Friday, 5 October 2012

Pandit Karuppan

Pandit Karuppan was a poet, dramatist, and social reformer who lived in Kerala, India. He was born on May 24, 1885, at Cheranelloor, near Ernakulam.
 K.P. Karuppan (Kandathiparambil Paapu Karuppan) was born into a lower middle class family of Dheevara fishermen community.

Karuppan’s father was Paappu (locally known as Atho Poojari); his mother was Kochu Pennu. Atho Poojari had inherited skills in Ayurveda and knowledge in Sanskrit; and engaged himself in priestly practice of poojas and rituals.

The Malayalam meaning of Karuppan is "person of black colour," but, ironically, Karuppan had a very fair complexion. Though Karuppan’s childhood name was Sankaran, the name Karuppan was contributed by a Tamil Gosai who was a frequent family visitor. He predicted that the boy would become a great scholar and suggested the name Karpan ("a learned person," in Tamil), which later turned into Karuppan.

Karuppan’s formal education began at the age of five under Azheekkal Velu Vaidyan, a relative. Subsequently, Vadakke Valath Appu Asan, a local Guru, taught him Amarakosham, Sidhdharoopam, and Sreeramodantham, the basics of Sanskrit. A prolific reader, the boy read books including Ithihasas and Puranas. His first poem was Sthothramandaaram. The prodigy took his Gurus by surprise when he wrote Lankamardanam, at the age of 12, with slokas styled in Shardoolavikreeditham.

Karuppan studied Sanskrit Kavyas under Mangalappillil Krishnan Asan of Cherai and returned to Cheranelloor to study with Annamanada Rama Pothuval. There, as was the prevailing custom, upper-caste Hindu students did not allow him to sit along with them and hence he sat isolated in a corner. He studied the Kavyas Makham and Nyshadham and Bhoja Chambu from Rama Pothuval.

The most significant period of his education was at Kodungalloor. The Kodungallur Kovilakam was a place of learning, due to the resident luminaries. Adult life

Karuppan’s famous work Jaathikkummi, which criticised the prevailing caste system, was written during the period of his study at Kodungallur Kovilakam, and it became popular among the poor communities. Jaathikkummi appeared to be the pioneer attempt in Malayalam literature questioning the caste system and untouchability. When Sree Narayana Guru, Kumaran Asan and Ayyankali worked for social changes in the Travancore State, the presentation of Jaathikkummi was the first step initiated in that direction in Cochin State by Karuppan, who was then a 19-year-old student. Kumaran Asan’s Duravastha was published 10 years later. Though most of Karuppan’s writings were in scholarly Sanskrit, Jaathikkummi was written in a very simple Malayalam folklore form that illiterate people from the local communities were able to spread by word of mouth.
Teaching career

Karuppan’s talents in Sanskrit came to the notice of Rajarshi Ramavarma Raja, the Maharaja of Cochin, who visited Kodungalloor to worship at the famous Thiruvanchikkulam Siva Temple. Kunhikkuttan Thampuran introduced Karuppan to the King. The Maharaja was impressed and invited Karuppan to his Palace in Tripunithura. The meeting was a turning point for Karuppan, the Maharaja arranged advanced study of Sanskrit for him under ‘Sahridayathilkan’ Rama Pisharody, the principal Guru of the Royal family. Karuppan studied ‘Sidhantha Koumudi’, ‘Manorama’ and ‘Sahithee Darpanam’ from Rama Pisharody. Soon Karuppan was appointed Sanskrit Teacher at St. Theresa’s Convent Girls’ High School in Ernakulam.

