Why did Swami Vivekananda call Kerala a lunatic asylum?

Answer by Raakhee V. Menon:

Thank you for the A2A.

Short Answer: Because he was just hating something he didn’t understand.

Long Answer:

I have written about this topic on another answer→ Raakhee V. Menon’s answer to India: Were most social reformers in India against brahminism or against Hinduism itself? If anyone reading this answer is interested, please do read. I don’t want to copy-paste it here.

Vivekananda came from a very different environment from what he saw prevailing in Kerala. He tried to find parallels to the customs and traditions being followed there with the rest of India and he was completely baffled, confused and thus he decided that the system in place is ‘wrong’ and that whole place is filled with madmen. If you read ‘The Ivory Throne : Chronicles of the House of Travancore’ by Manu S.Pillai, you would know and understand how society functioned in the area known as present day Kerala. It was very very different from the rest of the country. And it is but human nature to suppress and eliminate anything that goes against the majority. They have succeeded to a large extent, but much of our traditions still live on because we no longer talk about it. They have become private affairs…protected from the judging eyes of people with half-cooked information.

Societies of North India were strikingly different from societies in south India. Generalization was the big mistake that was done while chronicling such things. Even now, when I hear stories about the atrocities that were and still are meted out to the downtrodden in many parts of north India, it is very painful. The truth of the matter is that Kerala has always been detached from the rest of India culturally, economically, and to a certain extent, topographically too. So it had systems in place that were comfortable to people living within the society. And there is indeed a lot more than what meets the eye. There were cultural and societal differences between the three kingdoms of Malabar, Cochin and Travancore. Without considering ALL these factors, writing a common record for all of Kerala was a mistake. A HUGE one. What was the norm in Malabar was looked down upon in Cochin…what was daily business in Travancore was looked at with skepticism in Malabar…what was routine in Cochin was thought of as sinful in Travancore…Things weren’t that simple.

If people did indeed go deep into the subject and wonder why such systems prevailed, instead of buying whatever the media feeds them with, they would be able to see the larger picture. It’s very easy to arrive at a one-sided conclusion based on somebody else’s observations. It takes an open mind and a willingness to know more to actually go out there and seek the truth.

Edit (20.11.2016)

So a lot of people have commented on this answer and have broadly said that I have not specified the how and why of things. Yes, I did not do that. Because the question did not ask for specifics. The OP asked a very simple question – Why did Swami Vivekananda call Kerala a lunatic asylum? And it deserved an equally simple answer…which is what I wrote. Yes, I have written many answers on Kerala and its history. And my answers are not based on mere assumptions. They are based on what I (and my family since generations) have grown up listening to, based on textual evidences like memoirs by several visitors to the kingdoms of present day Kerala and letters written between eminent people that are available to read on the internet, details of Kerala’s history as put down by elaborate works like Kerala Mahatmyam and Keralolpathi, etc. Many of these works are in old Malayalam and I have spent a lot of time painstakingly reading them. I have not studied Malayalam at school and I just have basic knowledge of Malayalam based on what my mother taught me at home. Yet, I took the pains to spend hours reading up on this subject due to my genuine interest in it. So whatever I write is not just written on a whim or in a fit of false pride or anything of the sort.

I have written detailed answers on how the society was divided back in the days, about the relationship between the aristocracy and the working class, about different aspects of culture that were so different from the rest of the country. The people of Kerala have always been different and as a Malayali myself, I take a lot of pride in that fact. And I don’t think anyone has the right to decide what is good or bad or right or wrong for us other than ourselves. I had a Quoran comment below this answer that he thinks that the people of Kerala are ‘tribal monkeys’ (Yes, I deleted that comment as I believe that such a derogatory comment has no place to be on Quora at all). And the person who commented is a senior professor at a foreign University…and a Malayali himself, I believe. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the final result of writing reports by ‘great men’ based on misinformation and taking things at face value. People today have little or no respect for our past, for our achievements, for what we were as a people. Everything has been overshadowed by writings of biased mindsets.

People have said that nothing justifies ‘oppression’. Oppression? Who was being oppressed? Kerala’s working class were one of the most liberated of the lot. They were bound to the families they worked for out of sincerity…not by virtue of ownership. They were free to go where they wished. Nobody stopped them. Why do you think the Communist Party is so popular in Kerala? Because it caters mainly to the needs and wants of the common man. The common man has always had a voice in Kerala, unlike other places where they were made to shut up because of their ‘lowly birth’.

They say women were not allowed to cover their bosoms and this amounted to oppression. Before parroting what the media has fed you, did you even bother to find out that no women in Kerala covered their bosoms in the past? A woman with a covered bosom was considered lowly, FYI. The trend of blouses and covering up was brought in by people who came to Kerala for business and other purposes. So don’t go on about women being oppressed. Our society NEVER oppressed women. For the record, we are neither Vaishnavites nor Shaivaites. We are Shaktyas. We worship the divine feminine. Women are sacred for us. Women had rights to the family property, they carried the family name forward, women were wealthy and did not depend on the menfolk to survive. And when things are being said like ‘women in Kerala were oppressed’, it is nothing but sheer ignorance on the part of the commentor.

If you would like to read in detail about what I have written about our society, please go through the links I have posted under Aparna Veer’s comment.

Why did Swami Vivekananda call Kerala a lunatic asylum?

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