School days were happy days. Most of our holidays were spent at our ancestral villages.”

- Kripa S., 39-year-old software engineer from Eloor, Kochi, 2023

School days were happy days. Most of our holidays were spent at our ancestral villages.”

- Kripa S., 39-year-old software engineer from Eloor, Kochi, 2023

On 8 March 2023, the Ernakulam district collector declared a two-day holiday for schools in and around the city of Kochi due to the fire at the Brahmapuram waste plant. For those of us who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, our school and college years were peppered with bandhs (or hartals as they are called now) as well as long holidays for the summer vacation, Onam, and Christmas. This was in addition to Sree Narayana Guru Jayanthi, Deepavali, Eid, Muharram, Pooja holidays, and other occasions. Educational institutions are given a holiday when dignitaries visit a place, and traffic is expected to be disrupted or when renowned persons pass away. Since the 2018 floods, schools have also started giving “rain holidays” frequently.

The official diaries of the Educational Secretary of Cochin from 1892 to 1896, found in the Regional Archives, Kochi, contained a series of letters sent to educational officials in the Princely State of Cochin. Among these letters were ones discussing the days to be observed as holidays for educational institutions in the state. These holiday-related letters offer a fascinating look into the time, culture, and physical setting of the princely state during the late nineteenth century. They give valuable insights into what the education department considered worthy of holidays in Cochin during that time.

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Children playing during holidays in Kottayam in the late 1960s. Image: Arun Kumar, 2023
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Children playing during the holidays in Narakkal, Kochi in the early 1980s. Image: Thresiamma V. Sankoorikal, 2023
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Children celebrating holidays at ancestral home in the late 1980s. School holidays reveal more than just the festivals celebrated by the dominant groups in an area. Image: Afsal K.M., 2023

What do holidays signify in the educational space? How are educational holidays decided?

Holidays tell us about the weather, natural disasters, politics, historical phenomena, and other important aspects. Keeping track of holidays helps us understand what was culturally, socially, economically, and politically significant to the people at that time and place.

In nineteenth-century Cochin, holidays tell us about the political power and the dominant religious communities in the region during that time. Factors like culture and economy play a role in deciding which holidays to observe. Understanding these influences helps us grasp the significance of holidays in Malayali society. Social movements and changing attitudes can lead to the creation of new holidays or rethink the significance of existing ones.

Why were national holidays important?

National holidays reflect historical events or important milestones in a nation’s history. These events are larger than local events, places, and people. They provide a shared sense of identity and unity among citizens.

For instance, in colonial Kerala, the Maharaja had an important position in the public imagination. From 1888 to 1895, Raja Veera Kerala Varma was the Maharaja of Cochin. On the demise of the reigning monarch, all public offices were given a three-day holiday as can be seen from the letter written by the Educational Secretary on 11 September 1895.

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Raja Veera Kerala Varma (1888-1895). Image: Cochinroyalhistory.org, 2023
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Three-Day public holiday declared from 11 to 13 September 1895 to mark respect for the Late Maharaja of Cochin in 1895. Image: Educational Secretary’s Office Diary from 1 Chingom 1068 M.E./15 August 1892

What would be the events at the national or state level that lead to academic holidays currently?

Independence Day, Republic Day, and Gandhi Jayanthi are national holidays at present. Many students attend schools and colleges for the flag hoisting ceremony even though it is a holiday. From the monarch, the nationalist or patriotic sentiments have been shifted to the nation of India.

Kripa S., a 39-year-old software engineer who did her schooling in Eloor, remembered, “We used to get sweet packets from the school for days like Independence Day and Republic Day. We exchanged sweets we liked for those we didn’t amongst ourselves. It was great fun.”

It is quite common to get holidays when politicians or eminent personalities pass away.

Thresiamma V. Sankoorikal, a 72-year-old retired teacher and headmistress, said, “Whenever a minister died, we would get that day as a holiday. It is only recently that it has not been so. We used to get holidays in our school and college days when a minister passed away.”

