Tamil Nadu’s golden age was a 1000 years ago and ever since the end of that age, the region never saw any large scale military-imperial revival. The Cholas were the last known patrons of Hindu art and literature, not to mention some very old architectural masterpieces of theirs from that era which was the highest point of Tamil architectural innovation. After their era, local lords never patronized arts and language to the extent to which the Cholas did. In fact, from the 14th century onwards, devastating invasions by the Delhi Sultanate exacerbated this void.
In fact, the time when Tamil Nadu was under its first complete foreign ruler was in the time of the Madurai Sultanate – a Sultanate established after the Tughlaq era invasions of the Deccan and the south. But the region was quick to recover its lost prestige when the armies of Vijayanagara defeated this Sultanate and restored Hindu rule here. Vijayanagara’s era saw a brief revival of Tamil spirituality as their era laid the stage for Carnatic music – a tradition in India which formed mostly within Tamil lands under Vijayanagara’s aegis and patronage.
While the rest of India was reeling under Islamic invasions in the Mughal era, Tamil Nadu was quite late in facing even these invasions as the only real threat of Islamic invasions came about during the brief era of Aurangzeb wherein most of Tamil Nadu was ravaged by the Mughals. Even then, the tiny Muslim community left behind by the earlier Madurai Sultanate was quite silent and did not take active part in the conquests unlike elsewhere in India.
Apart from these sporadic instances, Tamil Nadu has been the model sleepy town of India. It was easy prey for the Sultanates of the Deccan and Karnataka to conquer vast tracts of the region in the aftermath of Vijayanagara’s apocalyptic downfall. It was fairly easy for Portuguese and French evangelists to establish churches all over the region and convert large numbers of Tamils to Christianity. And then came the time of the British wherein Tamil Nadu was a model British colonial holding – a place that never ever rebelled large scale. We notice that the Tamils had grown soft to the extent of gullible in the aftermath of the Chola Empire itself.
Tamil Nadu’s forgotten imperial prestige and its subsequent (rather late) conquest by the Marathas (who were its last Hindu rulers) left little room in Tamil Nadu for the kind of charged up imperial feelings we see in the Marathas, Rajputs and the Jats. Tamil Nadu was a peculiarity even in South India as it had grown accustomed to foreign rule, to the extent that it became a norm to remain under foreign non-Hindu rule.
Our concern is more with the recent history of Tamil Nadu wherein we notice several peculiar instances in society.
The end of British rule saw the rise of a movement that called itself the ‘Justice Party.’ At this time, most positions of legal and financial powers across the region of the Carnatic were in the hands of those communities that would later get branded as forward. Mind you – this was an age old tradition – a Thevar community Chola ruler would always have a Brahmin advisor, a Chettiar treasurer and a Paravar or a fellow Thevar army general/sea lord. This sort of community based division of labour was common place in Tamil Nadu from the Sangam era and not surprisingly the British too followed this. It is no surprise therefore that most Chief Justices of the Madras Presidency happened to be from the Brahmin community.
However, Tamil Nadu also faced its biggest demographic change in the British era itself – Christianization.
I know personally scores of friends whose ancestors converted during the colonial era for:
- Government jobs
I have heard stories from them as to how their entire village which was impoverished was converted by a British or a French missionary on monetary incentives. But here comes the great catch – caste made no difference to the missionary. Kerala and Tamil Nadu saw the peculiar phenomenon of Brahmins and landowning Chettiars converting. As to how this happened – there were numerous instances wherein entire villages including its Brahmins were at the receiving ends of famines or colonial era wartime impoverishment. And hence, it came as no surprise to me when a Christian friend of mine named John (name changed) told me that his village in Kerala had many Brahmins – all of whom converted en masse on such an incentive.
And then there was another friend whose Chettiar landowning paternal grandfather converted to Christianity thanks to a lucrative colonial government position offered to him. He was not even impoverished. He was rich. One might ask oneself that if Tamil Nadu was barely touched by the greatest military vicissitudes of the medieval era, what then the reason was for such easy Christianization. The answer is quite simple but never found in history books written by western ‘intellectuals’ – intellectual impoverishment.
