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The Story of Modern Education of Namboothiris

The story begins over a hundred years ago. In ME 1047, Kudallur Kunchunny Nambudiripad initiated discussions with the Government of Kochi about providing modern education for the Namboothiri community. But, it was four decades later in early 1085 (ME) that the idea took a concrete shape. But the then Diwan of Kochi was not sure if the Namboothiris actually needed special schools; will there be enough students? How will they be financed? So, he entrusted C Mathai, Chief Inspector in the Education Department, with the task of finding out the answers.

The Chief Inspector made a detailed study and submitted a report to the Diwan. His report was very favourable, perhaps indirectly influenced by his own Namboothiri ancestry. The crux of the report was to promote modern education without adversely affecting their age-old traditions and beliefs.

Based on this report and after some independent enquiries by the Government, the Diwan issued orders stating the necessity for such a special school with funds to be raised by the charitable institutions ("Dharma stthapanams") of the Namboothiris such as Chovvannuur Sabha Madhom and Vadakke Madhom Brahmaswam, and that since the needed legislations relating to such institutions would take about a year, the community should deposit towards the first year estimated expenses an amount of Rs.8,500.

Thus in ME 1094, the Namboothiri Vidyaalayam came into existence at Edakkunni near Thrissur, after an elected committee for the Vidyaalayam made the deposit.

Realising the importance of a solid financial base, efforts were made for legislative measures regarding the charitable institutions. Copies of the Government Gazette containing the regulations were circulated among Namboothiris for comments. Anticipating delays in the legislative process, the Government asked for a further deposit of the next two years' expenses of Rs. 14,000-00 and 16,000-00. This amount of Rs. 30,000-00 was borrowed from Vadakke Madhom Brahmaswam with the permission of the Government and based on the assurance of the Diwan that, after the legislation, the Government will make good this loan.

In the meantime, the administration of Vadakke Madhom Brahmaswam was transferred from Chaangaliyod Vaadhyaan to a Receiver appointed by the court. During the receivership, the Government took control of the Madhom, and decided that the funds of Charitable Institutions should not be diverted for modern education. Contravening the Diwan's promise, the Vidyaalayam Committee, was ordered to repay the loan with interest.

The Secretary of the Committee, A K T K M Cheriya Narayanan Nambudiripad, argued the case, produced evidence and even questioned the Diwan, but in vain. Each of the Committee members were held accountable to repay the amount. The Secretary with a Warrant Bata paid the amount of Rs. 47,957 As. 8 P.4 in full towards the principal, interest and court expenses, as decreed. Several years later in ME 1110 (AD 1935), through the almost single-handed efforts of the Secretary, most of the money (Rs. 43,222-0-4) could be got back from the Government.

Back to the working of the Vidyaalayam, the annual meeting of the Yogakshema Mahaasabha in ME 1094, elected a committed consisting of eminent members of the community, for the proper functioning of the Vidyaalayam, including day-to-day operations. The Secretary of the Committee acted as the Manager as well as for corresponding with the Government. The Government had its own committee to monitor, inform and advise on the administration of the school, and, more importantly, on the academic and daily activities of the students, etc.

During the first three years, it functioned at Edakkunni in Vadukkiniyedath Kirangatt Mana and the stay of the students was arranged in the Illam belonging to Thekkiniyedath Kirangatt Mana. Other housing arrangements were made for those who could afford and opted to stay separately. In either case, they were under the strict supervision of teacher wardens. The teachers were also to observe disciplinary rules. All students ate together in one sitting in a large dining hall constructed by the Committee. The teachers also ate with them and mostly stayed with them too. "Suddham", "Asuddham", etc. were meticulously followed.

The Vidyaalayam had two academic streams. One prepared students for the SSLC examination of Kochi, while the other was for the Siromani examination of Madras University. While the Bhagavat Geetha was introduced to both streams, basic Sanskrit was compulsory for all. The Siromani section was called "Paatthasaala".

