Leaders of Renaissance in Kerala -Ayya Vaikundar (1809-1851)

1. Ayya Vaikundar(1809-1851), a great humanist and social thinker, lived in the Princely Kingdom of Travancore in the early decades of the 19th Century Kerala, is still remembered as the first well known social reformer in India who critiqued the caste discrimination and religious hierarchy and fought against the practice of untouchability.

2. Being the founder of ‘Samathwa Samajam’, the first socio reform movement in India (1836), Ayya Vaikundar is considered as the pioneer of such revolutionary movements in India.

3. Ayya Vaikundar not only preached his views but practicalised among low caste poor people.

4. Ayya Vaikundar called the rule of the British as ‘Ven Neechan’ and the rule of the king of Travancore as ‘The Neechan of Ananthapuri’.

5. He is the first to install the mirror for worshipping in South India.

6. He was the exponent of a new path of spiritual thoughts named ‘Ayya Vazhi’.

7. His exhortation ‘One caste, One religion, One Clan, One world, One God’’ is world famous. He was against idol worship.

8. He did not allow the portraitures to draw his figure.

9. No evidence of any picture or any of his human figure is kept to prove his visual identity.So that he still remains as in the form of absolute wisdom.

10. It has been noticed that if the socio-political thinkers of modern India could have been accepted the vision of Ayya Vaikundar much earlier, the political dimension of modern India might have attained a value-based, a qualitative trend in all walks of life.

11. His theory and practice like ‘samathva samajam’ , ‘sama panthi bhojan’ , ‘thottu namam podunkal’ were much enough to cultivate a thought of equality and unity in Indian minds.

12. Ayya Vaikundar was born to the couple Ponnu Madan and Veyilal Amma in at Poovandanthope in the Kanyakumari District.

13. They initially named the child Mudisoodum Perumal, meaning “Lord Narayanam with a crown”.

14. But due to the heavy protest of upper castes, the name had to change as ‘Muthukutty’ because at that time only upper castes were allowed to use the names of gods as their names.

15. Ayya Vaikunda Nather stayed at Swamithoppu and sent his disciples far and wide to carry his message to the masses.

16. He mainly had five disciples named with Pancha Pandavas as Mailady Sivathaanu (Dharma Cheedar), Kailasapuram Pandaaram ( Bheeman Cheedar), Pillayarkudiyirippu Arjunan (Arjunan Cheedar), Kulachal Subbayyan (Nakulan Cheedar ) , Thamarakkulam Harigopalan (Sahadevan Cheedar ).

17. He asked his five disciples to preach his principles and lead a holy life. He gave a Pathiram (guideline for a systematic life based on his principles ) to them and insisted to adhere it strictly.

18. People congregated at Swamithoppu to get his blessings and called ‘Ayya’. He used the holy mud – Namam – and the holy watermunthiri patham to cure the people of their illness and absolve them from sins.

19. He preached a new prayer which his followers called ‘Pothippu’. People came to him with their first product like banana bunch, arecanut bunch, paddy, betel leaves and flowers.

20. Ayya Vaikundar advised his followers to practice Dharma. ‘Annadhanam’ was considered as the important form of Dharma.

21. Ayya Vaikundar’s preaching about temple worship was of great significance. He discouraged idol worship.

22. Ayya Vaikundar discouraged slaughtering of animals in the name of sacrifice. He discouraged keeping Hundis in temples and also giving Kanikka (offerings).

23. He advised His followers about day-to-day life. He asked them to be good to their enemies too.

24. He advised them to be kind and generous to those who came to them, chanting his name.

25. He asked them to abide by the law of the land and not to be covetous.

26. Ayya Vaikundar organized ‘Sama Panthi Bhojana’ in each and every place of worship in the name of “Annadanam’.

27. In 1836 Ayya Vaikundar organized a massive movement named ‘Samathva Samajam’. To propagate his concept of equality and dignity of all human beings this organization led a significant role.

28. Watching all the social and revolutionary reforms led by Ayya Vaikundar, the high caste Hindus became angry as well as afraid.

29. During the ‘Chariot Festival’ of Sucheendram temple, Ayya Vaikundar captured the chariot thread (Kampa vadam) along with his followers and ready to pull the chariot along with the high caste.

30. He declared that the low castes including him have the right to pull the temple chariot. This act provoked the high caste authorities.