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The birth of the nation is an occasion to celebrate. Thresiamma’s daughter and niece on an Independence Day at home in the 1980s. Image: Thresiamma V. Sankoorikal, 2023
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Sanctioning Christmas vacation in Ernakulam College in 1893 (No. 1251). Image: Educational Secretary’s Office Diary from 1 Chingom 1068 M.E./15 August 1892

Why was Christmas an important holiday in the princely state of Cochin?

The Resident (The highest British official posted in the capital of princely states, who was a diplomat but with considerable power in the governance of the state) and many of the officials were British. There were a large number of native Christians in the population. A part of Cochin was directly under British rule, called British Cochin. It was a combination of all these. Christmas was an important holiday, with institutions being given holidays for up to a month, both in British India and England.

Because Christmas was an important holiday in British-ruled (directly and indirectly) Cochin, in 1893, the Diwan of Cochin, V. Subramania Pillai, granted permission to the Principal of the Ernakulam College, who was also the Educational Secretary then, to close the college for a little over a month. Normally, the Educational Secretary makes decisions regarding holidays. In this case, the Diwan gave the permission around three weeks before the holidays were set to start.

How important is the Christmas holiday in post-independent India?

In Kerala, Christmas was always a school and college holiday. However, that was not the case in other locations in India post-Independence. Arun Kumar, a 60-year-old non-resident Malayali engineer who did his schooling in Kolar Gold Fields reminisced, “For us, the school holidays were different from how it was in Kerala. The big holidays were the summer vacation and the Dussehra holidays. Christmas was not a big holiday.”

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Arun Kumar getting ready to go to school at Kolar Gold Fields in the late 1960s. Image: Arun Kumar

How does the experience of holidays bring out the micro-history of the region?

People’s recollections of holidays bring to life the forgotten history of the state. For instance, the Island Express is an important train on the Bangalore—Kanyakumari route and is one of the oldest trains on this route. During the summer vacations in the early 1970s, Arun Kumar, 60, now a retired engineer, always travelled with his family from Kolar to Kottayam. They would come down in the Island Express and get down at Ernakulam. “The last stop of the train was Wellington Island in Kochi, and that was why it was called the Island Express,” said Arun.
In those days, most trips were done by train. The berths in the sleeper coaches were not cushioned and were made of hardwood. Travellers used to carry a hold-all made of canvas. Inside it were thin mattresses. Each person would take a mattress and use it. If it was a single person, the entire hold-all would be used like a sleeping bag. “Looking out continuously, getting covered in charcoal smoke, it was all an experience in itself.”

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Arun Kumar displaying the hold-all on 13 July 2023. Image: JANAL Archives, 2023
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The hold-all was used instead of a mattress while travelling in older trains without padded berths. Image: JANAL Archives, 2023
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The Island Express - 16525 at the Aluva station on 21 August 2023. This is one of the busiest trains on the Bangalore-Kerala route. Image: JANAL Archives, 2023

What is the history of the Island Express?

The train was started in the 1960s and was called the “25/26 Cochin – Bangalore – Cochin Island Express.” Before that, it was just 3-4 slip coaches attached to the Cochin-Madras Express, which started from the Cochin Harbour Terminus. The slip coaches were detached at Jolarpettai and attached to the Bangalore Mail that would take them to Bangalore. The Cochin Harbour Terminus was the last station of the Island Express till the mid-1970s. In 1976, the Kottayam-Thiruvananthapuram route was converted to broad gauge. The train was extended to Thiruvananthapuram, and later, it was extended to Nagercoil and then to Kanyakumari. The train was also renamed 16525/16526 Kanyakumari-Bangalore Island Express.

What was the importance of summer holidays in the lives of Malayalis?

Summer vacation was when many Malayalis travelled to their ancestral homes. Children of working parents were left with their grandparents during this long holiday. Kripa S., 39, recalled fondly, “My grandmother would take me to the temple daily in the morning. On the way, we would meet many acquaintances. She would introduce me to them. It was a proper countryside. They would all shower affection on me in the typical fashion of rural people”. For Kripa, the countryside was a place of warmth, fun, and leisure.
Some families would travel to other locations like Wagamon, Kumarakom, Kovalam, and Munnar, i.e., hill stations, backwaters, beaches, heritage sites, or locations outside Kerala/India. These were the propertied classes, non-resident Keralites, or the newly emerging business-class families. Thus, where a family spend their holidays also shows their class/caste position in society.

