By Gauthama Siddharthan
We can see the way how, to maintain the disparities and discriminations that existed between the four Varnaas on the basis of which people had been divided along the lines of their trades and professions and to keep them in the same social status and hierarchy generation after generation , making sure that there would be no room at all for them to even think of coming out of the vicious circle of their caste and clan, leave alone attempt it, not just the Brahmins but also the upper-caste non-brahmins were thoroughly alert and vigilant and keep functioning to maintain the status-quo, till date.
As there are a good deal of analytical papers and documents available on the people belonging to the low-castes, their life-style and beliefs, leaving them out, I have taken into consideration marginalized castes for this Study. Trades which have been looked down as ‘mean jobs’ by the society such as washing dirty clothes, hair-cutting, making earthern pots and utensils, construction-work, making wooden-rails etc., have been set aside for particular castes among these lot and in the name of ‘heriditary-trade’ people born in these castes have been brainwashed into believing that they are destined to live on doing these works and that the virtue of their caste dmands that they should continue in these so-called ‘family-trade’.
These ideas and thoughts pertaining to ‘Kula Dharma’, i.e., the Virtue of their Clan were spread during the period of Bakthi Literature, having the Form of God as the object of worship. The idea that the low-caste birth which was taught to be the curse of one’s sins in the previous birth should be lived accordingly so as to get relieved of the curse and have a noble birth in the following one, had been dinned into the minds and psyche of the people belonging to the lowest strata of Caste System through various arts and literary forms – Myths and Puranas, folk-tales, proverbs, riddles, games and sports, traditional fictions and so on – and along with this continuous brainwashing, these people have also been threatened that it wouldn’t be proper on their part to think and act rationally in matters pertaining to physical labour.
They were not allowed entry into Agricultural activities which enjoyed prime social status in those days. Images and symbols were constructed to the effect that the entry of these people in the field of Agriculture would have an adverse effect on the fertility and prosperity of the region concerned. Along with these constructs the practice of using the caste-names of these people as words of abuse has also come into use. In the ‘Nattaar’ tradition giving pet-names to people has been a feature of fun and mockery. Keeping in line with this tradition pen-names were attributed to the Castes too. Thus, the pseudonyms for the upper castes in power echoed their social-status and those of the oppressed Castes contained in them all the humiliations that they have been subjected to, down the ages. Thus there came into vogue such pet-names as Poeyar (reference to those belonging to the Ottar Caste), Maruththuvar(reference to those belonging to the Naavidhar(hair-cutter) clan, Vannaar( reference to the clan called Aekaali, i.e., washerman, Kulaalar( reference to Potter) and many others.
Above all these, those belonging to the upper-castes, exploiting the traditional belief of the people in ‘previous births’ and ‘life after death’ have so cruelly and successfully sowed the seeds of the baseless notion that the people belonging to these ‘low castes’ were born into these respective castes due to some ‘divine curse’ and so have made them nurture a ‘sense of guilt’ about their ‘birth’ in the ‘oppressed clans’.
Thus, in Tamil Land, almost all the Castes that have a rich traditional and cultural background bear this ‘sense of guilt’ in them; it has become in-built in them the way the Upper-Castes have planned it and executed it generation after generation. They live on with the feeling that their castes are the ‘cursed ones’ and that they are born into their castes due to some sin on their part or committed by their ancestors and hence they should bear all the oppressions and humiliations in silence, so as to free themselves from the ‘so-called’ sins. Even in this modern age of immense scientific, technical and technological advancement, even the psyche of the youth belonging to these castes is burdened with this sense of guilt. And, they live on with the inferiority-complex that they are sinners and that their low-caste birth is the divine punishment meted out to them. This realization hit me with full force during my survey and field-work undertaken for the purpose of writing an indepth article on the origin and soial-status and psychological constraints of the oppressed castes, leaving me shocked and dumb-founded. In fact, this psycholigical construct of the oppressed castes was the foremost of all information that I could gather about their life on earth.
