How the Real-Life Drama of the Brahmin and Sanskrit Hatred of Caldwell Appa’s Brood Unfolded

How the Real-Life Drama of the Brahmin and Sanskrit Hatred of Caldwell Appa’s Brood Unfolded

When we think of ourselves as Sudras, we accept ourselves as the sons of prostitutes.

That was E.V. Ramaswami Naicker[1], perhaps the first political hoodlum of pre-independence India and the patron saint of successive generations of post “independence” political goons all the way up to Siddaramaiah. The fact that he is still hailed as “Periyar” (The Elder or Respected One) is more reflective of a celebration of the all-round destruction he inflicted upon Tamil Nadu than anything that remotely resembles decency or constructive contribution to Tamil Nadu or its culture. One look at the broad history of Tamil cinema offers innumerable and continuing proofs of this fact. Ramaswami Naicker achieved his perverse triumphs with greater speed and success where his senior and junior contemporaries had failed because he employed a simple device that these folks were hesitant to use: the brazen use of violent and obscene language in public. Even in employing device, Ramaswami Naicker showed no originality as every honest student will testify. Naicker directly plagiarized the tactics of Lenin who famously praised the effectiveness of “sticking the convict’s badge” on your opponent as a method of circumventing serious intellectual debate which he was destined to lose.

The calculated destruction of Sanskrit in Tamil Nadu was the direct and associative outcome of inveterate Brahmin-hatred espoused by the Dravidianists. From the start, the Dravidianists adopted a scorched earth policy of destroying everything that could remotely be considered Brahminical: the Sanskrit language and literature, temple traditions, social customs, and the rest. One of the most effective strawmen opposition they found was Sanskrit; more specifically, Sanskrit as opposed to Tamil.

Other arch villains of the so-called “Self-Respect Movement” and later the Justice Party, included J.N. Ramanathan, son of Nallaswami Pillai (author of Sivajnana Bodham), and J.S. Kannappar who had publicly burned copies of the Manusmriti in Madurai. These vandals quickly understood the power of organized violence. In this, there is an echo of a famous proverb regarding the successes of Islam in India and elsewhere: while the Hindus and infidels were busy brushing up theological and philosophical arguments, the warriors of Islam were busy sharpening their swords. And so, we had the Dravidianists busy writing inflammatory pamphlets and delivering provocative speeches against Brahmins, Sanskrit, Hindu Deities, Puranasetc. One such vile pamphlet that appeared in 1929 was the Visittira tevarkkal korttu (The Wonderful Court of Hindu Deities). It used the literary device of a court of law in which revered Hindu Deities were put on trial and cross-examined for the various sexual and violent crimes they had committed against the non-Brahmins and harsh punishments were imposed on them. It concluded that the entire Hindu “religion” was a mass of superstition and dismissed. The literary genius of Dr. S.L. Bhyrappa fleshes out the innate evil in this literary tactic—later adopted by the galaxy of terrorists called the Indian Leftists—with extraordinary finesse in his landmark novel, Aavarana.

Sure enough, riots and violence erupted in various parts of Tamil Nadu at regular intervals during the first two and half decades of the twentieth century thanks to these brazen actions of the Dravidianists.  

Arguably, the Dravidianists couldn’t have achieved the kind of success they did without the tacit and at times, open support of the British, not to mention the Church which was rubbing its hands with glee at the kind of brood that Bishop Robert Caldwell had spawned. While Caldwell had the destruction of Brahmins in mind because they formed the chief obstacle to Christian soul-harvesting, he couched his destructive project primarily in linguistic terms from which he extrapolated the sociological equation that Brahmins=Aryas=Evil North Indian Invaders=Oppressors of Dravidians. The first thing was to deny the reality that Tamil (or in his terms, “Dravidian languages”) was derived from Sanskrit. In fact, he went so far as to claim that Sanskrit had stolen from Tamil. In polite terms, this is how[2] he put it:

Sanskrit has not disdained to borrow from its Dravidian neighbours…Tamil, the most highly cultivated ab intra of all Dravidian idioms can dispense with its Sanskrit…and not only stand alone, but flourish, without its aida Tamil poetical composition is regarded as…classical, not in proportion to the amount of Sanskrit it contains…but in proportion to its freedom from Sanskrit.   

Caldwell “appa’s” tract of hatred was quickly picked up by the Governor of Madras, the arch racist, Mountstuart Elphinstone Grant-Duff. In a flagrant address to the graduating students of the Madras University in 1886—three-fourths of who were Brahmins—he launched a frontal assault[3] against the entire Brahmin community of south India declaring that they, “the Brahmins are the real usurpers of social and literary superiority.” Then he pointed to the non-Brahmin graduates and thundered:

You are of pure Dravidian race…I should like to see the pre-Sanskrit element amongst you asserting itself rather more.

