Nangeli: A story of legendary Kerala queen of India!
India has a long history of violence against women. There have been various cases of women suppression for centuries and yet no improvement came in the way. As women’s oppression in the country keeps happening, the women who revolt for their rights also kept coming up. Be it Maharani Lakshmibai or Savitribai Phule, we have a rich history of inspiring women who left everything to change India into a better India. Today we present you the story of Nangeli, a legendary queen of India that caused the Channar revolt. The village-legend of Nangeli is about an Ezhava woman who lived in the early 19th century at Cherthala in the erstwhile princely state of Travancore in India and supposedly, cut off her own breasts as an effort to protest against a caste-based “breast tax” system.
Nangeli the Channar Revolt
This story, hidden in the pages of the history of Kerala, is about a hundred to one and a half hundred years old when a large part of Kerala was ruled by the king of Travancore. The roots of casteism were very deep and women of lower castes were ordered not to cover their breasts. For breach, they had to pay ‘breast tax’. The breast tax was supposedly forced by the land-owning Brahmins, they put up the tax for women who want to cover breasts which were based on the size of the organ. It was put up for the sake of maintaining the caste hierarchy where the Nair women were not allowed to cover their breast while in front of the Namboodiri Brahmins or while entering the temples, while the Brahmins showed their breasts only to the images of the deities. According to many researchers, it was a time when the person’s caste was recognized by the clothes they wear and the breast tax system was too a part of it. Besides the tax on land and crops, peasants had to pay taxes for the right to wear jewelry; the right of men to grow a mustache too included a tax. This was basically done so that poor or lower castes people always remain in debt and the upper caste seemingly flourished.
“The aim of the Breast Tax was to maintain the structure of casteism. It was in a way the price of a woman from the lower caste. It is not possible for these poor communities to pay this tax again and again.” says Dr. Sheeba from Sri Shankaracharya Sanskrit University.
During that time, people from lower castes were involved in small businesses such a farming, thus paying such tax was not a good option for their pockets. So, as a result, the women of lower castes do not cover their breasts. Amid all such came a woman known as Nangeli who lived in Cherthala in Alappuzha, decided to cover her breast without paying the breast tax which ultimately led to the Channar revolt. According to the legend, in the 19th century, the officer from a Travancore family came to Nangeli’s house to survey her breast and decide the breast tax. Nangeli was frustrated and revolted against the harassment by the cop by chopping her breast and serving it on a plantain leaf to the officer. She soon died of blood loss. In the grief of the death of her beloved wife, Chirukandan (Nangeli’s husband) jumped in the funeral pyre and committed the first-ever recorded male sati.
The story doesn’t end here, after the death of Nangeli, people from lower castes started a movement against the breast tax and many similar folklores have also been noted in history. As a result, the breast tax was soon annulled in Travancore and the place where Nangeli lived came to be recognized as Mulachiparambu which means the land of breasted women. This year marks almost 200 years of Nangeli’s sacrifice which is, unfortunately, a fading memory. Her legend led to the protest against caste oppression which has been handed over through generations. Sadly, today her name is no more than a fading tale which has no memorials or books sharing her courage and bravery. Apparently, Nangeli didn’t had any kids and her husband too died, so her generation wasn’t carried forward, however, every person next door in Cherthala know about their brave ancestor!