Updated: November 4, 2019 8:43:55 pm
Two days ago, the Tamil Nadu BJP kicked up a controversy by tweeting a picture of the ancient Tamil saint Thiruvalluvar in a ‘Hindu’ style, replacing his usual white shawl with a saffron one, and adding Hindu symbols such as ‘vibhuti’ in the picture.
Depicting the Tamil poet in saffron robes invited criticism from Dravidian parties in the state, who attacked the BJP for attempting to saffronise Thiruvalluvar as part of its political agenda.
As the BJP faced the wrath of the Tamil, Dravidian, and Left parties, a statue of Thiruvalluvar at Pillaiyarpatti near Thanjavur was found desecrated on Monday. The statue was found smeared with cow dung, and blindfolded with black cloth.
Who was Thiruvalluvar?
Thiruvalluvar is fondly referred to as Valluvar by Tamils. His ‘Tirukkural’, a collection of 1,330 couplets (‘kurals’ in Tamil), are an essential part of every Tamil household — in the same way as, say, the Bhagavad Gita or the Ramayana are in traditional North Indian Hindu households.
Thiruvalluvar is revered as an ancient saint, poet, and a philosopher by Tamils, irrespective of their religion. He is an essential anchor for Tamils in tracing their cultural roots; Tamils are taught to learn his couplets word-for-word, and to follow his teachings in their day-to-day living.
Why were Tamil groups and parties agitated about the Tamil Nadu BJP’s tweet on November 1, Tamil Nadu Formation Day?
Ever since the RSS held its national council in March 2017 near Coimbatore, the Sangh Parivar has sought to use Tamil saints and icons in its political literature. The lack of popularity at the grassroots has been a major handicap for the RSS and BJP in the state, and the attempt to co-opt or appropriate Tamil saints and icons has been a part of its strategy to address this situation.
The picture of the saint that the BJP posed on Twitter on Friday had Thiruvalluvar wearing a saffron shawl instead of the usual white.
கற்றதனால் ஆய பயனென்கொல் வாலறிவன்
நற்றாள் தொழாஅர் எனின்
கடவுளை தூற்றி, இறைநம்பிக்கை கொண்டவர்களை பழிப்பவர்களுக்கு, அவர்கள் கற்ற கல்வியினால் என்ன பயன்?
அன்றே வள்ளுவர் சொன்னதை இன்று தி.கவும், திமுகவை நம்பி வாழும் கம்யூனிஸ்டுட்களும், அவர்கள் சார்ந்த ஊடகங்களும் அறிந்து தெளிய வேண்டும் pic.twitter.com/xBeXs9aXHa
— BJP Tamilnadu (@BJP4TamilNadu) November 2, 2019
The DMK alleged that the BJP had betrayed the saint, whose values and teachings go beyond caste and religion. However, BJP leaders argued that Thiruvalluvar was a Hindu saint, and that the Hindu symbols around his personality had been erased by the Dravidian parties over the years.
What makes Thiruvalluvar, who may have lived in the 5th century BC or earlier, significant today?
Following the recent excavations at Keeladi near Madurai, the Tamil Nadu state archaeological department has unearthed evidence that pushes back the history of the Sangam Era, or Tamilagam, by at least 300 years — from 300 BC to 600 BC. The findings at Keeladi have given Dravidian historians and politicians another weapon to assert their ancient past.
The controversy on the alleged saffronisation of Thiruvallauvar has happened in this context.
Keeladi had triggered heated arguments on social media between the supporters of Hindutva, and those backing the Dravidian view. While samples from Keeladi did not unearth any Hindu idols or goddesses — a fact that gave Dravidian groups a shot in the arm — Hindutva supporters on social media were seen insisting that there was evidence of ‘Hindu’ religion in Keeladi.
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