You are on page 1of 30

Being a Brahmin the Marxist Way: E.M.S.

Namburipad and the Pasts of
Kerala

…the indigenous bourgeoisie denies the active role played by Brahmins in the further development of
Kerala…the theory of ‘Brahmin domination just an accident’, [is] a theory which denies the very scientific
character of history.
E.M.S. Nambudiripad, The National Question in Kerala
In 1910, K.Ramakrishna Pillai, the editor of Svadesabhimani, was exiled from the princely
state of Travancore, on account of his intemperate and unmitigated opposition to the
monarchy and the corruption of the court. Accompanied by his beloved wife, he settled in
northern Kerala and, in 1912, wrote a biography of Karl Marx: the first in any Indian
language. In itself, this was a remarkable and prescient intellectual foray. The Russian
Revolution was five years in the future and Marxism had not assumed the aura of millenarian
hope. However, what is equally significant is the question of how Ramakrishna Pillai
understood Marxism. He saw two tenets as being central to Marxism: the collective
ownership of land and the abolition of private capital. This would ‘create equality in the
world by destroying the gulf between the rich and the poor’.1 There is not much critical
comment in the brief exposition of these ideas. Much of the book is devoted to a
biographical sketch highlighting Marx’s unyielding opposition to the Prussian monarchy, his
exile and the travails of a peripatetic dissident life with his devoted wife. One is struck by the
remarkable parallel with Ramakrishna Pillai’s own life and concerns. ‘Communism’, he states,
‘is incompatible with the rule of the king and his laws’, allying Marxism to his own antimonarchist sentiments. At another point, writing of Jenny, Marx’s wife, Pillai wrote: ‘Let all
mothers sing in the glory of that great women who shared her husband’s joys and
sorrows…’. In a subtle way, Ramakrishna Pillai’s own biography recasts the life of Marx’s
life in terms of his own autobiography.
Such individual understanding of Marxism may not be unusual. Lala Hardayal, in his
biography of Marx, written in the same year, called him a ‘great European rishi’ and saw his

1

P.C. Joshi and K. Damodaran (eds), Marx comes to India,Delhi,1978, p.108.

1

central aim as being the ‘solution of the problem of poverty’.2 The first biography of Marx in
Chinese, written in 1919 by Yuan Quan (probably the pseudonym of Li Dazhao), described
in detail Marx’s poverty, the suffering of his family and Marx’s ill-health. The basic point as
Arif Dirlik points out was moral: Marx’s tenacity in the face of adversity.3 Just as in the case
of Marx’s life, so possibly in the historical engagement with Marxist theory. All reading
happens within a matrix of ideological and cultural determination. This is not, of course, to
argue that one must privilege the idiosyncrasies of individual engagement with a text over
the possible meanings within the text itself. It is, rather, to emphasize that
‘misunderstanding’ of a text, or a body of theory, are a window to an individual’s mode of
thinking as it grapples with a structured ideology. We can then focus on a notion of ideology
as a dynamic, interactive and on-going activity rather than as a finished intellectual system.
More important, we can begin to look at how individuals make meaning through the
translation of ideas in terms of their own concerns, rather than become ‘transmitters’ of a
system that has a coherence independent of individual understanding. 4 Once we bear this in
mind, then a study of Marxist thought in India becomes less obsessed with a scholastic
evaluation of the ‘correct’ interpretation of Marx, or, indeed, with the question of the
‘relevance’ of Marxism in an Indian context(which would involve seeing Marxism as nothing
more than a closed body of thought originating from European minds). Texts which actually
mange to stretch Marxism onto Indian ‘reality’ in a Procrustean manner become less
interesting, largely because of the overwhelming sense of unreality they mange to convey.
For example, M.N.Roy’s India in Transition (1922), treated Marxism as set of conclusions
which could be transposed on to any society and processed on the assumption that India
was largely a capitalist society.5 This is a case in point of an individual acting a ‘transmitter’
rather than a ‘translator’ of an ideology. Marxist writing should rather be seen as exposes to
what Raphael Samuel calls a ‘promiscuous variety of intellectual currents’. He points to the
seemingly curious phenomenon of British Marxist historians producing their most insightful

2

Ibid.,pp.47-8.
Arif Dirlik, The Origins of Chinese Communism, New York, 1989, p.105.
4
Ibid., pp.7-10.
5
Sudipta Kaviraj, ‘The Heteronomous Radicalism in M.N.Roy’. in Thomas Pantham and Kenneth l.
Deutsch, (eds), Political Thought in Modern India. New Delhi, 1986.
3

2

work on Puritanism and religious sectarianism, and speculates on the possible implications
of the Methodist upbringing of some leading Marxist historians.6
So what did Marxism mean to a generation of Malayalis who became communists? For a
large number, this transition was located in the history of local politics and the move from
the Kerala Congress, through Congress socialism to Communism. It was more an
organizational move than an ideological one. 7 The discipline that Marxist/socialist ideology
provided allowed the communists to take over the political organisation of the Congress by
1939. They became ‘communists’ first and then discovered Marxism. To use Dirlik’s
evocative phrase they had ‘walk[ed] backwards into Marxism’.8 It is also possible that a
widespread unawareness of Marxism was encouraged by the very organisation of the party
which maintained a strict division between those that engaged with theory and those
involved in mass mobilization.9 K.P. Gopalan, trade union organizer, encapsulated the mood
of his generation when he stated that, ‘we had socialist aims without knowing anything about
socialism’. 10
Early perceptions of Marxism arose from an amalgam of a heightened ethical awareness and
the existence of Soviet Union as a utopian exemplar of equality and achievement. When the
nationalist newspaper, Mathrubhumi, first began carrying articles on socialism in the early
1930s, its pieces were more remarkable for their polemical value. “Ignorance is the
fundament of capitalism. Anger is its armour. Cruelty is its weapon. The synonyms of
capitalism are treachery, oppression, deception, selfishness and contempt towards others.’11
In a society, like Kerala, riven by caste inequality, the egalitarianism had resonances which
allowed its absorption into a local idiom. Krishna Pillai, one of the founders of the
Communist Party in Kerala, wrote in 1934, that ‘communism believes that the whole world
belongs to one caste i.e. the human caste’. At times, it seemed as if communism was the
R.Samuel,’British Marxist Historians, 1880-1980’, New Left Review, 120, (1980), pp. 42-4.
Dilip Menon, Caste, Nationalism and Communism in South India, Malabar 1900-1948, Cambridge, 1994,
ch.5.
8
Dirlik,Origin, p.98.
9
K.P.R. Gopalan in an interview with K.K.N. Kurup, 10 March 1985 and with author,12 March 1987.K
Madhavan in interview with author, 17 March 1987.
10
N.E. Balaram, Keralathile Communiste Prasthanam(The Communist Movement in Kerala), Trivandrum,
1973.
11
Mathrubhumi, 18 April 1934.
6
7

