In a recent tweet, pop-mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik ridiculed Hindus who consider vedic civilisation to be autochthonous.
He started with a question:
Rig Veda makes no reference to Bengal or Assam or Telangana or Kerala or Karnataka or Tamil Nadu .... why? any ideas? Sanskrit experts?— Devdutt Pattanaik (@devduttmyth) September 9, 2019
One Twitter handle responded that while vedic literature had as its geography the north-western Indian region, it was a mystery as to how Dravidian words (the so-called Dravidian linguistic substratum) found their way into vedas.
To this, Pattanaik answered:
The indigenous or autochthonous vedic school has many variants.
Most, if not all of them, agree that they do not consider the autochthonous nature of vedas as something racial or ethnic. There could have been many human migrations in and out of the land of seven rivers.
Most among those who claim the vedas to have their roots in India do not claim racial purity for the hymn composers.
What the vedas embody in them is the spirit of unity in diversity.
The visionaries of vedic hymns came from different tribes, strata and both the genders of society. But they had one thing in common — they were all rooted in the oneness of existence and convinced of its infinite diversity of expressions.
The term ‘Arya’ is then a cultural term. It is not an ethnic term in the 5,000, if not more years of Indian history.
The word ‘Dravida’ itself is related to geography and not any race. Adi Shankara uses the term in one of the most beautiful verses in Soundarya Lahari.
The verse combining the daughter of Himalayas, flowing Saraswati and the Dravida infant is a testimony to the sacred geography of Bharata Varsha.
Our traditions never used the terms ‘Arya’ or ‘Dravida’ in a racial context and, more importantly, never used the terms as opposites.
Let us consider the rhetorical tweet of Pattanaik: "So you agree Dravidians are not Aryans?"
If one goes through Tamil literature, one finds the term ‘Arya’ used as an adjective to describe specific rulers — perhaps referring to Buddhists, as Buddha called his path as ‘Aryan’, meaning a better path.
The vedic nature of Sangam Tamil civilisation further reinforces this aspect.
It might also refer to a specific geographical region. Sangam literature also connects the term with specific performing arts.
Then, more curiously, the term is related to those who capture and train elephants.
Now that we are trained to see the term as ethnic this would provide a puzzle. Were Aryans captured by Tamils to train elephants? Given the fact that the elephants are native to India and Aryans are supposed to be migrants, why should the native Tamils have ‘Aryans’ for elephant capture and training?
The fallacy here is assuming that the term Aryans refers to a race or migrants from outside India.
The term ‘Aiyar’ (related to ‘Arya’) has always been a part and parcel of Tamil social life and ‘Arya’ is used in the same context — ‘noble’ ‘cultured’, ‘honest’ etc.
Tholkappiyam, the oldest and most detailed compendium on almost all aspects of ancient to classic Tamil cultural and social life, speaks of how after disorder and falsehood appeared in the love life of couples, Aiyars created formal marriage ceremonies.
Aiyar here refers to men of greatness — the same as Arya.
Imagine applying ‘Dravidians versus Aryans’ framework here. Then one would write that as the Dravidian live-in relations started souring due to their infidelity, Aryan Brahmins brought in marriage rituals. Or worse, the Aryan Brahmins brought in marriage rituals after they themselves corrupted Dravidians with infidelity.
People like Pattanaik simply feed such absurdities by lending their voices to such untenable thesis.
Tamil has a long history and Shiva is our very favourite deity. His roots come from Harappa itself, if not from some place and time earlier.
Lines from Thirumanthiram written by Thirumoolar have been quoted almost by all Dravidian orators to show the greatness of Tamil culture — "Love is Shivam" and "One is all humanity and One is the God" etc. The latter was adapted by C N Annadurai as the defining statement of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), departing from the atheist line of Periyar E V Ramasamy (EVR).
Thirumoolar calls the Guru as ‘Ariyan’ before whom the inner impurities get burnt.
The lens by itself cannot burn the cotton even if the latter surrounds the lens. But when the lens is aligned with the sun it burns the cotton. Similarly, says Thirumoolar, the gaze of ‘Ariyan’ (here Shiva himself) burns the inner impurities.
Manickavachagar (ninth century CE) was a minister-turned-mystic-poet.
For generations, Saivaites of Tamil Nadu learn by heart the Siva Puranam rendered by Manickavachagar.
Here, he speaks of Shiva as the ‘Ariyan’ who removes the bonds of attachment.
Thiruppan Azhwar (probably eighth century CE) was born in the family of Paanars — the bards who enjoyed high social status in the Sangam era.
However, they became ‘untouchables’ during the Buddhist-Jain interregnum.
With the revival of vedic egalitarianism, he was taken into the temple by the head priest of Sri Rangam. There are 10 hymns written by him.
A verse attributed to Sri Vedanta Desika (thirteenth century CE) speaks of this Azhwar as ‘Vedanta Ariyan’.
Arul Prakasa Vallalar Chidambaram Ramalinga Swamigal (1823-1874) was a radical mystic, who also advocated extreme vegetarianism.
He had some conflicts with orthodox Saivaites. So, he has been chosen and projected as if he was a historic pioneer of the eventual ideology of EVR.
However, Vallalar had always advocated for a pan-Indian view as well as a strong anchoring in Hindu spirituality.
During his time, the Aryan-Dravidian race theories were getting propagated by colonialists. Vallalar Swamigal condemned cow slaughter and also rejected the race theory by using the term ‘Ariyan’ in his hymns to mean good people.
So, one can see that throughout the history of Tamils, we have identified the best of our culture and spirituality as the ‘Ariyan’.
To us traditionally, in our literary history and long cultural evolution, ‘the Aryan’ does not have racial or ethnic connotation.
What is more, it is a term we consider as our own. It is only through systemic cultural illiteracy that an ethnic connotation has been given to it.
So the pop-mythologist can set aside his prejudices and for once learn with an open heart and tell his readers that Dravidians are indeed for millennia, ‘Aryans’.
Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.
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