Arun Kumar, 60, mentioned travelling in their family car on a short trip when his father had to attend a conference in Udupi.

Children who lived in their ancestral homes, the tharavads, did not travel much during festivals and vacations. Vineeth K.’s, 39, narrative on growing up in Eloor had all the quintessential ingredients of the idyllic summer vacation. His childhood home was surrounded by large tracts of cultivated land, interspersed with abandoned houses, smaller farmhouses, wastelands, a sacred grove, and a cemetery. He was allowed to roam wherever he pleased, and he also explored areas that were forbidden, like the cemetery and the sacred grove. He spent his summer vacations at home, “waiting for the various relatives and neighbours to arrive.” For, “the games were different then.”

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A non-resident Malayali family on a short trip to Malpe, Karnataka in the early 1970s. Image: Arun Kumar, 2023
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Vineeth with a neighbour at their ancestral property during summer vacation in mid 1980s. Image: Vineeth K., 2023
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Vineeth playing alone at home in the early 1990s. Image: Vineeth K., 2023

Are there other recollections of summer vacations, different from the mainstream narrative?

Not everyone travelled during the summer vacation. While holidays generally have a positive effect on well-being, some individuals may also feel stress or feelings of loneliness, particularly if they lack social support or face financial constraints during holiday periods. Kumari, a 62-year-old from Thripunithura who works as a housemaid, said they did not have the means to travel anywhere. They spent all their school holidays at home. In the case of Kumari, she was very reticent about describing her holiday activities because it appeared as if she was reliving her difficult childhood.

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Kumari, 62-year-old, from Thrippunithura on 13 July 2023. Her family's financial status did not allow them to take any trips. Image: JANAL Archives, 2023

What is an organised summer vacation?

Over the years, Malayali kids came to be enrolled in summer camps and activities. Anoop K., a 43-year-old software engineer, remembered that in one era, it used to be typewriting for teenage boys and sewing, machine stitching, or typewriting for teenage girls. Later, the set of activities increased to include coaching in sports, swimming, arts and crafts, and so forth. As time passed, younger children began to be enrolled in these activities. Various schools, clubs, and residential groups would hold performative activities to engage the children.

Holiday celebrations often involve communal activities, such as shared meals, gift-giving, or engaging in cultural traditions. These activities promote social integration and solidarity. The collective experiences facilitate the formation of positive memories and shared narratives, contributing to a sense of collective identity.

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Anoop K. delivering a speech at a summer activity organised by their residential association in the early 1990s. Image: Anoop K., 2023
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Another performative activity organised by the residential association during summer at Thrikkakara. Image: Anoop K., 2023

What was the approach to summer vacation in the Princely State of Cochin?

Midsummer vacation for educational institutions, like it is today, was a prevalent practice from the nineteenth century in Cochin. There are letters in the Educational Diaries from 1892 granting permission for schools and colleges to close for summer vacation. However, whenever schools were given unexpected holidays for a longer duration, the working days lost were made up by cutting short the summer vacation (and occasionally the Christmas vacation).

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Midsummer vacation notification for educational offices, Ernakulam College (currently Maharaja’s College), and other schools in March 1893. Image: Educational Secretary’s Office Diary from 1 Chingom 1068 M.E./15 August 1892
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The dates for midsummer vacations varied among educational institutions. Image: Educational Secretary’s Office Diary from 1 Chingom 1068 M.E./15 August 1892
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Sanctioning a seven-day holiday for Onam from 20 to 28 Chingom 1892 (No. 383). Image: Educational Secretary’s Office Diary from 1 Chingom 1068 M.E./15 August 1892

How important was Onam in colonial Kerala?

Onam was celebrated throughout Travancore, Cochin, and Malabar. Schools used to get holidays for a week during Onam in late nineteenth-century Cochin.

How has the celebration of Onam changed from colonial times?