Thus, believing themselves to be sinners and accepting all the oppressions and humiliations meted out to them at the hands of the ruling castes as the ‘divine punishment’ for the sins committed by them in their previous births the ‘marginalized sections of the society live on, feeling resigned to their abominable state of affairs. Let us see here the way their psyche is shaped so down the ages. Let us take five such ‘marginalized groups’ – Vaettuvar(hunter-clan), Aasaariyaar, Poeyar, Naavidhar( hair-cutters) and Vannaar(washermen) for the purpose of this Study on the concept of Sin and Curse and its impact on the lives of these people.
In the caste-based social hierarchy Vaettuvar form the foremost ‘marginalized’ group. They believe themselves to belong to the clan of hunters, living in the woods. Though there are several images doing the rounds about this sect that these people are an angry and violent lot, they take pride in the myth of Kannappa Nayanaar who gave away his eyes to Lord Shiva which they uphold as the pride and glory of their clan!
These people who have Agriculture as their prime means of livelihood live in most of the places inhabited by the ‘Kongu Velaalaas’. Though these people suffix the caste-term Kavundar with their names in terms of their standard of living and economical background they lag far behind.
To understand this peculiar situation in the proper perspective we should have a clear idea of that which is inherently interwoven in the folklores that are the rich treasure-house of Tamil language and culture, that which remains as the part and parcel of the Cultural and religious practices of the Tamils.
While the folklores and the terms used therein construct religious aspects, beliefs and ingredients another dimension of it plays a divisive role in their lives, seggregating people. This can be clearly seen in several folklores. The folk-song called Ponnar Shankar Kadhai (The Tale of Ponnar-Shankar which is the song that tells the story of Annaamaar Saami.)
This folk-song which is so beautifully constructed with a magnificent story-line which is firmly rooted in the rich tradition of the region called Kongu Naadu, telling the tale with such clarity and finesse that invariably brings back to our mind the battle-scenes of Kurukshethra has always proved very successful.
Konnudaiyaak Kavundan belonging to the Kongu-Vellaala community, due to a kinship-quarrel moves over to the rich, fertile land called PonniVala Naadu. Thanks to the blessings of God three children, two boys named Ponnar and Shankar and a daughter named Arukkaanithangaal. His relatives once again hatch a plot to kill his off-springs. But, by god’s grace the children escape unscathed and they live in hiding, being sheltered by a person called Saambugan, a Dalith by birth. When the children grow upSambugan reveals to them their history and real identity and takes them back to their parents and leaves them in their hands. Defeating all the evil plans of their kith and kin the family of Annaamaar i.e., big brothers live with their parents in pride and glory.
The wild animals such as wild boar belonging to the minor king called Thalaiyoork-Kaali of the hunter-clan cause great havoc to the agricultural lands of the Annaamaar and the minor kings pesists in causing them some harm or other.
The brothers are enraged and kill the wild boar which was beyond destruction. Hearing this, the king of the hunter-clan prepares for a war and a battle takes place. The Annaamaar destroy the forces of the hunter king. But, because of a vicious plot of Thalaiyur-Kaali the Annanmaar suffer death. Their sister Arukkaanithangam prays to their family-deity Periyakaandiyamman and bring them back to life and they, turning alive once again console their grieving sister. And, saying that ‘Maandavar Meendaal Naadu Thaangaadhu’ meaning that if the dead are to come back , the land can’t bear it all” they embrace death once again. Their sister Thangaal, an impeccably virtuous woman curses the hunter-clan.
And, the people of this clan believe that it is this curse of hers that holds them in tis grip still.
Such cultural onslaughts do not stop with texts alone. They continue to haunt the people every year in the name of performing annual rituals to god which prove to be assaulting a community psychologically on a continuous basis, a scenario that unfolds itself right in front of our eyes.
In this religious event which takes place every year, on the day of Maasip-Pournami ( the full-moon day of the Tamil Month Maasi – from February 15 upto March 14th) the scenes that follow one after another in quick succession, on the literal and emotional levels are indeed gruesome and cruel.
In this annual festival lakhs of people from all castes assemble in this region and celebrate. During this festival which extends for eight days events called Parivaettai ( horse-hunting), Kilivaettai(parrot-hunting), Ambu-Poedudhal ( throwing the arrow) would take place. People would come in huge crowds to take part in this festival which is a fine blend of Spirituality and Story-telling. But, those belonging to the Vettuvaa caste, i.e., the hunters’ clan are not allowed to take part in this festival. If they defy this tradition and take part then they are sure to vomit blood and fall dead – so a belief prevails. Further, those belonging to the caste in question who are residing in the surrounding areas would invariably leave their places and go to some other locations. For, the prevailing belief is that those who do not follow these unwritten commands would breathe their last for sure.
