Guruvayur Satyagraha – Temple Entry Movement

Guruvayur Satyagraha was a nonviolent movement in 1931 in the present Thrissur district (which was then part of Ponnani Taluk of Malabar district, Kerala). The Satyagraha aimed for the right of temple entry to the lower castes and the abolition of untouchability. It was a campaign to allow entrance to untouchables inside the Guvuvayur temple.

Guruvayur Temple Entry Satyagraha, led by K. Kelappan, was organised under the auspices of the Kerala Provincial Congress Committee (KPCC). The upliftment of the oppressed sections of the Hindu community was always on the agenda of the Indian National Congress (INC). The Congress Meeting held in Vadakara (Kerala) in May 1931 passed a resolution on the need to eradicate the evil of untouchability. The Vadakara conference resolved to launch a campaign for the eradication of untouchability. The KPCC decided to begin Satyagraha before the famous Sree Krishna temple at Guruvayur, which lay outside Travancore in the Malabar District of erstwhile Madras province (present-day Kerala).

On 1 November 1931, Satyagraha began under the leadership of K. Kelappan. The other prominent leaders of the Guruvayur Satyagraha were A. K. Gopalan (volunteer captain), Mannnathu Padmanabhan, P. Krishna Pillai, and N. P. Damodaran Nair. Mannathu Padmanabhan was the President of the Satyagraha Committee, and K. Kelappan was the Secretary of the Satyagraha Committee.

The leader of the volunteer march during the Satyagraha was T. Subrahmanian Thirumump (also called the ‘singing sword of Kerala’). Inspired by K. Kelappan, poet T. Subrahmanian Thirumump led a group of 16 volunteers from Payyannur to Guruvayur. The trustee of Guruvayur temple during the Satyagraha was Samorine, who was reluctant to concede.

After the Movement had run its course for ten months, the Satyagraha entered a crucial stage when K. Kelappan started fast unto death on 22 September 1932 in front of the temple. K. Kelappan undertook a hunger strike for 12 days until he broke his fast on 2 October 1932 because of the request from Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian National Congress. Gandhi Ji hailed it as “the miracle of modern times” and “a smriti which is peoples charter of spiritual emancipation”.

On 2 October 1932, Guruvayur Satyagraha was withdrawn due to Gandhiji’s intervention. Subsequently, there was an opinion poll (referendum) among the Hindus held at Ponnani taluk to find out their views on the question of temple entry. More than 77% of people in the referendum favoured the entry of all castes into the temple.

Though the Satyagraha did not immediately result in the opening of the Guruvayur temple to all castes, the Movement created a strong public opinion in favour of temple entry and abolition of untouchability.

Nothing much changed in Guruvayur or the rest of the Kerala region till 1936. It was only in 1936 that many temples in Kerala were thrown open for all to use when the Maharaja of Travancore issued the Temple Entry Proclamation of 1936. The Guruvayur temple also granted temple entry to the lower castes in 1936.

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