The Tamil country stands tallest among all Indian regions that swallowed the missionary and colonial propaganda of the Aryan Invasion Theory in the closing decades of the 19th Century onwards. More specifically, sections of the Tamil country uncritically swallowed the “Dravidian” propaganda, internalized it, gave it an ideological shape premised basically on the linguistic separateness of Tamil.
As we’ve mentioned in an earlier essay, much of the material for this piece is derived from the body of work of Dr. B G L Swamy, a distinguished botanist who served as a Professor and Principal of the Presidency College, Madras from 1953-78. He was an eyewitness to and a participant of the various currents of the Dravidian movement that occurred during his time. He routinely engaged with contemporary Dravidian scholars, activists, and ideologues.
Whether one agrees with his observations and conclusions is a separate matter. What is indisputable is the fact his body of work is an important record of a relatively recent past whose story needs to be retold today and for posterity—in a way, to understand the contemporary currents and manifestations that are informed by events and episodes of the aforementioned vintage.
Journey of a Progressive Descent
The journey of the Dravidian ideology is a journey of progressive descent and comprehensive destruction of almost all facets of the original Tamil culture and heritage as we shall see. In general, what began as linguistic identity-separateness morphed into racial separatism, and eventually, today into Christian religious separatism. Not too different from the North East. While the Nawab of all-encompassing Cluelessness, Jawaharlal Nehru literally gifted this region to the Pedophile Padre, Verrier Elwin, Tamil Nadu proved a much harder nut to crack. The Church’s return on investment was truly, woefully, pathetic. But it did crack eventually. Like I never tire of repeating, the kiss of Christ is fatal to entire civilisations because it disarms you with the façade of love and compassion.
This alarming and pervasive power that the Church wields in Tamil Nadu is truly the victory of the missionary Bishop Robert Caldwell.
Bishop Robert Caldwell: The Christian Father of Dravidianism
Gloating about his successes in Bengal, Thomas Babbington Macaulay wrote thus to his father in 1836:
Our English schools are flourishing wonderfully… The effect of this education on the Hindoos is prodigious. No Hindoo, who has received an English education, ever remains sincerely attached to his religion… It is my firm belief that, if our plans of education are followed up, there will not be a single idolater among the respectable classes in Bengal thirty years hence…
Twenty years later, Bishop Robert Caldwell would publish his A Comparative Grammar of Dravidian or South-Indian family of Languages in which he holds that
The [Tamil] language being probably the earliest cultivated on the Dravidian idioms, the most copious and that which contains the largest portion and the richest variety of indubitably ancient forms…
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to claim that this among other glowing epithets about the language in his book on Tamil Grammar formed the bedrock of Tamil linguistic separatism, and gave the much-needed manure for the racist theories of Dravidian separatism to fully flower and to eventually capture political power.
In the realm of Dravidian ideology, Robert Caldwell is a demigod who has numerous busts and statues dedicated to him across Tamil Nadu. A postage stamp too, was issued in his honour by the Indian Government in 2010. In short, “thou shalt not subject Caldwell to critical scrutiny in Tamil Nadu.”
However, Caldwell’s book also contained these lines:
We seem to be justified in drawing the conclusion that the Dravidian languages have remained almost unaltered for the last two thousand years, but probably also that the principal dialects that now prevail had a separate existence at the commencement of the Christian era…
He further traces the beginnings of Tamil literature to not earlier than the 10th Century CE. Now, this posed an enormous problem for the Dravidian champions of those days because among other factors, this ideology chiefly rests on the antiquity of the Tamil language.
For instance, the Dravidian ideological scholar, M.S. Purnalingam Pillai dates the Third Sangam to a period between 1750 BCE and 100 CE while M. Srinivasa Aiyangar places it between 5th Century BCE and 6th Century CE. Still others date it variously from the 2nd Century BCE and the 1st Century CE.
Let’s see a real-life sample of how this worked during the ascent of Dravidian ideology in all realms of life in Tamil Nadu especially between the 1940s to the 1970s.
The Art of Making Things Disappear
Dr. BGL Swamy’s Kannada essay, Mangamaaya Kale (The Art of Making Things Disappear) narrates what transpired when the latter portion of Caldwell’s “justified conclusion” (mentioned earlier in this essay) was unearthed.
The following passage is my translated paraphrase of the original.
Caldwell’s book was first published in 1856. Its second edition saw light in 1857. It contained an elaborate preface (154 pages) in a book totaling 608 pages. In 1936, the Madras University published an abridged version of this book in which the preface was chopped off in several places. The Dravidianists are smart. If someone shows them evidence that goes against their current train of opinion, they ensure that such evidence vanishes completely. They have ensured that the first and second editions of Caldwell’s book have similarly vanished in order to protect the current and future generations of innocent Tamils from being corrupted.
After the abridged editions were published, all copies of Caldwell’s original have disappeared from our libraries. In the rare event that someone actually finds a copy of the original, the person finds that pages of the (original) preface in that copy have disappeared. In some libraries, the “unnecessary” pages of the said preface have been blackened with ink. I ordered a copy of the microfilm of Caldwell’s [first and second] editions from the British Museum library and showed the relevant portions to some Dravidian scholars. They claimed I had doctored the pages. But I didn’t let go. I wrote to the Museum officials and asked them to post the enlarged photos of the relevant pages directly to these scholars. Their response: “You’re very tough! You have managed to fool even the officials of the Museum!”
