Want to Destroy Sanskrit? Learn the Vile Art from the Dravidianists!

A long form essay narrating the history of the calculated destruction of Sanskrit in Tamil Nadu by Dravidianists
Want to Destroy Sanskrit? Learn the Vile Art from the Dravidianists!

— Chapter One — 

MORE THAN A CENTURY after it was founded, the only “justice” that the notorious Justice Party delivered to Tamil Nadu was snuffing out the inherently Dharmic soul of the Tamil people. The Justice Party ensured that the sacred Tamil Desam permanently lost its capacity to produce iconic sons like Pallava Narasimhavarman, Raja Raja Chola, Rajendra Chola, all the way up to Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi.

The state’s impressive infrastructure is now a vast and glimmering but soulless wasteland where nothing cultured and refined grows because all the good and the noble and the virtuous and the lofty and the spiritual have been scorched by the flames lit by generations of Dravidian cultural genocidalists.

The learning, nurturing and preservation of Sanskrit was among the first casualties to burn in this Dravidian furnace. The story of its near total annihilation needs to be told in a detailed volume. But to offer a tragic appetiser of sorts, this essay has picked a real-life slice from the recent history of Sanskrit destruction in Tamil Nadu.

The period is the 1960s decade and the scene of action is set in the prestigious Presidency College, Madras.

The manner in which the destruction of Sanskrit was carried out resembles the manner in which fanatical Muslim sultans made appointments in officialdom: kicking out Hindus and replacing them with Muslims or with Hindus who fell for the lure of converting to Islam for material benefits.

It might seem incredible and even unbelievable today, but even as recently as in the 1940s, the learning of Sanskrit and its literature was regarded as a mark of high culture in Tamil Nadu. Especially in Tamil Nadu.

Throughout Indian history, Kanchipuram strode aloft as one of the renowned and prestigious centres of Sanskrit scholarship. The sacred city took pride in being  home to several unbroken lineages of extraordinary Sanskrit Pandits and Vidwans. 

Sadly, Kanchipuram, like the rest of the Tamil Desam, had not reckoned with the Messianic, caliginous sword called Dravidianism which was making slow but determined inroads about a century ago. 

The rowdy denizens of the Justice Party, in their rabble-rousing speeches essentially spouted variants of the following clamour: “What is there in Sanskrit that’s not there in Tamil? The wicked Aryas from the north and their Sanskrit language invaded our pure Tamil land and destroyed our literature and culture and flung us into backwardness. We must liberate our pure Tamil land and culture from these Aryas. They are today known as South Indian Brahmins, who continue to oppress us.”

Today, the whole of the Dravidian ecosystem resembles a cauldron of dangerous junk comprised of the following: at the top is the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) led by  the aptly-christened M.K. Stalin and his son Udhayanidhi Stalin. Other elements include the fossilized Periyarists and the innumerable Dravidian groups and petty factions. For more than half a century, they have held Tamil Nadu in their vise-like grip. 

But history tells a different story. 

— Chapter Two — 

THE JUSTICE PARTY and its predecessors didn’t have it easy. The early role played by the Church, especially by Bishop “Kaltuvel Aiyar” (Robert Caldwell) in seeding and fomenting Tamil separatism is too well-known to repeat here. But its far-reaching consequences leading up to our own time need deeper examination.  

One such consequence has already been mentioned: the naked lie that evil Aryas from North India and their oppressive Sanskrit language destroyed an alleged “original” Tamil culture and a “pure” Tamil language. This has become a settled truth in Tamil Nadu’s public discourse. It is still the seed capital of the Dravidian ideology. It also posits that these Aryas armed with their Sanskrit were solely responsible for creating backward classes in the state.

But the purveyors of this ideology only need to remember two important facts of their own cultural and social history. 

The first is the fact that a significant portion of these backward classes have become cannon fodder for Christian cultists. This has reached such a sickening pitch that they are proud to worship the son of a Ghost who preaches a religious imperialism in the tongue of piety and compassion. 

The second is the fact that the converted generations of these backward classes have defiled the memory of and the valiant fight that their own ancestors put up against these Christian cultists.

Much before “appa” Caldwell shot to fame, he had devoted several patient years to mine the Sanatana society for potential souls to harvest. In 1849, he published a spurious pamphlet titled The Tinnevelly [Tirunelveli] Shanars.  

