By Dr Jishad Kumar Murali
Kerala is often touted as the role model for secularism in South Asia. There is historic relevance behind the secularism model of Kerala. Unlike the rest of India, the non-Hindu religions in Kerala arrived not through violent invasions but mostly through relatively peaceful trade interactions (albeit there were incidents of communal violence against Hindus in the early 20th century, such as the Moplah Movement in Malabar). However, in the past few decades the realities of the rest of India have influenced the experience of secularism in Kerala. The ‘appeasement politics’ of the state has reduced the much avowed secularism model of Kerala to ‘secularism at the cost of Hindus’. Kerala’s politics has predominantly revolved around communism, and unfortunately in India, the communists have propagated a narrative to undermine the native and indigenous cultures of the land.. The rulers of Kerala have at the same time appeased religious communities for electoral benefits in Kerala, leading to a lopsided definition of secularism.
While the attempt to discredit Hinduism in particular isn’t a recent phenomenon, it certainly is creating more fissures in Kerala’s society than ever before. Today, the Kerala Hindu society is lacking social reformers, such as Chattambi Swamikal and Sree Narayana Guru, who fought against anti-Hindu activities. It lacks individuals like Mannath Padmanabhan, who in the past was the bulwark against the communist machinery. As many non-practicing Hindus have moved away from the Hindu rituals, they have also lost the zeal to defend the continuous attacks on their religion, and thereby leaving a small section of practicing Hindus to fend for themselves. Today the communist administration doesn’t interfere in the religious practices of Muslims or Christians, which is absolutely right, but continues to attack the centuries old Hindu traditions (for instance, the issues raised recently at Sabarimala).
The Marxist policies have somewhat succeeded in weaning away the youth from taking interest in their religion by corrupting the institutions of Hindu temples. In India, while the mosques and churches are privately managed by the followers of the respective religions, the famous and rich Hindu temples are managed by the government. Taking advantage of this biased constitutional provision that goes against the basic tenets of secularism, a general body called the Devaswom Board, working under the aegis of the state government of Kerala to supposedly ‘protect’ the temples and to ‘preserve; their heritage, manages the temple funds on the diktats of the Kerala government. For instance, the Guruvayoor Devaswom Board transferred Rs 5 crore to the Kerala government’s treasury in the name of the Chief Minister’s Covid Relief Fund. The same Devaswom Board attempted to sell off precious temple belongings to fund the communist government’s expenses. Two political parties, alternatively ruling Kerala, appoint their own trustworthy people in the Devaswom Board Committee and siphon off funds as they please. However, such methods are not used in other places of worship, leaving the Hindus to wonder why they are not treated as equals to other religions in Kerala. During the Covid Pandemic, the state government already distributed a fairly reasonable amount of money to support Madrasa teachers, but not for the teachers of the Hindu religion. Remember, Madrassa teachers are already given support from the government treasury.
In the absence of prominent Hindu leaders in Kerala, the Hindu society is left at the mercy of the Communists. Continuous weakening of Hinduism in Kerala and the simultaneous strengthening of fundamentalist forces from other religions by state design has turned Kerala’s secularism on its head. Hundreds of Hindu activists have been killed in the past decades while hundreds of ISIS terrorists have come up from the state. Towards the goal of keeping power in Kerala, will the Kerala administration let the beautiful state slip into a downward spiral and let it become a supplier of terrorists who go and join ISIS? Or, will the Hindu society rise again in Kerala and define secularism as it was truly meant to be (where the government does not interfere in the places of worship of any religion)?
Disclaimer: Views written in opinion pieces only reflect the author’s thoughts – – not SAHF’s.
Glancing at South Asia’s glorious past, a dissonance between the present day attitudes towards LGBTQ+ identities and historical attitudes is seen. The recognition of LGBTQ+ identities and individuals has existed within mainstream Hindu scriptures for thousands of years. The Dharmashastras (codes of law), and the Kamasutra (treatise of sensual desires) mention the existence of people of various genders and record relations between members of the same-sex. In fact, Sanskrit contains as many as 70 different words for gender and the various types of same-sex relations. In the Itihasas (historical accounts), one finds mentions of the transgender warrior ‘Shikhandi’. We also read about the non-binary form of the Pāndava Prince ‘Arjuna’ as the dancer ‘Brihannala’ in the Mahabharatam. The Valmiki Ramayanam tells the tale of the birth of Rishi Vashishtha from the male deities Mitra & Varuna. We also witness the gender fluidity of Ilā, who is an an androgynous Hindu deity and the ancestor of the Pāndavas and the Kauravas. In the Puranas (Hindu tales), various deities, such as Vishnu’s female incarnation Mohini, consolidate the accepting stance of the Rishis (sages) on gender and sexuality.
