Tatri's trial of Chastity – Smarthavicharam
As the name suggests it is a real life incident that happened in the central part of Kerala. Smarthavicharam (chastity trial) is a procedure followed by the Nampoodiri Community against their girls or ladies if girls/ladies are found guilty of adultery or illicit/illegitimate sexual contact with other men than the husband. It is a trial to punish the erring women of Nampoodiri families. This procedure is followed only in their community. This particular trial of chastity or Smarthavicharam is in respect of the prostitution indulged by a Nampoodiri lady by name Dhatri Kutty involving more than 65 males of the society from various communities. Most of these males were famous and are of a high level in the society. The trial took nearly 7 months to complete. The trial had to be conducted in 3 places at Chemmanthitta, Pallimana and Irinjalakuda. There were few trials before and after this particular Smarthavicharam which attracted as much attention of not only of entire state Kerala but even the neighboring states and the country itself. This is the only one which went to the high court which was at Madras (present Chennai) for the entire South at that time. The court gave a verdict that the Smarthavicharam held in this case was null. However the effect of the Smarthavicharam was already implemented and at that time no one can challenge the Nampoodiri community decisions. So those who were found guilty by the Smarthans were punished as per the system by ordering Brashtu (excommunications – out casting from society) except the two who died immediately. Dhatri Kutty was a girl born in the village Ezhumangad (popularly known as Arangotukara), on the border of Trichur District but in Palakkad district of Kerala. The Smarthavicharam about Dhatri was decided when her husband complained about her infidelity – adultery. The authorities' concerned decided to try her through the Smartha Vicharam procedure that was the only procedure followed by the Nampoodiri Community against their women. From the time her illicit relations were noticed till the trial was over she was kept in isolated houses without giving any chance to her meet anybody. Even during the trial she was asked questions and was allowed to answer from the isolated place without the chance to see her questioners or anybody else nor could the others see her. There was her maid servant who supplied the necessities to Dhatri. That was the general practice for such cases. She was intimated of the charge and asked her to have her say on the issue. She admitted having committed adultery with so many persons and was prepared to have the punishment on condition that along with her the male members of the society who had enjoyed her should also be given identical punishment as that was being given to her. Since there was no practice of punishment for men for such offense till that time, the smarthans (persons trying the accused in such cases) tried to ignore her but she was adamant and gradually she got the support of the population of the area. The persons doing the Smartha Vicharam were forced to refer the matter to the then Raja of Cochin under whose jurisdiction this matter was. The Raja under pressure from social organizations had to agree to her condition and the Smartha Vicharam (trial) started. If any men are accused, the lady concerned had to give proof of his having had sex with her. She said to the Smarthas that she has a large number of men and she will give the name and addresses of the persons one by one and they are to be tried one by one. The evidence includes some identification marks on covered part of the body of the males and by identifying the persons in an identification parade. She started giving names one by one. The persons were subject to identification by Dhatri and then as identification marks she gave the details of the marks on or around the genitals of the persons so accurately that the persons had no escape. When she came to the name of 65th man, families in the twin villages and other villages around and families from outside the village were apprehensive that someone from their families also may be named by her and started feeling the extreme heat of the situation and forced to stop the trial. So only these 65 came under the category of guilty. Out of these persons two had died during the process and some others left the country to some foreign destination to escape the stigma and punishment. At least there were another three who escaped the situation. One of them gave false name and address to Dhatri and could not be traced. Another was a Muslim. The Muslims do not have the Brashtu system and did not come under the Smartha Vicharam. One more escaped due to some other reason not known. Apart from these if there were any others, it was known only to the lady and her companion. During the trial it was revealed that her jarans (men who have illicit relation with ladies) included 30 Namboodiris, 10 Iyers (paradesi Brahmins, Tamil Brahmins or Pattars), 13 ambalavaasis, people in the services of temples like those who clean the inner prakaram, those who play drums or perform kathakali, koothu etc (outside the Sree Kovil but inside the compound of the temple) and 11 Nairs. Dhatri was given the punishment of Brashtu along with the available male members of the 65 tried. What happened to her afterwards was not known. There are several gossips about her life after the Brashtu. It was said that the companion of Dhatri broke down at her master's fate and tried to persuade Dhatri to go to Mannanar's asylum and there were several of them waiting for accommodating her as a wife or sister. Dhatri refused and faded into obscurity may be by her own choice. There was a very strong gossip that she went to an Anglo Indian man who was a railway employee at Pothannur railway station. People firmly believed that Dhatri lived up to the age of 80 somewhere around Coimbatore in Madras State (present Tamilnad State).
