Book review: "Unforgettable Leaders who saved Kerala Culture"


Kerala, Mala: My father's native place

It's really fun to visit a book shop once a while, you might just end up buying a book worth reading. Any book on a Leader almost always catches my eye, so that day, I ended up buying the book "Unforgettable Leaders who saved Kerala Culture" written by Therambil Janardhanan, a retired Gulf returnee and a senior of my engineering college alumni.

Kerala has always had its own charm as well as its own dynamic problems, it is beautifully nestled between the Western ghats and the Arabian Sea, finding itself well fed by the southwest monsoons of the Arabian sea and fed again by the parallel river drainage systems heading back for the sea, it's hard to find a non-green patch in this part of the country, but that's just geographical.

Today, Kerala is a social achievement with respect to India, in spite of all its Hartals(strikes) and aimless back-biting political debate, its economy still survives, thanks to its post-office economic model (NRI depended). A century ago, the social landscape would give you a shocking contrast, Swami Vivekananda in his days, called this same land called Kerala - a mental asylum, thanks to the pathetic customs of "untouchability", in fact, to take the "term" a little more further, the customs of "unseeability". The people of a given community were simply considered as inferior by birth, that they were not allowed to walk on the main roads, women were asked to walk topless and as per each community order, if you belong to community A, then keep 64 steps distance from the highered one, if you belong to community B, then 100 steps distance should be maintained at all costs and if you belong to community C, then don't bother showing your face, if you do so, you are to be killed for violation of conduct. This was the state of affairs during the 1800s. But not a very rare sight in India those days, in fact there are still places in India even today that are pretty much living on similar levels of codes and customs, a keen observer can still find remnants of such chauvinistic behavior at various levels.of our highly discussed and respected Indian Constitutional law.

But today, Kerala is the most socially developed state of India, how and why? I have asked many noted people for an answer, they gave me many answers, some said it's because of the matriarchal system of the Nair community, but that's limited to a small population, how did the poorest of the poorest classes get developed? Some said, it's because of the Christian Missionaries, then what about Calcutta, we had Mother Teresa doing an awesome job there. Another said, it's the climate, then what about Southern Karnataka? Another said, it's because of the great kingly classes, but again I cannot agree with that as they were mere puppets in the hands of the British, then some said, it's because of the communists, again that falls short, because, if that's the case, West Bengal should be in a similar state. So while searching the net, I came across an article that elaborated on the Sree Narayana Guru effect. The unsung hero Sree Narayana Guru was the man behind making Kerala into a social paradise compared to the rest of India. The NCERT books just mention his name, done, enough of him. So that's how I ended up buying this book.

Book summary and review: 

Unforgettable Leaders who saved Kerala Culture

by Therambil Janardhanan 

The book introduces you to the lives and messages of the three great reformers leaders:

Sree Narayana Guru, Ayyenkali and Dr. Velukutty.

Beginning with the life sketch of Ayyenkali, who deserves to be called as the "first labour leader of Kerala". He was born to the Pulaya community in 1863, he spent his life fighting untouchability. At the age of 30, he did a revolutionary act by buying a bullock cart and riding it on the common main street which led to a riot but yet again at the same time he fought against forceful and allurement conversion of the people to other religion forms. He took part in the Vaikom Satyagraha that fought against the temple non-entry norms.

Quoting Elamkulam Kunjan Pillai, "He was a man with no property, no education, no support from the society and came up from the most lowered cadre and yet the fact that he could fight against the highered-cadre oppression, feudal set-up and create fear among them was indeed remarkable."

Next comes, Dr. Velukutty Arayan, born to the Arayan fishing community in 1894. At the age of 14, he started a "Reading room" at his place, he grew to become a doctor in medicine, but he was a man who did not forget his roots, his people, he stood up as a free man, he went ahead to become a strong critic in the literary circles, communication was his main tool. At the age of 23, he started the magazine called "Arayan". There are 22 books to his credit. He was a man of strong heritage and culture, and saw no benefit in religious conversion, seeing that all communities had their poor classes still in a deprived state. He is well remembered for his book "Matsya and Matha" meaning "Fish and Religion", the book tries to quote the Hindu scriptures about the fishing culture and thus by doing so he uplifted the Arayan spirit and self-confidence. And through experience, the great doctor for health as well as society's health is remembered for saying:  

"One has to shed of the feeling of "my community", organizations working under the banner of community names cannot help the people of the future."

Such was his concrete vision. He is also remembered for his engineering concepts in the areas of drinking water distribution, protection of soil from sea erosion, and in the fisheries department.

Sree Narayana Guru

Then man, Sree Narayana Guru, born to the Ezhava community in the year 1854, but to be more precise, SNG was born to our community of humanity, he is fondly remembered for the line:

"One God, One Religion, One Caste for humankind"

This man did not fight for rights, he just had all the rights pre-existing within him. There is so much to say about this man. Tagore called him a Saint of Saints, that he had never met such a great man as him. Gandhi too met and discussed issues with him but SNG had to correct Mahatma Gandhi on several accounts. The installation of the Shiva temple in 1888 at Aruvipuram remains to be his moment of glory against the highered cadre classes. He was a man who fought hard against the Pseudo-Hinduism that plagued that part of the country. He once conducted an all religious meet and his directive was:

"Not to argue and win, but to know and to make known."