Given that, let us analyse the position of the core of Hinduism – its philosophy – with respect to the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals. We are guided in this analysis by the following three questions.
1. Can the concepts of Hindu philosophy offer an explanation for the existence of LGBTQ+ identities?
- Can these philosophies aid in the eradication of discrimination towards this community?
How can ‘Dharma’ (religious duty) and ‘Sanskriti’ (culture) be reconciled with the lives of these individuals?
1. Hindu Philosophy & LGBTQ+ Identities
‘Naiva strī na pumānesha, na chaivāyam napumsakah. Yadyachharīramādatte tene tene sa yujyate’
The Self is neither female, nor male, nor non-binary. Whatever body it inhabits, it becomes identified with that.
– Shwetāshwatara Upanishad (5.10)
We identify with our ego, body, mind and intellect but according to the Upanishads, this is not who we are. The Upanishads teach us that while the ego, body, mind and intellect form our apparent transient identity, our essential identity is the Self, the consciousness that is free from identity and witnesses all. They propose that the Ātman (the Self) – the unchanging aspect of an individual – inhabits the bodies of all beings and is free from all attributes (Nāma) and forms (Rūpa). Brahman is the ‘Ultimate Reality’ which underpins existence itself, and the Ātman is the form of Brahman present in all beings. ‘Ayam Ātmā Brahma’ (अयम् आत्मा ब्रह्म) – Māndukya Upanishad (1.2). The Self is non-different from the Ultimate Reality itself. The Ātman is beyond the notions of gender and sexuality. These aspects are of the body and the mind.
Currently, there are many theories for the causes of gender dysphoria and alternative sexualities. There is insufficient medical evidence to explain the dysphoria between one’s sex assigned at birth and gender. Studies on preferences across the spectrum of sexuality, including homosexuality and bisexuality, display a partial link between multiple genetic factors, prenatal factors such as hormonal exposure in the womb and birth order in successive male children. However, these factors only account for about a ⅓ of the cause. Which genetic or prenatal factors impact the regions responsible for sexual attraction in the brain? The research is unclear. This does not justify that sexuality or gender identity is a ‘choice’, as environmental influences after birth do not impact sexuality or gender identity.
Na jāyate mriyate vā kadāchin nāyam bhūtvā bhavitā vā na bhūyaḥajo nityaḥ śhāśhvatoyam purāṇo na hanyate hanyamāne śharīre (Bhagavad Gita, 2.20)
‘The Self is neither born, nor does it ever die; nor having once existed, does it ever cease to be. The Self is without birth, eternal, immortal, and ageless. It is not destroyed when the body is destroyed.’
In the scenario mentioned above in the Bhagavad Gita, the theory of reincarnation proposed by Hindu philosophy can offer an explanation to the emergence of a variety of genders and sexual preferences. From one life to the next, one acquires inclinations, desires and characteristics that can be expressed in future lives. As a result, individuals across the spectrums of gender and sexuality are seen in society.
Our psychological framework, often observed from birth, can be explained through the Samskāras (impressions) we have obtained across multiple lifetimes. The mind is composed of the Jña (conscious) and the Ajña (unconscious); the imprints made from previous lifetimes, which are deeply embedded in the unconscious mind, can manifest in any future life.
‘Sharīram yadavāpnoti yachāpyutkrāmatīśhvaraḥ gṛihītvaitāni sanyāti vāyur gandhān ivāśhayāt’ (Bhagavad Gita, 15.8)
As the air carries fragrance from place to place, so does the embodied soul carry the mind and senses with it, when it leaves an old body and enters a new one.
Sexuality can be a desire acquired from a previous life that manifests in the next. In many lifetimes, one may form very close bonds with people of a certain gender. The strength in such relationships may manifest as sexual attraction towards the same-sex or both sexes in the another life. This may provide the final piece in the puzzle of homosexuality and bisexuality.
Similarly, the existence of transgender, genderfluid, genderqueer and non-binary identities can be explained as well. Across multiple lives, one may change genders frequently. For example, if one inhabits a female body for multiple lives, one might suddenly be born as a male, resulting in the experience of gender dysphoria.
