The writer T.R.Jawahar is Group Editor of Chennai-based News Today, Maalai Sudar and Talk Media publications.
It is said historians are like the deaf who answer questions not asked. The ‘authoritative’ nationalist history texts in vogue in academia and public domain are largely south-blind and north-centric.
But no matter, South scores and soars again. All through the period of the exalted dynasties and kings of the north, there ran parallel more accomplished rulers in the South. The Pandiyas, Cholas, Cheras and then Pallavas were great achievers in every kingly vocation: Conquests, law, governance, architecture, literature, art, culture and adventure.
All of them were great sea-farers, perhaps the pioneers, much ahead of the later Europeans who colonised the world. Tamil emperors conquered hundreds of islands and held absolute sway over the seas surrounding the Indian peninsula. And Tamil culture and language sailed as flagships of their marine expansionism. South-East Asia is littered with epigraphical and linguistic evidences of imperial Tamilians. The military exploits of these mighty sons of ‘Bharat’ soil however hardly find mention in our very nationalist ‘rewritten’ history texts. This despite a much touted ‘Look-East’ outreach in the external policy of the BJP regime.
The Pandiyas established the renowned Tamil Sangams, three in number. The first two were wiped out by tsunamis along with a bulk of the literature. The third survived to yield much of what is now regarded as ancient Tamil literature. But just as the Vedas, most of the earlier Sangam and other works like Tholkappiyam came down the ages through oral traditions and therefore are of greater antiquity. The northern scholars would have none of it and want proof. A historic hypocrisy, indeed.
Chola Karikalan’s kallanai is a dam built to tame Cauvery water for irrigation and domestic use. It remains to this day in its pristine form as an archaeological wonder, making an ingenious use of geology and geometry that confounds modern minds. Rajaraja Chola is considered the greatest monarch in Tamil history, not just for his vast empire and shrewd diplomacy, but for building the mind-boggling Brihadeeshwara Temple in Thanjavur, an engineering feat of unthinkable proportions. But rocks and ruins of much lesser vintage and value are elevated to lofty levels just because they happen to be in the right part of India.
Rajaraja’s son Rajendra went far north, humbled the Bengali kind Mahipala and brought water from the Ganges to sanctify the construction of a replica temple at a place aptly named Gangaikondacholapuram. Cheran Senguttuvan and many of this dynasty too had breached the Vindhyas and taken royal captives of the ancestors of the current jis. But such greats, greater than the greatest of the northern kings of all time, are deemed unworthy of even acknowledgement, let alone accolades. That would be a Himalayan hit-wicket.
The Pallavas were a class of their own. From Mahendra to Narasimha and successors, their dynasty that ruled much of TN for four centuries, before Cholas, is a glorious chapter, not just in empire building but the lasting and lingering art of sculpture. These kings were sculptors themselves who chiselled hallowed heritage out of hard stone for posterity. Mamallapuram that hosts most of their timeless works, was more than that: it was one of the greatest ports of India and Tamil poems and literature of those times provide immense details of the nature and extent of trade. Pallava Nandivarman 2 ruled for over 65 years, perhaps the longest ever by any Indian monarch. Such lengthy reigns were not just routine here but were also periods of phenomenal peace, prosperity and power. The Sangh Scholars’ much vaunted ‘Ramarajya’ was right under the northern nose, but they sternly refused to inhale this fresh, life-giving breeze.
The CBSE NCERT history book for Tenth Standard is an outrage against Tamilnadu. Not just the past heroes, but even the State’s stalwarts of the nationalist freedom movement against the British find very passing mention. Kattabomman and Marudhu brothers never existed. V O Chidambaram, the Tamilian who established a swadeshi shipping company to challenge the British, is marooned in our texts. The firebrand poet Bharathi has been doused. Muthuramalinga Thevar, Kumaran and Vaanjinathan are non-entities. And all of them along with lakhs of Tamilian freedom fighters always had the very ‘northern’, albeit nationalist, Vande Mataram on their lips.
Sadly, Dr Radhakrishnan who lived mostly in Madras, in his two volumes on the history of Indian philosophy, makes just casual references to Tamil works, particularly, Saiva Siddhantha, regarded by many western philosophers as one of the most profound expositions in philosophy. Even the Bhavan’s history texts devote a disproportionately low coverage to South Indian history. Such academic abominations are abundant.
Continuing archaeological findings in Keezhadi and about 300 sites south of Madurai, in Sivaganga district are turning up several evidences virtually every day that confirm long-held beliefs about Tamil history. There is clear proof of a sophisticated urban civilisation that thrived on the banks of Vaigai of the Sangam age Pandiyas. But the ASI is all secrecy. Even the artefacts discovered have been reportedly moved to Mysore. A sore issue indeed for many historians and archaeologists here as they suspect that the facts will become a victim of northern partisanship. Such is the air of suspicion that hovers over what should be a free and fair search for truth.
The sinister flashpoint was when the ASI officer K Amarnath Ramakrishna in charge of those excavations was suddenly shunted to Assam. Earlier, he was denied permission to deliver a series of lectures on Keezhadi in the US. Also, he was not allowed to file a final report, in Oct, ‘18. A furore ensued and the division bench of the Madras High Court, in March ‘19, directed the Central government to move him back to TN and continue the work.
The HC bench made a telling observation: ‘When the excavations are complete, the pride of Tamil people would be recognised worldwide. But we wonder why the central government is so adamant in the issue’.
Open and shut! Period.
Tailpiece: A paradox as it may be, it is the future that unfolds the past. Those who are seemingly adept at playing the politics of history must realise that in history there is never a last word!
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