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5. To Die For

Living for Language

It was the year 1887 in Madras city. After more than six years of laboring over the palm-leaf manuscript of the ancient epic poem Cīvaka Cintāmaṇi, Swaminatha Aiyar had just handed over the final sections of the text to his printer. For the past few years, his entire life had been wrapped up in the Cintāmaṇi: he woke up thinking about it and stayed up late into the night, deciphering and transcribing archaic words. His fingers were sore from turning over the brittle leaves of the manuscript, and his eyes ached from going over proofs by the dim light of oil lamps. He had spent most of his summer and winter vacations, and all other days he could steal from his teaching responsibilities, travelling back and forth between the printer’s workshop, in Madras city, and his college and home, far south in Kumbakonam. There had been moments of great anxiety when he had been convulsed with fear he would run out of money, that the press would burn down, or that malcontents would tamper with his proofs. But all that was now in the past. He had seen the work through to its final printed form. It was only then, after all those years of laboring day and night, that he allowed himself the luxury of succumbing to his tiredness. He was still at the printer’s. He laid himself down, right there and then on the floor, and slept deeply and happily. When he woke up, he saw a man standing before him. “Here, sir, is the Pattuppāṭṭu,” the man said, and handed over to Swaminathan another palm-leaf manuscript. He thought, “Tamiḻaṉṉai [Tamiḻttāy] herself has sent [this man], commanding me to go on with my service to Tamil,” and he addressed her: “O mother! You have (re)adorned yourself with the Cintāmaṇi that I, your poor devotee, gave back to you. Continue to offer me grace, so that I, your servant, can go on with my work of recovering all your other jewels.” So saying, he reverenced Tamiḻttāy with all his heart, and continued, he tells us, for the rest of his life trying to fulfill her wishes (Swaminatha Aiyar 1982: 612-13).

As this incident illustrates so well, the heart and soul of the practice of Tamil devotion are the deeply personal bonds of reverence, affection, and passion that tie the devout to the language, bonds that are only further reaffirmed in the stories that its devotees tell about themselves and each other. Indeed, if praise poems are one of the means through which a community of sentiment tying its devotees to Tamil is constituted, then stories that recount the hardships they faced, the resistances they encountered, and their success in overcoming these difficulties to triumph in their tamiḻppaṟṟu are another. In many such stories, her devotees speak directly to their Tamiḻttāy, complain about the numerous woes that beset them, and beseech her to grant them grace. She, too, talks with them, recalls the many afflictions that trouble her, and pleads with them to meliorate her condition. In all such accounts, the language is not an impersonal, abstract, distant entity. Instead, it is imagined as a concerned, deeply involved participant in the lives of its speakers, an intimate member of their families. So in 1942, on the eve of the Japanese invasion of Singapore, S. B. Adithan, who had a flourishing law practice there, was torn between staying on or returning to Tamilnadu. He wrote down the words “Stay on in Singapore” and “Return to Tamilnadu” on two chits, folded these up, and then picked out the one which commanded him to return home. “Adithan[ar] should return to his motherland, and serve Tamilnadu, the Tamil people, and Tamil: this was Tamiḻttāy’s will,” his biographer concludes (Kuppusami 1969: 11). Tamiḻttāy could also exercise her will to bring her straying “children” back to the fold. In the 1930s, K. Appadurai, a comparatively late convert to tamiḻppaṟṟu, was involved in an activity that amounted to cardinal sin in the eyes of most devotees of Tamil: the teaching of Hindi. During these years, he also lost his father and his (first) wife, as well as fracturing his leg and spending months in the hospital. “This was the punishment that Tamiḻttāy herself gave [Appadurai] for laboring for Hindi,” his fellow devotees concluded. After this, he dedicated himself totally to Tamil, we are told (Mamani 1992: 49).[1]

It is a measure of the intimacy between the language and its devotees that their births are imagined as Tamiḻttāy’s gift and blessing; their deaths, her loss. Many recall that it is their tamiḻppaṟṟu that carried them through critical periods of their life, helping them overcome hunger and poverty, humiliation and rejection, illness and suffering. The poet Mudiyarasan spent most of his life as a poorly paid Tamil schoolteacher. Yet he notes with pride, “As long as I have Tamil in my heart, I am not poor” (Mudiyarasan n.d.: 101). Similarly, Sivagnanam writes that plagued by a terrible stomach ulcer, he carried on his daily life in a state of acute pain. Indeed, he even thought of committing suicide. “What prevented me from doing so was the deep devotion I had for Tamil, and the great desire I had for realizing a new Tamil land” (Sivagnanam 1974: 774-75). In all such stories, Tamil’s devotees refer to each other by titles which remind one and all of the intimate bonds with their beloved language. Thus Maraimalai Adigal is tamiḻk kaṭal, “ocean of Tamil,” or tamiḻmalai, “mountain of Tamil” Viswanatham is muttamiḻk kāvalar, “guardian of the three Tamil(s)” Kalyanasundaram is tamiḻt teṉṟal, “southern Tamil breeze” and Umamakeswaram (1883-1941) is tamiḻavēḷ, “great Tamil hero,” to name just a few. Even as such epithets bestowed a mantle of honor generally reserved for sovereigns, deities, and other notables on Tamil’s devout, they also suggest that these individuals attained meaning only in relation to Tamil.

This is also suggested by many devotees’ desire to confer upon themselves and their children names that invoke Tamil and its literature. Sivagnanam named his daughter Kannagi, because she was born after he had immersed himself in the study of the Cilappatikāram. “After the Tamil language, I have the deepest devotion to my daughter Kannagi,” he writes. If we do not even have Tamil names for ourselves, how will we make Tamil proud? he demands of his readers (Sivagnanam 1974: 775-76). Similarly, Ilakuvan, who Tamilized his given Sanskritic name, states: “They may ask what’s in a name. One’s name is everything. Tamilians should only bear Tamil names. Those who refuse this cannot be devotees of Tamil” (Ilakuvanar 1971: 4). Today, of course, many Tamil speakers, and not just those overtly devoted to the language, bear personal names containing the word “Tamil,” such as Tamilcelvi, “daughter of Tamil” Tamilanban, “lover of Tamil” Tamilarasi, “Queen Tamil” even Tamilpitthan, “mad about Tamil.”

The stories that circulate in the devotional community also dwell on the numerous small but by no means insignificant ways in which devotees lived out, on an everyday basis, their love for their language. In the 1930s, Sivagnanam, who hailed from a very poor family and whose formal education ended in the primary school, collected all the Tamil books that he could lay his hands on and ran a Tamiḻttāy Library in Madras city, so that even the working-class community in which he lived could have access to the wealth of Tamil (Sivagnanam 1974: 116-17). In the late 1930s and early 1940s, when the demand for an independent Tamilnadu surfaced, the poet Pulavar Kulanthai printed the words “Tamilnadu for Tamilians” on the borders of saris and towels, and distributed these all over the Presidency (Pulavar Kulanthai 1971: 58). Somasundara Bharati named his newly built house (in his home town of Ettaiyapuram) Tamiḻakam, “Abode of Tamil” (Sambasivanar and Ilankumaran 1960: 84). Although not particularly affluent herself, Dharmambal, who played a leading role in the anti-Hindi protests of the 1930s, donated her family home to the Karanthai Tamil Sangam (K. Tirunavukarasu 1991: 208). Umamakeswaram Pillai, for many years the president of Karanthai Tamil Sangam, at his own expense printed and distributed among the general populace copies of Sundaram Pillai’s signature hymn on Tamiḻttāy (Sambasivanar 1974: 35). And V. V. Ramasami, who was editor of the literary magazine Teṉṟal and a member of the Madras Legislative Council in the 1950s, began all his letters with the phrase tamiḻ velka!, “may Tamil be victorious.”[2]

These are just a few incidents from the many stories that Tamil’s devotees tell about each other. These narratives undoubtedly labor under the weight of despair that its enthusiasts experienced on behalf of their ailing language/mother. In the interstices of this rhetoric of decline and dismay, however, lurks the absolute joy or wonder that fills its devotees when they chanced upon the sweet sounds of Tamil, in song or word; when they had the good fortune of meeting a fellow devout; when they saw some sign, however small, that their beloved language was flourishing. Indeed, it is telling that in these stories, Tamil’s triumphs are experienced as personal victories, just as its defeats are narrated as personal failures. Such stories obviously reaffirm the intimacy of the bonds with Tamil that manifests itself in every sphere of its devotees’ lives. They also simultaneously keep alive the memory of Tamil’s devotees in their community; for had not Bharatidasan insisted passionately, again and again, that there is no death for the true follower of Tamil (Bharatidasan 1958: 22)?[3] But above all, such stories transform, through various narrative strategies, certain individuals into paragons of Tamil devotion and paradigmatic Tamilians whose lives are worthy of emulation by all good and loyal speakers of the language. These stories are therefore the sites for the production of what I characterize as the devotional subject, whose self merges into the imagined self of Tamil, whose life experiences are subordinated to the superior cause of the language, and whose story is the story of Tamil.

There are many models of devotional subjectivity that are produced by these stories. Because the unmarked Tamil devotee is always a male who is not Brahman, and who claims Tamil as his “mother tongue,” I begin by exploring the stories of those who do not fall into this category: the stories therefore of the Tamil enthusiast who is woman, who is European missionary, and who is Brahman. I then turn to the stories of the model devotee who is poet and scholar, the devotee who is publicist and patron, the warrior devotee, and the devotee who becomes martyr to the Tamil cause. I close with the story of a man who all his life resisted being drawn into the devotional community, but nevertheless is enshrined, through the inexorable logic of tamiḻppaṟṟu, as a paradigmatic tamiḻaṉpar, “Tamil devotee.”

The Woman Devotee

From the time of Vedanayakam Pillai’s 1879 novel Piratāpa Mutaliyār Carittiram through Bharatidasan’s numerous plays in the 1940s and 1950s, to Mudiyarasan’s 1964 epic poem Pūnḳoṭi, the Tamil reading public has been offered the image of the ideal Tamil woman as an enthusiastic devotee of Tamil. It is Vedanayakam’s spirited heroine, Gnanambal, rather than the hero of his novel, who mounts a fiery attack on the infatuation with English among lawyers of her time, producing in that process one of the earliest passionate eulogies of Tamil in devotional discourses (Vedanayakam Pillai 1879: 279-90). In a radical departure, Mudiyarasan’s heroine Poonkodi even rejects marriage and motherhood, dedicating her entire life to the service of Tamil. Mudiyarasan yearned to see a woman who gave herself up to the Tamil cause, like Manimekhalai, the nun who dedicated her life to Buddhism in the ancient epic poem Maṇimēkalai (Mudiyarasan n.d.: 94-95). Like Manimekhalai, Poonkodi, too, spurns a life of pleasure and comfort, refuses to marry her ardent suitor Komagan, immerses herself in a passionate pursuit of Tamil learning, and even goes to prison to save her beloved language from its enemies. On her deathbed in prison, Tamiḻttāy appears to her in a vision, praises her for her services, and offers her blessings to her selfless daughter (Mudiyarasan 1964).

Mudiyarasan’s image of the woman devotee who is not wife and mother is comparatively rare in (male) devotional discourses. In general, as custodians of Tamil, women are celebrated less for their achievements in their own right as poets, authors, or thinkers, and more for their role as the heroic mothers (vīrattāy) of Tamiḻttāy’s children, especially her sons (Ramaswamy 1992a; see also Anandhi 1991b; Lakshmi 1990). In the writings of Tamil’s devotees, the Tamil-speaking woman is recast as a surrogate Tamiḻttāy. So M. Kathiresan Chettiar (1881-1953), professor of Tamil at Annamalai University, introduced Tamiḻttāy to his readers thus: “Who is Tamiḻ Aṉṉai [Tamiḻttāy]? Our mothers, too, are Tamiḻ Aṉṉai. All mothers who speak Tamil are Tamiḻ Aṉṉai…[at the same time], the Mother who instructs all the mothers of the world in speech and is the very embodiment of the sweetness that we call ‘Tamil’—she is the person we call Tamiḻ Aṉṉai” (Kathiresan Chettiar 1959-60: 169).

Here, as in numerous other instances, the Tamil woman perforce came to be figured as the visible and substantial presence of intangible abstractions—the language, and the community imagined around it. As the living embodiment of Tamil, she is charged with the responsibility of reproducing (literally, as well as metaphorically) Tamil society and culture, most especially the language. Modelled on the “new woman” who emerged in middle-class imaginations everywhere in colonial India, she is appropriately educated to run a neat, disciplined, and efficient home where she nourishes her children on her pure Tamil milk, raising them to be heroic sons who would willingly go into the world to work for Tamil’s welfare and fertile daughters who would become good, educated mothers themselves. Devotional writings spur women on to embrace this vision by dredging up images of the heroic mother of the Canḳam poems, who rejoices on the day she learned that the son whom her womb had given birth to, and her milk had nourished, now lay dead on the battlefield, having fought honorably for lord and land—and by extension, of course, for his language (Bharati 1988: 318-20; Nilambikai 1960: 82-91; M. Raghava Aiyangar 1986; C. S. Subramaniam 1986: 397-99).[4]

Its female devotees did not reject either the motherhood of Tamil or their own in their writings. On the contrary, rather than seeing motherhood as “a strategy of containment,” as some feminist scholars are wont to do today (Visweswaran 1990: 66; see also Lakshmi 1990), Tamiḻttāy’s daughters saw it as an opportunity for self-empowerment. They pursued this opportunity through appropriating the figure of Tamiḻttāy, even though such an appropriation necessarily took place in the crevices of the patriarchal structures that were relegitimized by tamiḻppaṟṟu itself. Almost without exception, its female devotees maintained that because Tamil is woman and mother, they, as women and mothers, have a better understanding of Tamiḻttāy’s plight and needs. They insisted that women ought not to just passively participate in Tamil devotional activities initiated by men, but ought to lead and march ahead of them (Ramaswamy 1992a: 46-48). Although such an empowerment was necessarily premised on the essentializing of the woman as mother, in this deployment of Tamiḻttāy her female devotees replaced the docile mothers of male devotional discourses, who are followers, with mothers who are leaders.

In a recent essay, Janaki Nair rightly notes: “the question of female agency in history, whether that agency takes the form of consent, transgression, or subversion, can neither be wholly contained within a delineation of structures of oppression nor exhausted by accounts of female presence in history, but must be posed within specific contexts and placed along a continuum where various forms of agency may coexist” (Nair 1994: 83). And indeed, in the stories of women devotees that are circulated within the devotional community, there is a continuum which ranges from Nilambikai’s conservative advocacy of women’s responsibility in educating their children to Thamaraikanni’s spirited call for militant warriors to battle for the Tamil cause. And in the stories of those women who during the anti-Hindi protests of the 1930s and 1940s took to the streets, organized protest marches and conferences, and even went to prison, the radical female devotee resembles the male, as she transgresses the function of the domestic paragon that has been assigned to her. These stories, even when we hear them through male voices, remind us that these women contested and subverted the patriarchal demands of tamiḻppaṟṟu, while simultaneously appearing to give their consent to the confinement to marriage and motherhood that it demanded (Ramaswamy 1992a).

Nilambikai has been described in the biography written by her brother as a woman who came into this world solely for the purpose of serving Tamil: “she embodies tamiḻppaṟṟu; her life is the life of Tamil; she cannot be pried apart from Tamil” (M. Tirunavukarasu 1945: 50). Born in 1903, Nilambikai’s life and future as a Tamil devotee was overdetermined. The favorite daughter of Maraimalai Adigal, she was raised on the shoulders and laps of other well-known devotees such as Arasan Shanmugan (1868-1915) and Pandithurai Thevar (1867-1911), who were her father’s friends and patrons. Her father appears to have taken great pride in her love for Tamil, even making her memorize, when she was thirteen, one of his essays on the duties of motherhood, which she publicly recited at a scholarly meeting in Madras. So impressed was he with his young daughter, her brother tells us, that Maraimalai Adigal declared passionately one day, “Nila’s face resembles that of Shelley and Shakespeare and other great savants” (M. Tirunavukarasu 1945: 8-12).

In the devotional community, Nilambikai occupies a special niche for her role in spurring her famous father into launching his pure Tamil movement in 1916. Her brother recalls that Nilambikai bestowed pure Tamil names upon her siblings, and would use only those; she would speak and write as far as possible in pure Tamil; and she would correct anyone who used a foreign word when-speaking in Tamil (M. Tirunavukarasu 1945: 14-15). Soon after, in 1918, when she turned sixteen, Nilambikai met the twenty-eight-year-old Tiruvarangam Pillai (1890-1944), who a few years later was to set up the famous Shaiva Siddhanta Kazhagam. Her brother remembers that his entire family had come to see Tiruvarangam as a godlike figure, their father’s savior and patron. It is perhaps not surprising that young Nilambikai fell in love with him, although she was not allowed to marry him for almost ten years (M. Tirunavukarasu 1945: 21-35).

Intertwined though her life may have been with those of these famous devotees, Nilambikai nevertheless strived to serve Tamil on her own as well. By the time she was in her early twenties, she had published numerous essays on the virtues of taṉittamiḻ in the face of considerable opposition to the pure Tamil movement (Nilambikai 1960).[5] She followed this up in 1937 with a dictionary, the first of its kind, which demonstrated the existence of pure Tamil equivalents for seven thousand Sanskrit words that had swamped Tamil (Nilambikai 1952). She also taught Tamil in girls’ schools; spoke at various Shaiva conferences; and wrote extensively on the revival of Tamil, the spread of Shaivism, and the improvement of women. By all accounts, she was alarmed by what she saw as an absence of interest in Tamil among its female speakers, a concern that she voiced especially strongly in her inaugural address to the Tamilnadu Women’s Conference summoned in November 1938 to register Tamil women’s protest against Hindi.[6] Of course, Nilambikai’s vision for how women should help their language fell within the parameters of middle-class motherhood. They should establish taṉittamiḻ women’s colleges and bookstores, encourage widow education, and become Tamil teachers. But such public services should never compromise their primary function as educated homemakers who raised their children to be well-read, disciplined, and pure Tamil speakers (Nilambikai n.d.). She wrote and spoke ardently on such matters in spite of poor health, and in spite of having to take care of her own eight children. At least by her brother’s account, she took great pride in her own motherhood, raising her children to be devout Shaivites and Tamil speakers (M. Tirunavukarasu 1945: 38-43). But it is hard to deny that the birth of eleven children over a period of about fifteen years must have taken its toll on her health, and she was only forty-three when she died in 1945, a year after her beloved husband and fellow devotee had passed on.

At the 1938 Tamilnadu Women’s Conference which Nilambikai addressed, another woman spoke with great passion about the need for Tamil women to “rise up in anger” and step forth to help their ailing mother, Tamiḻttāy. Her name was V. P. Thamaraikanni (1911-71). Named Jalajatchi at birth, she was raised in a family of musicians and patrons of Tamil, and later Tamilized her given (Sanskritic) name. An author of many essays and novels, she did not get actively involved in politics, because both her father and husband were government employees (Lakshmi 1984: 77-78; Rajagopalan 1989: 5-7). By the late 1930s, however, she aligned herself with Ramasami’s Self-Respect movement and was a key speaker at many anti-Hindi conferences organized in Madras, Salem, Velur, Nagapattinam, and elsewhere. In 1938, she also published a short story called “Punitavati Allatu Tamiḻar Viṭutalaip Pōr” (Punithavathi, or the Tamilian fight for freedom), which features a heroine, Punithavathi, who forsook her husband and her young daughter to help Tamiḻttāy, and was arrested in this process (Ramaswamy 1992a: 53-56). Thamaraikanni’s spirited heroine asks, “What is the use of wealth, of freedom, and of human relationships, when I can be in the front ranks of those who serve Tamiḻttāy?” (Thamaraikanni 1938: 21).

