Sunday, November 10, 2013

Nangeli


Historical Fiction

Nangeli was beautiful beyond comparison.  She flowed in the veins of lustful men’s dreams like an intoxication.  Even her marriage to Kandappan did not diminish the number of her admirers.

“You are the pride of the Ezhavas,” Kandappan murmured in Nangeli’s ears as he lay fondling the shapely curves of her youthful body.   

Kandappan and Nangeli belonged to low caste of Ezhavas.  They were untouchables.  But even the most aristocratic Namboothiri longed to fondle Nangeli’s teasing breasts.  The people of Nangeli’s caste were supposed to stand at a distance of 36 paces from the higher caste people.  But  even the men of His Majesty Sri Moolam Thirunal, King of Travancore, slept with Nangeli in the darkness of their dreams.

When Nangeli walked, the wild roses on the wayside blossomed and emitted the fragrance of musk.

“Kandappa, Kandappa,” called Neelan through his gasps.  Kandappan stopped ploughing the field and asked Neelan what the matter was.

“Nangeli...”

“Nangeli!  What happened to my Nangeli?”  Kandappan abandoned the plough and bullocks and rushed to Neelan.

“Nangeli is dead,” cried Neelan.

Neelan was one of the neighbours who had watched His Majesty Sri Moolam Thirunal’s Pravarthiar, village officer, speaking to Nangeli outside her hut.

Pravarthiar had come to demand the breast tax from Nangeli.

His Majesty the King, in connivance with the Namboothiri priests, had imposed a tax on the low caste women who refused to expose their breasts.  If the women wanted to cover their breasts they had to pay the breast tax.  The gods had decreed it, uttered the Namboothiri priests solemnly.  The King could not overrule the gods.

Nangeli had refused to expose her breasts to the ogling men.  She also refused to pay the tax. 

“How can the King and the Namboothiris decide which part of my body they want to see?” asked Nangeli when Pravarthiar demanded the tax.

“The King rules over the earth and the Namboothiris control the gods who rule over the heavens,” said Pravarthiar as if that was an axiomatic truth.

“It is the King and the Namboothiris who should pay me a lust tax,” declared Nangeli vehemently.  “They make rules for their own pleasure and convenience.  Today it is breast tax.  Who knows whether they won’t impose taxes on other parts of my body tomorrow?”

“You dare to challenge the King and the Namboothiris!”  Pravarthiar was scandalised.  “They are the gods on the earth, your visible gods, you blasphemous wench.”

He threatened her with capital punishment.  But he was ready to forgive her provided she offered him a vision of the pigeons that fluttered beneath her breast cloth.

“Wait,” said Nangeli as she walked into her hut.  Soon she came out with her sharp sickle and pulled off her breast cloth.  Before Pravarthiar realised what was happening, Nangeli’s breasts lay at his feet in a puddle of blood.

“Take them,” spat out Nangeli.  “And pay the tax yourself.”

When Neelan managed to narrate what had happened, Kandappan sank to the ground with a sob that reverberated in the heavens.

When Kandappan stood up again, his cheeks were firm.  He walked home with steady steps.

With equally steady steps Kandappan walked into the flames that engulfed Nangeli’s corpse.  The fire spread to the heavens and burnt a file in His Majesty Sri Moolam Thirunal’s palace.


Post Script: The place where Nangeli lived came to be known as Mulachiparambu, literally ‘The Field of the Breast-Woman’.  The very next day of Nangeli’s self-sacrifice, Sri Moolam Thirunal, the Maharaja of Travancore (1885-1924), issued an order withdrawing the breast tax.   


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20 comments:

  1. Such an interesting post. I wonder how much of pain women all over the world forced to experience in the name of religion...

    Richa

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Women have been repressed by most religions. Look at the scriptures and canons of most religions: women are portrayed as embodiment of evil, as sirens created by god(s) only to tempt men! Were men so weak at heart?

      When religion and politics join together, it becomes a deadly concoction - as in the case of Nangeli, for example.

      Delete
  2. Great post.... nice too see this here.
    Fell free visit my blog kangraavalley dot blogspot.in

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Manu. I'll be visiting your blog soon.

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  3. Really really nice story one which has been recorded in my brain :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Truth can be stranger than fiction, isn't it?

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  4. Thank you for sharing this legend. Last Onam, I'd come across a song called Nangeli Naadinde and I had done some search on it, hoping to get some historical background and ended up disappointed.
    It feels like mystery solved, now. :) Thank you telling us the story. It's nicely written too. Have a great week.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Let me give you another relevant link which also gives you some pictures of present day Nangeli naadu:
      http://ajaysekher.net/2012/08/28/nangeli-mulachiparambu-breasttax-travancore/

      Delete
    2. Thank you so much. I'm on my way there.

      Delete
  5. Legends and kings exploited mankind under the name of Gods....and this one is utterly sad....I did run up some Google after reading through ur post and I was amazed...thank you so much...for this post...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. People always find ways of exploiting other people. Religion is a good handmaiden to such people. Glad you did some research too.

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  6. I had never heard of this legend.Thanks for sharing it in your own inimitable,powerful yet touching manner.

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  7. Is this based on history? I know you have written "fiction" on the top of the post, but it seems real to me.

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    Replies
    1. The characters are real, Pankti. But I had to imagine the dialogues and certain other details.

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    2. There is some history disconnect in this story. Sri Moolam Thirunal ruled Travancore between 1885 and 1924 and Nangeli's story took place in the early 1800s. Correct?

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    3. This is where it is mentioned that Nangeli's story happened in 1803. http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/200-years-on-nangelis-sacrifice-only-a-fading-memory/article5255026.ece

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  8. Sreejith, I was inspired by the following link:
    http://ajaysekher.net/2012/08/28/nangeli-mulachiparambu-breasttax-travancore/

    I really didn't do much research on the issue since history was not my focus. I wanted to bring the discriminatory practices to reader's attention. Is Nangeli really real or is she a mere legend? I'm not sure. But the breast issue was real.

    ReplyDelete

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