beaten up, the 'Kunnumel Jnanodayam Sabha', the local SNDP unit took up the issue and informed T.K. Madhavan. Madhavan directed them to strike work collectively. All farming works were completely stopped. Finally the landlord appologised before the workers.

In 1103 (1928), General Secretary S.N. Kumaran vacated his position to Assi. Secretary V.K. Kunjuraman to become District Judge.

After the Guru

In 1104 Kanni 5, (1929), Guru passed away. In 1928 May 26, General Secretary G.V. Kunhiraman has submitted a memorandum to the authorities describing the disabilities of Ezhavas and stressing the need to give communal representation. The annual meeting of Yoga in 1932 June 29 demanded maturity voting right. In the meeting n 1932, December 17, at LMS Hall, Thiruvananthapuram where about one hundred people representing Christians, Muslims and Ezhavas created 'Akhila Thiruvithamcore Samyukta Rashtriya Mahasabha' and submitted a memorandum to Diwanji, demanding reservation for population wise representation in legislation and election through public areas. SNDP Yogam had a great representation in the revolt. The LMS meeting saved the seeds of a great turning point in Travancore history.

On August 27, 1933, Sri. C. Kesavan had unanimously been elected as the Yogam General Secretary. At that time, according to his annual report, the total government jobs were 20,278 out of which only 787 were represented by Ezhavas who consisted a population of 8,72,174 while Nairs who had a population of 8,68,411 possessed 10,585 jobs. In 1935, Sri C. Kesavan was arrested and imprisoned charging traitorousness on the basis of Kozhancheri oratory. In 1936 October 8, Sri C.P. Ramaswami Iyer had taken charge of Diwan and on November 12, he published a decree permitting all Hindus to enter in the temples.

It was on Changanasseri Conference in which Yogam decided to participate in State Congress agitation. At that time both as an organisation and as a community SNDP Yogam and Ezhavas were the only participants in State Congress agitation. Later, Yogam decided to stop the relationship with State Congress only for the sake of the community. Accordingly, General Secretary, V.K. Velayudhan and Board Member R. Sankar resigned their posts in Yogam and entered in live politics.

In 1944 December 20, at Changanassery meeting, R. Sankar was elected as Yogam General Secretary. At that time, he was the Acting General Secretary of State Congress. Yogam had 933 branches, 24 unions, 4 union buildings, 214 branch buildings, 5 UP schools and more than 4000 permanent members. Ten years after he retired, Yogam had 1224 branches, 662 branch buildings, 13 union buildings, 18 UP schools and 12 high schools. Temporary membership had risen from 2 lakh to 3 lakhs.

In 1220 Makara (1945), Sree Narayana Guru Smaraka Committee has been formed as N. Kumaran, President and E.C. Govindanasan Treasurer. They met the Diwan and discussed about starting an A Grade College for Ezhavas. Diwan agreed on the condition that the committee had to rise Rs.5 lakh, and the same amount will be given by the government. Due to the dullness in the field of cashewnut industry, the Committee was unable to rise the amount. At that time, a news about the starting of a college at Kollam by NSS came in the newspapers.

The Committee met again and informed the Yogam that they would give Rs. 2 lakh and the Yogam should rise the Rs. 3 lakh and start the college under its control.

The Yogam's annual meeting in 1945, November 24 and 25 at Kollam decided to start a first grade college at Kollam. In 1947, stone had laid for the college. In 1948, pre-university classes started. In 1951, Women's College was also started working at Kollam. Behind all these was the yeoman service of Yogam General Secretary R. Sankar and team. According to the decision of the Yogam, in 1952, Sree Narayana Trust was formed and the control and working of the colleges were taken under the custody of the trust.

In 1953, the50th anniversary of Yogam was celebrated pompously with All India Exhibition, Art Exhibition etc. for 5 weeks under the leadership of R. Sankar at Kollam. It was the greatest in the history of the social organisations of Kerala.