Thamaraikanni herself did not go to prison on behalf of her beloved language. But many other women did, following her impassioned speech at the November conference. This was the first time women—anywhere in the world, by some reckoning—had ever taken to the streets to battle on behalf of their “mother tongue,” it is proudly claimed. By February 1939, the battle against Hindi had intensified, and official figures show that thirty six women, nine of them described as “ladies with children,” were arrested and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment; these figures almost doubled over the next few months (Ramaswamy 1992a: 56-57). Prison records show that many of the women had distinctly Tamil names; their ages ranged from eighteen to seventy; they were mostly illiterate and unemployed, and hailed from different parts of the Presidency. Devotional stories collapse their individuality into a larger narrative of Tamil devotion. Many of them are identified as daughters, wives, or daughters in law of well-known (male) anti-Hindi activists; as mothers, many of whom went to prison with their infant children; and as women who took pride in informing their sentencing judges that they were protesting against Hindi for the sake of their language and for the future of their children (Ilanceliyan 1986: 143-48).[7]

Two of these women stand out. One of them is “Doctor” Dharmambal (1890-1959), who was honored in 1951 with the title vīrat tamiḻaṉṉai, “heroic Tamil mother,” for her various services to Tamil and to women’s causes. Born in the small town of Karuntattankudi near Tanjavur, Dharmambal learned Tamil from Tamil scholars like Panditai Narayani Ammal when she moved to Madras. Prior to her involvement in the anti-Hindi movement, she had already made a reputation for herself as an activist concerned with women’s issues, especially education, and as a practitioner of siddha medicine (hence her title “doctor”). In addition to leading the anti-Hindi women’s protests in Madras in November 1938, she was also actively involved in the demands for better remuneration for Tamil teachers, and she spearheaded the Māṇavar Maṉṟam (Student’s Association) which cultivated tamiḻppaṟṟu among the city’s Tamil-speaking youth. Along with Dharmambal, two of her daughters in law, Saraswati and Sita, were arrested for participating in the protests against Hindi (K. Tirunavukarasu 1991: 200-213).

And then there was Ramamirtham (1883-1962), a native of the small village of Moovalur near Tanjavur, who was raised in a devadasi (temple dancer) family. With no formal education, much of Ramamirtham’s life, prior to her involvement in the anti-Hindi cause, had been devoted to the abolition of the devadasi system. In 1921, she joined the Congress and allied herself with its radical faction headed by Ramasami. When the latter quit the Congress in 1925-26, she followed him, became a member of his Self-Respect movement, and continued her struggle for various women’s causes, encouraged by Ramasami’s own radical ideas on the subject (Anandhi 1991a: 741-42). Although there is little to indicate that she joined the anti-Hindi movement because she was a devotee of Tamil, she certainly threw herself into it with great enthusiasm, even though she was in her fifties. She played a key role in organizing the Tamilian Brigade, which marched on foot from Tiruchirapalli to Madras in August-September 1938, and was in charge of providing food for the protesters on their six-hundred-mile journey. On their reaching Madras, she joined in the picketing of the Hindu Theological School along with Dharmambal and others, and she was thrown into prison for six months beginning in November 1938 (K. Tirunavukarasu 1991: 168-78). Ten years later, she spoke out against Hindi again, at the 1948 anti-Hindi conference organized in Madras. While not asking them to reject their responsibility as educated mothers, she nevertheless called upon the women gathered there to take to the streets and, like their menfolk, march against Hindi. Unlike men, she suggested shrewdly, women would be treated much more benevolently by the government, and hence could be more effective in the campaign to save Tamil. Women, she claimed, have the capacity to create as well as destroy. Therefore, Tamil women should now rise up and destroy the scourge of Hindi. Her commitment to Dravidianism notwithstanding, Ramamirtham invoked the mythical epochs of Sanskritic Hinduism as well as its archetypical heroines, declaring that Sita had destroyed the trēta epoch and Draupadi had brought an end to the dwāpara age; today, Tamil women would rise and destroy the kali epoch created by Hindi, she asserted.[8]

The Missionary Devotee

Along the beachfront in Madras city called the Marina are a series of statues that dot the mile-long esplanade, commemorating various personalities from the Tamil past, distant and recent: the sage Tiruvalluvar, the author of the Tirukkuṟaḷ Kannagi, the heroine of the epic poem Cilappatikāram; the seer poetess, Auvaiyar, who wrote numerous didactic verses; Kamban, the author of the Irāmāvatāram; the poets Bharati and Bharatidasan; and the nationalist V. O. Chidambaram. Interspersed among these statues are three others whose plaques identify them as the “Italian savant” Veeramamunivar [Beschi] and the “English scholars,” Robert Caldwell and George Pope. It is perhaps not surprising that in 1968, when the DMK government set up these statues to commemorate the Second International Tamil Conference, these three Europeans should have joined the ranks of poets and scholars who are revered within the devotional community as among the noblest of Tamiḻttāy’s numerous gifted sons and daughters. For a special aura surrounds those Westerners who, over the centuries, came to Tamil’s home, learned the language, and spread its glories in distant lands. They have been integrated into Tamiḻttāy’s family as her “noble sons” they have been made honorary Tamilians. In his memoirs, after a discussion of his correspondence in 1891 with the French scholar Jules Vinson over some missing texts, Swaminatha Aiyar proudly notes that while Tamiḻttāy was being cast into fire and floods in Tamilnadu, her jewels were well-preserved in a distant city like Paris (Swaminatha Aiyar 1982: 688-89). Elsewhere, he rejoices that Tamil had crossed the seas and found such love abroad (Swaminatha Aiyar 1991c: 4). Similarly, a long prose poem called Tamiḻ Vaḷarnta Katai (The story of Tamil’s growth) flags the contributions made to Tamil through the ages by such hallowed figures as Kumarakuruparar, Sivagnana Munivar, Meenakshisundaram Pillai, Arumuga Navalar, and Sundaram Pillai, and then notes:

And then came the scholars from foreign lands;
With his lofty Tēmpāvaṇi, the eminent Veeramamunivar raised [Tamil] to new heights;
The noble Caldwell joyously bestowed upon Tamil a comparative grammar;
The incomparable G. U. Pope gifted [to it] his translation of the Tamil Veda, the Vācakam;
He prided himself as a student of Tamil;
Scholar Winslow created its dictionary, and supported Tamil and praised it.
(Navanitakrishnan 1952: 22-23)
The text then laments, “Our Tamilians do not have the tamiḻppaṟṟu that these [men] had. Alas ! Alas! O Tamilnadu!”

Indeed, a virtual hagiography has emerged around these figures whose “missionary” presence in the region is glossed over in favor of their role as “Christian devotees” of Tamiḻttāy. Adulation of these European missionaries within devotional discourses contrasts curiously with the powerful critique of missionary linguistics in Western academic circles in recent years. For rather than innocently recovering dying languages and lost literatures, missionaries colluded with colonial power structures in reconfiguring “native” vocabularies, restructuring “indigenous” grammars in accordance with Western categories, superimposing alien ways of conceptualizing languages over conventional notions, and so on (Cohn 1985; Fabian 1986; Rafael 1988). However, Tamil’s enthusiasts, and even academics in Tamilnadu today, rarely allege that these missionaries violated Tamil, though they so accuse other “foreigners,” such as Brahmans and Aryans from North India. And yet some missionaries themselves acknowledged that they had been responsible for creating a new kind of Tamil. Thus George Pope wrote in 1900 in the preface to his much lauded translation of the Tiruvācakam:

There exists now much of what is called Christian Tamil, a dialect created by the Danish missionaries of Tranquebar, enriched by generations of Tanjore, German and other missionaries; modified, purified and refrigerated by the Swiss Rhenius and the very composite Tinnevelly school; expanded and harmonized by Englishmen, amongst whom Bower (a Eurasian) was foremost in his day; and finally, waiting now for the touch of some heaven born genius among the Tamil community to make it as sweet and effective as any language on earth, living or dead.

Occasional antagonistic statements about these missionary devotees did surface within Tamil devotional discourses, in Indianism in particular as part of its attack on colonialism and English. Subramania Bharati complained in 1906 that while the colonial government was only too happy to extend its patronage to (“white”) missionaries like Pope and to their scholarship, it did not help out Tamil scholars like Swaminatha Aiyar who had for years slaved over ancient manuscripts (C. S. Subramaniam 1986: 362).[9] Years later, Sivagnanam carefully noted the “great service” done by Caldwell, Pope, and others, which deserves “immense praise.” Nevertheless, they also sowed the seeds of separatism among Tamilians and widened the gap between Sanskrit and Tamil, he writes. Furthermore, they did not contest colonial rule nor oppose the oppression of Tamilians by the British. “Christian missionaries came to the Tamil land not to help Tamil grow but to spread Christianity,” he concludes (Sivagnanam 1970: 51).

All the same, Sivagnanam also notes that “from its early past, Tamil has never been the sole possession of the people following a particular religion. From the beginning of history it has been the people’s language, transcending religious differences” (Sivagnanam 1970: 48). And indeed, this statement accounts for the remarkable absence of animosity towards the European missionary among a large majority of the devout. They assert, in terms that we have now come to identify as Orientalist, that the missionary interest in Tamil only proved that even the West was mesmerized by its beauty. Moreover, these missionaries only demonstrated that devotion to Tamil transcends religious boundaries, for Hindus, Muslims, and Christians are all children of Tamiḻttāy and members of the same Tamil family. Love for Tamil is a superior form of love, precisely because it does not recognize sectarian and religious differences. Christian devotees of Tamil are living proof that Tamil is a truly ecumenical language. Not surprisingly, these missionaries are appropriated by the devotional community, “converted” into honorary Tamilians, and enshrined as adopted “sons” of Tamiḻttāy.

Ranking high among these adopted sons is Constantius Beschi (1680-1746/7), who was honored with the name Veeramahamunivar, “heroic great sage,” by fellow Tamil scholars for his demonstrated mastery of their language. A native of Castiglione in Italy, Beschi joined the Society of Jesus in 1698, and came to Tirunelveli around 1711. Over the next few years, he served in various adjoining parishes before he moved to the general region of Tiruchirapalli where he spent most of the rest of his life (Caldwell 1881: 240-43). Tamil’s adherents take delight in noting that Beschi cast off his European clothes, adopted the ochre robes and lifestyle of a mendicant, learned Tamil, and “Tamilized” his Christian name as Dairiyanathan. Beschi is best known for his pioneering work in grammar and lexicography, but his crowning achievement was the narration of the life of St. Joseph in Tamil in his poem Tēmpāvaṇi, probably completed around 1729. Within the devotional community, Beschi’s works are represented as “adding to Tamiḻttāy’s beauty” the Tēmpāvaṇi in particular is “the gift to Tamiḻttāy on behalf of the Christian religion” (Sivagnanam 1970: 48). Beschi died in 1747 in Ambalakadu and is buried there, but in the words of a fellow devotee, his Tēmpāvaṇi adorns Tamiḻttāy as an “unfading garland” (Sethu Pillai 1964: 10).

It is with equal affection, if not more, that the services of Reverend Robert Caldwell are celebrated. Caldwell published a number of works on the history and religious practices of southern India, many of which contain several disparaging statements on its cultural practices (Dirks 1995), but he is most remembered as the author of A Comparative Grammar of Dravidian or South-Indian Family of Languages (1856). Although Caldwell’s assertions have not gone unchallenged in the devotional community, there is general consensus that he laid the groundwork for the tremendous groundswell of pride in Tamil in the century following his work. In the words of a fellow devotee, Devaneyan Pavanar, “Tamil’s antiquity was spread all over the world by that worthy man, Caldwell; the seeds for taṉittamiḻ [pure Tamil] were sown by [Suryanarayana Sastri]; the revered Maraimalai Adigal raised it into a plant; I am cultivating it into a tree” (quoted in Tirumaran 1992: 109). Thus Caldwell has been not only incorporated into the family of Tamil’s devotees but given pride of place at its head, by one of their own.

Robert Caldwell, born in Ireland in 1814, arrived in Madras in 1838 as a missionary for the London Missionary Society. He spent most of his life in the small town of Idayankudi near Tirunelveli with the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, and in 1877 he became bishop of Tinnevelly. A fellow devotee, R. P. Sethu Pillai, writes with affection that in the fifty odd years he worked in Tamilnadu, Caldwell went home on furlough only three times. When he went back to England the third time, his friends there begged him to stay. But he refused. “I have lived all these years for Indians. As long I am alive, I will toil for them. I will give up my life in their land.” And so he did, and when he died in 1891, he was buried in Idayankudi on the grounds of the church that he had himself built. “Caldwell Aiyar worked selflessly for fifty-three years for Tamilnadu. Is he not one of Tamiḻttāy’s true sons?” concludes Sethu Pillai (1964: 32).

And there was George Pope (1820-1908), beloved among Tamil’s enthusiasts for translating into English their most revered texts, the Tirukkuṟaḷ and the Tiruvācakam. Late in his life, Pope recalled a conversation he had with a “native friend in South India.” He reportedly said to him: “ ‘I am going to live for Tamil. It shall be my great study; your people shall be my people; and I hope that my God will be theirs.’ The friend replied: ‘Sir, that is very delightful; but it means for you contempt and poverty.’ ”[10] Tamil’s devout mention with delight that although he himself had declared that “Tamil scholarship is the direct road to poverty,” Pope dedicated his entire life to the “service of Tamil” (Sethu Pillai 1964: 11).

Born in Nova Scotia in 1820, Pope and his family emigrated to England, where at fourteen he resolved to become a missionary. He set sail for India in 1838, reportedly studying Tamil for the first time on his eight-month voyage over. He became so good at it that he preached his first sermon in Tamil upon landing in Madras. Attached at first to the Wesleyan Missionary Society, he later joined the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. His base of operations was Sawyerpuram in Tirunelveli district, where he founded a seminary. Around 1850, now married, Pope moved to Tanjavur; there, under the tutelage of the Tamil poet and fellow Christian Vedanayaka Sastri (1774-1864), he immersed himself in the study of ancient Tamil literature. This was also the most productive of his years in India, when he wrote a number of Tamil handbooks, textbooks, and dictionaries. After stints in Ootacumand and Bangalore, he returned to England in 1880 and joined Oxford University in 1884, where he taught Tamil and Telugu. It is then that he published his translations of the Tirukkuṟaḷ (1886), the Nālaṭiyār (1893), a partial translation of the Maṇimēkalai (1900), and, most important, the Tiruvācakam (1900). With great enthusiasm, an admirer, Saravana Pillai, greeted Pope’s translation of the Tiruvācakam:

In this world, surrounded by oceans and abounding with languages,
Who is that great scholar who rendered into faultless English our divine Tamil Veda's truths in such a manner that even those who do not know the glorious Tamil may understand?
Born as jewel of the English land,
He has with affection embraced our precious Tamiḻttāy as his foster mother.
He is a worthy Christian preceptor.
He is the notable who bears the name Pope
(quoted in Sethu Pillai 1964: 18)

Although Pope did not die in the Tamil country nor is he buried there, Tamil enthusiasts mention with satisfaction that he had insisted that his epitaph should bear the phrase tamiḻ māṇavaṉ, “student of Tamil.”[11]

The Brahman Devotee

For most sections of the devotional community, and indeed for the bulk of the Tamil-speaking populace today, the very category “Brahman devotee of Tamil” would be a contradiction in terms. Yet, in the early decades of tamiḻppaṟṟu, many who were nominally Brahman wrote and spoke enthusiastically about the glories and wonders of Tamil, about the need to improve it, and so on. In contrast to his comparatively high visibility in those early years, the Brahman devotee becomes a rare presence by the 1930s, especially as radical neo-Shaivism, contestatory classicism, and Dravidianism consolidated their explicitly anti-Brahman agendas. The Brahman adherent indeed offers a curious counterpoint to the missionary devotee; where the latter’s demonstrated love for Tamil allows him to erase the stigma of foreignness and his association with the colonial power structure, the former is not able (or allowed) to transcend his primordial identity as Brahman. His putative Brahmanness makes his devotion suspect, his love for Tamil spurious.

While defense of Tamil-speaking Brahmans continues well into the century, especially within Indianism and compensatory classicism, and while they were progressively rehabilitated by the 1950s into the Tamilian community in official DMK rhetoric, a question that was repeatedly raised in the discourses of many of Tamil’s devotees from the turn of the century is “Are Brahmans Tamilian?” The answer, increasingly, was an emphatic “No.” Brahmans are exclusionist and caste conscious; they identify themselves with the North, with Aryan culture, and with Sanskrit. Above all, and most sacrilegiously from the radical enthusiast’s point of view, they disparage Tamil, treating its high literature and culture as derivative of Sanskrit. So in 1926, Ramasami—not particularly devoted to the language himself, as we will see—insisted that Brahmans had sold out “Tamiḻttāy’s chastity” to traitors of Tamil by introducing Sanskrit words into it (E. V. Ramasami 1985: 84). And in Tamiḻttāy Pulampal (The lamentations of Tamiḻttāy), Tamiḻttāy herself lamented that the Brahman had been borne by her womb, and had been nourished on her milk; yet he had rejected her and her other children. “Will he even call himself a son of Tamil?” she asks (Arunagirinathar 1937: 12). The message was increasingly unambiguous: Brahmans were not supporters of Tamil; they were ashamed to accept, or refused to admit, that they were Tamil speakers. As Ramasami thundered in Viṭutalai in 1960, “Where can we see a Brahman who is ready to declare that Tamil is his mother tongue?” (Anaimuthu 1974: 998-99). With the gathering Hindi threat, the Brahman became an even more menacing figure, colluding with North Indians to destroy Tamiḻttāy (Bharatidasan 1948: 17). In August 1938, at an anti-Hindi gathering in Madras, the lead speaker, Pavalar Balasundaram, asked his audience, “What is to be done with the Brahman community which is killing our [Tamiḻttāy]?”[12]

The response to this question varied over the years; it included the progressive dislodging of Brahmans from positions of bureaucratic and political power from the 1920s with the ascendancy of the Justice Party, as well as the more radical, albeit unsuccessful, calls for Brahmanicide by Ramasami and some of his followers in the 1950s. Not surprisingly, that anomalous figure, the Brahman who did profess his love for Tamil and dedicated his life to its cause, is tainted by association with the community of which he is recognized as a nominal member. He was further tainted because his love for Tamil was generally compensatory classicist and Indianist in complexion. This meant that he was not overtly anti-Sanskritic, anti-Aryan, or anti-India, even when he expressed his passionate desire for Tamil. Instead, he insisted on seeing Tamil as coexisting with Sanskrit and Sanskritic culture; and, not surprisingly, he is increasingly peripheralized within the devotional community. Consider the fate of M. Raghava Aiyangar, a leading member of the Madurai Tamil Sangam, who between 1905 and 1910 helped edit its famed journal, Centamiḻ. In 1913, Raghava Aiyangar was appointed as the chief Tamil pandit in the committee set up to produce the multivolume Tamil Lexicon, and he received the prestigious title of Rao Sahib in 1936 for his efforts. In addition, he wrote several historical and literary theses in a compensatory classicist vein, many critical commentaries, and a study of the ancient grammar, Tolkāppiyam(Zvelebil 1992: 203-5). The latter in particular was severely attacked within the devotional community, by contestatory classicists as well as Dravidianists, for its portrayal of the sexual morality of ancient Tamilians (Maraimalai Adigal 1936b; Pulavar Kulanthai 1958: 22-23). In August 1938, at an anti-Hindi rally held in Madras, Pavalar Balasundaram fumed:

Raghava Ayyangar has written a commentary on Tolkappiyam.…I shall read to you what he has written.…“Tamilian women of those days were flirting with whomsoever they came across; the Aryans taught and gave them education to be chaste. . . .” How dare he write like this? Today, it is the Brahman who plays the part of pimps.…[W]ith whom have our women flirted? Can a Tamilian who keeps quiet after this claim to be a human being?…Who can put up with such an insult?…Are not the Tamilian women our mother [sic]?[13]

A little earlier, in 1936, Panditai Gnanambal wrote a searing essay defending the fidelity of Tamil women and questioning the sexual morality of Brahman women and their Aryan gods. She called upon the government to confiscate Raghava Aiyangar’s “traitorous text” that set out to dishonor Tamilians, especially the woman. Otherwise, she concluded, Tamilians would be compelled to rise up in anger all over Tamilnadu to protect their tarnished honor (Gnanambal 1936).