When Pandit Karuppan was appointed Sanskrit Teacher in the Caste Girls’ High School at Ernakulam in 1912—a special institution exclusively for upper caste girls—there was vehement protest from upper-caste Hindus against his posting, and they were reluctant to send their girls to study under a low caste man. But the Maharaja of Cochin overruled against the objections, and threatened that girls unwilling to study under Karuppan would be sent out from the school. The protests ended there. After leaving the staff of Caste Girls’ High School, he joined the Victoria Girls’ High School, Thrissur, as a teacher in 1918. Subsequently, he was posted at Teacher Training School there. In 1921, he was again appointed at Girls’ High School, Ernakulam, which had by then removed "Caste" from its name.
Legislative Council

During his second tenure at Girls' High School, in August 1925, he was nominated as a member of the Cochin Legislative Council to represent the hitherto disenfranchised classes, in recognition of his tireless crusade for their emancipation through writings and campaigns. As MLC, Karuppan presented their problems and grievances before the authorities and emphasized that the Government must redress their wrongs by providing education, health services and better living conditions for the people who lacked them. He pressed the Government to establish a separate Department for this purpose; this led to the creation of the Department for the Protection of the Depressed Classes with then-Director of Public Instruction Rao Sahib C. Mathai as ex-officio Protector, and Karuppan as full-time Assistant Protector.

As Assistant Protector, Karuppan was instrumental in initiating several reforms for the progress of the depressed classes, by starting schools and establishing colonies. He persuaded the Government to provide scholarships, fee concessions, and a number of other incentives for the education of children from the depressed classes. He wrote Aacharabhooshanam to generate awareness among the depressed classes against superstitions; the book was printed by the Government and distributed free of cost to the public. The Depressed Classes Department was later renamed the Harijan Welfare Department.

Pandit Karuppan was instrumental in starting fishery schools under the re-organised Fisheries Department. The establishment of fish curing yards helped to promote fisheries as a potential industry and to improve living conditions in the fishing community. While serving as a director in the Cochin Central Co-operative Bank, he urged fishermen and agricultural labourers to form co-operatives for progress through self-reliance.

Karuppan was very sincere to the cause of the depressed classes in spirit, word and deed. When his three-year term on the Legislative Council expired, Karuppan was nominated for a second term, but he requested that the Diwan give the post to a member of the depressed classes. Under pressure from Karuppan, the Government appointed P.C. Chanchen, a Pulaya leader, as MLC; Karuppan tendered his resignation to make way for Chanchen.

Pandit Karuppan was then appointed as Secretary to the Elementary Education Committee and the Bhashaparishkarana Committee. In 1931, he assumed the newly created post of Superintendent of Vernacular Education, Cochin State. In 1935, he was appointed Malayalam Lecturer in the Maharaja’s College. During those periods, Karuppan had also functioned as Chairman of the Board of Examiners of the Madras University, and as Member of the Municipal Council, Ernakulam.
Dramatic works

Baalakalesam is one of Pandit Karuppan's significant contributions. On the eve of the Shashtipoorthi celebrations of the Maharaja of Cochin in 1919, the King’s admirer, Rao Sahib Nanperumal Chetty of Tamil Nadu, organized a drama script competition. Karuppan wrote a drama, under compulsion from Guru Rama Pisharody, within just 10 days. Nervous and embarrassed to treat his beloved Maharaja as a character for the stage, Karuppan gave symbolic names to the characters in the drama. His creation was judged best, and won the prize. It was named Baalaakalesam, Karuppan’s famous work in which "Queen Baala" was the State of Cochin and "Kalesan" her Lord, the King. The drama, dedicated to the Maharaja of Cochin, discussed the condition of the State before Kalesan became the King, and the progress the State achieved during his 16-year rule. The author did not forget to criticize the evils and atrocities suffered by poor innocent people in the name of caste. Baalaakalesam was first staged in Maharaja’s College, Ernakulam. Karuppan’s friend Kottilil Narayana Marar, who was an upper caste Hindu, provided financial assistance with printing the book.

The drama became a topic of discussion among scholars.[who?] The Maharaja honoured Karuppan with the title Kavithilakan, or Great Poet. The poet and luminary Keralavarma Valiakoithampuran of Travancore, known as Kerala Kalidasan for his translation of Shakunthalam into Malayalam, was very pleased, and conferred the Title of Vidwan upon Karuppan in 1913.

