Dravidianism and the Tamil Family
Dravidianism did not just have to delegitimize the “other mother,” Bhārata Mātā it also had to ensure that flesh-and-blood Tamil-speaking mothers themselves did not pose a threat to the absolute devotion and loyalty owed to the sacralized language. This was a very complicated task, for motherhood was the ground on which both Indianism and Dravidianism constituted tamiḻppaṟṟu. Indeed, Dravidianism was not content with merely establishing similitude between language and one’s mother; more strikingly, it insisted that language is that mother:
When I was a child, you snuggled me and placed me on your lap; You placed flowers in my hair, and adorned me, and admired my beauty; You are the sweet mother who protected me, in the shade and in the heat; O my ancient Tamil! May you live long! (Ulakanathan 1969: 4)
Similarly, the well-known DMK rhetorician R. Nedunceliyan, who later became a key member of the government, insisted in 1960 that there was no difference between one’s mother and Tamil:
There is no distinction at all between our mother who bore us for ten months, gave birth to us, watched over us, sang lullabies to us, and fed us milk and guarded us, and our Tamil language which taught us about good conduct and tradition, and granted us good values and knowledge, and which is the very reason that we live well and in prosperity. We have the same attachment to our language as we have for our mother; we have the same devotion to our language as we have for our mother; we have the same love for our language as we have for our mother. He who disregards his language…is like he who disregards his mother and forsakes her.
Dravidianism may have invited speakers of Tamil to imagine it as their mother. At its most dramatic, however, it elevated Tamil to a position of absolute preeminence, even transcending the status and authority of one’s birth mother. For instance, the poet Pulavar Kulanthai declared passionately:
By extension, this kind of loyalty extended to fellow Tamil speakers as well, as is apparent from Bharatidasan’s much-cited declaration: “I will not leave alone the man who scorns the greatness of Tamilians / Even if [my] mother prevents me” (Bharatidasan 1958: 5, emphasis mine).
I will never refuse to obey my [own] mother's words; But if harm befalls my precious Tamiḻttāy, I will not fear to set aside my own mother’s words. I will chop off the head of [Tamiḻttāy’s] enemy, Even if [my] mother prevents me. (Pulavar Kulanthai 1972: 21)
Indeed, Dravidianism even insisted that service to Tamil and to Tamiḻttāy should take priority over the Tamilian’s family—over spouses, children, and parents. So Perunchitran demanded as late as 1975: “Are the troubles of your own mother more important than the terrible suffering of our glorious Tamiḻttāy? /…/ Are the words of your own mother sweeter than our Tamil language, which is like ambrosia?” (Perunchitranar 1979: 109).
Yet in thus subordinating the family to Tamil, Dravidianism only overtly and consciously articulated a sentiment that was widespread in the devotional community as a whole. As we will see later, in the life stories of individual devotees as these are narrated in memoirs and biographies, their families are typically superseded in favor of devotion to the Tamil cause. The family, which is a primary site for cultivating devotion to the language, is ultimately transcended within the regimes of tamiḻppaṟṟu. Such a transcendence is deemed necessary, for not even the family can—or can be allowed to—intervene between the devotee and his language.