Another enthusiast whose devotion became suspect was V. V. Subramania Aiyar, editor briefly of the nationalist newspaper, the Tēcapaktaṉ (1920-21). In 1922, with the help of funds from the Congress and private patrons, Subramanian established a residential Tamil school (tamiḻk kurukulam) first at Kallidaikurichi and then at Sheramadevi (in Tirunelveli) for the purpose of teaching students in Tamil, following the principles of the national education scheme. His intention, he explained in a 1924 editorial in the journal Pāla Pārati that he launched from the school, was “to restore Tamil to its natural state of unrivalled preeminence.”[14] He planned to do this by teaching students not only ancient arts and sciences but modern ones as well, and by imparting to them the spirit of social service. Subramanian himself resigned from the management of the school in 1925 after a scandal erupted when it was learned that Brahman students were fed separately. Soon after, he died in an accident while trying to save his young daughter from drowning (Visswanathan 1983: 45-55).

Subramanian did not start out as a Tamil devotee; on the contrary, he first made a name for himself as a nationalist who advocated violence as the principal means to secure freedom from colonial rule. Born in a small village near Tiruchirapalli in 1881, he went on to get a B.A. in history, economics, and Latin from Madras University. He worked for a few years as a lawyer in Tiruchirapalli and in Rangoon before going to London in 1907 to study for a law degree. There, he linked up with V. D. Savarkar and, over the next three years, got drawn into the circle of militant nationalists around him. On his return to India in 1910, he went to Pondicherry, where he met Subramania Bharati and became part of the poet’s circle. Subramanian’s devotional activities included an English translation of the Tirukkuṟaḷ in 1915 and the establishment of a Tamil publishing house in 1916 (Mani 1993). In a number of essays on Tamil he published beginning in 1914, he took an Indianist stance on the language; in 1924, he even insisted (to the ire of many fellow devotees) that for its replenishment and modernization, Tamil should turn to Sanskrit, “the great treasure house.” He pointed out that hostility towards Sanskrit was misplaced when even the earliest works of Tamil literature had so many words of Sanskritic origin (Subramania Aiyar 1981; Mani 1993: 116).[15] His own Tamil was highly Sanskritic, and drew criticism even from someone like Kalyanasundaram, a fellow Indianist. Another of its devotees sarcastically asked how Subramania Aiyar could claim to restore Tamil to its “natural state of unrivalled preeminence” if his own speech was so inflected with Sanskrit (Mani 1993: 187-88).

The 1925 scandal over the Sheramadevi Tamil school, which led to Subramania Aiyar’s earlier record as a “militant nationalist” being overshadowed by his putative Brahmanness, was soon followed by attacks on other Brahman adherents of Tamil. In 1926, Ramasami published an essay in his Kuṭi Aracu in which he ridiculed his fellow “non-Brahmans” who had established the prestigious Madurai Tamil Sangam only to have that association hijacked by Brahmans and their Sanskritized Tamil (E. V. Ramasami 1985: 82-83). Soon after, in 1933, a group of Tamil enthusiasts, several among them Brahmans, organized the Tamiḻaṉpar Makānāṭu (Tamil Devotees Conference) in Madras to discuss publication of Tamil books in the sciences, the creation of new words to express modern thought, the dissemination of ancient Tamil literature among the populace, the reform of the Tamil script, and the removal of books which promoted caste consciousness from school curricula. But the conference was bitterly attacked in both the Dravidian movement press and in journals like Centamiḻc Celvi, whose spirit was neo-Shaivite and contestatory classicist. It was seen as a means through which, among other things, Brahmans tried to pass themselves off as “devotees of Tamil,” to corner the publishing market, and to introduce more Sanskrit words into Tamil in the name of “improvement.” Is it not revealing, critics asked, that these Brahman enthusiasts called the conference by the Sanskritic word makānāṭu instead of the pure Tamil mānāṭu? These “lovers of Tamil” (tamiḻ aṉpar) were actually “deceitful lovers,” it was declared. In a decade marked by the rise of the Self-Respect movement and by efforts of pure Tamil advocates to create taṉittamiḻ scientific vocabularies, it is not surprising that the proceedings of the conference were disrupted. In 1934, members of the rival taṉittamiḻ faction convened their own conference, the Ceṉṉai Mākāṇat Tamiḻar Mānāṭu (Madras Presidency Tamilians Conference), which released proposals challenging those of the Tamil Devotees Conference (E. M. Subramania Pillai 1951-52: 141-43; Velu and Selvaraji 1989: 17-78).[16]

All this antagonism towards Brahmans came to a head in the late 1930s during the anti-Hindi protests, not least because the author of the government’s compulsory Hindi policy was a Brahman: the much-maligned Rajagopalachari, the premier of the Presidency from July 1937 to October 1939. A native of Salem district and a lawyer by profession, Rajagopalachari, like many other Brahman adherents of Tamil, started his devotional career as an Indianist. More than any of his fellow devotees, he was involved in local Congress politics from very early on, serving as a member, then as chairman, of the Salem Municipal Council from 1911 to 1919. His interest in Tamil-related activities dated to the 1910s, when he demanded the adoption of Tamil as medium of instruction in schools (Rajagopalachari 1956) and, along with some friends, in 1916 instituted the Tamil Scientific Terms Society. The early few issues of its short lived journal published various scientific terms relating to botany, chemistry, physics, astronomy, and mathematics (Irschick 1969: 303-5; Kailasapathy 1986: 32). Rajagopalachari’s interest in creating scientific vocabularies in Tamil continued in subsequent years as well when he published books such as Tamiḻil Muṭiyumā? (Can it be done in Tamil?; 1937) and Tiṇṇai Racāyaṉam (Chemistry on the front porch; 1946). For example, the former, a translation of an English-language physics textbook, set out to demonstrate that physics (pautika cāttiram) could be studied in Tamil. In its preface, Rajagopalachari apologized for the preliminary quality of his efforts and called upon Tamil scholars, with more courage, time, and love for Tamil than he had been able to summon up, to continue this work (Rajagopalachari 1937). The book had a mixed reception in the Tamil devotional community, not least because of its reliance on Sanskrit roots to coin new Tamil words. This reliance was not surprising, for from the start, Rajagopalachari was a great admirer of Sanskrit and its literature, an admiration which he did not see as being at cross-purposes with his attachment to Tamil (Rajagopalachari 1962: 66-67).

His obvious involvement in Tamil “improvement” activities notwithstanding, during the anti-Hindi protests Rajagopalachari was repeatedly identified as an “enemy” of Tamiḻttāy and her “destroyer.”[17] Dravidian movement newspapers circulated inflammatory cartoons showing him hurling a dagger at Tamiḻttāy and disrobing her (figs. 5 and 6). The antagonism against him mounted not least because Rajagopalachari persisted in publicly disparaging the struggle against Hindi in the most elitist (and Brahmanical) terms possible, even casually dismissing the death of a young protester in 1938 when asked about it in the Legislative Assembly. “While Tamilians shed tears of blood that their hero had died, the Aryan members [of the assembly] laughed and clapped their hands,” one critic declared indignantly (Ilanceliyan 1986: 173). In the 1940s, Rajagopalachari extended his support to the Tamil music movement and, by the 1960s, lent his considerable influence to the anti-Hindi protests of that decade, but all this helped little in overcoming his predominant image as the Brahman who had tried to “snuff out the life of our ancient Tamiḻttāy.”[18]

Of course, not all Brahmans fared this way, and there are at least three devotees whose Brahmanness is pondered over, debated, and then set aside in favor of their incorporation into the devotional community. Thus Swaminatha Aiyar, the much revered tamiḻ tātā, “grandfather Tamil,” did attract some ire for his defense of Sanskritic Tamil. Nevertheless, he is praised widely for his painstaking efforts to recover and publish the ancient manuscripts of the Canḳam corpus, although a suggestion was aired in the 1950s in Kuyil, a journal edited by Bharatidasan, that he may have tampered with these.[19] Similarly, V. G. Suryanarayana Sastri, a novelist and essayist who in 1902 was the first devotee to vehemently demand recognition of Tamil’s “classical” status, is much praised. Brahman he may nominally have been, but in his Tamiḻmoḻiyiṉ Varalāṟu (1903), Suryanarayana Sastri offered a spirited defense of the autonomy, originality, and uniqueness of Tamil, refusing to subordinate the language to Sanskrit in any realm. Suryanarayanan was born into an orthodox Smarta Brahman family of Vilacceri near Madurai in 1870. His father was a scholar of Sanskrit, and Suryanarayanan formally studied the language from his early youth. It was not until he went to high school, however, that his love for Tamil was really kindled, and by the time he was twenty, he was learned enough to start writing literary pieces. In 1890, he moved to Madras for his college education, and he graduated with top honors. Although he could have had any job for the asking, as a true devotee of Tamil he chose to become a Tamil pandit, low salary and all, at Madras Christian College. Over the next decade, he became renowned not just for his mastery of literary Tamil but also for his attempts to introduce innovative ideas, from English literature, into Tamil prose, plays, and poetry. Yet he never let his admiration for English compromise his love for Tamil: indeed, his fellow devout recall with delight that as a student, when challenged by one of his English professors, he had declared that Kamban’s verse from centuries before was superior to Tennyson’s. Not surprisingly, for all his work he won the admiration of the famed scholar and fellow devotee Damodaram Pillai, who bestowed upon him the title tirāviṭa cāstiri, “Dravidian Brahman scholar,” a title which even in those days already appeared oxymoronic (N. Subramanian 1950). And he became a close associate of another Tamil litterateur and fellow devotee, M. S. Purnalingam Pillai, whose journal, Ņāṉapōtiṉi, he helped co-edit and who declared, when Suryanarayanan died young at thirty-three in 1903, that he had become a “martyr to Tamil” (Purnalingam Pillai 1985: 347).

Suryanarayanan’s reputation as Tamil adherent also rests on a singular act that has elicited much admiration from successive generations of the devout. In 1899, in an anthology in which he attempted to introduce the sonnet into Tamil poetry for the first time, he adopted the pen name “Paritimāl Kalaiņar,” the pure Tamil rendering of his own given (Sanskritic) name. In his preface to the text, he was clear about why he did this; he was worried about his innovation and was keen on getting his fellow scholars’ frank criticisms of his attempt. The work went on to elicit much enthusiasm, and its second edition was published with its author’s Sanskritic name (N. Subramanian 1950: 81-84). Although he was hailed as a founder of the taṉittamiḻ movement by some later devotees, his critics fault him for using his pure Tamil name only once; they also point out that his plays and novels featured characters bearing Sanskritic names, and his own Tamil was inflected with Sanskrit (Tirumaran 1992: 118-23).[20]

And then, finally, there is the most famous of them all, Subramania Bharati. One can do little justice to Bharati in the space of a few pages, but my concern here is with considering whether his Brahmanness factors into the ambivalence with which he has been treated for a good part of this century, his hallowed status today notwithstanding. So, speaking in 1960, Ramasami demanded that if Bharati was such a great devotee of Tamil as they all say he is, how is it that in his poetry, Tamiḻttāy herself declares that she is a companion of Sanskrit. How is it that he does not proclaim her autonomy from Sanskrit (E. V. Ramasami 1960: 9-10)? A few years earlier, a short piece in the Dravidianist journal Tīcuṭar declared,

They say Bharati is an immortal poet.…[E]ven if a rat dies in an akrakāram [Brahman settlement], they would declare it to be immortal.…All of Tamilnadu praises him. Why should this be so? Supposedly because he sang fulsome praises of Tamil and Tamilnadu. What else could he sing? His own mother tongue, Sanskrit, has been dead for years. What other language did he know? He cannot sing in Sanskrit.…[He says Tamilnadu] is the land of Aryas.[21]

Similarly, another fellow devotee, the Dravidianist poet Pulavar Kulanthai, wrote in the 1950s that “in the name of ‘nationalism,’ Bharati inserted Sanskrit into Tamil, caused Tamilians to lose pride in their own community, and enslaved them to Northerners” (Pulavar Kulanthai 1958: 22).

Thus the charges against Bharati are similar to those brought against other Brahman devotees; even in claiming devotion to Tamil, he repeatedly sacrificed Tamiḻttāy at the altar of Sanskrit and Aryanism. Bharati’s vision of Tamil is vulnerable to such attacks, for it falls well within the parameters—indeed, it provides the defining moments—of the Indianist imagination. Yet, as Bharati’s many admirers also do not fail to point out, the poet was clearly ambivalent about his Brahman status; he cut off his hair tuft and sacred thread characteristic of many orthodox Brahmans of his times, and sported a mustache; he wrote essays and poems over the years in which he was clearly critical of Brahmanical privilege (Bharati 1987: 51-52, 1988: 264-67); and intimate accounts by friends and family suggest that he hardly led a conventional Brahmanical lifestyle, thereby inviting the wrath of many in his putative community. Indeed, by the 1940s when he had been confirmed as modern Tamilnadu’s greatest poet, albeit not without considerable controversy (Sivathamby and Marx 1984), many an ardent Dravidianist, like Annadurai, glossed over the issue of his Brahmanness, preferring to focus on his roles as the “people’s poet” and as revolutionary social reformer (Annadurai 1948). And even an acerbic anti-Brahman critic like Bharatidasan, who was to become the poetic muse of the Dravidian movement, did not hesitate to call himself the “slave” (tāsaṉ) of Bharati, the latter’s Brahmanness notwithstanding.

All the attention he has received after his death might have come as quite a surprise to Bharati, for during his own lifetime, although he had an ardent coterie of friends and admirers, his genius went largely unrecognized. In fact, towards the very end of his life, when he tried to raise money from the public to have his manuscripts published, he received hardly a response. He died in 1921, broken and dejected, and a man very much in debt (Padmanabhan 1982b: 153-59). Bharati’s life—as indeed the life of many a Tamil devotee—clearly underscores one of the principal claims of Tamil devotion: namely, that even in the putative “kingdom” of Tamiḻttāy, it was impossible to make ends meet as a Tamil poet or writer or journalist. It was because of this fear that his father, as Bharati tells us in autobiographical verses published in 1897 and in 1910, had compelled his son to learn that “foreign” language English, when Bharati himself would have preferred to have studied the “sweet” Tamil which Shiva favored with his grace. But, he adds, there were few who cared for such a glorious language (Bharati 1987: 1-3, 173-90). Following his father’s injunction, the young Subramanian did study English; but in his spare moments in his native Ettaiyapuram, he stole off with his childhood friend and fellow devotee, Somasundara Bharati, to a nearby temple to surreptitiously read Tamil literature away from the eyes of watchful adults.

Subramanian’s poetic abilities received early acclaim when he was just eleven, and he secured the title “Bharati” (the learned) from the landlord of Ettaiyapuram (Padmanabhan 1982b: 4-12). His poems did not begin to be published regularly until 1905. By then, he had graduated from high school and gotten married (1897), spent a few years in Benaras studying Sanskrit and Hindi (1898-1902), and taught Tamil in the high school attached to the Madurai Tamil Sangam for a few months (1904). A friend who knew him in his Benaras days later recalled that he had had no idea then that Bharati was interested in Tamil literature, for he could be seen wandering around the city with a copy of Shelley’s poetry.[22] In fact, soon after he returned to Ettaiyapuram in 1902, he formed a local Shelley literary guild and even wrote a few essays under the pen name Shelleydasan, “follower of Shelley” (Padmanabhan 1982b: 16).

In late 1904, he moved to Madras to work for the nationalist daily Cutēcamittiraṉ, where his job involved translating into Tamil news received in English. The pay was poor and the work difficult, but it provided the foundation for Bharati’s lifelong passion for transforming Tamil into an easy language of modern communication and politics. Under him, the Cutēcamittiraṉ began to rid itself of its reliance on English (but not Sanskritic) words, for which it had become notorious in Tamil devotional circles. Around this time, Bharati also got involved in nationalist politics; attended the annual meetings of the Congress; and published fiery essays and poems in Cakravarttiṉi, the women’s magazine that he edited in 1905-06, and in Intiyā, the newspaper of which he was editor from 1906. From the start, Bharati’s nationalism was heavily inflected with religious fervor, and of course, some of his most famous, and much recited, poems were on Bhārata Mātā. In 1908, fearing that he, too, would be caught in a general crackdown on “seditious” writers initiated by the Madras government, he fled to Pondicherry, then a French colony, and was in exile there until 1918. These were also his most productive years as poet, essayist, and journalist, and much of what we now have of his oeuvre today, including some of his most passionate statements on Tamil, belongs to this period. In 1918, he returned to British India and was thrown into prison for a brief while. At the time of his early death in 1921, he was in Madras where he had been working, once again, on the editorial board of Cutēcamittiraṉ.

Much of his later life was marked by poverty, even destitution; poor health; the burdens of taking care of his family; and the attempts to find patrons who would publish his work. Yet the stories that circulate about Bharati today emphasize that he did not let any of these stand in the way of expressing and pursuing his primary passions—devotion to India and to Tamil. Sprinkled through his personal letters to friends and relatives, which recount his many financial and health problems, are his injunctions to them to not abandon Tamil. So, in a 1918 letter to his brother that shows him clearly troubled about his many financial problems, he takes the time to insist, “Do not write me letters in English any more. However colloquial your Tamil may be, I am eager to read it. If you cannot even write in colloquial Tamil (koccaittamiḻ), write to me in Sanskrit” (quoted in Padmanabhan 1982b: 134). And in another much-cited letter to his close friend Nellaiyappar, which ends with his numerous personal problems, he writes, “Tamil! Tamil! Tamil!—think ceaselessly that it is your duty to make it prosper!” He goes on, “Oh! what can I do. I suffer when I see languages other than Tamil prosper. I will not accept that men who are not Tamilian are forging ahead, in knowledge and strength. My heart grieves when I see women who are not Tamilian look so much more beautiful” (quoted in Padmanabhan 1982b: 130). Is it any surprise that latter-day devotees rejoice over sentiments like this, and embrace Bharati as one of their own, his Brahmanness notwithstanding?

The Poet Devotee

Poetry, I have suggested, is the paradigmatic mode of practicing intimate Tamil devotion. The poet, correspondingly, is a particularly heroic figure within the regimes of tamiḻppaṟṟu, however marginalized he may be within the economies of modernity. While in the early years of Tamil devotion Bharati was the poet devotee par excellence, his putative Brahmanness set aside in favor of the passionate poetry he produced, in the later years it is his self proclaimed disciple, Bharatidasan, who is the model poet devotee. Reverenced by his fellow devotees as pāvēntaṉ, “king of verse,” and as puraṭcikkaviņar, “revolutionary poet,” Bharatidasan has been the guiding muse for a whole generation of poets in the later half of this century whose verses promote agonistic and fierce tamiḻppaṟṟu, and whose ideal devotee is the warrior willing to give up his body for Tamil (Rajendran 1985: 159-283). For did he not ask, “When harm befalls the glorious Tamil, what use is this body to us?” (Bharatidasan 1948: 9)?

