Saturday, 19 October 2013

The Kongu Scholar, who Crowned Ravana

Poets Valmiki, Tulsidas and Kambar, who glorified the fictitious King Rama in their grand epics, could not have imagined that, one day, a renowned Tamil scholar from Kongunadu would pen a similar grand epic, but in praise of their villain Ravana and making him the hero of his epic.
When Pulavar Kuzhandhai wrote the epic ‘Ravana Kaviyam’ in 1946, the then Congress government, which ruled the Madras state, imposed a ban on it for its pro-Dravidian views. However, when the DMK captured power in Tamil Nadu, the ban was lifted in 1971.
Praising the book and commending Kuzhandhai’s creativity and knowledge in Tamil, DMK founder C.N. Annadurai noted that Ravana Kaviyam, which consists of 3100 songs, was equal in all literary merits in comparison with Kambaramayana, the epic penned by great Tamil poet Kambar. But, he also underlined that Kuzhandai’s epic differed only in the central idea.
A close associate of  Dravidian Movement leaders  like Periyar E.V. Ramasamy and C.N. Annadurai, Kuzhandhai was a staunch atheist, rationalist and great lover of Tamil.
Born at Olavalasu near Erode in the then Coimbatore district in 1906, Kuzhandhai learnt the Tamil alphabets by writing them on a heap of sand at a Thinai Pallikoodam         (Pyol School). He had a passion for composing conventional Tamil poetry even while he was a 10 year old boy. He mastered the elements in Tamil prosody all by himself, as there were few Tamil scholars in his village.  
Pulavar Kuzhandhai, who worked as a Tamil teacher at Bhavani Board High School between 1941 and 1962, is also an author of various other books like Arasiyalarangam, Kamanjari, Nalathambi Sarkarai Thalattu, Velakovil Vazhinadai Sindhu, Thirunana Siledai Venba, Nerunchi Pazham and many more. He also wrote commentaries on Thirukural and Tholkappiyam, besides authoring Tamil grammar books like Yaappathikaram and Thodayathikaram. 
At a time, when a religious political party plays the ‘Rama’ card to grasp power in contemporary politics, it is surprising to know that Kuzhandhai penned a grand epic even several decades ago to register his opposition against the themes in Ramayana, which praised the Aryan practices of sacrificing animals in Yagnas, dividing human beings in the name of four varnas and demeaning the Tamil race as Rakshasas and Asuras.
Glorifying Ravana as a Tamil king, Pulavar Kuzhandhai, in his Ravana Kaviyam, desribes the Aryan settlement in the northern parts of Tamil Nadu, where Saint Vishwamitra performed Yagnas and sacrificed animals in the fire, until the Lankan king Ravana stopped the merciless practice. In contrast to the ideas propagated in
Ramayana, Kuzhandhai justifies Ravana’s abduction of Sita as being only his retaliation for Lakshmana’s severing off Ravana’s sister Surpanaka’s private parts, as she did not yield to Rama’s lust.
Interestingly, Kuzhandhai has made Sita herself explain the virtues of Ravana, as she tells Hanuman that Ravana was ready to let her go, if her husband Rama made an apology to Ravana, realizing his evil deeds.

Link to my article in The New Indian Express:

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

In Honour of Kovai's Vanambadi Poets

Dr Manjualadevi addressing at Tamil Nadu Ilakkiya Peravai

At a time when the learned few failed to address social and political issues in their conventional Tamil poetry, it was the Vanambadi poets of Coimbatore, who used their modern verse to boldly address issues from the objective world.

“Despite the pride in calling Coimbatore as The Manchester of South India for its fabulous revenue through numerous textile and spinning mills, the exploitation of labourers at the mills could be one of the reasons for the birth of Vanambadi Poetry Movement here“ said J. Manjula Devi, author of the book Manudam Paadiya Vanambadi

Addressing at the 264th monthly literary meeting of Tamil Nadu Ilakkiya Peravai, on Saturday, Manjula pointed out that the Vanambadi poets, who wrote verses in the early 1970s, dared to question power and capitalism even during the Emergency period.

“Vanambadi poets like Puviarsu, Sirpi, Gnani, Pulavar Aadhi and many others are still active in the world of literature, though they are nearing 80 now” noted Manjula Devi, who researched their lives and mission for her PhD.