2. Tackling Discrimination
Yastu sarvāni bhūtāni ātmanyevānupashyati |sarvabhūteshu chātmānam tato na vijugupsate ||
‘The one who sees all beings in one’s own self, and one’s own self in all beings, does not despise anyone’
– Ishāvāsya Upanishad, Verse 6
As we have already established, the concept of an ‘indwelling divinity’ – the Self that is in all beings, is a solution to promote equality between people of different genders and sexualities. The principle of an underlying oneness can enable us to see our shared unity, and perceive our external characteristics as transient. At the same time, we can appreciate our diversity, as we understand them stemming from our former births. Firstly, education on the spectrums of sexuality and gender is essential. It is important to explain that people different from us exist.
Secondly, we must firmly establish that despite these differences, we are fundamentally one. The concept of an ‘indwelling Divinity’ can end all types of discrimination.
3. Reconciliation Between Dharma & Sexuality
Hindu society is heavily centred around family, lineage, traditions and marriage. Homosexuality and bisexuality raise questions regarding ‘Dharma’ – one’s duty towards the family and society. Marriage is for the continuation of the lineage for traditions to continue and for human population. Gender roles for men and women have traditionally dictated their duties in a household. Same sex relations bring in a new, unfamiliar dimension to cultural life.
Shreyān swa-dharmo viguṇaḥ para-dharmāt sv-anuṣhṭhitāt swa-dharme nidhanaṁ śhreyaḥ para-dharmo bhayāvahaḥ (Bhagavad Gita, 18.35)
Far better is one’s own imperfect Dharma (inclination/duty), than perfect imitation of another. Death in carrying out one’s own Dharma is preferable than that of another, which is full of danger.
The term ‘Dharma’ can imply one’s intrinsic nature or inclination. Here, if one’s nature is of a particular sexuality or gender, then one is advised to act in accordance to it. Forcing oneself to be another gender or orientation – through conversion therapy, superstitious rituals, and forced marriages – will only bring about destruction in the form of mental health issues, familial collapse, and suicides.
Same-sex behaviour is often stereotyped to be hypersexualised and promiscuous. Can not the ideals of the Vedas be applied to enhance this community and for its integration in social life?
‘Gribhanāmīte Saubhagatva Yahastam. Mayāpatyā Jaradashtir Yathāsāhah’ (Rig Veda, 10.85.36)
For great fortune, I accept your hand in union until old age.
Same-sex marriages and adoption/surrogacy offer a solution for the familial and social dynamic. ‘Sanjāspatyam Suyamam Astu Devāh’ (Rig Veda, 10.85.23) Married life with restraint and child rearing
Sexuality can be viewed as ‘nature’s form of population control’ for better distribution of resources. Adoption can be considered a form of ‘Dana’ (charity), which can benefit the lives of many orphaned children. Child rearing through surrogacy can continue the lineage. Perhaps the ideals of the Hindu deities Mitra & Varuna can be instilled in same-sex couples today!
Photo Credits: Netflix
A few days after Mindy Kalings “Never Have I Ever” released on Netflix, I came across this article titled “NEVER HAVE I EVER…SEEN A SHOW SO CASTEIST AND RACIST” which claimed the following:
“Kaling’s ‘Never Have I Ever’ is more interested in packaging upper-caste Hindu American identity”
and that the TV show effectively:
“…mentions Islamophobia, anti-Dalitness, anti-Blackness, anti-Semitism, ableism, and fatphobia.”
Curious to see what this was all about, I decided to watch the TV show myself to form my own opinions. Before this article came out, I never actually
Warning: This article has many spoilers!
I’m The Girl They Tried To Represent
Yep, that’s me. I come from a Tamil Brahmin family who grew up outside of India. Many of Devi’s struggles resonated with my own. I wanted to see how accurate the portrayal of a Indian-Tamil-Hindu-Brahmin teenage girl and what it is like growing up in America, completely different to my parents’ traditional upbringings in India.
Brahmin’s actually are one of India’s smallest minority, comprising of only 4.3% of the Indian population. Given Devi’s case, her identity as a Tamil Brahmin, this would be <1% of the overall Indian population and <3% of Tamil Nadu’s population. Given that there are atleast 3 million Hindus in the U.S, why they chose to represent a Tamil Brahmin in particular was quite interesting.