Tamil Nadu’s age old tradition of patronized intellectuality died out once the Chola Empire fizzled into nothingness. Thereafter, Sri Lanka saw a resurgent Buddhism which occupied and filled the void left by the Hindu intellectual vacuum. The south east of Asia saw the rise of Islam despite the presence of Chola and Sri Vijaya colonies therein. And of course – Christianity came with a monetary colonial muscle. In other words, it had the imperial patronage that Hinduism had long lost.
Besides this, there was no major Tamil ruler like in the Maratha lands to stand up for the Hindus as a people. The local economy too became increasingly colonial trade-dependent and hence, the coastal regions wherein shipping and fisheries thrives, were the first to get Christianised. In the British era, there was no major Hindu revival neither intellectually nor politically. The generations’ long stagnation had reached a point wherein the land had lost its economic self-sufficiency and was a ripe target for a motivated foreigner who could easily spread his culture here.
The modern era:
If we look at the Justice Party and its successor the Dravidar Kazhagam, we see some striking features of colonial era intellectual poison:
- One of its founding members EV Ramaswamy Naiker (later known as ‘Periyar’) was a proponent of the colonial Aryan invasion theory.
- Periyar was in his own words anti-Brahmin/Brahmin-phobic. Periyar in public discourse used to narrate a tale of his pilgrimage to Kashi wherein he claim he was asked to leave a pilgrim’s lodging because he was not a Brahmin. He further claims that he was not given food – rather strange claims considering that the Naiker community was considered a forward community even by the British and that Kashi nor the surroundings have ever had had any documented instances of this kind of outright refusal to offer food to a Hindu pilgrim. Hell, the region had itself been ruled by Muslims for centuries.
- Periyar claimed that the above tale was the reason for his virulent anti-Brahmin atheistic stance. However, apart from all the logical flaws in his tale, no such instance or evidence thereof even exists to corroborate this fanciful cheaply made fiction. In fact, we only have his word for its occurrence.
- Periyar believed in atheism but still claimed that Tamil Nadu should be a Dravidian state – ironic as the so called Dravidian state had been a bulwark of Hindu culture and one of the regions with the largest number of temples ever built. The poster boys of Dravidianism itself – the Cholas and Pandyas had been ardent and fanatic Shaivites. So what was this confused atheist bickering on about?
- He claimed that all non-Tamil speakers are Aryan invaders of Tamil Nadu – ironic again as Tamils themselves worship most the so-called ‘Aryan Gods.’ Shiva, Karthik, Vishnu and various local forms of Parvathi are wildly popular deities in whose honour even today, people of all castes organize grand village level processions and temple-fairs.
Periyar was clearly not a man who wished to change colonial thinking, but was a man who embraced it. Although he kept claiming atheism as his creed, he never ever spoke openly about Christianity or Islam – two religions which had militarily entered the region. But he had a rabid hatred for Lord Ram – whom he claimed was an Aryan invader. Periyar often claimed that Ravana was a true Dravidian king – ironic again as Ravana was an ardent Rudra-Shiva worshipper (Aryan Gods again!).
The deeds of Periyar:
Periyar’s perverse philosophy gave rise to the self-respect movement. This movement had an unabashed and openly declared goal of de-brahminization. A lot of books won’t document what Periyar’s supporters did in detail but any member of the Tamil Brahmin community (such as myself) have first-hand accounts of the things done by them during that demonic era wherein they held paramount sway over every aspect of life – from film to music to art to literature to the streets itself:
- The assassination attempt on C Rajagopalachari by a member of Periyar’s party – the justification for which was that the dalits felt a sense of shame and torture under the Brahmins and that Rajagopalachari’s image as a Brahmin leader of the Congress only heightened that feeling. I needn’t even explain further.
- The 1956 rally at Marina Beach, Chennai, wherein Periyar conducted a Ram dehan during Dusshera time in order to counter North India’s traditional Ravan dehan. He saw this as a Dravidian reclamation of self-respect.
- Several instances occurred across Tamil Nadu wherein processions during Ganesh pooja and Ramanavami were physically attacked by Periyar’s gangs who would later adorn the Ram statues with garlands made of slippers.
- There are many first-hand accounts within the Brahmin community as to how Periyar advocated to his party members to forcibly chop off the Brahmin’s traditional Shikha (the pony-tail). There are accounts of this occurring within Chennai near Mylapore (a traditionally Brahmin temple-town within the city).
