7.23.2009

Kuriyedathu Thathriyude SmartaVicharam

(Tatri’s trial of Chastity)

There are two Malayalam books written on this historical subject, one being the book with the above name by Alankode Leelakrishnan and the other titled Kuriyedathu Thathri by VT Nandakumar. Then there is the book written by Mathampu Kunjukuttan (Brashtu) and its translation by Vasanthi Sankaranarayanan (Outcaste) based on the same theme. There is also the famous story Goddess of revenge (Pratikara Devata) by Lalithambika Antherjanam about this Tathrikutty. Some aspects have been serialized in the Mathrubhumi weekly in the 1998-99 time frame. Look around India today, every now and then there is some place or the other which hosts a ballet or a play based on this story in one language or the other. A good Malayalam movie came out some years ago with this excommunication trial as the basis, named ‘Parinayam’. So much is said and written about this topic, so what is this all about?

Even today the mention of Thathri sets the nerves jangling in Kerala, for it has all the elements needed, sordidness, inequality, religion, caste, illicit sex, guilt, drama, emotion, anger, helplessness….the list goes on. The story is still alive and the above mentioned books have been sold out like hot cakes, even my own search over continents have not yielded a single spare copy of the first two books, including entreaties to authors & book sellers. Nevertheless, I have managed to put together a plausible account of what happened after extensive searches and will outline it for those who have not had a chance to read the above books.

But first a general commentary on the times and the rigors imposed by the caste system in Malabar. Between the 1200-1900 time frame, the Nambuthiris held sway in Kerala on top of the caste hierarchy. They were wealthy landowners and had many rights over people of the other lower castes including the Nayars. With the firm intent to hold title to the lands in their possessions and ensure that they are not diluted, the caste practicing a patriarchal system (rest of Malabar was typically matrilineal) decided that only the eldest son of a family should marry. This meant that the younger brothers could not have wives, but to offset it were allowed to have formal Sambandhams with Illath Nair women. But that left one group of people isolated, the Namboothiri women (Also the eldest Namboothiri could marry more than one Namboothiri woman, and they did so, until a ripe age). So some of these Antherjanams (people inside the house) as Namoothiri women are called, married, but some had very unsatisfactory lives or in some cases did not marry at all. Antherjanams were usually sequestered in their homes and always went around fully shrouded & escorted. Should an Antherjanam be suspected of unchaste behavior, the punishment was severe, for after a trial, they were excommunicated and cast out into the roads. Some of these outcastes were picked up by the Mannanars or Chakiyars of North Malabar (See my blog on this subject) and provided asylum. Some married lower caste people and settled down in anonymity. Some went crazy and wandered the streets like beggars. The trial that was conducted according to the Sankarasmriti or Laghudharma Prakashika was generally weighted heavily against the woman and she had little chance of winning. The witnesses were always against her and the caste system rigors ensured this went on for ages, in fact close to a thousand years.

As such, the entire Namboothiri life was patterned to ensure the virginity of the Antherjanam. In those times, the morning ritual bath, chanting of hyms and work in the kitchen were the only activities of the Antherjanam was allowed. Their travel was limited to the temples or to the house of their immediate relatives, but that too had to be accompanied by a maidservant. Thus, Namboodiri Brahmin women of Kerala were surrounded by an entire screen carried by female servants. "Namboothiri women carry with them an umbrella wherever they go out, to prevent them from being seen by men. They also should be covered with a cloth from head to foot, and should not wear jewels. A Nayar woman should precede her and watch her movements. All these were rules laid down by Parasu Rama." [Thurston]

Namboothiri men were allowed to take many wives or consorts, leaving many women to the sorrow of sharing in grief her undivided devotion to the husband, for women must be strictly monogamous. The evil consequence of the practice that only the eldest son marries from the same community directly affected the Antherjanam. Many women remained unmarried and died without experiencing the bliss of motherhood. As the marriage of widows was forbidden, there were many young widows who were the prey of a husband's old-age marriage. The widows were objects of contempt in the community. The women were an absolutely neglected group in the Namboothiri community; the men treated them as creatures whose limited needs were believed to be only dressing, bathing and sleeping
{Fr. Pallath J. Joseph – Women and caste Discrimination}

It was finally in 1905 that the shackles were broken by one woman. Call her brave, cunning, callous, whatever, but she was the first to rebel. This is the story of that beautiful Namboothiri Antherjanam who decided to use her body to lash out at society. She was Thathri. Let us now see what happened.

One fine day, a wealthy and aged but promiscuous Namboothiri man, reaches the bedroom of a well known and desirable prostitute. After a very satisfactory session, he finally gets to see her face and recoils in utter shock when he realizes that this was none other than his own young wife. The man flees the place and raises a hue and cry. Soon the prostitute, an Antherjanam known as Kuriyedathu Thathri is secluded according to the norms and a Smartavicharam trial (at the end of the story is a small description of the Smartavicharm) is launched. The Cochin King as required sanctions it. The public interest was huge, for rumor had it that the lady was a very clever and apparently popular person with much ammunition up her sleeve.