Moreover, on the last day of the festival the ritual called ‘Ambu poedudhal’ (throwing of arrow) would take place. In that Ponnar would climb on to a horse, holding high the arrow in his hand and leaving in great rage would reach a place called Anniyaapoor and throw his arrow.
(The traditional belief is that this event signifies throwing arrows at the hunters’ army and that the arrow thus thrown and leaps ahead would hit a hunter somewhere, all around the globe, and cause his death). And, owing to this traditional belief as the basis none of the people belonging to the hunters’ clan participates in this festival in any other activities connected with it. Till date the ‘shame and anguish of the so-called curse’ keeps haunting them.
This folk-song is a cultural assault on the said section of people and a folklore refutes in totality its latter half.
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The Annaamaars were those who with the overpowering greed for land grasped the lands of the hunters who were dwelling in the forest regions.
As they had completely destroyed the forest which was where the hunters dwelt and begun to cultivate the lands, it was but natural for the animals belonging to the hunters’ clan such as pigs and others to force their way into the agricultural lands. This was how the enmity between Thalaiyaar-Kaali and Annamaars came to be. Thalayaar-Kaali was a staunch devotee of Goddess Kaali. Seeing the way the Annamaars had completely destroyed their dwelling place, th forest he goes to the Goddess and makes a tearful appeal to her. At once, Goddess Kaali appears in front of him and says, “Your clan would suffer no annihilation hereafter and the more it would face destruction at the hands of the enemies the more it would grow stronger and multiply. How could a God accept a villainaous man as its devotee and bless him with a boon? It was because the Annamaars had caused extensive damage to the woods the Goddess of the forests became enraged and wiped them out.
Arukkaanithangaal wept in anguish and despair and sought justice saying, “We are Vellaalaas whose very livelihood is cultivating the forest-land and selling the produces. When this being the case, what wrong have we done?”. The Goddess of Forest too regaining her cool and feeling sorry for the hunters’ clan responds saying, “Because you have devovoured the forest you have earned the bad reputation of ‘Kaa Undar’(those who have eaten the woods). Henceforth, see to it that you don’t destroy the forest land completely but provide sufficient space for the animals and hunters’ clan to remain”. With these words the Goddess made the dead bodies of Annamaars turn alive.
Having no such in-depth understanding of all this and not caring to know the minute details and nuances of this folklore the so-called city-based intellectuals and art-critics, and the ‘genuises’ of theatre who are completely bowled over by the ‘battle-scenes’ have only words of praise for this ‘performance’ and they fail to see and identify the ‘cultural assault’ that runs as the undercurrent of this tale.
When we have these two texts before us and study them in detail and also when we keenly watch the festival events conducted in the name of God and Religion we will be able to realize the inherent politics structured in these tales.
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Viswakarmaas, those of Aachaariyaa clan who call themselves as Viswabrahmins see themselves as the sons of Lord Brahma, the god of Creation. They can be divided into five sects – Panja Karumaas ( five jobs)
– as Kollar ( blacksmiths, those who do metalworks), Thachar ( carpenter,, those who do carpentry), Sirpigal ( sculptors, those who do stone-cutting), Kannaar( those who work with vessels) and Thattaar ( glodsmiths, those who work with gold). And, all these five sects of people have been contributing the much-needed, essential physical labour to the society).
For centuries they have been subjected to all kinds of oppression and suppression in the name of Caste. They indulged in extensive debates claiming themselves to be authorities of Vedhas, chanting them just like the Brahmins and also claiming that they who do physical work were superior to Brahmins who indulge in no physical labour. To prove their point they even went to the Court of Law and succeeded. Such initiatives of these people operating on an intellectual level, due to their economically backward state were converted into matters to be laughed at and set aside.
In those days they were given the right by the Royal Court to sound the ‘Irattai Sangu’ (double-conch) and ‘kottu’ (a kind of drum) in their weddings and other rituals – so observes Prof.K.K.Pillai in his work titled ‘Thennindhiya Varalaaru’( the History of South India).