The drama also carried suggestions for future reforms, like the formation of village Panchayaths, the constitution of a Legislative Council, construction of a Harbour at Cochin, etc. After reading the drama's script, Sree Moolam Thirunal Maharaja of Travancore presented a nine-jewelled gold ring (Navarathna Mothiram) to Karuppan. While submitting the copy of Baalaakalesam, Karuppan made a humble request to the Maharaja of Travancore: that he belonged to a poor community of fishermen, and students hailing from the community be encouraged to reach the mainstream through education (for which fee concession would help them). The King promptly sanctioned a half-fee concession to all students of Dheevara community in Travancore State, in appreciation of Karuppan’s struggle for the betterment of backward communities.
Social reforms

Karuppan decided to quit his teaching job to spend more time and energy spearheading social reforms. With this purpose, he organized the people of his own community into regional groups called Sabhās. The main agenda of the Sabhās was to persuade people to fight ignorance and superstitions. He put strong pressure on his fellow countrymen to become better educated and accept a healthier lifestyle. He organized the first Sabhā, Kalyanadayini Sabhā, at Anapuzha, Kodungalloor. Another Sabhā was Jnanodayam Sabhā, founded at Edacochin. Sudharma Sooryodaya Sabhā (Thevara), Prabodha Chandrodayam Sabhā (North Paravur), Araya Vamsodharani Sabhā (Engandiyoor), and Sanmarga Pradeepa Sabhā (Kumbalam) are other Sabhās that Pandit Karuppan patronized.

He gave equal emphasis to the emancipation of other communities as well, evident from the formulation of the Cochin Pulaya Maha Sabhā for the uplift of the Pulaya community. Treated as untouchables by the upper caste Hindus, they were not allowed to assemble in any common place for meetings. Therefore, to keep such meetings away from the eyes of the landlords, Karuppan asked the Pulayas to come in rowboats to the expanse of the Ernakulam backwaters and tie their boats together. There, he addressed them on a wooden-planked platform, and charted out strategies for their emancipation by forming a Sabhā for them as well. Accordingly, Cochin Pulaya Maha Sabhā was constituted. Subsequently, Karuppan persuaded other communities like Velas, Sambavas, Ulladas, Kudumbis, etc., to also form similar Sabhās, to give momentum to their fight against social evils and discrimination.

Pandit Karuppan was highly diplomatic when he undertook social activities. The caste system was present in Cochin State, and the Pulayas were prohibited from entering the streets of Ernakulam or walking on important public roads. Karuppan waited for a favourable opportunity to tackle the issue. The Government organized an exhibition of agricultural products, in which Diwan W.H. Bhore, I.C.S was the guest of honor, on the foreshore of Ernakulam. Karuppan, during his speech, brought to the attention of the Diwan that the Pulayas, who had laboured hard to cultivate the agricultural products showcased in the exhibition, were not allowed to see the Exhibition. Touched by the words of Karuppan, the Diwan ordered the organizers to allow the Pulayas to enter the grounds. Immediately, Karuppan took them to the exhibition site in a procession. (Karuppan had already asked the Pulayas to come in country crafts and wait on the backwaters.) From that day, the Pulayas could enter Ernakulam Town; Karuppan secured the right to walk on public roads for the Pulayas and other depressed classes.
Personal life

Pandit Karuppan loved all religions. He had a special appreciation for Christianity, which had helped in Kerala’s education by starting a number of educational institutions that admitted students without discrimination of religion or caste. When His Grace Alexis Henry Leppeesier (the representative of the Pope from the Vatican) visited Cochin in 1925, Karuppan wrote a welcome poem. Karuppan had also written poems highlighting the greatness of Sri Budha and Muhamed Nabi. Aggrieved by the death of Sree Chattambi Swamikal, Karuppan wrote a condolence poem namely Samadhi Sapthakam.

Pandit Karuppan’s wife Kunhamma, who had talents in music, hailed from Panambukad. The couple lived in Sahithyakudeeram, a house situated on the side of the canal near the St. Teresa’s College, Ernakulam, with their only daughter Parvathy.

Pandit Karuppan died on March 23, 1938, at the age of 53, due to pleurisy



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