There’s an even deeper reason why Caldwell’s observations pushed later-day Dravidian champions into such a heightened state of panic.
P. Sundaram Pillai in his 1897 book, The Basic Element in Hindu Civilization claims that from a cultural standpoint, Tamil was “self-born” (sic) and never borrowed from nor was influenced by other cultures and languages. He claimed further that it was most definitely not influenced either by the Sanskrit language or what he claims is the “Aryan” art or culture. According to Pillai, everything in Tamil heritage that can be traced to Sanskrit and the Sanatana inheritance is an ignorant claim; Vedanta and Aryan culture are originally of Tamil or Dravidian origin, later appropriated by the evil Aryans. And then, in 1904, V Kanakasabhai wrote in his The Tamils Eighteen Hundred Years Ago that he had a “revelation” (sic) that the most ancient works in Tamil must have been composed more than 2000 years ago but failed to mention the evidence or the source of his revelation.
Needless, the commonality underscoring a thick corpus of such ideologically motivated scholars is the foundation provided by Bishop Robert Caldwell.
Dravidianizing Tamil Nadu’s Flora and Fauna
In fact, the Justice Party formed in 1917 shrewdly accepted this foundation as gospel truth and built its superstructure upon it.
The Dravidian identity, defined as all those people who were non-Brahmins, was another key element that emerged from the said foundation. Key Dravidian luminaries that propagated hostility against Brahmins included M.S. Purnalingam Pillai, N. Subba Rao, Swami Vedachalam (who later Tamilized his name as Maraimalai Adigal) and others. As the ideology gained momentum, achieved mass following, and eventually attained political power, almost every aspect of the state was “purified”—that is, Dravidianized, to borrow their ideological terminology.
Here is a small sample of the kind of topics for which PhDs were awarded at the university level, recounted by Dr. B G L Swamy.
- Boys in the Sangam Age
- Girls in the Sangam Age
- Children in the Sangam Age
- Infants in the Sangam Age
- The Sangam Age: Boys
- The Sangam Age: Girls
- If the Tamil language department published a thesis titled, “Tamils in the Sangam Age,” the history department’s counterpart thesis would be titled, “The Sangam Age: Tamils.”
- Twenty-two PhDs were awarded for the same topic, all of them reaching the same conclusion of fixing the date for Silappadikaram at the 2nd Century CE.
Dr. B G L Swamy narrates how a university official once approached him with a request to write an essay on “Tamil” plant life. This was to form part of the Tamil Nadu government’s ten-volume series depicting the “authentic” account of Tamil history. The first volume published in 1975 is entitled Tamizh Nadu Varalaru.
In response to Dr. Swamy’s claim that there’s no such thing as a “Telugu plant life,” “Kannada plant life” and “Tamil plant life,” the official replied, “So you mean to say there’s no unique Tamil plant life like there’s a unique, independent Tamil identity?” One can find scores of such real-life instances in Dr. Swamy’s body of work that illustrate the causes and consequences of an identity-centric and separatist ideology which captures political power.
Church as the Biggest Beneficiary of Dravidianism
The fact that 80 per cent of Tamil Nadu’s population is under the reservation umbrella is the direct outcome of the Dravidian ideology. This umbrella will only expand as long as this ideology gets an uninterrupted run.
Indeed, the biggest beneficiary of the Dravidian discourse has been theChurch. Over the years, it has shrewdly used the Aryan versus Dravidian, the Tamil versus non-Tamil, the Brahmin versus the non-Brahmin fault lines to steadily gain converts and foot soldiers. Therefore, when we notice today that an Ideological Iyengar like TM Krishna willingly becomes the Church’s useful idiot so easily, the roots and tentacles are here: long, deep, and generational.
According to the 2011 Census, Christians form 46.85 per cent in Kanyakumari, the highest in the state. Vast tracts of coastal Tamil Nadu are now Christian. Tamil Nadu also receives massive amounts of foreign funding via FCRA for Christian evangelical activity as Prof R. Vaidyanathan shows in a painstaking study.
The Church’s vise-like grip over Tamil Nadu —and in some cases, national—politics can also be observed in its destructive role in fuelling the Kudankulam protests in early 2012 by using its vast, opaque, and impenetrable global networks and front-NGOs. And more alarmingly, the recent ugly saga over shutting down the Sterlite Copper factory in Thootukudi has ripped the veil over the role of the Church in fomenting violence openly. In this particular case, it’s almost as if the Church has thrown this gauntlet to the Indian state: we will wage mini-wars across India at a place and time of our choosing.
Bishop Robert Caldwell would have been a happy man had he been alive today.
Indeed, the atavistic forces that Dravidianism has unleashed over nearly a century have inflicted untold harm: the much-promised “social justice,” freedom from oppression, “purity” of the Tamil language, and other such woolly niceties continue to elude the Tamil people simply because these lofty aims just weren’t meant to be to begin with. But whatever the social or other injustices suffered by sections of the Tamil society in the past, embracing Dravidianism has proven to be akin to using an axe to get rid of the boil on your palm. Equally, the quest for an illusory “pure” Dravidian or Tamil identity is like peeling layer after layer of an onion.
At the end, one is left with nothing but tears.