M.E. Grant-Duff’s imperialist drug-induced racist tirade [4] was indeed unstoppable. He continued:

The constant putting forward of Sanskrit literature as if it were pre-eminently Indian, should stir the national pride of some of you Tamil, Telugu, Cannarese [Kannada]. You have less to do with Sanskrit than we English have. Ruffianly Europeans have sometimes been known to speak of natives of India as ‘Niggers,’ but they do not, like the proud speakers or writers of Sanskrit, speak of the people of the South as legions of monkeys. It was these Sanskrit speakers, not Europeans, who lumped up the Southern races as Rakshusas—demons. It was they who deliberately grounded all social distinctions on Varna, Colour.     

Three conclusions are immediately clear from Grant-Duff’s hate speech against Brahmins. The first is the fact that he built upon Caldwell’s anti-Brahmin harangue just 11 years after it was published. The second is his diabolical claim of a separate “national pride” of the “Dravidians.” The third is his portrayal of the colonial British imperialism as a regime that was benevolent towards the “Dravidians.” In hindsight, the debt that we owe to the Mysore Princely State cannot be repaid. It acted as an extraordinary bulwark that largely prevented the Dravidian toxin from infecting Karnataka. As also the numerous native principalities in Andhra of the time.

However, this was sweet music to the ears of the fledgling Dravidianists. Within a decade, there was a near explosion of various Tamil Sangams across the state, the most famous of which was at Madurai, lavishly funded by Pandi Thorai Thevar, a Zamindar of Palavanatham. It began publishing a new journal named Sen Tamil under the general editorship of V. Swaminatha Iyer. What began as an earnest effort at rediscovering a “pure” and “independent” Tamil heritage and culture morphed into linguistic zealotry at the end of the first decade of the last century. Ably aided by the Aryan Invasion fantasy, the notion of a separate Dravidian/Tamil identity, culture and language took incredibly strong roots in the minds of even honest scholars of both Sanskrit and Tamil. Those who refused to take part in this hoax were either marginalized or cowed down into brute submission by the aforementioned Dravidian sword-sharpeners.

F. R. Hemmingway, author of the Tanjore Gazeteer, gives a picturesque description[5] of the cultural landscape of Thanjavur in 1906:

Brahmans versed in the sacred law are numerous in Tanjore; Vedic sacrifices are performed on the banks of its streams; Vedic chanting is performed in a manner rarely rivalled; philosophical treatises are published in Sanskrit verse; and religious associations exist, the privilege of initiation into which is eagerly sought for and the rules of which are earnestly followed even to the extent of relinquishing the world.

This would soon be a thing of the past.

One of the first casualties of Sanskrit learning was a traditional Gurukulam located in the ancient Kallidaikurchi Brahmin Agraharam falling in the jurisdiction of the Tirunelveli district. On the banks of the sacred, Tamraparni river sanctified by countless generations of Vedic scholarship and whose glories Muthuswami Dikshitar never tired of singing. The village is just 70 kilometres from Kanyakumari, whose majority population have long since become ghost-worshippers. Around 1920-22, the Dravidian goon squad rudely descended on Kallidaikurchi on the pretext of raising an objection to the funds allocated for the Sanskrit College therein. The squad was led by the selfsame E.V. Ramaswami Naicker and his trusted lieutenant, P. Varadarajulu Naidu. Through a series of pitched agitations lasting about three years, Varadarajulu Naidu exhorted[6] the non-Brahmins that

[the Gurukulam] was a direct challenge to the non-Brahmins and that…this was the time for the Tamilians to vindicate their honour.

Naidu embarked on a blitzkrieg of such incendiary speeches against Brahmins across Salem, Tirunelveli, and Mayavaram among other cities and towns. The outcome was entirely along expected lines: riots broke out and the Brahmins came to the negotiating table.

The head of the Gurukulam, V.V.S. Aiyer resigned.

E.V. Ramaswami Naicker and gang had tasted blood. By 1925 when Ramaswami Naicker realized that Gandhi was an insurmountable obstacle in his unstoppable march towards unhinged Dravidianism, he quit the Congress and formed his own storm-trooping organization.