The Thrikkakara Vamanamoorthy Temple, Thrikkakara is the centre of Onam celebrations in the state. The festival has recreational and cultural activities of a secular nature now. It was a ritualistic celebration connected to the temple before it became the state festival in 1961. In post-Independent Kerala, Onam was one of the big educational holidays after summer vacation. In Kochi, most of the festival-related performances and rituals are held at Thrikkakara and Thripunithara, the seat of the erstwhile Cochin Maharajas.

Anoop, 43, recollected that the Onam celebrations that they used to have at their paternal tharavadu were huge affairs with food being cooked in large vats for the Sadya (traditional feast), “It was exactly how Onam was supposed to be.” Relatives would go to Thiruvananthapuram, where the tharavadu was situated. Anoop remembered visiting Kowadiar to see the decorated streets. The entire city is decked up during the Onam celebration and Kowadiar is the centre of the festivities even today.

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An undated image of the Thrikkakara Temple. Onam used to be celebrated in the Temple for centuries. Image: Kerala Charithram, Vol -II, 1974
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The venue for the Kudamattom (done by mahouts on elephants) at Thrikkakara Temple during Onam 2012. Image: Anoop K., 2023
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Anoop's family moved to Thrikkakara when he was in Grade 7. He and his brother used to spend time speaking to the performers at the Thrikkakara Temple during the Onam holidays. Image: JANAL Archives, 2023

Were there festivals or celebrations that were considered more important than Onam?

While Onam was important in most of Kerala, the Educational Secretary did not always give extended holidays. In nineteenth-century Cochin, schools in Thrissur (called Trichur then) were not expected to close for an extended period for Onam. Holidays were allowed for Thrithalicharthu. Thrithalicharthu was the wedding ceremony held for the royal princesses before they reached puberty. This was a four-day long ceremony, and the groom would leave after the ceremonies. The princess would take another Nampoothiri as consort once they reach adulthood. This pre-pubescent wedding ceremony was present among other Hindu communities and was called talikettukalyanam. The pre-pubescent marriage and the attaining puberty ceremonies were grand affairs for many Hindu communities throughout Kerala until the mid-twentieth century.

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Holidays sanctioned for all governments schools for Thrithalicharthu and extra-holidays not sanctioned for Onam (No. 661) in Thrissur in August 1893. Image: Educational Secretary’s Office Diary from 1 Chingom 1068 M.E./15 August 1892
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Cherianandapuram Proverthy School closed for four days from 24 Meenom 1894 for the Bharani festival (No. 505). Image: Educational Secretary’s Office Diary from 1 Chingom 1068 M.E./15 August 1892

What were the other local festivals that led to educational holidays in nineteenth-century Cochin?

In late nineteenth-century Cochin, Bharani was another festival for which local educational institutions were given a holiday and an equal number of days was deducted from the vacation period.

How is Bharani celebrated in post-independent Kerala?

Today, Bharani is celebrated only in Thrissur district, and holidays are given only to institutions in the district. One of the interviewees, 64-year-old Fathima K.M., from near Kodungalloor, narrated certain aspects of the Bharani festival from her school days, “There was a lot of noise and celebration around the festival. The people would sing, dance, and go in a procession on the road in front of my house. The road leads to the sea. They would throw money into the sea. Coins would fall on the road too, and the children rushed to pick up the money.” She was not allowed to take part in the main poojas or festivities at the temple, but the family loved to visit the temporary stalls and performances. One of her uncles had a car, and “We would all go in the car to see these,” mentioned Fathima.

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Fathima’s children and nieces playing at her Kodungalloor house, in front of which the Bharani procession passes, during a vacation in the 1980s. Image: Fathima K.M., 2023
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Fatima's Kodungalloor house was a vibrant and joyful backdrop to her children and nieces during their vacations in the 1980s and 1990s. Image: Fathima K.M.

How did COVID-19 affect the working of educational institutions in Kerala?

