V. T. Bhattathiripad

V. T. Bhattathiripad was an Indian social reformer, dramatist and an Indian independence activist. He was best known for his contributions in the reformation of the casteism and conservatism that existed in the Namboothiri community. He wrote a number of books which include a play, Adukkalayail Ninnu Arangathekku. Indian independence movement was gaining popularity and Bhattathiripad participated in the Allahabad session of the Indian National Congress due to which he was expelled from his community. This prompted him to fight against casteism and he started campaigning for Brahmin widow remarriage, which was a taboo during those times.Bhattathiripad utilised his writing skills as a tool for social reforms and his writings contrasted the social changes that followed the Indian independence movement against the dormant state of Namboothiri community. The staging of his play, Adukkalayilninnu Arangathekku (From the Kitchen to the Stage), in 1929 was an important event in the social reform calendar of Kerala; the play highlighted the discriminatory rituals and practices prevalent in the Namboothiri community, especially the plight of Namboothiti women. The drama also marked a deviation in Malayalam theatre from historical plays to social dramas.We do not find any literary work having introduced such a basic change in the minds of people capable of bringing about a revolutionary impact.

Despite marriage reform being the central theme of the work, with swajathivivaham ( marriage within cast) and love marriage as the focal points, the drama subjected other important concerns of the time such as the re-alignment of inter-caste relationships, the approach towards the nationalist movement, the need of English education, the emancipation of Antarjanams etc. It clearly aimed at a refashioning of the community along with
modern ideals and a realignment of community relationships in the light of changing social equilibrium and ongoing criticism against the Nambiitiris on account of their orthodoxy. It is no wonder that VT, who considered social reform as his mission, upheld these issues in a situation when the Namboothiris, who ought to have led the society and the country, suppressed other communities by arresting their progress. The drama says that young men of namboodiri community, who dared to question the futility of Vedic education is presenting a live picture of the beast-like life to the women in their house. The drama in fact tore the hearts of the orthodox.

Contemporary reviews applauded the drama for the revolutionary changes. It brought about within the community and compared it with a bombshell. The reviews treat it as an ‘absolute farce’ dealing with worldly matters alone. The drama got appreciated for its character formation, stage arrangement, sarcasm and the skill in portraying the harem of an illam. This farce is capable of transforming the very foundations of the Nambootiri community.

It is generally treated as the first ‘social farce’ and as the pioneering venture in the progressive theatre movement in Kerala. It also came to be accepted as the first propagandist drama. In relation to both the theme and presentation, it utilized the methods of realism and was in fact an attempt at an in-depth analysis of the community through self-criticism. VT himself wrote that it aimed at burning down what was created by, and what had been imposed on,
the Nambootiris in the process of the formation of a communitarian divide in the society.

It also suffered many drawbacks if looked at from a literary point of view. It failed to stand the test of time because it was highly propaganda-oriented and hence came to have a low level of artistic value. As it focused on the contemporary and strictly communitarian issues, it could not last as a literary piece in the post-reform age. But all these defects do not detract the value of this play. The strength of the play lies in its revolutionary side and the changes that it was able to introduce in the community. Today, however, it has only historical value than as a piece of literature.

VT dedicated the work to the Antarjanams with a note “In the tender hands of the virgins”. It has been observed that the drama was created with the purpose of conversing with women. The main narrative revolves around the love affair of Madhavan and Thethi. Madhavan departs to Madras for studies and in the meanwhile Thethi’s marriage is fixed with an aged Nambootiri. Though Thethi’s father had great regard for Madhavan, the fear of committing the sin of Parivedanam discouraged him from giving his daughter in marriage to him. Madhavan completed his course of study and with the help of his friends decided to foil the marriage through a court injunction. Finally Thethi was married to Madhavan and in a meeting of the Nambzitiri Yuvajana Sangham, which is arranged to congratulate the couples, Madhavan tore out her ghosa to liberate her from seclusion.