When even sandal turns scandal

In TN, Periyar is a touchy topic. One is supposed to touch upon the subject only in reverential tones, while even the slightest touch of a critique of him automatically evokes wild reactions. The long departed leader himself might have advocated rationalism as the touchstone of his ideology, whatever it is, but his legacy, fractured as it might be, holds him, pardon, Him, beyond reproach and rational inquiry. Now, we do not know if the ultimate rationalist in Periyar would be touched by this devotion of his progeny, but the people of TN can hardly claim to remain untouched by him even several years after his death. Little wonder that he is back in the news, resurrected for the n’th time, for being at the receiving end of, a touch ironically at that, a nocturnal pooja, with all the attendant wherewithal like sandal paste, kumkum, coconut, incense et al.

Yes, a few ‘miscreants’ in Dindigul had chosen to ‘worship’ Periyar with the aforementioned rituals in the dead of night and predictably, at the break of dawn all political hell broke loose. Even the worst critics of Periyar, would doubtless, agree that this was a tad too much and that those involved in this project were certainly not fans of the Thanthai, with their malicious intent flahsing like neon signs. Covering Periyar’s ‘Idol’ with sandal paste and such sundry items was meant to be an insult to his much touted tenets and so the ire of Periyarities at the ghastly sight of their icon resplendent in such pious exterior is understandable. But as always with anything concerning Periyar, the political frenzy that has followed and the contradictions that come to the fore during every such occasion, beg the attention of the rational mind, which surely is not the sole possession of the Periyarities, as they often claim.

Now, in TN’s prevailing political milieu, is a fair and objective assesment of Periyar, his pronouncements and his philosophy possible at all? Of course, the question arises whether such an exercise is worth the trouble but the problem is from politics to culture to society to identity, it is the bearded oracle who is oft invoked. Whether one likes it or not, Periyar has got or even been pushed under our skins, and he will likely stay put there, thanks to the competitive rationalism of his followers. Is it not then logical that one gets to know the pros and cons of his ideas and ideology?

While rationalism, self-respect, atheism and anti-brahminism were known signposts of Periyar, there are a host of issues on which he had enunciated his luminous thoughts. Of course, this space is too small to bundle all of his ‘wisdom’ into, but it would suffice to say that a detailed reading of his works would reveal a man, who was irrepresible to the point of indiscretion, a man who could fire any which way without mincing words even if it meant scoring self-goals. Really, he never appeared serious about many of his own utterances, back tracking with impunity and nonchalantly contradicting himself often, though many such words of his are now deemed inviolable gospel. That much of Periyar’s words remain unquoted by even his own followers is a telling commentary on not just the man’s trenchant vocabulary, but also of the boomerangs it would unleash. His pearls of wisdom on culture, chastity, adultery, promiscuity and what not are sure to stand the rantings of the current self-styled moral polices owing allegience to him on their heads!

If his harangues were unpalatable even to his own admirers, his methods smacked of outright recklessness and gross insensitivity. Periyar, whatever his virtues, was not certainly given to niceties and courtesies. Those who now cry hoarse over the ‘desecrtation of his statue’, seemed to have forgotten the treatment he himself administered to the Idols of the Hindu pantheon, paying scant regard to the sentiments of the believing ‘Tamilians’. Sandal paste may be sacrilegious toPeriyar, but the garland of sandals that he often adorned Rama and Ganesa with, bespoke his own proclivities. That a man who made a career out of breaking idols of the Absolute should be the absolute idol of his idling hordes is the real rational punch. If sandal paste and incense are blasphemous for him now, so are the copious garlands that he receives from his ‘idolators’ at least twice a year! And in any case, Tamils, of whom he is the Thanthai, still deem sandal paste holier than chappals, that Periyar found much use for, in his irreligious discourses and deeds.

His politics were a class apart. The entire dravidian movement of the last fifty years is woven around this one man. Dead or alive, he is worth gold for the dravidian politicians, simply for the perceived clout that he commanded, though this was never tested electorally. Periyar himself, by his own admission was no great believer in electoral democracy, an abstinence that came in handy to retain his halo. Of course, no one dare suggest that Periyar’s electoral reticence was cowardice. For that matter, few would bother to recall his deep felt affinity for British rule. Much politics, then and now, also happens around the Tamil identity that he is alleged to have fostered. Dig deeper into his writings, and we will know that this Tamil identity not only excluded the now familiar ‘Aryan’ Brahmins, but also Muslims and Christians!

And was he successful, in the final analysis? Here are some rational bits for the rationalists to ponder over. After 75 years of Periyarisms, TN remains the most religious state, with maximum attendance in temples, in blatant defiance of Periyar’s diktats. Do these teeming multitudes cease to be Tamilians, as allegiance to Periyar’s views has been declared the test of Tamil identity? Again, while atheists are hardly visible, most of his followers are pseudo atheists, pompous preachers on the streets, but pious practitioners at home. Political expediency passes for rationalism, while taking good care of one’s self and family is self-respect. And the much hyped dominance of ‘that particular community’ that Periyar made the cutting edge of his social agenda? Aah, one has only to see how social justice is flourishing in Pappapatti and Keeripatti, with absolutely no contribution by ‘that particular community’. Periyar’s dravida nadu is now a caste cauldron overflowing with social injustice with no ‘Aryans’ kindling it or ‘Arya’maya sustaining it!

Alas, how un-Tamil Tamilnadu has become! Not certainly the best of times for rationalists … nor for ‘their’ god! Are sandal pastes and the like worse than this reality? Well, whatever, the people of TN will do well to come to terms with their ‘Thanthai’, in whose name the State is being run!

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Jawahar T R