Thursday, April 17, 2008

DMK's bogus Tamil New Year

Article by Sandhya Jain

Tamil Nadu's DMK regime could easily win the prize for the most original intellectual initiatives in the country. First it rewrote the history of Indian civilisation. Sri Rama is a figment of the imagination of Aryan Hindus, superimposed upon the Dravidian culture of Tamil Nadu. He never built the Setu erroneously named after him; it is a sandbar created by nature so that cronies of the current regime can make a fortune dredging it.

Tamil Hindus have lived with so much humiliation since the tirades of EV Ramaswamy Naicker that they don't know how to combat continuing insults to ancient reverences and traditions. The arrest of the Kanchi Acharyas on trumped up charges was the most frontal attack on Hindu civilisation since the assassination of Guru Tegh Bahadur four centuries ago.

Now a more insidious assault has begun to break the unity and continuity of Hindu tradition by vivisecting its civilisational concord. Hindus celebrating Baisakhi this year will be astonished to find their Tamil brethren culturally marooned as Chief Minister M Karunanidhi has decreed that the State will no longer observe Baisakhi as the Hindu New Year. Seventy million Tamils in India and Sri Lanka are afflicted by this move, as the forces behind the Indian innovation are trying to scuttle the Tamil New Year holiday in Sri Lanka as well.

Kalaignar was inaugurating a cultural festival organised by his daughter, Rajya Sabha MP Kanimozhi, on January 10, 2008 when he unilaterally announced that the Tamil New Year would henceforth be celebrated on the first day of the Tamil month Thai (Pongal, Makar Sankranti) instead of the first day of the month Chithirai. In a pre-planned move, he piloted a Bill on January 29, 2008 changing the Tamil New Year from April 14 to Pongal (14 January), and had it passed on February 1, 2008.

Baisakhi is observed as the Hindu New Year in Haryana, Punjab, Assam, Tripura, Manipur, West Bengal, Orissa, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Myanmar, Kampuchea, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand. It marks the first day in the Hindu solar calendar dating back to Aryabhatta and the Surya Siddhanta (fourth century CE). Hindu seers calculated the earth's distance to the moon, sun and other planets at a time when most of the world was unaware of the value of the integer zero; an atheist politician has no locus standi to tamper with tradition. Kalaignar claims to have consulted Tamil scholars and cultural experts before ordering the switch; this suggests a conspiracy against the Tamil-Hindu ethos. The academic credentials of these scholars must be revealed immediately.

Tamils say the 'Karunanidhi New Year' coincides with January 1 in the Julian calendar (January 14 of the Gregorian), and the whole exercise may be an attempt to move closer to the church year. Kalaignar reportedly also proposes to change the names of the Tamil months and weekdays to remove pan-Indic terms; a so-called Tiruvalluvar era commencing in 31 BC has already been introduced.

A word on Tiruvalluvar is in order. Jains have contributed vastly to the shaping of Tamil history and culture, especially Tamil literature and its most important ethical text, Tirukkural of Tiruvalluvar. The Jain poet-monk Ilankovatikal wrote the classic Silappatikaram (fifth century); the Sivakacintamani was written by Digambara Muni Tiruttakkatevar (ninth century). Important Tamil grammars, dictionaries and technical treatises were written by Jains, such as Pavananti's Nannul (12th century), the standard Tamil grammar; these were all appreciated by Saiv and Vaisnav scholars.

I say this to emphasise the shared nature of our civilisation and reject the new sectarian-racism being injected into the country from various quarters. Regarding the Tiruvalluvar era, there is no evidence he was born in 31 BC. V Pillai (History of Tamil Language and Literature, 1956) felt the internal evidence of Tirukkural suggested Tiruvalluvar lived around 600 AD.

As for the new Tamil month-names, they are simply the signs of the zodiac in Tamil (Capricorn, Aquarius, Aries, etc). But each month of the Indic solar calendar, Aadi (Ashaada), Purataadi (Bhadrapada), Markazhi (Margasirsha) has special rituals and fasts attached to it. Hence people perceive an attempt to erase the entire underpinnings of Hindu observances in rural Tamil Nadu.

A private news channel has reported that the HR&CE department has issued instructions to all temples to prohibit the sacred 'Panchangam Reading' ritual and other New Year celebrations on Baisakhi. This atheist offensive to diminish a living civilisation is consistent with what has long been happening in Tamil Nadu. Temple land and funds are routinely appropriated by the state with impunity; if Hindu society hopes to recover autonomy and self-esteem, it must begin by fighting for the rights and inalienable dignity of the temples. Hindu dharma has survived centuries of iconoclasm only because Hindu warriors and civilians did not shirk encounters, but rushed in thousands to defend their gods and temples to the last drop of blood. Come to north India and count the graves of sadhus at contested religious spaces.

Yet the civilisational challenge remains equally grim in the north. In 1999, Sikhs were asked to disown the ancient Hindu lunar calendar for a new Nanakshahi (crypto-Gregorian) calendar invented in Canada by one Pal Singh Purewal. Traditionally, the Sikh New Year falls on Baisakhi, when Guru Gobind Singh created the Khalsa. Purewal's calendar incorporates Gregorian features such as 365 days, five hours, 48 minutes and 45 seconds with a leap year every four years! It aims at detaching Sikh identity from its pan-Indic roots, a move already quite advanced given Sikh infatuation with minority status.

The Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee accepted the Nanakshahi calendar in 2003, but the Akal Takht refused, upset at the arbitrary fixing of birth and death anniversaries of the Gurus. There is no historic evidence that Guru Gobind Singh was born on January 5; likewise with other Gurpurabs. Under a compromise formula, Baisakhi, Diwali, Guru Nanak's Birthday, Holi and Lohri (Makara Sankranti, Pongal) continue according to the Hindu calendar; events like Guru Arjun Singh's birth anniversary and the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur and Guru Gobind Singh are fixed according to the Nanakshahi calendar. A casual walk through Sikh mohallas shows the growing presence of evangelical churches. Custodians of the Sikh faith must wake up to the reality that loss of Hindu moorings may capsize the tradition itself.

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