By then, the status of the supremacy of the Tamil language had acquired almost unchallengeable proportions. Across the Tamil regions, feverish efforts were underway to invent a new political vocabulary, which was “purely Tamil.” Among the more high-profile victims who fell for this linguistic-supremacy hoax was the former Diwan of Mysore, V.P. Madhava Rao. Here is how Irschick describes[7] it:

At a Madras Congress Provincial Conference held at Cuddalore in 1917, V. P. Madhava Rao, a Maharashtrian Brahman from Tanjore, pointed out that those who had spoken in Tamil at the meeting had demonstrated conclusively “the capacity of the Tamil language for the expression of ideas connected with administration, with law, and politics.”

It was one thing, and indeed it was the need of the hour to develop a native political vocabulary as a means to rouse the masses against the alien British rule. However, in the context of Tamil Nadu, this vocabulary would mean handing over ammunition to linguistic and racial separatism for which there was no basis in the protracted history of India. Which is exactly what the likes of V.P. Madhava Rao unleashed with his recommendation. The other notable name was that of Right Honourable V.S. Srinivasa Sastri who eventually capitulated to the demands of Tamil linguistic chauvinism. Exactly a year later, Varadarajulu Naidu launched a multi-city political tour. We can again turn to Irschick[8] for what occurred next:

Varadarajulu Naidu [in his political tour]… used only Tamil, and he effectively proved how valuable it could be as a political tool. At Negapatam [Nagapattinam], his first triumph, he attracted a huge crowd of workers from the railway shops. At Madura he spoke to millworkers—so vigorously, in fact, that he was arrested. He was convicted on the evidence of shorthand transcripts of his Tamil speeches…  

The same year that Ramaswami Naicker began his own political front, a Tamil scholar[9] named M. S. Purnalingam Pillai, who was also secretary of the Tamil University Committee,

moved at a Justice [Party] Confederation in December, 1925, that the government should…grant to the Tamil districts a university to encourage the “growth of the Tamil language,” as well as the development of “historical consciousness among Tamilians.”

His chorus was joined by T.N. Sivagnanam Pillai (Justice Minister of Development) who also demanded a separate Tamil University and alleged that Madras University was insulting Tamil by concentrating on Sanskrit, over which the Aryas-Brahmins held a monopoly. To be sure, the demand for a separate Tamil University was as old as 1916. After sustained activism, the university was established largely due to the decisive largesse bestowed by Sir Annamalai Chetti. In 1929, the Annamalai University was founded in the sacred temple town of Chidambaram.

However, it would still take more than two decades before the fate that befell Sanskrit and Vedic learning in Thanjavur and the Kallidaikurchi Gurukulam would befall other centers of Sanskrit learning in Tamil Nadu. It was just a question of when and not if. Even as the Dravidians were chopping off the enduring Sanatana roots in Tamil Nadu with each successive decade, the larger society somehow held on to whatever was remaining. The brilliant scholar and writer, Dr. B.G.L. Swamy who served for over two decades in Presidency College Madras, notes[10] that even in the 1940s decade, the Sanskrit Department comprised students who studied the B.A. and M.A. in the same classes irrespective of caste, class, and communal differences. However, this would be systematically erased in just about a decade.

One of the prefaces to this destruction is in the form of a letter[11] written by a Dravidianist named V. Radhakrishnan in July 1951. Here’s how it reads:

When a well-exploited language like Sanskrit is helped in such a bounteous way as the rewarding of rich scholarships and generous grants, surely Tamil, the language of the land, Tamil, the only hope for the reconstruction of South Indian History, deserves better treatment. Sanskrit…is a dead language good only for keeping the Brahmans in the ascendant.

As we shall see in the next part of this series, this theme of the supremacy of the Tamil language the preservation and propagation of which necessitated the massacre of Sanskrit unfolded in a disgusting manner, for example, in the Sanskrit Department of the Presidency College, Madras.

To be continued


[1] Tamil Thalaivar: Chidambaranar p 102

[2] A Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian or South-Indian Family of Languages (2nd Edition. Revised: London, 1875): Robert Caldwell p 46

[3] An Address Delivered to the Graduates of the University of Madras, 25 March 1886: M.E. Grant-Duff. Emphasis added.

[4] Ibid. Emphasis added.

[5] Tanjore Gazetteer: Tanjore (Madras, 1906): F. R. Hemmingway, p. 68. Emphasis added.

[6] Politics and Social Conflict in South India: Eugene F. Irschick (1969): p 270. Emphasis added.

[7] Ibid: p 306

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid: pg 290

[10] Collegeu Ranga: B.G.L. Swamy: p 211

[11] Quoted in: Politics and Social Conflict in South India: Eugene F. Irschick (1969): p 291. Emphasis added.

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