This sensational Smaartha Vichaaram involved Savithry (Thaathri) the wife of Chemmanthatta Kuriyedathu Raman Namboodiri, and daughter of Kalpakasseri Ashtamoorthi Namboodiri of Mukundapuram Taluk.

The Smartan who administers Vedic laws is none other than the famed Jathavedan Namboothiri of the Perumannan gramam. Thathri is sitting in a special outhouse (Achanpura or pacholapura) built for the seclusion and imprisonment during the trail. She has no problems at all and seems serene and ready to face the questioning. Unlike other timid prisoners, this is a proud and beautiful lady who had controlled many weak men above her for the last few years. She was not intimidated. Savithri was known for her beauty and she had been married off at the age of 18 to a 60 year old man .

The smarthan (prosecutor) and three Namboothiri scholars questioned Thaathri, who accepted all the charges but stated that the rule of law has to be administered equally. If she had to be pronounced guilty, so should the people who slept with her. They were people of supposedly high moral standing, and with that basis Thathri revealed the names of well-known scholars, musicians, kathakali artists and many other prominent people of that time, not only of the Kochi state but also the entire Malabar belt, who had slept with her. She also presented strong evidence to substantiate her charges including visual and written evidence (letters written by lovers, prominent marks on genital areas etc).

The pillars of the caste system started trembling. The King was in trouble and the public uproar severe. So against norms where only Thathri would have been implicated, the King agreed to administer equal justice. The reader must note here that a normal Smartavicharam involved only the lady and not the men. However based on the Kings ruling, the Smartan questioned the involved men as well and convicted the guilty. It was thus a landmark case. As the names started coming out, the number of nervous men increased. Many ran away, escaped to other nations even, many others conducted poojas so that Thathri would forgot their names & features (for she had to provide proof of physical characteristics of the men too). It is said that the lady was finally made to stop at man # 64. Salacious gossip to the effect that the 65th was probably going to the king himself went around like wildfire. It is said in jest that she could in theory have named not just 65, but 60,000, but the case was finally curtailed,

The verdict was pronounced on the night of July 13, 1905, indicting all the accused and of course Thaathri. They included 30 Namboothiris, 10 Iyers (Pattars or Tamil Brahmanans), 13 Ambalavaasis and 11 Nairs. Thaathri was sent to Chalakudy and settled as an intern in a riverside home, under tight security. The 64 victims left their homes humiliated, some living on bare subsistence allowance and some, begging. Another two ("Ambalavaasis") had died and hence not proceeded against.

The long list of victims of smartha vicharam had a disastrous effect on the cultural scene in Kerala. Celebrated kathakali artists like Kavungal Sankara Panikkar, Kaattalathu Madhavan Nair, Panangavil Govindan Nambiar, Achytha Poduval and many others had to leave their fields & professions. Following this event the Cochin Raja mentioned that future ‘SmarthaVicharanam’s’ required a large deposit in the state treasury for the reason that such public embarrassments (naming of prominent men) do not take place arbitrarily.

In the ‘Pratikaradevata’ rendition, Thathri’s husband brings home a prostitute after a few days of married life, shaming her and asks her deprecatingly & mockingly to become one herself. She becomes one, becomes rich & infamous and eventually has a paid liaison with her husband one day when he comes to her as a client, but not knowing who she is. He congratulates her for the excellent performance, cleverness and manners, wanting to live with her for ever and when she removes her veil, flees in shock to later start the process of the trial and subsequent Smartavicharam. Pavitran in his book states that she was sexually exploited by her father and brother in law and thus she had all the reasons for revenge.

One could always dwell on Thathri’s actions and discuss at length the morality behind it. It is for this reason that it continues to be an enigma, discussed for many decades after the happenings. Did she lash out at the society to decry the norms? Was it revenge or vendetta? Was she a nymphomaniac? One can never conclude due to the fact that Thathri herself never talked about her actions other than making a clear demand for equal justice and admitting guilt. One could also question how she had the courage to do what she did and if she acted alone or with support from certain quarters. Nevertheless, the intrigue remains. Three things still confound me, the promiscuity of this 60 year old Aphan Namboothiri, tathri’s husband, secondly did Thathri get paid or demand compensation for her acts and how and where Thathri conducted the secret liaisons given the strict situation in the Illams and even temples in those times.

And whatever happened to Thathri? Thaathri was sent to Chalakkudy and settled as an intern in a riverside home, under tight security, at least for some time. However Pavithran in his book British Commission to India states that she married an Anglo Indian gangman from the Indian Railways and settled down in Coimbatore. Vasanthi Sankaranarayanan, the translator of the book Outcaste, believes Thathri lived to the ripe old age of 80, somewhere in Tamil Nadu.

As Alalcode Leelakrishnan narrates “In this wasteland, near Arangotkara opposite the Kartiyayani temple, stood once upon a time, the famous Kalpakassery Illam, where Thathri grew up. She was born at an inauspicious hour; her father had stated then that she would grow up to be the curse of the family. She talked to the flowers here. She saw butterflies here and learnt to dream. A century has passed. But no one still lives here anymore. Villagers see it as a cursed piece of land.”