The Ancestral House of Tatri Kutty
It is the story of a real life event that happened between the years 1850 and 1910 when the communication and transport facilities were at a very low level. It is an unimaginable daring action in a kugramam (a backward village with no infrastructure at that time) Ezhumangad known more popularly as Arangotukara in Palakkad District of Kerala State by a lady of most orthodox community of that time. The centre stage of the story is a house in the junction of two villages divided by a village road. One side of the road is Ezhumangad village in Thirumittakode Panchayath, Ottapalam Taluk, Palakkad District and the other side is the village Arangotukara (Arangode) in Desamangalam Panchayath, Thalapilli Taluk of Thrissur District, Kerala State. This village is a beautiful village surrounded by paddy fields, few hills scattered around with plenty of trees, 4 temples, ponds and tanks. The house is known as Kalpakasseri Illam (Mana – houses of Namboodiri), a house of a rich zamindar (landlord) of the area at the time of the story. The house was in a compound of about 4 – 5 acres of land and as any house of rich family was a sprawling one with all facilities available at that time. I belong to the same village and my ancestral house is the 4th house on to the South of the then Kalpakasseri Mana. This mana was right opposite to the village main temple of Karthyayani Devi on the Arangode side. During my childhood the mana was already nonexistent and only some ruins were seen in the land. There were the remains of some idols worshiped by the family members of the Mana, two wells one for the kitchen and other for outside use and two ponds one for the ladies of the house and the other for men of the family. The house was on higher level of about 2 – 3 feet from the road level. My knowledge of the subject is through hearsay, over hearing conversations and some literature on the subject. My father, as any grown up person at that time had a good knowledge about the family and the actions of the heroine or villain, Dhatri Kutty after she was caught at her own instance through her husband for having illicit / illegitimate sexual relations with numerous men. My father being very strict and short tempered, I could not ask him and get any detail. However I used to be with him whenever, I do not have to study for school and I could get some information by gossip or through conversations between him and his friends about Dhatr's life. Then there were discussions between self and my school mate friends from what they have overheard through their parents or others. Because it is on hearsay and I do not want to hurt anybody who may be directly or indirectly connected with the characters or incidents involved in this article I have made some slight changes in the names and narration of the facts.
Childhood of Dhatri Kutty
Thathri Kutty (is also known as Dhatri Kutty and Savithri antharjanam) was born in the above mentioned Kalpakasseri Illam. There is no record available about her birth or childhood so not much is known about these aspects o f her. But one thing with definite date in her case is the Brashtu order which was on the 13th of July, 1905. In the days of lack of communications to complete the activities she could have taken about 30 to 40 years and adding her age at marriage at 13 the birth year might be between 1860 and 1870. There was a gossip that when she was born her father Kalpakasseri Ashtamoorthi Namboodiri was going towards Arangotukara from Pattambi side. Those days the nearest centre to the village was Pattambi where there is a railway station perhaps with one train in a day between Madras (now Chennai) and Mangalapuram (Mangalore) and one or two buses from Palakkad to Calicut or so via Pattambi. When he was crossing the Bharatha Puzha from Pattambi to Thirumittakode en route to Arangode he got the news of the birth of his daughter and on consultation of an astrologer, he was informed that the birth was at an inauspicious time and the girl will be responsible for a calamity involving the destruction of his family. After three years another girl was born, the younger sister to Dhatri Kutty. After that Dhatri lost the love and affection of her mother who was fully engrossed with the new born child. Because of the astrological prediction the family members were a bit apprehensive of the girl. The girl was extraordinary intelligent and wanted to study in school. Those days girls were not allowed to go out alone especially of the orthodox Nampoodiri community. Hence allowing her to study was not agreed to by her parents in spite of her obstinate pressure. Being intelligent and ingenious she learned to read and write to some extent from brothers. She was having good appreciation of fine arts and had learned something about Kathakali, music etc. Those days girls are married at a very young age of 11 years onwards. Accordingly Dhatri Kutty was married off at a very young age to Chemmanthatta Kuriyedathu Raman Namboodiri (Aphan Nampoodiri) of Mukundapuram Taluk a much older man, almost the age of her father. Thereafter there was not much information about her for some time.