“At a time when the contents in classical Tamil literature were confined just to propagate ethics and devotion to God, the revolutionary Vanabadi poets addressed day to day social and political issues in their verse” she averred.

Tracing the history of the modern poetry movement, she noted that poets like Mullai Aadhavan, Agniputran, Gnani, Puviarsu, Pulavar Aadhi and many others drew inspiration from the Naxalbari movement in West Bengal and founded the organization in Coimbatore.

“As how Tamil women could not have obtained liberty from the clutches of the conservative culture, had Periyar E. V. Ramasamy not fought for their rights, Tamil verse could not have been liberated from the learned few, had the Vanambadis not founded their poetry movement here” she compared.

Manjula Devi, who is working as the Headmistress of a primary school at Kallapuram in Udumalpet, is an author of various other books like Paapavin Natchathira Kavithai, a children’s literature, Kannadasanin Kavi Mozhi, a collection of articles on the poetics of popular poet Kannadasan and Nadhikarai Sirpangal, a collection of  Sirpi Balasubramaniam’s verse.  

Citing the famous poems found in Vanambadi magazine, Manjula read out a humorous one penned by eminent Tamil poet Erode Thamizhanban, which was published in one its issues:

The bridegroom, who tied the golden mangalsutra
Around his bride’s neck, knows its value
The bride too knows the auspicious jewel’s worth
But, the one, who knows more about its value
Is the Marwari pawn broker!  

Link to my article in The New Indian Express: 

A Freedom Fighter, Named after his Megaphone

The 97 year old veteran freedom fighter Ramasamy alias ‘Bu. Bu.’ Ramu of Ondipudur is well- known to everyone in the area, as he is seen everyday strolling from his house to the Kamaraj statue on the Trichy main road to have a glance at his departed leader.

“I saw the three leaders Gandhi, Nehru and Kamaraj together at Ondipudur when I was a 13 year old boy. I listened to Gandhi speak for about 20 minutes. T. S. Avinashilingam Chettiar, the then president of the District Congress Committee interpreted Gandhi’s speech in Tamil” recalls Bu. Bu. Ramu.   

Bu. Bu Ramu joined the Congress movement soon after he saw the leaders and first worked as Gram sevak, doing sanitary works and selling Khadar in the villages surrounding Palladam. Later, he became a member of a labour union founded by famous freedom fighter and trade unionist N. G. Ramasamy.    

“The Sessions Court Judge, who was a man from Andhra Pradesh, first referred me as ‘Bu. Bu.’ Ramu, since my job was to announce trade union meetings through a megaphone cycling from street to street in the villages” he recalls.

As Mahatma Gandhi launched the Quit India Movement with the slogan ‘Do or Die’ in 1942, there were numerous protests throughout the nation to drive away the British. The trade unionists including Bu. Bu Ramu assembled at Kokkali Thottam in Ondipudur for a meeting to chalk out strategies to derail a train carrying explosives at Singanallur Tank. The meeting, which was conducted in the dead of the night on August 11, 1942, was presided over by N. G. Ramasamy.  

“As discussed in the meeting, on the midnight of August 12, 1942, we successfully derailed the goods train, which was carrying explosives to Madras from the cordite factory in Aruvankadu” informs Bu. Bu. Ramu.

Asked about his participation in torching the Sulur Aerodrome, which was another landmark protest in the freedom struggle of Coimbatore, Bu. Bu. Ramu recollects:  

“As we wanted everyone to get out of the Sulur Aerodrome before setting it ablaze, we pelted stones using a Kavan (a sling). However, as many as three British soldiers guarding the aerodrome died in the fire”

Bu. Bu. Ramu was awarded a total of 47 years imprisonment on various charges. However, after spending 3 and half years in Alipore jail, he was released after the interim government formed under C. R Rajagopalachari as Chief Minister of Madras Presidency.

“When I was arrested, the cops at Singanallur police station immersed my hands in water and pierced needle between my nails and flesh forcing me to disclose the names of my comrades. They made me lay nude on the floor and thrashed me from head to toe with their lathis. When I asked for water, they forced me to drink my urine” he signs off.

Link to my article in The New Indian Express: