Is it true that lower class women were not allowed to cover their breasts in ancient India?

Just type ‘Breast Tax’ or ‘Nangeli’ on Google and you will find hell of articles, blogs which would make you feel disgusted about the practice. But yes the intention of the articles is to create hate and fear against the Hindu religion than the practice itself.

Before I put down the facts, I would like to give a brief account on what exactly is this BREAST TAX or who is Nangeli. During the 19th century, there was a story propped by few people from Kerala in which they claimed that lower caste women were not allowed to cover their breasts. And if at all they wanted to cover their breasts, it is said they were supposed to pay heavy taxes. This practice is said to have been brought by Kingdom of Travancore. The place in Kerala is very well known for the Royal family and brave warriors.

The article related to Breast Tax was published some times back in BBC magazine after which it gained huge publicity. The magazine claimed that Avarna (low caste women) from Kerala were not allowed to wear upper garments and used to pay ‘breast tax’ to cover their breasts. The article goes on to say that in the early years of the 19th century, Nangeli, a poor Ezhava woman from Cherthala in the erstwhile Kingdom of Travancore, protested the mulakkaram (breast tax system). She refused to both uncover her bosom and pay the breast tax. When the pravathiyar (village officer) of Travancore, came to her home repeatedly asking her to pay tax, she became frustrated at the unjustness of her harassment. To make her protest known, she chopped off her breasts and presented them to him in a plantain leaf. She died the same day from loss of blood.

Nangeli’s husband, Chirukandan, seeing her mutilated body, overcome by grief, jumped into her funeral pyre committing suicide. Following the death of Nangeli, a series of people’s movements were set off and the breast tax system was ultimately annulled in Travancore.

But all the history books related to Kerala clearly states that this story has no historical reference or evidence to show that Travancore Kingdom practiced something called Breast tax. It also says there have been no reference made by any foreign traveller, nor does any sort of paintings exists to claim this was a true story.

Then how did this story emerge?

The person who should be credited for creating this fake story is T Murali (Chithrakaran).  He claims that he found the story in some local Malayali Magazine written by Cherthala. Since then this story has been given unprecedented publicity by all secular-liberal magazines and has got international coverage to depict Hindus in bad light. But looking at the past of this man called T Murali, we will get to know that he is a hard core Hindu Hater and runs a blog which is filled with articles mocking Hinduism and Hindus. He has used most abusive language on Goddess Saraswati. He gets support from so called liberals and pseudo secular and calls him a free thinker.

Image result for T Murali (Chithrakaran

T Murali

Take a look at his writing on Saraswati…

“സമൂഹത്തിലെഭക്തിഭ്രാന്ത്കൂടിവരുന്നസാഹചര്യത്തില്സരസ്വതിയുടെമുലകളുടെമുഴുപ്പ്, സരസ്വതിഉപയോഗിക്കുന്നസാരി, ബ്രായുടെബ്രാന്ഡ്തനെയിം, പാന്റീസ്, തുടങ്ങിയവസ്തുതകളെക്കുറിച്ച്ചിന്തിക്കുന്നത്പ്രസക്തമാണെന്ന്ബോധോദയമുണ്ടായിരിക്കുന്നു.” http://chithrakarans.blogspot.in/2009/01/blog-post_09.html?m=1

Which means…..“Since devotion to Gods (bhakti) is becoming popular (he calls it as ‘madness’) in the society, thought that it is relevant to think about the breast size of Sarasvati, the brand name of bra and panties which she uses etc”

So this is the man who concocted the story of BREAST TAX in ancient India.

I will pen down evidence to prove that the Travancore Kings never practiced anything called BREAST TAX in nest few paras.

First, take a look at these pictures…

If you observe these picture carefully, you will notice that women in the picture are not wearing any upper cloth. Do these women belong to lower class? Absolutely NO! The women in the second picture is the Queen of the Travancore Ashwathi Thirunal Umayamma Rani. This painting was done in the 17th century, when the Dutch representative William Van Nieuhoff had visited the palace.

In his book he had described the meeting with the queen as…, I was introduced into her majesty’s presence. She had a guard of above 700 Nair soldiers about her, all clad after the Malabar fashion; the Queens attire being no more than a piece of callicoe wrapt around her middle, the upper part of her body appearing for the most part naked, with a piece of calico hanging carelessly round her shoulders.”

This was a perfect depiction to show that in Kerala women and men generally never covered their upper portion of the body. The traditional attire of Kerala was a simple lungi (Dhoti) for men and a simple white/cream saree without blouse for women. This was mainly because of the tropical climate of Kerala and was nothing related to religion or misuse of power. Even today if you visit some internal parts of Kerala, you will see many women of upper caste wearing saree without a blouse.

Now, take a look at these paintings.

saraswathi ravi varma paintingPainting by Raja Ravi Verma

Image result for ravi verma painting of women



Queen of Travancore Bharani Thirunal Rani Parvathi Bayi painting by Raja Ravi Verma

The Nair women during Temple procession: ‘The Cochin Tribes and Castes’ by L. K. Anantha Krishna 

These are the painting of Raja Ravi Verma depicting the royal family. The last picture is of the Nair girls during a temple procession in Kerala. Now, anyone could say looking at their attire that wearing minimal clothing was very usual in Kerala. So, the fake story was built only after the British and the Portuguese invaded India with an effort to malign the Hindu religion and with an intention to convert people into Christianity. It is said that these western people developed a lust for Indian women seeing them naked and wanted to use them for sexual favours. Many women have said to have suffered in the hands of British who misused their power and position to embarrass women after which they started to cover themselves with a plain cloth.

This is proved by the fact that In 1813, the Travancore court Dewan Colonel John Munro had passed an order saying that those lower class women who converted to Christianity would be allowed to cover their breasts. This move was opposed by the raja of Travancore who stopped women from getting converted to Christianity and made them wear a type of long blouses to cover themselves. It was during the same period the story of Nangeli erupted.

As claimed by so called liberals and seculars, the lower class people were never forced to remove their upper clothes. Take a look at the below pictures.


Image result for ezhava family in 19th century

These picture show the Ezhava family was well dressed during the 19th century unlike what is claimed by the fake stories. The Ezhava community had similar costumes as that of Brahmin women and also wore full dress at many occasions. So, the concocted stories that Hindu practiced caste division and showed disrespect to women is nothing but a fake story created by the British who were hell bent to divide the society. But unfortunately, many people believed their stories and maligned their own country and rich tradition.

No where in History or Hinduism were women treated as inferior to men. Infact the Hindu culture respects women more than any other culture and treats her with at most care and concern. So, it is up to us to first analyse the facts before we go mocking our own culture and tradition trusting some foreigners whose main intention was to destroy Hinduism.

Related image

Credit: Panchajanya and Daushanti


Aishwarya S