Women Preachers of the PRDS: Kulakutti Maria

Translated by J Devika

[I prefer to use the term the Great Churning — van-kadayal in Malayalam — to represent social change during the period of the early twentieth century of Malayali society in general, and mahaaturavi — the Great Opening — instead of the term Navoddhanam — Renaissance — to characterize the great upsurge of the oppressed communities towards liberation — of the same time, treating them as analytically distinct.

The Great Opening was as much as spiritual phenomenon, led by the oppressed, as it was an opening of society to the oppressed. Women were prominent here — especially in the Pratyaksha Raksha Daiva Sabha, built by the dalit visionary and leader from Travancore, Poikayil Yohannan. The PRDS produced many powerful women, preachers, organizers, and even bodyguards, at a time when Yohannan and his preachers were subjected to physical attacks by the upper caste elites. Kulakutti Maria was one of them. How sad that we know of them only in fragments, such as the one below, from the work of V V Swami and E P Anil, Vyavasthayude Nadappathakal (Kottayam: Jeevacharitra Punaraaghyaana Samity, 2017).]

… On this occasion, as in earlier ones, the activities of the Pratyaksha Raksha Daiva Sabha (PRDS) faced challenges. It was in such a context that the yogam [coming-together, meeting] at Aalaampilly was held. The Sabha planned a very large meeting; only PRDS members and members of the oppressed communities were informed of it. They were told that that a woman would be speaking at the yogam. The savarna [high-caste] people and the plantation-owners caught the wind of it somehow. They decided to try something out. And so they indicated that the yogam could be conducted in a hall in the company’s factory. Those who were responsible for organizing the yogam decided to responded by accepting the offer. The hall and its premises were spruced up. The workers of the plantations and the kankaanis [the jobbers, who recruited and supervised the workers] all arrived as the audience. But Appachan [the spiritual leader of the PRDS, Poikayil Yohannan] did not arrive. The kankaanis and the plantation-owners had expected him. Appachan had deputed Kulakutti Maria, a woman from the oppressed community, who was one of the leading female preachers of the PRDS, to speak there. Kulakutti Maria arrived there and declared to the audience: I will speak to you of Appachan’s themes and concerns. The meeting began. Kulakutti Maria elaborated on Appachan’s theme of how God interacted with men in his System, in different times. The kankaanis and others who were sitting on chairs at the beginning of her discourse soon got up and seated themselves on the floor. They were amazed at how different the yogam was from their expectations of it. So deep it was, so emotionally enriching. (p.122)

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