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84 – The untouchable Brahmin who saved Mahatma Gandhi’s life

My Great-grandfather, Krishnaswamy Iyer with Mahatma Gandhi. Palghat (now Palakkad), Kerala. June 1935

Image and text contributed by Govind Mohandas, Bangalore

This image of my great grandfather Krishnaswamy Iyer with Mahatma Gandhi, was photographed at the Sabari Ashram in Palakkad, Kerala.  Although an ignored statue with a broken nose stands in a park in Kerala and a book has chronicled him as the Untouchable Brahmin, my Great-grand father Krishnaswamy Iyer is a forgotten hero.

Born in 1890, he was brought up in a very orthodox Brahmin family and he soon found himself in the epicenter of the freedom struggle from British rule. He courageously started displaying his social responsibility by educating and initiating Dalits (untouchables) into Brahminhood much to the fury of the elders in the community. When he showed no signs of listening to their advice, Krishna was ostracized from his community. It was a huge deal, but Krishna was undeterred.

He continued his service for the untouchables through the Sabari Ashram that stands even today, which is committed to the cause of educating Dalits. Mahatma Gandhi knew and adored Krishna and always paid him a visit during each of his tours to southern India. There are anecdotes which mention an incident when Krishna saved Gandhiji from riots by stopping a train and taking Gandhiji to a safe place before the train reached the station.

He was the ‘untouchable Brahmin’ yet he garnered a lot of respect from few members of the Brahmin community, among them being my mother’s family. Once the alliance between my mother and father was recommended to my maternal great-grandfather, there was no doubt that she had to be married to Krishnaswamy Iyer’s grandson.

Krishnaswamy Iyer passed away in 1935, the same year this image was photographed. He continues to be one among countless unsung heroes who contributed all of their energy, money and status for the cause of freedom.


Responses (6)

  1. Kedar Shastry says:

    A true hero who has done more for the country than all the current and past netas do put together. A great soul that sought no recognition, but silently did the noble work

  2. Anbazhagan says:

    The curse of untouchability could have been overcome by us Indians if many more such persons joined the mission of cleansing the oppressive practice.
    He must be made known to many.
    In a small booklet titled ‘Dalit Heritage’ published with the blessings of Sri Sri Ravishankarji, it is brought out in detail that many others also served for the upliftment of Dalits and their legacy must be made to all to make mission more strong and widespread throughout India.
    Anbazhagan SV

  3. Riya says:

    Heart Warming!

  4. Joe says:

    Stories like these make our country great.
    Will surely visit this place when I go to Palakad the next time.

  5. anitha says:

    can i get more details on “untouchable brahmin” as i am doing phd work on palakkad.

  6. Bhagawan says:

    Krishnaswamy Iyer is a hero..hats off to him.

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