Thathri grew up as a bold and outspoken but vivacious girl, who spoiled the sleep, but enriched the dreams of many a man, old and young. Bewitchingly beautiful, she argued and revolted often against traditions e.g. such as women were not allowed to get educated, talk back etc. And so that was Kuriyedathu Thathri, a multifaceted personality who had in-depth knowledge of literature and was an ardent adorer of Kathakali, a woman who played with destiny. Did she win or did she lose? You decide.


Notes – Mathambu Kunjukuttan, the author of Brashtu is the grandson of the Smartan Jatavedan Namboothiri, the Smartan who tried Thathri. Two of his brothers were among the 64 men who had been excommunicated. “It’s such an irony,” he says. “My grandfather was the judge, and a woman who is accused, stands before him and tells him to look into the records of his own brothers.”

A second Thathri case took place in 1918. Here again another Savithri (Thatri) was involved, but was from the Pazhur paduthol Illam and12 men were involved. The same Jathavedan Nambuthiri was the Smarthan involved. This Savithri Thathri married a Muslim after excommunication but did not live long, and her daughter from this union married a Chakiar….

Following the Thathri case, a few revolutionary Namboothiri men formed a council called Yogakhsemam where they promoted ideas such as abolishing of Sambandham and the relaxation of marriage rules for all Namboothiri men.

T Vasudevan in his report on SamrtaVicharam (Sri Venkateswara Univ Oriental Journal – XLIV) states –

Jatavedan was the smarta and the trial took place in three different places in Cemmantitta, Pallimanna and Irinjalakuda. After the customary trial he gave a report to the king of Kochi. Meanwhile the Sabha of the sajjana had met together and requested the king that since time had changed a hearing for men also should be conducted. The king was convinced of this argument and ordered the smarta to conduct a trial of the men involved in the case. It is interesting to note that the High Court of Madras had clearly ordered that the declaration of men involved in illicit intercourse as outcaste was illegal since the men were not properly charge sheeted or nor had the opportunity to cross examine the woman or argue in defense. The report of Jatavedan as mentioned above indicates that it was not customary to record the minutes of the trial containing information obtained form the 'sadhana' and also in the case of Kuriyetattu Tatri such a procedure was followed in the traditional way. But since it become necessary to hear the accused men by the royal order he had to write down briefly the matters regarding the men involved also. In the same manner the smarta heard what the accused men had to say about the lady's allegations. Some documents were also submitted by the men accused. After the trial the smarta reported that sixty-four men were involved in the scandal and two of them were dead. As a result sixty two men were excommunicated from the society along with the accused lady.But the smartavicara trials were not always conducted with so much fairness and justice as found in the case of Tatri which was an exceptional one. In the patriarchical society all powers were with the men and the co-accused men easily influenced the smarta with money and material and often arranged escape. According to William Logan several cruel punishments were inflicted upon the accused woman by the doubting menfolk in order to compel her to admit the crime

The relevant records kept in the Central Archives in Ernakulam contain the names of all the 66 males indicted in that case, listed and certified by Smaarthan Pattachomayarath Jathavedan Namboodiri dated Mithunam 32, 1080 ME (mid-July, 1905).

Further reading

Thathrikuttiyude Smarthavicharam - Alankode Leelakrishnan
Kuriyedathu Thathri, Nandan -VT Nandakumar
Cast me out if you will – Lalithambika Antherjanam
Brashtu by Madampu Kunhukuttan
Outcaste – M Kunhukuttan, translation by Vasanthi Sankaranarayanan
Parinayam – Malayalam Movie
The British Commission – Pavithran

Picture – I am grateful for the painting ‘Smarthavicharam’ by Namboothiri made available in Google images.

No disrespect is meant in any comment or statement made. Should any reader feel so please send a specific note with suggested corrections to the author for review. As such the article is based on historic events, with an effort put in to make it readable and provide brevity.

SmartaVicharam - A brief description

Whenever a Namboothiri Antherjanam’s chastity is doubted, she is handed over to her society for enquiry, no considerations for personal affections or public policy intervening. The suspect is transferred to an isolation shed (Achampura or Pacholapura). First a ‘Desivicharam’ is conducted where her maid is cross examined. Then a formal request for Smartavicharam is filed with the required monetary deposits made and the local king rules if one should be conducted. The maharaja then appoints a Smartan (Vedic arbitrator) and names his assistants for the case. A couple of observers (Akakkkoyimma and Purakoyimma) are also appointed. The enquiry & questioning is very ritualistic and goes on for days and sometimes weeks or months. During this period the entire group has to be maintained by the affected girl’s father. Finally a verdict is reached (if guilty) and the girl is evicted from her caste and funeral rites are conducted for her. Until then she is considered inanimate or as a ‘Sadhanam’. After trial she is considered dead, her umbrella and white coverings are removed, and she is cast of into the streets.