3

1917-1933. were influenced in their understanding of Marxism by the literature coming from the Soviet Union. Nambudirpad. 35. ‘if the world does not copy the Soviet model. 14 P. As Damodaran wrote later. Damodaran and EMS in particular. we can forecast the future of man and society and thus control it’. 73 12 13 4 . G. ‘Rashyayile Randaam Panchavalsara Paddhati’ (The Second Five Year Plan in Russia).V.14 In a special number of the socialist newspaper Prabhatham.S. in Public (General) Dept. and the Short History of the CPSU(B) published in 1938 and available in translation in Malayalam in 1941. in Tariq Ali(ed). 1971. Krishna Pillai.O. London. Most Malayalis theoreticians. E. 1351 (Confdl) 17 August 1939. K.15 The Marxism that we are dealing with here bears a close resemblance to British Marxism at the beginning of this century as described by Stuart Macintyre: millenarian in character and unaware of central categories or historical trajectories. The same issue contained an exposition of the basic ideas of Marxism which stated that ‘with the aid of this science (dialectical materialism). The main texts were the documents of the Comintern edited by Kuusinen and Dimitrov. 16 S. Krishnan. ‘we identified Stalinism with P. p. Delhi.) 17 August 1939. Kerala’s First Communist. 1986.13 The introduction of the Five Year Plans had created an utopian space: ‘within four years.M. ‘Science of Marxism’. As K. ‘[they] identified themselves completely with the Soviet Union’. Damodaran was to write. Nambudiripad (henceforth EMS) was moved to write. 1351 (Confdl. K. Harmindsworth. 15 E. The Stalinist Legacy. Mathrubhumi. the experience of the Russian revolution was the most profound argument in favour of Marxism. ‘Fascisavum kammyunisavum’ (Fascism and Communism) Mathrubhumi 1934. egalitarian and emotive understanding reflected more the aspirations of individuals than the theoretical complexities of Marxism.S. K. p.17 It was the Short Course which became the textbook on Marxism.16 The transition from this kind of Marxism to a more serious engagement was both sharper as well as mediated by a particular brand of Soviet Marxism presided over by Stalin. there was no conflict between classes and the number of small peasants who owned land was countless’. ‘the tragedy of Indian Communism’. 12 This ethical. A Proletarian Science: Marxism in Britain. Damodaran. 17 T. Public (General) Dept. p. 1984. Krishna Pillai. 1934.highest stage of Gandhism: ‘The capitalist would be destroyed and the rule of the country will pass in to the hands of the daridranarayan’.Damodaran. it will mean the destruction of civilisation’.M.O. G. For others. all hoarders vanished. Macintyre. ‘Basic Principles of Marxist Economy’. 349.

1995. Nambudiripad. ‘Tragedy of Indian Communism’. 18 5 . Marxism and the Leap to the Kingdom of Freedom: The Rise and Fall of Communist Utopia. E.forwards. a ‘Marxism for the masses’ (in this lay its appeal) and was characterized by a combination of ‘blind faith with quasi-scientism’. 1976. 1943. 1978.Stalin. Most of EMS’s work in this period had been programmatic and in response to the immediate political situation. First. 851. .V.20 The idea that ‘dialectics pointed only in one way. Calicut. through support fro Great Britain during the ‘anti-fascist’ war from 1942 which invoked notions of class harmony to keep up production. Kolakowski. New York. The quick-silver shifts in party positions had to Damodaran.. p. 3. This was to be true of both caste and matriliny in the case of Kerala. 849. Main Currents of Marxism. Stanford. 1989. 349. to a turn to agrarian radicalism in 1946. Peking.Marxism-Leninism’.18 This was also to mean that Marxism came to be less with revolutionary dreams’ and utopian imaginings and more with a self-contained and rigid ‘science of the history of society’. Problems in Leninism. The persistence of such traits complicated the deployment of the category of ‘progressive’ since progressive societies were the ones in which the political and ideological superstructures were in harmony with the potential forces of economic development. Walicki. What is important for the present discussion are two related features. a ‘progressivism’ that saw civilization as advance from lower stage to higher stages meant that ‘survivals’ from one stage into a presumably higher stage were to prove difficult to explain. L. was in Walicki’s description.S. the crucial role allotted to productive forces as the most mobile and revolutionary element of production and the necessary adjustment of relations of production to the rise of new productive forces. Second. Vol. pp. Deshabhimani (Patriot). The Communist Party of India’s line between 1939 and 1948 saw bewildering shifts from opposition to war in 1939. Oxford. The clearest statement of this came in 1938 when Stalin wrote that ‘[s]ocialism is converted from a dream of a better future fro humanity into a science’. 19 J. followed by inauguration of a short-lived programme of agrarian revolution in 1948. each higher than the previous one and inevitably superseding it were spelt out: from primitive communism to socialism. 20 A. Revolutionary Dreams: Utopian Vision and Experimental Life in the Russian Revolution.M. No freedom of interpretation was allowed to the reader and chapters ended with a set of ‘correct and binding conclusions’. pp.19 What were the features of the ‘science of history of society’ as laid down in the Short Course? Stalinist Marxism. Richard Stites. 426-53. five types of relations of productions.

1943. henceforth NQK) written by EMS. 6 . The National Question in Kerala.21 Keralam. pp. Marxist method.M. Nambudiripad. Nambudiripad .S.22 The framing of the question is in itself significant: the idea of inevitable progress and transcendence is explicit. KMM and The National Question In Kerala (1952. Calicut. informed by what Samuel had termed ‘a promiscuous variety of intellectual currents’.in terms of the theoretical. was the only book to engage in a historical excursus. Second. Calicut.how and why the matriarchal [sic] family has continued to exist in Kerala down to the twentieth century while it was superseded in all civilized countries’. al a time when the ideology of language politics and of the linguistic organisation of states was gaining prominence. was the first attempt to stand back from the exigencies of programmatic writing and engage with the problems of the history of Kerala. Bomabay. the Motherland of the Malayalis. i-ii. henceforth KMM). 1952. Calicut. vestigial social forms like the matrilineal family would softly and silently vanish away. These issues predominate in EMS’s reconstruction of the history of ancient Kerala.the intransigent persistence of social forms. Aikyathinulla Tadasthangal (Hindrances toUnity). civilized space of south India who introduced caste hierarchy and subordinated the indigenous culture. it was claimed that regional identity was premised on a unifying culture created by the brahmins. 1944.S.their inevitable supersession and disappearance. 22 E. Deshabhimani. In this book we look at two texts.M. First. The central problematic as EMS wrote later was to find a clue to the ‘crucial problem of the history of Kerala. EMS had come out of an 21 See E. the institution of caste is reevaluated as a necessary stage in the transition from a primitive form of society to a more advanced one through a more efficient organisation of production. 1946. 1948. allowed fro the relocation of the Brahmin in the past as one of the key elements in the social and economic transformation of the region. The attempt tot explain the empirical. It assumes that with the changes in the modes of production. Finally. a summary account of the consequences of British rule for Kerala and future prospects. there is an engagement with the Dravidianist critique of the Brahmin as an immigrant into the egalitarian. I would argue provisionally and tentatively that these theoretically informed histories of Kerala can also be read as attempts at negotiating EMS’s Nambudiri identity at a time when Brahmins were under siege in south India as malevolent parasites. Mayalalikalude Mathrubhumi (Kerala. Onnekkalkodi Malayalikal (One and a Half Crore Malayalis). (Party Organiser). Party Sanghadakan. provides the underlying tension in the book.be clarified for the cadres and Onnekkalkodi Malayalikal (1946).

82. This was utilized by the Maharaja of Travancore to buttress his own demand for an independent state. its political ideology was premised on a sharp divide between the brahmin and the non-brahmin. The official demand for Dravidanadu.Ramamurti. As late as 1954. The past is where the genealogy of a progressive identity is constructed. apart from the Tamil region.Annadurai saw Kerala and Karnataka as autonomous states in the federal political unit of Dravidanadu. The Freedom Struggle and the Dravidian Movement. p. Karnataka.Tamil speaking Dravidanadu. the Dravidian ideology was a palpable political challenge in its attempt to subsume linguistic identity within a putative racial unity. parts of Andhra Pradesh. Orissa and the Malabar district as well. first articulated in 1944. As EMS was writing his text. While the cultural ideology of the Dravidian movement was inclusive and saw Kerala as having sprung from the Tamil civilization forged in the Sangam period. in the modern world. of the Tamil speaking districts of Travancore for freedom from the Malayalis. C. and at the beginning of a political one: of a role of a Nambudiri. 7 . he stressed the vitality 23 P. These texts stand at the end of a personal trajectory: of his engagement with what is meant to be a Nambudiri.V. separate from “Kerala”. the brahmins. Madras.Ramaswamy Naicker analysed the meaning of the word “nation”.as well as the negative definition of who did not belong to the region. In 1938.N.involvement with the reform movements within the Nambudiri community before his encounter with Marxism. Having originated in the anti-brahmin movements of the early twentieth-century. Contra Dravidian Ideology At the time of the linguistic reorganization of states in south India. this appeared to be an obstructive ideology bordering on regional imperialism. now an unmarked citizen. included.”23 For Malayalam speakers in Travancore. the major contender in terms of a fully formed regional ideology was the Dravidian movement in the Tamil speaking areas of the Madras Presidency. when E. trying to define their own identity through the Aikya Kerala (United Kerala) movement. it articulated both a positive sense of region. 1987. An added edge was provided by the demand raised in 1946. unite on the basis of race. Cochin and Malabar. and history is deployed as the arena in which transformation is wrought. The motto was – “Divide on the basis of language.

