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Prathyaksha Raksha Daiva Sabha

PRDS was a unique religious movement that arose in Kerala in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The rich, vibrant and complex history of PRDS has long been ignored. With the rising trend of ‘subaltern studies’, there were some efforts to chart and understand PRDS. Unfortunately, most interpretations remained reductive. They mistakenly claimed that a person called Poikayil Appachan founded an alternate evangelical sect because of the caste discriminations he faced within Christianity. These interpretations restrict PRDS to a mere anti-caste movement and refuse to acknowledge the vastness and fullness of spiritual ideology it possesses.

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The famous Kulathoor Yogam by Sreekumara Gurudeva

When looking at PRDS as a whole, we must remember that the anti-caste standpoint of PRDS might have been a premier objective but it wasn’t the primary objective.

PRDS was not founded out of the blue, on one fine day by Poikayil Appachan. It has been a movement long in the making. However, the formation of PRDS does lie in concurrence with the life of Poikayil Appachan himself.

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Vishuda Mandapam during a PRDS Celebration. 

Even the term PRDS — Prathyaksha Raksha Daiva Sabha is not easily explicable because it is not to be taken literally. For example, ‘Prathyaksha’ can be taken to mean Visibility and ‘Raksha’ implies Salvation. However, the notion of salvation here is different from the salvation of the Bible, or moksha mentioned in other religious theologies. Instead, it refers to salvation which promises deliverance from the four last things- Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. 

 PRDS denies any afterlife and believes that salvation has to be attained during the life you were living. In these ways, Biblical salvation was used merely as a model to explain the PRDS and to explain Appachan’s concept of salvation. The salvation proposed by Appachan dealt with the notion of slavery. In fact, this is the core subject of PRDS*. Appachan explained that in all religious theology, there were outcasts who were denied salvation. Appachan considered them as his own “race”. For them, salvation or justice had been invisible. That’s why the Visibility (Prathyaksha) of Salvation becomes important in PRDS

 

PRDS questions the classical concept of God. It denies God’s existence by stating that if there were an almighty kind of figure how could it allow people to suffer for centuries. On the other hand, followers felt the same parental and divine experience that they had lacked for centuries from Appachan. There was no one who loved, cared, guided, and enlightened them the way Appachan did. He himself did not proclaim himself God but his followers found a whole new notion of God itself in Appachan. They accepted Appachan as their God (Daivam)

PDRS as an anti-caste movement

One of the major evils India had and still possesses is the caste system. It tiered the social structure into different layers hierarchically on the basis of this system and was graded on the basis of birth. Knowledge, power, wealth, etc were precisely allocated to specific ‘upper’ castes and this system was strictly followed through various testaments such as Manusmriti which adjudicates those who violate the laws stated in them. Christian missionaries propagated an equal and dignified space in society through Christianity. Unfortunately, the caste system was so strongly deep-rooted into this society that it infiltrated into Christianity right from the beginning. There were separate churches for lower castes which were known according to their respective sub-caste eg; Pula pally (Church for Pulayas), Para Pally (Church for Parayas), and so on.

Appachan used to use songs as a tool to convey his ideology among his followers. In these songs, he was critical of both Christianity and Brahmanism. He philosophically criticized the caste discrimination in Christianity using Christian concepts and Biblical symbolism. He articulated that all human beings are children of the same parent which broke the concept of Brahma-based Varna system. He asked whether anyone could identify the caste of their psyche. He didn’t merely criticize caste-based discrimination but criticized the foundational concepts of caste itself.

As a result, Dalits from different sub-castes followed Appachan and continue to live as siblings from the same parent for generations.

PRDS as a Socio-Economic Movement

PRDS members never limited themselves to a religious sect. Under the leadership of Poikayil Appachan, PRDS collectively owned more than 200 acres of land in different parts of Kerala. It was not an easy feat to own these lands. Appachan and his followers worked in several plantations and estates to gather the resources needed to own land. Wherever they had land, they built schools, small scale industries like matchbox factories, and weaving industries along with Mandirams (PRDS places of worship). In all, PRDS had 9 schools including an English medium residential school. PRDS knew the importance of resources, wealth, education, and land.

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PRDS School, Amara

Legacy Being Carried Forward

After the demise of Poikayil Appachan in 1939, it was V.Janamma, also known as Ammachi*, wife of Poikayil Appachan, who maneuvered PRDS through very difficult situations at such a young age. With two children of only 11 and 9 years by her side, she accepted the burden and continued the legacy of Poikayil Appachan.

There are no other Dalit women in the history of Kerala, and perhaps only the extremely few in all of India, who exemplify the being of the prime leader of a socio-religious organization for more than four decades.

Under her leadership, PRDS evolved into a centralized organization with many branches across Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka. She built a 5-floor mausoleum for Appachan. This space is considered as the center of solace to all Dalits whose forefathers were sold and scattered across the globe (The five-floor has a specific meaning in PRDS theosophy). It was during her tenure PRDS established youth and a women’s wing and various other sub-divisions. PRDS also started its own mouthpiece named Adiyardeepam in 1961 which ensured to encourage talents.

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V. Janamma or Ammachi. Photo: Tharun T