One of the biggest reasons I could think of was the Anti Brahmin movements in Tamil Nadu which actively denied Brahmins an education and access to any government benefits should they become poor. Brahmins were painted as barbarians by many Periyarists who validated these claims and spread it across Tamil Nadu. As a result, many Brahmins decided to move to the U.S. because of ethnocide of their culture.
So How Do They Represent This Tiny Minority?
When I first saw the trailer for Never Have I Ever, I noticed the way that Devi prayed to all the gods. It made me slightly tingle and even cringe. I felt what they were portrayed was subtly offensive to Hindu Americans, who recited shlokas in Sanskrit daily.
And as someone already pointed out –
That being said, I tried to give the TV show a chance. Here are a few of my observations:
If they were trying to totally represent a Tamil Brahmin family, this wasn’t completely accurate.
It was surprising to me in the first place that they would try to portray a Tamil Brahmin family – but if it was the case, it was a half hearted attempt with a few issues here and there. There were many accurate descriptions and not so accurate descriptions which I will illustrate:
The last name
Devi Vishwakumar – the name in itself did not make sense. Majority of Tamils (and South Indians for that matter), irrespective of caste and religion, take on their father’s firstname. In this case, it should have been Devi Mohan if anything. This isn’t something that is unique to a Tamil Brahmin family.
Misogyny in the Brahmin community
This is actually an interesting topic – is there really misogyny in the Brahmin community? Kamala, Devi’s cousin, is being told to behave like the mother of Prashant. She’s told to know how to cook, clean and take care of the house.
Women have been described to be one of the highest educated community; especially given the context of Kamala’s Tamil Brahmin upbringing. Sadanand Dhume, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, draws parallels between Tamil Brahmins and Ashkenazim. Even though Tamil Brahmin households tend to be more patriarchal, it is to be noted that Tamil Brahmin women are treated with much more respect than their counterparts in other communities.
This is not to curb out issues that Tamil Brahmin women (or any South Asian) face: but for a community that is focused on education for all (men and women) and self made success, it does not make sense to suggest misogyny is rampant in Tamil Brahmin households and society. In fact, many Tamil Brahmins prefer women to be independent in their professional careers rather than a typical live at home South Asian wife.
This was an excellent portrayal of what many Hindus (not only Tamil Brahmins) believe happens to any form of life after death. Although the body itself may no longer be of use, the atma is believed to still live on – formless. This can be found in the Bhagavad Gita 2.23 where Lord Krishna states:
The soul is eternal and will continue to live on despite death to the physical body
One of the biggest beliefs is that the process of reincarnation will continue until moksha is achieved, and the soul is relieved of all the karma tied to it. Life begins to manifest itself in many physical forms until this is possible. The theme of bringing in reincarnation to foreshadow the underlying pain that Devi faces due to the death of her father was wonderfully put.
Although I really appreciated having the Ganesh Puja Scene: it generally felt insulting. Why? It felt as though it was a complete mockery of Sanskrit, and did not felt like the general crowd appreciated the shlokas. It seemed as though reciting shlokas in Sanskrit was considered backwards and meaningless, hence disrespecting the beliefs.
That being said, it also seemed to portray the Brahmins as the ones who were “qualified” to say these sacred chants when in reality, there are many temples across South Asia where the priests are not brahmins. It went along the stereotype that Brahmins were the only ones who can say these prayers, which is not the case, especially in India.
Not showering in the morning
On the day that Prashant visits the house, Devi wakes up in the morning and gets ready immediatley.
This is completely different to what a typical morning routine that a Brahmin family would follow. Tamil Brahmins typically follow a custom known as “madi” – where there’s a huge separation between “clean” and “unclean” clothing especially. This term madi is used to indicate whether someone is clean and has showered in the morning. Tamil Brahmins follow these traditions to the core – therefore Devi not showering in the morning doesn’t make sense.
Obviously, this isn’t exclusively a Brahmin thing or a Hindu thing. Sambar is very common gravy used in South Indian cuisine. Thakkaali is the Tamil word for tomatoes – which is not typically used in Sambar.
What they did get right
Tamil Brahmanical Pronouns
This is interesting, because Tamil Brahmins use a set of pronouns which is unique to their community. For instance, calling the father’s elder brother (or elder cousin, who is a male) is referred to as “Periyappa” which other Tamil communities do not use, and simply resort to “mama”
We also notice Devi’s mother referring to Devi and Kamala as “Kanna” which is also very common in Tamil Brahmin homes to generally refer to kids in the house.