In his autobiographical poem entitled “I Am King of Poetry,” published late in his life in 1960, Bharatidasan takes pride in the breadth and depth of his scholarship in Tamil, in his role as a teacher of Tamil, in his various poetic creations, and in his unwavering service to his mother tongue (tāymoḻit toṇṭu) (Krishnamurthy 1991: viii-xii). This is not, however, the self-portrait of a militant warrior. That his militancy was largely confined to his subversive writings is also apparent from the numerous biographies of the poet, some critical but most hagiographic, that are available today. Named Subburathinam at the time of his birth in 1891, Bharatidasan was a native of Pondicherry. His father was an affluent merchant who fell upon hard times; but we are told that he nevertheless encouraged his son to pursue his love for Tamil, unprofitable though it might be. In 1909, instead of following in his father’s footsteps as a businessman, Subburathinam decided to become a Tamil teacher, taking up his first job in a small village school near Karaikal. From then on up until 1946, he worked in various schools in the French colony. His son proudly mentions that his father frequently talked to him about the difficulties and the indignities of being a low paid Tamil teacher. At the risk of jeopardizing his job, on several occasions Subburathinam protested to local French authorities over the low salaries paid to Tamil teachers and over their right to organize; over the quality of Tamil textbooks used in schools, which promoted casteism and hierarchy among young children; and so on (Mannar Mannan 1985: 31-69).

There were two important turning points in the poet’s life. Around 1909, he met Subramania Bharati, who had recently arrived in Pondicherry. Over the next two decades or so, Bharatidasan’s poems were dominated by the two themes that saturate Bharati’s own poetry—Hinduism and Indian nationalism (Ilango 1982; Ilavarasu 1990). He wrote many passionate songs on Hindu deities and on Bhārata Mātā, wore khadi (homespun), and kept company with the various nationalists who were part of Bharati’s coterie. This is also when he published what was perhaps his earliest prose essay on Tamil, which appeared in the nationalist daily Cutēcamittiraṉ in May 1914 and expounded, in a style highly reminiscent of Bharati’s Indianism, on the need for a Tamil thesaurus.[23] Soon after Bharati’s death in 1921, Subburathinam assumed the pseudonym Bharatidasan, “the follower of Bharati,” a name that demonstrated his devotion to his mentor even as it allowed him to publish anticolonial tracts while holding a government job. Although he was chastised over the years for having adopted a name that both was Sanskritic and tied his poetic persona to that of the complex figure of Bharati, Bharatidasan steadfastly maintained that his mentor had been foremost in opposing caste oppression and hierarchy and that he was the first to write in a style of Tamil easily comprehensible to even the commoner.[24] Throughout his life, he remained publicly loyal to Bharati’s memory, refusing to be daunted by those who ridiculed him for having declared himself a slave (tācaṉ) to a Brahman (Ilango 1982).

The second important transformation in his life came in the late 1920s when he was converted to Dravidianism, through exposure to Ramasami’s fiery anti-God and anticaste writings and to his polemical weekly, Kuṭi Aracu. Their passionate espousal of the “self respect” of Tamilians and fierce opposition to Brahmanism resonated with Bharatidasan’s own nascent ideas on such matters (Krishnamurthy 1991: 91-92). Although he continued to publish nationalist poems in the Bharati tradition into the mid-1930s, he progressively became the poetic voice of the Dravidian movement, translating into verse many of Ramasami’s rationalist, atheist, anti-Brahman, and anti-India ideas. It was during the first wave of anti-Hindi protests of the late 1930s that his writings began to reach a wider audience in the Presidency; over the next few decades, his poems were recited by protesters in anti-Hindi street marches, and his iconoclastic plays were performed at public meetings and conferences of Dravidianist parties. In contrast to many of his more militant followers, Bharatidasan himself rarely participated in such activities. He showed his devotion to Tamil primarily by writing fiery poems, plays, and movie scripts; helping local poets organize; and editing and publishing in polemical journals, such as Putuvai Muracu and Kuyil, and poetry magazines, such as CuppiramaṇiyaPārati Kavitā Māṇṭalam. Fellow devotees often write with admiration that he conducted his numerous literary activities despite financial straits and political hostility. Nevertheless, when he died in 1964, his reputation as the most important Tamil poet of the post Bharati generation was well-secured, not least because of the deployment of his poetry and his plays in the political activities of the Dravidian movement in the 1940s and 1950s (Krishnamurthy 1991: 89-220).

The experiences of the poet Mudiyarasan resonate with those of Bharatidasan, his mentor and fellow Dravidianist. In his as yet unpublished reminiscences, Mudiyarasan writes that when he was a young man attending college, he heard a talk by Bharatidasan and was convinced that he too, like the famous poet, should write poems on the Tamil land, language, and community (Mudiyarasan n.d.: 151). And indeed, although not as prolific a poet or playwright as his famous mentor, beginning in the late 1940s, Mudiyarasan produced his share of verses on the beauties and glories of Tamil, which earned him the title of kaviyaracu, “king of poets,” in 1966. Many of his poems, like Bharatidasan’s, promote the image of the ideal devotee as militant warrior; his most brilliant effort, the epic Pūnḳoṭi, even enlists the Tamil woman in such a role. Yet, like Bharatidasan, he too rarely took an active, public part in language protests; constrained by his job as a government employee, he could spread Tamil consciousness among young Tamilians only through subversive teaching and writing.

Born in 1920 into a poor family in a small village called Periyakulam in Madurai district, he tells us that his love for Tamil was fostered by his mother, who sang sweet lullabies to him, and by a maternal uncle who, although a shopkeeper by profession, had great interest in Tamil literature. He also recalls with affection that his interest in Tamil was paradoxically further stimulated by his first Tamil teacher in primary school, who was a Brahman (Mudiyarasan n.d.: 4-5). It is clear from his reminiscences that he was struck by the urgency of the Tamil cause, growing up in an environment in which he witnessed Tamil and its speakers being demeaned everywhere, often by fellow Tamilians who were Brahman. As a student in a local college in Mayilam, he was troubled when he heard his teacher offering his prayers in Sanskrit, and he was clearly offended when he saw that Brahman students were given privileged treatment (Mudiyarasan n.d.: 21). So in 1947, when he took up his first job as Tamil teacher in Muthialpet High School in Madras, he began his classes with the invocation, “Long live Tamil.” His students wrote “Long live Tamil” on the blackboard in their Sanskrit classroom, an act that, he notes, offended his Brahman colleagues (Mudiyarasan n.d.: 26-27). During the centenary celebrations of the high school, he was incensed when the invocation prayer was sung in Sanskrit; his anger only abated when his students spontaneously filled the hall with cries of “Long live Tamil” (Mudiyarasan n.d.: 31). In 1949, he moved to Karaikkudi to teach Tamil in another high school, a job that he held until his retirement in 1978; there he continued to keep vigil over Tamil. If any of his (Brahman) colleagues made fun of Tamil or Tamilians, he writes, he would pounce upon them fiercely, like a tiger (Mudiyarasan n.d.: 48).

It is apparent from his reminiscences that Mudiyarasan cherished his role as a Tamil teacher and as a molder of young minds. Although as a government employee he could not openly and publicly speak out against the state’s language policies without risking his job, he practiced his devotion to Tamil subversively by encouraging his students to take pride in their language and their heritage. He was not deterred by the hostility with which such efforts were greeted by some of his senior colleagues and headmasters, who were often Brahmans. In 1966, soon after his passionate poem Pūnḳoṭi was proscribed, the then-Congress government tried to force him out of his job, and it was only the coming of the DMK to power in 1967 that prevented this from happening (Mudiyarasan n.d.: 57). Mudiyarasan’s frustration at not being able to participate more publicly and militantly in Tamil devotional activities is apparent throughout his reminiscences. The fear of losing his job and concern over how he could take care of his large family under those circumstances clearly restrained his desire to openly espouse his Tamil devotion. Nevertheless, he proudly recalls that in 1949, his wife joined the anti-Hindi picketing launched by the women’s wing of the DK. During the anti-Hindi demonstrations of the previous year, he himself, along with some of his colleagues, had picketed the high school in which they taught, just for one day. “We are Tamil teachers. Tamil is being harmed. We intend nothing more than showing our grief,” Mudiyarasan told the authorities who questioned them (Mudiyarasan n.d.: 42-45).[25] In the mid-1960s, when the protests against Hindi increased in intensity and scale, he recalls being accused of antinationalist and antigovernment activities in the classroom, and he was subjected to interrogation by state officials. He laments that Tamilians are their own enemies, and he writes that only when Tamil speakers appreciate the worth of their language would Tamilnadu improve (Mudiyarasan n.d.: 76-78).

The Scholar Devotee

Within the devotional community, all forms of devotion to Tamil are more or less equally valid, but a special kind of veneration and affection adheres to those who are deemed to be learned scholars (aṟiņar). This is quite paradoxical, for Tamil’s devotees have been only too painfully aware that the world at large does not treat the Tamil scholar with any particular respect. Until recently, Tamil teachers were routinely paid less than their colleagues, were often the butt of popular jokes, and not surprisingly had a poor self-image. Yet, one model for devotion that clearly exists in the community is that of the scholar devotee who shows his passion for Tamil by pouring his life and energy into deciphering ancient manuscripts, writing books that may sell few copies but nevertheless are a labor of love, and teaching students who are largely unenthusiastic about the language. That all this he does under material conditions that range from middling to appalling is what makes the devotion of the scholar devotee particularly heroic.

Few narratives offer a more strikingly poignant portrayal of one devotee’s struggle to pursue scholarship in Tamil under circumstances that were both materially daunting and socially discouraging than Swaminatha Aiyar’s Eṉ Carittiram (My story). As a young man, Swaminathan recalls a visitor asking his father: “ ‘What does your son do?’ My father replied, ‘He reads Tamil.’ Stunned, as if he had heard something incredible, he burst out, ‘What? Tamil?’ He did not stop there. ‘He reads Tamil? Why could he not study English? And how about Sanskrit? If he studies English, he would benefit in this world. The study of Sanskrit will prepare him for the other world. Studying Tamil will bring him neither benefit” ’ (Swaminatha Aiyar 1982: 262). The visitor was not alone in thinking thus. Several of Swaminathan’s Brahman kinsmen urged him to study either Sanskrit or the more profitable English. But for him, as he wrote later, the motto of his life had been prefigured by the anonymous author of the seventeenth-century poem Tamiḻ Viṭutūtu: “O preeminent Tamil! I exist because of you! / Even the ambrosia of the celestials, I do not desire!” (Swaminatha Aiyar 1991b: 127).

A native of Uthamadanapuram in Tanjavur district, Swaminathan was born in 1855 and raised as a devout Smarta Brahman. His father made his (meager) livelihood through giving music performances and religious discourses in the Tanjavur hinterlands. Although supportive in most ways, his father wished that Swaminathan would follow in his footsteps and would study music and the Telugu language that was most appropriate for a career as musician. But Swaminathan tells us, “Contrary to everyone’s desires, from the time I was a young man, my mind was immersed in the beauties of the goddess Tamil (tamiḻt teyvam). More and more, it yearned for Tamiḻttāy’s auspicious grace (tiruvaruḷ). Sanskrit, Telugu, English—none of these held my interest. Sometimes, I even felt a deep aversion towards them.…Tamil had captured my heart” (Swaminatha Aiyar 1982: 156). And Tamil had indeed captured his heart, for there appears to have been space for little else in his life, at least as it is narrativized in his reminiscences. He seems to have been attached to his parents, later even turning down an opportunity to teach in the prestigious Presidency College in Madras city so that they could spend their last days in their beloved Kaveri Valley. The birth of his first son is noted, with some joy. But in the seven-hundred-odd pages of his autobiography, his wife, Madurambikai, does not feature at all, apart from a brief mention on the occasion of their marriage in 1868. Even that important rite of passage left him unmoved. “It does not appear as if anything new has happened to me, now that I have become a householder.” For a few days, before and after the occasion, he was filled with great joy, revelling in all the attention—and gifts (!)—he received. Then he soon realized that “there was little gain from all this. I have only one purpose. Tamil is my wealth. It is the food for the hunger of my mind.…It was true then. It is true now.” So he concludes his brief discussion of his marriage (Swaminatha Aiyar 1982: 123-30).

The absence of details about his personal life is in striking contrast to the wealth of information he provides on the world of Tamil scholarship around the turn of this century. As he tells us on several occasions, he had no worldly interests other than the desire to study Tamil and to spend his time in the company of other Tamil scholars. He got ample opportunity to do so when he apprenticed himself around 1871 to Meenakshisundaram Pillai (1815-1876), perhaps the best-known Tamil savant of his time, on whom he later published a detailed biography. His relationship with his teacher, as he presents it in his reminiscences, echoes his relationship to the language; it was marked by intense reverence, devotion, even love. He recalls how he walked once, in the hot noonday sun, to another village, about two miles away, in order to procure a manuscript that he thought his master would like to see (Swaminatha Aiyar 1982: 193-94). He lapped up eagerly even the smallest word of praise that his master would throw his way, was jealous of fellow students who he feared may make their way into his master’s heart, and constantly worried about falling out of favor.

By his own reckoning, Swaminathan’s life took a dramatic turn on 21 October 1880, the day he met Ramasami Mudaliar, the munsif (civil judge) of Kumbakonam. By then, much had happened in his life. His master had died; he himself had moved to Kumbakonam, where he had secured a job teaching Tamil in the government college; he had an infant son; and he had already begun to acquire quite a name for himself in Tamil scholarly circles. Flushed with pride over his accomplishments, he set out to meet Ramasami Mudaliar, who he had heard was a Tamil enthusiast. Quizzed on the depth of his knowledge, Swaminathan tells us that he proudly rattled off the names of the numerous texts that he had learned by heart. Ramasami Mudaliar, however, was unimpressed. “What is the use of knowing all this.…These are all later works. Do you know any of the ancient ones?” he asked. A week later, he handed Swaminathan a manuscript of the ancient epic poem Cīvaka Cintāmaṇi, which he had never before seen. Humbled by the realization of how much more there was to know, he began the quest for other such old texts that changed the course of his life (Swaminatha Aiyar 1982: 528-34).

As he recalls, this of course was no easy matter. Frequently relying on word-of-mouth information about manuscript collections in remote villages, he would walk for miles down country roads, sometimes riding bullock carts which broke down, at other times taking trains (one of the few signs in his autobiography, we note, of industrial modernity). On these trips—the equivalent of other people’s holy pilgrimages—he would sometimes encounter wonderful people who filled him with awe and joy because of their obvious reverence for Tamil, and because of the care with which they had maintained old Tamil manuscripts; their abodes, he writes, were “temples of the goddess Tamil (tamiḻt teyvam)” (Swaminatha Aiyar 1982: 636-38, 690-94). More often, he came across signs of utter callousness, and with horror he recounts stories of old manuscripts being cast into fire as fuel, or thrown into the river. Our ancients tell us that Tamil survived fire and water in the past, but not any more, he writes. In many places, he ignored discomfort as well as personal disrespect. Had he been defeated by these hardships, he could never have restored Tamiḻttāy’s jewels back to her, he writes (Swaminatha Aiyar 1982: 640-86). Until the very end of his life, he appears not to have lost his love for these manuscripts. “My body may be tiring with age, but my mind has still not lost its devotion to these palm leaves,” he observes (Swaminatha Aiyar 1991b: 120).

With the acquisition of the desired manuscripts, the battle had only barely begun. He had to labor hard to read them, struggling over the meanings of archaic words that had long been in disuse, and to understand ancient worldviews quite alien to his Shaiva and Brahmanical upbringing. There were also the challenges of printing, at a time when that technology was still fairly new (Venkatachalapathy 1994a: 274-78). Unlike many later scholars, who would leave the details to the publisher and the press, Swaminathan supervised the entire printing process from start to end, from the selection of the font to the binding of the finished product. Above all, there were financial problems. Publication of these works demanded enormous outlays of money, far in excess of his modest income as a college teacher, and he had to turn to a network of patrons—some reliable, others not so. On more than one occasion, he had to borrow money to keep the printing process going. He also spent many of his waking moments worrying over potential competitors (including fellow devotee Damodaram Pillai), who might beat him to the punch, and dealing with nasty rumors that were floated about his inabilities and inadequacies. About his troubles and worries, he writes: “In the land of teṉṟal [southern breeze] and sandal, our Tamil reigns, sweet and soft. I have dedicated myself to the auspicious service (tiruppaṇi) of that glorious goddess Tamil. Thanks to the wondrous grace of that goddess, the waves of trouble of this world do not deluge me in misery” (Swaminatha Aiyar 1982: 657). Not surprisingly, when the first copies of his published Cintāmaṇi arrived from the binders, he stacked them reverentially and offered them worship. For, he writes, the text—whether published or unpublished—“appears to me as the image of a deity. My desire is only to wipe away the dust and clothe it anew so I can see it.…I believe that each part of it is divinity itself” (Swaminatha Aiyar 1982: 611).

Swaminathan lived his life in the high noon of empire. Yet there are few signs of colonialism, westernization, or modernity in his reminiscences. With touching candor, he confesses to the thrill of excitement he felt as a child when he learned the English alphabet. There must be something magical about it, he notes, for even mere association with it confers so much prestige (Swaminatha Aiyar 1982: 61-62). Frequently, during the course of his travels and research, he would encounter fellow devotees—Vedanayakam Pillai, Damodaram Pillai, and others—who knew English and were obviously men of influence and power. And yet it astounded him that they continued to be enthusiastic about Tamil. Swaminathan was not alone in registering such wonder, and a special affection is accorded in the devotional community to all those who had not let their knowledge of English, or their worldly affluence, get in the way of their love for Tamil. Indeed, in the early years of tamiḻppaṟṟu, there were quite a few “gentlemen scholars” such as J. Nallaswami Pillai and P. V. Manickam Nayakar, who, like Swaminathan, expressed their devotion to Tamil through their scholarship. But they moved in a world that appeared far removed from Swaminathan’s. They had university degrees, were well-placed in the hierarchies of government, were fluent in English, and were materially well-off.

One such savant devotee whose story is told with a great deal of pride in the devotional community is Somasundara Bharati, reverentially referred to as nāvalar, “the eloquent.” A native of Ettaiyapuram, where his father was part of the local landlord’s coterie, Somasundaram was a childhood friend of Subramania Bharati with whom he would read Tamil on the sly. Unlike a majority of Tamil’s devotees, Somasundaram led a life of comparative ease and affluence as a lawyer, first in Tuticorin and then in Madurai. All the same, we are told that he did not let his law practice, profitable though it was, interfere with his devotion to Tamil. Even while working as a lawyer, he earned a master’s degree in Tamil in 1913, and over the next few decades he published numerous essays on the language and its literature, mostly in a compensatory classicist vein (Sambasivan 1967). In 1933, when he was asked to head the Tamil department of the newly founded Annamalai University in Chidambaram, he was faced with a difficult choice, his biographers tell us. On the one hand, he had his lucrative career as a lawyer; on the other, there was service to Tamil, hardly profitable but fulfilling in so many other ways. Somasundaram did not find it difficult to make up his mind: he gave up his law practice and headed the Tamil department for five years (Sambasivanar and Ilankumaran 1960: 57-67). This is not the only instance in which his tamiḻppaṟṟu led Somasundaram to change the course of his life. In 1937-38, when the government announced its compulsory Hindi policy, Somasundaram was one of the leading figures who spoke out against the Congress at numerous rallies; on one occasion, he even suffered a physical assault. His opposition to Hindi was all the more unusual because he had been a dedicated member of the Congress for much of his life up until then: he had organized numerous political rallies on that party’s behalf and had been quite involved in nationalist politics. And yet, as he declared in his Open Letter to the Hon. C. Rajagopalachariar, when Tamiḻttāy was in danger, how could he afford to maintain his old political convictions (Somasundara Bharati 1937)?