Dhatri Kutty's Illicit Relations
Between the period of 1200 and 1950 A D, the Zamindari system was very powerful in Kerala. The ladies of landlords' will have at least one maid servant cum companion (daasi - thozhi) exclusively to be with the lady. In Kerala the Zamindars were the Nampoodiris - the Kerala Brahmins. The maid servant cum companions of Brahmin girls/ladies used to be Nair girls/lades who will be company to the Nampoodiri ladies (Antharjanams – akathulla alu as they are called). Dhatri Kutty had one Nair lady companion who was very loyal to her and was helping her without question in anything Dhatri wanted. Through the help of her thozhi Dhatri had arranged a secluded place to have sexual relations with males other than her husband. Dhatri was a very highly intelligent lady now. Her husband was a much older man who had other wives. He may not have been able to satisfy her sexual needs. Besides Dhatri could not fulfill her ambition to study and lead a normal girl's life due to the ill arrangements of the system. She used to gather information of all well known people of the society of not only of her villages of Ezhumangad – Arangotukara but nearby and far way also. She was such a beautiful lady that anybody would like to possess her. Since she is already married people will be happy to try to spend some time with her and have sex with her for at least once if there is any possibility. Such being the case she had no difficulty in getting the men she wanted to be in bed or otherwise with her. She had arranged to get most of the well know people of her time who are grown up enough to visit her for sex. It is not known whether she had sexual relation with anybody for a second time. It had gone on for a long time and a number of persons had contact with her at the place she had arranged for this purpose through her thozhi. She being a very intelligent lady, it is not possible for anybody to say whether she had really sex with all or she had fooled some of them without having sex. That fact was known only to her and the persons concerned. But one thing is sure whether she had sex or not with the persons who visited her, she had the details of identification marks/birth marks of the body of the visitor and had noted the same in some way for future use against these persons with their names and residences without their knowledge. The numbers of persons involved were so many and it was known only to her and her maid. What I understood about her mode of communication was that she used to get information about famous people throughout the length and breadth of Kerala through her companion. She used to send her maid to establish contact with the persons one by one and invite them. Since the Nampoodiri ladies are seen only by their fathers till marriage and their after only by their husbands, remaining unknown is not much difficult especially when the community had the system of not seen and not being seen between the Antharjanams and men other than father up to marriage and there after only by the husband. And with the system of mara (hide) kuda (umbrella used by Nampoodiri ladies to cover upper parts of body and face from others) it will not be difficult to go out with the maid unknown. In the place where she was operating as a prostitute she used all her skills so satisfy the men who go to her. But none of them knew her as an antharjanam of Dhatrikutty for the above mentioned reasons. Then one day an old man from her community came to her either by knowing the possible flick through somebody or as per her way of inviting the males. He had a nice time and spent some time talking to her that he would like to have her permanently for himself if possible. At the end of it she opened her veil which she was wearing most of the time outside her house. The man had the shock of his life on seeing her as she was none else than his wedded wife. He was shaken out of his wits, ran out shouting which made people to gather. Those days the tilt of society against the women was much stronger especially for the upper caste Namboodiri Brahmin ladies. Her husband wanted her to be punished. For trial of such illicit or illegitimate sex of Nampoodiri ladies there is system of trial known as 'Smartha Vicharam' where with the permission of the ruling Raja of the area, the learned Brahmins of 3 or more in numbers will intimate the charges against the lady concerned and give her a chance to reply on the matter. In overwhelming majority of cases the ladies get excommunicated from the society which is known as Brashtu (out casting). The family of the ladies will send her out of the house and do the last rites (irikke pindam – irikke means while living and pindam means doing last rites too dead persons) to her as if she is already a dead person. After this Brashtu she is no longer considered as human being. She will be addressed as if she is an object like 'sadhanam' or 'it' 'that' etc. After that anything may happen to her. There may be some vulture like males waiting to take chance or there were some institutions where such ladies were being accommodated. The owners of these institutions known as Mannanars have immunity from Brashtu. Such places have some system where there are two gates/entrances. If the lady comes through a particular gate she is taken as wife and if through the other gate she is treated as a sister. Mannanars are from a royal sect of Thiyya community that ruled some parts of Malabar between Kannur and Kasargod. The Mannanars are supposed to have been following Buddhism. They used to give refuge to Antharjanams (Nampoodiri ladies) who were declared outcaste in a Smarthavicharam. Since the Mannanars follow Buddhism they have no problem with Brashtu and more over they consider themselves as Royals where they only decide things for them. It is also said that the Chakyars (those who perform koothu and chakyars koothu in the temple premises) were also giving asylum to the outcast Nampoodiri ladies/girls. It is a bit difficult to accept this as the Chakyars like the ambalavaasis and close proximate people will not be allowed to give such asylum of the Nampoodiri ladies. It was not know whether Dhatri was taking any money for the service she was giving to the men and where she was conduction these services.
Possible connections with the known persons
The chief of the Smarthans committee of five members was the late Jatavedan thirumeni (as the Nampoodiris and the thampurans etc were addressed at that time). The famous writer Madambu Kunhikuttan is the grandson of the famous late Jatavedan Nampoodiri. His two uncles, that is the brothers of Jatavedan Nampoodiri were also involved with the sexual act and were given the order of Brashtu.
It is rumoured that one Gopala Menon who was given the verdict of Brashtu escaped to the then Ceylon (present Sri Lanka) to avoid the stigma and shame. As per gossips the super hero of film and of Tamilinas, M G Ramachandran (M G R) was a son of the said Gopala Menon.
Another person's name which was doing the round was the super heroine of Malayalam films. Some people feel that Sheela is the granddaughter of Dhatri Kutty.
Dhatri was particularly targeting persons who are supposed to be of very high moral standing, famous personalities, well known scholars of that time, musicians, kathakali artists and other prominent high society people of that time from the area under the erstwhile Cochin state and Malabar to sleep with her. She had clinching proof of identification marks on the covered parts of the persons, and in many cases letters written by these people to her. It was being rumoured that the then celebrated Kathakali artists Kavunkal Shankara Panicker, Kaattalathu Madhavan Nair, Panangavil Narayanan Nambiar, Achutha Poduval etc were in the list and they had to leave their professions and their places.