For further details, refer
Books mentioned in Para#1
Malabar Manual – Logan
Castes & tribes of Southern India – E Thruston
Nambuthiris – Fred Fawcett

68 comments:

harimohan said...

maddy
congrats wonderful and absorbing post
with all the unfairness of those times at least they did punish the men too unlike these days when leelalohitanadars and pc josephs go scot free
look at the vithura cse ,ice cream parlour case one never got the mens names !
good post with your permission iam forwarding it some of my friends

flaashgordon said...

Interesting reading !!

I've heard an interesting trivia that MGR's dad was one of those named by Thathri. This is why the family migrated to Ceylon, where MGR was born later on. Maybe u can investigate this - could be just hearsay.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Good post Maddy.

There was also a movie Bhrashtu. I think it was based on Madampu Kunjukuttan's book.

Till the penultimate sentence of the post I was tense that you were missing Anchampurayile 'sadhanam'. It is such an expressive word in the context. The accused woman was not considered to be a human being. 'Irikkapindam' (gadashradha?) is also so meaningful.

Maddy said...

Thanks Hari
remember that it had built up to a crescendo for the thathri case to happen after thousands of years.

Thanks Flashgordon..
I deliberately left that hearsay part out. Rumor has it that the person you mention was connected to the 1918 Thathri.

Thanks Abe
How did I miss that!! I still remember the terrific role played by Kottarakara and his raspy voice..

When i first wrote it i had a para explaining the Sadhanam etc, but left it out as I thought it was becoming a bit tedious.

Raj said...

Great article. I read about this first in an article by writer Jeyamohan. Its in tamil. Not sure if you can read Tamil.

http://jeyamohan.in/?p=972

Maddy said...

raj - tamil padikka theriyathu - aanal, nalla pesa theriyum...

Anonymous said...

Hi Maddy

It was just a couple of days ago that my friend [a Varma-the only khastriyas in Kerala?] and I were talking about 'irikkapindam' and 'brashtu'!I cannot recall the context but we did talk about the movies which came out of it, esp Brashtu and Parinayam. Of course, the practices which existed in all religions and castes in those days were sadly loaded against the womenfolk!

This story or incident is very interesting and congrats once again for the efforts behind the article and for writing it up so well.

Alex

P.N. Subramanian said...

I have never read the story but learnt a part of it from my father. We are from the same area. Thatri is supposed to have gone to Potanur and married an Anglo Indian. There were also rumors about Sheela (Chemmen fame)being Thatri's grand daughter.
The story has been Beautifully narrated by you. Thanks.

കിഷോർ‍:Kishor said...

Great post!
A woman using her own body to fight against male/caste oppression...

Urs....Jina said...

Wow..Phenomenal...I seriously wish history lessons are taught in the way u write..

It had never struck in my mind 'antharjanam' actually means 'people in the inside'.I have always wondered what would have gone through their minds. Unfortunately we will never know I guess.

Great post!!

And ofcourse she won..atleast against them

Urs....Jina said...

And will you please write on Arakkal beevi also??

Madhavan said...

Wonderful blog.... Went through all your posts... Really liked the story of the painter in saudi who helped censor magazines... Really admire your breadth of knowledge

P.N. Subramanian said...

This Jathavedan namboodiri was from Perumannan or Peruvanam gramam. Peruvanam is one of the original settlements of Nambooris.

Happy Kitten said...

Too good…

should say that she won given her circumstances and the fact that only women were punished for such acts.

Did men start to be a little wary after this period fearing more Thathri’s?

and we are back at square one with such similar cases going on even in the present age.

.. nd to think that so many men were actually charged shows that there was a just King and the manner it was conducted should shame our current judiciary not just in such cases but in others too.

Maddy said...

Thanks for all the comments guys..

HK... Times and morality changes with time, that was how it was some years ago where honor was paramount..

PNS - yes, you are right

Thanks Madhavan & Kishore, pls do visit often..

Jina - Well, to read what went through their minds, read the fascinating book Cast me out if you will or its Malayalam version. you can find it here on Amazon.

I will post the article on the arakkal beevi soon, it has been in the pending list for a while.

Thanks Kishore & Alex - Actually I held on to this article for many months, hoping to find more meat after reading the books by Kunjukuttan and nandan. Unfortunately they have not been republished, yet..

Jennifer said...

Thanks for e-mailing me, Maddy and assuring I see this.
It was a good read. I admit some of the words are hard for me to follow, but I did get the idea. What is the meaning of "Sambandhams"?
Actually in the begining of the article when you talk about the Namboodri system and marriage customs, I was reminded of two books I read last year (series- "Social History of Kerala, Vol II- The Dravidians" by L.A. Krishna Iyer) talking about these rituals. I did not fully understand at the time when I read that because it was written in a highly academic way. You have written it in a way I can understand, and it has clarified everything! Maybe you should move back to India and teach history! Not many teachers can engage in historical accounts as you have here in this blog post!!

Nikhil Narayanan said...

