Tamil Nadu

Latest Thiruvalluvar Saffron Robes Row: Governor Keeps Up The Cultural Pressure

S Rajesh

May 24, 2024, 07:30 PM | Updated 07:30 PM IST

Governor RN Ravi paying homage to  Thiruvalluvar (@rajbhavan_tn)
Governor RN Ravi paying homage to Thiruvalluvar (@rajbhavan_tn)
  • The Tamil Nadu Raj Bhavan deciding to put out an invitation with a picture of Thiruvalluvar in saffron robes comes as no surprise. 
  • After the completion of voting in Tamil Nadu, the political scene in the state had entered what can be called a ‘lull phase’.

    Chief Minister M K Stalin went on a vacation to Kodaikanal, and the de facto opposition leader K Annamalai was away campaigning for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidates in other states. 

    The only major political stories were the arrests of Savukku Shankar and Felix Gerald and a very recent reference to 'Tamil Nadu' by Prime Minister Narendra Modi while criticising former IAS officer V K Pandian's role in Odisha.

    It is in such a context that a row was caused due to an invitation issued by the Tamil Nadu Raj Bhavan for a ‘Thiruvalluvar Thirunaal Vizha’ to be held on 24 May.

    The reason—the invitation depicted the saint-poet Thiruvalluvar, famous for his collection of couplets called the Thirukkural, in saffron robes with vibhuti marks.

    And with this, Governor R N Ravi, known for his frequent and no-holds-barred criticism of the Dravidian ideology, is once again in the limelight.

    The criticism of the invitation by Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) members wasn’t surprising given it has happened many times in the past few years—the latest instance being in January 2024 on the occasion of Thiruvalluvar Day. 

    Chief Minister M K Stalin and other DMK members had then posted pictures of Thiruvalluvar in white robes without the vibhuti marks and accused the Governor and BJP of ‘saffronising’ him.

    Previously in 2019, Indu Makkal Katchi leader Arjun Sampath was arrested after he draped a saffron shawl around a statue of Thiruvalluvar.

    While the DMK holds that Thiruvalluvar is above religion, the BJP believes that it is only later that his depiction was changed to white robes in order to 'Dravidianise' the poet-saint. 

    “There are no religious symbols in Thirukkural, we cannot impose Sanatan or Hindutva symbols or any other religion on Thiruvalluvar. We need to understand this. Thirukkural is something which is beyond religion and speaks humanity,” stated Kanimozhi, a DMK MP and Chief Minister Stalin’s sister.

    H Raja, a BJP leader from Sivaganga, known for his vocal nature especially on religious issues, said, “The original Thiruvalluvar had vibhuti and all Hindu symbols. It was Dravida Kazhagam and DMK who changed his appearance to suit their political ends.” 

    Coming back to Governor Ravi. This is not the first time he has taken an ideological stand. He has consistently been the proverbial thorn in the flesh for the DMK.

    From deciding not to read out the Governor’s address to the Assembly due to disagreements with the text prepared by the government to calling the phrase ‘Dravidian Model’ a political slogan and ‘a desperate bid to sustain an expired ideology’, and saying that the Thirukkural’s spiritual aspect had been played down by missionaries like G U Pope, he has time and again, to put it mildly, ‘troubled’ the DMK.

    His remarks about Robert Caldwell, considered to be an important figure by followers of the Dravidian movement, stating that he was a ‘school dropout’ and people had not questioned his background, caused a furore.

    Also, he once said that the state had witnessed ‘regressive politics’ in the last 50 years, which was seen as another attack on Dravidianism.  

    Therefore, the Raj Bhavan deciding to put out an invitation with a picture of Thiruvalluvar in saffron robes comes as no surprise. 

    The row over the colour of the robes has however become routine with the same kind of barbs being exchanged between both sides. But credit must go to the Governor for intentionally or unintentionally keeping up the ‘cultural pressure’ on the DMK and forcing the party to respond.

    Also Read: After saint-poet Thiruvalluvar, DMK now tries to portray freedom fighters V O Chidambaram, Muthuramalinga Thevar as Dravidians

    S Rajesh is Staff Writer at Swarajya.

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