A very different model of scholarly devotion is offered by the life of G. Devaneyan, referred to in devotional circles as pāvāṇar, “the poet.” The author of numerous books, essays, and poems, most of which are in the contestatory classicist idiom, Devaneyan is best known for his etymological researches on Tamil, and for his attempts to prove that Tamilnadu (or Kumari Nadu, as he called it) had been the site of the birth of humanity and that Tamil speakers were the first humans (Devaneyan 1972). Most of the trials and tribulations that Devaneyan faced in practicing his tamiḻppaṟṟu followed from having to combat not just the difficulties of abject poverty, but the social stigma of hailing from a very low-caste family recently converted to Christianity. Born in 1902 in the small village of Shankaranayinarkoyil in Tirunelveli district, Devaneyan tells us that when he was a high school student, he had memorized all of Shakespeare’s plays and desired to become an English professor at Oxford. And then in 1918-20, he read history and Tamil, and became devoted to the latter.[26] Poverty prevented him from pursuing his higher education, and he began to work as a Tamil schoolteacher in Ambur, North Arcot. But this did not deter him from later passing the Tamil examinations administered by the Madurai Tamil Sangam in 1924 and by the Shaiva Siddhanta Kazhagam in 1926, which gave him the title of pulavar, “scholar.” Recognizing the value placed on formal university degrees, however, he also went on to earn a master’s degree in Tamil from Madras University in 1944. Meanwhile, he held a variety of teaching jobs, mostly poorly paid in small town schools; starting in 1944, he found a period of stable security for about twelve years, teaching Tamil in Salem.

The one theme that runs through the various biographies on him, written by fellow devotees, is the stark state of poverty in which he lived; often he did not have enough money even to feed his growing family, let alone to do research and publish his works (Tamilkudimagan 1985; Tamilmallan 1989). In his letters to fellow scholars, he frequently laments over his material conditions and writes piteously about visits to bookstores where, even after striking a hard bargain that brought the price of a book down, he still could not afford to purchase it and would have to go home empty-handed (Ilankumaran 1985: 6). Although he found an outlet for publishing his books in the Shaiva Siddhanta Kazhagam, he also published quite a few of his researches at his own expense. For, as his biographers tell us, he could never let economic considerations stand in the way of his tamiḻppaṟṟu(Tamilmallan 1989: 45-52). In a letter to a friend in 1964, Devaneyan tells him that he would go anywhere if invited to speak publicly on the linguistic problems facing Tamilians, even if he were not paid for his lecture. He was even willing to forgo being reimbursed for travel expenses, when it was Tamil’s future that was at stake, for as he writes in another letter, “the life-breath of the Tamilian is Tamil” (Ilankumaran 1985: 9, 79). Such an attitude was forged fairly early in his life. For instance, in a 1937 letter to a fellow devotee, he writes, “As long as we live, we ought to not let Tamil decline” (Ilankumaran 1985: 11). On many occasions, he tells us that his duty to Tamil was to rescue it from the clutches of Sanskrit and to make the world accept what he believed to be the first principle that guided his own life: namely, that Tamil was the first language of the world and the parent of them all. It is for this purpose that he believed he had been created by God (Ilankumaran 1985: 20, 57, 80, 110).

Such statements of devotion are also interspersed with comments of despair and frustration. In 1964, he laments that if he had devoted himself as passionately to English as to Tamil, he would have been a respected professor at Oxford. “The extent to which I have grieved and suffered because of Tamil is no laughing matter” (Ilankumaran 1985: 121). On another occasion, he asked, “What does it matter if Shankaralinga Nadar fasted [to death]? What does it matter if Chinnasami immolated himself? The Tamilian will not heed or improve” (Ilankumaran 1985: 14). The despair expressed by Devaneyan echoed that of so many devotees who came to hold that a life dedicated to the Tamil cause had brought little material comfort, and even fewer social benefits. His wife’s death in 1963 after a lingering illness left him both grieving and guilt-stricken, for he had had no money to buy medicines that might have saved her life. For much of his lifetime, he had few decent clothes to wear, and on occasion he survived for days on gruel and raw onions (Ilankumaran 1985: 110; Tamilmallan 1989: 48-52).

And yet, we are told that even when he was offered a way out of such abject poverty, he refused to take it, because it involved bringing humiliation to Tamil. In 1956, he was hired by Annamalai University to produce a Tamil etymological dictionary. He had to report his findings to a committee headed by Suniti Kumar Chatterjee, the well-known Bengali linguist who, despite not knowing Tamil, was put in this position of power. Devaneyan’s opinions on Tamil and its relationship to Sanskrit were at odds with Chatterjee’s, and when asked to change his views, he refused. “Why should we fear to tell the truth about Tamil? How long should we Tamilians live in fear and servitude in this fashion?.…It is the duty of every researcher to reveal the truth, whatever may be its consequences. The rescuing of Tamil from its cruel subjection to Sanskrit is the purpose of my life. This is why I have been created by God” (quoted in Tamilkudimagan 1985: 16-17). In 1961, he resigned his job (or was relieved of it, by other accounts) and returned to his former hand-to-mouth existence. In words that have been repeated many times by his fellow devotees, he is supposed to have declared, “I am poor; I have a wife and children; but I also have honor” (quoted in Tamilkudimagan 1985: 17). As his biographers tell us, rather than betray Tamil and take care of himself, he chose to live heroically, as a poor but honorable and devoted Tamilian.

The Devotee as Publicist

“In my dreams and in my thoughts, I forever think about Tamil and Shaivism. May the Lord offer me grace so that I continue to think about them” (Anbupalam Ni 1967: 56). So declared Maraimalai Adigal in a public meeting in Madras in 1949 at the end of a life dedicated to the task of publicizing the glories of Tamil. Years before, in 1912, during the early years of his career while he was travelling to numerous small towns all over the Presidency as well as Sri Lanka to spread the message of Shaivism and Tamil, he noted in his diary: “I am leading a life happier than that of a prince” (quoted in M. Tirunavukarasu 1959: 130). Service to Shaivism and to Tamil appears to have been the motto of Maraimalai’s “princely” life. A devotee with ardent faith in the power of reform, Maraimalai made full use of the modernist technologies of print, associations, and public lectures to convert his fellow speakers into devotees of Tamil.

Maraimalai’s use of such technologies of publicity, which were much favored by many reformers all across colonial India, may be traced back to his early youth. Growing up in the coastal town of Nagapattinam, he founded the Intu Matāpimāṉam Canḳam (Society for Pride in Hindu Religion) to combat missionary attacks on Hinduism in 1892 when he was sixteen. At this time, he was an ardent believer in Vedantic and Sanskritic Hinduism (Nambi Arooran 1976: 312-13). Within a few years, however, he came under the influence of the well-known scholar Somasundara Nayakar (1846-1901), on whom he subsequently wrote a biography, and was converted to the latter’s philosophy of Shaiva Siddhanta. In 1897, as a young man, he had his first encounter with the power of print when he published several essays defending his mentor’s version of Shaivism against Vedantic detractors (M. Tirunavukarasu 1959: 4-19). A year later, he secured regular employment as a Tamil teacher in Madras Christian College. This did not stop him from continuing with his proselytizing activities, using weekends as well as his vacation days to give public lectures on Shaivism and Tamil; to publish his researches on Canḳam poems; and to establish reform societies such as the Caiva Cittānta Makā Samājam (Society for Shaiva Siddhanta), founded in 1905, and the Camaraca Caṉmārkka Nilaiyam (Sacred Order of Love), founded in 1911 (Nambi Arooran 1976: 319-27).

Maraimalai’s diaries and letters offer interesting glimpses of the lives of those devotees who turned into publicists and reformers dedicated to the Tamil cause. They formed associations, published books and journals, and organized literary conferences to spread the message of Tamil. These conferences were festive occasions marked by religious hymns and popular songs on Tamil, speeches on the wonders of its literature, and debates about how to go about restoring the language to its former glory. Speakers like Maraimalai were treated particularly well. On one occasion, when he visited Salem, he was taken in procession around the town and greeted by local notables; he then gave a talk for about an hour and a quarter on “the nobility and antiquity of Tamil.” His talk was followed by discussions and lectures by other scholars and devotees (M. Tirunavukarasu 1959: 700-702). Yet it is also clear from his son’s account, as well as from the reminiscences of others, that Maraimalai was a demanding publicist for the Tamil cause. Fellow devotee K. A. P. Viswanatham recalls that after being invited to address the annual conference of the Shaiva Siddhanta association of Tiruchirapalli in 1921, Maraimalai presented a formidable list of demands which included detailed specifications on his lodging, provisions for worship and for his food, as well as payment of two hundred silver coins. When asked, “How many will invite you if you ask so much for service to Tamil and to Shaivism?” Maraimalai acerbically replied that while his fellow Tamilians were willing to heap thousands on actors and singers, they refuse to similarly honor Tamil scholars (Viswanatham 1989: 15-17). For Maraimalai, the honoring—both materially and otherwise—of speakers like himself was the honoring of Tamil itself.

His speeches certainly appear to have influenced at least one young man to convert to the Tamil cause. R. P. Sethu Pillai, who later became professor of Tamil in Madras University and published numerous books and essays on Tamil and its literature, many of them Indianist and compensatory classicist in sentiment, recalls a public lecture on Tamil that Maraimalai gave in the small town of Palayamkottai in June 1912. Tirunavukarasu, to whom Sethu Pillai talked later about this event, describes the impact of Maraimalai’s speech on the young man: “His being pulsed with the consciousness of Tamil. ‘I, too, will learn this great Tamil. I, too, will spread Tamil by lecturing and by offering my services,’ he thought to himself” (M. Tirunavukarasu 1959: 162-63).

Maraimalai appears to have been paid well for his speeches. Much of the money he made on these lecture tours was ploughed back into his publication and reform activities. In a 1941 letter to a friend, he observes, “I have spent an enormous amount of wealth on Tamil” (Anbupalam Ni 1967: 24-26). Yet, like the majority of Tamil’s devotees, he appears to have led a life of only middling prosperity, and the prefaces to his various books as well his letters contain frequent references to the financial hardship that he faced in continuing with his publication efforts, to the lack of appreciation for his work, and so on. Nonetheless, he worked on tirelessly, beginning most days at the crack of dawn with prayers and going to bed past midnight (Anbupalam Ni 1967: 49-51).

In 1911, at the age of thirty-five and as the sole breadwinner for his family—consisting of his aged mother, his wife, and seven children—Maraimalai decided to give up his teaching career and become an ascetic instead. In doing so, his son tells us, he was following an age-old tradition: “Having dedicated himself to the cause of Shaivism and Tamil, he donned the ascetic’s robes and the lifestyle of a renouncer” (M. Tirunavukarasu 1959: 128).[27] At least in his son’s reckoning, Maraimalai’s act was justifiable, his dedication to the cause of Shaivism and Tamil overriding his family responsibilities. Indeed, it is as an ascetic that Maraimalai entered the most productive period of his career as Tamil devotee; these were the “golden years of his life” (Tirunavukarasu 1959: 481). He published prodigiously and his books sold well; there were numerous requests for his presence as inaugural speaker at conferences; he became a member of the local vegetarian society and led campaigns against the performance of animal sacrifices in rural and low-caste temples. Scholars and admirers thronged to visit his home in Pallavaram, a suburb of Madras where he had taken up residence after becoming an ascetic. “Ah! How many people are now filled with Tamil devotion! They are filled with pride in their community. My work has had its impact. In the future, my books will sell abundantly, and my thoughts will spread far and wide. Tamil will flourish! Shaivism will triumph!” he remarked in contentment to his son in the 1940s (M. Tirunavukarasu 1959: 836-37; Anbupalam Ni 1967: 25).[28] Above all, these were the years in which he earnestly pursued the taṉittamiḻ cause, republishing pure Tamil versions of his early essays and striving to create a language that would be as free of Sanskrit words as possible. He refused to lend the prestige of his name to any publication that did not conform to his notion of Tamil, and periodically he had public disputations with fellow scholars on the purity of their language. Indeed, though his livelihood partly depended on the remuneration he received from-speaking at conferences, he refused (in a letter he wrote in English) “to attend any Tamil meeting which is not willing to maintain and advance pure Tamil. Of all the Cultivated ancient Languages, Tamil is the only one which is still living in all its pristine glory. I am strongly convinced that any mixture of foreign words in it will tend to vitiate its healthy life and hamper its vigorous growth. Please, therefore, excuse me for not attending your conference which does not seem to meet my ideal” (quoted in Ilankumaran 1991: 127).

In his personal life as well, his son tells us, he attempted to meet his ideals. After 1912, he refused to allow the participation of Brahman priests in the domestic rituals performed at home, deeming this a non-Tamil practice; after 1916, he attempted to speak only in pure Tamil; in the shrine that he built in his home in 1931 in Pallavaram, worship was offered only in Tamil; and he was a devout Shaivite, regularly visiting Shaiva temples where he would sing Tamil hymns to his heart’s content and, we are told, would bring tears of joy to all those who heard him.

All the same, his devotion, like that of so many others, was not without its share of contradictions. Later in his life he was neutral, even hostile, to the cause of Indian nationalism, but in his early years, according to his diary entries, he composed nationalist songs, attended nationalist lectures, and even wrote in 1906 that he bought a bundle of swadeshi (nationalist) candles (M. Tirunavukarasu and Venkatachalapathy 1988: 25-30). On the incarceration of the nationalist leader Tilak, his diary entry in English dated 23 July 1907 reads, “Oh! Mother India! Are thy sons to suffer thus!” (Anbupalam Ni 1967: 40). At the same time, he also composed songs commemorating George V’s accession in 1911 and joined the celebrations in Pallavaram marking that occasion. In 1912, noting that the government probably had him under surveillance, he comments on the stupidity of this, for he was after only a preacher, and he writes that he desired British rule to continue (M. Tirunavukarasu and Venkatachalapathy 1988: 35-36).

He may have spent much of his public life castigating Sanskrit for its evils, but unlike those in a later generation of Tamil devotees who criticized the language without any knowledge of it, Maraimalai had formally learned Sanskrit and even translated from it into Tamil a well-known play, Shakuntala. In his later published writings, he may have ardently preached the inherent superiority of Shaiva Siddhanta, but in his diaries he expresses admiration for Vivekananda’s Vedantic teachings and even gave a public lecture in 1909 on the Bhagavad Gītā’s importance in modernity (M. Tirunavukarasu and Venkatachalapathy 1988: 32-33). Indeed, although in a large number his writings on Tamil he may appear a classicist, in his own personal reading habits he appreciated a good number of modern works written in other languages. His love for English offers another similar contradiction. He seems to have spent a good part of his limited funds on purchasing English books to stock his personal library, and he translated numerous English classics into Tamil. His son tells us that on his many lecture tours and pilgrimages, he would carry along with him as reading material English books, rather than Tamil. He maintained his personal diary in English. When asked about this, he told his son, “My thoughts, speech, and writing are all in Tamil. To ensure that my knowledge of English does not fade away, I write my daily diary in English” (M. Tirunavukarasu 1959: 700). Such contradictions lasted until the end; when he died in September 1950, he requested that his body be cremated rather than buried in what had been deemed the authentic Tamil style (Viswanatham 1989: 22).

The Devotee as Patron

Among the many grievances of the devotional community was the absence of appreciative patrons who would extend their liberality and largesse to the support of Tamil and its followers. In 1897, as a young man barely fifteen, Subramania Bharati lamented to one such patron, the landlord of Ettaiyapuram:

Is our glorious and auspicious Tamil, sweeter than nectar, to which the great lord Shiva himself offered his grace;
Yet there is no one around anymore to favor it;
Its learners languish away, while lesser tongues flourish.
(Bharati 1987: 2)
Tamil’s devotees were of course not alone in colonial India in lamenting over the deteriorating state of patronage extended to traditional arts and letters. The attrition and disappearance of royal courts and religious centers of learning, the redirection of funds towards “useful” and “modern” forms of knowledge, the rise of new bourgeois forms of consumption, and a colonial state indifferent to the promotion of India’s languages and literatures—all these contributed to the generalized feeling that things were no longer as they were in the past. The nostalgia for ancient Canḳam poems that was so endemic in devotional circles was also very much a nostalgia for an age in which magnanimous kings were imagined to welcome with open arms the poor poet who wandered into their courts, lend an appreciative ear to his compositions, and shower him with food, clothing, and gold. Those were the days, its devotees sigh, when the wealthy and the notable were admirers of Tamil (and of its scholars). But today, “we lavishly heap our wealth on jewelry, cards, drinks, tobacco, entertainment…but would not spend even one paisa out of a hundred rupees to protect [Tamiḻttāy]. What a shame!” (Lakshmana Pillai 1892-93: 154).

Not surprisingly, when one such patron did put in an appearance at the turn of this century, and placed his considerable wealth and influence at the service of Tamil, he came to be narrated in devotional writings as a Canḳam king reincarnate. The institution that he founded and funded in 1901, the Madurai Tamil Sangam, was itself characterized as the “Fourth” Tamil Canḳam, thus establishing a genealogical connection with the three ancient academies that are believed to have flourished in the distant past under the patronage of successive generations of Pandyan kings. Its founder-patron, Pandithurai Thevar, named at birth in 1876 Ugrapandyan (an ancient name that recalled the glory of the Pandyan kings of the Canḳam age), was the landlord (zamindar) of Palavanatham, a small estate in Ramanathapuram district. In the reckoning of his biographers and admirers, Pandithurai—unlike many of his zamindari cohort, who frittered away their life and wealth in wasteful activities—was an enthusiastic Tamil scholar and poet himself. He may have inherited his love for Tamil from his father, Ponnusami Thevar (1837-70), who also had been its patron, “like the Pandyan kings of yore,” in the words of the famous Shaivite scholar Arumuga Navalar (M. Raghava Aiyangar 1948: 51). Indeed, distressed that so many great works of ancient Tamil had yet to find their way into print, Ponnusami, who was then the chief manager of the Ramanathapuram estate of his brother, Muthuramalinga Setupati (1841-73), commissioned Arumuga Navalar to publish texts such as the Tirukkōvaiyār and the Tirukkuṟaḷ, which he then distributed at his own expense to scholars. Ponnusami also established a much-needed printing press for the publication of Tamil books in Ramanathapuram town (M. Raghava Aiyangar 1948: 51-53).

Raised in an environment where such value was placed on Tamil learning, Pandithurai continued this tradition of extending patronage to Tamil and also prevailed upon his more influential cousin, Bhaskara Setupati (1868-1903), the zamindar of Ramanathapuram, to do the same. Indeed, their “courts,” we are told, were like “heaven on earth.” Here, from morning till late into the night, one could hear learned disquisitions on the intricacies of Kamban’s Irāmāvatāram or the Tirukkuṟaḷ poets and musicians were frequent visitors, and “forgetting hunger and thirst,” they would sing their compositions and recite poetry. In addition to throwing his court open to visiting scholars, Pandithurai also financed the publication of many ancient manuscripts, including some of Swaminatha Aiyar’s (M. Raghava Aiyangar 1948: 76-95). Tamil enthusiasts narrate with pride an incident from Pandithurai’s life illustrating how his devotion to Tamil led him to ensure that the reading public had access to well-published and error-free editions of their ancient texts. An Anglo-Indian lawyer of Madurai had had the temerity to publish five hundred copies of the Tirukkuṟaḷ, “made easy.” Pandithurai invited him over to his palace and asked to see the publication. He noted with anger that the lawyer had erred in the very first key verse of the text. Learning that only two hundred copies of the publication had been sold so far, Pandithurai purchased the remaining three hundred and burned the whole lot, rather than expose his fellow Tamilians to such a travesty (M. Raghava Aiyangar 1948: 105-7).

