I have never given much thought to EVR or ‘Periyar’ as Ee Ve Ramaswamy Naicker is remembered by the masses in Tamil Nadu. The ‘Vaikkom Veerar’ was limited to my text book knowledge.
Now and then my mother-in-law would burst, the old man was responsible for mixing ‘Paarpan’ and ‘Parayan’ – mutton and curd rice that did not go together. Like any privileged community, mine was principally opposed to the Dalit entry to Hindu temples with the dawn of India’s independence.
Character assassinated with a vengeance of late, my interest in the ‘Pagutharivaalar’ the reasoning philosopher, perked up very recently. All I had to do was ‘Wiki’ – that made for an interesting read.
But for EVR, I discovered, the dalit community in Tamil Nadu would have entirely mass converted to Christianity or Islam. He was at the threshold to Hindu temple at the defining moment, that was kind of make-or-break moment for India. Shame, we needed a legislation to admit a section of our own people into our supposedly sacred temples who we believed would defile the worshiping places. Social reformers were raising a banner in the north India as well, Ambedkar to be specific.
My own grand mother was bitter with Periyar as he had supposedly garlanded the Ram vigraha with chappals and thrown shoes and stones at Ganesha.
All my spirituality garnered over years can only lead me to believe, how Rama would have accepted the chappals as floral tributes and how Ganesha would have looked at his favourite son fondly for his immense service to humanity and Sanatana Dharma. Hindu Gods DO NOT punish. ‘Makkal thonde Mahadevan thondu.’ One need not have to chant the Vedas or go to temples, one could be as earnest and reasonable and justified as Periyar was. My respects and reverence for this man have since grown manifold. ‘I may not step into temple myself, and I am no believer, but here you go the masses!’ said he to the simple samaritan lowest caste Hindus, throwing open the temple doors to them, showing them the God like never before. Neither did EVR convert to Christianity/Islam nor did he change his name (he was named after Rama). His anger to Hindu Gods was the liberty he took with them, because he was born a Hindu. To me, there can be no better ‘bhakthi’ or devotion to God. Pradosham or Vaikunta Ekadesi, does it really matter if you dare to stop someone from stepping into a temple? How can even God reside in such a hollow/shallow stone structure? Is this what God adds upto? Your Abhishegams and Aaraadhanais ? Your Andhadhis and Aarthis?
I tell myself, the power or the aura of the temples is not because of the chanting of the Vedas or the ‘Achcharam’ – the strict rigours followed. Rather it is because of the footfall and faith of the millions who bear the shame and discrimination, yet who do not give up on God brushing aside the indignity they are subject to. This is why Tirumala-Tirupathi, Guruvayoor, Sabarimala, Arunachaleshwara, Madurai Meenakshi temple, Tanjore Brahadeeshwara, Ranganatha of Trichy are powerful mantra temples for hundreds of/thousand years. It is the devotion of the masses that is responsible for the aura of these peetams, never the ‘achcharam.’
To what lows Hinduism has been reduced to? From accepting and celebrating the nude Aghoris (feasting on the dead dwelling in the cremation ground) as the most spiritual among us, we have come to name-calling a man who wanted to right the wrongful historical injustice prevalent in our society.
EVR must have followed the footsteps of Ramanuja, the only true saint I have come to accept. I have never had much to say on the Shankracharyas. My devotion is towards the likes of Shri Ramana Maharishi and Shri Satya Sai Baba who never divided a community, who never judged one on the basis of birth. Service to mankind to them meant justice and equality over anything. And actual humanitarian service not LECTURES. When I questioned a friend on the same on Maha Periavaya, an ardent devotee of him she admitted, the Periyavaa only belonged to ‘their esteemed community’ and was no Guru to Hindus enmasse. Well, that was what I wanted to know. It was a relief hearing that out.
At the doors of Kailash or Vaikunth, I don’t think any Shankaracharya who did not preach equality among humans would have won an entry. I too recite the Kanakadhara stotram. But everytime I sing it I am dazed that such an enlightened soul still failed to see all human beings as equal and was instrumental in promoting the worst divide among the Hindus. As uncrowned heads of the great Hindu diaspora, the Acharyas could have done a lot more to Sanathana Dharma. Caste system is not prescribed in the Vedas. No Hindu God has ever gone into records saying only a particular community can have access to the sanctum sanctorum of temples or to education. All this is man-made, predictably by the dominating community.
