Social Scientist. v 4, no. 44 (March 1976) p. 3.


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ROBIN JEFFRET

Temple-entry Movement in Travancore^ i86o-ig40

AN EXTREME, yet popular view of the princely states suggests that they were sloughs of decadence and inertia, their people enduring unrelieved miseries, their rulers pursuing unspeakable pleasures. Only in the 1930s, if indeed then (so the argument runs), did Congress victories in the provinces, and the rising tide of nationalism, begin to ripple the stagnant waters of politics and society in the princely bog. For some states, such an appreciation may even be correct. However, in others there were vigorous political movements, involving large numbers of men, their course influenced far more by the peculiar nature of the princely-state arena than by developments in British India. Such a state was Travancore, which roughly corresponded to the southern half of today's Kerala.

This article is a study of the movement among prospering low-caste Hindus for the right to enter schools, government service and ultimately government-controlled temples in a staunchly theocratic Hindu state. The right of temple-entry was within the gift of a strict, high-caste Maharaja (as it could never be within that of a British government) and was the ultimate "symbolic conversion of wealth into honour" for which educated men among the low castes strove from the 1890s. Initially a new, wider concept of caste developed, as college-educated men sought to involve their less wealthy and less educated castemen in a political community of



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