Consequences to her families and her Jarans
Her father committed suicide after the incident. Other members of the family fled out of the village and were lost touch with anybody from the village or any nearby areas. The property was abandoned for some years and later slowly some unscrupulous people encroached and appropriated the same. During my childhood it was a deserted land though in the centre of the village right opposite to the main temple and people were afraid of going into the ruined place. There were some deities of the family in abandoned condition with no one daring to do anything about it. There was a huge tree with the first branch about 40 feet high from ground, and the thickness may about 20 - 30 feet which was later sold to the boat making people. There was a peepal tree at the back end of the compound from which some birds, owls and another variety known at that time as Kalan Kozhi. The owl makes noise in the night which is fearsome at that time as there was no battery torch or electricity. The noise of the Kalan Kozhi is still more frightening. There was a belief that when someone is about to die or killed the Kalan Kozhi will make the cry to alert the coming of the Kalan (Yaman) and for this reason it got its name. Then there are some whose names were not disclosed or not allowed to be disclosed by abruptly closing the trial after the 65th man of Dhatri's list. 62 of them had to leave homes, most of them being very high level in the society or famous in their professions, humiliated in the society and had to live on begging and treated by society worse than those who are suffering from terrible contagious diseases. They cannot come anywhere near anybody within 30 feet. In my school days I have come across 2 – 3 of them.
Books and Movies on Dhatri's life
There are 3 – 4 stories and 2 – 3 films on the subject. In fact it will appear to be like the story of a super hit movie of "A" certificate category. The centre character of the incident is one Tatrikutty (Dhatrikutty or Savithrikutty antharjanam). There are books on the subject with titles 'Thathrikuttyude Smarthvicharam' (Tatri's Trial of Chastity - known those days as Smarthavicharam) by Alankode Leelakrishnan, 'Kuriyedathu Thathri' by Nandan (VT Nandakumar), 'Cast me out if you will' by Lalithambika Antherjanam, 'Brashtu (excommunication or out casting from society)'by Sri Madambu Kunhukuttan whose grandfather was the main Smarthan, 'Outcaste' translation of M Kunhukuttan's book by Vasanthi Sankaranarayanan, The British Commission by Pavithran, Malabar Manual by Logan Castes & tribes of Southern India by E Thurston, Nambuthiris by Fred Fawcett and a story on the subject by Smt Lalithambika Antherjanam with the title 'Pratikara Devata (Goddess of revenge)'. A story of the subject has also come as serial in Mathrubhumi weekly during 1998 -1999.
There are two films directly on this incident by name Brashtu and Parinayam (National award winner -1994). There were several other films with stories borrowed from the Tatrikutty incident with various names at different times. Even in other languages such films were made.
This was a landmark or historical trial (Smartha Vicharam) in many respects. This was one with 65 persons involved. Possibly the number might have been much more had the trial continued instead of abruptly stopped further trials. Even there were strong rumors that the next person may the Kochi Maharaja himself. That was the extent of her attraction as a desirable lady to sleep with. Till that time only the ladies were tried and punished. In this case Dhatri forced the authorities to give equal justice to lady and the men involved. For the entire duration of the trial of about 7 months the family members of all persons of some social standing were in tenterhooks or tremendous anxiety and fear that the next name may be one from their family. The persons involved were all of high standing one in the society and well known professionals. The whole incident had a shattering effect on the society at that time. This situation prompted the Kochi Maharaja to declare that in future to institute 'Smarthavicharam' against anybody a hefty amount has to be deposited in the treasury to discourage the possibility such public embarrassments in future. This is the only trial challenged in the then Madras High Court which gave a verdict the trial as void, but could not give relief to anybody under the order.
As mentioned earlier, Dhatri Kutty an extremely intelligent, courageous and beautiful girl had to marry an old man who cannot fulfill her desire for sex. Hence she must have planned the revenge against the society by selecting some of the famous persons of that time to partner in sex. She was virtually running a brothel with herself as the prostitute without anybody knowing her identity with the use of veils. She had the unstinting support of her maid servant cum companion cum thozhi, as per the custom of those days, a Nair girl. She was able to satisfy all who came to her so that her professionalism as a prostitute went far and wide and anybody will be willing to come to her to get chance. During the Smartha Vicharam there was a gossip that even the King of the Cochin was involved and he was afraid that his name may be divulged by Thathri Kutty. Anyway she had to stop divulging the name of her illicit relations at the 65th man which itself had created commotion and turmoil in the society. When this got exposed the very foundation of the social set up of that time was shaken.
