Padmanabhan Palpu

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Padmanabhan Palpu LMS, DPH (Cantab) FRIPH (London) (2 November 1863 – 1950) was a bacteriologist and social revolutionary. Ritty Lukose describes him as the "political father" of the Ezhavas, who are numerically the largest caste in the region now encompassed by the state of Kerala. In 1903, he founded the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (Society for the Propagation of the Religion of Sree Narayana, or SNDP) that had as its first president Narayana Guru, the Ezhava guru who sought an end to the caste system and preached his concept of "one caste, one religion, one god."[1]


Padmanabhan Palpu was born on 2 November 1863 in Petta, Trivandrum, India.[2] His family were wealthy and educated members of the Ezhava caste, which at that time was considered to be an untouchable community among what Swami Vivekananda described as the "mad house" that was the caste system of Kerala.[3][4] The Ezhavas were traditionally occupied as toddy tappers but many had involvements in ayurvedic medicine.[5]

Palpu attended Maharaja's College in Trivandrum but was subsequently refused admission to Travancore Medical College in 1878. He attended a similar college in Madras and then went to England, where he furthered his medical training at London and Cambridge. Returning to India, he found that his low caste status prevented him from obtaining employment in the Travancore Health Service, which meant that he had to relocate to Mysore to get work.[5][6]

Becoming aware of the importance of education as a method of socio-economic advancement and also as means to improve health and hygiene,[3] Palpu was the third signatory to the Malayali Memorial,[7] a petition organised in 1891 that primarily sought to address the concerns of the low caste Nadar community.[6] He was among those who attempted to use data from the 1891 census to highlight inequalities in Travancore society[8] and he again made demands in 1895, when he petitioned the Diwan of Travancore. In 1896, he organised a petition that attracted the signatures of 13,176 Ezhavas. This latter was presented to the Maharajah of Travancore and demanded their right to admission in schools run by the colonial government and access to employment in public service.[3][7] These uses of a petition as a vehicle to achieve a coalescence of communal consciousness and cause change were the first examples of such in the princely state of Travancore, where the ritually superior Brahmin groups held the majority of posts available in the administration of the state.[6]

Palpu influenced the political philosophy of C. Kesavan.[9] He had a son, commonly known as Nataraja Guru.[10]


  1. ^ Lukose, Ritty A. (2010). "Recasting the Secular: Religion and Education in Kerala, India". In Mines, Diane P.; Lamb, Sarah. Everyday Life in South Asia (2nd ed.). Indiana University Press. pp. 209–210. ISBN 9780253354730. 
  2. ^ Sadasivan, S. N. (2000). A Social History of India. New Delhi: A.P.H. Publishing. pp. 482–488. ISBN 81-7648-170-X. 
  3. ^ a b c Wilson, Caroline (2011). "The social transformation of the medical profession in urban Kerala : Doctors, social mobility and the middle classes". In Donner, Henrike. Being Middle-class in India: A Way of Life. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. pp. 193–194. ISBN 978-0-415-67167-5. 
  4. ^ Nossiter, Thomas Johnson (1982). "Kerala's identity: unity and diversity". Communism in Kerala: a study in political adaptation. University of California Press. pp. 25–27. ISBN 978-0-520-04667-2. 
  5. ^ a b Gadgil, Madhav (2005). Ecological Journeys. Orient Blackswan. pp. 82–83. ISBN 9788178241128. 
  6. ^ a b c Ramusack, Barbara N. (2004). The Indian Princes and their States. Cambridge University Press. p. 214. ISBN 9781139449083. 
  7. ^ a b Kumar, Udaya (2009). "Subjects of New Lives". In Ray, Bharati. Different Types of History. Pearson Education India. p. 329. ISBN 9788131718186. 
  8. ^ Kumar, Udaya (2009). "Subjects of New Lives". In Ray, Bharati. Different Types of History. Pearson Education India. p. 312. ISBN 9788131718186. 
  9. ^ Kumar, Udaya (2009). "Subjects of New Lives". In Ray, Bharati. Different Types of History. Pearson Education India. p. 326. ISBN 9788131718186. 
  10. ^ Kurup, K. K. N. (1988). Modern Kerala: Studies in Social and Agrarian Relations. Mittal Publications. p. 99. ISBN 9788170990949. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Jeffrey, Robin (1974). "The social origins of a caste association, 1875–1905: The founding of the S.N.D.P. Yogam". South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies. 1 4 (1): 39–59. doi:10.1080/00856407408730687.  (subscription required)