Wednesday, September 30, 2020

A Ciceronian Treatise on Religion: Precursor to Western Ideas. Eastern Parallels.

"How to think about God: An ancient guide for Believers and Nonbelievers" is a selection from Marcus Tullius Cicero's "On the nature of the Gods" and "Dream of Scipio". Published by Princeton University the book is part of a series of bringing out selected prose from ancient thinkers, mostly Greco-Roman, that have relevance to contemporary world. Musing on the existence of Gods and the place of godhead in human life has a long tradition in human history across cultures. These selections from Cicero are about that. Separated by nearly a millennium it is surprising to see how much Greco-Roman heritage continues to echo in Western traditions and even more surprising is the parallels one could find with Hindu philosophy.

Marcus Tullius Cicero - From Wikipedia

From the Greek etymological roots the word philosophy simply means, 'lover of wisdom'. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, with help from Shakespeare, gives us an understanding of what we mean by a philosophical spirit. 
"When touchstone asks Corin in As You Like It, 'Has any philosophy in thee, shepherd?' Shakespeare means by philosophy not a system of abstract thought or a technical discipline of the schools but an attitude of mind which can best be described as 'idealistic'. Have you that spiritual dimension to your being, that mood of reflective inquiry and self-contemplation, that anxiety of mind to know the things spiritual in which is the true dwelling place of man?"

All ancient civilizations show a tradition of musing about God and religion and in some civilizations this reached into the higher echelons of philosophy and undoubtedly the Greco-Roman civilization was one of them. Of the Romans Marcus Tullius Cicero ( January 3rd BC - December 7th 43 BC) left behind an enviable body of work, both political and philosophical, and influenced many across the centuries "from St. Augustine and Dante to Voltaire and Alexander Hamilton". Having risen to become a consul in 63 BC Cicero was marginalized during the reign of Julius Caesar. It was then, in 45 BC Cicero wrote, "On the nature of Gods", an imaginary dialogue featuring an Epicurean, a Stoic and an academic debating the existence of God and his nature.

The selection in the book focuses on Quintus Lucilius Balbus (c100 BC) expounding on the nature of god or divinity. Translator Philip Freeman says the Latin word 'Deus' could be taken to mean 'divinity' or 'god' depending on context and thus render itself to very different meanings. Before Balbus could speak, in the fictitious debate that Cicero writes, Gaius Aurelius Cotta (124 - 73 BC), considered an academic, is invited to define his belief in gods. Cotta demurs saying that it is easier for him to "talk about what I disbelieve rather than what I believe". Hindu philosophy famously uses the principle of "not this, not this" (neti, neti). With that Balbus enters the dialogue.

Balbus says that the Stoic view of God has four parts. First, Gods exist; second, the nature of gods; third, how they govern the universe; and finally, their role in human affairs. On the question of existence of God Balbus uses an a priori approach and deduces that any contemplation of the heavens and nature around us should convince us, kind of axiomatically, that a higher intelligence "rules over this realm". Following such a line of logic he asks that the existence of the idea of God across the ages in the mind of man shows that time, the merciless sieve of useless ideas, has left behind this idea because it is valid and because god exists. 

"Prophecies and premonitions of things to come", is to Balbus, "proof that the future is being revealed, shown, portended, and foretold to human beings". Then Balbus emphasizes the importance of propitiating to the gods and beseeching good omens before large undertakings like wars. "Generals", Balbus adds, brought about good to the country when they "followed religious practices". Comparing Rome to other nations Balbus says that there are things that Rome may excel at or be inferior to but when it comes to "religion, that is, the worship of the gods" they are "far superior". I wonder how would a Chinese or Hindu react to that?

The appearance of a comet, to Balbus and Roman society, foretold a calamity. Shakespeare makes Caesar's wife Calpurnia plead with him, on the ill fated ides of March, that bad omen foretells a calamity if Caesar where to go to the senate. Referring to the sighting of a comet Calpurnia tells Caesar, "the heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes". Ancient Tamil literature speaks of sighting a comet before Mantharan Cheral Irumporai, a chieftain, dies. A historical fiction, Ponniyin Selvan, also refers to sighting a comet before the murder of a prince.  Humanity, perhaps, has more in common than what divides us.

That comets exist and reoccur in intervals makes Cleanthes, a boxer turned philosopher and student of Zeno, argue for the existence of an intelligent power orchestrating it. Balbus, drawing up on Cleanthes, asserts, "the evidence of these celestial bodies should be enough to prove they are not the result of chance" but, "the result of an intelligent mind at work".

Cleanthes' and Balbus' idea of an "intelligent mind at work" governing the universe is central to the Judeo-Christian world that echoes even today in the evangelical war against Darwinian Theory of Evolution. God admonishes a grief stricken Job, in the Book of Job in Old Testament, "where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.  Who fixed its measurements? Surely you know!" God then scolds Job for even thinking he knows how the world works and for questioning why the world works the way it works. Modern day deniers of Theory of Evolution have cooked up this theory of 'Intelligent Design' that is nothing but a Trojan horse for 'Creationism' based exactly on the premise that the universe could not be an accident but a purposeful creation of an intelligent Omniscient divinity. 

Hamlet mused in a soliloquy, 

"what a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals".

That human beings, endowed with reasoning and intelligence superior to all other living beings, should possibly be the culmination of all life sounds arrogant to Balbus. He feels, Chrysippus, a student of Cleanthes, "the heavenly bodies in their eternal order cannot have been created by man. Therefore, that which created them is superior to man". The very reasoning and intelligence that characterizes a human being ought to be the result of a creation of an even more superior mind. Socrates asks in Xenophon, "where did we acquire the minds we have". "Nothing without spirit and reason", Balbus quotes Zeno," can give birth to an animate and reasoning being". An evangelical Christian in America, today, echoes that same thought across the ages.

Radhakrishnan, like other anthropologists, reasons that "when man is delivered from imminent peril, or realizes his utter dependence on the mighty forces of nature, he feels the reality of the presence of god. He hears the voice of God in the tempest and sees his hand in the stilling of the wave". God asks Job, as Radhakrishnan would've known, "who enclosed the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb?" "Naturalism and anthropomorphism seem to be the first stages of the Vedic religion" says Radhakrishnan and quotes Chrysippus, "the Sun, Moon and Stars and Law and Men who have turned into Gods". 

Chrysippus: Image Courtesy Wikipedia.

A striking parallel between the Greco-Roman worldview and the Hindu theology is the primacy assigned to fire. Heat has a tendency to destroy but heat within the human body and the sun is nourishing to life, a life preserver, a life giver. The Rg Veda, Radhakrishnan quotes, assigns to Agni, the Hindu god of fire, a primacy as creator. 

Balbus goes further in reasoning that since the sun and stars are "born in ether" untainted by man or earthly objects, are purer. And to Balbus, it is axiomatic, sun and stars have a life and their movements are volitional. They "move of their own free will and due to intelligence and divinity". A Hindu astrologer would applaud that sentiment. When Balbus says, "intelligence depends on food we eat. Stars live in ether nourished by vapors of land and sea...pure food" we see stunning parallels to Hindu beliefs concerning purity of food and its effect on human intelligence. 

On a side note, Radhakrishnan's acclaimed "Indian Philosophy" constantly draws parallels between Hindu and Indo-Iranian and Greek beliefs. Varuna is characterized in Rg Veda as omniscient, "knows the flights of the birds in the sky" and "not a sparrow can fall without his knowledge". The author of Book of Job would've been surprised at the oneness of vision. "Dyaus", to Radhakrishnan, "is not merely an Indo-Iranian deity but an Indo-European one. It survives in Greece as Zeus, in Italy as Jupiter". 

Speaking on the purpose of man's existence Balbus says, "humans have emerged for contemplating and imitating the universe. We are certainly not perfect, but we are part of perfection". In his Hibbert lectures Radhakrishnan says, "In a metaphor common to the Upanishads and Plato every unit of nature is a microcosm reflecting in itself the entire all-inclusive macrocosm". 

