I revisited the Changaram Komarath household of Mitavadi in early April 2013 after almost four years. Though I had read a lot on Mitavadi and his counter hegemonic struggles against caste and untouchability from my early doctoral research stage in 2002 onwards, I first visited the place in 2009 while teaching briefly in an Engineering college at Thrissur. This ancient household is in Thrissur district of Kerala near Guruvayur, close to Mullassery junction. The remaining block of the old Ettukettu and the family shrine is still preserved by the current generation but it requires further care and larger support.
I was lucky to meet a few senior members from the family and they explained the family tree and the past. The family shrine in which the ancestors are worshiped as Achan is still used for prayers on a daily basis. There is a huge Pipal and a small pond before it on the eastern side. The old house in which Narayana Guru rested while he visited Changaram Komarath is still intact.
The senior members narrated the story of the struggles of the Avarna for human rights and equality that continued till the mid 20th century against the popular misconception of Malabar being delivered from caste by Tipu’s rule and the British rule in mid 18th century. Though they were the leading tax payers and regional supremos they were not allowed to use the roof tiles till 1903 for being the Avarnas. Till then coconut leaf thatches were used for a few Ettukettus in the family at Mullasery.
Though they were having their own temple at the household, as untouchables they were not allowed to stand before the doorway of their own family shrine and salute the deity and were forced to bow before a different stone installed towards the north east of the actual shrine. Bowing the deity directly was a taboo for the outcastes. Though the region was under Mysore and the British from mid 18th century heinous caste discrimination and untouchability practices continued till the mid 20th century; testify the elders of the family.
There is no wonder that an English educated and ethically inclined C Krishnan (1867-1938) as a lawyer and human rights champion (he was an M L C in the British Madras Province of Malabar) established his own press and daily called Mitavadi in Malabar. As his bosom friend Sahodaran he also became renowned after his journal. His father Mr Paran was also supportive in this early journalistic endeavor as part of the renaissance struggles in Kerala under the visionary leadership of Narayana Guru and intellectual and cultural camaraderie of socio political stalwarts like Sahodaran and C V Kunjiraman from Kochi and Travancore respectively. Mitavadi, Sahodaran, Muloor and Bhikshu Dharmaskand were instrumental in initiating the neo Buddhist discourse in Kerala. They founded the Mahabodhi society and Buddha Vihar in customs read near the beach in Calicut in early 20th century.
The Changaram Komarath house proclaims its ancient origin with its very name. Changaram is a recurrent affix in place names and family names in Kerala as in Changaram Kulam north of Kunnam Kulam or the widespread family name Changaram Kandath existing in Thrissur district. It is a regional modification of Changam or Sangham. Komarams are the ancient south Indian oracles. Changaram can also be a derivation of Sangha Arama the sacred groves in the memory of Buddhist nuns now called Kavu. The location of the Komaram or oracle in the Sangharama is shortly termed as Changaram Komarath. The inherent link of the family to Buddhism is evident from this family name as in Changampally family north of the Perar. The forced and farfetched Sanskritized interpretation of Changaram as Sankaram by the Savarna forces is a post Hinduization trend. Also there is a current Hinduized way of etymologically connecting Komaram with Kumaram. Both these derivations are baseless as exemplified by place names like Komarakam, Komaranellur etc.
More over a few miles north east of Mullassery an ancient Tali temple is surviving. Tali temples were originally Buddhist, before the 8th century. When Hindu Brahmanism took over they made it the centre of Brahmaswam regime. It then passed on to Azhvanchery Tampran in the early middle ages when caste system was established and is still with him. The Sery or Chery affix in Azhvanchery and also in Mullasery is a Pali word.
According to the OED, Sery or Chery (lamasery) means the abode of the lamas or Buddhist monks. This word came to English and French from Pali (through Tibetan perhaps) and was pointed out to me by a local historiographer Mr P S Sugathan from Kodungallur who is working on his new book on Buddhism in Kerala. Mr Sugathan’s ancient household in Kodungallur is called Panikasery.
From these linguistic evidences sustaining in place names and family names it can be seen that not just the Ezhava households but even the Azhavanchery Tampran’s family were originally Buddhists before the 8th century. Those who submitted to Vedic Brahmanism were made into Savarna Tampurans or lords and those who never submitted to Hindu Brahmanism or the Vedic hegemony were casted away as the untouchables or Avarnas.
The caste Tamprans made Kerala into a lunatic asylum as acknowledged by a Hindu sage Vivekananda himself in early 20th century and it required the collective struggles of generations of Avarnas to materialize the Kerala renaissance that liberated modern Kerala from the clutches of the self fashioned caste Tamprans and feudal lords.
Mitavadi C Krishnan was in the forefront of anti Tampran or anti caste democratic struggles within the broader movement of the grass root level cultural politics unleashed by Narayana Guru and his disciples like T K Madhavan, Sahodaran, C V Kunjiraman, Murkoth Kumaran, C Kesavan and others. The current family generations are trying their best to preserve this common cultural heritage of Kerala. It is high time that the people and their elected governments who are interested and committed to Kerala renaissance and anti caste struggles that formed the ethical foundations of modern Kerala come together and protect and preserve the ancient Changaram Komarath house of Mitavadi for posterity.