Book Review | Sahodaran Ayappan: Towards A Democratic Future

THE RADICAL SPEAKS: Documenting Sahodaran Ayyappan

This intellectual biography of Sahodaran Ayyappan by Dr. Ajay S. Sekhar* is a much needed attempt at documenting the most radical strand of social renaissance the state of Kerala had witnessed in the late 19th century and the first half of 20th century. This is even more pronounced at this point in time when we are at the crossroads of history; with the saffron fascists and other regressive forces on a mission to reset the rights won by the subaltern sections of the society after centuries of struggle.  A major distinction between renaissance movements in Kerala and other parts of India is that the most pronounced voices of radical social reform have come from within the Dalit-Bahujan communities in the southern state. Thus a process to restructure the society based on notions of egalitarianism and democracy was initiated by a bunch of visionaries – Ayyappan being the tallest in terms of his philosophical foresight.
I believe that just like the militant strand of social renaissance that Ayyappan epitomizes, this book hasn’t received the due attention  of Dalit-Bahujan thinkers.
Before studying history, one should  study the historian. If we were to briefly survey Dr. Ajay S. Sekhar ‘s writings, we will find that they have pioneered the revival of cultural Buddhism through cultural excavations of various customs of erstwhile Buddhism. His work has provided new insights into various specificities of Buddhist culture before the advent of Brahminism in 8th or 9th century AD.

Sanskritization of Ezhavas
The community that Ayyapan hailed from is now being rapidly Brahminised. Ezhavas,  a former untouchable caste who are today politically and economically powerful but continue to be socially backward were the torch bearers of social renaissance in Kerala. They also happened to be the  most loyal followers of the left forces. Relative accumulation of economic resources over a period of time has resulted in their being Sanskritized. This regressive step has reinforced social hierarchy based on graded inequality and blunts the resistance now being spearheaded by Ambedkarite Dalits. A closer scrutiny of Ayyappan could result in the revival of a glorious tradition of resistance against this ubiquitously permeating Brahmanism within a community that can also boast of other radicals like Arattupuzha Velayudha Panicker.
The author steers clear of deification at every step of his impeccable research into a personality like Ayyappan who was a visionary decades ahead of his time.  The biographer unravels how Ayyappan had preceded the Marxist thinker Gramsci in many aspects of cultural criticism.  The observations made by the author can help students of cultural criticism develop newer insights concerning issues that were tackled by both Ayyappan and other 20th century critics (like Gramsci).

A New Manifesto for Ambedkarites
Another exemplary feature of this book is that it can help contemporary Ambedkarite activists draft a manifesto for the process of building an Ambedkarite public. Many of Ayyappan’s actions and writings like calling for widespread propagation of Buddhism, eulogizing non- Brahminical aesthetics and mythical characters, his critique of Gandhi - and some of his verses with profound political insights  - are invigorating for activists immersed in a quest for social justice.

The later part of this book contains translations of Mr. Ayyappan’s poems which are very much suited to his radical reformist mission. His poetics is one consisting of a charged political idiom, and a complete disregard to the conventional aesthetics of poetry where content and slogans reign supreme (superior even to the form.) In my opinion, this book should be on the library shelves of  cultural theorists/critics along with intellectual biographies of Ambedkar(Christopher Jeffrelot , Elinor Zealot), biography of Kanshi Ram (by Badri Narayan) and various texts by Ambedkar and others.

by Chandramohan Sathyanathan

 *published in 2012



Narmada Bachao Andolan Takes on Jaggi Vasudev's Rally for Rivers


Narmada Bachao Andolan

Who is Eyeing Indian Rivers and for What Purpose ?

What’s the Real Intention behind "Rally for Rivers"?

October 19, 2017, Badwani : Not only Ganga or Narmada, but condition of all the rivers is serious today. The agenda of saving rivers is rising from many directions. Who are the people involved in these campaigns? What is their objective and who is promoting those? What is their programme for saving rivers and how will we measure the success of these initiatives. The condition of river Yamuna has become worst, not only due to the construction of dams but also because of the rampant construction on the flood plains, big infrastructure projects, temples and illegal organising of the big ‘cultural’ programs by gurus in the catchment area of the river. The construction of series of big dams on river Narmada has killed the natural flow and made its water unsuitable for drinking today.

