Poikayil Yohannan: Leaders of Kerala Renaissance

Poikayil Yohannan

Poikayil Yohannan (1879-1939)

I have read the history of many a civilization,
I have rummaged through the history of the country and the state,
But nowhere could I find anything about my caste,
There is no wielder of pen on this earth,
Who would write the history of my caste,
My caste – which has been consigned to the netherworld,
My caste – which has been lost in the uncharted depths of history
Poikayil Yohannan aka Sree Kumara Gurudevan was one of the greatest visionaries and social reformers of Kerala who was born as an agrestic slave (Paraiyar community, പറയർ) to a Syrian Christian family named Sankaramangalam.

Being born as a slave to the Christian family, he became influenced by their beliefs, therefore practiced Christianity, and later became well-versed in Biblical literature and theology.

The Year 2020 marks the 141st birth anniversary of Poikayil Yohannan.

Basic Facts

  • Birth – 17 February 1879, Eraviperoor, Pathanamthitta.
  • Family
    • Parents – Kandan & Lechi.
    • Wife – Janamma.
  • Original Name – Komaran.
  • NicknamesPoikayil Appachan, Pulayan Mathai, Kerala Napoleon & Kumara Gurudevan.
  • Founder – Prathyaksha Raksha Daiva Sabha (God's Church of Visible Salvation).
    • Headquarters – Eraviperoor, Pathanamthitta.
  • Death – 29 June 1939.
  • Books – Ratnamanikal (Collection of poems).

Prathyaksha Raksha Daiva Sabha (PRDS)

After experiencing societal evils of the caste system, degradation, and untouchability, he decided to unite the Dalit community. With that purpose in mind, he first joined the Marthoma Church but after a while, he realized that the church considered Dalits as an inferior class.

Later he joined an Evanjelikal sect of the Christian community called "Brethren Mission" there also he experienced the same treatment for four years.

After these two incidents, he came to realize that the caste system was deeply rooted among Christians in Indian society which defied the teachings of Jesus Christ. So in 1909, Yohannan started his own Dalit liberation movement named Prathyaksha Raksha Daiva Sabha (PRDS) with an aim for a casteless society.

The Prathyaksha Raksha Daiva Sabha was open to all, irrespective of religion and caste. The PRDS headquarters was in Eraviperoor. Yohannan bought 125 acres of land in different parts of Travancore for setting up schools, industrial training centers, constructing buildings for religious ceremonies, and public functions of PRDS.

He became the first person to open an English medium school for Dalit Community.

Yohannan was nominated twice to the Sree Moolam Praja Sabha, the legislative council of the princely state of Travancore in the years 1921 and 1931 respectively where he tried to bring forth the issues faced by Dalit classes.

He put forward many revolutionary ideas in the Sree Moolam Praja Sabha such as
  • Land of the landless,
  • Financial aid for farmers,
  • Free food and clothing,
  • Free education and Educational concessions,
  • Permission to enter and study in public schools,
  • Reservation in government service.
He was also a member of Sadhu Jana Paripalana Sangham (SJPS) founded in 1907, by Ayyankali. Poikayil Yohannan also met with Gandhiji at Neyyattinkara (1937).
  • Adi Lahala (അടി ലഹള) – A group of protests for the upliftment of Christian Dalit People spearheaded by Poikayil Yohannan.
    • Vaakathaanam Lahala – Another protest for the Christian Dalit people in which Kumara Guru burnt Bible in 1906.
    • Kozhukum Chira Lahala,
    • Mangalam Lahala,
    • Mundakkayam Lahala,
    • Vellinadi Strike.

Works on Poikayil Yohannan

  • "Poikayil Yohannan" – M.R. Renukumar.
  • "Unknown Subjects: Songs of Poikayil Appachan" (Translation) – Ajay Sekhar.
  • "Mannikkale Maanikyam" (Drama) – V.V. Shantha Kumar.
  • "Roopakam" (Documentary Film) – Prasobh Divakaran (Director).

📝SideNotes:

  • The term 'Dravida Dalithan' was first coined by – Poikayil Yohannan.

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