The Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam or S.N.D.P., as it is popularly known, was a society founded in 1903 under the aegis of Guru for the dissemination of the ideals ofSree Narayana Dharma among the masses and for the uplift of the down-trodden castes of Kerala. Anyone from any caste could be a member of the Society came into the hands of the Ezhavas, who happened to be in an overwhelming majority among its members. The Swami’s ideal which was one of universalism was not affected by this circumscription of the Society’s leadership because everyone of them working under the Guru was heart and soul for the uplift of all depressed castes. They were the more willing group to follow the Guru on the score that the Guru was born in their midst. That was all.
This uniformity of the S.N.D.P.’S membership facilitated the smooth management of the Society. The Ezhavas were numerically the largest caste, a factor which lent strength to their movements. They had a pivotal position, being at the top of the hierarchy of the untouchables and just below the Nairs. What they achieved inspired all castes below them to emilate their move for betterment, and induced the higher caste to examine and improve the customs and ways of their respective castes. The Ezhava tradition of Vaidyas (physicians) and Sanskrit scholars, landlords and rich men on top among them equipped them for quick progress up the social ladder. Their leader was a great saint and so the whole movement was imbued with a spiritual aura. Moreover, they had already made some trail movements earlier towards bettering their position in life, and achieved some success although those attempts involved some sporadic violence. They, therefore, welcomed this opportunity of struggling with greater dignity and aplomb.
The S.N.D.P. now had its vast annual gatherings. They were graced in its earlier days by the presence of the Guru who gave them guidance and determined the tenor of the deliberations. People assembled in hundreds and later in thousands, some special meetings having more than half-a-lakh of people who listened in pin-drop silence to speeches made without the aid of loud-speakers. Those meetings would very often be addressed by the higher castes and also by officialdom, including the Diwans of Travancore and Cochin.
The disabilities of the depressed castes dropped one by one like leaves in autumn until at last they could walk along public roads without fear of polluting anyone, use roads around temples, get admitted to schools, colleges and hostels, secure jobs in government service and even have certain percentages of jobs reserved for different groups of castes-and then finally came the entry into temples in 1936. Travacore was the first State in India to grant that privilege to all castes. What a miraculous achievement for the Guru who passed away or attained his Samadhi as the saying goes in 1928! To think that all this was gained by the untouchables as a whole within a space of thirty years and without creating any bad blood is indeed wonderful.
The Earliest Secretaries
Each of the general secretaries of the Yogam was a great personality. Dr.Palpu was the first secretary . His eldest son Natarajan became a disciple of Sree Narayana Guru, who carried the spiritual message or the “Word of the Guru” to all the four corners of the World from Australia to Canada and also established Gurukulas after the pristine institutions of the Upanishadic days. Nataraja Guru, who is no more, has left a band of highly intellectual and self-sacrificing disciples to continue his work.
Dr.Palpu send his second son to Japan in the twenties of this century to study the manufacturing of porcelain and the establishment of cottage industries on Japanese models. Palpu himself sponsored many such industries, introduced basic education as far back as 1910, and was responsible for a multitude of social, educational and cultural reforms.
Mahakavi Kumaran Asan who came next gave the S.N.D.P.a strong cultural base for its numerous activities. He rose to be one of the three great modern poets of Kerala and introduced new trends in poetry. His poetic content was a perfect amalgam of Western thought with Upanishadic and buddhist philosophy as the base. They are all fired by a passion for social reform of the highest order.
T.K.Madhavan who was the third secretary worked like a Trojan, increasing the membership of the Yogam from 4,000 to 50,000 in four months. He organized the whole movement into a well-oiled machine that spurred to action every man, woman and child. In the Vaikom Satyagraha movement which he initiated for achieving the freedom of the roads round the upper-caste temple at Vaikom, he brought Mahatma Gandhi to the South to bless his endeavors and guide the volunteers. Here was someone putting into practice what Mahatmaji had been dreaming all along. The Guru, whom Gandhiji met, commanded the greatest respect from him. Always he referred to the Swami as His Holiness Sree Narayana Guru. His influence persuaded the Mahatma to redouble his efforts for Harijan uplift.
The Swami’s spirituality was so inspiring and T.K.Madhavan’s electrifying enthusiasm so contagious that the broad-minded higher castes responded in a manner that is not easily equaled or surpassed in the history of social reform in India.
During the Vaikom Satyagraha, Madhavan was supported by broad-minded higher caste leaders. The Brahmin Nilakandhan Namboodiripad, a fearless freedom fighter and a social reformer of the front rank worked hand in hand with him. K.P.Keshavan Menon, a Gandhian, and Mannath Padmanabhan were his other close associates and advisers among higher castes who went to jail along with Madhavan for this cause. It is intriguing to note that Mannath Padmanabhan was the founder of Nair Service Society which was working for the welfare of the Nair community. Here he was offering Satyagraha and going to jail for the rights of communities who were below the Nairs also.
Not satisfied with the struggle and the arrests that followed, Mannath Padmanabhan led two processions, starting from the north and south, consisting of one thousand Savarnas (higher castes) each, walking a distance of more than one hundred miles to Trivandrum, the capital of the state, and presenting a memorial to the Maharaja on behalf of the entire group of lower castes. The Maharaja was sympathetic, but allowed the question to be decided by the legislative assembly. Within a year, roads round the temples were thrown open to all castes. The year was 1925.
C. Kesavan gave the Ezhavas their main baptism in politics, and conjoined its activities with the movement for representative Government. This was a new line where the Ezhavas joined hands with the Christians and the Muslims and fought for freedom.
R. Sankar, another stalwart Secretary of the S.N.D.P., concentrated on educational expansion. Within a decade and a half, the Yogam had 13 colleges under it.