The Dravidian federation would include “all ‘Hindus’ except brahmins who call themselves Aryans”. MAdurai.R. the classical nature of Tamil was evaluated by the absence of Sanskrit influence. 1969. 1980. there by justifying “Dravindanadu”. particularly the Nairs. From the late nineteenth century. Cambridge PhD. M. a movement emerged among the Nairs which was at the same time a move for internal reform. Though the attack on the brahmin/Nambudiri in Kerala was neither as sustained nor vituperative as the Tamil region.of marriage. pp. The upper echelons of Nambudiris and Nairs were bound by an intimate and fraught affiliation. The concrete manifestation of this was the caste system which put the brahmin at the apex.as well as one that was deeply resented the Nambudiri liaisons with Nair women. The Politics of Cultural Nationalism in South India.of centrifugal forces in India.Barnett. Taml Renaissance and Dravidian Nationalism. 8 . As cultural exclusivism it claimed that the Dravidian civilisation had always been untainted by the brahmins and that the two ‘races’ had always lived separately.25 24 K. ‘Colonialism and the Transformation of Matriliny in Malabar. Berkeley. This was explicitly argued in Annadurai’s Arya Maya (1943) that saw the river Narmada as the impermeable barrier separating the Tamil culture from Aryanadu. the Aryan invasion represented the foisting of a hierarchical. As an argument for original Tamil glory. inheritance and division of property. At the same time. the younger ones entered into alliances with Nair women of the established tharavadus(matrilineal households). The Dravidian critique constituted a rejection of the brahmin as an unnecessary irritant in the Dravidian space. Only the eldest son within a Nambudiri household could marry. 1850-1940. 1976. Finally. 1992. Arunima. Politics and Social Conflict in South India: The Non-Brahmin Movement and Tamil Separatism. radicalist division of a hitherto egalitarian society. it saw the Tamil civilization as originating independently of Aryan/brahmin infusion.Irschick. he made clear that the central opposition was between Tamilians and brahmins. Thesis. E. An added and more profound dimension here was that there was considerable soul-searching within the brahmin community itself both for internal reform as well as for restructuring its relation with other castes. 1905-1944. Princeton.23941. Indeed.24 This anti-Brahaminism expressed itslf in various ways.F. 25 G.Nambi Arooran. the brahmin identity was under siege.

E. He grew up ‘surrounded by temples.S. Trivandrum. lecherous drone battening over Nair tharavadus was best expressed in O. he became the secretary of the reform 26 27 Mathrubhumu. 9 . Young widows.26 Another element was added to the critique with the emergence of the tenants’ associations and the demand for fairer rent and more secure tenure which targeted the Nambudiri community as landlord. 1923. there was considerable rethinking fuelled by the emerging Nair critique as also by an overwhelming sense of being caught in a time warp while other castes and groups engaged with the challenge of colonial modernity.27 It was only because of the presence of progressive relatives with a favourable attitude towards English education that he got to go to elementary school and subsequently became one of the few Nambudiris of his class and generation to attend college.The critique of the Nambudiri as an effect. and western education. Chandu Menon’s novel Indulekha(1889) which immortalized these concerns. Elamkulam. pp. His household.that Nambudiri men should marry within the community rather than enter into liaisons with Nair. Among the Nambudiris.18 December. 1976. He was born in one of the eight most exalted Adhyan Nambudiri families. prayers and benevolent and malevolent gods’ and had an education in Sanskrit. As an article put it in a language characteristic of the times. partition of family property.M. This critique also emerged from the impetus within the Nair community to move out of matriliny. being initiated early into the chanting of Vedic hymns.so that Nambudiris could compete with other castes in the ‘modern world’ instead of being confined to an arcane and irrelevant scholarship of Sanskrit ritual. ‘the degenerate state of the Nambudiri community is worse that any other in the world’. Nambudiripad. EMS’s life encapsulates many of these dilemmas of brahmin identity in Kerala. the only ones with the privilege of becoming Vedic hymnologists. polygamy and the large numbers of unmarried women on account of the practice of Nambudiri liaisons with Nair women were a palpable presence in his childhood and youth and these experiences drew him towards Nambudiri reform movements emerging in the beginning of the century. particularly in central Kerala. At the age of fourteen.freeing the younger generation from the coils of the joint family household. which they saw as a relic of a barbaric past. was one of the largest landowners in south Malabar and had connections with the royal family of Walluvanad through marriage. 2-5. Three issues were prominent in this intellectual ferment: endogamous marriages. How I Became a Communist.

Within the pages of the nationalist newspaper Mathrubhumi(founded in 1923) and the short-lived socialist newspaper Prabhatam(1938) he contributed articles on the priciples of socialism and the differences with the Congress. Inspired by the ‘Ezhava movement and the anti-brahmin propaganda of EVR’. EMS stepped back from immediate political concerns to articulate the twin concerns of Marxism and the trajectory of Kerala’s history.the Dravidian ideology that sought to delegitimise the status of the brahmin in south India.organisation. which even while it was concerned with modernizing the community conducted proceedings in a very Nambudiri atmosphere with breaks for the performance of rituals. In this work we see the engagement with the history of Kerala which recovers a role for the Nambudiri as the prime mover in the economic and social transformation of the region. cropped his tuft and stopped wearing the sacred thread. The task of making a human of the Nambudiri. EMS attempted to rehabilitate the brahmin in two strategies. It was out of the crucible of caste reform that EMS moved to an involvement with the Congress and became a believer in full independence. EMS was one amongst the core group. This chapter argues tentatively that the language and method of Marxism seemed to allow for such a recasting. As a young radical Nambudiri involved in social reform movements within the community in the beginning of the century. as one of the watchwords of the movement had phrased it. EMS argued in the text that the regional culture is one produced by compromise and synthesis between the Aryan/brahmin and Dravidian elements. rather than a displacement of Dravidian civilization. created a profoundly divided self. he increasingly became disenchanted with religion and ritual. there had been a sense of revulsion towards an archaic and backward-looking lifestyle. First. enough of his older identity remained within him as he voted on the side of the landlords against tenancy reforms at the Payannur Congress conference. With KMM. Throughout the test there is the presence of the Other. However. EMS had moved towards socialism and was responsible for setting up a subcommittee within the regional Congress committee to enquire in to the conditions of agricultural labour. the Yogashema Sabha. when the communists finally broke away from the socialists. In the enterprise of imagining a united Kerala based on a community of Malayalam speakers. But by the mid-thirties. particularly in the polemic of the Dravidian movement. through a frontal engagement with the 10 . The second trajectory derives from the first but addresses itself more to the political perception of the brahmin. in 1927. In 1939.