Maddy,Flaash
http://namboothiri.com/articles/bhrashtu.htm

This link should help.
The 1903 case is the one connected to MGR.
The Kuriyedath Thaathri (1905)apparently was actress Sheela's great grand mom.
-Nikhil

Maddy said...

Thanks Nikhil..
I think the film actress angle is pretty vague & not corroborated anywhere..The MGR one is mentioned here & there..

Thanks Jennifer - Kerala has had many customs that were pretty strange & not seen anywhere else in India. For this purpose the Nair community has been a pet subject for many anthropologists & sociologists. One such custom is the Sambandham, which was never understood by mainstream historians and they all pictured it in a poor fashion. I will cover that subject separately, but the gist of it was that a namboothiri man could have a physical liaison with a Nair woman if he wanted to. The subject is somewhat complex, but the 'how and why did it become a custom' has never been clear to anybody.

As for teaching history, well..at best I am an amateur history buff and 'just about' learning along the way...A vast subject..

Jennifer said...

Maddy, more than anything that impresses me, is like you said these customs went on for almost 1,000 years. I think ending not too long ago, maybe 200-300 years ago? Maybe even less. That is impressive in itself. Really I don't think we see much of this culture anymore in Kerala. Though I have heard about Namboodris still carrying umbrellas. Maybe now it is symbolic but not meaning what it used to mean?

Maddy said...

Jennifer - it was really striking that these existed for so many years. like most other practices, there was probably purpose in the beginning, later rules were bent to suit the practice & it became custom..eventually oppressive

The 'marakkuda' or palmyra umbrella was to be held by Namboothiri women to cover their face from public. During later days many discarded it as a sign of symbolic protest

Murali RamaVarma said...

Dear Maddy, This a well written article on one of the infamous social incidents of Kerala's history. These stories with varied interpretations and explanations were heard in hushed ones in all old manas and kovilakoms till recently. I first heard on Kuriyedath Thathri,from a grandma.

Could you go through the "'Last Inquisition"' by AMN Chakyar, former registrar to Kerala University? He was born a Nampoothiri but was demoted to a Chakyar as his father was excommunicated in the last Smarthavicharam of 1918.

Regards,

Maddy said...

Thanks Murali.

In fact i had been planning to buy the book. But just could not find it...the book is called The last smarta vicharam - right?

Nasrajan said...

Very interesting read and informative too. Thank you...

Just for the records, there is a novel by KB Sreedevi too, on this subject. It treats the fate of the next generation of an outcast Namboodiri / Antharjanam. She uses a powerful language to narrate, how Sex used to be used as weapon for revenge too, and how an innocent generation suffers after that. I am not able to recollect the name of the novel, though :-(

Maddy said...

thanks nasrajan - I have to look for that book this time, let me see

Ardra said...

Maddy,
May I link this post to mine here?

http://dabbling.blogspot.com/2005/02/parinayam-5-conclusion.html

Thank you
regards
Ardra

Maddy said...

OK Ardra, thanks, go ahead...

Vijay Kerala Varma said...

Maddy
The book is Last Caste Inquisition in english. in malayalam it is avasaanathe smartha vicharam.

Good one to read

Anonymous said...

I was fascinated by the Vicharam concept-Power corrupts- and powers absolutely.

Many a tamil title for the Malayalam blue films carried some context about the thamburattis or the antharjanam.

Malayaalam society within its complexities has survived.

Deliberately Thoughtless said...

Maddy...
First let me apologise for a short mistake.. I was about to comment on one of your post, and I had highlighted it to delete, and clicked on enter.. but the cursor was on publish, and it raced to you.. You might be wondering why such a comment out there..

I am fascinated by Thatri, and I came across your blog when I googled on her. She is a woman about whom I will definitely say wow.. The girl has guts..

From where did you collect all these materials? Do you have any with you? I would like to read it if I could get my hands on it... I managed to get photocopies of Leelakrishnan's and Nandan's book from Thrissur Appan Thamburan Library. Nandan's is worth reading. Have you read his blog? His language is.. well, I dont know what to say..
Good piece of writing.. Let me go through your other posts too.. Good day... :-)

Maddy said...

DT..

thanks a lot..Well you can imagine that I felt the same. It was a fantastic story, some of it we know from the books that i referenced, and there is some more. Like the sting operation that thathri carried out at the risk of her life..What Thehelka and all those papers do today pales in comparison..

It took me many months to get those books & yes, I have all of them.

Nalini said...

The practice of namboodiri women using an umbrella as a form of purdah (called a "marakuda") is definately not very old. I am from an ambalavasi community in Thrissur district and my mother who is 72 years old remembers seeing the local antharjanams go past with the marakuda.

Manu said...

I really liked your narration of this famous episode. It does cause one to wonder all those questions you asked in the post about what her motive must have been. There is some magic to the whole story somehow. Although it would be highly interesting to know what happened to the lady afterwards. Anyway, really good article :D

Maddy said...

Thanks Manu
it has been a mystery. but Thathri was clever, if she wanted to be off the limelight I guess she knew what to do..recently Sheela the actress refuted claims (in vanitha) and stated that she is NOT related to Thathri. So it continues to be a mystery.