The scarcity of good published versions of Tamil literary works was what spurred Pandithurai to found his well-known Sangam. In one version of the story, when he was visiting Madurai and needed copies of the Tirukkuṟaḷ and Kamban’s Irāmāvatāram to prepare a lecture, he discovered that it was impossible to procure them. If these works, the heart of Tamil literature, were unavailable in Madurai, the center of Tamil learning, what fate awaited Tamil? he lamented. Resolving to do something to change this, in 1901 he summoned together various notables and scholars and spoke of the need to create a society dedicated to the improvement of Tamil (M. Raghava Aiyangar 1948: 87-89). “The rejection of our mother tongue, Tamil, and the embracing of English mostly for the sake of greater comfort, is like the rejection of our mother in favor of our newly arrived wife,” he declared in his speech urging his fellow speakers to come forward and help him in his new venture.[29]

His idea was not new. Since the 1880s, a few such societies had sprung up in the Presidency, although most were short lived. No doubt, the Madurai Tamil Sangam’s own longer and more fruitful existence was the result of a convergence of factors: the liberal funding it received from Pandithurai and Bhaskara Setupati (who also used their influence to get other notables to make contributions); the supplementing of the scholarly activities of the Sangam with the establishment of a printing press, a research center, a school that conducted exams and offered degrees in Tamil, and a library (which was started with liberal donations of books from Pandithurai’s and the Setupati’s own collections); and the founding of a journal, Centamiḻ, in late 1902. All of these attracted to the Sangam some of the finest minds in the world of Tamil learning. But not least of the reasons for the Sangam’s success was the symbolic capital that accrued from its location in Madurai; from its self-representation as continuing the traditions of the ancient academies of the Tamil land; and from the persona of its founder, Pandithurai, as a true descendant of the great vaḷḷaḷs, “benefactors,” of yore (Rowther 1907).

A less spectacular, but no less heroic, model of patronage is offered by the life of V. Tiruvarangam Pillai, the founder of the Shaiva Siddhanta Kazhagam, perhaps the largest publishing house devoted to printing ancient Tamil literary and religious books from its inception in 1920 to this day. Tiruvarangam’s life, in stark contrast to Pandithurai’s, began in a humble Vellala home in Palayamkottai in Tirunelveli district, where his family ran a general merchandise store. When his father died in 1899, the young Tiruvarangam, who was then only nine years old, went to work in Tuticorin to support his family. When he was seventeen, he sailed to Colombo where he worked for a number of years in various commercial establishments. His entrepreneurial skills must have been forged in this context, for he was able to gather together enough money in 1914 to help finance the first trip to Colombo by Maraimalai Adigal (about whose skills as a speaker and reformer there was much talk). Furthermore, he was also able to put together a handsome purse which he presented to Maraimalai and which enabled the latter to continue with his work in Madras. Over the next few years, Tiruvarangam continued to help Maraimalai’s reform activities by arranging for public lectures, collecting funds, and opening bookstores in Colombo and Madras to help sell the reformer’s books. In 1920, he even launched a monthly journal called Centamiḻkkaḷaņciyam, primarily for the purpose of publishing Maraimalai’s commentary on the Tiruvācakam (Ilankumaran 1982: 1-30) .

His crowning achievement, however, was the establishment of the Kazhagam in Tirunelveli in 1920, with a branch office opening in Madras in 1921. His biographer tells us that he took the cue from Maraimalai and his circle of scholar friends, who lamented that Tamilians were quick to invest in all kinds of new ventures but none would support the publication of books of knowledge which are the very source of life (Ilankumaran 1982: 30-31). True to the spirit of tamiḻppaṟṟu, its admirers insist that although the Kazhagam is a business venture, it has not let economic reasons override its dedication to the cause of Tamil (Ilankumaran 1991: 183). The Kazhagam’s involvement in Tamil devotional activities over the past few decades has been manifold, including the support of educational institutions as well as of Tamil libraries. Additionally, it has convened numerous public conferences on various aspects of Shaiva and Tamil literature, on the creation of Tamil technical terms, on Tamilnadu history, and the like. In 1937, Tiruvarangam and his associates played a key role in the founding in Tirunelveli of the Tamiḻp Pātukāppuk Kaḻakam (Society for the Protection of Tamil), which published several pamphlets and books promoting the cause of taṉittamiḻ and protesting the government’s Hindi policy. In 1923, Tiruvarangam also started the Centamiḻc Celvi, a journal devoted to promoting the twin causes of Shaivism and Tamil that is still published today.

But over and above all this, Tiruvarangam’s fame in the world of tamiḻppaṟṟu rests on the role that the Kazhagam has played in the field of publishing: under its auspices, almost every major work in Tamil and Shaiva literature, as well as several minor and hitherto unknown ones, has been printed and made available to the public. Indeed, the image of Tiruvarangam that is remembered most fondly by fellow devotees is that of a man whose voluminous coat pockets were ever stuffed with old manuscripts and galley proofs. In 1980, V. S. Manickam, then vice chancellor of Madurai Kamaraj University, noted that if Tiruvarangam had not founded the Kazhagam, none of the following would have found their way into print: Tamil school textbooks, the Canḳam poems, the Tolkāppiyam, M. Varadarajan’s sparkling commentary on the Tirukkuṟaḷ, dictionaries and encyclopedias, and the Centamiḻc Celvi. Consequently, “our Tamiḻttāy, too, would have wandered around like a weakling able to carry only one child. [But, because of the Kazhagam], our Tamiḻttāy has acquired several heads and arms, her blood has been enriched with knowledge, and her nerves and sinews have been strengthened with books. She now has the capacity to go everywhere in all directions; even shouldering the burden of fifty million of her children, she flourishes happily” (quoted in Ilankumaran 1982: 2).

The Warrior Devotee

Increasingly from the 1930s on, especially as Dravidianist sentiments began to dominate the devotional community, the kaviņar (poet) and the aṟiņar (scholar) had to make room for a new kind of devotee, the maṟavar (warrior), who fiercely fought in the glorious and honorable battle for liberating Tamiḻttāy. Among the many devotees who so present themselves, perhaps none is as spectacular as Muthuvel Karunanidhi. His life, he writes, is a “battle,” and he is the “warrior” who bravely and fearlessly takes it on (Karunanidhi 1989: 7). His reminiscences are sprinkled with numerous allusions to the Canḳam past, and there are repeated comparisons between his own efforts for the Tamil cause and the heroic deeds of ancient Tamil warriors. Like those ancient maṟavars who battled to maintain their honor, he writes that he, too, was prepared to battle—and had indeed done so—to maintain the honor of Tamil and the well-being of its speakers. The four most memorable days of his life, he recalls, are the day he was born; the day he got married; the day he met his beloved leader, Annadurai; and, finally, the day he was thrown into prison for the first time during “the battle to protect [his] language” (Karunanidhi 1989: 15).

Born in 1924 into a working-class family in the small village of Tirukkuvalai near Tiruvarur in Tanjavur district, Karunanidhi’s involvement in the Tamil cause began very early, when he was in high school. He was fourteen when the first wave of anti-Hindi protests began to sweep across the Presidency in the late 1930s, and he recalls being impressed with the Tamilian Brigade that marched from Tiruchirapalli to Madras in 1938 and with young men like Dhalamutthu, Natarajan, and Stalin Jegadeesan who had sacrificed themselves in the battle against Hindi. Inspired by their deeds, he organized his fellow students and marched every evening through the streets of Tiruvarur carrying the Tamil banner and shouting anti-Hindi slogans. The student procession was headed by a cart bearing a giant poster of Tamiḻttāy being stabbed by Rajagopalachari (fig. 5). The students chanted a verse that young Karunanidhi himself had composed: “Let us all gather together and go to war! / Let us chase away and drive back that she devil, Hindi!” (Karunanidhi 1989: 43-44). One day during their daily march, the students encountered their Hindi teacher. Karunanidhi handed him a pamphlet of anti-Hindi songs, raised the Tamil banner, and shouted, “Let Hindi die! Long live Tamil!” He writes that even though he was just a teenager, and ought to have been scared about confronting his teacher in this way, he felt no fear for his “blood and [his] breath pulse[d] with Tamil” (Karunanidhi 1989: 42-46).

His participation in these anti-Hindi protests laid the foundation for his full-scale involvement in politics. Soon after, he dropped out of high school, became actively involved in the youth wing of the Dravidian movement, and contributed essays on rationalism, atheism, and other such issues to various party newspapers. In 1942, he founded his own newspaper, the Muracoli, which continues to be published to this day; and by the early 1950s, he was writing scripts for plays and movies that propagated the ideals of the movement. Later in his life he wrote, “Even if I have a mother and father, wives and children and siblings, and whether they stay with me or part from me, it is the [Dravidian] movement that I think of as my family, and I think of myself as part of it” (Karunanidhi 1987b: 1). He recalls that during several crucial moments in his life, such as the deaths of his father and of his first wife, he was off making speeches for the movement rather than at their side (Karunanidhi 1989: 96, 107). He observes (with some amusement) that when he got married the second time, his wedding took place on 15 September 1948—the same day that Ramasami had called for a renewed protest against Hindi. Friends and relatives had gathered at Karunanidhi’s home. He himself was standing at the entrance, greeting his guests, when an anti-Hindi procession went by on its way to picket the local school. The processors were shouting anti-Hindi slogans: “Let Hindi die! May Tamil live!” In the roar of these slogans, he notes, the music of his wedding party could hardly be heard. He, too, joined the procession, and went off to picket the nearby school. Fortunately, he writes, he was not arrested on that day and returned home to marry his bride, who had been waiting patiently through all this (Karunanidhi 1989: 113-15).

From the early 1950s, as a key member of the newly formed DMK, Karunanidhi began to participate enthusiastically in various protests launched by that party, picketing shops run by North Indian merchants and tarring over Hindi names on public billboards. He gained early fame in 1953 when he led a group of DMK volunteers in a bid to change the name of the industrial town called Dalmiapuram to its Tamil original, Kallakudi. His narration of this event offers a clear illustration of Karunanidhi’s efforts to capitalize on themes drawn from ancient heroic poetry. He writes that he and twenty-four others set out on that fateful day. “Look, the herd of Tamil lions has set out to cast aside the crown of dishonor that sits on our Tamiḻttāy’s head.…We ran towards our mother. We erased the name Dalmiapuram. We painted on the name Kallakudi.” Then, over the protests of police officials who had gathered there, he and his fellow “warriors” laid themselves down on the railroad tracks as they heard the train approaching: “One last time, I looked up at the sky! I looked around at Kallakudi; I looked to my heart’s content at Tamiḻttāy who nurtured me. I looked at all those standing around me…I closed my eyes. I heard the sound of the train approaching. My heart resounded with the words, ‘May Tamil live long!” ’ Several men lost their lives or were injured at Kallakudi, and Karunanidhi himself was sentenced to six months in prison. “We received our reward for fighting for the honor of Tamilians,” he concludes (Karunanidhi 1989: 196-214).[30]

This is not the only time Karunanidhi went to prison in the battle to save the honor of his language and his fellow speakers; he was imprisoned once again in 1965 for his role in the anti-Hindi protests of that year. He writes in the style of the maṟavar devotee, “I will have no greater joy than if I die on the battlefield, opposing Hindi” (Karunanidhi 1989: 476). And although he has held several public and political offices—as a member of the Legislative Assembly from 1957; as a cabinet minister in the first DMK government in 1967; and then as chief minister of the state from 1969 to 1976, 1989 to 1991, and most recently beginning in May 1996—he clearly takes pride in his persona as a “warrior” for Tamil, as someone who has been ready to put his body on the line for his fellow speakers of Tamil. As he declared later in life, in a verse that admirably captures his flamboyant presentation of self:

O Tamilians! O Tamilians!
If you throw me into the ocean, I will float on it as a raft; you may climb aboard and ride the waves.
If you throw me into the flames of a fire, I will be the burning log; you can use me in your hearth and cook your meals.
If you dash me against the rocks, I will break into the flakes of a coconut; you can pick these up and eat them, and rejoice.
(Karunanidhi 1987b: 229)

Another devotee who presents himself, albeit less colorfully than does Karunanidhi, as a maṟavar battling for Tamil is M. P. Sivagnanam. Sivagnanam’s life, like Karunanidhi’s, offers an illustration of how tamiḻppaṟṟu can bring fame and fortune, the trials and tribulations involved in its practice notwithstanding. Born in 1906 into a very poor family of the low Gramani caste in Madras city, Sivagnanam had to drop out of school early, and he helped support his family through a variety of minor jobs: rolling tobacco for country cigarettes, working as a day laborer on construction sites, and as a printer for about eight years. In 1927, he joined the Congress and rose slowly but steadily in its ranks, in spite of his low-caste, working-class background. In 1942, he was imprisoned in Amaravati for his participation in the Quit India protests. This was a turning point in his life, for there he read Canḳam poetry for the first time and came to believe that the Tamil country ought to be ruled only by Tamilians; that every Tamilian’s credo ought to be, “Tamil everywhere, everything in Tamil” that Tamil should be the first principle of their lives; and that the Tamil land should be restored to its original, “sacred,” and “natural” frontiers (Sivagnanam 1974: 250-53).

Over the next two decades, he “battled” to make this vision a reality. In his autobiography suggestively entitled Eṉatu Pōrāṭṭam (My struggle), Sivagnanam writes that he had to conduct this battle on several fronts. As a Tamil devotee in the regional Congress, he struggled to ensure that Tamil interests were not compromised by that “nationalist” party. By 1953, he found that his continuing membership in the party threatened his devotion to Tamil. He writes that if he had not severed his connections with the Congress, he could have become mayor of Madras, or even a cabinet minister—no small achievement for a poor boy from the slums. But “for the sake of Tamil and Tamilnadu and Tamilians,” he gave all this up (Sivagnanam 1974: 709). On another front, as a “nationalist,” he also conducted a series of campaigns against the Dravidian movement in the 1950s to counter any possibility of Tamilnadu seceding from India (Sivagnanam 1974: 535-55).

His fame in Tamil devotional circles rests on his attempts to popularize the poems of the Canḳam; on his efforts to commemorate the birthdays of great Tamil poets and nationalists like Bharati; and on a series of assaults he led from the late 1940s through the 1950s to ensure that the borders of the newly formed linguistic state of Madras conformed to what was imagined as Tamiḻakam, “the home of Tamil,” in the Canḳam age, stretching from the Tirupati hills in the north to the Cape in the south. He also fought to ensure that the city of Madras would not be lost to neighboring Andhra Pradesh, declaring in 1953, “We will save our capital if it means cutting off our heads. As long as the last Tamilian is alive, we will not surrender our rights. We will not forget our heroic heritage. Fiercely, we will rise! We will protect our Tamiḻttāy” (Sivagnanam 1974: 617). And fiercely he did rise and march, and he was detained in 1953 and in 1956 by the Congress government for his role in these border campaigns. Although by the mid-1960s Sivagnanam joined ranks with the DMK party in order to fight the common battle against Hindi and was subsequently elected to the Madras Legislative Assembly, he turned down an offer to join the DMK cabinet in 1967, wishing not to be diverted from his true service to Tamil, its land, and its people (Sivagnanam 1974: 981).

The Devotee as Martyr

While not minimizing the sacrifices made by these better-known luminaries, the real “warriors” of tamiḻppaṟṟu were the hundreds of relatively unknown, even anonymous, young men who, from the 1930s on, increasingly took to the streets, courted arrest, undertook fasts, died under police fire, and burned themselves alive for the sake of Tamil and Tamiḻttāy. Whatever each individual’s intentions and motivations may have been, their deeds are remembered, textualized, and circulated by their fellow devotees to conform to the ideal of the “Tamil martyr” (moḻi tiyāki). Their names are invoked again and again in poem and song, in speech and writing. Since 1967, after the DMK first came to power, buildings and streets and bridges have been named after them; commemorative statues have been installed; and pensions have been given to their survivors. And since 1968, the party has routinely celebrated 25 January as “Language Martyrs’ Day.”[31] The memory of these martyrs is repeatedly used to spur Tamil speakers to take up the Tamil cause and, if need be, to sacrifice their lives for their language/mother.

If a populist political movement reaches its apogee when it gains its first martyrs, tamiḻppaṟṟu attained that moment in 1939. Early that year, two young men, Natarajan and Dhalamutthu, died in prison, having been arrested along with numerous others for joining the anti-Hindi picketing in front of the Hindu Theological High School in Madras city. The government was quick to point out that both men had been in poor health when they had entered the prison, and that they died of cellulitis and amebic dysentery.[32] In devotional writings, however, their deaths are presented as heroic sacrifices to the Tamil cause, and over the years these men have attained the status of devotees who selflessly gave up their lives for their language (Annadurai 1985: 34-36, 56-57; Karunanidhi 1989: 196-207; Parthasarathy 1986: 410-37). Their funeral processions in Madras city were attended by hundreds of mourners and marked by fiery speeches celebrating their martyrdom. Annadurai proclaimed that Natarajan’s name and deeds had to be inscribed in gold in the history of the world. Another admirer, Kanchi Rajagopalachari, a maverick Brahman in the Justice Party and archcritic of the government, declared that never before even in the glorious history of ancient Tamilnadu had anyone sacrificed his life for his language, predicting that Natarajan’s grave would become a hallowed site for all true Tamilians. Natarajan’s father, we are told, declared that his son’s spirit lived on in all true Tamilians and invited them to continue the battle for Tamil rights (Iraiyan 1981: 108).[33]

Government records only tell us that Dhalamutthu Nadar was a native of Kumbakonam, an illiterate who was arrested on 13 February 1939, fell ill on 6 March, and died on 11 March.[34] According to Tamil’s devotees, he was married, and when he was arrested, the judge asked him if he would return to his hometown if he was released; he refused the conditions. Sentenced to six months’ “rigorous imprisonment,” he entered prison shouting “Down with Hindi! May Tamil flourish” (Iraiyan 1981: 107). Natarajan, government sources note in passing, was an illiterate twenty-year-old “Adi-Dravida” carpenter and a native of Madras. He was arrested on 5 December 1938, fell ill and was admitted to the hospital on 30 December, and died on 15 January 1939. The 22 January issue of the Sunday Observer carried an interview with K. Lakshmanan, young Natarajan’s father, in which he declared that his son often sang religious and anti-Hindi songs at home. Three days prior to his arrest, his son had expressed his desire to go to jail for the sake of Tamil. Lakshmanan also said that when his son was hospitalized, he was told by the authorities that if he submitted an apology for his activities, he would be released from prison. But Natarajan refused.[35] In its editorial of 22 January, the Nakaratūtaṉ declared that Natarajan, filled with “love for Tamil,” preferred to die a honorable death in prison rather than agree to a dishonorable release (Ilanceliyan 1986: 171-72; Visswanathan 1983: 244-47).