Schools in Kerala were closed for nearly two years, from March 2020 to May 2022. This was not a continuous shutdown. Schools had online and televised classes from June 2020. In November 2021, schools were officially permitted to open in a hybrid manner with offline classes and online classes. Due to the resurgence of the pandemic, they were closed and opened again in February 2023. Initially, offline classes were held only for students with board exams (Standards 10, 11, and 12) and for college students. Later, classes were started for the other grades except for kindergarten.

Megha Ram Mohan, a research intern, was studying in Plus Two (Grade 12 in the Kerala State Education Board) in March 2020. She remembered that she could not write the final examination for one subject due to the initial three-week lockdown, “We were called back in April for a day to write the exam.”
“We had to attend offline class for a week in 2020. In 2021, we were called on and off to college for classes lasting a week or so. Once, we were supposed to have an offline class, but all the teachers were down with COVID-19, so that session was cancelled. Proper offline classes started in earnest in 2022. But I remember my younger school-going cousins did not have as many offline classes as we had during COVID-19,” she added about her college.

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Image in Desabhimani on 1 June 2022 of Elamakkara Government Higher Secondary School reopening after COVID-19. Image: Desabhimani Archives, 2023
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Image in The Hindu on 1 June 2022 of Thiruvananthapuram Government Model Lower Primary School reopening after COVID-19. Image: Desabhimani Archives, 2023
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Rosily Paul at home on 3 October 2023. She recollected that holidays were not always declared for the breakout of epidemics. Image: JANAL Archives, 2023

What were people’s recollections of epidemics in the past?

Rosily Paul, an 82-year-old who grew up in Narakkal in the late 1940s and early 1950s, said there were hardly any holidays given for epidemics in her school days. During a flu epidemic, four to five people were bedridden with the disease in most of the houses in her village. But no holiday was declared. Rosily mentioned, “As far as I can remember, the situation was really bad.”

How did the smallpox epidemic affect the working of schools in the late nineteenth century?

In late nineteenth-century Cochin, schools had to be closed periodically whenever the smallpox epidemic broke out in a region. The trajectory of the disease in the princely state can be traced through the schools that were being closed, their locations, and when they were being closed. For instance, in 1893, schools were closed in January and then in March in various places due to smallpox. One year later, in 1894, a few schools had to be closed due to the resurgence of the smallpox epidemic.

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Letters from the Educational Secretary, D.M. Cruickshank, to the Superintendent of Education, Trichur on various dates in 1893-94 regarding school closures due to smallpox (Nos. 4,7, 458). Image: Educational Secretary’s Office Diary from 1 Chingom 1068 M.E./15 August 1892.
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Did schools get holidays every time a smallpox case was reported in the area?

Schools were given holidays for smallpox after the cases were confirmed. In 1893, the Educational Secretary asked the Superintendent to furnish details of a few families in the vicinity of the school that had been affected by smallpox and to verify the information. Since there are no other details given with the letters, it could be inferred that either the schools were asking to be closed due to a mass panic situation or the administration had reason to believe that some school authorities were giving false information regarding the existence of smallpox cases in their vicinity.

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School closure on account of smallpox in 1893 and instruction to Superintendent of Education, Trichur to check the information provided (No. 14). Image: Educational Secretary’s Office Diary from 1 Chingom 1068 M.E./15 August 1892.
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Closure of schools due to cholera in March 1894 in Mattanchery (Nos. 304 and 305). Image: Educational Secretary’s Office Diary from 1 Chingom 1068 M.E./15 August 1892.

What was the other major epidemic that affected the working days of schools in late nineteenth-century Cochin?

Cholera was a major epidemic in Kerala until potable water could be made available. Schools were frequently closed when a region was affected by this epidemic. In 1894, both Mattanchery and Trichur had school closures due to cholera.

What was the government’s stand on giving smallpox vaccination to students?

The government and educational authorities made the necessary arrangements to vaccinate both school (government and aided) and college students. In March 1896, the Diwan informed the Ernakulam College (Maharaja’s College) principal that the medical officer had been requested to send a vaccinator to the college. The schools were provided with vaccinators in May.