There was an upheaval for change in the marriage system and family definitions and set up not only in the Nampoodiri Community, but also in the lower communities. After the Smarthavicharam of the Tatrikutty the Namboodiris started organising to take up the common issues of the community. The main issue was the marriage system of their community. On the one hand the elder one marries as many as he can and on the other the younger members have no right to marry. Many girls and ladies remain either unmarried or married without the married relations and in many cases widowhood due to death of the old husbands while they are still girls. In order to change the unequal system in the Nampoodiri community, some revolutionary men formed a council "Namboodiri Yogakshema Mahaasabha" (Namboodiri Community Welfare Organisation). In this forum they promoted the idea for abolition of the system of sambandham and a thorough change in the marriage regulations of Nampoodiri Community. This had the chain effect in the Nair Community also where there were organised revolt against the matriarchal system and to introduce patriarchal system among them.
Possible Reasons for the Revolt
There are several versions as to why Dhatri Kutty went in this type of actions which in the ordinary course no other girl/lady would have dared to try even in the modern times. Even to think such an act would be frightful or even it may not come to the mind of nay normal or even a slightly hyper active lady. Therefore there must have been a strong reason for her to such an extreme step in the period when the society was so cruel to the women with so much of restrictions, fetters and taboos etc. It is not known if she had expressed anything to anybody. In the trials she had restricted herself to insisting on equal punishment for the involved males also and thereafter she had only given the details of the names, addresses and identification marks of the involved men. So whatever is mentioned here can only be guesses. The following are the possible reasons. It may be any or a combination two or more reasons.
The first possible reason is the system prevailing especially in her community. The girls are not given education, the husband will have many wives, and while the girls are very young the marriage is to an aged person and no freedom to move anywhere alone. In Dhatri's case all these circumstances applied and while she was extremely beautiful and bold; her husband was a vainglorious person. She might have felt to smash the shackles of the society so that the future generations get relief, even if it is at the cost of her life. It requires iron will to do what she had done especially with the punishments for adultery during the trial period.
Another reason told is that her husband was jealous of her beauty, intelligence and boldness. He wanted to insult her as the male members can do anything and get away with it normally. Once he brought a prostitute to the house and after spending time with her sent out. While spending her off he teased Dhatri that he enjoyed the time he spent with the prostitute and if Dhatri had guts she can be on e like her. As per this version Dhatri accepted the challenge and started the orgy and finally invited her husband without his knowing the identity of her. After his session with her, it was reported that he went to the pinnacle of sensual feeling and suggested to her that he enjoyed the session and would like her to be with him permanently. On this she lifted her veil and the man ran away screaming.
Another reason gossiped was that Dhatri was forcefully enjoyed by her young brother in law against her will.
One more gossip was that her own father abused her.
She being a beautiful lady it could have been a possibility that her brother-in-law or father tried to enjoy. But as against this, it is to be considered that she was a bold, intelligent and courageous girl/lady. Even assuming such a thing could have taken place, Dhatri would not have gone to the extent of hunting for famous person of the society to be trapped to show her revenge. There is no mention of her brother-in-law or father in the list of jarans submitted by her at the trial.
As per the opinions of all concerned, Dhatri was a bold, cunning and revengeful lady. Therefore, the gossip about the brother in law or father would not have been a reason as she was bold and intelligent and could have easily foiled their attempts if any. Therefore the only reason left is that of revenge against a cruel and cunning society which tried to keep the ladies as the tools for satisfying the males of the society especially in the Nampoodiri community. Those who read the story will admit that even in this 21st century it will be very difficult for any lady to do what Dhatri Kutty did 150 years back without the communication facilities, where the ladies were under strict observation and checks of the society. Therefore it stands to reason that her action was a revenge or revolt against the society if we take into account that she was intelligent and bold. It is also possible that if her husband had challenged her to be like the prostitute she could have taken the challenge. Perhaps the husband's taunts and the suppression of the ladies of that time combined might have prompted Dhatri Kutty to plan and execute such a daring and shocking act.
Smarthans involved in Dhatri's case
The Smartha Vicharam was done with a committee of 4 persons with the famous Jathavedan Nampoodiri from the Perumannan village as the Smarthan (knowing the Vedas and competent to conduct the trial of chastity as per the Nampoodiri Community rules). Another one was the eldest Nampoodiri from Desamangalam Mana. The Mana was the biggest landlord around 4 – 5 villages including the Arangotukara and have the right to try guilty persons of these 5 villages and punish under the order of the Cochin Raja at that time. The other two are not known to me. Most probably one member might have been from either the Naareri Mana or Pumulli Mana 2 prominent landlord of the area where Kalpakasseri Mana was situated. And the last might have been the land lord of the area under which the Mana of Dhatri's husband situates.