So l shall leave this to the smug self-appointed guardians of Hinduism to decide: whether the man who sent to temple millions of cast-off Hindus would be in the Kailash or the Shankaracharyas who barred millions of HIndus from entering the temple, denying them their worshiping rights. Right to God.
Time and again I am reminded of Sabari who bit into each fruit she gave Lord Rama during his Vanvaas. Ram accepted the bitten fruit with love and gratitude.
Does it really matter to your God whether you recite your sanskrit prayers with ‘enforced achcharams’ or whether you walk into temple in ‘panjakatcham’ or ‘lungi’ ? The peasantry’s best temple attire may be a lungi, but there is this raw bhakthi about them, something that the sophistication of education shall never bestow the elite with. Would God bother who is touching Him/Her. Whether you have had meat or liquor or whether you have smoked. A code of decency is fine but it is this enforced achcharam that makes matters worse. Are Hindu Gods that vain as to accord importance to things as superficial and skin deep and not to the essence of spirituality which is much deep and far and above all that that can be prescribed by the dominants. (I am not mentioning a text book as Hindu Dharma does not have one). I am aware, as a Hindu I can take for granted the Hindu Gods, ridicule/admonish/criticize them – something forbidden to Abrahamists, punishable with death. In that I am proudly a Hindu, despite our fault lines. But then these divisions can be patched. We just needed a social reformer who could knit us together and EVR was one.
Watching the televised Tirumala Tirupathi Brahmotsav, i could not help thinking how the top notch priests who reigned over the Devasthanams happened to believe that a common man either Sudra/Panchama could actually contaminate the sanctity of the holy shrine with their touch/presence. All their spirituality came to naught, this was my thought. It is a sad affair that Hinduism has come to mean only rituals today where spirituality hardly figures.
There is now a story going on in Whatsapp that ‘Thayir Saadham’ (curd rice) is responsible for the IQ of a certain community. How this community which had had exclusive access (call it reservation) to education for over 2000 years still has not ‘progressed’ like the other rice eaters of Asia like the Chinese, Japanese and the Koreans is a billion dollar question. Over-rating is their biggest problem. A similar reservation exists in the Agama temples of Tamil Nadu/India. (Never heard of the Chinese/Koreans/Japanese proclaiming their intellectual genius at the drop of hat as our ‘englightened Tambram bros and sis!’)
Exposed to education for less than 100 years, the downtrodden SC/ST communities have been faring remarkably well, even if there have been ups and downs in the course. Someone was talking of land grabbing by their politician say, T an imaginative figure. Here is a question for thought: every developed city/town in India was centered around a Hindu temple surrounded exclusively by Agraharas. The Bania street and the Sudra streets formed the next circles and of course the Kshatriyas lived in palaces. We needed a Lord Maccaulay to bring in reforms to include the dalit community in schools and our cities. The torch bearers since were EVR and Ambedkar and even Mahatma Gandhi himself. The British allotted the Panchamas (the dalits) agricultural lands which are also now taken over by corporates and the neo rich of India depriving them of their livelihood. Who is grabbing whose land, I would like to know.
Mastering and memorizing the Vedas and other scriptures for centuries, how can a community boast of having carved a niche for themselves in the society, having denied others knowledge and wisdom through history. Theirs’ is ‘cultivated genius’ that cannot take one past the IITs. Which is why the community that pats itself with the success of Sundar Pitchais of the world, has not progressed beyond this degree. This is why India has not seen great inventions and discoveries beyond the touted first six centuries since the birth of Christ. Those who have been in the race for less than 70 years, the other RICE EATERS (!), are fast catching up with those who have had millennia of headstart, beware!
The great temple builders of Tamil Nadu/India similarly buried their architectural acumen unwilling to share the engineering secrets with others. The Kshatriyas failed their subjects losing their kingdoms. The Vysyas fleeced the poor. The Brahmins remained sancto-sanctified within the four temple walls and Gurukulas.
