Poykayil Johannan

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Poykayil Sreekumara Gurudevan
Born 1878 (5th of Kumbham 1054 ME)[1]
Eraviperoor, Pathanamthitta district, Kerala, India
Died 29 June 1939(1939-06-29)
Pen name Kumara Gurudevan
Occupation Dalit leader, poet
Nationality Indian
Genre Poetry, theology
Spouse Janamma

Poikayil SreekumaraGuruDevan (also called as Poikayil Yohannan ) (Eraviperoor, 17 February 1878 – 1939), known as Poykayil Appachan alias Poykayil Kumara Guru Devan, was a Dalit activist, poet and the founder of the socio-religious movement Prathyaksha Raksha Daiva Sabha ("God's Church of Visible Salvation").[2]

Early life[edit]

Kumaran was born 17 February 1879, to parents Kandan and Lechi of the Paraiyar ("Pariah") community, at Eraviperoor, Pathanamthitta, India.[3] He was named Komaran at his birth,[4] born as a slave to a Syrian Christian family of the name Sankaramangalam. He was later renamed Kumaran. Being a slave to a Christian family, Kumaran had to follow Christianity and have a Christian name, and was called Johannan (Yohannan). He became literate and versed with Bible.

In that period, Dalit communities practiced untouchability among themselves. Recognising the commonalities among the Paraiyar, Pulayar (Cheramar) and Kuravar communities, Johannan sought to create a sense of unity among them. Johannan left the Sankaramangalam family, intent on organising the Christian Dalit communities.[5]

Religious work[edit]

With this thought he joined the Marthoma church, a reformist sect among the Syrian Christians, but realized the church treated Dalits as an inferior class, and left the church. He then joined a new sect called the Brethren Mission where he faced similar instances of caste based discrimination. Johannan concluded that Indian Christian communities continued to discriminate based on caste, and felt this defied the basic tenets of Christianity.[6]

In 1909, Johannan left Christianity and started his own Dalit liberation movement named Prathyaksha Raksha Daiva Sabha (PRDS). He was known as Poikayil Appachan or Kumara Gurudevan afterwards.[4] Johannan advocated spiritual liberation, and sought to empower and consolidate the Dalits, promoting a creed in which the "slave castes" would be free of discrimination.[7]

The new order, PRDS was open to both Christian and Non Christian Dalits and Johannan was successful in convincing the majority of his brethren to abandon Christianity and embrace PRDS. He reasoned that the Bible accounted for only Jewish history and hence Indian caste system could not be broken with it.[citation needed]

He bought 125 acres of land in various parts of Travancore for the use of PRDS. The new organisation was headquartered at Eraviperoor. Johannan set up schools and industrial training centers in different places in addition to constructing buildings for religious ceremonies and public functions.[citation needed]

Work as a legislator[edit]

Johannan was also a member of the Dalit advocacy group Sadhujana Paripalana Sangham (SJPS) which had been founded in 1905 by another Dalit leader of Kerala, Ayyankali. Johannan was also twice nominated, in the years 1921 and 1931, to the Sree Moolam Praja Sabha, the legislative council of the princely state of Travancore.[8]

In the Praja Sabha, Johannan made a forceful case for the education and employment of the Depressed Classes. He specifically highlighted the economic disparities between Dalit Christians and Syrian Christians arguing how converts from the Pulaya, Paraya, Marvar and Kuravar castes were discriminated against within Christianity. Some of the measures he advocated for these Dalits included provision for concession in fee for studies beyond fifth class, job reservations and land for each Dalit family.

On 31 March 1931 he suggested in the Praja Sabha that special scholarships be granted to the students belonging to the Depressed Classes. Johannan also established several government aided schools for Dalit education.[citation needed]

Cultural Realisation[edit]

In his lifetime, the members of Dalit communities practiced untouchability amongst themselves. Johannan was deeply pained by this tendency amongst the members of the lower castes. In order to trace the root of this custom in the society, he started reading books on these topics. From books, Johannan realized that the members of Paraiyar, Pulayar and Kuravar communities shared a common lineage in the history of Kerala. Therefore, he decided to bring the members of these communities on one platform by properly educating them about their lineage. To make this happen, Johannan left the Shankaramangalam Christian family and started to meet the members of his community personally to generate this awareness in their minds.[citation needed]

Johannan died on 29 June 1939 at the age of 61.[citation needed]


  • Unknown Subjects: Songs of Poykayil Appachan. Translated from Malayalam by A.S. Sekher
  • Vadyakhoshangal Nadathunnavarum and Ente Vamshathepatti were featured in the Dalit Poem Collection named Kathal — published by DC Books

Media representations[edit]

  • Mannikkale Maanikkyam - Drama by V. V. Santhakumar features Johannan
  • Ottappettavan - Short Story by Unni R appeared in Mathrubhoomi Weekly 11 November 2012 edition features Johannan


  1. ^ Poikayil Appachan
  2. ^ A. T. Philip The Mar Thoma Church and Kerala society 1991 "One of the outcome was the booklet entitled Poikayil Johannanum Veda vaipareethyavum (Poikayil Johannan and antitheology). Johannan is addressed as ' Appachan' by his followers."
  3. ^ Mylapore Institute for Indigenous Studies; I.S.P.C.K. (Organization) (2000). Christianity is Indian: the emergence of an indigenous community. Published for MIIS, Mylapore by ISPCK. p. 322. ISBN 978-81-7214-561-3. Retrieved 7 April 2012. 
  4. ^ a b Prathyaksha Reksha Daiva Sabha
  5. ^ http://www.dalitindia.com/guest/RP_DConscious.htm Dalit Consciousness and its perspective on the basis of PRDS History in Kerala
  6. ^ J. W. Gladstone (1984). Protestant Christianity and people's movements in Kerala: a study of Christian mass movements in relation to neo-Hindu socio-religious movements in Kerala, 1850-1936. Seminary Publications. Retrieved 30 March 2012. 
  7. ^ Poikayil Johannan
  8. ^ Dr. Alex Thomas; I.S.P.C.K. (Organization) (1 August 2007). A history of the first cross-cultural mission of the Mar Thoma Church, 1910-2000. ISPCK. ISBN 978-81-7214-969-7. Retrieved 30 March 2012. 

Further reading[edit]