It is Time for the Second Pallikkutam Revolution
My personal tryst with the Education Revolution, championed by Archbishop Bernardo Baccinelli, the Vicar Apostolic of Verapoly and his Vicar General for St. Thomas Christians, St. Kuriakose Elias Chavara, began as I chanced upon the etymological meaning of the word Pallikkutam, which is prevalent in the South Indian languages of Malayalam and Tamil. Quick research revealed to me that the word Paliikkutam is of Pali origin, the language in which the original teachings of Sri Buddha were composed. In Pali language, the word Palli, refers to “a Buddhist monastery” and kutam, to “something attached to (the Buddhist Monasteries)”, with obvious reference to a school, which is usually attached to Buddhist monasteries.
Now, the decree promulgated and implemented by these great Sons of Catholic Church in India called for building Pallikkutams, within the premises of the parish churches of the then archdiocese of Varapoly. They insisted that these Pallikkutams are open to all sections of the society, irrespective of their caste, creed, or gender. I consider this Declaration of Pallikkoppam Pallikkutam in 1864 as the milestone event in the history of education in India.
Let me explain: Ananda K Coomaraswamy, the author of the 1943 book Hinduism and Buddhism, asserts that Sri Buddha came to restore “the ancient ways of the awakened” and wanted to restore the Sanatana Dharma. Buddha believed that the original meaning of Sanatana Dharma was severely crippled by the corrupt Brahmins who conspired to perpetuate their power and privilege by developing a caste superstructure. They did it by denying education to a large majority of people and by reserving it for the upper castes. Even the renowned Gurukulas were exclusive systems and admitted students only from among Brahmins and Kshatriyas, the two uppermost castes. Remember the fate of Ekalavya, a low caste by birth, who had to offer his thumb as Gurudakshina (or better as a punishment), for learning archery from Dronacarya in secrecy. Pathasalas, the later avatars of Gurukulas, also practiced caste-based discrimination in the admission of students.
The Buddhist Schools, which were later known in the South of India as Pallikkutams, were the only educational institutions of ancient India that admitted students from all castes, creeds, genders, and nationalities. They followed a scientific and world-open pedagogy and contributed to the development of science and medicine, converting India into a prominent hub of education in South East Asia in ancient times. All well-known ancient Indian Universities, including Nalanda, Taxasila, Vallabhi or Pushpagiri, were all Buddhist schools or in the South
Indian parley, Pallikkutams. Sri Buddha thus ringed in the first major education revolution in India, liberating education from the clutches of its caste-based exclusivism.
However, with the Digvijaya of Sri Sankara from Kerala, the first-ever Khar Vapasi movement in the philosophical history of India, the Buddhist influence on Indian education became almost extinct. Sri Sankara was a staunch advocate of the caste system. Only towards the end of his life, he realized the folly of the caste system and its mismatch with his own philosophy of Advaita, from an outcast, a Chandala! Manisha Panchakam, his later work, bears witness to his conversion.
Irrespective of this conversion, the caste system reigned supreme all over India ever since. All efforts to wean Indian aristocracy away from the benefits of the caste system failed miserably. The education in India continued to reel under caste-based exclusivism, all over India, but for the scattered presence of Buddhist Pallikkutams in Tamilnadu and Kerala.
It is against this historical context, we should read the decree of the First Pallikkutam Revolution initiated by Archbishop Baccinelli and St. Chavara. “Let us build Pallikkutams attached to our churches,” they said. It was a call to adopt the noble legacy of the inclusive, scientific, world-open education, the legacy of Pallikkutams, by transplanting it to the premises of the church. It was a path-breaking event in the history of education in India, towards liberating it from the clutches of caste-based exclusivism. In the course of time, many stalwarts of the nation, including Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi committed their lives towards this purpose and eventually got the caste-based exclusivism in education banned in India by law.
Hence, the First Pallikkutam Revolution in 1864, has to be addressed as the Mother of all Education Revolutions in the Indian Subcontinent!