As the history of their receiving curse was constructed out of the very Puranaas that they loved and reverred most, these people turned psychologically shamed and suppressed, unable to refute it and raise any objection.
As they had given their daughter in marriage to Ravana, the King of Lanka and they were occupying a prestigious place in the Royal court of Ravana.
The battle between Rama and Ravana begins. Achaariyaar was naturally on the side of his son-in-law.
Hanuman who was on the side of Rama, with torches tied on his tail burns the entire city of Lanka. But, Aachaariyaar, with the help of his creative skill and expertise rebuilds the entire city with just one stroke. Whenever Hanuman destroys the city with just one twist and swirl of his tail, the Aachaariyaar would bring it back to shape with just one stroke. This symbolic war was going on in full swing. At one stage Hanuman grows tired of this and calling Aachaariyaar for a truce he tells him that if he would stop rebuilding the city then he would be suitably rewarded. Aachaariyaar agrees to it and give a ‘Poithattu’ (false stroke). So, the city destroyed didn’t come back to shape.
After the City of Lanka was totally destroyed Aachaariyaar goes in search of Hanuman to ask for the promised reward. But, Hanuman, casting a deragatory look at him, sniffs and throws the nasal discharge at him saying that it was the fitting reward for his help. The nasal discharge thrown at Aachaariyaar turns into Poonool, the sacred thread that the Brahmins wear and falls in place on the chest of Aachaariyaar.
Aachaariyaar returns, sad and frustrated and seeing him a Lankan woman curses him collecting sands on her hands and throwing it all on him saying, “You have allowed our city to be destroyed for the sake your greed for gold and wealth… henceforth, money and wealth will not remain in your hands, no matter how much you earn or acquire them. Your clan will not benefit by it at all..”
And, the people belonging to the Aachaariyaa clan believe that it is the curse that keeps them economically backward and an oppressed lot. And, they hold that this is the reason why when they work they resort to making the ‘false stroke’ – i.e., ‘poithattu’ and thus the curse has come to stay as an inherent aspect of their psyche and it plays a crucial role in their internal and external existence.
Let us look at the Politics of this fictitious construct minutely. The fact that the Aachaariyaas claiming to be above the Brahmins in many aspects, and the way they function accordingly, the fact that they too wear the ‘sacred thread’ , chant Vedhas and perform the religious rites, the fact that they went to the Court with the claim that they were superior to Brahmins and won the case prove to be matters of great concern and irritation to the Brahmins and other upper- caste Hindus. That this fiction was born of that anger and frustration is very apparent. Not only that, the way the name of their caste which was originally Aachaariyaar sounding very much like the term that means ‘Great Scholar of Vedhas’ turning into Aasaariyaar later on was also an integral part of the larger scheme of the Political game.
The axis of this fiction revolves round ‘poonool’. In order to destroy their image of being superior to Brahmins, the very symbol of their superiority, the poonool should be demeaned and devalued. This is the crux of ‘cultural attack’. The poonool that the brahmins wear comprises the 4 Vedhas and 64 Sasthraas but that which the Aachaariyaas sport, ‘mere nasal discharge’.
It remains the bounden duty of the younger generation to free their forefathers from such cursed beliefs that keep suffocating them down the ages and so enabling them to become really free and liberated.
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These people called ‘Poer’ who belong to the Ottar Caste remain an unravelled riddle till date. Just because they use the language Telugu they invariably remain as aliens and outcastes in the Tamil land. Their traditional occupations – ‘digging wells’, ‘building houses’ were considered to be very crucial in the Agricultural community. They have the ancestral skill and power to find out the water-current five hundred feet below, with a mere feel of their feet. The great source of this skill and feel can very well be attributed to their ancestral means of livelihood which they have been traditionally following. When it comes to physical labour these people stand in the forefront. Once they finish digging well in one place they move over to another place to start work anew and as this was their life-style and work-culture these people were more or less living like vagabonds, going from place to place and not having lands or regions of their own. Today, after the advent of such technological advancements like the J.C.P the day-to-day existence of these people have fallen into too deep a well and they are forced to remain there, struggling in vain to find a way out.