Today, the Shanars are more commonly known as Nadars. Their traditional profession was toddy-tapping. Among other things, Caldwell’s tract imputed “non-Aryan origins” to the Shanars, a fact that elicited immediate outrage from the community. By this time, a substantial section of the Shanars had obtained English education. However, it was still firmly anchored to its roots and saw through Caldwell’s divisive game and launched widespread agitations against Caldwell’s pamphlet, leading to riots. 

As a result, his vile tract was withdrawn from circulation. But as history tragically shows, it appears that Caldwell ultimately triumphed: a good chunk of the Nadar community is now in the fourth or fifth generation as Christians worshipping an alleged virgin mother, who has replaced their traditional Kula-Devi — she is the strength-giving, life-nurturing and foe-destroying Bhadrakali who had enabled their ancestors to fight both Islamic invaders and soul harvesters. 

Christian predators like Caldwell have become the deities and role models for these fifth-generation Christian Nadars, some of whom have also become Bishops, Pastors and evangelists on a mission to culturally consume their Nadar brethren.

— Chapter Three — 

BISHOP ROBERT CALDWELL, the Church-ordained soul-harvester, had nearly three centuries’ worth of past masters. The first is the well-known fraud, the “Roman Brahmin,” Roberto Di Nobili (1577-1656) who used the sacred Sanatana city of Madurai for his soul-vulturing activities. 

But more than Nobili, it was his worthy successor, the Italian missionary Constantius Beschi (1680-1743) who decisively changed the direction, focus, and tactics of preying on Hindu souls in Tamil Nadu. Beschi was well-versed in Sanskrit but he consciously avoided using Sanskrit terms in his Tamil compositions in praise of St. Joseph, for example. Pompously titled Thembavani (The Unfading Garland),  he describes it as an “ornament of poems as sweet as honey” (sic). It contains 3615 stanzas tracing the history of Salvation and the life of St. Joseph.  

Beschi is perhaps the first Italian missionary to sow the seeds of Sanskrit destruction in the Tamil Desam. He wrote a series of Tamil grammars and linguistics, profusely praising the grandeur and greatness of this ancient language. Beschi is also the first European scholar of the Tamil language who elaborately delineated the distinction between chaste and colloquial Tamil and expounded in detail on Tamil classical literature. With this, Beschi had laid solid foundations, which have endured till date — i.e., for more than three centuries.

Cut to the late 1920s. Dravidian politicians rediscovered Beschi and hailed him as a great model of a European who had been so impressed by the sophistication, beauty and intricacy of the Tamil language, that he devoted his entire life to master it. Along with Caldwell, Beschi is another figure greatly revered in the annals of the Dravidian ideology. It has elevated him to cult status, christening him as Vīramāmunivar (literally: The Warrior Sage).

On 2 January, 1968, the DMK Government erected the eyesore known as the statue of Vīramāmunivar on the Marina Beach. It is equally unsurprising that in  1954, Thomas Srinivasan wrote a laudatory article (Beschi, the Tamil Scholar and Poet: Tamil Culture Vol III, 1954) on Beschi’s contribution to Tamil.  

The enduring foundations laid by Beschi would eventually demolish the Sanskrit Department of Presidency College, Madras, after India attained “independence.” Almost since its inception, the department had been sanctified by a distinguished lineage of extraordinary Sanskrit scholars including Sri Rangacharya, Kuppuswami Sastri, and P.P. Subramhanya Sastri who all left behind an equally illustrious scholarly progeny such as C. Kunhan Raja, V. Raghavan, T.N. Ramachandran and others.

But it took about a decade for the Dravidianists to annihilate this glorious legacy root, branch and leaves.

— Chapter Four —

IN THE HEYDAYS of his violent Dravidian activism, E.V. Ramaswami Naicker, India’s first political hoodlum, issued a public declaration: “When we think of ourselves as Sudras, we accept ourselves as the sons of prostitutes.”

The fact that he is still hailed as Periyar (The Elder or Respected One) by a significant chunk in Tamil Nadu is deeply reflective of a celebration of cultural destruction. A glimpse into the overall 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 his predecessors had been hesitant to use: the brazen deployment of violent and obscene language in public. Even here, Ramaswami Naicker showed no originality. He 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 and social customs. But the most effective imagined enemy they found was Sanskrit: specifically, Sanskrit as opposed to Tamil.