Balbus, having offered all the above arguments, concludes, "To sum up, the existence of the gods is so abundantly clear that I regard anyone who denies it as out of his mind". Tamil poet Bharathi, drawing upon a Vedic tenet, asks the reader to "believe" and "believing is indeed the path". ("நம்புவதே வழி என்ற மறை தனை நாம் இன்று நம்பிவிட்டோம்". "நம்பினார் கெடுவதில்லை நான்கு மறைத் தீர்ப்பு")

"Dream of Scipio" is the concluding part of a 6 part political work,  "On the Republic", by Cicero written between 54-51 BC. Only the Dream of Scipio is now available. The Dream is a fictional encounter between Scipio Amelianus (185 BC - 129 BC), known for his destruction of Carthage in the Third Punic war, and Scipio Africanus (236/235 BC - 183BC), his grandfather and legendary general who had defeated Hannibal in the Battle of Zama. 

The younger Scipio meets the elder Scipio in heaven in a dream and is taken upon a tour and lectured about the purpose of life and futility of glory. The elder Scipio advises that he who serves his country will be exalted and those who serve the country will find a place in heaven like the father and grandfather of younger Scipio. When the younger Scipio asks if heaven is the destination then why not he die and come sooner. He is admonished by the elder that the body that houses the soul of man is god's gift and only god can decide when the body dies. We see here the seed of Biblical injunction against suicide.

Mocking a life in pursuit of glory the elder Scipio cautions that glory will not "will not climb the Caucasus Mountains, which you see down there, or swim across the Ganges River over there? No one in the far eastern lands or the remote west or the northern or southern regions will ever so much as hear your name....Even among those who do know us, how long will your memory last?" "Place none of your hopes in human rewards. Let virtue herself by her own allurements draw you to true honor". "Keep striving and know this, that you're not mortal, only your body....The true self of each person is the mind. Know therefore that you are god". Here's an echo of 'That art thou'. The lines of H.W. Longfellow bears quotation here:

Life is real! Life is earnest! 
    And the grave is not its goal; 
Dust thou art, to dust returnest, 
    Was not spoken of the soul. 

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant! 
     Let the dead Past bury its dead! 
Act,— act in the living Present! 
   Heart within, and God o’erhead! 

Lives of great men all remind us 
   We can make our lives sublime, 
And, departing, leave behind us  
    Footprints on the sands of time 

Amidst the tour the elder Scipio speaks of nine spheres and music emanating from melodious movements. One is reminded of Pythagoras's theory of the music of spheres.

What do we make of all this? While science has overturned all of the above what these reflections reveal is the aspiration of human spirit to understand life's purpose. While theology deems it impossible that our Earth could be an accident science teaches us that it is precisely that. 

Will Durant, writing on the purpose of philosophy, quotes Cicero, "There is nothing absurd but that it may be found in the books of the philosophers". Hamlet admonishes his friend Horatio, "There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horation, than are dreamt of in your philosophy". But then, as Durant teaches us there are pleasures in philosophy for only philosophy keeps alive the eternal human impulse of wanting to understand. For all his mocking of philosophy Cicero best exemplifies the spirit of Robert Browning that Durant gives as a reason for philosophy, "Life has a meaning, To find its meaning is my meat and drink".

After the assassination of Julius Caesar the triumvirate including Mark Antony pursued not just Caesar's assassins but their political enemies too and Cicero had invited the wrath of Antony. On 7th December 43 BC Cicero was executed. "On Antony's instructions his hands, which had penned the Philippics against Antony, were cut off as well; these were nailed along with his head on the Rostra in the Forum Romanum". Thus ended the life of one of the greatest Romans.


  1. "How to Think About God: An Ancient Guide for Believer and Nonbelievers" -- Marcus Tullius Cicero; Selected, translated and introduced by Philip Freeman. Princeton University publication.
  2. The Story of Philosophy - Will Durant
  3. An Idealist View of Life - S. Radhakrishnan
  4. Indian Philosophy - Volume 1 - S. Radhakrishnan
  12. Dream of Scipio 

Thursday, September 10, 2020

பாரதியியல்: பாரதியை அறிந்து கொள்ள உதவும் நூல்கள்

 செப்டம்பர் 11 1921-இல் பாரதி இறந்த போது வயது 38. அதற்குள்ளாக அவன் எழுதியதையெல்லாம் தொகுத்த படைப்பு 16 தொகுதிகளை எட்டுகிறது. பாரதி தமிழின் அடையாளம், இந்தியாவின் அடையாளம். பாரதியியல் என்று கூறத் தக்க அளவில் இப்போது பாரதி எழுத்துகளின் தொகுப்புகளும் பாரதி பற்றி மற்றவர்கள் எழுதியவையும் வெளிவந்திருக்கின்றன. ஒவ்வொரு வருடமும் செப்டம்பர் 11 அன்று முகநூலில் பலரும் பாரதியின் ஏதோ ஒரு பிரபலமான கவிதையை பகிர்வார்கள். இவ்வருடம் வேறு ஏதாவது அர்த்தமுள்ளதாகச் செய்யலாமே என்ற ஆசையில் கடந்த சில வருடங்களாக பாரதி பற்றிய புத்தகங்களை தேடித் தேடி வாங்கியவற்றை ஒரு பட்டியலிட்டால் பாரதி ஆர்வலர்களுக்கு அது உபயோகமாயிருக்கும் என்று எண்ணியதன் விளைவு இப்பதிவு. 

1. கால வரிசையில் பாரதி படைப்புகள் - தொகுப்பாசிரியர் சீனி விசுவநாதன். 16 தொகுதிகள். அல்லயன்ஸ் பதிப்பகம். 2015 வெளியீடு. ரூ 10,000. ஒரு பல்கலைக்கழக துறை செய்ய வேண்டிய வேலையை ஒரு தனி மனிதர் செய்து முடித்திருக்கிறார். பகீரத பிரயத்தனம். பாரதி எழுதிய அனைத்தும் கால வரிசையில், எங்கெங்கு விளக்கக் குறிப்பு அங்கெல்லாம் விளக்கத்தோடு தொகுக்கப்பட்டது. இத்தொகுதிப் பற்றியும் பாறதி மகாகவியா என்பது பற்றியும் நான் எழுதிய கட்டுரை

2. கால வரிசையில் பாரதி பாடல்கள் - தொகுப்பாசிரியர் சீனி விசுவநாதன். இது ஒரு தொகுதி, பாடல்கள் மட்டும் கால வரிசையில் தொகுக்கப்பட்டது. முக்கியமான மேலதிக தகவல்கள் அடங்கிய தொகுதி. பாரதி பாடல்களின் இசை வகைமை, பெயர்கள் எந்த வெளியீடுகளில் யாரால் எப்படி மாற்றப்பட்டது என்பனப் போன்றவை சிரத்தையோடு சேர்க்கப்பட்டுள்ளன.  வெளியீடு சீனி. விசுவநாதன். ரூ650 (2012). 

3. பாரதி விஜயம்: மகாகவியுடன் கூடி வாழ்ந்தவர்களின் குறிப்புகள் (தொகுதி 1) -- பதிப்பாசிரியர் கடற்கரய் மத்தவிலாச அங்கதம். சந்தியா பதிப்பகம். 2017 வெளியீடு. ரூ 1000. பாரதியின் நண்பர்களும் குடும்பத்தினருன் எழுதிய கட்டுரைகளை மிகுந்த சிரத்தையோடு தொகுத்திருக்கிறார் கடற்கரய். பாரதியின் சீடர் கனகலிங்கம், செல்லம்மா பாரதி, தங்கம்மாள் பாரதி, சகுந்தலா பாரதி, வ.உ.சி, உ.வே.சா, பரலி நெல்லையப்பர், யதுகிரி அம்மாள் ஆகியோரின் கட்டுரைகளும் சிறு நூல்களும் அடங்கிய தொகுதி. கனகலிங்கம் மற்றும் யதுகிரி அம்மாளின் சிறு நூல்கள் முக்கிய ஆவணங்கள்.