Maddy said...

Thanks Nalini,
yes, the point I made was that they used to carry the marakkuda and finally with the yogakshemam movement they started to discard it, though some have continued with the practice...
thanks nalini, for the comment..

Sudhir Kumar said...

The late AMN Chakiar, Premji and comrade EMS were of the view that film actress Sheela belongs to a lineage of one Tathri or Savithry Antherjanam who was excommunicated after trial in the year 1903,two years before Kuriyedatthu Tathri's trial. Mind you, Tathri or Savithry was a popular name among Malayala Brahmins. So one could find many Thatris then.

Maddy said...

Thanks Sudhir -
though that is not the topic under discussion, the man involved in the 1903 Thathri case later became the father of another famous movie star & politician, not the actress mentioned by you.

Anuradha Warrier said...

Maddy, I have been dipping into your blog now and then, but this is probably the first time I'm leaving a comment.

Thathri had guts! I read Bhrashtu when I was about 13 or so, and remember being fascinated by her story. I think one part of it was truly revenge for the way she was treated. But I also think that it was her sense of fairness, he personal experience and that questioning nature of hers (which you pointed out in your post) that led her to wonder at the inequities in the Namboothiri system of justice, and to ask for punishment for all, if there had to be punishment for one.

Thanks for a very informative post. Another story about the antharjanams and namboothiri's and the prevalent social inequalities was Lalithambika Antharjanam's 'Agnisakshi'.

Maddy said...

thanks anuradha
the para 8 follows from the account in Agnisakhsi..
Since than have been collecting details, albeit slowly..hope to get some more next month from kerala, will let you know
rgds

Ramanathan said...

This is an incident happened in my village. Though the village is known as Arangotukara - Arangode, the birth place was in Ezhumangad and her house was just opposite the Arangotukara Karthyayani Devi temple.
You have brought the facts vividly.

Maddy said...

thanks ramanathan..
appreciate your comment

bmmann said...

NAMBOOTHIRI WEBSITE:-
(A Voluntary and Non-profit-oriented forum for documenting Namboothiri traditions in web)
Some "Bhrashtu" (Excommunication or Ostracism) Cases)
Three known cases of caste inquisition ("Smaartha Vichaaram") and consequent excommunication or ostracism ("Bhrashtu") are briefly presented here. All the three were during the first two decades of the twentieth century, 1903, 1905 and 1918.

1.The first Case (1903):
A widowed "Antharjanam" of an Illam near Kunnamkulam was suspected of sexual misconduct. During the "Smaartha Vichaaram" she confessed to have had illicit relations with 15 persons of various communities from Namboothiri to a barber. The verdict resulted in excommunication of all the 15 and the Antharjanam herself.

One of the victims is said to have been Melakkath Gopala Menon, a judicial officer in Thrissur, who had married Meenakshi Amma of Vattaparambil Nair family of Irinjalakuda. He left his family, went to Palakkad where he married a lower caste woman and together left for Sri Lanka. When he died after two sons were born, his widow returned to Tamil Nadu with her children. One of the boys later became a famous film actor, a political leader and top administrator.

2.Kuriyedath Thaathri (1905):
This most sensational Smaartha Vichaaram involved Savithry (Thaathri) the wife of Chemmanthatta Kuriyedathu Raman Namboodiri, and daughter of Kalpakasseri Ashtamoorthi Namboodiri of Mukundapuram Taluk. It resulted in the excommunication of all the 64 persons and Thaathri herself. Another two ("Ambalavaasis") had died and hence not proceeded against.

The final round of the seven-month long inquiry by Smaarthan Pattachomayarath Jathavedan Namboodiri, the Meemaamsakans and others concerned lasted for about a month from mid-June to mid-July. It turned out to be a sensational case for several reasons. The sheer number of persons involved was amazingly high. Some of them were respectable high-class Namboothiris from aristocratic families. Also, this Thaathri could reel out with utmost confidence, the names of the people and detailed description of the events, including identification marks on the body and identification of persons from group parades.

The verdict was pronounced on the night of July 13, 1905, indicting all the accused and of course Thaathri. They included 30 Namboothiris, 10 Iyers (Pattars or Tamil Brahmanans), 13 Ambalavaasis and 11 Nairs. Thaathri was sent to Chalakudy and settled as an intern in a riverside home, under tight security. The 64 victims left their homes humiliated, some living on bare subsistence allowance and some, begging.

It is possible that Thaathri was a victim of circumstances, who later turned a revengeful victimiser, on an avenging spree for some wrong done to her earlier. Otherwise she would not have had the courage to tackle and denigrate so many persons, some of whom were of high social status.
3.The Last Case (1918):
The last known case of Smaartha Vichaaram and Bhrashtu involved another Savithri, also called Thaathri, originally of Pazhur Paduthol Illam ---------.....

Surya said...