Textbooks should not touch the ground
There are certain customs that many families do follow. For instance, we believe that stepping on any type of paper, cardboard is wrong. This is the same with money too. Hindus believe that all forms of knowledge originate from the goddess sarasvati, hence stepping on such things, is disrespectful. This is the same concept where textbooks should not touch the ground.
Whenever we do accidently step on these items, Tamils do something called: “Thottu Othikirathu” and touch the textbook against our eyes.
Mockery of vegetarianism
While it’s true that Brahminism is a staunch supporter of vegetarianism, whereby majority of Brahmins (and Hindus for that matter) do not eat beef, there seemed to be a condescending tone towards this practice. A recent study by Go Branded showed that millennials are leading the vegetarian movement. India also has the largest number of vegetarians in the whole world.
However, many non – Brahmin Hindus only eat meat on select days. This means that some degree of vegetarianism is practiced in majority Hindu homes. There is no stigma associated with eating habits.
Love for Modi
There has been outcry from many viewers regarding a one sentence line which praised Modi. This doesn’t make sense. A report by the Washington Post described widespread millennial support and love for Modi, therefore it is expected that Modi’s fanbase is popular amongst young diaspora youth.
The reaction to a one line dialogue about Modi with widespread outrage speaks leaps & bounds to the fragility of Anti Modi activists without considering the views of the entire South Asian diaspora. What about the 50,000 people who came to see Modi during the Howdy Modi event in Texas?
Marrying a Muslim
Marrying a Muslim, especially within the Hindu & Brahmin community certainly does carry a huge stigma. But the reason for why it may have this stigma is antithetical to ground reality. South Asians are known to trying to avoid any kind of inter-caste, inter-religious and inter-ethnic marriage. There isn’t necessarily a stigma against marrying a Muslim in particular.
The way this TV show has portrayed it is as though inter-religious is common in Indian society and will be strongly condemned by anyone who does indulge in it. The truth is, it really isn’t.
A paper titled “Dynamics of inter-religious and inter-caste marriages in India” by K.C. Das has shown that inter religious marriages are extremely rare, constituting of <3% of marriages in India, a country with a population of 1.1 billion people. In addition, an article by NY Times does suggest that interfaith marriages have higher divorce rates – one of the biggest reasons as to why it is discouraged among many South Asians. The stigma against divorce is extremely strong within the community. For this reason, any inter-faith marriage is discouraged.
This notion extends to all South Asian communities – including inter-sect marriage. For instance, marriages between Shias & Sunnis are not encouraged in many Muslim (in particular Pakistani) families even today.
Blessing the Bike
In Hinduism, it is a common practice to bless anything the first time it is used – bike, car, clothes and everything else. It is considered auspicious to “bless” everything just before using it for the first time to ensure that it works properly.
It was nice to see these traditions continue and for Devi’s father to bless the bike before riding it.
Boyfriend vs Family
This is very common amongst Indian, and other South Asian families. There is a large stigma around dating in South Asian households. Immigrant parents do not take dating well, especially when it’s dating other castes, ethnicities and religion as aforementioned.
Parents are over protective: South Asian parents have moved across the planet to ensure that children are given a better life. They want their kids to be well settled in their careers.
So anything that can jinx this notion, is a threat
However, I thought this was wonderfully shown in the TV show whereby Kamala is open to Prashant and is visibly conflicted with her relationship with Steve – but decides for herself what is best for her.
Mental Health & Therapy
This is very accurate for a South Asian family – in many families – discussing mental health issues still remains a stigma. With immigrant parents who have moved across the world, the expectation from children can become overwhelming. With pressures at school, academics and family – mental health can become a big issue for South Asians.
When Nalini, Devi’s mother, tells Devi’s therapist that she doesn’t believe in therapy, I could personally resonate with that. Reports from Psychology today describe many reasons as to why long term therapy fails to address real mental health issues.
What is the need for South Asians to go to therapy?
Hear me out on this one.
South Asians have had a history of practicing indigenous customs and traditions which prove to reduce any forms of anxiety.
- YogaThe history of yoga can be found in the Rigveda and Upanishads, which origins stem from South Asian cultures & religious beliefs. The American Osteopathic association has listed both physical and mental benefits of Yoga – which includes balanced metabolism, improved athletic performance and stress management.