4. பாரதி விஜயம்: மகாகவியுடன் கூடி வாழ்ந்தவர்களின் குறிப்புகள் (தொகுதி 2) -- பதிப்பாசிரியர் கடற்கரய் மத்தவிலாச அங்கதம். சந்தியா பதிப்பகம். 2020 வெளியீடு. ரூ 220. முந்தையத் தொகுதியில் வெளியான கட்டுரைகள் மேலும் செம்மையாக்கப்பட்டு மேலதிக கட்டுரைகளோடு வெளியான இரண்டாம் தொகுதி.

5. பாரதியியல்: கவனம் பெறாத உண்மைகள் -- முனைவர் ய. மணிகண்டன். பாரதி புத்தகாலயம் வெளியீடு (2016). ரூ 140.  பாரதி சமகாலத்தில் அங்கீகரிக்கப்பட்டானா? பாரதியின் 'இந்தியா' பத்திரிக்கையில் எழுதிய தமிழறிஞர்கள் என்று அதிகம் அறியப்படாத செய்திகளை தொகுக்கும் புத்தகம்.

6. மகாகவி பாரதியும் சங்க இலக்கியமும் -- முனைவர் ய. மணிகண்டன். பாரதி புத்தகாலயம் வெளியீடு (2013). ரூ 70.  பாரதி சங்க இலக்கியம் பயின்றவனா? பாரதிக்கு பழந்தமிழ் இலக்கியத்தில் தேர்ச்சியுண்டா என்ற விவாதத்திற்கு முற்றுப் புள்ளி வைக்கும் முகமாக எழுதப்பட்டது.

7. பாரதியின் இறுதிக் காலம்: 'கோவில் யானை' சொல்லும் கதை -- ஆய்வும் பதிப்பும் முனைவர் ய. மணிகண்டன். வெளியீடு காலச்சுவடு (2015). ரூ 60. யானை தன்னை தாக்கிய நிகழ்வை வைத்து பாரதி எழுதிய சிறு நாடகம் 'கோவில் யானை'. "பாரதி நூலெதிலும் இடம்பெறாத இந்நாடகத்தைக் கண்டெடுத்து வழங்கும்" நூல் என்று பதிப்பக குறிப்புச் சொல்கிறது.

8. பாரதியைப் பற்றி நண்பர்கள் -- தொகுப்பாசிரியர் ரா.அ.பத்மநாபன். வெளியீடு காலச்சுவடு (2016).ரூ 225. கடற்கரய் தொகுத்த 'பாரதி விஜயம்' தொகுதியில் காணும் கட்டுரைகளில் சில இந்த நூலில் இருக்கும்.

9. பாரதியின் கடிதங்கள் -- தொகுப்பாசிரியர் ரா.அ.பத்மநாபன். வெளியீடு காலச்சுவடு (2016). ரூ 100. பாரதியின் கடிதங்கள், குறிப்புகள் அடங்கிய சிறு தொகுதி.

10. பாரதியார் கவிநயம் -- தொகுப்பாசிரியர் ரா.அ.பத்மநாபன்.  வெளியீடு காலச்சுவடு (2016). ரூ 225. பாரதியின் கவி நயம் பற்றி வ.ரா, ராஜாஜி, வையாபுரி பிள்ளை, கு.பரா, புதுமைப் பித்தன், திரிலோக சீதாராம், குகப்ரியை, வை.மு.கோதைநாயகி அம்மாள் முதலானோர் எழுதிய கட்டுரைத் தொகுப்பு.

11. பாரதி -கவிஞனும் காப்புரிமையும்: பாரதி படைப்புகள் நாட்டுமையான வரலாறு -- அ.இரா.வேங்கடாசலபதி. வெளியீடு காலச்சுவடு (2015). ரூ 120. பாரதியின் கவிதைகள் நாட்டுடுமையானது சுவையான கதை. இப்புத்தகம் பற்றிய என் மதிப்பீடு

12. பாரதி கருவூலம்: 'ஹிந்து' நாளிதழில் பாரதியின் எழுத்துகள் (முதல் முறையாக நூல் வடிவில்) -- அ.இரா.வேங்கடாசலபதி. வெளியீடு காலச்சுவடு (2014). ரூ 175. பாரதி 'ஹிந்து' நாளிதழுக்கு ஆங்கிலத்தில் எழுதிய கடிங்கள். ஆங்கிலத்திலும் சரளமான பாரதியின் எழுத்துகள் ஆச்சர்யபடுத்தும். ஆங்கில கடிதங்களுக்கு தமிழாக்கமும் அருகிலேயே கொடுத்திருப்பது சிறப்பு.

13. பாரதி: 'விஜயா' கட்டுரைகள் (முதன்முறையாக நூல்வடிவில்) -- தொகுப்பு அ.இரா.வேங்கடாசலபதி. வெளியீடு காலச்சுவடு (2017). ரூ 450. "பாறதி ஆசிரியராக விளங்கிய ஒரே நாளேடு 'விஜயா'. 1909-1910இல் புதுச்சேரியிலிருந்து வெளியான" நாளேடு, "இது வரை ஓரிதழ் கூட முழுமையாகக் கிடைக்காத 'விஜயா'வின் பல இதழ்களை பெருமுயற்சி செய்து பாரீசில் கண்டுபிடித்து" மேலும் "அரசின் இரகிசிய ஆவணம்" மற்றும் பாரதி "பங்கெடுத்துக் கொண்ட பிராமண சபைக் கூட்டம் பற்றி ஓர் அரிய ஆவணமும் நூலில் இடம்பெற்றுள்ளன" என்கிறது பதிப்பக குறிப்பு.

14. எழுக, நீ புலவன்! : பாரதி பற்றிய கட்டுரைகள் --தொகுப்பு அ.இரா.வேங்கடாசலபதி. வெளியீடு காலச்சுவடு (2016). ரூ 250. பாரதி பாரதிதாசன் சந்திப்பு நிகழ்ந்தது எப்போது?, பாரதி பார்வையில் தாகூர், பாரதி படைப்புகள் எப்படி வெளியாயின அக்காலத்தில் எழுத்து மற்றும் பதிப்பகச் சூழல் எப்படி இருந்தது, என்பன போன்ற கட்டுரைகள் அடங்கிய தொகுதி.

15. என் குருநாதர் பாரதியார் - ரா. கனகலிங்கம். வெளியீடு அகரம் (2015). ரூ 80. பாரதியாரால் பூணூல் அணிவிக்கப்பட சீடர் என்று பரவலாக அறியப்பட்ட ரா.கனகலிங்கம் எழுதிய முக்கியமான நூல். சுவையான தகவல்கள் அடங்கியது. இப்புத்தகத்தை பற்றிய என் கட்டுரை

16. மகாகவி பாரதியார் - வ.ரா. வெளியீடு தோழமை (2011). ரூ 75. தகுதிக்கு மீறி மிகப் பிரபலமாகிவிட்ட பாரதி பற்றிய வாழ்க்கை வரலாறு. 

17. பாரதி நினைவுகள்: ம.கோ.யதுகிரி அம்மாள் -- மீள் பதிப்பாசிரியர் கடற்கரய் மத்தவிலாச அங்கதம். வெளியீடு சந்தியா பதிப்பகம். ரூ 150. க.நா.சு சுதேசமித்திரனில் யதுகிரி அம்மாளின் புத்தகம் பற்றி சுதேசமித்திரனில் 1956-இல் எழுதிய மதிப்புரை, அரிய புகைப்படங்கள், முதற்பதிப்புக்கு எழுதப்பட்ட முகவுரை என்று ஓர் ஆவணமாக தருகிறார் கடற்கரய்.