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Smallpox vaccinator being sent to Ernakulam College (Maharaja’s College) in March 1896 (No. 326). Image: Educational Secretary’s Office Diary from 1 Chingom 1068 M.E./15 August 1892.
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Request to Headmasters of government schools and Managers of aided schools to make the necessary arrangements for smallpox vaccinators in May 1896 (No. 666). Image: Educational Secretary’s Office Diary from 1 Chingom 1068 M.E./15 August 1892.

What was the Kerala government’s stand on COVID-19 vaccination for students?

During COVID-19, schools and colleges in Kerala were offering vaccination for students who were not vaccinated. The COVID-19 vaccination was made available to students between the age groups of 15 to 17 from January 2022. Those above 18 years had access to the vaccination before this. Vaccination drives were also held in schools once the children’s vaccination became available.

Advait Arjun, a 15-year-old student from Kochi, got the anti-COVID vaccine in early 2022. He was taken to a nearby hospital and got the vaccine. He added, “Getting tested for COVID-19 was a more dramatic incident than getting the vaccination. We were in Coimbatore at a later date. My father left me at a relative’s place and got tested. He contracted COVID-19, but I did not. Being prodded in the nose with the long buds was more painful than the vaccine jab.”

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Thevara S.H. Plus One students emerging after vaccination. Image: Mathrubhoomi, 4 January 2022.
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A teenager being vaccinated at SRV School, Ernakulam. Image: The Hindu, 19 January 2022.
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Students being vaccinated in Thiruvananthapuram. Image: The Hindu, 4 January 2022.

How did strikes or hartals affect working days?

Strikes, bandhs, hartals, and shutdowns were quite common in Kerala till the recent past. Strikes and protests affected the number of working days in government-run schools for a long period. This was banned by a High Court verdict in 1996. Private and aided schools were not always affected by these strikes.

Strikes were quite common, according to G. Kumaran Nair, a 79-year-old retired official at Carborundum Universal Ltd. He studied in the government school in Kuravankonam, Thiruvananthapuram, during his primary and upper primary years. They had a lot of holidays due to strikes when he was there. He studied in the Salvation Army school during his high school years. At this mission school, it was quite strict; there were no holidays like in the government school.

Dr. K.K. Muhammed Yusuf, a 73-year-old retired University professor, mentioned, “Student protestors used to enter the school and ask us to vacate the premises.” He studied at SRV school, Ernakulam, a government school.

Working days were frequently disrupted until the 2020s in government, private, and aided colleges with strong student political parties. As Vineeth K., 39, jokingly said, it was always, “Strikes, strikes, and more strikes.”

Anoop, 43, remembered that in the early 1990s, educational institutions were given several days off when some violent political event happened in a school in the Kannur district. He quoted a radio announcement that was frequently heard during his school years, “Because of so and so reason, the holiday has been declared tomorrow for all educational institutions including professional colleges.”

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G. Kumaran Nair, 79-year-old, retired official, Carborundum Universal Ltd. on 13 July 2023. He mentioned that strikes leading to holidays were quite frequent in government schools during his childhood. Image: JANAL Archives, 2023
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Dr. K.K. Muhammed Yusuf, 73-year-old retired University professor, and wife, Fathima K.M. on a trip in the 2010s. Dr. Yusuf remembered that strikes were pretty common in the government school where he studied. Image: K.K. Muhammed Yusuf, 2023

How did rain affect the working of schools in the past and the present?

If there was heavy, unexpected rain that caused havoc in a large area, schools declared a holiday. Rosily Paul, 82, said that during the monsoon in the late 1940s and 50s, “The road in front of our house leading to school would be flooded. But holidays were never declared. We had to wade through ankle-deep water to get to school.”

Thresiamma, 72, who did her schooling a decade later in the same village, added, “If there was a sudden downpour that lasted for half a day and created water-logging in several regions, the government or concerned authority declared a holiday.”

Anoop, 43, mentioned, “There was a cloud burst event when it rained continuously for 3–4 hours in the 1990s. That year, a holiday lasting several days was declared.”

