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.