Religious Intolerance Towards Pongal And Sankranti Is Not New, We Must Oppose It

by Aravindan Neelakandan - Jan 13, 2021 05:38 PM +05:30 IST
Religious Intolerance Towards Pongal And Sankranti Is Not New, We Must Oppose ItPongal, the harvest festival of Tamil Nadu.
  • There is an attempt to rid Pongal of its traditional and spiritual elements - all in the name of inclusion.

    We must resist such attempts.

I am sure you do not know seven-year-old Shreema. Let me start with her story.

January 13 of 2002 fell on a Sunday. It was a special day for Shreema. All through the year, the girl had awaited for this day. For, that was the day her parents go out and purchase new clothes and toys and sweets, as the next day would be Makar Sankranti — the harvest festival celebrated throughout India.

The Singicherra Bazar, the market near her home was bustling with activity. Like Shreema's family, there were many others looking forward to celebrating Makar Sankranti. But they didn't realise that they were violating a fatwa issued by the Baptist Church-sponsored outfit the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT). Nor did they know that they would pay with their lives for celebrating a heathen festival of their motherland.

Shreema would never celebrate Makar Sankranti again. She was one of the 16, who died on the spot as 13 terrorists of NLFT encircled the people shopping for the festival, and fired indiscriminately.

She was no op-ed material. She never made it to the cover of the glossy magazines. She was just a name in the Press Trust of India report dated 13 January 2002, titled, "16 shot dead by NLFT in Tripura". No, not massacred, just ‘shot dead’.

Where the story of Shreema ends, almost two decades later, a story involving the future of children in Tamil Nadu begins, and seems to have an eerie resemblance — at least the initial tremors have begun.

A speaker is delivering a Pongal message. He is articulate and crisp. There is no pauses and no hesitation. The message is to the Tamils. The message is that Pongal as they celebrate is not good enough to be called a Pongal of the masses.

There are Christians and Muslims who worship only one extra-cosmic god. There are those who deny the existence of other gods. So, he instructs the Hindus to rid Pongal of the practice of the worship of the sun and the farm animals. No sacredness is to be associated with Pongal, he says. He demands that the festival be altered to fit the worldview of the monotheistic religions.

He is Aloor Shahnavas — the deputy 'secretary general’ of Viduthalai Chiruthaikal Katchi (VCK), a party that is more personality cult based and built around Thirumavalavan whom many Hindus consider as an anti-Hindu demagogue.

Pongal has been celebrated in Tamil Nadu for millennia. However, with the rise of Dravidian ‘separatism’ sponsored by colonialism and evangelism, this pan-Indian festival started getting labelled as ‘the only Tamils festival’.

However, the cultural and the historical reality of India has been diametrically opposite to Dravidianist delusion. Pongal is one of the different variants of a very ancient festival Makar Sankranti. The Harappan-Vedic origins of the festival are well documented.

So with all the Dravidian separatist spin to Pongal, even after convincing an average Tamil to believe that Pongal is the "only genuine Tamil festival", they have not been successful in removing the sacred characteristic Indic elements from the festival. This is because they form the core of the festival. Thus every Tamil household celebrates Pongal by thanking the sun that day and expresses gratitude to the farm animals.

Now Islamists and evangelists, who hide under the cloak of Dravidian and Dalit faultlines want to remove these elements. What Aloor Shahnavas expresses here is only an intermittent but crucial step in the devolution of Pongal.

When Hindus of Tamil Nadu happily accepted the seemingly laudable phrase Tamilar Thirunaal (Tamil festival) as the label for Pongal, surely they would not have known they were actually falling into a trap. The real intention is now rearing its head and showing its fangs with venom dripping, ready to strike.

If elements like Shahnavas or his ‘narcissistic’ boss Thirumavalavan get an ideological partner in power, such as the DMK, which as late Cho Ramaswamy pointed out takes a perverse pleasure in intimidating and humiliating Hindus, then they can even promulgate an ordinance stopping Hindus from conducting the rituals of the festival facing the sun, stop them from applying vermilion to the farm animals, and, perhaps, even introduce mandatory Christian or Muslim symbols in the kolams.

They may start these practices in government schools and colleges, offices and at official functions. They can force the people in these premises to make chakra pongal face the west instead of east. The video statement of Shahnavas is pregnant with all these dark possibilities.

Do not ask for whom the bullets of the monopolistic god were sprayed in the market of Singicherra Bazar of Tripura, for the fate of Shreema could well become that of the children of Tamil Nadu.

Happy secularist Pongal!

Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.

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