- Waking up early in the morning
Many prominent, mainstream media outlets have constantly outlined the benefits of waking up early in the morning. While this may be news to the west, South Asians have been embracing this tradition for several years now. This is ingrained into our culture.
The amount of latest mental health applications which encourage meditation and mindfulness resonates with South Asian practices, in particular, Hindu practices.
Given that there are so many resources out there that can improve mental health amongst youth in particular, many parents find it unnecessary to put children in therapy.
And if I’m honest, I completely agree. These three habits have changed my life and my mental stability beyond imaginable. No amount of therapy could have done the same.
Although there were many discrepancies that this show illustrated about the Tamil Brahmin community, it was not as toxic as I thought it would have been. I expected complete mockery and butchery of my culture that I have witnessed in Kollywood media over the last several years.
Thank you to Mindy Kaling who has made an excellent start for representation of South Asians in American Media. We still have a long way to go.
Hinduism Says ‘Dark Is Beautiful’
Unfortunately, nowadays, we are coming across many statements from some misguided people that conclude that Hinduism is somehow against people of darker colour. This, however, is not the traditional stance within Hinduism; in fact, darker colours are considered to be a sign of beauty. What is the evidence for this? If we look at Sanskrit for particular names, we can see this clearly. For example, the name Krsna has two syllables: Krs and Na. These syllables essentially mean ‘the dark one and the all attractive one’. It’s mentioned in most Hindu scriptures that describe the beauty of the dark-skinned Lord Krishna. Here is an example:
surendrair ārādhyaḥ śruti-gaṇa-śikhā-gīta-carito
jagannāthaḥ svāmī nayana-patha-gāmī bhavatu me. (Jagannathastakam, verse 4)
Meaning: Lord Jagannatha [considered by many Hindus to be a form of Lord Krishna] is an ocean of mercy and as beautiful as a row of blackish rain clouds. He is the storehouse of bliss for Lakshmi and Sarasvati, and his face resembles a spotless full-blown lotus. The best of demigods and sages worship Him, and the Upanishads sing His glories. May that Jagannatha Swamy be the object of my vision.
In this particular verse, ‘Sajala-jalada-sreni” is describing Lord Jagannatha’s dark beauty. This is one example of many that shows how Hinduism venerates individuals and deities with darker skin.
Another example of this Hindu veneration for darker skin can be found in the Mahabharatam. In this Hindu epic, we see the story of Draupadi. She was also described as dark skinned, and one of her names was also Krsna. She was described as being very beautiful, and many princes and kings also wanted her as their queen.
So Why Does Colourism Exist In India?
If Hinduism is appreciating darker beauty, then why is there a stigma against darker skinned individuals in Indian society? The answer is that over time, the core roots have become tainted by people due to colonial consciousness. What they have learnt through family traditions, religion, and culture became eradicated due to European colonial subjugation, and people adopted a new set of beauty standards that matched the Eurocentric beauty standards of the colonizer. Due to the imposition of these new Eurocentric ‘beauty’ standards, darker skin became a burden instead of the valued beauty feature it was in Hindu society.
To dive into more specifics, when the British invaded India, they referred to the natives as “black coloured” and compared them to animals rather than humans. The ruling officers of the British Empire made alliances with “light-skinned Indians and gave them extra advantages over the rest of the ‘blacks'”. The British planted the seed of white superiority into the minds of Indian society. The colonial-era shaped the Indian common man’s association of the white coloured skin “with the ruling class, with power, with desirability, and also with beauty”.
Periyar, aka Erode Venkatappa Ramasamy Naicker is known for starting the Dravidian movement. He was projected to be an emblem for Tamil people by the Dravidian political parties. He was born on September 17, 1879, to a Kannadiga family and attended school for five years, after which he joined his father’s trade at the age of 12. Periyar started the Dravidian movement, questioning the status of Brahmins in Tamil Nadu, and created a divide between the people in Tamil Nadu. Even today, Periyar remains as an idol for certain sections of Tamil society, but it is essential to take a look into the truth of Periyar to understand his vested interests.
Periyar was hailed as a hero to save the people from the caste system in Hinduism. He claims that religion is a deception formed by upper-caste people such as Brahmins to dominate socially. He claims that Hindu Epic such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata degrades women and claims that Lord Rama was characterless. He upheld Ravana as a Dravidian hero who fought for a Dravidian nation and was also “dominated by Rama and Lakshmana.”