Apart from Ramaswami Naicker, 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. 

They quickly understood the power of organized violence. In all such violent incidents, there is an echo of a famous proverb regarding the successes of Islam in India: while the Hindus were busy brushing up theological and philosophical arguments, the warriors of Islam were busy sharpening their swords. 

And here, the Dravidianists were busy writing inflammatory pamphlets and delivering provocative speeches against Brahmins, Sanskrit, Hindu Deities, Puranas, etc. 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. The pamphlet concluded that the entire Hindu “religion” was a mass of superstition and had to be wiped out from the Tamil land. 

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

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 in glee at the kind of brood that Caldwell had spawned. 

Caldwell had the destruction of Brahmins in mind because they formed the chief obstacle to his soul-harvesting project. But he masked this sinister intention by announcing that what he was really doing was scholarly work in Tamil linguistics. By using linguistics as a pretext, he extrapolated the sociological equation that Brahmins=Aryas=Evil North Indian Invaders=Oppressors of Dravidians. 

The first move was to deny the verifiable historical truth that Tamil 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 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 aid…a 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’s specious treatise was quickly picked up by the then 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 against the entire Brahmin community of south India declaring that “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...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.”     

— Chapter Five — 

THREE CONCLUSIONS immediately follow from Grant-Duff’s hate speech against Brahmins

The first is the fact that he built upon Robert Caldwell’s original anti-Brahmin harangue just eleven 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 Hindu kingdoms in Andhra of the time.

However, Grant Duff’s speech was sweet music to the ears of the nascent Dravidianists. Within a decade, there was an explosion of various Tamil Sangams (Associations) across the state, the most famous of which was at Madurai. It was 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. 

But 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 grand bluff were either marginalized or cowed down into brute submission by Dravidian hoodlums.

F. R. Hemmingway, author of the Tanjore Gazeteer, gives a picturesque description 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. It was situated on the banks of the venerated Tamraparni river sanctified by countless generations of Vedic scholarship and whose glories Muthuswami Dikshitar never tired of singing. Kallidaikurchi is just 70 kilometres from Kanyakumari. And Kanyakumari is today a Christian majority city. 

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 the non-Brahmins as follows: “[the Gurukulam] is a direct challenge to the non-Brahmins and…this is the time for the Tamilians to vindicate their honour!”

Naidu embarked on a blitzkrieg of such incendiary speeches against Brahmins in his statewide campaigns to Tirunelveli, Mayavaram, Salem and other important cities and towns. The outcome was entirely along expected lines: riots broke out wherever he went, and the Brahmins ultimately came to the negotiating table.

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

With that, E.V. Ramaswami Naicker and his Dravidian 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 this time, the supreme status 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 to be “purely Tamil.” Among the more high-profile victims who fell for this Tamil-supremacy hoax was the former Diwan of Mysore, V.P. Madhava Rao. Here is how the scholar Irschick describes 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.””

From one perspective, 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  India’s history. This is precisely what the likes of V.P. Madhava Rao did when he gave his endorsement to an alleged Tamil linguistic superiority. 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 another multi-city political tour. We can again turn to Irschick 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…”  

Meanwhile, in the same year that Ramaswami Naicker began his own political front, a Tamil scholar 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 learning in Thanjavur and the Kallidaikurchi Gurukulam would befall on other centers of Sanskrit learning in Tamil Nadu. It was just a question of when and not if. 

— Chapter Six — 

EVEN AS THE DRAVIDIANS were chopping off the ancient Sanatana roots in Tamil Nadu with each successive decade, the larger society somehow held on to whatever remained of that profound legacy. 

The brilliant scholar and writer, Dr. B.G.L. Swamy who served for more than two decades in Presidency College Madras, notes that even in the 1940s, the Sanskrit Department comprised students who studied B.A. and M.A. in the same classes irrespective of caste, class, and religious differences. However, this harmony would be systematically erased within a decade.

One of the prefaces to this erasure is available in the form of a letter 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, this theme of the supremacy of the Tamil language was premised on the massacre of Sanskrit. It unfolded in a disgusting and tragic manner. 