Most of the students were over 12 years of age. Double promotion was prevalent, which did not at all adversely affect the academic standards. There were students who had joined 4th class in 1094 and yet passed out from SSLC in 1099.

The atmosphere in the Vidyaalayam was quite conducive for learning. The students had to get up early, have bath, do Sandhyaavandanam, recite the Vedams and prostrate. A teacher-cum-guardian, supervised it.

Classes used to start after a morning meal, with a break for lunch and end in the late afternoon. Two games - badminton and football - were encouraged. Evening bath, Sandhyaavandanam, 108 Panchaaksharam, and then studies till dinner bell and till 9-30 after dinner, taking of attendance at 9-30, and sleep at 10-00; that was the daily routine. Only Namboothiris used to teach Malayalam and Sanskrit. The rest of the teachers were on deputation from other Government schools. It is to be mentioned that the Government, and particularly the officers of the Education Department were quite considerate and helpful on the Vidyaalayam matters.

Most of the Namboothiri traditions were observed at the Vidyaalayam - Ekaadasi fasting, Vaavu half-fast ("orikkal"), holidays on Ashtami, Vaavu and Prathipadam. No shirts were to be worn in the class by students as well as teachers. They had to go and pray in a nearby temple at least once a day.

It must be mentioned that many students who passed from the Vidyaalayam rose to eminence and had held very high positions.

The next step was to raise the Vidyaalayam at Edakkunni to the level of a central institution and start several regional primary schools following the same syllabus, rules and regulations. The first such was the Baalika Vidyaalayam established at Panjal in ME 1105, with Mathur Vasudevan Nambudiripad as Manager. Later, it became a high school and was taken over by the Government, and lost its special status. The same was the case with the school which was being managed and operated by Kulakkada Madhom. By then, perhaps the very need for special status had also vanished.

Vadukkiniyedath Kirangatt Nambudiripad, in whose Illam at Edakkunni, the Vidyaalayam was functioning, wanted his Illam back, and so, it had to be shifted. As a secondary school, upto the 7th class, the Vidyaalayam was shifted to Thrissur, and was temporarily located in a dining hall ("oottupura") on the bank of Vadakke Chira, with the approval of the Director of Education. But, that was not enough, a permanent place had to be found. Concerted efforts in that direction did not bear fruit. It was at this juncture that an order was issued by the Government to close down the Vidyaalayam.

Thus at the end of the school year (ME 1098), the Committee was faced with the dilemma of either closing down the Vidyaalayam - a very easy thing to do - or for the Committee to take over and somehow run it at any cost. The Committee met on 20th of Kumbham 1098 (1923 early March), and took a firm decision to take over the Vidyaalayam.

In the same Thrissur, there were a few Namboothiri enterprises - a printing press, a newspaper, the Yogakshemam Bank and a Central Bank. The Manager of the Central Bank, Moothamala Purushothaman Namboodiri, who was inducted into the expanded Vidyaalayam Committee, thus took over the Vidyaalayam on behalf of the Committee.

The first effort was naturally to raise enough funds to run the school, and a special Committee was formed consisting of rich, eminent and influential persons, with a mandate for each to raise Rs.2,500.

The Committee had actually taken over the high school, because the Paatthasaala had already been closed down. Soon when the strength in the high school classes dwindled, that was also closed down, leaving just a lower secondary school. It was then decided to sell off all the excess materials and equipment.

During those times, the Yogakshemam Company and the Banks were running well and making profits. A portion of the profits was being set apart towards the Vidyaalayam expenses. This, together with the Government grants, was quite adequate for the smooth running of the Vidyaalayam. But no one could anticipate the doom into which the company and the banks were moving. Once again, the Vidyaalayam started facing severe financial problems. Added to this, the Government grants kept decreasing with the student strength, and therefore, other ways had once again to be found. The secretaries took personal loans from the banks for running it.

