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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.

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).

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 and married to Elampankodath Aadhyan Vishnu Thraathan Namboodiri of Tripunithura, as his third wife. The victims who were ostracised in this case were Thaathri herself and her four children, Thayyil Raman Menon who was banished from the State (Kochi), Ezhumavil Vasudevan Bhattathiri and Nedumparambil Cheriya Krishnan Namboodiri and his four children, 12 persons in all.

In the case of the last mentioned, (viz, Krishnan Namboodiri) after "Upanayanam", as a "Brahmachaari", he was sent at the age of seven to this Elampankodath Illam to learn Rigvedam under this Thaathri's husband. Several years after he left, the Guru died leaving Thaathri a widow and with four children. She was exceptionally beautiful and charming, but lecherous. Her step-son went and informed the Maharaja of Kochi, Sri Rama Varma, who promptly had a Smaartha Vichaaram conducted by a group led by the same Smaarthan, Pattachomayarath Jathavedan Namboodiri and with two Meemaamsakans, one being Thottakat Kunjan Othikkan, and others. She confessed to have had illicit relations with the other two and in a way implicated also the young boy of earlier times.

Upon hearing the verdict, Nedumparambil Cheriya Krishnan Namboodiri committed suicide by hanging himself. The four children were notionally attached to one Ayiniyil Muringoth Chakiar family and were given new names too. One of them, A M N Chakiar who was 11 years then, grew up to become a brilliant administrator and retired as the Registrar of the University of Kerala, and is now (year 2000) in his nineties. His recent book, "The Last Caste Inquisition" (vide reference below) gives the details and the trauma they all had to go through.

Thayyil Raman Menon (banished) and Ezhumavil Vasudevan Bhattathiri were never seen after they left the place. Thaathri was taken by a Muslim to his house in Vadanappally but did not live too long. Her daughter was married into a Chakiar family and the eldest son married the niece of Chachu Chakiar of Irinjalakuda. The next one became a car driver in the Royal family of Kochi and the fourth died young.

| Article No:9.6.1 | Last update of this article:18th October 2000 |
Reference: Chakiar A M N - "The Last Caste Inquisition", Revised Ed.: July 1999 (Rs. 140-00; US $ 3-00), Published by Mrs Padma C Menon, "Prasanthi", Elamana Lane, Tripunithura, 682 301, Kochi, Tel : 0484 - 781492

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