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Social Reformers In Kerala

Updated: Apr 9, 2023

Sri Narayana Guru

Aruvippuram Movement

  • Narayana Guru began his public activity as a rebel against the Brahmanical tradition.

  • The right to install idols, and to perform poojas in temples were the monopoly of Brahmins but Narayana Guru opposed the same.

  • After bath and prayer, he took a stone of the shape of Sivalinga from the bed of the river Neyyar and installed it for worship at Aruvipuram near Neyyatinkara.

  • This event is known as Aruvippuram revolution. It was held in 1888.

  • After wards, he moved from place to place and established more than sixty temples.

  • This bold act of Narayana Guru, upset the Brahmins who dominated the consecration of temples and other connected ceremonies.

  • They questioned the propriety of Narayana Guru to consecrate a temple. But Guru boldly repeated that he did not consecrate Brahmin Siva, but an Ezhava Siva. This reply attracted the Ezhavas and they considered him as their leader and became his followers.

  • The Ezhavas themselves officiated as priests in the temples founded by him.


  • On 7 January 1903, Sri Narayana Guru, Dr. Palpu and poet Kumaran Asan, jointly invited many leaders of the Ezhava caste to attend a meeting at Trivandrum to discuss the idea of forming an organization to uplift the Ezhava.

  • This meeting decided to form an organization for the propagation of the ethics of Sree Narayana Guru, and he was made as its life President and Kumaran Asan its secretary.

  • Thus the organization ‘Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam’ (S.N.D.P.) was established on May 15, 1903.

  • Its first annual session was held at Aruvipuram in 1904 under the guidance of Sri Narayana Guru.

  • The basic aim of the Yogam was to popularize the message of Sri Narayana Guru and bring about the social and spiritual regeneration of the Ezhavas and other backward communities.

  • The S.N.D.P. attracted the untouchables of Kerala with its socio-religious programmers and united them.

Messages against Caste System

  • Though the religion, dress, language, etc. are different, as all belong to the same caste (mankind), there is no harm in intermarrying and interlinking.

  • Narayana Guru showed that caste distinction had no relation to the abilities of man; any one can rise to any position of excellence by his own abilities.

  • He asserted that the foundation of caste are unstable even in the Hindu Vedas.

  • Sri Narayana Guru associated himself with the untouchables and intermingled with them.

  • He also took a few low caste boys to his Ashram at Varkala and cultured them to adopt his principles with regard to caste.

  • Narayana Guru instructed the students of his institutions not to ask any one of his caste or reveal to anyone his or her own caste.

  • He believed that casteism was the main obstacle in the way of social, economic and political emancipation not only in Travancore but the whole of India.

Other Social Reforms

  • Narayana Guru was of the firm opinion that education and trade were essential for the mental and material wellbeing of the Ezhavas.

  • He informed the people that emancipation was possible through education.

  • From the beginning of his public career, he paid much attention to educational work.

  • He established Vedic Patasalas and invited Pulayas and other depressed classes to join in worship and study.

  • He also campaigned against the observance of certain practices such as 'Talikettukalyanam', 'Tirandukuli' among the Ezhavas and achieved a large measure of success in persuading them to give up these practices.


  • He was born on 28 August 1863 into a Pulaya family at Venganoor near Trivandrum.

  • Ayyankali became extremely conscious of the low social and economic condition of the Pulayas and the bondage enforced upon them by the higher castes and therefore he fought for the emancipation of his people.

  • His first attempt at asserting his right and freedom was when he bought a bullock-cart which was then a luxury for the Pulayas.

  • The first attempt of Ayyankali was to assert the right of using public roads for himself and his people who were denied this right for a long time.

  • In 1893, he travelled on the bullock-cart from Venganoor to Kavadiyar through the public roads. This event is known as 'Bullock-cart strike' (വില്ലുവണ്ടി സമരം).

  • In 1907, Ayyankali formed an organization by name “ Sadhujana Paripalana Sangham”. The main objective of this was the socio-economic emancipation of the Pulayas.

  • Ayyankali fully realized the importance of education for the social advancement of his people. As a first step, he opened a school for the Pulayas at Venganoor in 1904.