Their rituals and religious practices pertaining to their worship of family-deity are filled with riddles and ambiguity just the way their life proves to be.
There is no specific place for their clan-deity. When the assigned day for performing the rituals for the worship of clan-deity the priest and the men and women belonging to their castes would keep on walking, carrying the things required for carrying out the rituals. Suddenly they would plant the stone in a spot and so turning it to be their family-deity they would spread a white cloth on the floor and commence the rituals. (To know about this in detail please read my short-story titled ‘Pongiyaathaa’). The explanation for this can be accessed in the deep and genuine relationship between their clan and the specific profession set aside for their clan. Their prime means of livelihood are Kinaru Vettudhal (digging wells) and Jalam Paarthal (Spotting ground-water) Thus, Water has become their clan-deity. If we ponder over it from this angle, the priest in charge of the rituals spots the place where their clan-deity is through his feet. Finding the spot from where their clan-deity Pongiyaathaa swells and flows as Water from the ground, they give offerings to the god, perform pooja and so worship their clan-deity. Once the ritual is over they fold the cloth and go back to their work. And the way these skilled and down-to-earth people remain a cursed lot with the help of Naattaar folklorique fictions continue till date.
In the ancient days, as per mythology, the people belonging to the Poer caste went to Lord Paramasiva and pray for their well-being, appealing to God to improve their lot. Heeding to their request Lord Paramasiva blesses them saying, “Keep doing the work assigned to your clan – that of digging wells, in right earnest and you would amass gold and wealth in this profession itself…” and sends them back.
Afterwards, once, while they were digging well Lord Paramasiva hides in the spot where they were digging well lots of gold and wealth. Unaware of it all the people were going on doing their work but at one stage they stop digging any further but goes to the owner of the well and lying to him that they had completed their work they receive their wages. But, it is exactly in the place where the work of digging is left incomplete that the wealth and gold hidden by Lord Paramasiva remain. Because of the deceit of the Poyar people they couldn’t get the wealth and gold which they would have got otherwise.
Then, Lord Paramasiva appears in front of them and curses them saying, “I offered you lots of gold and wealth. But, because of your deceitful nature you could not get hold of them. So be you for the rest of your life on Earth”. And these people hold that it is because of the curse that they lead a miserable life and with such a psychological construct they silently endure their low status, socially and economically.
This story is a typical example of the way the upper-castes resort to keep the so-called lower castes psychologically oppressed and suppressed, taking it all as something to be silently borne as it is God’s will that they remain so. This entire tale reveals the strategic scheming of the upper-castes down the ages. Those who earn their daily-bread by means of physical labour which is indeed noble and essential for the uplift of a society are degraded here in the worst possible manner and thus made to remain in the lower strata of social hierarchy. And, this has been made possible with the help and support of Arts.
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Let us now take the case of Vannaar who are also known as Aekaali who stand next to the Poers in the bottom rung of social hierarchy. As far as the other castes are concerned the names therin would stand for the pride and glory of their respective caste and its metaphorical names would be ‘words of abuse’. But, in the case of these people, the Vannaars or the Aekaalis, both their real names and symbolic names have come to be ‘words of abuse’ and deragatory terms. Their life is filled with such woeful sorrow, to say the least. Aekaali means Ottraikaali, i.e. a woman with one plait. It means those who worship a woman with just one plait. In course of time the woman with one plait was made out to be ‘Moodhevi’. Thondaradip-Podiyaazhvaar, a Vaishnavaite Brahmin in his line, ‘saettai than madiagaththu chelvam paarthirukindreerae’ has mocked at Moodhevi, viewing her as the very symbol of poverty. These people perform an important social task of washing and removing the dirts from the attires of their fellow-men. Washing clothes has been their means of livelihood for generations. The way this task is looked down and deemed lowly and the sarcasm and mockery attached to their pet-animal the ass which is an integral part of their profession have made their social status fallen into a dismal abyss. They are people born with great taste for and expertise in Music. Because, while they are engaged in washing the clothes they have the habit of singing and composing songs so as not to get tired or bored. Their voice can reach intense pitch which would cause fear in the minds of even maestros of music, so to say. But, the upper-castes and the ruling classes made light of such great, in-born genius and made it into an object of mockery, dinning into the mass-mind that only an ass would relish their song and music. And, they converted their rich songs into mean songs of eroticism, deleting some lines and adding some words. But the beginning lines ‘Kokku Parakkudhadhi Vellai Kokku Parakkudhadi’ (the crane flies, oh, my friend, the white crane flies) which holds a pride of place among the patriotic songs even today is a very popular one. And, this song is one which the Vannaars supposed to have sung on seeing the dhotis that they had spread on the rock after washing them in the water and while waiting for the clothes to dry fly high up, in a hanging suspended fashion because of the wind.