Along with Dhalamutthu and Natarajan, these early protests against Hindi also produced another martyr in a young man who called himself Stalin Jegadeesan. On 1 May 1938, he started a fast, demanding the cancellation of the government’s Hindi legislation. He was frequently put on display at anti-Hindi meetings, and his photograph was periodically published in sympathetic newspapers. A statement issued by him, published in the Viṭutalai, had him declaring that he had gone on his fast to prove to Hindi supporters that Tamiḻttāy still had loyal sons: “I will return with our Tamiḻaṉṉai [Tamiḻttāy], or I will die,” he concluded.[36] Following his example, another man, named Ponnusami, also went on a fast on 1 June in front of Rajagopalachari’s residence, sitting under a tree and carrying the Tamil banner (with its characteristic emblems of the tiger, the bow, and the fish, signifying the ancient Tamil dynasties of the Chola, Chera, and Pandya). He is reported to have declared: “I shall fast unto death; even if released from jail I shall go and fast and die in front of the Premier’s house. If Jegadeesan should die…[a] thousand lives should go for it.”[37]

Some anti-Hindi leaders such as Ramasami rejected fasting as a form of protest; others such as Annadurai used the example of Jegadeesan to spur Tamil speakers to join the cause. At an anti-Hindi meeting in 1938, Annadurai thundered, “If Jegadeesan dies, I am ready to take his place, and die along with ten other persons. As soon as Jegadeesan dies, you should also be prepared to die.”[38] Jegadeesan, however, did not die; on the contrary, it was reported that he had been stealthily eating at night all along, and his fast was called off after about ten weeks (Nambi Arooran 1980: 208-10; Visswanathan 1983: 201-5).

Stalin Jegadeesan may not have given up his life for Tamil, but Shankaralinga Nadar certainly did, in the process of demanding that Madras state be renamed Tamilnadu. Nothing in the biography of Shankaralingam, as it has been documented by T. Sundararajan (1986) from information obtained from his grandson, offers a clear reason for why he took this course of action. A lifelong Gandhian, Shankaralingam was born in 1895. He was a social reformer and nationalist in his native Virudhunagar, but there seems to be little evidence of devotion to Tamil during his early years. The only possible explanation that Sundararajan himself obliquely offers is that by the 1940s, Shankaralingam was disillusioned with life, and perhaps the fast was one last effort to do something for his beloved Tamilnadu (Sundararajan 1986: 68-76). He died on 13 October 1956 after a fast of over seventy days; his demand for renaming the state was not granted until a decade later. Soon after Shankaralingam’s death, in 1958-59, two young men named Ilavalakan and Arangarathinam fasted in front of radio stations in Tiruchirapalli and Madras demanding that the Sanskritic work for radio, ākāṣvāṇi, which smacked of Hindi domination, be replaced with the pure Tamil term, vāṉoli. Others, including K. A. P. Viswanatham, joined in their protest, and more than sixty were arrested by 1960. Arangarathinam himself was hailed as the great hero who was a direct descendant of ancient Tamil warriors like Senguttuvan and Nedunceliyan, and Bharatidasan wrote poems and editorials celebrating his heroic act (Sambandan 1976: 120-25).[39]

All these martyrs, however heroic and lauded, were soon overshadowed by Chinnasami, who set himself on fire in Tiruchirapalli on 25 January 1964, on the eve of municipal elections in the state. Chinnasami’s self-immolation inaugurated a dramatic new form of expressing devotion and offered a spectacular new model of the true devotee of Tamil, as one who turns himself into ashes for his language/mother. Verses have been written on him, including a long poem which portrays him and his family as the archetypal heroic Tamilians (Puthumai Vannan 1968). During the 1964 elections, the DMK plastered the walls of Madras city with posters showing the charred body of Chinnasami, and in the 1967 campaign, the party staged a play on his life and death. In April 1967, soon after the party came to power, a memorial to Chinnasami was set up near Tiruchirapalli (Karunanidhi 1989: 698; M. S. S. Pandian 1992: 17; Ryerson 1988: 132-33).

In his memoirs, Karunanidhi tells us Chinnasami’s story in a chapter entitled “Chinnasami, the Lion Tamilian” (Karunanidhi 1989: 498-501). A native of the small village of Kilpaluvur near Tiruchirapalli, Chinnasami had a primary school education up to the fifth grade and later worked as a day laborer. In his spare time, he avidly read Dravidianist literature and newspapers, and he had even named his only daughter Dravidacelvi, “Lady Dravida.” A few days before he immolated himself, he had visited Madras, and on a chance meeting with Chief Minister Bhaktavatsalam, he implored the latter to do something to save Tamil. He was taken into custody. On 25 January, in the early dawn, he doused himself with kerosene and set himself ablaze in front of the railway station in Tiruchirapalli. He was twenty-seven. Karunanidhi writes that as the flames consumed him, he shouted, “Let Hindi die! May Tamil flourish!” Karunanidhi also quotes from a letter Chinnasami is believed to have written to a friend on the eve of his death in which he declared, “O Tamil! In order that you live, I am going to die a terrible death!” In a speech that Karunanidhi himself gave soon after Chinnasami’s death at a public meeting, he declared, “Even when his youthful face was being scorched by the flames, from the bottom of his heart, he cried out, consumed by passion for his mother tongue, ‘May Tamiḻttāy flourish! Down with Hindi.’ He then surrendered his life.” Karunanidhi concludes that in his death, Chinnasami gave truth to every Tamil devotee’s reigning sentiment: “I want to die with Tamil on my lips! / My ashes should burn with the fragrance of Tamil!” (Karunanidhi 1989: 498). His wife Kamalam, it is reported, today takes pride in the fact that he was the first to immolate himself in the battle against Hindi. “[His] greatness is my wealth,” she notes with tears.[40]

A year after Chinnasami’s death, in the early months of 1965, several other young men followed in his footsteps and immolated themselves. Today, in various devotional tracts, their names are repeated, over and again, almost like a litany: Sivalingam, Aranganathan, Veerappan, Mutthu, and Sarangapani.[41] Three other young men—Dandapani, Mutthu, and Shanmugam[42]—died after consuming poison. On January 27, an eighteen-year-old college student named Rajendran, himself the son of a policeman, was killed when police opened fire on a huge anti-Hindi protest march at Annamalai University in Chidambaram. The varying stories of all these young men have been narrativized in the devotional community to conform to the image of the selfless Tamil martyr, overwriting any individual aspirations or passions they might have had. Each of them, prior to death, professed his devotion to Tamil and lamented over Tamil’s fate at the hands of Hindi. Some left behind letters (which were found sometimes beside their charred bodies) in which they proclaimed their deaths to be “in protest against the imposition of Hindi, and [as] sacrifice at the altar of Tamil” (Barnett 1976: 131); others cried out “Long Live Tamil! Down with Hindi!” as their bodies were beginning to burn. When neighbors tried to save Veerappan, he reportedly told them as the flames were consuming his body that they should use their efforts to save not him, but Tamil. Young Sarangapani died in his hospital bed, saying, it is claimed, “I have given up my life for Tamiḻttāy” (Parthasarathy 1986: 412). Mallika, Aranganathan’s wife, told newsmen that her husband cared for Tamil deeply, even more than for his three children and herself. For days before his death, he had been troubled about the ruin that Hindi was causing Tamil, the DMK newspaper Muttāram reported.[43] Many of these young men, it is claimed, were inspired by Chinnasami’s example, which they read about in DMK party newspapers. Aranganathan is believed to have immolated himself after seeing the charred body of Sivalingam. Sivalingam in turn was inspired to his act by Chinnasami’s.

With the exception of Veerappan, who was a schoolteacher, and Sarangapani and Dandapani, who were college students, all the others, like Chinnasami, had had only a basic education and held low paying jobs of various kinds. Like Chinnasami again, they all came from very poor rural families, and at least in the government’s reckoning, they “were also reported to be suffering from domestic troubles, illnesses, etc.”[44] Finally, they all appear to have subscribed to the ideals of Dravidianism to various degrees. Like Chinnasami, they were rank-and-file members of the DMK. Some DMK leaders publicly expressed their horror over these immolations; others attended the men’s funerals. The party has in general condoned devotion in this form and even celebrates such martyrs, if the hagiography it generates on these young men is any testimony. DMK newspapers routinely carried photographs of the charred bodies and the funeral processions of the dead martyrs, and, as already noted, the date of Chinnasami’s self-immolation has become “Language Martyrs’ Day.” The speeches and essays of key DMK leaders are to this day sprinkled with celebratory allusions to these men. It is reported with pride that newspapers, both Indian and foreign, carried news of the immolations. The Tamil devotee had at last succeeded in drawing the attention of the rest of the world to the plight of his language/mother, by literally burning himself to death.

The Anti Devotee

Finally, I turn to the maverick figure of E. V. Ramasami, the “patriarch” (tantai) of the Dravidian movement, who is reverentially referred to as Periyār (the great one) by his followers and admirers. Perhaps more than any single individual, Ramasami has had the greatest influence, by their own reckoning, on the lives of large numbers of Tamil’s devotees, especially those who write in the Dravidianist idiom. Indeed, in a literary culture given to extravagant adulation and excess, praise of Ramasami is only surpassed by praise of Tamil (Pulamaidasan 1975). To quote a typical example:

You were the courageous one
in the group that sought
the welfare of southern people.
You mastered and embraced
the British language
as the language of science.
You blocked the ascent of Hindi
that had gained a place
in the life of my people.
You are the king who rises up
if Tamils anywhere suffer.
You, who always think
about developing fair Tamil
You…came as a son
so fair Tamil could flourish.
(quoted in Richman 1997: 198, 204)

It is ironic that his admirers wrote verses such as this, for the subject of all this adulation had very little patience with a literary form like poetry. Even more ironically, beginning in the 1940s if not earlier, Ramasami launched a sustained attack on the passionate attachment to Tamil that was the binding glue of the devotional community; in the 1950s, he even referred to the language as “primitive” and “barbaric” (Nannan 1993: 52, 138-50; E. V. Ramasami 1960: 10-11). This attack peaked in the early 1960s when he published a polemical pamphlet provocatively entitled Tāyppāl Paittiyam (Madness over mother’s milk), in which he boldly satirized the hallowed figure of Tamiḻttāy (E. V. Ramasami 1962: 7-17). Nevertheless, devotees who are admirers of Ramasami strategically overlook his denial of Tamil and present him instead as its “savior”—even as one of Tamiḻttāy’s true sons. Indeed, because so many of them profess to be rationalists and atheists, they can no longer call upon Hindu deities to grant protection to their adored subject, Ramasami; instead, they turn to Tamil or Tamiḻttāy to do so. Typically, praise poetry on Ramasami begins with praise of Tamil. For Tamiḻttāy’s devotees, he is one of their own, and one of hers, as well.

And yet all along, Ramasami vigorously resisted being thus appropriated into the Tamil devotional community; hence my characterization of him as “anti-devotee.” So, for instance, in July 1939 at a public meeting in Coimbatore, he announced:

The chairman says I have great devotion for our mother tongue, Tamil. He also said that I toil hard for it. . . . I do not have any devotion for Tamil, either as mother tongue or as the language of the nation. I am not attached to it because it is a classical language, or because it is an ancient language, or because it was the language spoken by Shiva, or the language bestowed upon us by Agastya.…Such an attachment and devotion is foolish. I only have attachment to those things that have qualities that have utility. I do not praise something just because it is my language or my land or my religion or because it is something ancient.[45]

Here, in one sweep, he vigorously set himself in opposition to every assertion made by the devout, across the various regimes of tamiḻppaṟṟu, over the past half century. Indeed, in contrast to its devotees who imagined Tamil as a person—their goddess, their mother, even their beloved lover—Ramasami represented it as a worldly object: an instrument (cātaṉam) for communicating one’s thoughts, a tool (karuvi) for expressing ideas. The greatness of a language, he wrote, lay in the ease with which one could express thoughts in and through it, and the efficiency with which one could learn it; its usefulness lay in its appropriateness for any community’s conditions for existence, its compatibility with the environment, and so on (Anaimuthu 1974: 963-69; Kothandaraman 1979). So, in his 1939 speech in Coimbatore, he conceded that if he had any affection (aṉpu) at all for Tamil, it is because it had some use for its speakers. Over the following decades, he became less willing to make even this concession. Mudiyarasan recalls that at the Language Teachers Conference in 1948 over which Ramasami presided, he scribbled the words “Down with Tamil” on a piece of paper lying on the table; contrary to the spirit of the conference, Ramasami declared in his own speech, “First, Tamil has to die.…Only English should reign. It is only then that the Tamilian will improve” (Mudiyarasan n.d.: 42-43). Ramasami himself wrote a few years later that when he made a similar point at another public meeting, some Tamil “fanatics” (moḻi veṟiyar) asked him whose son he was. Ramasami replied that if-speaking English meant that Tamilians were children of the British, then they should also give up using other “English” products such as the radio and the telephone (E. V. Ramasami 1962: 6-7).

Indeed, in his editorials of early 1967, which were surely a commentary on recent happenings in the state, convulsed as it had been by anti-Hindi protests, he wrote: “In our land today, those who have no other means of survival invoke Tamil in order to survive. They declare in frenzy that ‘Tamil has to be protected; We will labor for Tamil; We will give up our lives for Tamil.’…The people [of this land] should not be fooled by this.…How can people who live in modern times be seized by this language madness (moḻi paittiyam)? The madness over language is like the madness over caste and religion” (Anaimuthu 1974: 983, 1001).

“Why should we get into a frenzy over language?” This was an interesting question to raise at a time when so many had claimed, and acted on the premise, that a life without Tamil was a life not worth living. In the numerous self-reflections that Ramasami offers on his life, “service to Tamil,” that driving imperative of Tamil’s devotees, hardly figures at all—yet another reason for characterizing him as “anti-devotee.” Instead, the burning passion of his life, as he himself declared on many occasions, was to put an end to caste exploitation: specifically, to Brahman denigration of, and domination over, the “non-Brahman,” Dravidian populace (S. Chidambaranar 1971: ix-xxxi, 15-20). It is caste and religion that were his central concerns for most of his life, not language. As he declared in the 1950s, “language is not so important for man” (E. V. Ramasami 1962: 1).

Not surprisingly, unlike any of its devotees, Ramasami makes no claims to have labored for Tamil. Born in 1879 into a middle-class merchant family in Erode, by his own reckoning he was a rebellious young man, going against the wishes of his orthodox parents on more than one occasion. He dropped out of school—not driven out by poverty, as was the case with so many of Tamil’s devotees, but by choice—and started working for his father. It was not until 1915, when he was in his thirties, that he began to involve himself in civic activities; and here, too, unlike many in the devotional community, his interest lay in local politics, and increasingly in anticolonial politics. By 1920, after serving for two years as chairman of the Erode municipality, he joined the Congress, and by all accounts he ardently threw himself into promoting the end of untouchability, the virtues of khadi (homespun) and teetotalism, and other such staples of Gandhian nationalism. In 1924, he led a campaign in Vaikom (in present-day Kerala) to demand the rescinding of rules prohibiting Untouchables from access to roads near the local temple. He received the sobriquet Vaikkam Vīrar, “hero of Vaikom,” for his efforts, and this campaign also consolidated his growing reputation as a man who was radically opposed to Brahmanical privilege and caste exploitation (S. Chidambaranar 1971: 1-88; Visswanathan 17-66).

Soon after, in 1925-26, he parted from the Congress, dissatisfied with the party’s Brahmanical predilections, the most recent illustration of which was its support of separate dining facilities for Brahman students in Subramania Aiyar’s Tamil school in Sheramadevi (discussed earlier). Over the next few years, he began to drift towards the Justice Party, the premier organization that represented “non-Brahman” interests in the Presidency, although there were considerable differences between its conservative, elite agenda and Ramasami’s own rationalist, atheist, iconoclastic imperatives that found expression in the Self-Respect movement he spearheaded from this time on. He also founded, and often acted as editor of, a number of controversial and radical newspapers and journals, such as the Kuṭi Aracu,Viṭutalai,Revolt, and so on, publications which reportedly had a transformative influence on so many of Tamil’s devotees. And yet his own writings are marked by the absence of the literary flourishes and the erudite citations from ancient Tamil literature that characterize devotional writings; on the contrary, Ramasami appears to have taken an almost perverse pleasure in using colloquialisms, koccaittamiḻ (unrefined Tamil), even what some would consider vulgarisms. Ironically, or perhaps deliberately, the Tamil that he employed in his writings was inflected with Sanskrit, his polemical attacks against the language notwithstanding.

Ramasami’s involvement in activities related to Tamil began in the 1930s (Nannan 1993: 11-14). In 1934-35, in essays he published in Pakuttaṟivu and Kuṭi Aracu, he called for reform and rationalization of the Tamil script in order to make it more serviceable in printing and typewriting. Although not the first person to call for such a reform, nevertheless he was among the earliest to demonstrate by example: his publications began to use a modified version of the script that was eventually officially adopted by the Tamilnadu state in 1978. In the 1940s and 1950s, Ramasami also supported the demand for use of Tamil in temple worship, the Tamil music (tamiḻ icai) movement, the call for renaming Madras state Tamilnadu, the protests over better pay for Tamil teachers, and all other such causes that were so dear to Tamil’s followers (Anaimuthu 1974: 959-63; Kothandaraman 1979; Nambi Arooran 1980: 167-68; Velu and Selvaraji 1989).

Of course, his reputation and fame as devotee of Tamil rests on his spirited opposition to Hindi and on his vigorous leadership of the anti-Hindi movement from the late 1930s through the 1960s. Indeed, as early as 1926, long before the opposition to the language had grown among scholars as well as the general populace, he insisted that Hindi was being favored politically, pedagogically, and financially by the Brahman dominated Congress party at the expense of Tamil (E. V. Ramasami 1985). Over the next few decades, he vigorously flooded newspapers and magazines with powerful, and often colorful, arguments against the language; led numerous campaigns for picketing government offices, schools teaching Hindi, and business establishments run by North Indians; tarred over Hindi names on official boards in railway stations and post offices; burned the Constitution of India and the national map; and was arrested on numerous occasions for all his efforts. His admirers mention that in this process, not only did he instill Tamil consciousness into the hitherto “sleeping” Dravidian masses, but he was also responsible for politicizing women and drawing them into the Tamil cause.

Through all this, Ramasami paradoxically maintained that he was-speaking out against Hindi not because he was a devotee of Tamil, but because he saw Hindi as an agent of continuing Aryan, Brahman, Sanskritic, North Indian imperialism. During the 1930s, he was willing to concede that given their other choices—the irrational and ritualistic Sanskrit, and the “backward” Hindi—Tamilians were much better off with Tamil (Anaimuthu 1974: 968-69, 1763-825). But from the 1940s, even as he was leading the fight against Hindi, he also attacked the enormous political, symbolic, and emotional investment in Tamil made by so many of his fellow Tamil-speaking Dravidians. He ridiculed neo-Shaiva attempts to divinize the language, declaring that if Tamil society had to progress, and if Tamil had to take its place among the modern languages of the world, its intimate ties with religion had to be severed. What use was it to declare that Tamil emerged from Shiva’s drum or that it could magically create a woman out of some old bones, as some of its devotees were wont to do, when the language did not have the capacity to express rational thought? he asked with brutal realism (Anaimuthu 1974: 969, 976-77; E. V. Ramasami 1960).

While he was willing to go along with the contestatory classicist and Dravidianist claim that Tamil was more ancient than and a superior language to Sanskrit, he questioned the wisdom of the proposition that the salvation of modern Tamil speakers lay in a return to the imagined perfect past of their Canḳam poems. And here, his growing disparagement of Tamil was matched only by his utter scorn for its high literature, whose “classicality” its devotees had so painstakingly constructed over the past few decades. Instead, he insisted that all of Tamil literature—with the possible exception of the Tirukkuṟaḷ—was tainted with Sanskritic ritualism, casteism, gender inequalities, and irrational follies, arguing that it was the very means by which Tamilians had been, and would continue to be, enslaved to Aryanism (Anaimuthu 1974: 959-1002; Nambi Arooran 1980: 164-66; E. V. Ramasami 1960).