The Committee took a relatively easy but temporary way out by running a chit ("kuri"). The loan was thus repaid. But then the kuri obligations were there. One of the secretaries (Kodanaatt Narayanan Nambudiripad) took care of it using his own personal funds.

Kaplingat Sankaran Nambudiri took over as Secretary, and continued until after he shifted from Thrissur to his native Nedumpurakkal. In order to avoid the trouble and expenses of the Headmaster for travelling often to Secretary's Illam, Matamp Narayanan Namboodiri, who had just started practising as a lawyer at Thrissur, was made the Secretary, which position he continued till he shifted practice to Wadakkancherry. During his tenure, he was able to cut down expenses significantly.

As was being done in other schools, the Vidyaalayam also used to celebrate anniversaries and distribute prizes, atleast in its early years. They were held every year on the birth star ("pirannal" or "Janma nakshathram") of Kurur Unni Nambudiripad. Every year they were chaired by eminent persons like the Diwan of Kochi or Madras Governor's Executive Councillor, etc. and were attended by important persons of the community. The Vidyaalayam had the unique distinction of publishing a students' monthly, "Vidyaartthi", while at Edakkunni.

Many years hence, the Yuvajana Sangham (youth wing) conducted "Alms Tours" ("Yaachana Yaathra") and collected some funds. A committee formed for looking after these funds, also used to offer financial assistance to poor deserving students.

Problems continued to plague Vidyaalayam. Convinced about the need to raise it once again to the High School level, Chittur Kunjan Nambudiripad, the then President of the Vidyaalayam Committee, brought the most deserving teacher for Headmaster post, Paarakkunnam Chithrabhanu, from his own High School at Cherpu to the Vidyaalayam. But efforts for upgradation as High School failed, whereupon Chithrabhanu had to work there as just a teacher. A court case in this regard went upto the High Court and his appointment was made permanent.

Later, as the situation declined still further, and the strength kept dropping, the Committee was transformed into a Namboothiri Yogakshema Vidyaabhyaasa Trust, a registered body with the Secretary as Manager.

Even after changing the special status of the Vidyaalayam to an ordinary one, the strength kept decreasing to a point of no return. It was then decided to hand over the assets - the land, buildings, furniture and equipment - to another educational institution; thus, was born the "Thrivikrama College", a parallel college coaching for various courses including BA and BCom. It was named after Chittur Kunjan Nambudiripad, whose actual name was Thrivikraman, and who had spent not only considerable efforts, but also large sums of money.

The Government took exception to this change, since its approval had not been obtained, leading even to the possible winding up of the institute. It was then that Pakaravur Chithran Nambudiripad, who was the Trust Secretary and former Joint Director of Public Instruction, approached the Government authorities and could get not only approval but permanency too. It is now a reputed college, maintaining fairly high standards.

Before concluding the history of the Vidyaalayam, a few observations are appropriate. A unique feature of the Vidyaalayam was that rudimentary Samskrutham (Sanskrit) was taught in every class. There was one person who had his early Samskrutham lessons in the Paatthasaala followed by advanced studies mainly under Namboothiri scholars and served as a Samskrutham teacher in the Vidyaalayam for over 35 years, and retired. it was none other than Cheruppoyilam Krishnan (C K) Namboodiri. He had also served as Secretary in the Executive Committee of the Mahaasabha for over a decade.

T S Ananthakrishna Iyer served as Headmaster for the longest period, followed by P Chithrabhanu. N M Damodaran Namboodiri, a former student of the Vidyaalayam taught for over four decades and served as Headmaster only for a short period. Like C K Namboodiri, he was also a community activist-silent work, purposeful service.

| Article No:24.1 | Last update of this article:5th August 2000 |
Source: Malayalam Manuscript prepared by Matamp Narayanan Namboodiri, Advocate (1990); (died on 11.8.2000, at age 94)
Abridged by Prof. V M N Nambudiripad;
Translated by K D Nambudripad

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