One injustice however cannot be reversed with another injustice as it has happened with Mayawati, ex CM of Uttar Pradesh, for instance. Reservation quotas can be limited to basic language majors at entry level. In the employment scene, the ‘tehsildar’ offices and corporation/municipal offices can be cent percent reserved for the categorized communities. Some departments in state governments like the Electricity and Water distribution can be similarly reserved to varying degrees for SC/STs. Strictly no reservation when it comes to medical/engineering course seats and for science/tech/medical jobs.
Why again reservation must be an issue in India. Coming from a family that has donated valuable real estate during ‘Bhoo dhaan’ movement as late as in 1970s when the Land Ceiling Act came into force, I have first hand information on sacrifice by the landlords for the sake of the nation. The Vysya banks were nationalized in one big sweep by the then Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi. The rulers of princely states of India had to give up their palatial luxurious Maharaja lifestyle and rich family heirlooms for the sake of the nation. Did any of the communities continue to grumble about their sacrifice like the Brahmins do? Do they flee India for greener pastures abroad? Ever heard of May Bank of Malaysia, also founded by a Tamil Chettiar, nationalized by the Malaysian govt one fine day since long? The Chettiars were prime lenders in the south east Asian nation and in neighbouring Singapore. Every single Hindu temple in this part of the world was/is funded and raised and maintained by them. Every single temple in Chennai at least was raised and maintained by the Senguntha Mudaliar community. We never have beaten breasts to proclaim how much we have lost. Much of our landed estate was donated to upkeep of Hindu temples.
Today, reservation is a raging issue in India. I can only say this: so long as we want to cherry-pick schools such as Vidya Mandir, PSBB etc., for our children, (in Chennai, for instance) and we do not want to enroll our kids in corporation schools, we have no moral rights to criticize reservation. An Indian kid is already a winner or loser depending on the school he/she attends. The unbridgeable gap stems as early as when the child is 3 years old. What the expensive elite schooling cannot give the poorest of this nation, Reservation tries to compensate with, addressing the issue of social injustice as fairly as it can.
Recommendations to higher offices and management quotas are equally if not more evil than reservation (as perceived by the forward communities).
You can see no brahmin/mudaliar/pillai/chettiar working as a scavenger or servant or barber etc., in the city/state. No blue collar labourer from this category. This must say something on their elevated status that has come from centuries of good living. This is why they do not need reservations and they will never go beneath their maintained subsistence levels. Whereas, can our housemaid, our milk man, our auto wala, our roadside tailor, our watchman, our day labourer ever hope or dare to dream of reaching our living standards in their/our own life time? Pity, they can never. They can never become our next door neighbours, not in this janam. My maid is my maid because she was born in such and such a family whose first literate is her son who is now studying for a degree? Is it not my duty to ensure that this family sees the light of the day in our own times?
Sorry, this is the God I know, this is the spirituality i have ingrained, and this is the justice that matters to me. If i have to sacrifice whatever for this, I will willingly.
EE VE RAA is a phenomenon that cannot be sullied by character assassinating him with references to his personal life. Are bachelor politicians mere bachelors or true brahmacharis. To put it straight, are they male virgins really? Someone’s private life cannot be matter for political discussion.
Very recently there was blasting of DMK for corruption: very much deserved, no doubt on that.
At the same time, from the Anna flyover to Kathipara flyover, from free medicals to pensions for govt teachers, from every single flyover in the city to landmarks such as Valluvar Kottam and the Anna library, largest in Asia, from the superspeciality hospital (that was originally built as new state secretariat), from laying foundation for Koyambed bus terminal (largest in Indian subcontinent)/fruit-vegetable market to Chennai Metro Rail (both inaugurated by JJ), every single street in the city bears the Karunanidhi name. Jayalalitha’s is inscribed only in the Nehru Stadium and Amma Canteen. Corrupt or whatever, functionality is more important to me over ‘vetti jambam.’ This is not to justify the wide scale corruption prevalent in Tamil Nadu/India. Administration and law and order were best under Jayalalitha Jayaram. I do miss her. But there was a lot she left undone, that she could have accomplished as the state CM that she was for a fourth term (or fifth) when she passed away…