Smarthavicharam or Smaartha Vichaaram, was the ritualistic trial of a Nambudiri woman and fellow male adulterers who were accused of illegitimate sexual relations. If the accused women was found guilty, she and the men found involved with her (known as jaaran) were excommunicated or ostracized (Bhrashtu) and banished. The permission of Maharaja (king) was necessary for the conduct of smarthavicharam. The practice is nonexistent today and last reportedly took place in 1918.
There are six stages to a Smarthavicharam
1. Dasi Vicharam (Trial of the maid-servant)
The first stage of this trial procedure is interrogating the 'dasi', the maid, of the accused female member. If a Nambutiri housewife (antharjanam's) was suspected of sexual misconduct then she was at first placed under restraint, and as a first step, her dasi, a.k.a. vrishali, was questioned. "If the dasi should criminate her mistress the latter is forthwith segregated and a watch set upon her".
If there is substantial evidence (sangayum thurumbum) on the antharjanam's sexual misdeeds, she is isolated to a special cell. After the women is isolated, the family-head informs the king about the case. The king then sends four lawyers together with a smarthan (judge) and a Brahmin for conducting the trial.
3. Questioning the Antharjanam
The third stage involves questioning the antharjanam by the smarthan. During questioning the smarthan sits outside the cell without seeing the accused. This can take up hours or even days depending on the severity of the case and until the woman accepts all allegations and becomes a saathanam (an inanimate object).
During this period the antharjanam is subject to grave physical torture. A popular method was to pack the woman in a mat, like a dead body, and roll it from the housetop. At other times, rats, snakes and other poisonous creatures were driven into the cell of the accused.
Once she has accepted all her misdeeds, the smarthan questions the saathanam face to face to get the names of the jaarans (the men involved). She also has to substantiate her accusations by proofs, normally some marks on the private parts of the men, which the smarthan later verifies. The trial would continue until the smarthan is convinced that there are no more jaarans.
After this, the king would be informed about the men involved. If the accused deny these allegations, they were subject to sathyapareeksha (test of truth) at a Suchindram temple.
In this stage, the saathanam and the guilty men are ceremoniously ostracized and excommunicated.
6. Shudhabhojanam (pure meal)
The trial team shares a meal after this. If the accused are found to be innocent, they also take part in it.
Trial of Kuriyedath Thathri
The most sensational Smarthavicharam was the one in 1905 that involved Kuriyedath Thathri, the wife of Chemmanthatta Kuriyedathu Raman Namboodiri of Mukundapuram Taluk. Thathri had been married off at the age of eighteen to the sixty-year-old Raman Namboodiri. The trial lasted for six months. The verdict was pronounced on the night of July 13, 1905, indicting Thathri and the other accused men. Some sources say that there were 65 accused men (jaaran) and she was asked to name them and substantiate it by narrating their body marks. The accused were men of high caste, influential and reputed in the society. Thatri's paramours included 30 Namboothiris, 10 Iyers, 13 Ambalavaasis and 11 Nairs. From the accounts of people who recount the tale, the Raja of Cochin stopped the trial since his name was next on her list.
M. G. Ramachandran was the son of Melakkath Gopala Menon who was banished in 1903 Smarthavicharam of a widowed Nambudiri. Melakkath Menon at the time was a judicial officer in Trissur, and was forced to leave this job and his family, and married Satyabhama ezhava, belonging to Maruthur family in Vadavannur, Palakkad and migrated to Ceylon.
- Avasanathe Smartha Vicharam (The Last Caste (Morality) Inquisition), the autobiography of A.M.N.Chakyar, the former Registrar of Kerala University.
- A field of one's own: gender and land rights in South Asia - Page 429 Bina Agarwal - 1994
- Kerala district gazetteers Kerala (India), A. Sreedhara Menon - 1962
- Polity, society, and women: with special reference to Travancore, 1700-1900 A.D By Suma Rose
- Some "Bhrashtu" (Excommunication or Ostracism) Cases
- Fr. Pallath J Joseph (2002-08-16). "The state of nambudiri women". Human Rights Solidarity.
- Bina Agarwal, (1994). "A field of one's own: gender and land rights in South Asia" Cambridge University Press