as in south Malabar there had been changes: the lower caste Tiyyas followed patriliny unlike their 28 E. but in the more neutral terms of bringing about an advance at two levels: first. the question of numerical and cultural strength of the brahmins in particular regions complicated the picture somewhat.e. marriage and inheritance had continued without substantial change and neither culture had been wholly victorious or wholly defeated.M. and second. That is to say. While there is an acceptance of the fact that an earlier civilization existed. These reconstructions created interesting tensions within the text.S. In speaking of the conflict between the two cultures the persistence of the earlier cultures was recognized: “Neither the axe of Parasurama nor the advaita of Sankaracharya. economic i. while the idea of a compromise and synthesis between civilizations is being worked out. he recast the role of the Aryan/brahmin in the history of Kerala (and by extension. 29 Ibid.e. Nambudiripad.”29 He argued that forms of culture.47.28 He went along with the Dravidian position that the existence of an indigenous civilization in Kerala preceded the coming of the brahmins.. Henceforth KMM. Where the brahmins were “strong”. Second. or even 2000 years of continuous brahmin power have been able to destroy the non-brahmin way of life. 11 . Thus.e. the relation to its putative glory is ambivalent. he argued that the constant interaction of Aryan brahmins and Dravidians within regions brought about a unity within regional cultures which took precedence over racial differences.48. However. in the mode of production. there is simultaneously the conception of the inevitable triumph of a gently civilizing brahmin ideology.theory of a pristine Dravidian culture supplanted by an Aryan one. that which is associated with less complex modes of production. It is seen only as a stage to be transcended – an era of lower forms of culture i. Keralam Malayalikalude Mathrubhumi [Kerala. EMS built an argument for a benign synthesis of civilizations. of organisation of labour and of family forms. the shift from “matriarchal” to “patriarchal” family forms. The question of how the brahmins came to Kerala was the primary one: was this process the southern equivalent of the Aryan invasion supplanting the Dravidian cultures in the north? EMS distanced himself unequivocally from the brahmin founding myth of Kerala in the Keralolpatti: that Parasurama had flung his axe into the sea and reclaimed land which he settled with immigrant brahmins. p. 1965) First published 1948. south India) not as the advent of a superior civilization. p. social i. the Motherland of the Malayalis] (Trichur: Deshabhimani Pulications.

30 There is a seemingly celebratory statement that the Nairs.emphasis added 31 12 . 58 33 Ibid.. p. First.47-52.northern counterparts and shrines had been converted to temples through a “cleansing” of their ritual. 57.. on the whole.”31 How are we to understand this reconstruction of Kerala’s history which on the surface seems to display similarities with the Dravidianist position? What value does EMS place on this persistence of the indigenous way of life? As we go on we realize that the stage is being set for the next step in the argument which is about the growth of civilization and the transition from one family form to another. for others “it is a relation entered into for the ease of life and to satisfy a physical need. later codified by Sankara. there is the question: “Who did the brahmins supplant within the regions of Kerala?” Comparing the different theories about the origins of the Nairs which locate their original home in places as far apart as Nepal. practices like equal rights for men and women in property and the freedom to marry and separate at will had been retained. The persistence particularly of “matriarchal” (sic) forms of geneaology and inheritance marks the Nairs. Ibid.e. despite brahmin influence. p. But we anticipate the working out of the argument here. pp. Pulayas and Tiyyas were able to strongly resist the dominance of men within families which came “in the name of brahminism and culture. matriliny even after ‘clash with the people like the Aryans who possessed a superior civilization and culture’.51 32 Ibid. Chotanagpur and southern India. Pulayas and other inhabitants as part of a primitive civilization which is then provided an ideal by the “patriarchal” brahmin household.” Of course. p. But. EMS comes down in favour of their being a Dravidian people.33 Throughout the text there is a constant movement between the term Aryan implying a northern origin fro the Nambudiris and being consonant with 30 KMM.32 One of the indicators of their level of advancement was the fact that they managed to retain the distinctive features of their social organisation i.. as well as allowing for some compromises with local religion such as the setting up of non-brahmin shrines within temples. They were part of the civilization of the south proved by “Tamil scholars” to have been no less advanced than that of the Aryans. While marriage had been considerably ritualized among the brahmins and made a life-long covenant. the brahmins themselves had not been immune to local influences and had adopted customs peculiar to the region.

1964. The works of John McLennan. p. 36 but not the critique. Yesterday. the Malabar Marriage Commission had been set up to enquire into the question of whether the institution of marriage existed among the matrilineal communities and amidst the dust raised by the debate it became clear that there was a deep belief in the inevitable progress towards the patrilineal family and monogamous marriage. ‘Today the vestiges of matriliny only survive among the Negro race.Dravidian position. Nambudiripad. 37 In 1908. K. their practices were seen as belonging to an earlier stage of civilization.9 35 13 .P. Bombay. even necessary. had stated with the confidence of the modernizer that. p. 1972. 20 36 E. 1908.M. The Origins of the Family. What made possible. In 1881. 34 Ibid. Arunima.S. Padmanabha Menon..35 EMS adopted the trajectory of Engels’s argument: ‘Marxian point of view of development from group marriage to monogamy’. such a misreading? Beginning in the late-twentieth century. 5. there had been much debate about matriliny and marriage among the Nairs. Private Property and the State.P Padmanabha Menon who wrote the pioneering history of Kerala. Parayas and other races who are more backward socially and culturally. and in our region among the Pulayas. EMS went on to add. this evaluation of the Nairs was elaborated with a creative misreading of Engels’s hierarchy of family forms from group marriage to patriarchal family.’34 Even as the Nairs were seen as part of the developed Dravidian peoples.38 For the Marxist thinker. ch. In the Introduction to the second impression of KMM in 1965. though Engels saw in it the ‘world-historical defeat of the female sex’. John Lubbock and Lewis Morgan were already current in Kerala at the beginning of the century as reforming elites gathered intellectual ammunition to engage with these problems of family. Engels. Immediately undercutting the idea of Nair ‘advancement’. marriage and the division of property. Engels had complicated the picture of the transition to the patriarchal family. ‘the promiscuity of savagery had passed into the polyandry of barbarism and the polyandry of barbarism into the monogamy of civilization’. 20 37 G. and the more neutral term of brahmin locating the Nambudiri as one among the brahmins originating in the southern peninsula. Memorandum on the Report of the Travncore Marumakkathayam Commission. This was evident in K. EMS read Engels as arguing that the move away from mother-right represented an unqualified advance. p. citing McLennan. ‘Colonialism and Matriliny’. p. London. 38 K. 57 F. Today and Tomorrow. Kerala.

Marr. Today. 1947. when he wrote that the ‘monogamy of class-ridden society…becomes a mockery for the woman’. 1920-1945. stating that the last named had made the most important contribution in establishing the historicity of the family as a social institution. pp. Tomorrow. However. Since the Nambudiris were able to make the sharpest break from mother-right to father-right they became the highest caste while those who retained the maximum amount of freedom in marriage and preserved the ‘mother-right’ became the lowest of the caste Hindus. Engels’s critique. xvi-xvii.41 So here again the argument of the superiority of the brahmin civilization was the phrased in the language of Marxism: as representing the teleological end which the inferior family forms strive towards. 60-3. Before the issue of the individual relation to the family was the more important one of the move from an inferior to a superior family form. Vietnamese Tradition on Trial.39 If Damodaran side-stepped Engels even as he acknowledged the difference in his position. pp. 41 KMM . ‘the Nair family will become the Nambudiri’. 40 14 .40 EMS made an interesting and unsubstantiated connection between matriliny and the caste regime. pp. It is interesting to note that Dange. Bombay.20. He began his discussion of the family by mentioning the work of McLennan. atleast theoretically. Manushyan. Yesterday. EMS absorbed Engels into the trajectory posited by Morgan et al.43 The dilemma in EMS’s case was two-fold. 131-2. EMS stated sharply in 1964 that give time and with the transference of descent from mother to father. 1949. since it was seen as impeding the development of the individual.Dange. 42 Nambudiripad.42 The family was central to many of the debates among Marxists in Asia. By the time he came to writing the NQK he had more fully worked out the place of the scale of the family forms in his evaluation of the role of the brahmin within the indigenous 39 K. Kerala. since his concern was with the move out of matriliny. A move from the extended family to the nuclear family was necessarily progressive inasmuch as it freed the individual simultaneously from the trammels of tradition and a collective identity. p. He then went on to cite Engels on the origin of marriage.Damodaran. 131. he observed that the survival of the ‘freedom’ of women as in the case of Kerala was characteristic of the ‘lower’ stages of savagery and barbarism.G. p. 1981. Trichur. Berkeley. Lubbock and Morgan. From Primitive Communism to Slavery.Damodaran’s work Manushayan [Human] (1947). patriarchy and the subordination of women. coming from Maharashtra had little problem in accepting.A. 43 D. S.

