AYYANKALI (also AYYAN KALI) (28 August 1863 – 1941) was a social
reformer who worked for the advancement of those people in the
princely state of
British India . His efforts influenced
many changes that improved the social wellbeing of those people, who
are today often referred to as Dalits .
In November 1980,
Indira Gandhi unveiled a statue of
Kowdiar square in
This article is part of a series on
REFORMATION IN KERALA
Caste system in Kerala
* Hindu reforms
Arattupuzha Velayudha Panicker
* Brahmananda Sivayogi
T. K. Madhavan
* Mannathu Padmanabhan
V. T. Bhattathiripad
G. P. Pillai
C. V. Kunhiraman
C. V. Raman Pillai
E. M. S. Namboodiripad
E. M. S. Namboodiripad
* Channar Lahala
* Consecration at Aruvippuram
* S. N. D. P.
* N. S. S.
* Vaikom Satyagraham
* Guruvayur Satyagraham
Temple Entry Proclamation
* 1 Background
* 2 Campaigning
* 2.1 Freedom of movement
* 2.2 Education
* 2.3 Representation
* 3 Contribution and influence in society
* 4 References
Ayyankali was born on 28 August 1863 in Perumkattuvila , Mukkola near
Venganoor , Thiruvananthapuram, Travancore. He was the oldest of eight
children born to Ayyan and Mala, who were members of the Pulayar
community. Although the family were relatively well-off compared to
other Pulayars, having been given 5 acres (2.0 ha) of land by a
grateful landlord, the children were encouraged to adopt the customary
occupation of agriculture.
Ayyankali is a member of the assembly of
Travancore, known as the
Sree Moolam Popular Assembly (SMPA) or Praja
Sabha Members of the
Pulayar community generally were rural slaves at
The region in which
Ayyankali lived, which now forms a part of the
Kerala , was particularly affected by social divisions during
his lifetime and was described by
Swami Vivekananda as a "mad house"
of castes . Suffering from this social injustice caused
join with like-minded Pulayan friends. These young people gathered at
the end of their workday to sing and dance to folk music that
protested the situation. Some joined him in forming a group that
challenged and threatened members of the upper castes whenever an
opportunity arose, sometimes attacking them physically. His popularity
earned him the names of Urpillai and Moothapullai.
Ayyankali married Chellamma in 1888. The couple had seven children.
FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT
In 1893, Ayyankali, dressed to provoke in clothing traditionally
associated with the Nairs, defied the social conventions that applied
to lower castes and untouchables by riding on a road in a bullock cart
that he had bought. Both the act of purchase and that of travelling on
a road that was traditionally the preserve of the upper castes
amounted to a significant challenge. In a similar act of defiance, he
entered the marketplace at
Nedumangad . These protests, which have
been described by Nisar and Kanadasamy as "laying claim to the public
space", strengthened resolve among others from the oppressed
communities of Travancore, leading to further protest acts elsewhere,
such as in
Kazhakkoottam . The outcome of continued protest marches,
which sometimes turned violent and became known as Chaliyar riots ,
was that by 1900 the Pulayars had gained the right to use most roads
in the state, although they were still barred from those that led to
Later, in 1904,
Ayyankali was inspired on hearing a speech given by
Ayyavu Swamikal . This Hindu sanyasi of the Tamil
Community had been preaching the need to break down caste divisions
because he thought that doing so would limit the number of people who
were converting from Hinduism to Christianity . A branch of
Swamikal's Brahma Nishta Matam organisation was established in that
Ayyankali and some friends in Venganoor.
Ayyankali also drew
inspiration from the activities of
Narayana Guru , a contemporary
social reformer from the
Ezhava caste, although the two men differed
in their philosophy and the means of turning it into reality.
Narayana Guru had attempted to forge an alliance between the Ezhavas
and untouchable communities such as the Pulayars but there had been
violent opposition to the idea from his brethren and the Pulayars
remained voiceless until the emergence of Ayyankali.
Ayyankali also sought to improve access to education. Some Pulayars
had access from around the mid-nineteenth century, mostly through the
activities of the
Colonial Missionary Society and London Missionary
Society . Conversion to Christianity was a prerequisite for
attendance at such schools, and there were cases where Pulayars
offered to contribute to the cost of supplying teachers for them.
However, Ayyankali, who was illiterate, believed that education
should be available to all children and this meant that government
schools should allow access to untouchables.
The government was already attempting to modernise its approach to
social welfare in an attempt to impress on the British colonial
administration that there was no need for the region to be annexed.
Several public schools had been opened to untouchable communities
after 1895 but the right to primary education was limited in scope.
State funding of education became effective in 1904 but even after
the government ordered schools to admit these untouchable people in
1907, local officials found ways to refuse it. In that year, helped
by the experience gained from organising the Brahma Nishta Mattam,
Ayyankali founded the
Sadhu Jana Paripalana Sangham (SJPS)
(Association for the Protection of the Poor) which campaigned for
access to schools and raised funds to set up Pulayar-operated schools
in the interim. This attracted support from both Hindus and
An attempt by
Ayyankali to enrol a
Pulayar girl in a government
school led to violent acts perpetrated by upper castes against the
community and eventually to the burning-down of the school building in
the village of
Ooruttambalam . His response was to organise what may
have been the first strike action by agricultural workers in the
region, who withdrew their labour from the fields that were owned by
the upper castes until the government acceded to a complete removal of
restrictions on education.
Ayyankali was also central to the success of the Pulayan challenge
against the traditional stricture that prohibited female members of
the community from clothing their upper body when in public. Caste
Hindus had insisted that the custom was necessary to distinguish the
lowly status of untouchable people but during the 19th century their
belief had come under increasing attack from various untouchable
groups and from Christian missionaries. The
Channar revolt , through
which the Nadar community were able to overturn the practice in so far
as it affected themselves, had happened not long before Ayyankali's
birth but the Pulayars remained affected by the discriminatory code
He started a school at Venganoor.
Ayyankali later became a member of the assembly of Travancore, known
Sree Moolam Popular Assembly (SMPA) or Praja Sabha.
Ayyankali died on 18 June 1941.
CONTRIBUTION AND INFLUENCE IN SOCIETY
The historian P. Sanal Mohan has described
Ayyankali as "the most
Dalit leader of modern Kerala". The anniversary of
Ayyankali's birth has been celebrated by his descendants and by
special interest groups.
Through the efforts of people such as
K. K. Balakrishnan , P. K.
Chathan Master and K. P. Madhavan , the Sri
Ayyankali Trust was
established. A life-size bronze statue of him, sculpted by Ezra David
, travelled from Madras through the length of
Kerala prior to being
erected in Thiruvananthapuram.
* ^ The number of conversions to Christianity had burgeoned after
1860, when the influence of Christian missionaries as a route to
achieve social change became apparent to the oppressed populace.
* ^ The
Pulayar communities did ally occasionally on
later occasions, one of which was the campaign to gain access to the
temple at Vaikom .
* ^ The
London Missionary Society
London Missionary Society established the Pulaya Charity
Thiruvananthapuram in 1861, and similar schools were
developed across the region.
* ^ Sources vary regarding whether
Ayyankali or Krishnathi Asan