Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tamil Christians and Tamil Sangams.

A friend posted a comment on Facebook wondering why Tamil Christians in USA do not show interest in Tamil Sangams despite showing enthusiasm in establishing Tamil churches in USA and worshipping in Tamil. One time North Carolina Tamil Sangam did not have a single Christian member.

Language is a powerful coagulant. As immigrants we love to congregate together on linguistic basis if we could or under some denomination. In USA given the large number of Tamils it is possible gather under the "Tamil" umbrella. Christianity being an organized religion, congregants, especially those who take efforts to establish vernacular churches, make it a point to meet at least twice a month and hold services in Tamil. This gives an outlet for what Tamil Christians miss as being away from Tamil Nadu. As much as Tamil Sangam members or some enthusiasts might disagree this is pretty much the same desire that is fulfilled by Tamil Sangams. So what more can a Tamil Sangam that a Tamil Christian does not get in a Tamil Church? Sangam members might point to cultural festivals, Tamil literary events (though sparsely attended by non-Christians themselves) etc and wonder "can they not come for the sake of Tamil?". No they cannot.

I grew up in a very unique Christian home thanks to a very liberal, very open and accepting father who shaped us to be open minded. We lived amidst Hindus of all castes, friendships with those families spanned generations. When all the kids in the neighborhood enjoyed bursting crackers we were told it's ok to join and we even got new clothes. Respecting our mom's wishes we celebrated Pongal complete with tying a turmeric around the cooker for Pongal and a kolam too. As a lover of literature my father savored Bharathi mini-epic of Draupadi and his songs of Krishna. We had Rajaji's "Mahabharatham" and "Ramayanam", a Bhagvad Gita, Silappathikaram etc. I inherited a love for Sivaji Ganesan, especially the movie 'Karnan' from my dad. My mother and wife both wear a bindi.

In most Christian households most or almost all of the above are taboo. Tamil literature, Kamba Ramayanam, wearing a bindi, a kolam, pongal etc are considered blasphemous by Christians. Tamil culture or whatever that gets called 'Tamil culture' is seen as 'Hindu Culture'. Ironically the Tamil Bible and Tamil Christian Hymns (especially those by Vedanayaham Sastriyaar) are replete with Sanskrit words and Hindu philosophy. Tamil Christians have not created anything in Tamil, besides the Bible and Hymns, that could be called 'literature'. The only feeble attempt is by an immigrant Veeramamunivar (Thembavani). The same could be said of Islam too. Islam had its own language too for all its members, rich or poor, for worshipping. Tamil Christians had only Tamil and English. Going to an English Church is considered more prestigious than going to Tamil church. The socio-economic divide between Tamil and English is very evident in the churches too. English Churches, especially in Madras, are invariably rich.

Before Tamil Sangam members take issue with looking at Tamil literature as 'Hindu' literature they would do well to introspect a good number of their own members who proudly claim allegiance to Dravidian political ideology. Annathurai made a career out of lampooning Kamban as a pornographer. In any other language a poet like Kamban would be celebrated, it is Kamban's misfortune that he was born in Tamil Nadu and he wrote in Tamil. Silappathikaram, written by a Jain, replete with Brahminical influences was held up as 'literature of the Tamils' by the same Dravidian ideologues without batting an eyelid that whatever they decried of Kamban could be said of Ilango. E.V.Ramasamy Naicker (some refer to him as 'Periyar') was an equal opportunity offender who relished lampooning all and sundry. With no knowledge of literature, worldwide or provincial, he ridicules Kural, the darling of his ideological progeny, along with the rest. Poor Tamil literature, some detest it for not being secular, others lampoon it on ideological basis.

When Tamil Unicode was being decided many Tamils, especially non-brahmins, in Tamil Nadu and USA worked themselves into a fury over the inclusion of a few letters, called "Grantha letters". Propaganda poured forth to protect Tamil against 'sanskritisation'. Tamil Bible is filled with Sanskrit word, Tamil Christian hymns cannot be printed in so called 'chaste' Tamil. By the way, no Tamilian, can actually write or speak 'chaste' Tamil. Good luck building a bridge then.

On a fine Deepavali day I wished an uncle of mine, "Happy Deepavali". Being a staunch DMK person he said "oh I do not celebrate Deepavali its all Aryan propaganda, I only celebrate Pongal which is a pure Tamilian festival'. Another shibboleth of Dravidian ideology is Pongal. Pongal is just harvest festival and is common to many cultures, Telugus celebrate it as "Makara Sankranthi". Food is cooked in a ceremonial manner and is offered to the Sun god. Pongal is not complete without a visit to family deity. There is nothing secular about Pongal for Christians to celebrate.

Tamil New Year is also not observed by Christians. Thanks to Karunanidhi now amongst those who celebrate Tamil New Year there is confusion. Tamil Sangams celebrate Pongal, Deepavali, Tamil New Year. On the contrary Tamil Sangams, to my knowledge, do not celebrate Christmas or Ramzan the two major functions of non-Hindu religions.

Nothing is secular about India. The India Day Parade in NYC for Aug 15th is dominated by an overtly Hindutva flavor (not just Hindu but Hindutva) that presence of Indian Muslims is practically nil, observed rediff.com. Is there a Tamil Culture apart from Hindu culture?

Unfortunately there are parts of Hindu culture that Tamil Christians have retained while refusing the finer aspects. That's the caste structure. A Tamil Christian asserted on Facebook "not a single Brahmin converts to Christianity, only non-brahmins convert and that is in order to escape caste oppression in Hinduism". The latter is false partly. A long serving Catholic Bishop in Tanjore was a Brahmin convert, so was the Bishop who presided over my marriage and a colleague I met in US. Both Christianity and Islam promised a casteless society that attracted especially the Dalits who were oppressed by every other community. However Dalit Christians continue to be discriminated by other Christians, who for the sake of quota are classified as Backward. Amongst Tamil Christian societies dowry remains a pernicious evil in proportions that are shameful.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Who were these brahmin Converts and what were their names?