From 1812 until almost the close of the century, though political life was characterized by inactivity and society presented an outward calmness, subversive forces were forming and developing. This current of social transformation gradually led Kerala into the mainstream of political struggle for freedom and responsible government in the 20th century. The important outcome of this ferment was the awakening of the masses especially the lower orders in the Hindu society, against social injustice and evils. This awakening found articulation in Kerala towards the last quarter of the 19th century.
In the princely states of Kochi and Travancore, the hold of the caste system was even more suffocating. Until the 20th century, governmental positions were denied to lower castes and non-Hindus. It was a protest movement that originated among the scheduled castes. The SNDP movement originated among the Izhavas (todday-tappers) of Kerala in the late nineteenth century. Izhavas were regarded as unapproachable in the traditional caste hierarchy. For instance, they had to stay way thirty-four feet from the Nambudiri Brahmins. They suffered from many disabilities, both civic and ritual: they were not allowed to worship in the temples of caste Hindus or to bathe in the tanks of caste Hindus. Toddy-tapping was considered to be a defiling occupation, their women were to required to cover their breasts and they could neither wear any footwear not build pukka houses.
Shri Narayana Guru, the great Hindu saint and social reformer spearheaded one of the most important social reform movements. The Guru was born in 1856 in the Ezhava community, which had a status far below that of the Nambudiris. He fearlessly criticized and campaigned against the rigors of the caste system, the Brahmin hegemony and the numerous social disabilities of the Ezhavas and other lower castes. Soon Shri Narayana Guru became the rallying point for the Ezhavas and Thiyyas to unite and organize.
The Shri Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP), literally the society for the propagation of moral teaching of Shri Narayana came into being 15th May 1903. Within a short period, the Guru and Yogam drew towards them a brilliant band of dedicated workers, including the poet Kumaran Asan, whose efforts constitute an eloquent testimony to what a community, submitted to centuries of tyranny, can do and achieve through unity, realism and organism.Shri Narayana was, however, no sectarian philosopher and leader. A programme of action founded upon such sublime humanism and social purpose was not destined to remain confined to one caste only; it soon became the philosophy of Hindu reformation, encompassing all castes, including the Brahmin.
The Shri Narayana Movement had developed as a reformative and reaffirmative movement within the Hindu religion. The temple that Sree Narayana Gure consecrated to Lord Siva, the Mirror consecration at Kalavancode and the like were against the Hindu upper class domination. Yet this move did not spread among the Dalits. In effect, it was an attempt to reform the caste and the religion. He was responsible for a thorough transformation on the style of life involving new religious beliefs, ritual and outlook. He provided and ideology or withdrawal and self-organization that raised the self-respect, honor and worth of individuals. It was an ideology of protest against the Brahmincal value system of hierarchy and pollution. Swamy established a parallel source of legitimacy with his institutions of temples, priests, monks and monasteries.