. Karnataka and the banks of the Krishna and the Godavari rather than an invasion from the north. the idea that the brahmins were 44 NQK. Later in the paper we shall look at how EMS denied the role played by kings and empires in the construction of the region of Kerala and made an argument for the brahmins as having provided the political and cultural cement within a fragmented.45 It was argued that this was inevitable since there had been no central imperialized government which in turn could have been possible only with a shift to field cultivation on the basis of irrigation such as in the Kaveri and Godavari delta. as suggested by William Logan. empires were an ‘artificial superstructure on the material foundations of Kerala’. these sets of imperatives did not obtain and the persistence of the indigenous way of life was both cause and effect of a lower form of social organisation. Here the Chera empire was evaluated and found wanting for its inability to ‘transform family organisation from one based on mother-right to that based on father-right’..Dutt – 4th century B. 47 Ibid. primitive society. from Maharashtra. 45 15 . particularly the Chera Empire. p.46 The Tamils could deal ‘a crushing blow to family life based on mother-right’ because ‘the necessity for the organisation of such a mode of production [based on artificial irrigation]…compelled [them] to develop their Chera.E. The migration was presented as the result of an internal movement from within the southern peninsula of India i. production and political development. Chola and Pandya empires’. By arguing this he was mapping onto the territory delineated by Dravidian ideologues and locating the brahmin firmly within it. – for the immigration of brahmins into south India. 18. p. EMS preferred the date suggested by R. Ibid. 7. Since there had not been an advance in the mode of production and consequently no increase in wealth. he disagreed with both on the question of origins.e. However. rather than as an outsider.” 44 The other dimension to the argument was the evaluation of the political structures which had attempted to rule over Kerala. p. 19.C.E.. p. Moreover.C.civilisation. 46 Ibid. The critique of the Dravidian ideology was much sharper as well: “the new bourgeois theory of Dravidian superiority seeks to attribute all the characteristics of modern civilized society to a people whose family life was dominated by matriarchal relationships. rather than 8th century C.47 In Kerala. 19. As to when the brahmins actually entered Kerala.

except for occasional slippages throughout the text: “It is more logical to assume that the brahmins came to Kerala in different groups. EMS returned to an argument about the Brahmins having come from north India. In the ‘Introduction’ to the second impression of KMM in 1965. A section from the ‘caste Hindus’ (this is curious as EMS argued later that it was the brahmins who brought caste to Kerala.g. However.. the foremost civilisation in India was in the Andhra region. even as the idea of northern Aryan origin for the Nabudiris was rejected. The brahmin was moved from originating within the Dravidian space. 16 . The regional differences between Nambudiris in Kerala were seen as arising from their migration from different parts of southern India e. from different regions at different times than to suppose that there was a single immigration of one body of people from one region. This surmise (abhyuham) regarding the origin of the Nambudiris was given a radical edge by the statement that they were the result of jati samkara (mixture of castes).54.”48 There was no originary migration attended by disastrous consequences as in the Dravidian representations.’49 Therefore. He hypothesized that the brahmins came to Kerala at a time when changes were coming about within marriage practices and family organisation. Ibid. EMS stated that the Nambudiris of central Kerala had had the most influence on the history and culture of the region. albeit of a different race. there was a decided inconsistency throughout the text) had gone some way towards imposing monogamy on their women while allowing the men to cohabit with women of other caste Hindu families and marry within their own caste.conquering Aryans was subtly undermined at the same time. p. p. he was careful to avoid the use of the word Aryan and Aryan culture at this juncture. the observances of the Nambudiris from northern Kerala reflected their Maharashtrian past. EMS’s alternative history was presented as a ‘surmise’ (abhyuham) for which he offered no evidence. to becoming one among the 48 49 KMM. He traced their origin to the banks of the Krishna and Godavari ‘because after the coming of the Aryan culture. it was argued that the advanced sections among them were only one remove away from the superior Aryan civilisation. but the ramifications of this reversal served radical purposes.53. here again there was a tension. although as in the use of the word Aryan. This group also accepted the study of the Vedas and along with those who ‘came from the north’ became the class known as Nambudiris.

52 Ibid. The development 50 KMM.xiii. as a means of organizing production alone.60. p. stultifying society in the ‘matriarchal’ mode.’51 The caste system and landlordism Here we come to the next stage in the argument: what allowed the brahmins to establish themselves in Kerala in the midst of a people at a high level of civilization? EMS puts it thus: ‘the Nambudiri possessed an advantage that Nair society lacked.the caste system’. this expertise in the family profession becomes the basis of creating the means to live a happy life: this is the essence of the caste system.52 The caste system was the marker of the superior economic organisation which the brahmins instituted allowing the shift from one mode of production to another. p.Dravidians.xix. The son follows the profession of the father. Ibid. In a context of agitations against caste both in Kerala as well as in the rest of the Madras Presidency.was deployed against the Dravidian rhetoric of the brahmins as aggressive immigrants.: ‘After several generations it became impossible to tell who the immigrants and who the natives were.’50 Throughout the text. ‘the development of a region is not determined by forces which enter the region from outside. 53 Ibid. p. The organisation of caste as a superior form of the division of labour allowed for two possibilities which were expanded upon in NQK. 59. p. Just as slavery helped human society to progress towards a more civilized state in Europe. What was that advantage? The answer is. 51 17 . Political overlords were unable to systematize an advanced mode of organisation of labour or of production. each generation learned from the experiences of the previous generation…53 The brahmin was seen as the prime mover in this system. As a result men and women of different castes had the opportunity to develop their professional skills. the caste system played a similar role in its time. It is rather influenced by the existing social forces which are growing within it. the characterization of caste provided is benevolent. Marxism and its notion of historical development – the motor of the mode of production. As EMS puts it. the ‘one who organized production’ by allocating to each caste a profession. in every boy is implanted the desire to gain training and then expertise in his family profession.

pp. though they ascribed different meanings to the founding of caste). Even then discrimination against the untouchables was denounced instrumentally as a ‘bourgeois attempt to keep the masses disunited’ rather than as possessing a deeper resonance at the experiential level as well. p. division of labour and the division of society into classes. prior to which the ‘soil of Kerala was prepared for the sowing of the seed of brahminism’.B. 56 Ibid. p. in NQK.32.85. This finally paved the way for transition to father-right among the more advanced groups.34-5. at the Second Party Congress that opposition to discrimination based on caste was officially made a part of the ‘Programme of the Democratic Revolution’. However. caste which left unresolved the links between the advent of the brahmins and the institution of caste: ‘the difference between one caste and another is a difference in the stage reached by them in the evolution of society’. 57 Ibid. 111-2.58 Moreover. This arose from the successful attack on certain forms of caste discrimination as an effect of the class hierarchy through peasant mobilization during 1938-40 which then relegated the issue of caste to the reforming influence of the rival Congress through the largely ineffective Harijan 54 NQK. New Delhi. 1976. p.of productive forces was given an impetus by the new social division which led to the accumulation of wealth.29.e. the argument was expressed in terms of differential ranking in terms of movement towards ‘father right’. following the consolidation of the Communist Party in northern Kerala through a pragmatic political line during the war.55 Caste existed before the coming of the Nambudiris. there was another major shift in NQK. the issue of caste had been summarily shelved. Earlier he had argued that the Nambudiris had instituted the caste system (where he shared ground with the Dravidianists. 55 18 .Rao ed. 58 M.57 EMS was not alone at this time in characterizing caste as if it were devoid of all connotations of ritual and social lowliness. He now argued that the process of division into castes had been ‘facilitated or even stimulated’ by the Chera Empire and contacts with ther ets of India. in 1946. He continued that ‘whether these contacts did also include the immigration of of a whole caste (Nambudiris)…is an open question’. It was only as late as 1948.54 While KMM had argued for caste as a division of labour with people allotted professions which they then developed over generations.29.56 On the same page he referred to the ‘brahmanical scheme of division of labour’ i. Documents of the History of the Communist Party. Ibid. pp.

