The Antharjanam of the fifth house (Smartha vicharam)
Painting by Murali T, September 2013. Size: 49 cmx37cm. medium: Acrylic on canvas.
English translation of this description was done by my friend Mr. Ben J. Anthriyos
Our literary history is filled with the millenium-long experiments and practices aimed at exploiting women. No other social order in the world has been as much cruel, inhuman and yet millennium-longas the brahminical social order when it comes to exploiting women, morally degrading them and making them the slaves of the caste-moral rules.
A close look at the history of ‘smartha vicharam’, a custom in which antharjanams (Kerala brahmin/namboothiri women) were subjected to moral trial, would reveal to us the fact that the brahmin clergy which kept the Indian subcontinent in the dark prison of ignorance, slavery and inequality for more than 1500 years imposed the worst suffering on their own women. Even as Namboothiri women languished at the clutches of male dominance in the dark room called “anchampura” (the fifth house) as trial convicts after having undergone the heinous custom of ‘smartha vicharam’, the male ones in the Namboothiri caste were allowed liaisons with shudra (nair) women at their convenience under the rubric of ‘sambandham’ which amounted to prostitution.
The fact that until a few years before India became independent in 1947, that is the time between 1850 and 1927, a small region which was under the control of Zamoothiri/zamorians witnessed almost 60 ‘smaartha vicharam’ reveals the extent of social presence this cruel custom had. The ignorance in the public consciousness about these instances of cultural degradation and their influences in the present condition might end up in offering a red-carpet welcome to fascism. To be informed about one’s own history is fundamental in forming a humanitarian culture.
The stray woman who is accused of having made liaison with ‘other’ men gets the label of a ‘thing’ (‘saadhanam’) and undergoes the moral trial of ‘smaartha vicharam’. Having been imprisoned in the dark house called anchampura she gets excommunicated and thrown to streets once the trial is over by the brahmin clergy. While the male-centric religious authority of the brahmin clergy made it compulsory for women at their homes to read poetry to become ‘sheelavathis’ (a metaphor for a chaste woman), it also propagated the ‘vaishika thantras’ for their men to freely roam around and make liaisons under the rubric of ‘sambandham’. Unless we criticize this moral hypocrisy our cultural criticism would never be honest.
My sincere thanks to Mr. Ben J Anthrayose for this English translation of painting description