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Mannathu Padmanabha Pillai (2 January 1878 – 25 February 1970) was an Indian social reformer and freedom fighter from the south-western state of Kerala. He is recognised as the founder of the Nair Service Society (NSS), which claims to represent the Nair community that constitutes 12.10% (From KMS 2011) of the population of the state. Padmanabhan is considered as a visionary reformer who organised the Nair community under the NSS.
Mannathu Padmanabhan (He later dropped Pillai title) was born in Perunna village in Changanacherry, Thiruvananthapuram, British India on 2 January 1878 to Easwaran Namboothiri of Nilavana Illam and Mannathu Parvathy Amma. He began his career as a teacher in 1893 in a Government primary school. After a few years, from 1905 he changed his profession and started practicing law, in the Magistrates Courts.
On 31 October 1914 with the help of a few others, he established the Nair Service Society. His main ambition was to uplift the status of the Nair community. From 1915 onwards, he gave up law practice and became full-time secretary of the Nair Service Society. Mannam revived and reshaped the old concept of village societies, the Karayogams, which practically set the tenor of family and village life. In 1924-25 the NSS persuaded the Travancore Government to enact the Nair Regulation which broke up the materiarchal joint family providing for paternal and maternal property to divided among all the children.
Padmanabhan was involved with the Nair Service Society as its Secretary for 31 years and as its President for three years. He was honoured with the title Bharata Kesari by the President of India. He also received Padma Bhushan in 1966.
In 02 January 2017 Nair Service Society celebrated the 140th Mannam Jayanthi at NSS headquarters, Perunna in Changanassery.
He fought for social equality, the first phase being the Vaikom Satyagraha, demanding the public roads near the temple at Vaikom be opened to low caste Hindus. In 1924, he took part in the Vaikom and Guruvayoor temple-entry Satyagrahas and anti-untouchability agitation. He opened his family temple for everyone, irrespective of caste distinction He became a member of the Kerala Congress in 1947 and took part in the agitation against Sir C. P. Ramaswamy Iyer’s administration in Travancore. As the first president of Travancore Devaswom Board he revitalised many temples which had almost ceased to function.
In 1949 Padmanabhan became a member of the Travancore Legislative Assembly. In 1959 he along with Christian Churches led a united opposition against the State Communist Ministry, which became known as the Vimochana Samaram (liberation struggle). The cause of the Vimochana Samaram was the introduction of an Education Bill by the Minister of Education, Joseph Mundassery, and the movement caused the dismissal of the Communist government under E. M. S. Namboodiripad on 31 July 1959. The consequence of this was the beginning of President’s rule in the state under Article 356 of the Indian Constitution. In 1964 he was instrumental in the formation of Kerala Congress, the first regional party in India.
Padmanabhan died on 25 February 1970 at the age of 92, after age related complications. Mannam memorial (or Samādhi) is located at NSS Headquarters Changanacherry. He is regarded as the reformer and moral guide of Nairs.