Dhatri's Isolation House
Dhatri antharjanam (Tatri – Savithri) was caught on adultery and was taken and accommodated in an isolation house known as Pacha olappura (house with green palm leaves) – Achanpura on river bank at Chalakkudi. Such houses specially designated for such purposes were under guard so that the inmates do not escape or have contact with outside world. It used to be like a remand home or virtual jail till the inmate is declared as innocent, which is very rare or till punishment is awarded. Dhatri was also not allowed to have contact with anybody. The trial – Smarthavicharam took about 7 months to complete. It is also said that there were persons waiting outside the Smarthavicharam place for Dhatri to come out and take her with them if she was willing. She did not agree and fought with them who tried to use force or coercion with her. Her loyal maid servant also was with her to support her. Nothing much is known about the maid servant except her help to Dhatri in the background.
The Last Smarthavicharam
The next one and the last of the Smarthavicharam happened in 1918. This case was that of another Savithri Antharjanam (Tatri) of Pazhur Paduthol Illam. There were 12 persons involved. The Smarthan was the same Jatavedan Nambuthiri. This Savithri married a Muslim after her Brashtu punishment. She had a daughter from the Muslim and thata daughter married a Chakiar.
Madras High Court Order on Smarthavicharam trial
The high court ordered that the Brashtu of the men who had intercourse with Dhatri as illegal as these men were not properly charge sheeted and not given proper chance to cross examine the lady, or given chance to argue their defence. In Jatavedan's report he has mentioned that it is not customary to record the details and minutes of the trial normally. However, he had written down briefly the matters of the men involved also were given chance to say what is their case against the allegations of Dhatri against them.
A brief description of Smarthavicharam
This procedure is followed in case of Nampoodiri ladies caught for adultery. Wherever the chastity is doubted, the lady in question was given to the custody of the society, for inquiry. The suspected person is sent to an isolation home known as the 'Achan pura or Pacha olappura' where she will be confined without allowing any outside contact. She will; be provided the basic necessities. First the maid servant will be questioned. All Nampoodiri ladies used to have a maid servant cum companion cum thozhi who will be most of the time with the lady. The questioning of the maid is known as the 'daasi Vicharam'. Then a formal request is made with a nominal deposit to the king who will agree if he feels it has to be conducted. Along with the approval the maharaja appoints the Smarthan (Vedic arbitrator) and his assistants. There will be some observers called 'Akakkoyamma' and 'Purakkoyamma'. The enquiry is routine and may continue for days, weeks or months depending on the complications. During the entire period of the Smarthavicharam all those connected with the Smarthvicharam are to be accommodated and fed and their other basic necessities are to be met by the girls' father. At the end of the trial the verdict is arrived at. Invariably it will be finding the girl guilty and the punishment of 'Brashtu' –excommunication – casting out of society is declared. Till then she is considered as an inanimate subject and is known as the 'Sadhanam' or object. After this she is as good as dead for the family and community and the other communities depended on the Nampoodiris and the last rites are done to her. She is thrown out into the street.
The stages of the procedures are (1) the daasi Vicharam – questioning the made and a report is taken from her about the suspected antharjanam's illicit sexual conducts; (2) if there was prima facie conclusion of infidelity, the system of isolation or transferring to Achan pura or Pacha olappura is done of the accused; (3) intimation and request to the king concerned about the incident and proposed Smarthavicharam; (4) the king sends the Smarthan and 4 assistants for the Smarthavicharam; (5) These king's representatives frames the questions to be asked in consultation with the king; (6) the questioning of the accused – the questioning and answering is done while the lady will be in the isolation place and the Smartha and others outside without each other seeing; (7) The accused women are subject to severe torture during this period – there were several inhuman methods followed. One such method is to keep the woman in a palm leaf mat like the packing of a dead body and roll the mat with her inside the fold and roll it down from the tiled slanting roof top. Other women will be given opportunity to torture the woman according to their fancy and capacity. Sometimes snakes and rats will be let loose in the isolation place where the lady is kept; (8) generally she is labelled as a nymphomaniac or a cursed demon who has ruined the lives of successful men. She is depicted as horrible demonic creature. But for the suffering antharjanam's she might be a heroine fighting for their cause, though they canno9t even express it to anyone.