  • The attempts of Ayyankali were successful in drawing the attention of the Government to the educational needs of the Pulayas.

  • As in the case of many other communities, he also demanded employment opportunities for the Pulayas under the government.

Chattampi Swamigal

  • Like Sri Narayana Guru, another social reformer who worked for the abolition of untouchability in Kerala was Chattampi Swamigal.

  • He was born on August 25, 1853 in a Nair family at Kannanmula in the outskirts of Trivandrum. Though he did not have much of a formal education; he was endowed with an intellect of high caliber.

  • At the age of 24, he undertook an extensive tour of south India. In the course of which he established contacts with many religious saints of repute and got opportunities of acquiring mastery of Hindu theological literature as well.

  • In his late twenties, he returned to Trivandrum and plunged into religious activities aimed at the eradication of social evils like untouchability.

  • His learned discourses as well as works on religion, philosophy and the brotherhood of man, soon won for him a wide circle of disciples. By identifying himself with the aspirations and problems of the common people in his speeches, writings and social activities, Chattampi Swamigal gave the reform movement in Kerala an intellectual appeal, a social basis and a practical turn.

  • Chattampi Swamigal had a liberal social outlook. He wielded his pen as an instrument of social change. He believed that early society was based on the principles of social freedom and equality and that Chaturvarnya was introduced by the Brahmins in order to further their own self-interest.

  • By projecting the picture of an original casteless society in ancient Kerala and of they have wrought in it by the introduction of Chaturvarnya, Chattampi Swamikal kindled social awareness among the people and gave an impetus to the social-religious reform movement in Kerala.

  • He always expressed his profound faith in the philosophy of Ahimsa and non-violence. He denounced the primitive custom of animal sacrifice observed in Temples as barbarous and inhuman and thus set the pace for its isolation in Temples owned by the Devaswom Department in Travancore during the Regency of Sethu Lakshmi Bai (1924-1931).

  • In his religious work ‘Vedadhikaranirupanam’, Swamigal shattered the myth of Brahmins right to the monopoly of Vedic learning and asserts the right of every Hindu, irrespective of caste, have free access to the treasures of the Vedic lore.

  • His another work ‘Sarvamatasamarasyam’ gives the gist of the truths common to all faith and emphasizes the fundamental unity of religion.

  • He worked in close co- operation with Sri Narayana Guru in the common cause of Hindu social and religious regeneration. His death on 1924 was a great loss to the cause of social reform movements in the whole of Travancore.

Pandit Karuppan

  • Pandit Karuppan (1885 – 1938) was a poet, dramatist and social reformer who made relentless crusader against untouchability and social evils.

  • Hailing from a community of inland fishermen, Karuppan worked well to steer socio-economically and educationally backward communities to the front.

  • Being the first human rights activist of the Cochin State, he used his literary ability and managerial skill to fight illiteracy, social injustice, casteism and superstitions.

  • He also campaigned for the rights of lower-caste people.

  • As a social reformer, Karuppan quit his teaching job and organised the people of his own community. Various sabhas were formed aimed to achieve the upliftment of the subaltern dalit castes.

  • He even persuaded other communities like Velas, Sambavas, Ulladas and Kudumbis to form similar Sabhas to give impetus to their fight against social evils and injustice.

Mannathu Padmanabhan

  • Mannathu Padmanabhan (1878 - 1970) was a social reformer and a freedom fighter who is recognised as the founder of the Nair Service Society (NSS). Being a visionary reformer, Padmanabhan organised the Nair community under the NSS.

  • Even though, he started his career as a government school teacher, he changed his profession and started practicing law.

  • He fought for social equality, took part in the Vaikom and Guruvayoor temple- entry and anti-untouchability agitation.

  • In 1959, Padmanabhan along with Christian Churches led a united opposition against the Education bill introduced by the State Ministry, which was known as the Vimochana Samaram (liberation struggle).

  • The movement caused the dismissal of the Communist government and even sow seeds to introduce President's rule in the state.

  • He was honoured with the title Bharata Kesari by the President of India and also received Padma Bhushan in1966.