It helped institute the system of private property in Kerala and here EMS moves towards a curious blend of traditional Nambudiri myth and Marxist method. 61 KMM. arguing for associating the communist party with caste associations and stating that ‘caste was a reality in contemporary society’ which could not be ignored. Once the Nambudiris had instituted the caste system it became necessary to compensate those who provided services either in terms of land or grain from lands. 5 and 6.Nambudiripad. this was represented as an inevitable. pp. this issue blew up in the face of the party when. the other one – ‘the special contribution of the Aryans to Kerala’ (emphasis added) – was the landlord system. EMS rode the storm by arguing that the party should not become the ‘display case of the religions and castes of India’. In EMS’s narration.Sevak Sanghs. As the status of the Nambudiris and rulers increased.S. most in central Kerala – he goes on to ask.59 In 1944. Tiyya labour organizers from the provincial committee. Observing that there is a direct relation between brahmin dominance and the prevalence of landlordism – least in north Malabar. there was considerable discontent within both the ranks and the leadership about the ‘caste systemt’ within the party.’ The belief became entrenched that the produce 59 Menon. painless and uncontested transition which was accompanied ‘by an increase in the devotion of the cultivators towards the Nambudiris and the gods they had brought with them. Caste.H. ‘it became absolutely necessary for the cultivator to relinquish a portion of the harvest and it came to be established that the Nambudiris and rulers had rights of overlordship on the land’. Over a period of time. Party Sanghadakan. 60 19 . pp. E.Kanaran and Raju. ‘Does this show that the tradition of Parasurama having granted land to the brahmins is correct?’61 The details of the origins of landlordism were equally curiously worked out. Nationalism and Communsim. following the dismissal of C.M. the importance of the share they received also went up. ch. Te local rulers (naduvazhis and desavazhis) were given a portion of the harvest in return for protection.65-6. The Nambudiris generated ways of making an income by playing an entrepreneurial role and in return for this they took a portion of the harvest.3-6. If the rational organisation of production through the caste system was one of the innovations imported by the Brahmins. 60 Kanaran and others within the party continued to press for an engagement with the issue of caste.

Ibid. If on the one hand it was the rationale of the superior organisation of production by the Nambudiri that gave them status. Indeed. they had been used to communal ownership by village communities rather than the idea of individual ownership. Therefore.64 We are not told how he arrived at this reversal of the earlier assumption.32-3. EMS had moved to the position that there was no intrinsic connection between the coming of the Nambudiris and the origin of private property. where the Nambudiris came from (the geographical location was unspecified). It was in another context that EMS took up what was lying beneath the surface of his benign delineation of the caste system: the question of inequality.63 In Kerala. By the time NQK came to be written. which would associate them also with the deeply ambivalent heritage of caste and landlordism. private property was instituted with the coming of the Nambudiris while in the rest of India it had to wait till the coming of the British.72.of the land belonged by rights to the Nambudiris or particular deities. p. this can be explained if we see that the argument had shifted from seeing the Nambudiris as the harbingers of a new economic order. pp. on the other it was a growing and unexplained devotion to them which lay at the bottom of the creation of private property. A form of absolute rights over private property which extended not only over the land but the vegetation ad natural formations on it was prevalent here to the great astonishment of the British.62 The greatest advantage of the caste system was that it paved the way for a major economic revolution. Buddhism was seen as having arisen 62 Ibid. 64 NQK. However. What the transfer of the rights over land from the hands of those who cleared the forests and cultivated the lands to those who lived off a portion of the produce without engaging in cultivation actually meant was the emergence of a new sense of private property.67-70. ‘land had already gone far towards being turned into private property’. Rather. In an attempt to locate the history of Buddhism in ancient Kerala he argued for a clash between those who espoused Buddhism and those who welcomed the newer immigrant groups. it was argued that they were the catalysts for a social transformation – from matriliny to patriliny – which was part of the ascendant ideology within Kerala and therefore had more unequivocal support. 63 20 . even before their coming. pp.

. One God for Man”: a Study of Sree Narayana Gru (1854-1928) of Kerala. For EMS.66 Buddhism perished because it had to. 1973. Hartford Seminary. 1967. p.67 Aikya Keralam: Kerala as a Linguistic Region It was in the laying out of an argument for Kerala as a cohesive regional unit bound by a common history. this was a crucial watershed in the history of Kerala an he went along with the tradition held by the Nambudiris in the Keralolpatti that the Malayalam era which begins in 825 C. 114-22. see A.65 The victory over Buddhism of Sankaracharya and the advaita philosophy represented not only the triumph of an ideology but a shift in the relations of production. 66 21 .T. His preference for this Nambudiri myth is interesting considering the other options available to him.D. Thottapally.Samuel. A Survey of Kerala History. For a discussion of the various theories regarding the origin of the Kollam era in 825 A. similarly. pp. language and culture that there was a more detailed and direct engagement with the Dravidian position.74.E. Nevertheless the culture that emerged in South India was a composite one ‘formed by the conflict between Dravidians and Aryans’. and those who wanted the destruction of the old order and the institution of a new one [Nambudirijanmi overslordship] took recourse to the brahmin religion. commemorated this event. Those who believed that the earlier Kerala without the caste system and janmi overlordship [Nair lordship] should be restored espoused Buddhism. Maharshi Vaghbhatananda Gurudevar. India’. Sreedhara Menon. EMS argued against the idea of a pristine Dravidian civilization invaded by an Aryan one and put forward the gentler suggestion of a compromise and exchange between the brahmin and the Dravidian. 67 V.in response to the ‘subordination of the majority of the people to a tiny minority’ despite the ‘social advancement’ brought about by the division of labour through caste. Kottayam. It is curious how the triumph of advaita and the caste ideology are presented as two sides of the same coin when the contemporary radical critiques of caste whether by Narayana Guru or by Swami Vaghbhatananda drew upon advaita for arguing against caste inequality. in Tamil Nadu. 1971. One Relgion. ‘”One Caste. they had to adopt the prevalent alphabet and content themselves with the fact that they could influence the local literature but little. Just as in Kerala the brahmin became a player in the matrilineal system of the Nairs. it represented an older order which may have had greater equality between people as a premise but was tied to a stagnant mode of production. in which the different strands 65 KMM. Swami Brahmavratan .

that Kerala developed its own culture and form of government and the Malayalis grew as an independent people. p. while there are’ differences and contradictions between the Dravidians themselves’. the Nambudiris would have been unable to engage in cultural activities and develop the sciences and literature and the Nairs could not have improved agricultural practices and developed their martial and physical prowess.105. the next step was a leap forward to state that over the centuries.69 The brahmin had been naturalized and attained a unity with the Dravidians in linguistic regions.85. The next step brought together the important components of the enw society – caste and a distinctive culture which integrated regions and gave them their unique character.86. The rug was pulled out from under the Dravidianist position by arguing that the Dravidians had less in common with each other and mre of an affinity with the brahmins. Even Tamil literature.e. p. which ‘prides itself on being the most independent of Sanskrit influence’.71.had become inseparable. Ibid.71 And again. The origins of regional identity lay in the possibility of the creation of a high culture premised upon a division of labour. it was on the basis of the caste system which subordinated the majority of the people socially and culturally to the brahmin. pp. and the janmi system which subordinated them economically to the landlord.e. p. In fact. had had its rules of grammar codified by the sage Agastya.70 In Kerala. p. he argued pace Stalin that like ‘the empires of the slave and 68 KMM. i. or Dravidians across regions’. 71 Ibid. 70 Ibid. Nairs had created a distinct new culture. 72 Ibid.68 From an argument establishing the synthesis of cultures.72 The cultural argument is made with greater specificity in NQK. i. 69 22 . Nambudiris and ‘Aryanised Dravidians’. there had been a shift away from a pan-Dravidian culture to regional ones in which ‘there is a greater similarity between the brahmins and nonbrahmins within a region than between brahmins. Developing upon the earlier critique of the Chera Empire. ‘Dravidianised Aryans’. The argument of racial difference was undermined by positing an emergent unity. moreover. If these two arrangments [caste and the landlord system] had not existed.83-4.