Vellai Vaetti Parakkudhadi
Adikkirakaathu balamaa adichaa aalae parappaandi
Vellai aalae parappaandi
the dhothi flies
The white dhothi flies
If the wind that blows, blows real heavy
Oh, even the white man would fly away, my girl…)
Likewise, we should undertake an in-depth study of what is called ‘Vannaankurigal’, that is the identification marks given to the clothes to categorise them. The nature of the identity-marks, the process in which they are accorded to the variety of clothes, the background of their creation and a lot more need a thorough study for there lie hidden in these signs and symbols a brand new linguistic outlook and a real fresh metaphorical character for the past 2000 years.
These people who are classified as belonging to the Most Backward Castes are in reality Dhaliths or of Scheduled Castes. In the overall social set-up they have the same status as those belonging to the Scheduled Castes. Their sad lot of going from door to door and receive ‘Oorchoru’ and washing ‘Theetu’ clothes (clothes considered untouchable and condemned and also those used during menstruation cycle) have kept them as untouchables, in the lowest rung of social hierarchy. Even in this present climate with all the scientific and technological advancements the reason for their life-style and social-status remaining the same is the curse that they had received – so these people observe in a dejected voice.
An Aekaali was washing the dirty clothes on the river-bed, along with a fellow Aekaali. At that time the second person asked the first one, “Why haven’t your wife come to the river-bed today?” To this, the first one responds saying, “I saw her conversing with another man. Enraged, I beat her black and blue. Henceforth I can’t have her with me”. Hearing this, the second one says, “Oh, why do you doubt your better-half thus. Our king Lord Rama, even after his wife Seetha being taken as captive by Ravan and kept in his custody for long has accepted her back, hasn’t he?”. Thus, the debate goes on and finally reaches the stage where Seetha’s virtue was questioned. At that time Lord Rama happened to come that way and listening to their conversation he became heart-broken and asked Seetha to prove her virtue by getting into the fire-pit. Seetha did so and proved her virtuous state of being and learning that the tongue which spoke ill of her virtue was the tongue of a washerman whose job was to wash away the dirts she cursed him. ” For the way you have stained my virtue you should live all your life washing away such stains and dirts”. Uttering these words Seetha goes and convert the fire-pit in which she sat, as the Vellaavi Aduppu (the steam-stove that the washermen use) and gave it to them. And it is this curse that keeps following them generation after generation, observe these people.
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Finally, let us take the case of Maruthuvar, i.e., Naavidhar. Right from the beginning the profession of this clan has been treating the ailing. They are also referred to as Pandidhar or Panduvar. These people attend to the medicare needs of the peasants in the surrounding rural areas, such as removing thorns from their feet etc. As an extension of these services they also perform hair-cutting. Like Vannaar these people are also listed among the Most Backward Castes in the official documents of the State but in matters of social-status they stand in the lowest rung of the hierarchy. Through the ages it has been adhered that one shouldn’t enter the household after undergoing hair-cutting or shaving, without having bath. This socially constructed concept is in fact degrading the profession of a sect of people and with what is called ‘Theettu’ being highlighted the society has all along been keeping them in a lowly state. (Let us not put forth such excuses as it is for cleaning the tiny little strands of hair that would be sticking on the skin after hair-cutting and shaving that a bath is insisted upon, for, even in this technologically advanced era where hair-cutting is done in the most modern and cleanliest method, the practice of sprinkling water on the head thrice before entering the household by way of adhering to the sacred dictates remains strong as ever).
