Tamiḻttāy: Portrait of a Mother
Filial anxiety and concern lace the sentiments of affection, love, and admiration for Tamiḻttāy in the modality of somatics. Typically, she is featured as a once-glorious but now-endangered mother—frail, pitiful, and in desperate need of help from her sons: “O young Tamilians! What is the condition of our Tamiḻttāy today? She stands without jewels and gems; she has lost her radiance; her crown has vanished; her fragrance is gone; she stands dejected and in tears; she grieves in sorrow; she is emaciated” (S. Subramanian 1939: 1).
Both Indianism, in its struggle against English and British colonialism, and Dravidianism, in its battle against Hindi and North Indian imperialism, circulated various images of Tamiḻttāy as abandoned and desolate, the pitiful state of her body calling attention to the endangered state of Tamil. Consider the following poem by Bharatidasan, published in 1960:
O Tamiḻttāy, you struggle for life in an ocean of grief Grasping at the smallest stick, seizing it as if a giant raft! O Tamiḻttāy, buffeted around by fierce storms, you clutch at worms in the soil, as if at roots! O Tamiḻttāy, writhing in the scorching heat, You hurry to the stagnant pool as if to a waterfall.
Such images of a suffering Tamiḻttāy are also supplemented by allusions to her decaying, diseased body. Sivagnanam exhorted his listeners at an anti-Hindi rally held in Madras in 1948: “It is Tamiḻttāy who gave birth to us. When we were infants, it is in Tamil that we would have called out to our mothers, ammā,ammā. If such a loving mother’s face is scarred by pox marks, and if we have the strength to prevent this, do we stand by doing nothing?” Years earlier, in a public talk he gave to the Karanthai Tamil Sangam in 1927, Maraimalai Adigal, too, pleaded, “Do not allow the pox marks of Sanskrit to scar Tamiḻttāy’s fine body.” His plea was greeted with loud claps and cheers of “Long live Tamil! Long live pure Tamil! Long live Tamiḻttāy! Long live Maraimalai Adigal!” (M. Tirunavukarasu 1959: 527). The modality of somatics thus thrives on the patriarchal imagining of the woman-as-passive-victim, dependent on her male kin to protect, honor, and save her.