In Travancore.76 The Dravidian movement drew upon a geneaology. J.24-5. 109 to the Nambudiris and only 22 to the Tiyyas’. Stalin remains obfuscatory on the nature of the relation.V. i. EMS argued that the geographical region of Kerala was unified by the cultural production of the brahmins. He says both that the superstructure is not ‘passive and indifferent’ but actively assists the base to take shape as also that the superstructure is ‘created by [the] base to serve it’. the spate of caste reform movements had undermined the notion of a coherent regional culture. Here again the contrast with the Dravidian movement is striking. He stated that. 73 23 . Of course. each of which lived its own life and had its own language’. Kerala was moving from ‘clan languages to tribal languages’ at a time when Tamilnadu was moving from ‘tribal languages to the languages of nationalities’. II. The brahmins were then able to devote themselves to the ‘unification of several dialects into a national language’. This is despite his critique of existing historiography as being ‘largely about the rulers of Kerala and the higher classes associated with them’ and excluding the ‘lives of Cherumas. p. ‘in Padmanabha Menon’s history 176 pages are devoted to the Nairs. The trajectory of regional identity in the Malayalam speaking area was different.75 It became possible for Kerala to shear off from the Chera Empire of which it had been a part and for Malayalam to develop as a language independent of Chentamizh only under the umbrella of the brahmin. Moreover. 75 Ibid.55. with is suggestion that the ‘superstructure does often act independently of the basis’. p. the introduction of community based politics has fragmented the political as well as cultural realm into mutually opposed and infrequently united spaces of the In the Introduction to NQK.e. society and culture came into being’. 76 KMM. Calcutta. 74 NQK. built assiduously from the late 19th century.73 Thus. Starting from the early 20th century.74 Under the system of ‘feudal landlordism’ that developed after the coming of the brahmins there was a division of labour between the ‘manual and the intellectual workers’ and the allotment of a definite share of the produce to the latter. p. pp.43. the continued existence of the ‘matriarchal’ family. Parayas and Nayadis who were slaves under the sway of these ruling classes’. EMS states that it was Stalin’s On Linguistics [Concerning Marxism in Linguistics (1950)] that allowed him to rethink the ‘crucial problem of the history of Kerala’.251. a uniform government. 1976. it had managed only to maintain Kerala as a ‘conglomeration of tribes and nationalities.Stalin.medieval periods’. of a unified and glorious Tamil civilisation which was given a concrete definition by the anti-brahmin movement. Selected Works. ‘in a Kerala which was populated by different communities across its length and breadth.

‘Travancore: Status. Purogamana Sahitya Prasthanam: Nizhalum Velichhavum (The Progressive Writer’sMovement: Light and Shadow). 1987.Nair. and by extension so did popular culture which had largely religious connotations. The brief attempt by The Communist Party at an instrumental deployment of popular cultural forms in the forties had not been serious enough to make a break from this civilizing impulse. P.80 Robin Jeffrey. Party Sanghadakam. 80 E. 77 24 . festivals and temple festivals often are embarrassed about admitting it. Nationalism and Communism.K. 6. The roots of caste inequality were seen as lying in the unclean professions and uncivilized culture of the lower castes. by characterizing it as a product of a ‘feudal’ culture in a language removed from the experiences of the masses. 1860-1940. is not suited for a communist. Gopalakrishnan. There is a common assumption that expressing an interest in the fine arts or developing a taste fro it. Beginning with the Ezhava reform movement of Sri Narayana Guru.popular ballads. Trichur.77 In Malabar. chs. 1985. Class and the Growth of Radical Politics. Nambudiripad. EMS had written in 1944.M. Sardarkutty. Explainign this shift to the cadre. 3 and 4. music and the other arts. 1978. Ezhava. Delhi. Today the circumstances are such that we have the opportunity to lead the renaissance in literature. The emergent socialist critique had undermined the possibility of appealing to the canonical literature of the region. Princes and Paramount Power: Society and Politics in Indian Princely States. Purogamana Sahitya Nirupanam (Criticism of Progressive Literature). A high culture was being attacked for it ‘feudal’ overtones while the relation with a popular culture was fraught with contradictions. Caste. p. populist culture which drew upon the lives of the subordinate and to a lesser degree from the folk culture.79 Popular religion cme in fro censure from the upper castes as well as lower caste reformers.Sanskrit and a highly Sanskritised Malayalam. ritual performances and so on. 78 E. the attack on the janmi sampradayam (the culture of landlordism – often loosely translated as feudalism) from the late thirties ranged from a critique of excessive exactions of rent to a rejection of forms like Kathakali as being subsidized by peasants but culturally restricted to the landlord. in R. Trichur. Those communists who have an interest in kathakali. Syrian Christian and so on. The progressive writers’ movement of the forties attempted to create a new demotic. the route for social mobility involved a jettisoning of ‘barbaric’ and ‘primitive’ customs and practices.S. Peoples.78 However this was as yet in its infancy. 79 Menon.Jeffrey ed.

In September 1942.began to gain mass following. ‘Keralas’ being one of them. divided the land into sixty-four brahmin villages and prescribed an oligarchical government in which all the villages were represented. Over a period of time. EMS went along with the then existing historical consensus that even under the ruleof the Perumals there had been no unity.)? Here the central traditional account is the Keralolpatti. Finally. in a resolution at a plenary meeting of the central committee. dissensions arose and under these circumstances representative authority was conferred on select villages to act on behalf of the community. coming at the end of a redefinition of politics in Kerala establishing the rightful place of the ‘working classes’. the ideological underpinning came also from Stalin’s cocept of nationality. for EMS. Parasurama. 25 .81 Of course. Passions of the Tongue: Language Devotion in Tamil India.Once the movement for regional identity. However. 1891-1970. who founded Kerala. the brahmins assembled at Tirunavayi and resolved to bring in alien kings (Perumals) to rule over the country. Each Perumal was to rule for twelve years and then retire from public life. the new Kerala and the definition in terms of culture of the janmis.Aikya Keralam. Ramaswamy. though the trajectory was similar to that in Tmailnadu. Berkeley. the turn to language as an unifier of a region remained a deeply ambivalent solution. each under an officer. were set up.E. in which language was one of the major constituents of a peoples’ identity. an unequivocal return to the older classical tradition as in Tamilnadu. sixteen Indian ‘nations’ were classified. after partitioning the country among his relatives. cultural fissures across caste and community were subsumed at least momentarily ina an exaltation of Malayalam and its literature. The mythical account points to a political unity of Kerala under the Perumals which was fragmented after the last Perumal renounced his rule. The Keralolpatti gives a list of twentyfour such Perumals who ruled over Kerala and the last of them is reputed to have converted to Islam and left for Mecca. protectors were appointed to hold office for three years and four advisory boards. 1997. under their overlordship there had been several kings 81 S. So was there a sense of region. or any form of political unity prior to the cultural unification wrought by the Nambudiris? Had Kerala been politically united under the rule of the Perumals (9th to 11th centuries C. When this too failed to prevent disputes.