The upper-castes, i.e., the influential sections of the society would make use of these people’s services as Oor Solludhal (going around the village or town, making some announcements, performing the secondary or inferior rituals of the upper-castes and such other things. And, to keep them doing these menial jobs several images have been constructed down the ages which insist that performing their assigned tasks is indeed a great honour awarded to them. And, to make sure that these people are not deprived of this so-called honour those belonging to the upper-castes never resort to render such services as hair-cutting or shaving to those hailing from the lower strata of caste-system. And, realizing the utmost need of these people and fearing that if they were to resist doing these tasks that would unsettle the upper-caste people greatly, the influential sections of the society have sought the help of the same old story of ‘curse’.
Once Lord Parameswaran and his consort Maheswari were conversing and in the course of their dialogue they began to talk about Parameswaran’s thick, disheveled locks of hair. Eswari had expressed her wish that Parameswaran could keep his locks of hair also clean and neatly trimmed the way he practised shaving. At once, in order to fulfill her wish Paramasivan called one of his ‘Boothaganaas’ and commanded him to do what Eswari wished. The Boothagana concerned began to do the job half-heartedly.
Within a few moments Parameswaran came to realize the unwillingness of the Boothaganaa. Terribly enraged he cursed him with the words, “The work which you considered mean and lowly and felt unwilling to perform would henceforth be the means of livelihood for your clan in all generations to come. From today onwards let you take on the form of a human, go to Earth and keep doing this work which you considered unworthy of your calibre…”.
Realizing his mistake the Boothaganaa falls at the feet of Lord Parameswara and pleads that the curse be removed off him.
In response to his appeal Eswaran says “Once the curse is pronounced I can’t take it back. Be it a curse or weapon, once I give it I cannot take it back… but, as you are pleading so much, let you use the weapon that I have given you for shaving and hair-cutting for offering medical services too… so you would be called ‘Maruththuvar’ ( meaning doctor or medical practitioner) from now onwards “, thus the Lord had accorded to the cursed state of being of the sect concerned, it is said.
“From that day Parameswaran never resort to hair-cutting and you would be knowing well that learning what had happened to Lord Parameswaran the other gods too refrain from any kind of haircutting or hair-dressing and remain with long, unkempt hair” – so these people observe with a wry, sad smile holding that they are not in a position to leave their traditional profession for that would be defying God’s will which would surely prove catastrophic and annihilate their entire race.
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The above-mentioned instances are but a few samples of the way the upper-castes have successfully engraved the discriminative concepts mentioned above, in the minds of the people labelled as belonging to the so-called low-castes of the society, with the help of various art and literary forms and constructs. Embedding such highly discriminative and demeaning concepts within the very psyche of the hapless people belonging to the marginalized sections of the society thereby making them believe in their low state of being and making them maintain and preserve it too so that they bear with the discriminative practices and initiatives of the upper-castes or the influential sections of the society silently, without questioning or resisting. In short, they are the ‘cultural’ attacks that the marginalized groups have been suffering at the hands of the influential groups.
A few castes such as Naadaar have retrieved themselves from such onslaughts in the name of art and culture and have come up, saving themselves from the caste-based oppression and suppression and also proving suitably adaptive.
With no exception, all the marginalized groups suffer the onslaught of these strategic scheming in the name of Art and Culture. If we raise the question whether such art-and cultural forms are not available for the upper-castes, the answer is in the affirmative. Yes, they do have, but, in their caste-system and ethnic constructs they remain not as curses but as the pride and glory of their respective castes; as boons from Heaven and this has been the horrible state of affairs in the 2000 year old Tamil tradition.
These Art-forms prove a curse in the life of the marginalized castes and a boon for the Upper-Castes.
If only we become aware of these evil designs in Art and Literary forms, identify them and understand their layers of covert interpretations and connotations and raise against these, taking all necessary initiatives to expose and destroy them we would be able to save ourselves and our suffering brethren from the cruel and bitter cultural onslaught that has been going on from time immemorial. Only then we can emerge as an emancipated and liberated wholesome human race.
(Gauthama Siddharthan is the editor of UNNATHAM, a Little Magazine (Monthly) in Tamil. He is also a noted Short-Story writer, Novelist and Essayist and a Publisher in Tamil. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Translated into English by LATHA RAMAKRISHNAN