— Chapter Seven — 


That was the constant refrain in a circular issued by the Education Department of the Jyoti Basu Government in 1989 about the proposed changes to the history syllabus in the state. This is the summary of the Shuddho-Ashuddho doctrine: all mentions of Muslim atrocities against Hindus during the period of Islamic rule were cast as Ashuddho (literally, impure) and had to be deleted; all mentions of the brave Hindu kings and warriors who fought them were also Ashuddho. The converse was also true — i.e., it was Shuddho. This was how tolerance and sainthood were bestowed upon every Muslim despot starting from Mahmud of Ghazni all the way up to Aurangzeb and Tipu.

But the Communists in West Bengal were at least three decades late to the game. The Dravidianists had implemented the Shuddho-Ashuddho doctrine as early as the 1950s itself in Tamil Nadu by labelling the Deva Bhasha, Sanskrit, as Ashuddho. The pristine “purity” of the Dravidian version of Tamil, like the jealous Abrahamic Gods, wouldn’t tolerate an equal, and therefore demanded a wholesale slaughter of Sanskrit.

It is one thing to merely read historical or contemporary accounts of wars and other tragedies. However, it is entirely a different thing to actually live or experience those horrors. Which is why our wise ancients gave this eternal caution: Yuddhasya vaartaa ramyaa — i.e., only the narrative or story of a war is thrilling. What was left unsaid but implied was that direct experience of or participation in war was far from thrilling.

By the middle of the 1950s, the frenzied hollering of the Dravidianists whose venomous Tamil chauvinism had penetrated almost every corner of the Tamil society, was about to reach the climax they desired. They were now within striking distance of capturing political power which alone would enable them to seize and bamboozle institutions with the Dravidian battering ram. To the hypocritical sensibilities of the supremely overrated film director Maniratnam, this bamboozling appeared as some sort of Divine Dravidian Deliverance of Tamil Nadu as depicted in his Iruvar, a dishonest movie.

The atmosphere of social harmony that existed among the B.A. and M.A. students at Presidency College, Madras, till the late 1940s (as described by Dr. B.G.L. Swamy) was shattered by a series of venal steps directly aimed at destroying Sanskrit in the garb of making it more accessible to the masses.

— Chapter Eight — 

IT BEGAN WITH A SELF-RIGHTEOUS DEMAND for justice. The demand was rooted in manufactured Dravidian victimhood. Overnight, someone “noticed” that a majority of students graduating with First Class marks belonged only to a “particular forward caste.” This “observation” was followed by this demand: “a scheme should be devised whereby other castes should also be given First Class marks.” 

The matter was hotly debated in the University Senate and Rajya Sabha. The “warrior” Dravidian (Veera Dravida) and “pure” Tamil tabloids witnessed record sales propagandizing this canard. As we’ve seen earlier in this essay, the Dravidian rabble-rousers won the day on this occasion as well. 

A new precedent and rule was established as a result of this victorious propaganda. Henceforth, Sanskrit examiners were to be appointed solely on the basis of their caste. Accordingly, a five-member body of Sanskrit examiners was formed: three Brahmins, two non-Brahmins and one from a “really” backward caste.

The first three were easy to find. 

For the second category, an employee of the Indian Railways was discovered after a prolonged search. He had an M.A. in Sanskrit. But finding the other member proved a more uphill task. Several months of hunting yielded no such candidate. This is when the University made an amendment: only a B.A. in Sanskrit would suffice. Finally, it netted a candidate who frankly confessed his inability: “Sir, forget Sanskrit, the last time I even touched a book was twenty-five years ago. I barely crawled through Sanskrit after flunking three times. I’ve forgotten how to write or read the Sanskrit alphabet. Now I’m doing well in my timber business. Please let me go.” But the Dravidianists were made of steel. After much persuasion, the timber merchant finally consented.

Now we arrive at the last category: the solitary Sanskrit examiner from a really backward caste. This search ultimately ended in failure. In all of Tamil Nadu, there was simply no candidate fitting this description.

More debates and discussions ensued among the University luminaries. Finally, it was agreed that the real role of this candidate was to act as a policeman who would ensure that the other four members would not develop casteist feelings in their evaluations. And if they were suspected of such feelings, he would bring in the necessary corrective measures. And who better than a real policeman to do the policing? So the Government found a policeman from the Police Department and made him the examiner. No knowledge of Sanskrit was needed for this job.

