By Revd. Barnabas Alexander & Dr. Kristoffson Somanader
04 September, 2005
The Tmilian race of people is of an ancient stock. Some scholars are convinced that the Tamils originated from the continent of Lemuria that was later lost to the ocean. The Tamils were a sophisticated people in that they developed complex social structures. Their culture possessed spiritually sensitive art forms – prose and poetry; music; dance and drama. The exquisite Tamil language couched the esoteric essence of its people with intricate grammar. Some ancient literary works (6BC) place Tamils as the first circumnavigators. Essentially the Tamils were a spiritual people. Tamilians have practised twin form of spirituality namely Saivism and Thirumalism until the incremental invasion of the Aryans. That is to say, that the Tamils acquired not only the worship of icons/idols but also the practice of offering fire sacrifices (Verlvi) as a result of northern invasion. Sivan or Thirumal worship in its purest form meant that the Tamils worshipped the ubiquitous Cosmic Spirit – the invisible One without any aid of iconography. Formation of such seminal thoughts could be traced in ancient Tamil literature including the Sitthar padalgal. For example, a Sitthar Tamil poem sings: “Natta Kallai suttriyai; Naalu puspam sathiyai; sutri vanthu mona mona yendru sollum manthiram yethadar; natta kallum pesumo nathan ullil erukaiyil?” The mystic through this song raises the question as to why one should worship an inanimate object while “Nathan” – the indwelling Spirit / the Master of the universe is residing within one self. The divine interiority of each person was paramount to the Tamil mind. It is not far from the truth to say that the Tamils have adhered to a monotheistic framework and referred to God either as Thirumal or Sivan.
We propose that much cultural/spiritual corruption came via the Brahmins as they conspired to enslave the Tamils, inter alios, politically, intellectually, and spiritually.
Advanced civilisation of the Tamils divided the habitable landscape into four distinct areas. That distinction of habitation reflected their art and culture respectively. The four separate areas were 1) Kurungee: mountainous terrain 2) Mullai: Forest and the surrounding area 3) Marutham: Cleared area of ‘green site’ settlements 4) Naithal: Sea and dwellings along the coastline.
The cultural perception of the ancient Tamil mind was not to separate people, as some wrongly propagates, into castes. The system of caste entered the mindset of the Tamils only when the Brahmins arrived at the scene. The primary violence however, the Brahmin did to the spiritual mind of the Tamil was to evict the Tamil language from the act of worship by surreptitiously introducing an unknown tongue, Sanskrit as the “sacred” language of the gods. This was an ideal political move on the part of the Aryans in order they might colonise initially the Dravidian mind. They understood the significance of capturing and occupying the mind first by promoting a superior notion of a ‘heavenly’ language. This was a convenient arrangement to exclude the masses. Only a ‘divinely authorised’ cognitive class was enabled to pronounce the mantra and robe the role of a ‘go between’ the common worshipper and newly introduced gods.
When someone needed to communicate to the gods, one would now require the assistance of the Brahmin who could articulate ‘god language’. It was a bit like the Latin Mass! Such religious monopoly was utterly new to the spiritually minded Tamil!
Then the secondary assault of inferiority had its knock on effect through the belief-system of caste consciousness. This was indeed again a very much a novel idea to the Tamils, or for that matter to all Dravidians in the continent.
In order for the Brahmin to be on the top of the hierarchical pyramid they were obliged to invent the theology of Varna. Prior to delving into that, we must note another subtle shift. It is widely believed by cultural Anthropologist that within the spirituality of the Tamils there was found a singular practise of agrarian offering as opposed to the later Brahmanic introduction of animal sacrifices in the context of Verlvi/Yakam. It is further understood, that originally, the Tamils were highly complexed in their understanding of spirituality and in that, unlike other ancient peoples, there seem to be no evidence of engaging in the worship of Fire nor did they ever incorporate fire in their modes of worship. It is deliberate that their worship of God did not spring out of fear. Human or animal sacrifice was hardly practised among the ancient Tamils. We are reminded of the “Foundational sacrificial murder” of Abel that arose within the context of worship. This narrative is found in the book of Genesis in the Hebrew Scripture. It is relevant to observe here that Cain’s first offering to God was an agrarian ‘sacrifice’. The ancient Tamils similarly offered to God only such ‘sacrifice’. Their perception of God might have pictured a compassionate Supreme Being that needed no appeasing with blood. Such peaceful spirituality must have impacted the way they related within the community.