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Rosily Paul’s paternal house in Narakkal in 1981. The front verandah of the house, seen here, opens onto the street that would get flooded with ankle-deep water every monsoon in the 1940s and 1950s. Image: Rosily Paul, 2023
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Kripa S. speaking about Pooja holidays on 13 July 2023 remembered that those were not announced uniformly in all schools and all years in her childhood. The days would vary depending on the Hindu calendar. Image: JANAL Archives, 2023

What are the relatively new holidays that are celebrated today?

The educational diary for Cochin does not mention any holidays being given for Pooja, Vishu, Deepavali, or any of the Islamic festivals.

Kripa, 39, mentioned that Pooja holidays used to be for two or three days during her childhood. Sometimes, the school would announce holidays a day late. She added, “Once, many students were absent. The rest of us were taken to the auditorium. They played a couple of movies for us. I remember watching The Sound of Music. That was entertaining.”

Rajarajeshwari Ashok, a researcher, recollected that the students chose the books to be kept for pooja, and not all of the books were kept at the temple. Rather, only “the books pertaining to those subjects that were perceived as difficult were taken for pooja.”

Were there occasions or events considered holidays in nineteenth-century Cochin and are not observed in the present day?

Certain days were holidays in the past but are not considered important enough now. For instance, on the Sankramam (Sankranthi – the day the sun moved from one Malayalam month to another) days in the Malayalam months, Karkitagom (around July) and Thulam (around October), government schools were given holidays in 1895.

According to Ajitha Radhakrishnan, a 43-year-old from Ponnekara, these days were important in the past, “Kerala used to see heavy rains in both these months. Prayers were conducted by various communities on the first day of the month to please the gods so that nothing bad would occur.” The entire house is cleaned, and it is believed that the Chetta Bhagavathi (deity of dirty and decadent things) is banished, and Shree Bhagavathy is invited in.

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Letter from the Educational Secretary informing the Superintendent of Education that Sankramam days in Thulam and Karkitagom will be holidays for all government schools (No. 1122). Image: Educational Secretary’s Office Diary from 1 Chingom 1068 M.E./15 August 1892.
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Afsal K.M. with family at Taj Mahal, Agra during the holidays in 1987. Image: Afsal K.M., 2023

What are the family trips taken outside the vacation period?

These are holidays taken during the academic year by a family. Arun Kumar mentioned that in the period before the 1980-90s, people travelled mostly to their ancestral homes and during academic holidays. Since the 1990s, the improvement in the financial situation of the middle and upper classes has made taking a holiday outside Kerala or abroad a fairly common occurrence. There is more flexibility regarding travel during school days/working days. Such holidays depend on various non-academic factors such as the work location of a parent or relative, convenience, and impromptu decision.

Arun Kumar, 60, stated, “Now people take holidays in the middle of the year. There is no waiting for the vacation. People have disposable incomes that, taking such a holiday is not difficult.” He added, “Going on a holiday or balancing a holiday is difficult because everyone has their own opinion and likes and dislikes. Earlier, we would just go and enjoy whatever was there. Now, it is hard to plan a trip because somebody would say they do not want to go there and so on… Now, people have more choices.”

Afsal K.M., a 45-year-old music director, recalled one such holiday taken by his family to Agra and Delhi. Afsal’s father, who was a university professor at that time, took the family along when he had to accompany a group of students on their study tour.

When is the weekly off for educational institutions in Kerala?

Sundays and Saturdays are off for most educational institutions in Kerala. Kerala is one of the few states where educational institutions do not function on Saturdays (except for high schools and professional colleges).

G. Kumaran Nair, 79, a native of Thiruvananthapuram, remembered that schools used to function on Saturdays in his childhood. His wife, P.K. Rajeswari Devi, a 75-year-old retired KSRTC employee who studied in schools in and around Eloor, Kochi, mentioned that they did not have schools on Saturdays. “Whenever extraordinary holidays happened as a result of a strike, or for some other reason, Saturday was a working day.”

In Colonial Cochin, the declaration of Saturday as a school holiday started in the late nineteenth century in girls’ schools.

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Saturday declared a holiday in government Anglo-Vernacular girls’ schools in Cochin from November 1895 (No. 1921). Image: Educational Secretary’s Office Diary from 1 Chingom 1068 M.E./15 August 1892.
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