30 July, 2021

From Madhouse To Miracle

In Kerala, quotas have more than achieved what they set out to

Illustration by Sorit
From Madhouse To Miracle

When Adi Sankara, a Namboodiri,  saw a Chandala, or a “dog-eater”, cross his path, he voiced the old call, “Gachha, gachcha! (Go away!)” The outcaste retorted, “O best of Brahmins, are you trying to distinguish between matter and matter, or between spirit and spirit?” Adi Sankara, who argued for Advaita, was speechless. He found his tongue in the Manisha Panchakam, which has the following refrain: “Whoever shows me the way, be he a dog-eater or one twice-born, he is my guru.” However, his clan later spread the story that the Chandala was Adi Sankara’s master, Lord Shiva, in disguise. Thus they effectively negated his example.

For almost a millennium, the Namboodiris were top dogs in Kerala society. They were the biggest land-owners and the most socially exalted. But the varna system of castes is not indigenous to the south. The adjustments made to align it with the local hierarchies produced a bewildering mix of castes and customs. Around 1900, Swami Vivekananda...

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