Even after spending 1600 Crores of rupees during the Narmada Seva Yatra, neither a single illegal liquor shop in areas like Badwani, Dhar was closed nor did the illegal sand mining stop. Even today, the illegal sand mining continues not only in Narmada but also in it’s tributaries like Hathni, Goi, Uri-Baghni. Now they are demolishing villages on the banks of the rivers in the name of rehabilitation but they are also demolishing the river in the process. Every now and then they stop a tractor here and there to show their commitment but largely the police, mining and revenue departments corrupt behavior, legal and environmental violations continue unabated.

Which way is Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev Maharaj’s campaign moving?

Those who are now raising the issue of saving the rivers, will they not be successful in selling these rivers, is a question necessary to ask. Sadhguru or Yogguru. Jaggi Maharaj has gathered millions of rupees from many corporate and many media houses and also mobilized many environmental lovers, common citizens and young people together. Chief Ministers Shri Shivraj Singh ji and Prime Minister Modi also appear to be associated with them and not only with rivers but also with Sadhguru Maharaj, their reverence and attachment shows that. They have not only visited the Isha Foundation ashram but also inaugurated the 120 feet high Adiyogi statue, which has been opposed by many organizations, advocates and retired judges in Tamil Nadu. Legal proceedings are still continuing against Sadhguru.

In Jaggi Vasudev’s concept of saving the rivers, there is no special thing except tree plantation. They talk about the river catchment area, water bodies, sub-rivers, ecosystems, maps and descriptions, but no talk of the causes that brings destruction to rivers, why not talk about prevention ? On one side plantation and on the other hand illegal sand mining, is it acceptable to Sadhguru Maharaj ? Encroachment in the catchment area of rivers particularly by the big capitalists, (not just by the poor who have are always targeted), what is his stand on that? In his conception and recommendations, Sadhguru himself and his Isha Foundation say that “we will not say anything about hydroelectric schemes (hydroelectric projects), river water transport etc.” We will not take emotional or political role and will speak only on classical / scientific basis. Will it be a scientific practice to ignore the impact of these projects ?

The description of the destruction of the rivers done by him is correct, but no mention of how it happened! While the habitat of the river below the dam is dead or the people of the villages on the river banks areas are also becoming hungry, since they are suffering from drought & flooding too. Today, sea ingress till 30 Kms is happening in Narmada, in Gujarat, making it saline, but then why does Sadhguru remain silent on it ? Sadhguru says the overuse of water is a big reason behind it. At the expense of drinking water and irrigation the water from Sardar Sarovar, Indira Sagar reservoirs are being given to Coca Cola and other industries, is this the right use? Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev ji and his followers who talk about the heritage of the river valley, do not mention the destruction and submergence of the centuries old river valley like Narmada with its ancient temples, mosques, archaeological treasures, and even a few million trees standing today. Isn’t that a big contradiction ?

Sadhguru advocates plantation drive along one km on both sides of the river bank, but will he tell us what happens to those already farming or living on these river banks. People living on the banks of these rivers are river protectors, not the politicians and corporations who want to invest crores in the water transport, tourism, energy projects, river fronts with whom Sadhguru has joined hands ? "River is a natural resource" and need to be rejuvenated for continued development shows the commoditised nature of his approach, something makes us suspicious of the motives of this whole campaign.

They talk about the 73th amendment of the constitution i.e the right of the Gram Sabha and connects their work with many government schemes but only on papers. But the corruption, inherent contradictions and complete violation of the spirit behind self governance and reliance, there is no clarity on this thoughts on this.