As the influence of the Brahmins grew and captured the fertile imagination of the Tamil mind their sole deity Sivan/Thirumal was subtly displaced by Brahmanism. Owing to the Brahmanic intellectual chauvinism the Tamils were coerced in to the idea of a pantheon of gods and began to view the Supreme as Brahma. It was uniquely an internal religious conversion. This was a paradigm shift in terms of indigenous belief system. By giving room to such a minor adjustment, the thraldom of caste consciousness was to make a cancerous impact on the minds of the Tamils. It was designed to divide, degrade and of course rule the Tamils thereafter! Remember however, the Brahmin occupied the next highest place to God. Such an ingenious theological invention virtually abetted the ascendancy of the Brahmin. It must be pointed out that the Buddha challenged the authority of the Brahmins. He further questioned the sacrificial ritual in his philosophy and got rid of Brahma as the Creator. By doing so, Buddha challenged the caste-system, which is the heartbeat of the Vedic religion.
The complexion of Varna
Varnam means colour. The Brahmanic system of colour, put in contemporary language, would be nothing but a system of apartheid. Some scholars, in order to preserve the system of caste, tend to propose that the four varnas are merely a stratification of society – a social ordering if you like. The Brahmins like the Afrikaners masked such abominable thinking in rich religious connotation in order to brain wash the masses. They introduced the idea of ritualistic purity/holiness, which was totally alien to the Tamil. The degradation of the out castes as impure was immense, to say the least. It is inherently a warped deterministic worldview. Thankfully the current debate on Dalit theologies knock out of joint such colossal myths.
The genius of the Varna was to derive the Brahmin from Brahma (God). It seems to the modern mind as a sinister word play. Such tinkering of the minds devalues other human persons as lower castes. Those persons who do not come into the periphery of the caste system are demonised as outcastes and therefore, deemed to be simply “things” or non-entities.
The four castes are Brahmin; Sathriya; Vaisiya; Soothra. A religious propaganda was advanced that God has created Brahman out of his head/face meaning that Brahmin is the face of God to the masses (a bit like the Hebrew Moses!) and they were the chosen priests and scribes. A little lower, Sathriya was said to be created out of God’s shoulder. That meant they were the warriors and aristocrats who were the strength and protection to society. Further lower down, the Vaisiya, who was created out of God’s thigh; meaning that these were the merchants who supported both the Brahman and the Sathriya. On the bottom were the Soothra who was destined to serve the above castes because they were created from the feet. This system as it seems, on the surface, disguises its venom as the division of labour. The toxin of such thinking works much deeper than that. The castes were also given colour coding: White; red; gold and black. It is no surprise that the supremacy of the Brahmin grades black to be the colour of the poor. Such poisonous ideas were injected into the Dravidian mind as religious thought.
In the past, there have been many attempts made by various Dravidian progressive political parties and social reform movements, particularly in South India, in order to detox society from the addiction to Brahmanic myths. It is no easy task they found, to uproot archaic thought patterns. Once you believe a system of dangerous lies, when it’s presented as a religious idea in particular, then it becomes a near impossibility to eliminate
One begins to dream however, in the context of the liberation struggle of the Ceylon Tamils, such tyrannical ideas and thought patterns could be replaced in the young minds from drawing from Tamilian root ideas and authentic spiritual beliefs and original social values.
There are reasons to believe that the ruling elitist Brahmins in India seem to be instinctively threatened by the “danger” of the emancipatory praxis of the Ceylon Tamils. Therefore, they will continue to undermine the quest for liberty. We wish to advance the idea of Thamil Eelam as more than a political entity that encompasses spiritual, social and intellectual liberation to Tamils – who are among one of the most ancient and culturally unique and distinct race of people on this planet.
That is the reason why Bharathiyar sang: Thamilan Endru sollada; Thalai Nemirnthu nillada. This is not to be interpreted as an inflated nationalistic pride. On the contrary, it is to be viewed from an angle of redeeming Tamil consciousness from inferiority complex. It is looked in terms of human rights: one’s intrinsic value and inherent right to determine his/her spiritual, socio-political, cultural destiny. In the light of current liberative praxis, the tyranny of a centuries old cyclic conspiracy is totally incompatible.
Epilogue: The authors are clear that this article should not be misinterpreted as a personal attack on any particular religion or on any individual Brahmin. The whole argument is advanced against both the intellectual tyranny and the thraldom of mind to the consciousness and the system of caste in the name of God. This is an attempt to show the illogical stance of such theologies and to high light the incompatibility of such thinking not only to the modern mind but also in particular to the ancient Tamil mind.