Wednesday, May 31, 2023

After Kashi Tamil Sangamam, a Union govt project exploring Saurashtra-Madurai links

After TN, where BJP has so far failed to make a mark, the Sangamam organisers plan to move to other corners of the country where the party's influence is minimal

Saurashtra Madurai linksThe cultural route now seems to be a bid by the party to expand its footprint in such corners of the country where its influence remains minimal, helped generously by the Sangh Parivar. (Representative/Express Photo)
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After Kashi Tamil Sangamam, a Union govt project exploring Saurashtra-Madurai links
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Close on the heels of the month-long Kashi Tamil Sangamam, organised in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency of Varanasi in December last year, comes another sangamam – this time connecting his home state of Gujarat with Tamil Nadu. The 10-day Saurashtra Tamil Sangamam aims to showcase the “age-old ties” between the two states.

While the BJP has been in power in Gujarat continuously now for 27 years, it has failed to make an impression in Tamil Nadu, and is right now hoping its close ties with the AIADMK will rub off on it.

The cultural route now seems to be a bid by the party to expand its footprint in such corners of the country where its influence remains minimal, helped generously by the Sangh Parivar.

As part of the Saurashtra Tamil Sangamam, between April 17 and 26, around 3,000 people from Tamil Nadu – mostly youngsters – will be taken to Gujarat on an all-expenses-paid trip, including a “cultural exchange programme”. They will visit cultural and religious places such as the Somnath temple and Dwarka, and the Prime Minister’s pet project – the Statue of Unity in Kevadia.

As per educationist Chamu Krishna Shastry, chairman of the Bharatiya Bhasha Samiti under the Ministry of Education, which had proposed the earlier sangamam, the Somnath temple connects the people of Gujarat’s Saurashtra region with Tamil Nadu. “Almost 1,000 years ago, when the Somnath temple was attacked several times by the Mahmud of Ghazni and there were forced conversions, many people from the area fled to adjacent states,” Shastry says, adding that such migration continued over the next 200-300 years, with many of them settling all the way out in Tamil Nadu, particularly in and around Madurai.

Currently, there are over 12 lakh such people with roots in Saurashtra, spread over 12 districts of Tamil Nadu, particularly Madurai, Kumbakonam and Salem. The BJP’s calculation is the lingering attachment of this section to what they left behind in Gujarat several hundred years so. “They may have mingled with the local population and be no less Tamil, but they have retained some rituals and traditions, even language, from their home state. This is the connect we want to highlight and celebrate,” Shastry says.

The first edition of the initiative — the Kashi Tamil Sangamam — had celebrated the historical and civilisational connection between India’s North and South. For devotees of Lord Shiva who could not visit Kashi, the Sangamam highlighted the Pandya kings of Tamil region who had built the Kasi Viswanathar Temple in southwestern Tamil Nadu, close to the state’s border with Kerala.


Some 2,400 people from Tamil Nadu were brought to Varanasi in groups for visits that lasted eight days and included, besides an immersive local experience, trips to Ayodhya and Prayagraj.

The success and resonance of the first event led the BJP to conceptualise the second one, this time with the Gujarat government’s support. Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya, who belongs to Gujarat, is the nodal minister for the event, while the Sangamam itinerary has been planned by tthe National Institute of Technology, Tiruchirappalli, and Saurashtra University in Rajkot. A note on the website links the Saurashtra Tamil Sangamam to the government’s larger Ek Bharat, Shreshtha Bharat’ initiative.

“At the end of the Sangamam, people from Tamil Nadu shall get an immersive experience of Gujarat and the people of Gujarat shall also get to know the cultural richness of Tamil Nadu, especially about Saurashtra Tamils through a healthy exchange of knowledge-sharing experiences through events, visits, conversations, etc,” the note adds.


Shastry says the idea of these sangamams is to highlight what should have been part of history books for children. “We are only taught about divisive thought and activity, and not about our inclusive culture,” he says. “There was a deliberate attempt to weaken the country using the north-south divide, to instigate one state against the other.”

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While the next sangamam has not been planned or finalised yet, but there will be more over the next few months. Organisers say under consideration is a Tamil-Ayodhya Sangamam, since there is a town in the state called Ayodhyapattanam, corresponding to Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh, the birthplace of Lord Rama. After he conquered Lanka and returned to India, this is where Lord Rama and his contingent are supposed to have stayed before returning to Ayodhya.

First published on: 01-04-2023 at 14:41 IST
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