The cop embraced his new job with the zeal of a new convert. Instead of the time-honoured practice of evaluating answer sheets, he proposed a revolutionary idea: examiners had to know the caste of students in advance and award marks according to the backwardness or otherwise of the students. The other four members were horrified and vetoed his revolutionary idea. The same fate befell his other revolutionary ideas, the details of which are beyond the scope of this essay. 

But the cop was made of tougher material. 

After weeks of dogged lobbying with Dravidianist politicians, he managed to exert political pressure on the Principal of Presidency College to somehow convince a bunch of unwilling backward caste students to enroll in the Sanskrit M.A. These students had never learnt Sanskrit since the day they were born. The Sanskrit Pandit of the Department was a traditional Vaidika, deeply learned in Tarka (Logic) and Vyakarana (Grammar). He asked the cop, “are your students familiar with the Devanagari alphabet?” The cop was dumbfounded. He hadn’t even heard of something called Devanagari. But he had heard of the Nagaari (trumpet) typically played in temples on occasions of festivals and processions. So he said, “of course, they play the Nagaari with great skill!” The Sanskrit Pandit pitied his own fate but was forced to accept these students. Now the cop issued another demand: the students had to be given special coaching. The Pandit agreed again. But he put a very elementary test to them: pronunciation of the Sanskrit language. The students failed spectacularly. But the cop had his own brand of logic regarding phonetics: “What do you mean pronunciation? Any word can be pronounced in any manner in any language. Everybody knows this simple fact!” The poor Sanskrit Pandit forced himself to reconcile with his destiny.

The outcome of the cop’s radical scheme was immediate and fatal. Within the space of a few classes, the unlikely Sanskrit students realised that they couldn’t grasp anything at all. But they were well-versed in human nature which responds to incentives. Confident that they had the backing of the powerful policeman, they used the caste card and complained against the Pandit: “this Vadyar (teacher) is deliberately not teaching us properly. We need a different Vadyar.” But the Principal put his foot down.

— Chapter Nine — 

HOWEVER, THE ISSUE now acquired a life of its own, and finally reached its logical home: at the doorsteps of the Dravidianist politicians and ideologues. Uproarious debates erupted in the Legislative Assembly, University Senate, and in the halls of “pure” Tamil organizations and Veera (Warrior) Tamizh Associations.

As before, Dravidian tabloids had a phenomenal time denouncing “the Aryan invaders from the north,” the vile Brahmins, and Sanskrit supremacists. After much furore, the following decision was ultimately reached: the Sanskrit Department must be upgraded. This was the reasoning they offered for this new proposal: “Why should only one community teach Sanskrit? Is there a rule that other communities are prohibited from teaching Sanskrit?”

Among other things, the upgrade involved creating reservations for the following posts: the Sanskrit Department would now have a Chief Lecturer, three assistant lecturers and two Pandits. Qualifications for the posts were also amended: it was no longer necessary to have a Sanskrit degree (graduate or postgraduate); even novices in and “hobbyists” of Sanskrit could apply.

This was regarded as a major milestone in the Dravidianist version of The Great Leap Forward. Of ensuring social justice by shattering the bourgeoise rules of intentionally making it difficult to learn a language. According to this reasoning, through this upgrade, Sanskrit would now be within the reach of everyone. By taking this revolutionary step, the Dravidianists claimed that they were actually making Sanskrit more accessible to a greater number of people.

This has an eerie parallel in our own time. “Poromboke” T.M. Krishna took a leaf precisely out of this revolutionary Dravidian step when he took Carnatic classical music literally to the gutters of Chennai. He claimed that this was his way of “liberating” classical music from “Brahmin oppression.”

BACK TO PRESIDENCY COLLEGE, MADRAS. According to the amended rules, these new posts were filled with eminences adorned with the following qualifications:

  • A singer of dirges in Sanskrit and Tamil became the Chief Lecturer.

  • A “pure” Tamil loyalist who had been working as a Hindi Munshi in some school but had lost his job after the Tamil warriors inflicted a crushing blow on Hindi in the state. This Sanskrit lecturership was how the Dravidianist Government rehabilitated this ex-martyr of Sen Tamizh.