18. பாரதியார் சரித்திரம் -- செல்லம்மாள் பாரதி. வெளியீடு பாரதி புத்தகாலயம். ரூ 100.

19. மகாகவி பாரதியார் கட்டுரைகள் -- தொகுப்பாசிரியர்கள் ஜெயகாந்தன் & சிற்பி பாலசுப்பிரமணியம். வெளியீடு சாகித்ய அகாதெமி (2019). ரூ 280. நிறைய கட்டுரைகள் இதற்கு முன் வெளிவந்த பூம்புகார் வெளியீட்டை குறிப்பவை. ஆராய்ச்சியாளனை சோர்வடையச் செய்யும் வகையில் பாரதியின் மூல வெளியீட்டைச் சொல்லாமல் நிறைய கட்டுரைகள் பூம்புகார் வெளியீட்டை சுட்டிக் காட்டும். ஜெயகாந்தன் இதில் என்ன பங்காற்றினார் என்று தெரியவில்லை.

20. பாரதியார் கட்டுரைகள் -- பூம்புகார் வெளியீடு (2009). ரூ 75. எவ்வித குறுப்பும் இல்லாமல் வெறும் கட்டுரைகள் அடங்கியத் தொகுதி. தவிர்க்கலாம். ஆனால் மலிவு விலை, எளிதில் கிடைப்பது.

21. சித்திர பாரதி (220 அரிய புகைப்படங்களுடன் ஆதாரப்பூர்வமான பாரதி வாழ்க்கை வரலாறு) -- தொகுப்பு ரா.ஆ.பத்மநாபன். வெளியீடு காலச்சுவடு (2006). ரூ 325.   

என் பரிந்துரைகள்: பாரதியை கையடக்க கவிதை வெளியீடுகள் தாண்டி அறிந்துக் கொள்ள ஒரு சராசரி வாசகன் எவற்றை வாங்கலாம் என்கிற என் பரிந்துரை. மேலேச் சொன்ன பட்டியலின் வரிசை எண்கள் கொண்டு இப்பரிந்துரை. 2 (பதிப்பில் இருந்ந்தால்), 3 அல்லது 4, 9, 12, 13, 15, 17, 21. 3-ஐ வாங்கினால் 15-ஐயும் 17-ஐயும் தவிர்க்கலாம். பாரதி பற்றி இன்றும் ஒரு முழு நீள வாழ்க்கை சரித்திரம் இல்லாதது பெருங்குறை. 

Thursday, July 30, 2020

'The Fire Next Time': James Baldwin and American Racism

On May 25th 2020 George Floyd, African-American, was killed under the knee of police brutality and America, once again, erupted in protests confronting its original sin. This time the protests swelled with unremitting fury despite a pandemic. Awakened to the systemic racism that continues to be a blot Americans, protesting aside, turned to seek an intellectual understanding of racism and books about race relations became bestsellers. My own journey has begun with James Baldwins's (1924-87) searing essays collectively published under the title, "The fire next time".

'The fire next time' consists of two essays written in 1962 & 1963. One was a letter to his nephew. The second essay narrates Baldwin's disenchantment with the Church and his prescription of how Black America can respond to white America.

1963 was the year when Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his "letter from Birmingham jail", NAACP secretary Medgar Evers was assinated in Mississippi, Martin Luther King Jr delivered his 'I have a dream speech' and a church in Birmingham was bombed that killed four young girls.

America was, as it is now, a cauldron of racial troubles and racial violence, particularly in the South, was rampant. In this backdrop Baldwin wrote a letter to his nephew explaining the nature of the country that he was born in.

"This innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you perish.....You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason....You were not expected to aspire to excellence: you were expected make peace with mediocrity. Where you have turned, James, in your short time on this earth, you have been told where you could go and what you could do (and how you could dit) and where you could live."
Having told his nephew of the grotesque oppression he'd have to experience Baldwin then advises him to 'accept' white Americans with love. Beyond 'acceptance' Baldwin adds that Black America should 'integrate' with white America "with love" forcing "our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it".

The essay, "Down at the cross: Letter from a region in my mind" is part autobiographical explaining Baldwin's disenchantment with the Church, meeting racially radioactive preacher Elijah Muhammad and, yet again, teaching Black America not to succumb to hate.

Baldwin quotes Rudyard Kipling's racist poem, "The white man's burden" in the preface. Racial humiliation was, as it is now, a constant presence in the life of Black Americans. Baldwin recounts how, as a boy of 10, looking no older. he adds rather sarcastically, he was frisked by policemen while crossing a street and making crude jokes about his sexuality. When Baldwin told his father that he'd do everything a white man does he saw fear in his father's eyes, fear that was different from that his father had ever shown before.

Seeing how his fellow Black Americans were taken by a life of crime and drugs, driven by poverty, Baldwin sought a 'gimmick' to keep himself out of trouble and found that the Church was to be his gimmick. He says he learned "how to work on a congregation until the last dime was surrendered". He was quickly disenchanted with the Church to the extent that, seeing his congregants, he needed strength "not to curse, not to tell them to throw away their Bibles and get off their knees and go home and organize, for example a rent strike".

Disenchantment grew when he saw that while the Church taught to lover everybody it "applied only to those who believed as we did and it did not apply to white people at all". A minister told Baldwin that he should never yield a seat on a bus to a white woman because white men her rose for a Black woman. That kind of tit for tat theologically troubles Baldwin who feels that how he acts his own responsibility and not predicated by how others behave towards him. "There was no love in the church. It was a mask for hatred and self-hatred and despair".

"White people", Baldwin continues to say," were, and are astounded by the holocaust in Germany. They did not know they could act that way. But I very much doubt whether black people were astounded- at least, in the same way"."Christianity", Baldwin hammers, "has operated with an unmitigated arrogance and cruelty". Eventually he did leave the church.

In that backdrop Baldwin meets with Elijah Muhammad, known for being racially incendiary, head of the Nation of Islam, an organization for Black Muslims. While Black churches were the bedrock of Civil Rights movement there were Blacks who were disenchanted with the church as a white establishment turned to Islam. The Nation of Islam, Baldwin rather grudgingly accepts, did provide Blacks a life away from crime and drugs.

Elijah Muhammad cooked up mythology to fashion a history. "God is black. All black men belong Islam; they have been chosen. And Islam shall rule the world". "We were offered, as Nation of Islam doctrine, historical and divine proof that all white people are cursed, and are devils". Baldwin dismisses this doctrine of hate, "there is nothing new in this merciless formulation except the explicitness of its symbols and the candor of its hatred".

John Lewis, Civil Rights icon, injured grievously during the historic march from Selma to Montgomery to secure voting rights, published a posthumous oped today that, devoid of any hatred, advised a younger generation, "let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide".

Lewis tells us that "people on every continent have stood in your shoes". History, across continents and societies, has common features and America's racial history has a lot in common with the caste history of India. If America produced a Elijah Muhammad my hometown produced E.V. Ramaswami.  To Muhammad white Americans were devils, to Ramswami it was the Brahmins. Rejection of dominant religion was common between Blacks and the oppressed castes of India. The voice of Lewis is paralleled in the voice of Gandhi and other reformers.

Why does Baldwin, despite every justification to wallow in hatred, reject such hate? "If one is permitted treat any group of people with special disfavor because of their race or the color of their skin, there is no limit to what one will force them to ensure, and the entire race has been mysteriously indicted, no reason not to attempt to destroy it root and branch. This is precisely what the Nazis attempted". He finds it morally unacceptable to not "oppose any attempt that Negroes may make to do others what has been done to them". "Whoever debases others is debasing himself".

Having eschewed violence or vendetta Baldwin defines 'love' as not the usual "infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth". "It demands great spiritual resilience not to hate the hater whose foot is on your neck, and event greater miracle of perception and charity not to teach your child to hate."

