In 1956, a group of 23 women aged between 16-35, scared and anxious but determined to make history, marched to the Manimalarkavu Devi Temple. Of the women present, Devaki Nambeesan, an activist who worked with Dalit women in Velur and other parts of Thrissur, spearheaded the movement, giving confidence to others to stand by her. They marched towards the Manimalarkavu Devi Temple, wearing mundum neriyatum with striking red blouses and holding thaalams to perform the big kuthira vela ritual in Vellur. This may seem like a simple act, but at that time, women who performed rituals were not allowed to wear blouses or cover their breasts. Additionally, only women from the dominant Nair caste were permitted to perform these rituals. Though not documented enough, this movement is known as the Velur Temple Protest or the Velur maaru marakkal today.
Devaki Nambeesan passed away on Sunday (11th June 2023) at the age of 89. We needed to reshare her story of valor and her strength to fight against a patriarchal system.
During the Velur Temple Protest, Devaki Nambeesan and the 22 women were accompanied by community leaders who tried to speak to the temple committee. But it was of no avail since the committee consisted of people from the Namboodiri and Nair castes. Despite the opposition, these women stood strong and fought the big fight – abolishing caste discrimination in the temple and wearing blouses. And they won.
The movement succeeded when temple authorities started allowing Dalit women to perform rituals and ended the discriminatory practice of barring women from wearing blouses during these rituals. The changes were implemented, and women could fully participate in the rituals without any restrictions, all thanks to the efforts of Devaki Nambeesan and the women who stood by her.