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On Marina beach, Karunanidhi keeps date with Kannagi

Restoring the statue of the legendary heroine whose rage left the city of Madurai in ashes was one of the DMK’s election promises

Written by JAYA MENON | Chennai |
May 16, 2006 1:28:51 am

Even before assuming duty today, Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister M Karunanidhi rushed to keep a date. Without the usual official paraphernalia, he quietly entered the Chennai museum in the heart of the city and demanded to see ‘Kannagi’.

‘‘She was in a terrible state — dusty and even chipped in places. The Chief Minister appeared upset,’’ a close aide told The Indian Express. He then ordered that she be cleaned up immediately.

Among the early and many promises that the Tamil Nadu’s new Chief Minister would be keeping is to restore ‘Kannagi’, symbolising Tamil womanhood, to her rightful place on the picturesque Marina Beach front, another pride of the city. ‘Kannagi’ is the legendary heroine of the ancient Tamil literary work Silapathigaram and is seen as an enduring symbol of Tamil culture and chastity. Her statue, installed in 1968 during the DMK reign, under C N Annadurai, and which has been part of the city’s landscape, was removed in December 2001 by the AIADMK government, reportedly after warnings of doom by astrologers and ‘vaastu’ experts.

When the statue was removed, the local media had gone to town with reports that Jayalalithaa’s astrologers had warned her that if ‘Kannagi’, painted all black, holding an anklet in her left hand and her right hand pointing imperiously to the city, ‘demanding justice’, was not removed, then it could bring misfortune to her. Incidentally, the AIADMK chief, whose party registered a resounding victory in the 2001 Assembly election, had to step down as Chief Minister in September after being convicted in corruption cases. The doomsday predictions couldn’t have come at a worse time.

Overnight the statue disappeared from its pedestal. There were rumours that the statue had gone ‘missing’, and Karunanidhi even alleged that it had been converted into ‘a stepping stone’ at Jayalalithaa’s Poes Garden bungalow. The AIADMK government, headed by ‘temporary’ Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, claimed that the statue had been removed as its pedestal was damaged after a lorry rammed into it.

The government maintained that the statue at a traffic signal could cause accidents. But its removal triggered massive protests across the state and the government hurriedly announced an altern ative site for its re-installation, disclosing that the statue was at the city’s museum. ‘Kannagi’ continued torecline and gather dust in a museum god own all through Jayalalithaa’s rule.

One of the promises Karunanidhi made in the just concluded election was to restore the statue to its original spot. Even on the day election results were announced, he told the media that among the first things he would do was to put ‘Kannagi’ back in her old place.

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