Travancore was the southernmost kingdom of India. It was a well-known and famous kingdom during early times in South India. During Sangam age, it was a mandala of the Chera kingdom. Geographically Travancore was safeguarded by natural boundaries. It was bounded on the south and west by Indian Ocean, north was mostly covered with backwaters, rivers and lakes. The kingdom remained to be a specimen of a pure Hindu government which had never been affected by the Mohammedan conquest in the south.1 It covers most of the modern southern and central Kerala as well as Kanyakumari District.2 The soil and climate present in this area is best suited for the growth of plantation crops like rubber, tea, coffee, coconut, cardamom, palm etc. Commercialization of agriculture led to greater mobility of people. Ultimately it paved the development of roads and waterways and increase of trade in plantation crops. The Ezhava community was traditionally specialized in coconut climbing, toddy tapping, processing coconut products and trading.3 Travancore is well known for its deep rooted caste system and social divisions. According to M.N.Srinivas, “Caste is so tacitly and so completely accepted by all including those most vocal in condemning it”. Caste system in Kerala is primarily based on the jobs that each group does.4
The upper cloth movement refers to the incidents surrounding the social restrictions which were imposed upon women in the name of caste. The low caste Nadar climber women were not allowed to wear upper cloth as a sign of respect to the high caste.
1 Travancore was located to the extreme south west of Indian peninsula. It lies between 8.4′ and 10.22′ North latitude and between 76.13′ and 77.35′ East longitude. It covers an area of about 7,625 sq.miles (approximately).
Shungoonny Menon P, A History of Travancore From the Earliest Times, Madras, 1878, p.vii
3 The Ezhavas were the original inhabitants of Kerala. They were considered to be the backward class by Namboodri Brahmins.
Kerala Development Report, Planning Commission of India, 2008, p.56.
4 Srinivas M.N, Caste in Modern India, Journal of Asia Studies, Vol.XVI, p.548.