Remains of the Tharawad (ancestral House)
At the time of my childhood the concerned house structure or remains were not seen, except for the remains of a pambumkavu (a raised platform with with all round walls of about 3 feet height and with a gap for entry to light lamps). There were some granite stone installations of some deities supposed to be of Brahmarakshassu (may be the spirit of dead Brahmins), mookkan chathan (may be some snake god) and a few others. There were two wells (one for kitchen and the other for outside use) and two ponds (one for the bath of the antharjanams (Nampoodiri women) which were filled with mud and other dirt falling into them during rainy seasons. The whole land may be to the extent of 4 -5 acres. There was a peepal tree near the back end of the land. The land is about 2feet in height and is in Ezhumangad portion was facing the main temple in Arangotukara portion, Sree Karthyayani Devi temple. The incident is the history created by the acts of a girl of extraordinary beauty, intelligence, courage and perhaps perversion or calculated revenge against the community, social system and society in general of her time which was fully loaded against women folks especially of the forward Namboodiri community during those days of virtual non communication facility, orthodox system of society and no easy transport facilities etc. Excommunication or ostracism ("Brashtu")
The Society at that Time
For majority of the population who are young may find it difficult to understand some of the issues unless the social set up of that time is understood. Hence a brief idea is given here. It was a period of feudalism at its peak but on the verge of degeneration. In Kerala the system followed was strange. The caste system was very strong. The Brahmins had predominance and preferences in everything over others. The Kerala Brahmins were wealthy land lords and had several rights over other communities and castes. In fact they had the right to punish others. The society set up depended mostly on the set up of the Namboodiri community and all other communities set up was to suit their interests. The Namboodiris of that time did not want their hold on the society to get diluted by having to divide the land of the family between the sons. Hence they devised the system in their community that only the eldest son can marry to have children of the family and there again only the eldest son gets married and hence the land of the family will be in the hands of the eldest son, i e only in one person. This threw up problems in their community as the other sons in the family cannot marry. They cannot control the sexual urge and had to do something to satisfy that urge. . They introduced the system of sammandham for the younger male members. Under this system the property need not be shared with their children from the sambandham. Another problem was that since only one man from a family can marry, marrying only one girl / lady will make other Nampoodiri ladies spinsters/unmarried. The ladies too have the sexual urge as a natural biological process and might do something to satisfy their sexual urge. But the Nampoodiris wanted their ladies and girls to be chaste. Under such pressure situations the powerful Namboodiris devised a system to meet the situation. To solve the Nampoodiri ladies problem, they introduced the system that the eldest male member can marry any number of Nampoodiri girls and ladies. This again had its problem. When more than one wife is there, there will be family quarrels in spite of the tight control of males over the ladies, and the man may not be able to satisfy the sexual necessities of all his wives. This is further complicated when he marries in the old age to a young girl / lady. There were several instances where immediately on marriage the old husband dies and the young girl / lady will live as a widow with lot of restrictions and torture for balance of her life which may be a very long one. On the other side there may be also many ladies not getting a chance to marry and have to spend their entire life as spinsters. So there were simmering discontent among the unsatisfied ladies and some of them clandestinely try to have illicit relation which when caught, will out cast them from society. They will be thrown out of the house on the road. There were asylums for such outcast ladies. Some may be lucky to get there. Some may marry lower cast men and live with them. Some will get exploited by men and some will be wandering as beggars for food. In the normal circumstance itself there were lot of restrictions on the antharjanams, akathulla aale or aathole (those are the words by which Nampoodiri ladies are known) in those days. They cannot go anywhere except to nearby temples or to their close relatives and are mostly confined to the homes. Even to these places they were not allowed to go alone. There will always be a maid servant, a Nair lady who will be constantly with her. The Nampoodiris were using this as status symbol and the lady may feel elated. But in fact this is also a spying method by the men against the ladies activities. Then whenever the ladies go out they have to keep an umbrella in such a way that the lady's face and upper body cannot be seen by others, a predecessor or variation of the purda (veil) system of the Muslim ladies. The ladies cannot see anybody and anybody cannot see the ladies. There will be a Nair maid with the lady who will walk in front and other Nair ladies will be on sides and back of the lady. The lady can see the foot of the Nair lady in the front and she just follows the feet. In fact everything possible was done to keep them chaste. The only activities they had were taking bath, chanting hymns or slokas, cooking food and sleeping.
In order to avoid the division of property to the family with the sammandham children, they again devised a clever system of maternal linearity for the lower caste families with whom their younger male members will have sammandham, mostly of the Nair community. Under this system the males having sambandham and children need not give anything to the lady or children except one two pairs of dresses during the Onam, Vishu and Thiruvatahira. Since the Namboodiris wanted their younger male members to have facility of sammandham, they extended this concept to the Nair community also. So the Nair girls used to have only sammandham arrangements either from persons of their own community or from Brahmins. If any Brahmin is interested to have sammandham with a particular girl or lady the Brahmin will get preference over the Nair. So even if there is a sammandham arrangement for a girl or lady with her own community, he has to stop the sammandham to accommodate the sambandham arrangement of the Brahmin.
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This is a beautiful article. Really you are a great writer and researcher. We expect many more good articles from you.
Thank you very much
Welcome sir. We are thankful to you for giving valuble knowledge to us.