As heirs of this noble legacy, let us not engage in partisan debates on the primacy of the pioneers of this revolution and dilute its historical significance! It is too seminal and too sacred a moment in the history of education in India, to be trivialized. It was an act of sacred synergy between two committed individuals, two communities! It may be for the first time when the Church in India, both Syrians, and Latins, sons and daughters of St. Thomas and St. Francis Xavier, stood together to bear witness to the Gospel they proclaimed. They witnessed the intrinsic and inviolable worth of human persons, irrespective of their individual differences, be it caste, creed, or gender, or nationality. A large number of saints, martyrs, prophets, and teachers of the Catholic Church in India (including Sr. Rani Maria and of late Fr. Stan Sami) continued and continues to sacrifice their lives in the remotest villages of Indian society, championing the cause of universal education in India.
As different from the then existing missionary education, the First Pallikkutam Revolution adopted an Indian legacy in education, the Buddhist Pallikkutam legacy, baptizing it with the Spirit and with fire!
The pioneers of this revolution believed that “children are unique gifts of God in the hands of parents”. They admonished parents to respect the Divine Plan for their children, which they are not entitled to meddle with. They may help discern their vocation, but shall not determine it, on their behalf. Both of them wrote letters to empower the learning ecosystem at families. Archbishop Baccinelli wrote many pastoral letters to this effect. St Chavara wrote his Chavarul, the Last Will, to update the families with contemporary insights about parenting and teaching. Both of them encouraged their respective communities to generously contribute to the development of the physical infrastructure of Pallikkutams. They introduced the practice of noon meal at schools, to ensure the participation of children of the working class parents in Pallikkutams. Yes, together they laid a strong foundation to a truly Indian Christian Legacy in Education. It was a saga of unparalleled synergy, an ideal model for confluence for the present times.
As we celebrate the 150th Death anniversary of St. Chavara, one of the proponents of the First Pallikkutam Revolution, it is time to reflect on the grand legacy of synergy and confluence of these great champions of Indian Christian Education, immortalized through their selfless collaboration. It is high time that we review our education mission in India today and recommit ourselves to continue our journey through the history of the education of the nation. Let us ask ourselves some critical questions: How far does the sacred synergy unite us to harvest the fruits of the seminal works of these masterminds? How far do our institutions bear witness to the unique Indian Christian legacy or the Pallikkutam Legacy in education? How far did we nourish and further develop this legacy to establish a mature Indian Christian Education Culture?
I personally believe that it is time to start a Second Pallikkutam Revolution, to remove the last hurdle in the path of universalization of education in India, namely the terrible cost of quality education. Being in the private sector, education at our institutions remains too costly and unaffordable for large sections of society in India today.
Can we make use of synergy and technology to reduce the cost of education at our institutions? Can we update and empower the educating families, who have put their wards in our educational institutions, in a cost-effective and efficient manner? Can we reach out to the households of India with the fragrance of Indian Christian Education or the Pallikkutam Education?
Let me answer you in the affirmative: Yes, it is possible! Based on some initial experiments, we (at Rajagiri Media), are successful in developing a Pedagogy of the GenNext, a Modern Pallikkutam Pedagogy. Based on this pedagogy, we develop home-based activities for entrepreneurial learning, which is meant to be distributed to all households of India. The monthly magazine, Pallikkutam-the Education Observer and Pallikkutm SmartBoards continue to provide modern research-based news and insights to the educating families of India as visualized by the iconic masterminds of the First Pallikkutam Revolution. At our web portal, www.pallikkutam.com, we are prepared to develop platforms for synergy, where our institutions can park and ride their common products and services for the education sector, contributing to the drastic reduction in the cost of quality education. Let me extend my humble invitation to all people of goodwill, to join hands with us, in our humble efforts to bring about a Second Pallikkutam Revolution in India, to make quality education universal, and thus to accomplish and celebrate the beauty of the unique Indian Christian Legacy in Education, the Pallikkutam legacy, which is bequeathed to our posterity.
Based on a speech given at the National Webinar organized by the Chavara Chair of Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, Kerala as part of the celebration of the 150th Death Anniversary of St. Kuriakose Elias Chavara. The theme of the National Webinar was: “St. Chavara: The Trailblazer of Modern Education.”