Great Post.
Came here after reading about Thaatri in this work:
http://www.samyukta.info/archives/vol_4_2/autobiography/Devaki%20Nilayangode/WITH%20NO%20SENSE%20OF%20LOSS.htm

Maddy said...

thanks Surya..
in fact Devaki V's remniscences is a lovely book, i enjoyed reading it and I have the book. the whole tatri story is remembered by so many people but the separation of fact from fiction is not easy in that story. I have been studying this for close to 4 years now and i have still not got to the bottom of tatri's actions...

crozoom said...

One of the victims of The first Case (1903) is said to have been Melakkath Gopala Menon, a judicial officer in Thrissur, who had married Meenakshi Amma of Vattaparambil Nair family of Irinjalakuda. He left his family, went to Palakkad where he married a lower caste woman and together left for Sri Lanka. When he died after two sons were born, his widow returned to Tamil Nadu with her children. One of the boys later became a famous film actor, a political leader and top administrator. I think he is MGR

Maddy said...

thanks crozoom..
so the story goes, perhaps it is right...
as it is said, the lady he married was not from palghat but sri lanka..

Saranya Sankaran said...

Hi Maddy,

Thankyou for this post and the details of the books too.
I am quite late in reading this article of yours.Ever since I have heard about Kuriyedathu Thathri (I had to read it from an article in Mathrubhumi), it has been an effort to know her story more in detail. My parents or any elders -- the male members -- for that matter refusing to tell me her story (For them, this is the worst part of history for namboodiris -- an Antharjanam bringing the men down). And the women folk -- rather than being proud that such a lady rebeled for their freedom do not say this story saying that Young girls (Penkidangal) will be corrupted by it.
Personally -- after reading Pratikara devatha too -- I think Lalitambika Antharjanam's statement in the last is correct ,if Thatri would not have taken the task of revenge upon herself maybe just maybe Namboodiri women might not have to wait until the 60's to be liberated and she would have been rightly lauded for that effort of hers.

Maddy said...

Saranya..
thanks a lot for your comment
Tatri, true to character made a lot of us lose our sleep for months and with it was with great difficulty that i finally got to read one side of her story, though nobody to date knows her side. what we saw was interpretations of how it all was.

she still is the mysterious one...what a woman!!

Unknown said...

A brave beautiful and intelligent lady...the power of her tears, suffering and revenge happened in those days feudal system still inspire even after 100 years... she got married to Aphan namboodiri of Kuriyedathu MANA at Chemmanamthitta, near pannithadam near Vadakkaanchery, trichur at the age of 18... thereafter she fought and changed the history......

Calicut Heritage Forum said...

Just to complete the picture, we quote below from the autobiography of the Raja of Cochin, Sir Sri Rama Varma (known as Rajarshi):
'Early in 1905 I had to engage myself in another sensational social question. A Nambudiri woman was suspected of leading an immoral life. According to the customary law a social tribunal is appointed by the Raja to enquire into misemeanours of Nambudiri ladies. The tribunal examines the lady in a Smarthavicharam and if she confesses her lapses before the tribunal she and the men mentioned by her as being involved are excommunicated by the Raja. The men were not told what their offence was nor were they given a chance to clear themselves from the one-sided accusation of the woman of ill fame.
This curious system, though it offended against the elementary canons of jurisprudence, has the sanction of established usage from time out of mind and was one of the bulwarks of the Nambudiri social system very jealously preserved by that community.
In the case which cropped up in 1905 a large number of persons belonging to several communities were implicated by the woman in the Smarthavicharam. The injustice of condemning this motley group without giving the men concerned an opportunity to refute the allegations of the woman was realised by me. In consultation with Sir V. Bhashyam Ayyangar I framed certain rules for the conduct of Smarthavicharam. The persons alleged by the fallen woman to have had illicit intimacy with her were furnished with copies of her allegations and they were called upon to show cause why they should not be dealt with according to the customary law. They were allowed to cross examine the woman and to adduce evidence. All persons denied having had anything to do with the woman. But they could not refute the charges. Some of them engaged counsel and wanted to import the procedure of law courts. This I could not permit, as legal subtleties were out of place in the enquiry which was quasi-religious one and related only to questions of fact. Any violent breach from the past was bound to evoke strong opposition from the Conservative Hindus whose sentiments had to be respected.
Sixty four persons were involved in the enquiry and all of them were excommunicated. This evoked strong resentment among the educated section of the people. I had anticipated this. But I was was not for superimposing any violent changes on society when they were repugnant to the feelings of the majority of the people who were conservative'.
(from : The Rajarshi of Cochin, pp 113-114)

Maddy said...

Thanks CHF
my reserach revealed that the earlier cases of SV were decided against the girl and the men walked away scot free. So the statement by Rajarshi - 'The tribunal examines the lady in a Smarthavicharam and if she confesses her lapses before the tribunal she and the men mentioned by her as being involved are excommunicated by the Raja' is not quite right. But then again it must have been a later development in Cochin.Yes, it is right that in this case, the men were allowed to refute the allegations.

Sandbuster said...

Amazing .....Great Work

Maddy said...

thanks sandbuster!!!

നസീല്‍ said...

Maddy..

