Did the native Dravidian movement wittingly contribute to the degeneration of Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu?
The traditional bull taming or bull hugging sport of Tamil Nadu, called Jallikattu, is now back in the news. This is an ancient 5,000-year-old sport that is deeply enmeshed in the rural way of life and worship of local deities. Sangam literature (2nd century CE) has several references to the sport of bull hugging (ஏறுதழுவல்). It is usually conducted as a part of week-long festivities associated with the Hindu festival of Pongal (Makara Sankranthi).
The day after Pongal is dedicated to bovine farming animals when they are decorated, celebrated and worshipped. However, based on a petition by animal welfare/rights groups, the Supreme Court banned Jallikattu in May 2014. Since then the people of Tamil Nadu have felt victimised over this emotive issue and have perceived this ban to be a grave assault on their longstanding culture, tradition, and worship patterns.
Although the people and politicians of Tamil Nadu blame everyone from animal welfare groups to the Supreme Court, to foreign corporate firms, did the native Dravidian movement wittingly contribute to this degeneration? Can simple apolitical farmers of Tamil Nadu (and elsewhere) understand the machinations of globally organised NGO networks and the Idea-of-India lobby? Can they learn from the vulnerability fostered by more than five decades of Dravidian movement? What can they do to prevent being easy pickings for more of such cultural assaults?
Hinduism (or Sanatana dharma) has always been a fragmented, federated religion that allowed local communities to develop and maintain their own set of graama devatas, agamas, rituals, customs and worship patterns. Tamil Hindu culture is no different. The traditional Hindu society was organised around its local temples with spirituality, social welfare and entertainment practices interwoven together.
This was one of the reasons British missionaries found it hard to crack Hindu society and pursue their conversion agenda. To break this synergistic trinity of social practices, the British establishment divided temple functions into religious and secular functions.
Then the government usurped the secular functions from the temple to debilitate its social welfare contribution. Hindus across India are still grappling with this issue as the management of Hindu temples has been surrendered to the government and wily politicians.
The Dravidian movement picked this issue from where the British left and tried to further divide the Hindu religious practices as Vedic Aryan practices and secular Dravidian practices. Even Gods were divided on these lines. The focus of the Dravidian movement was to make Tamil Hindus shun Vedic Aryan practices and “reclaim” a mythical aboriginal Dravidian identity.
After the linguistic division of states, the Dravidian movement required an image makeover to forge a strong Tamil identity. With a consideration on vote bank politics and in furtherance of the evangelical agenda of Bishop Robert Caldwell (who was a big mentor of the Dravidian movement), they attempted to strip off the Hindu from Tamil Hindu practices in order to craft a synthetic Tamil identity.
For example, Pongal was rebranded as Tamil day (as if Makara Sankaranthi doesn’t exist beyond the Venkatagiri hills) and an earnest attempt was made to disconnect Pongal festivities/worship patterns from where they always belonged – the rural Hindu temples. The underlying motive was to unite Tamils across religions as a part of Pongal celebrations and forge a common Tamil identity; something Kerala has reasonably managed with Onam.
This propaganda promoted by the Dravidian movement had a tremendous impact on the psyche of the Tamil Hindu farming communities (especially the gen-next), and they slowly started to perceive Pongal celebrations as sport/entertainment, devoid of spirituality and social welfare. This obfuscation has run its course for over 40 years, and the Hindu link of the Pongal festivities has been significantly weakened.
Like they say ‘operation successful, patient is dead’; Dravidian movement has failed on two fronts. For one, the synthetic Tamil identity they dreamed of has not materialised across religious lines. Tamil non-Hindus have not taken up Pongal celebrations beyond the usual optics.
That is why you don’t see any prominent church or Muslim organisation campaigning/clamouring for the restoration of Jallikattu. However hard leaders of the Dravidian movement may try to bury this issue, the fact is non-Hindus simply don’t care about this loss.
Second, the “secularised” Pongal celebrations became easy pickings and failed the “essentiality” test for preserving a “regressive” religious practice. The Idea-of-India lobby constituting Nehruvians, Communists, and Islamic apologists are always on the lookout for deracinating India of its Hindu roots. The global network of animal welfare NGOs, and foreign-funded rights activists became their coalition partners in this cultural assault.
The most pitiable plight is that of the Tamil Hindu farmers and villagers who were taken for a ride by the Dravidian movement in its selfish quest for a synthetic identity. These farmers did not even understand the machinations of their opponents.
They weren’t even party to the Jallikattu case that led to the ban. Until the SC ban, they seemed to have naively believed that the Tamil Nadu state government will take care of everything.
That is why they even refused to acknowledge the Hindu identity of Jallikattu. During a similar assault by the ‘Idea-of-India’ lobby on the Chidambaram Dikshithars and their traditional rights to conduct rituals at the famous Nataraja temple, they first failed to assess their enemy.
But after the HC verdict, they organised themselves better and had no qualms in reclaiming their Vedic Hindu identity. They started to research/quote the relevant agamas and sutras, going beyond the empty dogmatic claims of tradition. They engaged the reputed Hindutva activist and legal eagle Dr Subramaniam Swamy to eventually thwart their opponents in the SC.
However, naive Tamil Nadu farmers are suffering from a serious identity crisis and are still afraid to reclaim their Tamil Hindu identity. Who knows what would have happened had they engaged a Hindutva activist/lawyer like Dr Swamy before the Jallikattu case went to the SC bench comprising Justice KS Radhakrishnan and Pinaki Chandra Misra? (It’s another matter that some of them subsequently approached Dr Swamy after the ill-fated 2014 judgment, but the war was lost by then!)
The root of this problem is the structured assault on Hindu religious customs by the ‘Idea-of-India’ lobby. Hindus will be able to hold on to any practice which the ‘Idea-of-India’ deems to be “regressive” only if it passes the test of the doctrine of necessity.
Christianity and Islam do not have these worries because they are religions of the book. They associate even a tertiary practice like dressing or lifestyle choice as integral for practising their religion, and their codified book comes to their rescue.
Hindus do not have this luxury because the underlying Dharmic code is neither codified nor centrally controlled. As Hindus get delinked from their roots, it is easy picking for ‘Idea-of-India’. Jallikattu is not the only one in the ‘Idea-of-India’ hit list, but it became one of the first ones to go.
The Dravidian movement had made it easy for ‘Idea-of-India’ lobby – temple elephants, animal sacrifices in Hindu temples (remember the 2014 Himachal HC judgment?), Dahi Handi during Mumbai Gokulashtami celebrations, and the Sabarimala/Shani Shingnapur worship traditions are all in the line of fire. Until all public/social celebration of pagan, Hindu festivals stops (like they managed to ensure in ancient Rome), the battering ram of IoI will continue to push its boundaries.
Going back to the naive Tamil Hindu farmers, they have paid a heavy price for putting their trust in the leaders of Dravidian movement. They need to wake up now and reclaim their Hindu identity. If they cannot establish any trace of any socio-cultural practice back to a particular denomination and its Tamil Hindu roots, then sooner or later they are bound to lose it.
The need to understand that the utility of the synthetic linguistic identity is limited; Tamil Hindus should stop naively believing that their non-Hindu brethren would come to their assistance in these fights to preserve their socio-cultural traditions. The practices they cherish and wish to safeguard are essentially Tamil Hindu practices, and the only way to save them is by openly embracing the truth.