they were the appointed governors following the incorporation of Kerala into the southern empires.who owed allegiance to them. Here he attempted a reconciliation with the Dravidian ideologists by recasting the AryanDravidian conflict as that between two forms of democracy: the ancient Aryan democracy brought from North India by the brahmins and the existing Nair system of local and village assemblies (tarakoottam and naatukoottami). pp.I. he disagreed with Padmanabha Menon’s assertion that the Perumals rather than being invited by the brahmins were sent to rule here by the Chola-Chera-Pandya kings i. Second. ‘The establishment of feudal rule meant the destruction of ancient democracy’. 1924.P. thus casting them squarely as the movers in the political realm as his account of caste had made them the lynchpins of the economic realm. He went on to argue that the brahminical civilisation may have been the common product of the ‘Indo-Aryans’ and the ‘Turanians’ 82 K.26. In NQK.Padmanabha Menon. he made a significant departure from the consensus in two respects. attacks and counter attacks – which meant a considerable diffusion of ideas and peoples. and more important.83 This characterization is derived from a reading of the ‘Nambudiri tradition’ which he preferred to Padmanabaha Menon’s own historical reconstruction from a variety of sources. KMM.e. The Nmabudiris are seen as having provided the only unifying government within Kerala. just as earlier they were shown to have provided the bonding cultural cement for the region. there had been a democratic framework (janadhpatya vyavastha) which was supplanted by the despotism of the Perumals.82 It had been a form of feudal rule with the Perumals exercising a fragile control and their ‘empire’ disintegrated after their departure. However. he argues that rather than rule by a brahmin oligarchy prior to the coming of the Perumals. Cochin. p.420-67. First. 83 26 . another evaluation of the ‘empires’ of the south was provided. p. and that too. He prefers the account in the Keralolpatti which ash the brahmins inviting the Perumals. a ‘democratic’ one.93. A History of Kerala. vol.84 There had been considerable interaction between the north and south – wars of conquest. 84 NQK. arguing against the ‘theorists of Dravidian superiority’ that the ‘racial origin of the founders of the two types of empires –the Indo-Iranian in the north and the Turanian in the south – is irrelevant in a study of the respective roles they played in the development of human society in India’.

EMS’s work is a powerful example of the brahmin coming of age in south India. if such existed. emerging out of the critiques of the Dravidian movement as well as the soul searching within the Nambudiri community to forge a history that restored the brahmins to their rightful place. D. EMS took the next breathtaking step: We are led to the very interesting conclusion that the Dravidian empires of the south were not (as is generally supposed) bastions against brahminism which were ultimately broken down.85 The final step in the argument against Dravidian ideology had been made: the Dravidian ‘civilisation’. EMS’s use of Marxism and its concepts is idiosyncratic at best and instrumental at worst. A Usable Past What did Marxism allow EMS to do? First. On the face of it. but the agency through which brahminism was reared on Dravidian soil. As we have seen.D. Conditional on this the hypothesis being accepted. observed that it reflected the bourgeoisie coming of age in India.Kosambi. Second. Contradictions remained: the use of Nambudiri myths along with a scientific approach to history. exalting the high culture produced by the brahmins. monogamous family was taken on board to serve EMS’s own concern with the 85 NQK. and following from this. the putting of the working classes at the heart of the theoretical exercise but in practice. 27 . it facilitated a reconceptualisation of the idea of caste as having played a historical role in organizing production in such a way that it promoted the development of both individual skills as well as a regional culture. was necessary only in as much as it allowed for the inevitable establishment of the brahmin and brahminism in south India. p. in one of the earliest reviews of Nehru’s The Discovery of India. The latter was developed by the brahmins at the apex of the caste hierarchy who were freed from labour to devote themselves to intellectual and cultural activity.(note the conscious avoidance of the term Dravidian). Marxism allowed the reinstatement of a role for the brahmins by putting them at the heart of crucial changes in the organisation of the family. amidst the general condemnation of the brahmin in south India.28. a theme with major resonances for a society engaged in an attack on the legacy of matriliny. Engel’s argument about the transition to a patrilineal.

slavery or feudalism? Was the period of the ‘ancient democracy’ of the Nambudiris the era of primitive communism? If the Nambudiris introduced caste into Kerala (as argued in KMM). the ‘basis’ was European feudal while the superstructure was ‘brahmin i. pp. writing his descending Minute in the Malabar Tenancy Committee Reportof 1940 observed of the role of the British. 28 . The version of historical materialism that EMS. 30-1. Damodaran and other Malayali Marxists espoused advocated evolutionism and ‘progress’ as the watchwords of history. The question really is: what did Marxism allow EMS to do. Morover. EMS.e. EMS argued that in medieval Kerala. purdah. Engel’s critique of this transition was ignored. why was Marxism good to think? To answer this. ‘here is a higher and more advanced form of society and its perfected machinery and state culture acting as the tool of history in destroying the decadent social 86 87 NQK. we would be off on a tangent if we read this text as an exposition of Marxist historical method. the historical location of institutions like caste remained unclear: was its origin at the juncture of primitive communism. The past was merely a stage that would be transcended in the inexorable forward movement of change. And. that. Charitraparamaya Bhoutikavadam (Historical Materialism). one has to understand the particular nature of Marxism’s relationship with the past.Damodaran. in this parallels with the nationalist discourse are evident.persistence within Kerala of a ‘barbaric’ form like matriliny. and it was this brahminical superstructure that was responsible for the ‘further development of productive forces’. It was necessary to counter the Dravidian critique to imagine a unity within the region of individuals constructed as Malayalis rather than as Brahmin or non-brahmin. magic. EMS’s was a purposive history which ‘misunderstood’ Marxism for the political programme of the Malayali region of Kerala. pp. 1948. K. Asiatic’. ‘caste pollution.86 However. 13-14. As Damodran listed at random.87Marxism expounded a linear conception of progress and of inevitable modernization which at times could pose a problem for the anti-colonial sentiments of the Malayali communists. Trichur. superstition and matrilineal households’ and the privilege of power were now matters of the past. Caste and other phenomenon were embarrassments located in a particular stage of society that had had its day. how does this square with the idea of primitive communism? There are curious formulations of the nature of Malayali society.

91 The past could truly become a foreign country to be examined dispassionately. Levinson. p. As David Marr observes. Berkeley. p. 90 Determinism allowed detachment. the dialectic could be used to explain the progressive demise of the extended family system. Vietnamese Tradition. Vol. 91 J. Confucian China and its Modern Fate: the Problem of Historical Significance. Historical materialism consigned traditional values and institutions to the superstructure of society and predicted their ‘natural’ extinction. 3. 90 Marr. Revolution and History: Origins of Marxist Historiography in China. Dravidian rhetoric about Brahmin immigration and the origins of caste was as such about the past as inequality in the present. R. EMS’s attempt to leap away from history y asserting the pastness of caste and matriliny denied their tangibility in the present and their continuing legacy. 89 29 . in not looking back in anger. 88 Malabar Tenancy Committee Report. 1940. there was no need to struggle against an old and dying culture. London. while trying to reconcile this with their resentment of the effects of these forces. EMS and others denied the long shadow of the past in the present. superseding of kings and popes of oil magnates and the victory of revolution. For. Chinese Communist Party writers offered tortuous arguments in accepting capitalism and imperialism as historically progressive. A. in his classic work on the fate of Confucian ideology in China. Dirlik. 1965. and the usages could now be scrutinized from the vantage point of a world which had consigned them to the past. pp. They could move away from indictment to explanation. 70.89 The evolutionist paradigm had more insidious effects in the attitude towards the past.80-81. As Dirlik shows. remarking on the work of the Vietnamese Marxist Tran Huu Do. 1978. The classics. at one level.73. 274. As Dange wrote. The idea of the inevitable supersession of traditional moribund forms released EMS and other Marxists from what Levinson calls. p. the ‘compulsion to denounce’. it was this neutering of the past which vitiated much Marxist history and EMS’s own Marxixante foray. Ultimately. 1919-1937. traditions. Therefore.system and a dying culture’.88 This desire to jettison the past and embrace the blandishments of ‘progress’ generated conflicts within Marxists in the colonies and elsewhere in Asia.

if read and sifted on the basis of Historical Materialism would yield a consistent and rational picture of India’s ancient history. 92 Dange. social laws and practices. 21 30 . p.It is my firm opinion of the vast storehouse of Hindu mythology and religion.92 The past could be used once it has been transcended and the Marxist method allowed for the creation of a usable past. From Primitive Communism.