Many readers have already marked the appreciation; But for my satisfaction,
let me say,
Very well written...
A lot of info in a simple and catching language..
Thanks man..

Regards
Naseel Voici

Maddy said...

thanks naseel..
appreciate it..
a story that remains so dear to me and one i keep studying - for it was one without an end. my search for the real end, though many of us have guesses, is still going on. when i am there, it will perhaps take the form of a longer effort - perhaps a book???

sreedevi V said...

very well written! have heard a lot of vagued versions of Thathri, but you have done justice to the subject with the right facts and elaborate research that was done for it especially the detailing of trial part!!
the incident invokes a thought, in this century where there is so much freedom and power, why the justice remains elusive... hats off to you!

sreedevi V said...

would like to ask if i can invite some friends read this version of Thathri..!

Maddy said...

Hi Sreedevi
By all means invite your friends to read this. I wrote this some years ago and spent hours and days reseraching the story later, collecting related odds and ends, including the Kings own version.
The small difference between then and now is accountability. many a civil servant or poltician of today belives that they exist mainly to make money and enrich themselves doing little, whereas, in the old times,some leaders or for that matter the king in this story, were very serious about their subjects.

In many ways we the commoners are totally responsible for the situation by turning a blind eye and slinking away from our own civic responsibilities, me included. A sad state , I agree, for that is not what development is defined as.....

jk47 said...

You are a wonderful writer Maddy. It was my interest in the Travancore history that brought me to ur blog page. I have to admit that i am becoming a fan of ur writings. When i first watched the movie 'Parinayam' as a small girl, my blood boiled. Then i read about Thathri, i felt great amount of respect for her. Compared to her, the so called 'modern' women pale into insignificance. There was an article about Thathri in Mathrubhumi's sunday supplement(i think last month). It was written that when she was 9 yrs old, she was first raped by her brother in law! I hated Namboothiri men (i know, there r exceptions)for a long time. I guess compared to antharjanams, nair & kshatriya women in kerala, enjoyed tremendous freedom. All this shows how far ahead we have come from those dark times & we should appreciate that. Once again, brilliant effort & best of luck. Looking forward to more of ur writings.

Maddy said...

Thanks jk47
I had a smile when I saw the jk 47...
One of these days I will start on perhaps a book on the subject
Just waiting for the impulse
Rgds

നസീല്‍ said...

Sure maddy...You will reach an end.It may take time, as Thathrikutty is on the other side...:) bcos, From what i understood about her,through your writing, i dont think reaching an end of her story is an easy task. anyway, waiting for it..Bcos, through, we are experiencng the real story.

Hope to connect with you more, may be through facebook,
facebook.com/naseel voici

All the best..
regards
Naseel

നസീല്‍ said...

sure maddy..
expecting it soon..
wish to get more connected with you
am here in facebook.com/naseel.voici

wishing you all the best

regards
Naseel

Ramachandran said...

I had written on 1905 & 1918 smartha vicharams in Malayala Manorama long back.Ofcourse MGR s dad was involved in 1903-AMN Chakyar confirmed this to me.When I interviewd actress Sheela in 1987 she confirmed she is the grand daughter of Thathri of 1905.She is not an anglo Indian,but a latin catholic.This was substantiated by sheela's relatives recently in Manorama.

Ramachandran

Ramachandran said...

You are a wonderful writer in English.It was my subject in college!
Ramachandran

deepa damodaran said...

I have heard about thathrikutty from my grandmothers. Infact, my father's ancestral home is a naalukettu, a typical namboothiri illom. Though thathrikutty was excommunicated, she paved a way for women's revolution. The situation has changed today. I am from a namboothiri family and women are given equal care and respect. Education is one of the main reason for this social change. The tears and courage of other womenfolks including thathrikutty's needs a special mention.
There is saying in Sanskrit that a country or kingdom is compared to heaven if the women in that kingdom are treated well.
When we look into the history, we find many alliances made by powerful opponents with the native kings either by marriage or accepting their womenfolks as 'gifts'. Women were treated as ' mere showpieces'. Even now our newspapers share gory horrific abuses met by women. Why did it happen? Why is it happening? Introspection is required. It is very ironical. Our culture prays to the female gods but the same time treats mortal women as materials.
On a happy note,there has definitely been a social change regarding the treatment towards women, not only subjected to a particular caste but subjected to the women world wide.
Sir, you written your articles very well. So many info about unniyarcha, sir CP were a good GK to me. Thank you.

Maddy said...

thanks Ramachandran..
for all your inputs on the tatri story . now it is time to plan the book

Maddy said...

thanks deepa
yes, you are right - women were sometimes a commodity in hisotry, be it india or abroad.
but all this is changing,e ven though a bit slowly and that is the good part...

Rama Chandran said...

Do it fast.With pics from Chemmanthitta& other places.the initial Tartrivicharam was there & the purusha vicharam was in Hill Palace(Now the ESI clinic just opposite the palace.)Namboodiri had made an illustration of her.

Maddy said...

thanks ramachandran,,,
will do

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