Calling forth "conscious whites" and "conscious blacks" to not falter but to end the racial nightmare for without that, Baldwin reminds, quoting a Black spiritual song, "God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more water, the fire next time!"


1. Baldwin's essay "Letter from a region in my mind" (This is the bulk of the book)

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Caste and Research Topics: From Brahmin Centric to Dalit Centric

Caste remains a dominant factor that determines many things from birth to death and everything in between in India. In that backdrop it is but natural that caste should determine topics of research interests. As Indian intelligentsia, largely upper caste, began academic researches in the colonial era the journals run by Brahmins and non-Brahmins demonstrate this very effectively. 

Journal of Oriental Research

Sir P.S. Sivaswamy Aiyer, a lawyer by profession, wrote in his foreword to the first edition of Journal of Oriental Research, “For ages past the Hindus were notoriously indifferent to the value of history and the claims of historical studies. It required several decades of western education and contact with western thought before the Indian mind could realize the value of history and of independent research”. Stunning words if one contrasted it with the present climate when no one, particularly a Brahmin, would dare say the same.

Sivaswami Aiyer continued, “There is no province in India which, at the present moment, enjoys a more well deserved reputation for scholarship of the orthodox pundit type than Madras, It is high time that scholars in Madras should redeem themselves from the charge of sterility and give proof of the cultivation of Western methods of research, which are essential for the reconstruction of our past history”

The passage could possibly called as tinged with caste pride. I say, “possibly” because the words “orthodox pundit type” need not have been necessarily with reference only to Brahmins. “Pundit” was a term that was not infrequently used by the learned of other castes too. After confessing to a sterility of the pundits Sivaswami Aiyer unabashedly calls for adoption of “Western methods of research”.

Launched in 1927 in Madras the Journal frontispiece depicts goddess Saraswathi, Hindu god of learning, and the words “Tamasoma jyotirgamaya” (‘from darkness lead me to the light’) from  Brhadaranyaka Upanishad. The editorial board is notable for the sheer domination of lawyers in an academic journal of research and that almost without exception all are Brahmins. 

The topics of interest that the journal addressed were exclusively Brahminical and those that’d interest primarily Brahmins. This is not to say that a research into a topic like Bhagavad Gita is of no interest to any non-Brahmin. Published from Madras the journal is notable for not only being in English but including articles written entirely in Hindi (or Sankskrit. I don’t know the difference) and nothing in Tamil. Even articles by research students only focus on topics like Indra, authorship of Unadi Sutras etc. 

A Journal Sample

Prof D.S. Sarma, Professor of English at University of Madras, read a paper titled “The Mystic Way of the Bhagavad Gita” at the Sanskrit association of the Presidency college that is notable for his erudition and for the interesting parallels he draws to make the case for mysticism in Gita. 

While the authors were mostly lawyers I’d say that the articles were written in such intellectual depth and clarity of language that would put to shame university professors of today. Sarma, for a change, was a professor.

Plunging headlong into the topic Sarma says that “Dean Inge in his lectures on Christian Mysticism quotes twenty six definitions of the word (myticism)”. William Ralph Inge, referred as Dean Inge, was an Anglican priest and professor of divinity at Cambridge. The lectures that Sarma refers were delivered by Inge in 1899. 
Sarma’s paper quotes myriad authors from across the world and across cultures. Byazid, a Persian mystic, Niffari a tenth century Muslim mystic, St. Augustine, William Blake, Ralph W. Emerson.

Conceding that the author of Gita, Krsna, could be as historical as Christ of the Gospels or The Buddha or Socrates in Dialogoues of Plato, Sarma says his focus is the text rather than the author because like the others the author could be only a “mouthpiece” of later disciples who contributed to the text. 

One can only wistfully think if such dispassionate scholarship, however sectarian in focus, is lost from the academic portals of India today? Such a question includes, all castes and I’d even add that while the sectarian focus still remains characteristic of Brahmin dominated educational institutions the scholarship and catholic erudition, pun intended, of yore is lost. 

The Journal's Focus, Criticism and Editorial Rebuttal

Princeton University has literally a full row of books by and about Marcus Tulles Cicero (106 BCE - 43 BCE). We know the law suits that Cicero appeared in as advocate including details of the arguments. Yet, we know very little of even the author of a 12th century poet in Tamil. The authors of the Journal of Oriental Research sought to address some important lacunae in the understanding the history of authors and works. ‘Date of Andal’, ‘Date of Thiruppavai’, “Date of Periyalvar” , ‘Date of Srikantha”, Date of Manickavasagar” are few of the titles in just the first two issues of the journal. 

The focus and character of the journal survives well into the fifties thus completely bypassing the torrential political winds of anti-Brahminism that swept the state at that time. However, the editorial in the very second issue, dated April 1927, addresses a few criticisms.

The first criticism was, of course, the ‘Sanskritic’ focus of the journal. The editor writes, “For the satisfaction of our Muslim friends in the north and here, we state that we are ready to publish any article contributed by Scholars in Arabic or Persian, even though there may not be facilities for such studies in Madras and they may not interest the majority of the public.”

The dismissal of the criticism is notable for its self-blindness. The Madras province at that time included a considerable number of Muslims and even Muslim ruled princely provinces. While Brahmins were a distinct minority, then as now, universities and colleges abounded in departments devoted to the study of Sanskrit as is evident from the professional designations of many of the Journal’s authors. Moreover any journal aspiring for academic excellence should care more about variety than about whether a majority cared for the topic. If majority interest was the benchmark then it is fair to question how did the editor determine that an abstruse paper on the mysticism of Gita would interest the majority of Hindus or a dating of Periyalvar? 

The editor further added, “Sanskrit study is an absolute concomitant for any investigation in any branch of Oriental research; and without it, Oriental research will tend to be defective, narrow and, sometimes even misleading”. A breathtakingly sweeping assertion that coolly ignores, even if one accepts the mandatory necessity of knowledge of Sanskrit, knowledge of sources in other local or foreign languages. Historian K.A.N. Sastry discovered, to his horror, how his lack of familiarity of Dutch sources affected his knowledge of Oriental history. 

Citing the support for knowledge of Sanskrit by the Maharajah of Mysore, “an enlightened Hindu ruler”, the editor concludes the support of an “enlightened non-Brahmin ruler of a premier Native State” is sufficient to discredit the criticisms. 

Was the intellectual arena dominated by Brahmins? It was not. Another journal, of even an earlier origin, gave space to another dominant community, the Pillais. 

The Tamil Antiquary

“The Tamil Antiquary” established circa 1907 from Trichinopoly (now known as Tiruchirapalli) by Pandit D. Savariroyan provides an interesting window into a different section of Tamils. One, there is no adornment of any god or Sanskrit verse though here too we see a selection of Brahmin authors. 

A 1909 paper on ‘The Age of Tirujnana-Sambandha” is dedicated “as a mark of Esteem to Dr. E. Hultzsch, the leader of Historic Research in Southern India”. Hultzsch (1857 - 1927) was professor of Sanskrit at the University of Halle and an epigraphist noted for his his work on Mauryan inscriptions and for deciphering the inscriptions at the Brihadeeswarar Temple in Thanjavur. It was probably duets Hultzcsch that we now know it was Rajaraja Chola that constructed the famed temple. It is also interesting to note how study of Sanskrit was prevalent not just within colonial India but in premier universities of Europe. This focus on Sanskrit is what produced the enviable publications of India’s ancient knowledge that people now take pride in but it also meant the near total neglect of anything not in Sanskrit. 

The topics are slightly more eclectic that the Journal of Oriental Research. T.A. Ramalinga Chettiar on “Age of Pattupattu”, A. Mututthamby Pillai on “Lanka and Tamil Sangams”, Joseph C. Panjikaran on “St. Thomas the Apotsle and India”, Rev. J. Lazarus on “Kural”. (See picture below)

Tamilian Antiquary Table of Contents

One T. Ponnambalam Pillai of whom I could not find any further information appears to have been a prolific contributor to the journal, notably an essay titled “Manicka Vacagar and the Early Christians of Malabar”. This kind of a paper today would create a furor. 