  • Vellithruthi Thazhathu Karutha Patteri Raman Bhattathiripad(1896-1982), popularly known as V. T. Bhattathiripad or V. T. was a prominent freedom fighter who played a key role in removing casteism and conservatism that existed in the Namboothiri community.

  • He tried to reform the conservative practices of the Namboodiri community.

  • V.T can be credited for starting the progressive theater movement of Kerala. His drama 'Adukkalayil Ninnum Arangathekku' was the first play in Malayalam which had a definite and concrete social objective.

  • His slogans become very popular during the period which sought for the transformation of "Brahmans into human beings".

Dr. Palpu

  • Padmanabhan Palpu (1863 - 1950) was a bacteriologist and social revolutionary who is known as the "political father" of the Ezhavas.

  • Palpu studied at colleges in Trivandrum Madras and then went to England and completed his medical training at London and Cambridge. Returning to India, his low caste status prevented him from obtaining employment in the Travancore Health Service which made him to move to Mysore in order to get work.

  • As Palpu become aware about importance of education as a way of socio-economic advancement and also as means to improve health, Palpu attempted to highlight inequalities in Travancore society and organised a petition duly signed by 13,176 Ezhavas.

  • He presented it to the Maharajah of Travancore and demanded their right to admission in schools which was managed by the colonial government and also access to employment in public service. As a result of this, drastic changes happened in the Travancore with their demands getting satisfied.


  • N. Kumaran Asan (1873–1924), also known as Mahakavi Kumaran Asan was also a philosopher, a social reformer and a disciple of Sree Narayana Guru.

  • He initiated revolutionary changes in Malayalam poetry during the first quarter of the 20th century.

  • He became the first secretary of SNDP Yogam and started a news paper called Vivekodayam, the mouth of the S N D P Yogam.

  • 'Chandala Bhikshuki' and 'Duravastha' are good examples of his talented hands.

  • Through 'Duravastha' reveals the social discrimination which prevailed during the 1920's.

  • Kumaranashan received the 'Mahakavipattom' for his true and heart touching work 'Duravastha'.

Vakkom Moulavi

  • Vakkom Muhammed Abdul Khadir Moulavi, (1873 – 1932) popularly known as Vakkom Moulavi was a social reformer, prolific writer, Muslim scholar, and freedom fighter who laboured hard for the social upliftment and moral renewal of his community.

  • As a scholar in Arabic, Persian, Urdu and Malayalam, he encouraged the Muslims to take English education and be an active part in modern progressive movements.

  • He popularised Arabic-Malayalam by publishing an Arabic-Malayalam monthly called Al Islam.

  • He founded the Travancore Muslim Mahajana Sabha and Chirayinkil Taluk Muslim Samajam for social uplifting the Muslims and propagating liberal ideas among them.

  • Maulavi Sahib has contributed a lot to the educational and social fields which transformed the Muslim community in the state.

Kuriakose Elias Chavara

  • Kuriakose Elias Chavara (1805 -1871) was the co-founder and first Prior General of the first congregation for men in the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church which is now known as the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate(CMI).

  • After his elementary education, he joined the seminary. After being ordained in 1829, Father Kuriakose along with two other priests founded a community named 'Servants of Mary Immaculate'.

  • As a social reformer, Kuriakose Elias Chavara played a large role in educating the people of the lower ranks of society.

  • He first introduced the system called "A school along with every church" later known as 'Pallikudam' making free education available for everyone.

  • As he believed that intellectual growth and the education of women was the first step towards overall social wellbeing, the first religious congregation for women was founded.

  • With the help of an Italian missionary, Fr.Leopold Beccarohe, Fr.Kuriakose Elias started an Indian religious congregation for women, the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel.

T K Madhavan

  • TK Madhavan was a social reformer and journalist who led crusade for the eradication of untouchability. Madhavan was a disciple of Sree Narayana Guru.

  • He founded Deshabhimani weekly with K P Kayyalakkal.

  • He took part in the Congress conference of 1923 at Kakkinada and earned the support of Mahatma Gandhi in the fight against casteist prejudices.

  • He was one of the leaders of Vaikom Satyagraha in 1924.

Sahodaran Ayyappan

  • Ayyappan was a journalist, thinker and social reformer. He was born in Cherai in 1889.