The continuation of the Dravidian movement:
Annadurai’s Chief Ministerial tenure saw the rise of legally sanctioned official discrimination against the Brahmins of Tamil Nadu. To give you an easy-to-relate account of a Tamil Brahmin from that era, I recall the tale of Mr. Somasundaram (name changed) who I had the privilege to meet in a Mumbai local near Matunga. The man told me his tale:
Back then, Annadurai and Periyar used to give speeches declaring that they wanted our very identities erased. We were blocked out of government jobs and we used to be laughed at in public and in government offices. In towns like Trichy and Madurai, this movement was particularly vile and vicious and we Brahmins felt the full fury of it. At that time, my father told me – ‘Son, look north and go. Never return for where they speak Hindi, we will be welcome. We are foreigners today in our own homeland.’
And thus my brothers and I came to Matunga where many Tamils live today. We were welcome here, and we got good government jobs which helped us feed our families.
This traumatic tale must be enough for you to realize what an average Tamil Brahmin underwent in the 60s and 70s. So much for all the claims of Brahmin supremacy and Brahmin usurping of positions, men like Somasundaram were Brahmins who had lesser money and titles than 5 generations of Periyar’s family which itself was of the landowning Naiker forward community.
Time for personal stories from my family:
My mother was lesser than 10 years of age at the height of Karunanidhi’s continuation of the Dravidian movement. By this time, it had been a few years since the death of Anandurai and the Dravidian movement with its self-respect ideals ran strong. Not surprisingly, this was a day at her school in Chennai when a Christian teacher (a known member of the party of Periyar) entered the class one day.
This time, she had a different subject in mind. She told all the Brahmin students in the class to stand up. Once they had done so (my mother included), she publicly shamed them saying:
These are the Brahmins. Take a good look at them. These are those who think no end of themselves and have ridiculous practices such as washing their dining areas after they eat. They behave as if they are the cleanest people in the world and as if all others are filthy. This is the Brahmin. Take a good look.
If this session had been followed by a public stoning/thrashing of the Brahmins, you’d have a first-hand analogy of what a homosexual feels like in an Islamic republic. The word the teacher used for ‘Brahmin’ was ‘Paaparae’ – a particularly vile and crass term used to brand Brahmins in that era. My mother (whose age was in single digits then) came home that day and asked her grandmother – ‘What is a paaparae? I did not understand why but the teacher today in class told us to all stand and told all the others that we are Paaparae.’ My great grandmother stayed silent and said nothing, but the look on her face was unmistakeable – one of shock and revulsion.
At other times, my grandmother has told me how she used to be instructed at home – ‘do not say outside that you are a Brahmin. You will be laughed at.’
Why, I myself faced this while playing football at the beach with my friends about 9 years ago. My brother and I used to be shamed by a few locals at the beach who upon seeing us used to shout – ‘Look! That Aiyer is here!’ Aiyer is a word for a Brahmin Shaivite. When used in a certain tone in Tamil along with a few choice words comprehensible to a Tamil speaker alone, the term becomes a slur.
Amidst all this shaming that every Brahmin has faced in Tamil Nadu, Christianization and NGO-based proselytism has taken an all new high in Tamil Nadu. Again, I have personal experiences and tales I heard from my own maid servant who told me how her failed marriage, her being forced into flesh-trade and her monetary woes were all blamed by her church on Hindu idolatory. She told me how they used to ask her to come to church and give her money with the promise of more money provided that she attends mass every week. After these masses, there would be a ritual session of cursing Hinduism. Her own family – including the popularly known street milkman are all Hindus. They themselves throw her strange looks today.
In light of this level of cultural deracination, are you still surprised that Jallikattu could be banned with such ease? Ironically, this Shaivite Hindu bull taming festival today has some vocal lobbyists in the form of rising political leaders such as Sebastian Simon known better as ‘Seeman’ in Tamil Nadu – a clear sign as to the complete and successful disconnection of Tamil Nadu’s inherently Hindu Shaivite legacy into the hands of Communists and anti-Hindu forces. There are hundreds and thousands of such instances in the last 200 years of Tamil history. But I believe that these few instances alone will paint a good picture for you.
But who even remembers men like Somasundaram who were made de-facto economic refugees within their own nation? Who even remembers the public shaming of little boys and girls who couldn’t even understand why they were being shamed? Above all – when will our dear Tamil Nadu learn to arise, awake and embrace its glorious Chola-Shaivite past and to discard these British inspired poisons?