A surprising article was one titled, “Heroic mothers of ancient Tamilagam” by Pandit Raghava Iyengar. Written in Tamil the article is additionally called “வீரத் தாய்மார்”.

Here too we see the preponderance of the legal fraternity as authors is surprising. That said the quality of articles, as I said before, is certainly good and would rank better than what many professors write today.

Between these two journals what we find missing is any discourse on upheavals of that era. Even if one took that the focus was on ancient history we find many histories missing. Particularly the Dalits received literally no attention. It is an injustice that is beginning to be addressed in recent times as we see in a book like “Dalit literatures in India” edited by Joshil K. Abraham and Judith Misrahi-Barak

Dalit Writing

Tulsi Ram, “author of a Dalit autobiography, Murdhaiya”, is spot on with his observation, “The literature of a class or a community in any society grows in direct proportion to the their political representation or domination…..Thus the history of Indian society and its literature revolves around the Varna system”. 

Dalit researcher Ravi Shankar Kumar draws attention to the common criticisms of Dalit literature being “propagandist”, “repetitive” or “resentful” and suggests that “conventional criteria of literature or aesthetics are not adequate to understand the ‘uniqueness of Dalit literature”. Sharmila Rege argues that Dalit literature is a “contest, explicitly or implicitly, the ‘official forgetting’ of histories of caste oppression, struggles and resistance”.

“Dalit writing”, Jasbir Singh’s essay on Dalits and conversions suggests, “expresses both a conscious and an unconscious need to reclaim their myths, histories and culture”. It is in this backdrop I’d like to study Iyothee Thass’s writings of Dalits as erstwhile Buddhists. While the historicity of that claim is questionable the understanding required to contextualize that claim should be gentler and wider beyond an instinctive dismissal. 

Dalit Poets of Punjab and Their Exclusion in Historiography

Raj Kumar Hans’s essay, “Dalit Intellectual Poets of Punjab: 1690 - 1925”, highlights three Punjabi Dalit poets and pointedly questions their exclusion from historiography.

Bhai Jaita (1657-1704) was the one who took, at great personal risk, the severed head of Guru Tegh Bahadur to his son Guru Gobind Singh. He was also a poet. His verses crackle with militant rationalism. A sample, “Neither we desire Namaz nor the Sikh prayer of Rehras, we burn the temple as we burn the mosque”. The poet warrior is grudgingly acknowledged in Sikh iconography says Raj Kumar Hans.

Sadhu Daya Singh Arif, “born in a landless untouchable Mazhabi Sikh family in 1894”, was a poet whose verses centered around transience of life and unity of faiths. “Unity”, Daya Singh’s poetry declared, “all around, wherever my eyes rove”. Though widely published Daya Singh’s name was omitted in what was considered a landmark work of history, Mohan Singh’s history of Punjabi literature. Taking their cue from Mohan Singh latter day historians followed suit says Hans. 

Dalit Witnesses and Interlocutors

Ranjith Thankappan’s essay, “Kallen Pokkudan’s two autobiographies and the Dalit print imaginations in Keralam” highlights a different issue beyond exclusion. Thankappan’s essay shows how Dalits even when they attempt to be their voices are often dominated by interlocutors who seek to speak on their behalf.

Kallen Pokkudan’s first auto-biography, “My life among Mangroves”, was supervised by Marxists Professor M.N. Vijayan, writer N. Prabhakaran and edited by Taha Madayi. The book romanticized Pokkudan’s life as a Mangrove farmer and sanitizes his caste consciousness. Madayi, Asked about this presentation of Pokkudan, replied “why should there be politics in a book meant for housewives and children”.

Kallen Pokkudan 'Ente Jeevitham'

Pokkudan’s second autobiography, “My life” (Ente Jeevitam) is more forthright about his lived experiences that include the inhuman caste related humiliations. This autobiography also detailed the disappointments with the Communist government led land reforms that made tall promises and delivered little. 

The school that Pokkudan attended, Thankappan writes, was meant for ‘Harijans’, a term that remained in vogue for long in Kerala until recent adoption of the word ‘Dalit’. Caste determined even the underwear worn by children. Nair and Tiyya children could wear underwear made of loin cloth, “chuvanna konakam” whereas the Dalit children had to wear underwear made of tender palm leaves (‘koombila’).

In his preface to the second autobiography Pokkudan is blunt that many do not like the son of a “lower caste mother” does not deserve to write and instead “prefer a subservient Pokkudan”.

Tamil Dalit Histories

In recent years Tamil publishing world has seen an efflorescence of histories connected to Dalit intellectual leadership that challenges the prevailing hagiographic narratives of E.V. Ramaswamy as the sole messiah of all non-Brahmins. The Dalit trio of Iyothee Thass, Rao Bahadur Rettaimalai Srinivasan and M.C. Rajah have seen a literal resurrection in the writings of Stalin Rajangam, Gowthama Sanna and V. Alex. 

Gowthama Sanna’s richly documented archival material of writings by Rettamalai Srinivasan, published by Sanna himself, shows Dalit intellectual leadership hitherto unknown to larger public. The fact that Sanna published it himself also underscores the arrival of Dalits on the scene of publishing in their own right. Dalit film maker Pa. Ranjith led “Neelam Panpattu Maiyyam” has created another publishing house. 

Can Others Write Dalit History? 

It is my firm view that anyone should be able to write on any subject if they choose to do so. If we subscribe to the view that only a Dalit can write legitimately write about a Dalit then we are on a slippery slope that ascribes one’s birth determines what subject one can choose to write on? Then can we fault a Brahmin for being blind to Dalit history? And does Dalit writing become legitimate merely by the fact that a Dalit wrote it?

Whether it is a Dalit writing on Bhagavad Gita or a Brahmin writing on a Dalit topic the author should serve the reader with integrity and unimpeachable scholarship. Brahmin writers have done justice to Dalit topics. 

History writing dictated by caste preferences is not only evident amongst the exclusionary practices of those that are referred as upper castes but even amongst Dalits themselves too. Alexandra de Heering’s essay, “Dalits writing, Dalit speaking”, points out how Cakkiliyars, “third largest Dalit group in Tamil Nadu, after the Pallars and Parariyars”, have been given the short shrift in Dalit studies. There’s a “lack of interest in documenting Cakkiliyars’ lives and traditions as compared to the significant number of studies published in Eng;ish about other Dalit communities”.

A pernicious trend amongst all communities into label any questioning of historical evidence or conclusions as being “anti” to that community. To be sure there are those, driven by prejudices, who’d use questioning to undermine a claim merely to discredit. However, if all questioning is tarred with that brush then history suffers and future generations are left the poorer for it. 


  1. Jan 1928 Issue of Journal of Oriental Research Madras 
  2. Journal of Oriental Research circa 1958-1959 
  4. William Inge 
  6. Age of Mancikavasagar & Manickavasagar and the Early Christians of Malabar - K.G. Sesha Iyer and T. Ponnambalam Pillai 
  7. Rev. John Lazarus 
  8. Bhai Jaita 
  9. Dalit Literatures in India: Edited by Joshil K. Abraham and Judith Misrahi-Barak

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Padma Subrahmanyam: A Brahmin Supremacist. Gandhi and Chadrasekharendra as Crutches

Padma Subrahmanyam, aged 77, uploaded a video called 'Food for thought' that is an unabashed call for Brahmin hegemony. To provide succor to her shameful arguments she brought in Gandhi and Chandrasekharendra, the Kanchi pontiff. Thanks to social media and her own sense of self-entitlement, that makes her think that every unfiltered nonsense swirling in between her ears is fit to be shared with the wide world, we now know what a bigot she is and how vacuous she is. If anyone wanted proof that being born a Brahmin is no guarantee of intelligence she has gladly provided it. Thank you madam.