31. When the King, Swathi Thirunal, was visiting a nearby place, they complained to him that Vaikundar was deceiving the masses in the name of God.

32. As they had full influence over the King and the State, they convinced the King to arrest Vaikundar.

33. The King believed the words of the high caste chieftains and consequently sent a troop to arrest Ayya Vaikundar.

34. The troop arrested Ayya Vaikundar from Swamithoppu. A huge crowd of his followers opposed the arrest and agitated.

35. But Ayya Vaikundar advised his followers not to be angry to the troops and to be patient. “ Let them learn who I am. I will be back to you without any harm “.

36. Then the troop tied him with hemp ropes and drew by a horse and brought him before the King who was temporarily residing at Sucheendrum, a place about 4 miles from Swamithoppu, during 1838.

37. Ayya was brought before the King.The King ordered to take Ayya Vaikundar to Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Travancore.

38. After that, the troop brutally man-handled Ayya Vaikundar. The troop was astonished to see Ayya without any change. So they gave poisoned milk to him. Ayya drank the milk with a smile. Nothing happened to him.

39. At Thiruvananthapuram Ayya Vaikundar was punished with imprisonment for some months and put in the jail at Singarathoppu from November 1838.During the imprisonment days, he had to face different tortures.

40. King later ordered to release Ayya Vaikundar by signing an agreement forcing him to be only the leader of the people of his caste only. But Ayya Vaikundar refused to sign such an agreement.
41. He said that he has no caste or creed and was common to everybody. He also told the King that he would leave the jail only when he desires to do so.

42. This news spread all over Thiruvananthapuram. People came before him in large groups with fruits, flowers etc., His followers from different parts of south Tamil Nadu reached Singarathoppu jail.

43. On the 19th day of Tamil month Masi (March 3, 1839) Ayya Vaikundar decided to go back to Swamithoppu.

44. With all glories, his followers carried him back to Swamithoppu overnight and reached there on the 20th day of Masi. This day is very auspicious to all his devotees and now every year this day is celebrated as Masi procession.

45. Nowadays this procession starts from Thiruchendur and Thiruvananthapuram. It ends with grand functions and is currently a declared public holiday for the districts in South Tamil Nadu.

46. During that period, Nanchi Nadu was the storehouse of the paddy in Travancore. These paddy fields were taxed heavily. At the same time, the land cultivators had to pay two types of taxes. One for land and other for trees. The majority of the landowners were high caste people. Even then Ayya Vaikundar entered into this issue. He told that the tax can be given to land only and organized hundreds of farmers of Nanchi Nadu and proceeded to Thiruvananthapuram. Addressing the farmers agitation at Thiruvananthapuram, Ayya Vaikundar asked the King to stop tree tax which was an additional one. He also pointed out that only if the farmer toil in the mud, the King can eat in the golden plate. This event may be the first agitation of farmers against a Kingdom in the history of India.

47. This part of the 19th century witnessed cruelty against women. They were not allowed to cover their breasts and below the knee in Travancore.

48. If any woman brought married from Thirunelveli , they were also bounded to obey this rule.The high caste men used to tore the blouses (rowkka) of the ladies who cover their breast.

49. A young Nadar lady came to market by wearing a blouse at the place called Kottaram near Kanya Kumari.

50. The high caste chieftains tore her blouse and captured her wedding chain with thaali. From this incident onwards, this market is known as Thaali Aruthaan Chanthai.

51. The men of Nadar community protested against this. The agitation spread over to different places. Several social workers intervened in this issue. The London Missionary Rev.Charles Mead went to the Court against this anti-human activity.

52. Straight fights between low caste and high caste men became common. The Govt. authorities stood on the side of high caste men.

53. They were not ready to consider the Court Verdict.So the Nadar men finally decided to break the hands of those who tear the blouses of their ladies. Strong fights went on.

54. Observing this severity of the agitation, the Govt. decided to permit Nadar women to wear the blouse.

55. But they were not permitted to put a shawl over the blouse. Ayya Vaikundar strongly opposed this and lead the agitation which was known as Mel Mundu Samaram.

56. As he foretold earlier Ayya Vaikundar attained Nirvaana on a Monday mid-noon 2nd of June 1851.

57. After the period of Ayya, many of his prophecies came to reality. Thousands of people became his followers.

58. His spiritual thoughts turned into a new way of life – Ayya Vazhi.The people who criticized him while he was alive, had recognized his way of thought-that is Ayya Vazhi.