Kerala Freedom

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Kerala has the unique distinction of being a region where patriotic Indians revolted against the British rulers even before the first freedom struggle of 1857, which was labelled by the British as 'Sepoy Mutiny'. In the three zones of Kerala, namely, Malabar, Cochin and Travancore, there were uprisings against the British in the end of 18th century and in the beginning of 19th century. In Malabar, it was a native prince, Kerala Varma, Pazhassi Raja who led the revolt, while in Cochin it was spearheaded by Paliath Achan, the Prime Minister of Cochin State and in Travancore by Veluthampy Dalava, the Prime Minister of the State. All these revolts were brutally suppressed by the British.

 By the end of 19th century, people of Kerala began to take interest in the affairs of the country as they felt a new hope of liberation, with the advent of the Indian National Congress in 1885. The earliest leader of the organisation from Kerala was G.P. Pillai, the well-known Editor of "Madras Standard" who had initiated agitations for civil rights in Travancore State. A forceful writer and orator, he had wide contacts in India and Great Britain and became General Secretary of the Indian National Congress twice. Gandhiji who was then emerging as a leader, had acknowledged the help and guidance given to him by G.P. Pillai in the South African Indian issue and also in the Temperance Movement (Prohibition). C. Sankaran Nair, the noted jurist, was another person from Kerala who adorned the leadership of the nationalist organisation. Sankaran Nair has the distinction of being the only Keralite to become the president of the INC during its long history spanning over a century.

    The fifth Malabar District Political Conference held at Manjeri on April 28, 1920 in the presence of Anie Besant adopted a resolution rejecting the proposed Mongague-Chelmsford Reforms and this generated widespread enthusiasm among the people who wanted radical constitutional reforms and freedom from British regime.

    In 1921, while trying to address a banned public meeting in Madras K. Madhavan Nair, U. Gopala Menon, Ponmadath Moideen Koya, Kurur Neelkantan Namboothiripad and Moothedath Narayanan Menon were arrested and sentenced to six months imprisonment. In the same year in April, people all over Malabar, Cochin, Travancore assembled on a common platform and held the first All Kerala Political Conference at Ottapalam under the presidency of Andhra Kesari T. Prakasam.

Vaikom Satyagraha

    Historic Vaikom Satyagraha, which attracted all India attention was started on March 30, 1924. The Satyagraha was started to establish the right for all people to walk through the temple roads. Leaders like K.P. Kesava Menon and T.K. Madhavan led the agitation.

    A 'Savarna Jatha' proceeded to Trivandrum and presented a mass petition to the Regent Maharani of  Travancore requesting her to remove ban and give freedom to all people to walk through the Vaikom temple roads and to put an end to the practice of untouchability in the State. Gandhiji held discussions with the authorities of Travancore and later had correspondence with them. When Satyagraha entered the twentieth month, the temple roads, except the one on the eastern side, were opened to all people and the Vaikom Satyagraha ended.

Non Cooperation Movement and Salt Satyagraha

    As decided at the Nagpur session (1920), Non Cooperation movement was started throughout the country.In Kerala, too, there was widespread boycott of foreign goods, courts and educational institutions. The Malabar Rebellion of 1921 and the students agitation of 1922 in Travancore were events of great political significance during this period.

    The Salt-Satyagraha under the leadership of Gandhiji had its own repercussions in Kerala. Payyannur in Malabar, was the main venue of the Satyagraha in Kerala. Many batches of Satyagrahis from different parts of Kerala marched to Payyannur to take part in the Satyagraha.

    Many leaders like K. Madhavan Nair, K. Kelappan and Muhammad Abdur Rahiman were arrested for breaking salt-law and were sentenced to rigorous imprisonment. Side by side with the Salt Satyagraha, picketing of toddy shops and the boycott of foreign goods were also organised and large number of satyagrahis courted imprisonment. As there was no salt satyagraha in native States, freedom fighters from Cochin and Travancore went outside the States and broke salt law in British Indian provinces and were imprisoned. Civil disobedience movement came to an end with the release of Gandhiji and Gandhi-Irwin pact was signed on March 4, 1931.

Temple Entry for Untouchables

    At the fifth All Kerala Political Conference held at Badagara from May 3 to 6, 1931 under the presidency of J.M. Sengupta, many important resolutions including the one demanding temple entry for the so called untouchables, were passed. The famous Gurvayur Satyagraha (1931-32) was an off-shoot of this resolution. As Zamorin Raja, the hereditary trustee of Guruvayur Sreekrishna Temple did not agree to allow the untouchables to worship in the temple, local leaders decided to launch a satyagraha for achieving this end. Appeals of eminent people throughout India including Gandhiji, Mahakavi Rabindranath Tagore and others to allow the untouchables into the temple had no effect on the adamant Zanmorin.

    A satyagraha was started under the leadership of K. Kelappan, with many satyagrahis being manhandled and arrested. As a last resort, Kelappan began 'fast unto death' to achieve the aim. When Kelappan's condition became critical, and there were numerous appeals to save his life, Gandhiji intervened and persuaded him to end his fast. After that, a referendum regarding temple-entry of untouchables was conducted among the Hindus of Ponnani Taluk, where the temple was situated and a huge majority of the people voted in favour of throwing open the temple to them.

