Karunanidhi and 'Tamilness': Kalaingar’s literary, cultural legacy cannot be separated from his politics


Two phrases figured in virtually all of the tributes paid to M Karunanidhi within the days following his dying: ‘social justice’, and ‘Tamil literary fanatic’. This isn’t shocking. Karunanidhi took himself critically as a author and remained one until practically the very finish of his life. Fittingly, his grandson Aditya added a pen to his coffin.

Karunanidhi wrote virtually day by day for the DMK’s newspaper, Murasoli. His letters to his brothers-in-arms are legion. They have been workout routines in political communication: typically dense with info and argument, at different instances, rhetorical of their affirmation of political and cultural truisms. Additional they helped to represent a veritable Dravidian brotherhood, ostensibly no matter caste and creed; addressed each morning by their “elder brother” and chief, the celebration devoted have been assured of their place within the celebration and within the bigger world of politics.

He’s in fact greatest often called a author for the stage and movie. However his writings straddled a number of genres — poetry, quick fiction, historic and social novels, literary essays, pithy journalistic writings… In his youth he had acted as effectively. His musical information was profound. Not for nothing did the irrepressible MR Radha, certainly one of Tamil Nadu’s best actors and dramatists bestow on him the title, Kalaingar which might be variously translated as artist, man of letters, a lover of the humanities.

Karunanidhi’s writing was not incidental to his politics. Picture by way of Fb/@Kalaignar89

Karunanidhi’s writing was not incidental to his politics. His writerly character outlined his political selfhood in vital methods: for one, his literary and cultural texts, which have been mainly on the Sangam corpus of poems, have been celebrations of Tamil civilisational price. His capacity to attract on these poems, and to cite verbatim from them in the midst of a political or social speech, established him as a worthy heir of a previous that was not sullied by caste and brahminical Hinduism. His apparent relish in studying each historic and modern Tamil texts, and the alacrity with which he expressed this relish, marked him out as a mentor, an inspiring instance for fellow Tamils.

And he took his function as mentor critically: take into account for example the very useable cultural template that he put in place to allow Tamils to recognise and recall their previous. The template included the second century moral Jaina textual content, the Thirukural; poems of affection and valour from the Sangam corpus, which had no place for ‘varna’ and ‘jati’ divisions; and the Jain epic, Silappadikaram (The Story of an Anklet) which valourised the chaste spouse and the gifted courtesan in equal measure. Karunanidhi not solely quoted from these texts again and again, however throughout his first time period as Chief Minister, ensured that they lived on within the current in a visceral sense. Thiruvalluvar, creator of the Thirukural was iconised, in stone and print. He has been memorialised in Kanyakumari, at land’s finish. His purported likeness seems on all Tamil textbooks. A monument named after him and in-built an archaic model sits in the midst of Chennai metropolis. Quotations from the Kural have been – and are – featured in all buses run by the Tamil Nadu State Transport Company. Kannagi, the chaste spouse of the Silappadikaram has likewise been immortalised – she stands, a tall black statue, together with Tamil writers, leaders and epic characters, whose statutes dot the Chennai shoreline. An artwork gallery within the historic seaport of Poompuhar depicts scenes from the Silappadikaram.

One different important improvement on this context was the establishing of the Tamil Nadu Textbook Society — to render the Tamil language an efficient means of recent pedagogy and communication. Writing and translation initiatives have been commissioned on a sizeable scale and an enviable variety of books within the Tamil language, on numerous subjects, starting from atomic physics to psychology have been revealed. This was solely on Karunanidhi’s initiative, one thing that we have been reminded of, when over 200 books revealed within the 1970s and 1980s have been on show within the metropolis just lately.

The concept behind these initiatives, one may surmise, was to speak a way of ‘Tamilness’ – as a logo of social unity, and convey into horizontal comradeship individuals who, in any other case, have been divided alongside strains of caste, class, and religion. Tamil was thus ‘secularised’ in that to consciously establish oneself as a Tamil individual was to put claims to a selfhood that was freed from caste and all issues to do with the Aryan north.

Also see: As DMK chief Karunanidhi’s life slipped away, his supporters held on to hope and a prayer

Thus it was that generations of Tamil households selected to establish themselves in and thru linguistic markers. For example, a considerable variety of youngsters born into numerous non-Brahmin and Dalit communities within the heyday of the Dravidian motion, from the 1950s and effectively into the 1970s got ‘secular’ names – that’s, they weren’t named, as is the standard customized after tutelary or household deities, nor have been they given the names of their (caste) forbears. They have been named after the weather, birds and vegetation, characters in Sangam literature, or have been named after the Sangam poets. Many a baby acquired a Tamil prefix to its title – Tamilselvi, Tamilarasan and so forth. Curiously, the query of names was avidly mentioned by Periyar and his self-respecters as effectively – the choice to drop caste suffixes, and to undertake names like Russia or Mayday or Bernard Shaw, which signified progress and the trendy spirit have been essential points of that self-transformation that was underway in Tamil society from as early because the late 1920s.

The Tamilness, avidly expounded by Karunanidhi and communicated far and broad by his celebration didn’t and couldn’t tackle caste or gender inequality and discrimination in a substantive sense. Whereas Dalits enthusiastically embraced the concept of a common Tamil identification (and the DMK, at the very least within the 1950s and 1960s), they but needed to reckon with the violent play of caste of their on a regular basis lives; simply as how an unlimited sections of caste Hindus, who claimed Tamilness, remained certain to their caste selves. Ladies have been supplied restricted factors of entry to this common Tamilness: they might characteristic as wives, courtesans or as self-sacrificing sisters and moms. Most of the time, and that is evident in Karunanidhi’s writings as effectively, they have been objectified, willfully sexualised, and made to bear the burden of Tamil honour and identification.

However {that a} political chief and celebration tried to make a language bear the burden of taking away social inequity is a reality price pondering — maybe an indirect tribute to the creativeness. That is, maybe, why Karunanidhi’s literary and cultural legacy can’t be separated from his politics. Literature, somewhat his studying of choose Tamil texts from the lengthy centuries earlier than the trendy period, offered the rationale for his social justice and federal considerations. Literature additionally infused the demotic and energetic political mobilisation that his celebration achieved effectively into the 1970s with a measure of play and pleasure.

The legacy of this Tamilness lives on, and marks selfhood in elementary methods — as is obvious in all struggles that problem the overweening authority of the Union authorities. However it doesn’t at all times and persistently bear the burden of social justice.



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