Padma Subrahmanyam. Picture Credit 'The Hindu"

Padma's choice of individuals is striking. One was Gandhi, probably the most complex political leader of modern era and the greatest emancipator nonpareil. The other was Chandrasekharendra, pontiff of Kanchi mutt, a Hindu religious leader exclusively for Brahmins and a tireless advocate of literal interpretation of scriptures like any other fundamentalist. Padma is intellectually incapable of understanding the complexity of Gandhi and is spiritually incapable of truly following the pontiff. She reduces both to hatchets to be wielded in service of her shameful agenda.

Varnashrama: India's bloodless peace and the price

Indians of many stripes often think that the blood soaked history of Europe and the relatively bloodless history of India are not just accidents but due to very elemental differences that are intrinsic to Indian, to be specific Hindu, culture that Europe lacked. This is true only on the surface.

Historians like K.A.N Sastry have pointed out the lack of friction in ancient Indian society and, in my opinion, it could easily be attributed to varnashrama. Each section of a society in a place and each functioning accordingly. Sure, it has been called division of labor and its apologists have always pointed to the trade guilds of Germany. So, would Europe have escaped bloodshed if they too had, not just trade guilds but, a form of varnashrama? They might've but the world would've been poorer.

Historian Mary Beard in 'SPQR' identifies the revolt of the plebeians, in 499 BCE, against social exclusion and taxation as a watershed moment. Strikes and violence continued for two centuries. "One of the most famed plebeian victories came in 326 BCE, when the system of enslavement for debt was abolished, establishing the principle that the liberty of a Roman citizen was an inalienable right". By then another important victory was that plebeians could be elected consuls.

Take a leap to 14th century and rebellion stirs in England. Two centuries after Magna Carta, that great charter of liberty, "in the summer of 1381", writes Dan Jones, "a sudden and violent uprising against the country's richest and most powerful lords known as Peasants Revolt, was one of the most astonishing events of the Middle Ages".

India's varnashrama protected India from bloodshed but the price was literal wholesale enslavement of a large population for more than a millennia and a nation completely alien to the ideas of rebellion, revolt and rights until western educated Indian leaders arrived on the scene in 19th and 20th century. Note, this is not a concoction of my imagination. Many Brahmin speakers, from legal fraternity and elsewhere have drawn a distinction between India's 'Dharma' oriented society versus a Western society based on the notion of 'rights'.

Varnashrama did not just keep a people in servitude. What a man or woman can wear, how long can a dhoti be, what can they eat, where can they live, whether a man can carry an umbrella, whether a people can draw water using mud pot, what they can study were all within an iron framework that was not just invisible but did not need armies to be enforced. If any system qualifies to be called evil genius it is varnashrama and it'd take the prize too.

The Pariahs were denied not just education but access to healthcare and waterways amongst others was denied. The sheer human cost of such a draconian system over centuries would, if extrapolated with imagination, make the holocaust pale into background. The Pariah was prohibited from eating rice well into the twentieth century. Imagine the cost of lack of nutrition. 'Frictionless society'. My foot.

Very coolly Padma asserts that Brahmins are natural intellectuals forgetting the fact that for nearly two centuries the reputed institutions of learning in Chennai were the courtesy of Missionaries, colonial government, non-Brahmin philanthropists. She herself was a student of Ethiraj college, not some Brahmin educational institution. Brahmins really did not run educational institutions of repute or not on such scale. The Brahmin intellectuals were all products of western education. It was not only Brahmins who flocked to learn English. Practically all of India did. Gandhi and Nehru, a Bania and a Brahmin, were not stellar students and compared to Ambedkar were less educationally accomplished. It is easy to read Nehru and Gandhi whereas Ambedkar is highly academic and makes the reader sweat.

Gandhi and Varnashrama

Gandhi is best understood by Western academics, including Indians writing for Western universities and publications. My understanding of Gandhi is firmly rooted in the western tradition. America's founding fathers were slaveholders and at the same time emancipators. Abraham Lincoln ended slavery while holding on to the belief that Blacks were not intellectually equal to the Whites. Yet, within such inconsistencies they've nudged history. So too did Gandhi. And Gandhi, in turn, was nudged by Babasaheb Ambedkar.

Gandhi has undoubtedly praised Brahmins, called upon others to respect the Brahmin, he uncharitably compared the Dalits who converted to cows but was he just a sum of a few quotes? That he was not. Even if we went by quotes he was maddeningly tying himself in knots trying not to break Hinduism wholesale and provided fodder for both his detractors and others.

Invited by Gandhi to write for the first issue of Harijan, 1933, Ambedkar refuses but sends a terse message, "There will be outcastes as long as there are castes. And nothing can emancipate the outcaste except the destruction of the caste system". Publishing the letter Gandhi proceeds to answer him. "The moment untouchability goes, the caste system will itself be purified, that is to say, according to my dream, it will resolve itself into the true Varna dharma, the four divisions of the society, each complimentary of the other and none inferior or superior to any other".

Ambedkar was, in 1935, asked give an address to the "Annual conference of the Jat Pat Today Mandal of Lahore- an organization of caste Hindu reformers who wanted to do away with the caste system". Ambedkar's prepared remarks, titled "Annihilation of caste" alarmed the organizers for it called upon Dalits to leave Hinduism. The address was cancelled but Ambedkar published the speech. Gandhi responded in Harijan. Ambedkar responded back. An epistolary battle ensued.

Interestingly the Lahore organization now sent a message to Gandhi that he published in Harijan, August 1936. The message read, "Hindus are slaves of caste and do not want to destroy it. So when you advocate your ideal or imaginary varnavyayarastha they find justification for cling to caste. You are doing a great disservice to social reform".

Dissecting Gandhi's evolution on caste and spirituality, researcher Arvind Sharma writes, "In relation to Hinduism, then, Gandhi valued the overall structure of the tradition but wrought cardinal changes within it by introducing ordinal changes into it, thus resolving the paradox of belonging to a tradition but also transforming it while following it. …his programs, often moderate, and even traditional in formulation, were often radical in their impact"

This is clearly borne out by the impact of Gandhi's tour against untouchability. As Gandhi toured the length and breadth of India beseeching the upper caste Hindus to repent he was met with cries of 'Death to Gandhi'. His cavalcade was attacked and on couple of occasions he was almost assassinated. The upper caste savarna Hindus would dare to do him what Lord Irwin or any Muslim or Christian would not even attempt to do. The savarna Hindus understood the impact Gandhi was having on their cherished customs. It should be noted that a good number of Brahmins and upper castes stood behind Gandhi too. Christ told he'd split homes and pit father against son. Here was a modern day Christ tearing apart an ancient society.

"Gandhi Collecting Donations for Harijan Fund. Picture credit Kanu Gandhi. Source  6ad11bd683584fc7ebb050ff18a08a5d.jpg"

Gandhi evolved, on every issue, till the day he was felled by a fanatical Chitpavan Brahmin. The issue of caste was no different. The Gandhi of 1920s and 1930s, historian William Coward points out, evolved to the Gandhi of 1945 who sort of accepted his defeat to make caste Hindus realize that they need to change and advocated, as Ambedkar did, the politicization of Dalits. When the Constituent Assembly voted to outlaw untouchability the members cheered, "victory to Mahatma Gandhi". The man who presided over the legal change, included in the cabinet on the advice of Gandhi, was Ambedkar.

An important meeting during Gandhi's tour in 1934 was one between him and the Kanchi pontiff in Kerala. The pontiff reportedly pleaded with Gandhi not to destroy Hinduism by destroying untouchability. While Padma cites some booklet written by Gandhi praising Varnashrama she, owing to intrinsic intellectual inability, fails to understand that Gandhi, beyond his cardinal faiths of truth and non-violence, was always a work in progress and more importantly his approach to the sacred texts was very unlike that of the pontiff's.