Corporates like Adani or Ambani are behind Jaggi Vasudev ji whose own environmental thinking we all know given the violations they have done constantly. They appreciate projects like "Namami Devi Narmade", or river-interlinking, waterways etc. because there is a huge investment opportunity for them and rally for rivers campaign creates opportunity for them. We wonder why Sadhguru remains silent on forest conservation and talks of industrial farming, knowing fully well the failed crop insurance scheme, he goes on talking about crop insurance, same way talking about water decentralisation but not about dams, why ? Why such silence on matters of importance, is it because he is hand in gloves with the powers that be.

We call Sadhguru Maharaj today to explain his take on the situation of Narmada River and Valley, the rule of governance on all the schemes and to express the way to save Narmada. That too immediately before the river gets destroyed.

Who is Jaggi Vasudev?

Satguru who has taken up to saving the rivers by spending millions of crores of rupees himself is accused of violation of many environmental laws in Tamil Nadu. Encroachment on the Kundakoi tributary of the river Noyal, construction of ashram with nearly one thousand buildings on the reserved forest, encroachment on the elephants corridors, are some of the acts he is involved in. There are many petitions filed before the court against him, which are in progress. In this regard, the government officials of Combatore district have confirmed these violations in affidavits and even given stop order, which has been violated by Sadhguru.

We need to also know that Jaggi Vasudev’s father-in-law has charged him with murder of his wife. The case is still pending. “Why are they not arresting me then?” this is what he said in response to a question by a journalist. We only want to remind people who are bowing down to him and colluding with him today, must remember the fate of Asaram Bapu or Ram-Rahim. One must support, or donate only after complete awareness and inquiry. We would like to give this warning on behalf of the Narmada Bachao Andolan to all. The journalists and newspaper correspondents must thoroughly research so that rivers can be saved and not sold in the name of “Rally for Rivers”.

Devi Singh, Devram Kanhera, Kamla Yadav, Medha Patkar



Poem | Amritendu Ghosal

Smoking Area, by Amritendu Ghosal


In spite of being a passenger train
This particular one fights hard
To give a good reputation to its kind.
Five times a day, shuttling,
Between Patna and Gaya.

One morning took me by surprise
I found myself standing in the ticket line
Of everyday passengers to Gaya
I, one of them, felt of use.
5 30 am,
Quarter to six, read the morning news
In Hindi, amidst school girls and teachers,
Morning school in summer till noon
And early office folks, calm,
with their lives figured out,
Outlandish dreams abandoned
Some of them without ticket.
A boy sat in a plastic chair from home.
The desperation of seat requests through the window
Was beneath him.
Does he sit in the same chair in his classroom?
I wondered.

In Gaya my colleague picked me up.
Sitting behind him on his motorcycle
I saw my reflection on the back of his helmet,
My fresh hair - cut, big glasses
My forehead stretched on the black sphere
The straps of my laptop bag over my shoulders
Yes Allen that morning I had put my shoulders to the wheel
With no irony in my mind.
Our motorcycle lurched through the dusty lanes
Of the town where Siddartha had wised up.
My new workplace.


Poem | Akila G

Source: https://pixabay.com/


Syllables of suprabhatam
cross-stitch parrots and rice kolams
in 3”x3” prints for high rise corridors
where the last number dialed is of
Murugan water tanker.

(My collar necklace of flower seeds
from the Gulmohar was long fed
to a borewell of dry spells)

The Natesan Park dilutes
the salt, sugar, weight and wallet
with herbal concoctions sold in mobile vans
the Marina spume-kisses
a sticker on the treadmill

The third generation malayali tea shop
stands up to wafting aromas of filter kaapi
He seeks an engineering seat
for his daughter in Kerala.

Maami swipes her itinerary
and GPS in an english
when she talks of visiting her children in the US
the snow there harsher on her breath and knees
during the December music festival.
Un-metered auto rickshaws, share autos,
gprs-skilled cabs
are humid for her thalappu.

The dawn re-carves itself
every summer holiday

They say nothing is constant

or have I come of age?


Suprabhatam: Morning hymns invoking the Gods.
Kolams: designs made of rice flour.
Kaapi: Coffee, Maami: Aunty, Thalappu: the edge of a sari.