The all-knowing sage, the splendid master
Has become the light of the skies, a total artist-prodigy…
— Narayanaguru, “Chattamby Swamikal Samadhi verse”
In times of darkness and genocide of innocent children, the weak Keralites had nothing else to turn to, but our renaissance modernity. We know that it began in early 19th century with the missionary intervention in south Travancore and took shape in the cultural and spiritual liberations led by sages like Ayya Vaikundhar, Tykad Ayya, Chattamby Swamikal and Narayanaguru. The contemporary relevance of Chattamby Swamikal (1853 – 1924) is this intellectual and cultural struggle against priestly patriarchy and its Varna-caste empire, the lasting empire in India. The struggle against the internal imperialism of caste and Varna that engulfed Kerala from the eighth century onwards began in these great sages and they were almost successful in making it a model state in socio cultural and political indicators. Chattamby Swam-ikal, born as Ayyappan and affectionately called Kunjan was not accepted in the Sanskritic Brah-manical school because like Sambuka he was a ‘Sudra.’
The wise words of Nanuguru, his soul brother and contemporary, seem like gold in this context that, “if it was in the time of Ram I would had met with the fate of Sambuka because the Hindus rule by Smritis. So it is the British who gave us Sanyasam and they are our gurus.” Swamikal overheard the Vedic chanting from the Brahman school and learned Sanskrit. Fortunately, boiling metal was not poured into his ears as the Manusmruti dictates, as Nanuguru said it was the rule of the British then. As Nanuguru was given the native non Brahmanical Kudi Pally Kootam education in Kummanpally at Kayam-kulam near Varanapally, Ayyappan was given indigenous Sramana style education in the Kudi Pally Kootam of Pettayil Ramanpilla Asan.
He became a class leader or monitor there and earned his name as Chattamby. He listened to some of the leading minds in South India like the Tamil scholar Swaminadha Desikar, Manonmaniyam Sundaram Pillai and Tykad Ayya in the intellectual circle in Trivandrum called Jnanaprajagaram. Tyakad Ayya happens to be the teacher of Kunjan and Nanu in matters of Hattha Yoga and certain Saiva Siddha mantras. Kunjan’s devotion to Subrahmania also earned him the name Shanmughadasa. However, he learned about Tamil, music, painting and Siddha in detail through his long wanderings in Tamil country. His long camaraderie with Christian and Muslim clergy and lifelong fraternity with Avarna sages like Nanuguru made him a real saint and scholar par excellence in many frontiers.
He broke all the taboos of caste and Varna and was wandering, staying and eating with the untouchables. Apart from Nanuguru, Velutery Kesavan Vaidyar and Perunelly Krishnan Vaidyar were his soul fellows. When he visited Kochi he used to stay at the Kumbalatu household of Sahodaran whose father Kochavu Vaidyar was his friend. He was mingling and eating with the Avarna always and was one of the masters of inter-dining that perhaps ignited the mind of Sahodaran for the 1917 inter-dining along with the early model of Arattupuzha. Like a Jain Muni, Swamikal used to share his food with even dogs.
His pioneering studies of language, culture and religion have contributed to the intellectual ground work of renaissance. His studies like Dravida Mahatmyam, Tamilakam, Adi Bhasha, Pracheena Malayalam, Keralatile Desanamangal, Kerala Charitravum Tachudaya Kaimalum, Malayalatile Chila Stala Namangal, etc. have become significant in the present as they resist the Sanskritic and Brahmanic imperial invasion of Kerala in terms of place names and linguistic culture. However, at the same time his works on Vedas and Vedanta have become instrumental in re-establishing the spiritual authority of the Brahm-anical texts and reinstating of the hegemonic religion indirectly; along with his militant refutation of Christianity. A critical rehabilitation of the mixed legacy of Swamikal is the need of the times when cultural Nationalism is taking over in true Varnasramadh-arma fashion.
Dr Ajay Sekher, Asst Professor, Dept of English, SSUS Kalady