Quit India Movement

    The Quit India Movement launched in August 1942 was widespread in Cochin and Malabar, though not so extensive in Travancore. During the Quit India Movement there were sensational and violent incidents in Malabar involving disruption of communication and attack on government offices and police stations. The Keezhariyur Bomb case, in which 27 persons including Dr.K.B. Menon, Socialist leader and Secretary of Indian Civil Liberties Union were charge-sheeted, was the important episode of the struggle in Malabar. Even underground papers like 'Swathantra Bharatam' were brought out during the struggle.

Agitation in Travancore and Cochin

    After the Haripura session of the Indian National Congress which decided that separate organisations should be formed in native States for the agitation for responsible government, the Travancore State Congress and the Cochin State Prajamandal were formed.

    Both in Travancore and Cochin the autocratic regimes tried their best to suppress the agitation for responsible government and complete Independence. In Cochin State, the Government's attitude was more liberal than that of Travancore government. In Travancore, Dewan Sir C.P. Ramaswami Iyer declared that Travancore will remain independent without joining the Indian Union, after the British left India. People of Travancore continued their struggle and they had to fight against 'Independent Travancore Plan'  also. As a result of the agitation, at last, Dewan Ramaswami Iyer had to leave Travancore State. With India achieving Independence in August 1947, Travancore and Cochin acceded to the Indian Union.

Struggle in Mahe

    Even after the British left India, the Portuguese and French governments were not prepared to leave their settlements on Indian soil. So the people in these settlements had to wage war against these powers. In Mahe, which was a French enclave on the Malabar coast, the people underwent a heroic and prolonged struggle till the French left their settlements in India. Freedom fight in Mahe forms a part of the struggle for freedom in Kerala. It may be mentioned that Kerala had a proud share in the Indian Independence Struggle.



Payyanur is famous for its remarkable role in the freedom struggle of the country. This small town had done a lot for the national movement. Uppu Satyagraha (Salt Satyagraha) of 1930, Quit India Movement, Khadi Propagation are some of the activities that brought Payyanur to the national arena. Because of its immense contribution to the Independence Movement Payyanur was called as "Second Bardoli".

The freedom movement of Payyanur got a new vigor and energy from the agitation for boycotting Simon Commission. The KPCC conference of 1928 held at Payyanur, presided by Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, opened a new chapter in the history of the Independence movement .

There were more organisations formed to fight for their rights. The Samyukata Rashtriya Congress consisting of an alliance of Christians -Muslims - Ezhavas ( a powerful community of Kerala) formed an alliance to seek reservations in Government. This is the first time community based party system came into Kerala's landscape.

Later the Thiruvithamkur State Congress was founded by Pattom Thanu Pillai to fight against the high handedness of the last Dewan of Thiruvithamkur, Sir C P Ramaswamy Iyengar(popularly known as Sir CP). There is no doubting the Dewan's capabilities at governance, but what made the Congress to move against him was his streak of authoritarianism. The movement started in 1938 and led to widespread violence all over the state. The Congress was outlawed. There was sympathetic movements from across the border from Kochi too.

The Independence from the British did not end the rule of the Maharaja. Sir CP opposed Thiruvithamkur's accession to the newly independent India. The Congress who contested the elections to the state, won an overall majority and wanted accession at all costs. The debate only ended with an attack on the person of Sir CP. This left the Dewan thoroughly demoralised and he disappeared from the scene soon after. The state acceded to India soon after.

It was another move towards reunification of Malayalam speaking population that on 01 Jul 1949 a new state was formed called Thirukochi, consisting of old princely states of Thiruvithamkur and Kochi . The question of reorganisation of Kerala now appeared imminent. The Malayalam-speaking regions of Malabar and Thirukochi were ultimately joined together as one state on 01 November 1956 and christened KERALA .

Kerala's post independence history is a saga of Leftist movement elbowing out the principal national party - Indian National Congress. The deep social, communal and economic divisions within Kerala was on the boil. Capable and energetic leaders took over and nurtured a Communist movement against the full might of state suppression.

Among them EMS Namboothiripad, AK Gopalan and P Krishna Pillai were the unquestioned leaders. Sir CP had single-mindedly hunted them. But this only helped the movement to grow in strength. By 1957, they had become the first democratically elected Communist Government anywhere in the world.

Though the Government had the brightest luminaries in the ministry ever seen in Kerala, it was doomed to failure because of the extreme schism in society which this government caused. Soon Swatatntra Samaram or "Independence war" had broken out in the state leading to civil disobedience, riots and mounting civilian casualties. Using the pretext of breakdown of law and order, Smt Indira Gandhi was able to convince her father Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru to dismiss the government in 1959.

The story of Kerala after 1959 is a story of many governments of the Congress-led or Left-led parties coming and going at regular intervals. Kerala has seen no fewer than 17 Ministries till now.

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