  • A former P.A. of a former Dravidianist Member of Parliament. This MP knew no other language than Tamil. And so, this had P.A. rendered him loyal service each time he went to Delhi by acting as his translator in that wretched citadel of Aryan invaders. The P.A. lost his job the moment the MP lost his deposit in a recent election. But like his benefactor, he was also a committed Tamil warrior who had passed a Tamil language exam. The Government gave him the Sanskrit lecturer job.

  • The fourth eminence was a self-taught Sanskritist who had learned the language using…. psychic powers. In his previous avatar, he had led an anti-Brahmin agitation. The Government gratefully rewarded him now.

The appointments were filled to the utmost satisfaction of the Dravidianist Government. The Sanskrit Department had been suitably upgraded.

It was now time to implement the Second Step of the Great Dravidianist Leap Forward. This was revising the Sanskrit syllabus. 

— Chapter Ten — 

RECALL OUR FRIENDLY COP who had done such yeoman service to Sanskrit in Tamil Nadu? He was now back in action with greater gusto as a highly valued member of the syllabus revision committee. After detailed and elaborate deliberations spread over months and involving highly animated and sublime discussions, a unanimous consensus was reached: the existing syllabus was… heavy. It had to be made lighter and… student-friendly. Else, no one would come forward to learn Sanskrit. 

Here are some highlights from the revised syllabus:

  1. Rasagangadhara of Jagannatha Panditaraja: Delete

  2. Kavyaprakasha of Mammata: Delete

  3. The second half of Kadambari by Banabhatta: “Retain half of the second half,” recommended the friendly cop.

  4. The origins of RasaDelete

  5. The Panchama-Anka (Fifth Act)of Kalidasa’s Abhijnana Shakuntala. The friendly cop exploded with fury when he heard this. He thundered, “Beware! I will throw…I mean, the Government will throw into prison anybody who even utters the word, Panchama (another word for “Dalit”)!  The member who proposed this clarified patiently, “Panchama-Anka means the Fifth Act.” Friendly cop: “That’s exactly what even I’m saying! The Act, meaning, the law regarding the Panchamas! It is not necessary. We’ll replace it with the First Act. Our young students will be thrilled to read the romantic episodes between Dushyanta and Shakuntala.” Agreed.

  6. VedasRetained after heated debates.

However, not one member of this new teaching faculty had learnt the Vedas in the traditional method. And so the university appointed an intellectual lobbyist to the position of a Vedic Pandit. He had a smattering of Sanskrit but what really nailed his job was his qualification as a friend of the Dravidian ideology.

This luminary was tasked with teaching Vedic recitation to these newly recruited teachers. After six months of teaching, he realized his own limitations and in a rare flash of honesty, blessed them as follows: “I have knowledge of Vedic recitation enough for reciting it myself. I haven’t learnt how to teach it. I bless you all to become my Ekalavya disciples and practice Vedic recitation on your own.” The dutiful disciples followed his path but with a slight modification. One disciple was an accomplished singer of Thevarams (a traditional method of singing Tamil devotional hymns to Shiva). He began chanting the Vedic mantras in the Jenjuti Ragam set to the Rupaka Talam.

The “upgrade” to the Sanskrit Department had predictable consequences. Within two years, the department had more teachers than students who leapt out to safety, far away from this Great Dravidianist Leap Forward.

But the most stinging indictment came from a student who had already come equipped with formidable pre-qualifications. Since childhood, he had learnt Vyakarana (Grammar), Kavya (Poetry), Nataka (Drama), etc., in the traditional method. After attending a few classes in this revolutionary scheme of Dravidian Sanskrit education, he went to his teachers and sought their blessings before bidding them farewell: “My Most Revered Gurus, I have an earnest appeal. Please listen to it with benevolence. If I continue to study here any longer, I will forget what little Sanskrit I have learned so far. I will join another college and continue my Sanskrit studies there. You must kindly bless me.”

The flood of Sanskrit enthusiasts that the Great Dravidian Leap Forward had originally anticipated was now reduced to a solitary drop. And then it dried up completely. The Government asked the Sanskrit Department to justify the existence of so many Sanskrit teachers without any students. Those teachers who saw the writing on the wall quickly activated their old lobbies and jumped to greener pastures. A couple of years later, the University issued a general order to upgrade the syllabi of all subjects including Sanskrit.

Except that there were no longer any takers for Sanskrit at Presidency College, Madras.

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