After R. Sankar, Sri. Karthikeyan was the Yogam General Secretary for 2 years. Then again, R. Sankar became General Secretary for one year. After that, for three years Sri. K.R. Narayanan became the General Secretary. From, 1961 to 1970, Sri. M.K. Raghavan was the General Secretary. In 1971, Sri Mangoozhi Madhavan became the General Secretary. In 1973, Sri. N. Srinivasan became President and Pfro. P.S. Velayudhan was the General Secretary. It was during that period that SNDP Yogam had conducted a great procession in Thiruvananthapuram. In 1973, SNDP Youth Movement & Vanitha Samajam started working.

Objectives of the organisation

The main objectives of the organisation are:

  • Introduce Shri Narayana devotees to each other and spread teachings of Shri Narayana Guru
  • Help socially and economically weak in education
  • Work in cooperation with other organizations for the betterment of all.
  • Educate members about all religions.
  • Establish a Temple and a School.
  • Provide financial help to victims of disasters.

Organizational Contributions

The Yogam engaged itself in the laudable efforts of eradicating untouchability and voicing the fundamental human rights of the working class. These efforts actually paved the way for many of Guru's followers to accept later the Marxist interpretation of socialism as their most acceptable ideal. Under the aegis of Dr. Palpu, Kumaran Asan, T. K. Madhavan, C.V. Kunjuraman, Moolur Padmanabha Panickar and others, several drastic changes were brought about in the social structure and texture of the Kerala community The role that Narayana Guru played was only of a catalyst and not as a fighter in the front lines. To others he set an example by his own personal life. His high dignity and sense of oneness with mankind did not allow him to give vent to anger or protestation against any particular person or community. He believed that there was only one caste for man and that was humanity. In this attitude he was uncompromising.This organisation has done invaluable service in the epic struggle against caste system in Kerala.


SNDP's follows Guru's social activities and its work is based the famous Quote of Guru:

Without differences of caste,

Nor enmities of creed',

Here it is, the model of an abode,

Where all live like brothers at heart


Organizational structure

SNDP Yogam has been divided into 3 formation and they are

  • Yogam (Top Level Body)
  • Union (Middle Level)
  • Sakhas (Lower level)

It is head-quartered in Kollam, Kerala. Vellapally Natesan is the current general secretary of SNDP Yogam.

Schools and Colleges

SNDP founded schools and colleges in the independent India. Previously the only private colleges were those managed by the Church. The movement started with SN College, Kollam and continued to late 70s. Great leaders like R. Sankar had the vision for future. According to M.A.John (idealist Congress leader), R. Sankar was the best Chief Minister kerala had and R. Sankar ministry laid the foundation for long term progress in Kerala - in the form of educational institutions and industries.

A Multicaste Organization

Though SNDP Yogam is mainly managed by Ezhava community, there is nothing in the bye-laws stopping other castes or religions into the body. As had been the case, many social reformers of other 'castes' were close friends or associates of SNDP Yogam. This include notable names like Mannathu Padmanabhan (founder of Nair Service Society), V.T.Bhattathiripad, M.C.Joseph(Rationalist) and in recent times Singer Yesudas and P.A.Backer who produced the movie on Sree Narayana Guru. Both Mannam and Marxist leader A.K.Gopalan were influenced by Guru and shed their caste endings from their names.


Even though Guru started SNDP as a forum to lead the activities for social equality and caste less society, eventually SNDP turned out to be a forum of Ezhava caste, which is a contradiction to Guru's vision. Various factions in the SNDP Yogam accuse others of financial irregularities and corruption. There are allegations that liquor barons are controlling the SNDP Yogam. It is an irony that today SNDP Yogam represents exactly those things/ideas which Guru opposed.


As of August 2010, SNDP boasts a total of 5,701 branches (shakha) and 2,346,728 members..

Prepared by biju p r,assistant professor in political science,govt brennen college,thalassery,kerala,india.

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