When Ambedkar burned copies of Manusmriti and Dalits vowed severance with Hinduism Gandhi responded in Harijan writing, "Caste has to go". Gandhi asserted that Varnashrama did not have room for untouchability and that there was no prohibition against inter-dining or inter-caste marriage and more importantly he adds that it is his liberty to interpret the texts.

Akeel Bilgrami, Rhodes scholar and holder of Johnsonian chair of philosophy at Columbia University, in a perceptive essay on Gandhi, writes that Gandhi said of his approach to religious texts, "I am not a literalist". Bilgrami adds, "I want to stress Gandhi's interpretative ideal of focusing on the spirit rather than on the letter of religious texts. So, for instance, he says that of all the versions of the Ramayana, the one to which he most turns is Tulsidas because "it is the spirit running through the book that holds me spellbound"". Gandhi, with such interpretative zeal completely gave a new reading to Bhagvad Gita, a text commonly thought to be an unabashed call to war.

"My belief in the Hindu scriptures", said Gandhi, "does not require me to accept every word and every verse as divinely inspired". Bilgrami points out that in "many writings, Gandhi opposed the prevalent interpretation of the varna system".

Gandhi interpreted, Gandhi evolved, Gandhi fashioned his own philosophy, Gandhi entertained his critics and always published their criticisms in his own newspaper. This was a man cut from a very different cloth. He was human, all too human. Padma has reduced him to a caricature. This takes us to the Kanchi pontiff who was a literalist and an avowed fundamentalist.

The Kanchi Pontiff

Even those who are disgusted by Padma's views approve the pontiff's views, which more faithfully resemble her views than that of Gandhi's. The excuse is that the pontiff, very reverentially called by devout Brahmins as 'Maha Periyavaa', was a religious head and was merely asserting what his scriptures told him. Varnashrama and support for caste are the most polite of the so called saint's causes unlike other causes that are practically repugnant.

Writing in 20th century Chandrasekharendra advocated child marriage as ideal to promote loyalty in the minds of women from childhood towards their husbands. To Gandhi varnashrama did not prohibit inter-dining but to the saint it did. In several writings he returns obsessively to not eating food served by everyone and even asked diners to be mindful of those who they ate alongside. Happily he compared ritual pollution of inter-dining to being infected by a disease. He abhorred women working.

Padma knows full well that if she just cited Chandrasekharendra she would've been brushed aside by non-Brahmins and therefore she used Gandhi as a Trojan horse to suggest, "here's the Father of the nation, a non-Brahmin and an emancipator speaking like my beloved Aacharyaa". What she lacks in honest understanding Padma compensates in deviousness. While Gandhi's views on varnashrama were superficially close to Chandrasekharendra it is the Aacharya who Padma really needed.

Chandrasekharendra Swamigal -- Maha Periyavaal

Building on her theme of differences she cites a shameful parable narrated by the Aacharya. The Aacharya, Padma says, ridiculed the idea of equality asking "if everything is equal can we replace sugar with salt in making a sweet". One has to specialize in Indian rules of logic to come up with such a stupid example to undermine the idea of equality. Recently another pontiff, oh there's no shortage of them, asked, how can we promote inter-caste marriage, is it not akin to two different animals marrying? Which school of logic do these guys attend?

It is the citing of that stupid parable that illustrates Padma's real intention and brings her closer to the Aacharya than to Gandhi. Padma, obviously does not and cannot practice everything that the Aacharya held dear. She's cherry picking much like how most of Tamil Nadu learned only one thing from E.V. Ramaswamy, passionately hating Brahmins.

When Padma bemoans Brahmins slipping from their ordained destiny she probably had in mind her bigamous father who was a movie director.

Why now? Why not ignore Padma?

The question why now, is easily answered. The current political climate is built on the bedrock of a revival of Brahminical hegemony. Turn wheresoever you may you'd find glorification of a fabled past, mostly with no truth or half-truth, that is invariably conflated with a Vedic age when Brahminical imperialism was at its apogee.

Do I believe every Brahmin cheers Padma and every Brahmin wants a return of varnashrama? Absolutely no. From the days of Gandhi till today there are Brahmins who also stand up to the forces of atavism and regressiveness. It is complete nonsense to tar all Brahmins with the same brush or to assume every Brahmin will only act like Padma does.

This is where Ambedkar and E.V. Ramaswamy adopted an implacable stance of animosity and committed the same sin they said they were fighting, meaning reducing a person to nothing beyond his or her birth. "The Bania", wrote Ambedkar, "is the worst parasitic class known to history....He is like an undertaker who prospers when there is an epidemic. The only difference between the undertaker and the Bania is that the undertaker does not create an epidemic while the Bania does".

Thousands of Brahmins, at great personal cost, rallied behind the world's most famous Bania, to fight untouchability. To the one Bania that Ambedkar loathed most, a fearsome Afghan Pathan was capable of non-violence as much as anyone else. The Mahatma never lacked for faults and he was wrong on several important questions but what he never lacked was an abiding faith in a fellow human being to surmount hate.

Why not ignore Padma? Padma is a force to reckon with in the Bharatanatyam field and, according to a friend, was the ultimate authority in awarding Ph.D's for most researchers in the field. As a prominent artiste in a field already plagued by casteism and bigotry she occupies a position of immense influence. Who knows how many students and researchers, possibly better than her, she ensured did not get the due because of who they are?

In any other decent society Padma would've become a persona-non-grata and would be shunned by institutions promptly, any apology notwithstanding. But, this is India. She has unleashed her poodles who are now flooding sanctimonious stories about how egalitarian she is. Universities, colleges and Sabhas will continue to honor her. When the grim reaper does come, we can be sure we'll be flooded with articles reminding us what a doyen she was and all this would be rarely spoken of.

It is stunning that a Brahmin lady practicing an art that never belonged to her ancestors happily talks of varnashrama. Lady, thou art the definition of the word, chutzpah. Shame on you.


1. The Cambridge Companion to Gandhi - Ed. Judith Brown & Anthony Parel
2. Gandhi: A spiritual Biography - Arvind Sharma
3. Indian Critiques Gandhi - Ed. Harold Coward
4. Mahatma (Vol. 3 & 4) - D.G. Tendulkar
5. Missionaries and a Hindu State: Travancore 1858-1936 - Koji Kawashima
6. The Pariah Problem: Caste, Religion, and the Social in Modern India - Rupa Viswanath.
7. The Essential Ambedkar - Ed. Valerian Rodrigues
8.  Kanchi Acharya on Inter-Dining
9. Who can we eat with - Acharya
10. Acharya on child marriage
11. Can women work
12. தெய்வத்தின் குரல்: "ஸ்த்ரீ ஆண் மாதிரி பதவி, உத்யோகம் என்று வெளியுலக விஷயங்களில் ஈடுபடாமல் வீட்டு நிர்வாகத்தை எந்தவித குறையும் இல்லாமல் கவனித்துக் கொள்வதையே தன்னுடைய பிறவிப் பணியாகவும், நல்ல ஸாதனா மார்கமாகவும் வைத்து கொள்ள வேண்டும். வீட்டையும் கவனித்துக் கொண்டு வேலைக்கும் போகிறோம் என்றால் இரண்டிலுமே அர்ப்பணிப்பு குறைந்து போகும். ஒருவேளை இரண்டையும் சரியாக செய்ய முடிந்தாலும் அது அவளுக்கு தர்மமாகாது. ஏனென்றால், பலதரப்பட்ட பிரச்சனைகளை அவள் சமாளித்தாக வேண்டும். இந்த இன்னல்களுக்கு ஆளாகாமல், ஸ்த்ரீயானவள் தன் தார்மீகப் பொறுப்பான குடும்பப் பொறுப்பை ஏற்று சிறப்பாக குடும்பத்தை வழி நடத்திட வேண்டும்"
13. Padma Subrahmanyam
14. K. Subramanyam