Hi Ramanathan sir
First of all i appreciate your dedicated work for spider kerala.This excellent story most of heart touching.I again expect this type of master pieces again from you
Gopala Menon was the father of MGR is not a gossip, it is a truth. But Sheela is the granddaughter of Dhatri Kutty is surely a gossip. It is possible to prove these by DNA tests even now.
but why the caste name nair got so famous and became known to all keralites despite kerala was divided in different countries ruled by many kings.why was the caste name nair be selected and claimed as all same from kshtriyas to bottom most caste of savarnas as nair.its one of the classic examples which shows how the mind set of people can be changed with education which was far distanced or have no corelation to the actual facts.it has been shown earlier that the word nair itself was not considered as a good word and it contained a bad meaning attached to it and how untiringly many have tried to give new meaning to it.the word was not mentioned in any official records such as stone inscriptions,land records ,orders from the king etc.one other reason for this may be it denoted a very small subcaste mainly employed as house hold servents.even no good literature in the medivial kerala used that word.but there were some reference to this caste indirectly in some literatures such as chambu set of literature which uses a mixture language of malayalam and sanskrit ,which was more popular amoung the bhrahmins of kerala.but from the second quarter of 19th century this word nair became popular slowly.this was because of the modern english education.some how when portughese came to kerala they some how got the idea that the soldiers of kerala were all nairs.may be they called the soldiers as nairs.in the books and writings they wrote they used the word nair to denote the soldiers of kerala.they being came from a thick and last era of fedualism,where class division of society was strong ,they were easy pray to the misunderstanding that nairs where the soldiers or nairs alone where the soldiers of kerala.this misconcept was passed on to others and was continued by other europeans such as detch ,english and french.these other later europeans learned about kerala from the writings of portughese.they too absorbed the prejudice that nairs were all soldiers or the kerala soldiers were all nairs.this passed unchecked so mcuh that in almost all the writings the word nair was used to denote the army of kerala.when the english education was introduced in kerala in the second decade of 19th century ,this same misconcept was later taught to the kerala children in schools and thus the misconcept and prejudices were taught to the actual people itself.and above all even today many learned persons and even historians thinks that nairs are the only soldiers of kerala.But in reality many nairs were not soldiers or have nothing to do with warfare.
it have been shown earlier that the army commander of marthanda varma was anantha pathmanabhan who was a channan or nadar and not a nair.he was also the commander of the personal body guard battalion of the king.it consists of 36 warriors selected by the king personnaly.they were all channars.in many victorious battles conducted by marthanda varma the commander was ramayyan who was not a nair.his caste is not known clearly.he was born in tamilnadu and came into the serice of the travancore king at a very young age.for many years he was considered as a bhrahmin,but some have pointed out that he belonged to the maravar community of tamilnadu.what it is clear is that he is not a nair .kanakku ,pillai,chempaka raman etc were given as titles to the courters or to those who were in service or to those who have done service to the king. it was not given on community basis nor to a particular caste.it cant be competetant persons are to be taken to service and it cannot be found from a particular caste,not always from upper caste .
in kerala the largest about one third population is ezhavars another caste.many ezhavars were in military service in olden days.not only they were soilders but also were commanders and officers in the armies.varnapalli family was the army chiefs and ministers of kayamkulam kingdom, so was ambanattu panikkar in service of ambalapuzha kingdom,ambantttu family of kollam was another ezhava family in service of kollam or desinganadu principality.Akathayyadi panicker was the cheif army commander of elaidatthu soroopam or kottarakkara kingdom.(Ref: Pathonmpatham noottandile keralam by Bhaskaranunni),Renakeerthy and dharmakeerthi chekavars - Commandor of Marthandavarma. (Ref: Travancore state manual.).ezhavars were largely in the service of cochin kingdom ,sankthan thampuran specialy appointed a ezhava military betallion in the guard of vadakkum nathan temple , commanded by a ezhava officer.in malabar area ezhavar were largely addressed by the name thiyyar and chekavar.chevam means military service in malayalam.those who were soldiers were known as chekavar.as thiyyars were so much in military service that ,it became another caste name of ezhavars.the word chaver pada or suicidal squad was actually derived from the word chekavar.whether it actually existed a question still not answered.
in modern age too majority of the martial arts school of kalarippayattu or kalaris are run by ezhava caste.all the ancient kalaries still existed are owned and run by them.in trivandrum where southern style is more popular its run by another caste ,nadars.nairs are not much in the kalari training or teaching.but the famous cvn kalari was started by c v narayan nair was a nair.but his teacher was a thiyya guru.kannur is famous for gymnastics and circus.the circus companies of kerala were founded and owned by thiyyas.it was because they had the practise of learinging kalarippayattu which gives very importance to acrobatics again due to the martial history of that community.keeleri kuzhikannan was the first to start circus company in india.
it is also a common misconcept that bhrahmins were the sole keepers of sanskrit language.but actually many books in sanskrit was written by bhuddhist and jains.in kerala during mediveal period sanskrit was actually taught by medical practitioners ,astrologers etc.these schools were mainly run by buddhist familes or ezhava familes.until the 20th century majority of these schools were run by them also it should be noted that many other castes were also used to run such schools.ayurvedic phisicians were ezhava and nadar familes ,also it was practised by some bhrahmin families and other castes which are now in obc list.
Dear Sir, First of all Madambu kunhukuttan is not the grand son of Jathavedan Namboodiri, secondly M.Gopala menon was not conected with kuriyedath thathri.