But above all, Ramasami attacked the feminization of Tamil as a mother figure, that construct so dear to the Indianist and Dravidianist imaginations. What is this “obstinacy” over the mother tongue when the language spoken by our mothers is itself so problematic? he demanded. “Having given birth to us, if our mother left us in the house of a Telugu speaker or a Muslim, would we not start to speak in Telugu or Urdu? Just because our mother spoke Tamil does that mean that Tamil will spurt from us all by itself?” Moreover, can the baby talk that mothers use with their infants be used by us as adults? Is this not utter foolishness? he asked (Anaimuthu 1974: 969).

Ramasami thus deconstructed the metaphorical construct of the “mother tongue” to reveal what it was, after all—a metaphor; and in general, there was a remarkable absence in his writings of references to Tamiḻttāy, “mother’s milk,” “mother tongue,” and all such staples of tamiḻppaṟṟu. This is not surprising, for as he asked in his provocative pamphlet, Tāyppāl Paittiyam (Madness over mother’s milk), why is it that Tamilians insist, as if they were “children,” that they would only live on their mother’s milk, Tamil: “ ‘Mother’s milk is superior’ only if the mother’s milk has power (cakti) and substance (cattu). When the mother, Tamil, is herself without substance and diseased, how could the child who drinks her milk improve? The mother’s milk will be strong only if the mother herself is well-nourished. Is Tamil well-nourished?” (E. V. Ramasami 1962: 9-10).

Contrary to so many of her devotees who proposed that imbibing Tamiḻttāy’s milk cultivated in the Tamil speaker the true “Tamil” qualities of virtue and chastity, heroism and self-respect, Ramasami argued that Tamilians who had been content with drinking her milk were diseased with irrationalism, superstition, and traditionalism, so much so that one recoiled from the nasty odor of religiosity and orthodoxy that emanated from them. He went on to propose that if Tamilians took to drinking “bottled milk,” that is, English, they would gain in fortitude, independence, and rationality (E. V. Ramasami 1962: 10-12). As in his antireligious and anticlassicist arguments against devotional claims, he invoked the power of modern science and rationalism to undermine the “irrational” follies of its devotees’ attachment to Tamil:

If Tamiḻttāy offers her milk for scientific examination, it will be proven that there is nothing in it that provides strength or fortitude to the body, and the reality of mother’s milk will be revealed. Is it not appropriate that those who praise the virtues of mother’s milk should tell us what its constituents are that supposedly contribute to our well-being? Instead of so doing, they have turned…mother’s milk into a capital resource with which they have deluded the people.

The pamphlet ends by announcing that through deploying the trope of mother’s milk to stir the gullible Tamilians’ devotion to their language, Tamil devotees had only succeeded in turning them into fools. This, Ramasami concluded, was “the real fruit of mother’s milk.”

Ramasami’s most vehement statements about the “madness” over Tamiḻttāy, or the “barbarism” of Tamil, were made in the 1950s and 1960s, when the DMK was riding the crest of the popular and political wave in the state by projecting itself as the guardian of the language. In 1949, that party had split off from Ramasami’s DK, which he had created in 1944 out of the ashes of the defunct Justice Party (of which he had been president since 1938). The ostensible occasion for the split was Ramasami’s (second) marriage, at seventy, to Maniyammai, a party worker forty or so years younger than him; the marriage was denounced as a betrayal of Ramasami’s own dearly held principles. But other ideological differences had accumulated between Ramasami and Annadurai, his able lieutenant of many years, including their varying stances on Dravidian and Indian nationalisms, Brahmanism, and electoral politics. As the DMK became more and more vigorous in its espousal of the Tamil cause, Ramasami took an alternate route. After 1953, he even backed the Congress in spite of that party’s reputation as “anti-Tamil,” a reputation that Ramasami himself had helped establish in earlier years (Barnett 1976: 56-84). He also called upon Tamil speakers to abandon Tamil and to embrace English, at one point even urging, “Speak with your wives and children and servants in English! Give up your infatuation with Tamil (tamiḻp paittiyam).…Try and live like human beings!” (Anaimuthu 1974: 989). Where the DMK was willing to concede the usefulness of English in the public sphere, Ramasami insisted that even in the private, intimate space of their homes, Tamilians should abandon their “mother” and adopt English—a stunning repudiation of a fundamental devotional premise.

Yet it would be a mistake to reduce Ramasami’s iconoclastic pronouncements on Tamil to the shifting vagaries of electoral and party politics alone. His dismay over Tamil-speaking Dravidians’ preoccupation with their language cannot be separated from his dominant ideological and political objective through much of the 1940s and early 1950s—the creation of a separate Dravidian nation, in opposition to the Indian nation (M. S. S. Pandian 1993). He argued that their ethnic/racial identity as “Dravidians” was, and should be, more important to Tamilians than their linguistic identity as speakers of Tamil. Unlike language—which he insisted could be picked up today and dropped tomorrow—the bond of blood was durable and distinctive. And yet, paradoxically, he had as encompassing a vision of Tamil as so many of its devotees, for in making his case for a “Dravidian nation,” he suggested there was no distinction between Tamil and the other Dravidian languages: “Some of our pandits declare that these four languages emerged from one, that they are four sisters that were borne by one mother’s womb. This is utter nonsense. There was only one daughter who was given birth to by Tirāviṭattāy [Mother Dravida], and her name is Tamil. We have given it four different names, because the language is spoken in four different places. But in all four places, it is Tamil that is spoken” (E. V. Ramasami 1948: 30, emphasis mine). So, for Ramasami, “Dravidian is Tamil, Tamil is Dravidian”—a sentiment that led him to deny the existence of the non-Tamil languages and their speakers as autonomous entities, and enabled his imagination of a unitary Dravidian nation.

Why did Tamil’s devotees absorb Ramasami into their ranks, despite his stunning disparagement of their object of devotion? They lionized him for his leadership of the anti-Hindi struggle: since so much of tamiḻppaṟṟu from the 1930s defined itself in its opposition to Hindi, it follows that Ramasami’s catalytic role in these protests bestowed the aura of a Tamil devotee on him. Moreover, for all his numerous slippages, contradictions, and turnabouts in politics, Ramasami consistently and fiercely opposed Brahmanism, Aryanism, and Sanskrit. Since so much of the devotional community was itself animated by such an opposition, he is seen as a fellow traveller in their own struggle against these forces. Further, Ramasami’s fundamental ideological and political commitment to restore the “self-respect” and rights of Dravidians resonated with the devotees’ own efforts to reinstate the lost privileges and honor of Tamil.

But above all, I would maintain that this most undevoted “Tamilian” was ensnared by the inexorable logic of tamiḻppaṟṟu. In that logic, there is no other subject-position available to someone like Ramasami other than that of “devotee of Tamil.” For, as the century progressed and especially as the Dravidianist idiom came to hold sway over the devotional community, a “Tamilian” or “Dravidian” had to be, by definition, a devotee of Tamil; no other ways of being were possible. As one of the founding fathers of the Dravidian movement, Ramasami’s status as paradigmatic “Tamilian” was sacrosanct; it could not, and indeed should not, be interrogated. Inevitably, this meant that if he had to retain that status, he had to be converted into a tamiḻ aṉpar, a devotee of Tamil. His protests notwithstanding, the devotional community appropriated this maverick individual and rendered him, like many others, into a subject of Tamil.


1. Paṉmoḻippulavar Kā. Appātturaiyār Maṇiviḻā Malar (Polyglot scholar Appadurai’s sixtieth birthday commemorative souvenir), 1967: n.p. [BACK]

2. MLCD 17 (1956): 406. [BACK]

3. See also Kuyil, 16 August 1960, 5. [BACK]

4. See also Tēca Cēvakaṉ, 26 June 1923, 2. [BACK]

5. For some critical and favorable contemporary responses to Nilambikai’s efforts, see Āṉantapōtiṉi 9 (1924): 372-75, 423-25; Kuṭi Aracu, 31 January 1926, 5-9. [BACK]

6. Viṭutalai, 15 November 1938, 1-4. [BACK]

7. Viṭutalai, 22 November 1938, 3; 29 November 1938, 3. [BACK]

8. Intippōr Muracu 1985: 75. [BACK]

9. See also NNR 13 (1913): 506-7. [BACK]

10. The Light of Truth or Siddhanta Deepika 6 (1906-07): 193. [BACK]

11. Ironically, in the 1870s, Pope was one of the few European philologists who insisted that “the differences between the Dravidian tongues and the Aryan are not so great” and argued that “the place of the Dravidian dialects is…with the Aryan than with the Turanian family of languages” (Pope 1876: 158). His essay showed the various deep seated affinities between Tamil and Sanskrit. [BACK]

12. English transcription of Tamil speech. Government of Madras Order No. 4818-4819, (Home Confidential), 5 October 1938. [BACK]

13. English transcription of Tamil speech. Government of Madras Order No. 4818-4819, (Home Confidential), 5 October 1938. [BACK]

14. Reprinted in Kumari Malar 29, no. 12 (1973): 24-27; quotation on 25. [BACK]

15. See also his 1924 essay, “tamiḻil vaṭamoḻi patanḳaḷ” (Sanskrit words in Tamil), reprinted in Maņcari 24, no. 4 (1971): 6-9. [BACK]

16. For contemporary discussions, see also Āṉantapōtiṉi 19 (1933): 94-96, 163-66, 403-7; 19 (1934): 483-87, 563-66; 20 (1934): 60-63; Centamiḻc Celvi 12 (1934-35): 337-39, 531-37, 563-80. [BACK]

17. He was also described as a “pimp” who married his daughter off to the North Indian, Gandhi’s son: “This ungrateful Rajagopalachari who is baser than a dog, who was born in the coterie which came to beg, who is wearing dark spectacles and who has become a minister by playing the pimp of his daughter, is trying to play the pimp for his [Brahman] community” (English transcription of Tamil speech; Government of Madras Order No. 549 [Public], 1 April 1939). [BACK]

18. Kuṭi Aracu, 26 June 1938, 1. [BACK]

19. Kuyil, 28 October 1958, 11-12. [BACK]

20. See also Kuyil, 21 April 1959, 10-12. [BACK]

21. Tīcuṭar, 10 May 1956, 4-5. [BACK]

22. In his reminiscences on Bharati, however, Bharatidasan refers to an encounter that his mentor poet had with a North Indian named Ishwarlal in Benaras who apparently asked, “Is there a language called Tamil? Is not Tamil the child of Sanskrit?…Are there even books in Tamil?…In pure Tamil?” Furious with the North Indian’s arrogance, Bharati instantaneously composed a poem—his first and only in a Tamil free of Sanskrit (Ilango 1992: 55-59). The overt antagonism towards Sanskrit expressed here is rather rare in Bharati, the one other striking exception being his short story called “Ciṉṉa Canḳaraṉ Katai” (The story of Chinna Shankaran; c. 1913). [BACK]

23. “Tamiḻp pāṣaikku ōr putiya nikaṇṭu vēṇṭum” (Need for a new thesaurus for Tamil), reprinted in Kumari Malar 15, no. 9 (1968): 36-39. [BACK]

24. Kuyil, 9 September 1960, 13-14. [BACK]

25. See also Government of Madras Order No. 3141 (Education), 9 December 1948. [BACK]

26. Tamiḻiyakkam 1 (1980): 9-12. [BACK]

27. His son also notes that Maraimalai resigned from his job in protest over Madras University’s language policies, which treated Tamil as an optional rather than a compulsory subject of study beginning in 1906 (M. Tirunavukarasu 1959: 124-26). [BACK]

28. For a contrary sentiment expressed in his private diaries, see M. Tirunavukarasu and Venkatachalapathy 1988: 76-77. [BACK]

29. Cutēcamittiraṉ, 27 June 1901, 3. [BACK]

30. Dalmiapuram was renamed Kallakudi only after Karunanidhi became chief minister of the state in 1969. [BACK]

31. Kaḻakakkural, 25 January 1976, 12. [BACK]

32. MLAD 11 (1939): 512-17; MLCD 6-8 (1939): 250; Government of Madras Order No. 334 (Public General), 21 February 1939. [BACK]

33. Government of Madras Order No. 334 (Public General), 21 February 1939. [BACK]

34. MLAD 11 (1939): 512-17; Government of Madras Order No. 2070 (Public Confidential), 27 November 1939. [BACK]

35. Government of Madras Order No. 334 (Public General), 21 February 1939. [BACK]

36. Viṭutalai, 31 May 1938, editorial; Government of Madras Order No. 2070 (Public Confidential), 27 November 1939. [BACK]

37. English transcription of Tamil speech. Government of Madras Order No. 4068 (Home), 23 August 1938. Maraimalai Adigal, who went to see both men while they were fasting, noted in his diary that their sacrifice stoked the sleeping consciousness of Tamilians (M. Tirunavukarasu and Venkatachalapathy 1988: 82). [BACK]

38. Government of Madras Order No. 4861 (Home), 7 October 1938. [BACK]

39. Kuyil, 3 February 1959, 1; 10 February, 16. See also Kuyil, 6 January 1959, 3; 24 February, 5; 26 May, 5; 30 June, 4-5; Government of Madras Order No. 938 (Public), 9 June 1960. In response to these protests, the Congress government in Madras did petition the central government in 1958 to adopt the Tamil term; the latter demurred. The state government however instructed that both terms were to be used in broadcasts in Madras. Not till the DMK came to power in 1967 was the term vāṉoli officially adopted (MLAD 19 [1959]: 212-13). [BACK]

40. Tīyil Venta Tamiḻp Pulikaḷ n.d: 11. The same source notes that on the recent marriage of his daughter Dravidacelvi, Karunanidhi gave her a sizeable gift. [BACK]

41. Sivalingam immolated himself on the morning of 26 January, exactly a year after Chinnasami. A native of Kodambakkam, Madras, he was twenty-two. It is reported that he frequently told his family and friends that unless at least ten Tamilians gave up their lives, there was no hope for Tamil. Telling his sister that she and the rest of the family should stay indoors, as he anticipated trouble, Sivalingam apparently set out for the railway station to join in an anti-Hindi demonstration, saying he would be back later. He left at dawn but did not return (Tīyil Venta Tamiḻp Pulikaḷ n.d: 12). A report in another newsmagazine notes that Sivalingam was born in 1939 into a large indigent family in a small village called Devanur in South Arcot district. He studied up to the fifth grade in Devanur, then walked two miles every day to attend middle school in the neighboring village of Chattanpatti. His Tamil teacher, a Dravidianist poet named Ponni Valavan, nurtured his love for Tamil. Unable to continue with his education, Sivalingam followed his father and elder brother to Madras, where he worked as a laborer on construction sites. He also got involved with the DMK in the city (Ilaṭciyappātai, 28 March 1993, 20-21). The DMK newspaper, Muracoli, carried a front-page photograph of Sivalingam and reported on his funeral procession (28 January 1965, 1). [BACK]

A native of Chingelput district, Aranganathan set himself on fire, we are told, at 2:00 A.M. on 27 January in front of the local theater in Virugambakkam. Born in 1931, he was one of three sons. According to one version of his story, although he was employed in the central government’s telephone company, he was interested in various martial arts which he taught to local youngsters. He also took upon himself the task of educating the youth of Virugambakkam in the literature of the Dravidian movement. At the time of his death, he was married, with three children, the youngest six months old (Tīyil Venta Tamiḻp Pulikaḷ n.d: 13). The Muracoli reported that prior to his death, he wrote letters to Chief Minister Bhaktavatsalam and others informing them of his intention. The paper also carried a photo of his mother, wife, and three children grieving over the charred remains of his body (Muracoli, 28 January 1965, 1; 29 January, 1; see also Ilaṭciyappātai, 28 March 1993, 21-22). Today, a road in Madras city is named after him.

A native of the village of Udaiyampatti in Tiruchi district, Veerappan immolated himself on 11 February in neighboring Ayyampalaiyam. He was twenty-seven and not married. A teacher who taught at several schools before moving to Ayyampalaiyam, he spent most of his spare time absorbed in Tamil scholarship. He was also an ardent DMK follower and attended many of its events in his area. He organized a number of youth gatherings where he would read aloud from DMK newspapers, and he taught his students about the wonders of Tamil. He even led his students in anti-Hindi protests prior to his death and also wrote letters of protest to the government. In 1980, a memorial was set up for him (Tīyil Venta Tamiḻp Pulikaḷ n.d: 13; Deccan Herald, 13 February 1965, 1).

Mutthu burned himself alive on 11 February. A native of Satyamangalam in Coimbatore district, he was, according to the Deccan Herald, a forty-year-old farmer who was disgusted with the police firing on anti-Hindi protesters (13 February 1965, 1). Another version, however, notes that he was born in 1943, had studied up to the fifth grade, and worked in a truck shop. He was reportedly inspired to burn himself on reading stories of other immolations in the newspapers. He had great love for Tamil, we are told, and was an avid follower of the DMK. The DMK, in turn, commemorated his memory by naming the hall in which they held their annual meeting in Madurai in 1966 after him (Tīyil Venta Tamiḻp Pulikaḷ n.d: 18-19).

A native of Marutavamcheri in Tanjavur district, Sarangapani set himself on fire on the grounds of his college campus in Mayiladuthurai on 15 March. He was a student studying for his bachelor’s degree in commerce. He was twenty (Tīyil Venta Tamiḻp Pulikaḷ n.d: 25).

42. Dandapani was a student of the Coimbatore Institute of Technology who died on 28 February in Peelamedu. Born in 1944 in Kulathupalaiyam in Coimbatore district, he was the first in his indigent family to go to college. Though he realized that his family depended on him to finish his education and secure a job, Dandapani, we are told, was more inspired by the stories of other students who participated in anti-Hindi protests and by the immolations of Chinnasami and others. So he gave up his own dreams for the sake of Tamil (Tīyil Venta Tamiḻp Pulikaḷ n.d: 15-16). [BACK]

Mutthu died in February in Keeranur near Pudukottai where he was working at a local restaurant. Born in 1943, his friends remember that even as a teenager in the 1950s in the small village of Cinnasanayakadu in Pudukottai district, he was fired with the zeal of Tamil devotion and plastered the walls of local buildings and temples with slogans such as “Down with Hindi!” “Long live Tamil!” Reading the stories of fellow Tamilians who had suffered in the anti-Hindi protests, he was filled with anger. Before he died, he wrote letters to Bhaktavatsalam, Annadurai, and others, expressing his anger. These letters were found on his body (Tīyil Venta Tamiḻp Pulikaḷ n.d: 21).

A native of Nartamalai in Pudukottai, Shanmugam died in a Tiruchirapalli hospital on 25 February, two days after consuming poison. Born in 1943, he worked for a local grocery store in Viralimalai to support his poor family. Prior to his death, he was filled with Tamil consciousness, gave public lectures against Hindi in DMK meetings, set fire to Hindi books, burned an effigy of Hindi, and wrote letters to his relatives urging them to join the Tamil cause. His elder brother founded the still-existing Society for the Language Martyrs of 1965 (Tīyil Venta Tamiḻp Pulikaḷ n.d: 22-25; Deccan Herald, 1 March 1965, 5).

43. Muttāram, 15 March 1966, 11. [BACK]

44. MLCD 26 (1965): 169-71. [BACK]

45. Kuṭi Aracu, 6 August 1939, 1-2. [BACK]

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