Periyar was known for being an atheist and claimed that the Hindu Religion was a way for Brahmins to dominate and isolate the “Tamil” identity. He claims that whoever prays to God is a barbarian, and religion brings in inequality because of the caste system. Periyar claims that religion and the state were linked together to form a hierarchy, which led to the lower class being sidelined in society. He twisted concepts in Hindu works where he glorified the asuras and degraded the gods. For instance, Periyar claims Ravana from the Ramayana was a Dravidian hero, and Lord Rama was a villain. It is unfortunate to see how Periyar was suspiciously ignorant that the Ramayana teaches the moral lessons that Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana abided by when they followed Dharma (right behavior and social order). One of the outstanding traits of Rama was his Sauseelya guna, where he treated Guha (the boatman), Sugreeva (a vanara), and Vibhishana (a raakshasa) as his equals.
Periyar allegedly a British appeaser, aligns with the works of Bishop Robert Caldwell, an evangelist who claims that an Aryan Invasion of India happened. Caldwell claims that Aryans used Brahmins as agents and enslaved Dravidian people by giving them the title “Shudra.” Periyar believes that Caldwell’s analysis of Hinduism is correct since the caste system discriminates against the lower caste.
Caldwell’s idea of the Aryan Invasion created a divide between Aryans and Dravidians, communities unbeknownst to the locals of Tamil Nadu, so conversions to Christianity can take place. The ancient Indian society followed Varnashrama Dharma, wherein every group of the society divided by Varnas adhered to a particular role that was passed on from generations. To destabilize India, Hinduism was presented by the British, as a racist belief defined solely by Brahmanical and Sanskrit domination. Caldwell presented his idea that Brahmins (referred to as Brahmanical Aryans) were present to obtain all necessities in society and isolate lower castes such as “Nadars.” Caldwell’s original idea was to claim that Dravidian culture was dominated by Brahmanical Aryans. By misinterpreting the caste system, he tried to convert people to Christianity. Periyar did encourage conversions to other religions because he believed that other beliefs did not discriminate.
Periyar claims that the Ramayana oppressed women because “Rama had more wives besides Sita.” Rama married other women for sexual pleasure and forced Sita to undergo “Agni Pariksha” to see whether she was pure. Lord Rama was known to not care about Sita’s safety in Lanka and abandoned her when they both returned to Ayodhya.
As per the scripture written by Valmiki/Kambar, Rama held “Eka Patni Vrata,” meaning he vowed to only married once. He was immensely in love with Sita, and even when Sita was abducted to Lanka, she only thought about Lord Rama and vice versa. Also, when Ravan’s demon sister Shurpanaka tried to seduce Rama, he claimed he was a happily married man and did not give into Shurpanaka’s words. Throughout Lord Rama’s journey to save Sita, he helps Lord Hanuman and hence helped form the Rama Setu to Lanka in order to rescue Sita. So there is no basis in Periyar’s claim.
Periyar was known to identify with the “non-scheduled (non SC) non-Brahmin” caste and selectively ignored the scheduled caste. If Periyar was known for fighting for equality, why didn’t he correctly condemn the massacre of SC laborers by non-Brahmin landowners in Keezhvenmani, Tamil Nadu? Periyar claimed that it was a communist conspiracy that was spreading, resulting in the massacre of scheduled caste women and children. Periyar was quoted saying that prices of clothes increased because SC women started wearing blouses along with their sarees. Since Periyar started the “self-respect movement,” he did not include the scheduled castes in the “fight for equality.”
Overall, Periyar is seen as a symbol of justice in Tamil Nadu, but there is a dark side with a hidden agenda. He claims Hinduism is a way for Brahmins to dominate, misinterpreting scriptures like the Ramayana for oppressing women and supporting conversions to Christianity.
The Vedanta school of Hinduism teaches the relationship between jīvātman and paramātman, implying that all beings are equal and Brahman dwells within every sentient being. Suffice to say, “I regard all beings with equality and with even-mindedness. I neither hate nor love anybody, nor do I like or dislike anyone. However, those who choose to worship me, with everlasting and pure devotion, are always in me, and I am in them” (Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 9, Shloka 29).
It is rather unfortunate that people distort history to suit the propagandas to create their relevance for political gains. Unfortunately, the common man is wrongly influenced by certain historical figures and forms deep-rooted misconceptions about the most liberal philosophies of Sanātana Dharma.