When the hot topic of "Conversion to other religions" was on, his opinion was sought. And he replied,  

"Let the people improve themselves, that's conversion, does anybody talk about conversion besides the above? Teachings of Christ and Prophet Mohammed are good. But are all the people in those religions good? Whatever be the religion, conversion is required for the mind, people should be good, that's my opinion."

SNG would not accept anything less than a world community of human family. In fact the discussion with Mahatma Gandhi too was on the same topic of conversion, Gandhi tried to hint the issue of lowered class Hindus converting into other religions, and SNG replied:

"If a Hindu has no belief in his religion and has belief in another religion, it is good that he embraces the religion in which he believes. Such a conversion will help Hinduism get rid of a non-believer, and the religion to which the men get converted into will get the benefit of adding one more believer into it. Moreover the man will be benefited by the love and sympathy which he will get from his fellow-believers. There is nothing wrong in such conversion."

On hearing this, M Gandhi approached the subject from a different angle. Gandhi said, "The person is embracing Christianity not for the spiritual worth but for the socio-economic benefits he gets from that religion". SNG agreed to that and he wanted Mahatma Gandhi to see it, as a socio-economic problem rather and find adequate measures that would bring socio-economical justice to those aggrieved members of the society.

Such was the accuracy of SNG's logic, very rarely found even in our present times, he truly belonged to a class of his own.

One of my favourite quotes of his goes:

"Whatever may be the difference in men's creed, dress, language etc. because they all belong to the same kind of creation, there is no harm at all in their dining together or having marital relation with one another."

He suggested to his followers the promotion of the following eight:  

1. Education 

2. Cleanliness 

3. Devotion to God 

4. Organisation 

5. Agriculture 

6. Trade 

7. Handicrafts 

8. Technical training.

Note: Yugapurushan is a Malayalam movie set to be released this year, its on the life and teachings of Sree Narayana Guru. I am optimistic.


Therambil Janardhanan, the author has done a very sweet job in collecting all these historical facts and quotes together into an "English" book, I am very thankful to him for this work. He has coupled the paragraphs with graphics and pictures where ever possible and relevant, to make the message more vibrant and clear in its presentation. But being a strong admirer of religion, I need to point out a few errors in his usage of the terms "Christian", "Muslim" and "Hindu", but that's an argument that I can only substantiate after a careful exposé of this delicate, sensitive, itsy-bitsy topic called "Religion". Well, the Author being an engineer by profession, I excuse the semantic errors, because other than those, the book is near perfect in concepts, a fresh breeze over my balding scalp, but again I did note that the text format did take up the format of our laboratory project manuals. Well, myself being an engineer by graduation, I can live with that alright. Plus, I can live with the fond memories of the aforementioned three great engineers of the green land of Kerala.


I am grateful to my mother for teaching me and asking me to recite a prayer-poem by Sree Narayana Guru, even while I was a small child, not brainy enough to understand the essence, the prayer is called Daiva Dassakam or the Ten verses on God. I love it the way my mom sings it, in her own natural tune.

Ten verses on God

God! keep us ever in Thy succor 

Forsake us not here my Lord 

Thou the Mariner and Thy foothold 

Sure vessel on rough seas of life!

Reckoning one and then one, to infinity- 

When names and numbers are all done, 

Like unto the serene Eye remaining, 

In Thee, let our inner self subside.

With grub and garb all providing 

Who for ever us in fullness keep 

With no lapse or miss to intervene 

Thou indeed art our bounteous Lord

Let this in conviction sink,
that as feel of ocean, 

To the waves and wind and fathomless deep do link 

So we, to illusory Nature, Thy splendor 

And Thy transcendent Truth, do link.

Confined or free, existence all with thy splendour is full. 

Such my Lord is Thy Being! 

This Thy surpassing Glory do we praise! 

Hail to Thee! Hail! Perfect Being!

Thou the creation,
Thou the Creator 

And Thou the manifold magic of creation 

And Thou Great Lord art the Stuff 

All that is with which is wrought

Truth Thou art, Knowledge and Bliss! 

Thou Lord art the present and so the past 

And the future is none other but Thou. 

Thou indeed is known as the conceiving word!

Thou art the Divine Apparition 

And the one who goes on playing this 

And Thou the one to relish this game 

And Great Sun, wiping all who Supreme Unison grants.

Hail to thee Oh God Supreme! 

Hail! Thou who ever from affliction lift! 

Hail to thee pure existence-bliss! 

Hail great ocean of grace!

May we all Lord in the waters of thy Glory merge 

That go on deepening without ever an end 

So merging may we remain with never an end 

And May Infinite Happiness in fullness live !



  1. You know what the weirdest thing is.

    i encountered this book somewhere a few days ago. i say encountered because i so well remember the title of the book, but for some reason i cant pin-point where and when i saw it. when i saw ur blog i was so surprised. but i still can't remember where i read the title before.. was it a dream!!! hmm

    Well, keep up the good work. very informative. i knew only of Sree Narayana Guru. Didnt know of the others.


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