  • Sahodaran movement was established by him to fight against the discrimination in the name of castes and untouchability.

  • He organised Mishrabhojanam in 1917, in which people from different castes had meals together.

  • He founded an organisation named Vidyaposhini and established the newspaper Sahodaran to propagate his ideas.


  • Vagbhatananda Gurudeva(1885-1939) was a social reformer who played a crucial role in the social reform movement in modern Kerala. His magnetic personality and oratorical skill engrossed towards him a large number of supporters.

  • He founded the Atmavidya Sangham, a group of professionals and intellectuals who had a more secular approach to reform.

  • He condemned caste barriers and idol worship and urged his followers to reject such practices.

  • Being a vigorous campaigner against addiction to liquor, his teachings helped to strengthen the base of the nationalist movement mainly in north Kerala.

Thycaud Ayya

  • Thaikkattu Ayyavu Swamikal (1814–1909) was a spiritualist who is considered to be one of the greatest social reformers of Kerala.

  • He was the first to break customs related to caste in Kerala when caste restrictions and untouchability were at its peak.

  • Ayyavu wrote several books on Bhakthi, Jnana and Yoga in Sanskrit, Tamil and Malayalam with Brahmotharakandom, Pazhanidaivam and Ramayanam Pattu prominent among them.

  • His disciples Chattampi Swami, Narayana Guru, Swayam Prakasini Amma, and others followed the teaching of their great teacher.

Ayya Vaikundar

  • Vaikunta Swami (also known as Muthukutti Swami) (1809-1851) was a man of progressive social outlook.

  • Even though he was also called as Mudichoodum Perumal, he had to give up the name as it could only be used by the upper class people during the time. So parents called him Muthukutty.

  • After learning Nalvazhimoodur, Thirukural and the Bible he went for a pilgrimage and meditation in Thiruchentoor. Returned at the age of 24, he called himself as Vaikunda Swami.

  • He tried to alter certain social customs which was prevailing at that time among Nadars.

  • In 1836, he founded an organisation called 'Samatva Samajam' to fight for the redressal of the gripe of the Avarnas. The Samatva Samajam being one of the earliest social organisation, Vaikunda Swamikal become a pioneer social revolutionaries in Kerala.

  • As his popularity increased, the King of Travancore arrested him and tortured.

  • After returning from imprisonment, Vaikundar inspired a group of his devotees to undertake a religious exercise called Thuvayal Thavasu.

Poikayil Yohannan (Kumara Guru)

  • Poikayil Yohannan (1878 – 1939), known as Poikayil Appachan to his followers, or Kumara Gurudevan was a Dalit activist, poet, Christian preacher who founded the socio-religious movement Prathyaksha Raksha Daiva Sabha ('God's Church of Visible Salvation').

  • Born as a bondsman to a Syrian Christian family, he had to follow Christianity and a Christian name, called Johannan.

  • Well literate and versed with Bible, Johannan sought to create a sense of unity among the Christian Dalit communities.

  • Even though he joined the Marthoma church, as he realized that the church treated Dalits as an inferior class, he left the church.

  • In 1909, Johannan left Christianity and formed his own Dalit liberation movement named 'Prathyaksha Raksha Daiva Sabha' (PRDS).

  • Known as Poikayil Appachan or Kumara Gurudevan later, Johannan advocated devout liberation, and sought to empower and unite the Dalits.

  • Poikayil Yohannan bought several acres of land and set up schools and industrial training centers in various places. He even established several government aided schools for Dalit education.

Brahmananda Swami Sivayogi

  • Brahmananda Sivayogi (1852-1929), the founder of the Sidhasramam was a strong advocate in Yoga system of philosophy.

  • He founded the 'Ananda Maha Sabha' in 1918.

  • Sivayogi fought against various social evils and wished to bring changes in the Marumakkathayam system of inheritance, widow marriage, prohibition of liquor and female education.

  • He laid stress on happiness (ananda) which was essential for the welfare of mankind.

  • He has written more than 15 books including Mokshapradipam and Anandasutram.

  • His personality and teachings truly influenced the social life of Kerala.



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