The Swadeshi Indology Conference series is organized by the Infinity Foundation (India). They have organized two editions already which have been successful and produced several high-quality Indic scholars who made excellent presentations and submitted original research papers, which are accepted only after a double-blinded review. The SI-series and its format is path-breaking and an important contribution to Indic culture and dharma traditions and deserves all the support it can get. Those interested in contributing to Infinity Foundation or Infinity Foundation India can do so here.
SI-3 is conducted in IIT-Madras, and is focused on Tamil Nadu and has a wonderful lineup of talks on topics that are of importance to every Tamizhan. Here is the link to the SI-3 website. For more information about this conference, the lineup of speakers, and the topics, please read this detailed SI-3 website handout below.
We have storified the tweets on Swadeshi Indology-3 in the post below and will continue to update this section as more tweets are added.
Storify of #Swadeshi3 public domain tweets on Twitter on December 22 and December 23. December 24 Proceedings to be Updated. TCP is an independent internet portal and is not affiliated with Infinity Foundation India.
TCP is thrilled to present this amazing series of sketches by the artist, Devika Joglekar. You can follow her work on twitter and facebook, and visit the Miheika Art website to learn more.
About the Artist
Devika ji is an award-winning animator, illustrator, and author based in the SFO Bay Area in California. The website miheika.com notes: “Miheika specializes in Clear Line style illustration and Flash animation. Over the years, Devika has infused life into several childrens’ story books and graphic novels, through her signature illustration and animation work.”
TCP recommends the book ‘Mimi and Soni Learn How to Wear a Sari”. A delightful little illustrated story about two little girls who learn how to wear a Sari from Aaji (Grandma in Marathi) for Deepavali, much to the delight and surprise of their moms. A Kindle copy of the book is available at Amazon.
Through these sketches that celebrate India’s unity and diversity, we also recognize the shared heritage between Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. A bond that was further strengthened by the kings of the Bhosle house, including the great Raja Serfoji 2 who ruled over Thanjavur, an important center of dharma and Indic art.
Tamilnadu is the land of dharma, Vedas, Vedanta, and Bhakti. Tamizh culture (Kalacharam) is a glorious example of dharma’s open architecture  and therefore the Tamizh identity is inclusive. It cuts across religion, jatis, class, and geography. Many thousands around the world identify themselves as Tamizh. Since ancient times, many from outside Tamilnadu have sought shelter inside, and many from outside have come in and also enriched its culture. Tamizh is not just a spoken language and text but an entire culture. Tamizhs are large hearted and only reject those individuals whose own worldview demands and injects the virus of exclusivity. In this Tamizh framework, no individual or jati or community or religion can claim or exercise a monopoly over Truth.
Devotees of Murugan or Amman and other manifestations of the divine in the diverse Hindu traditions do not seek to impose their belief system on others.
This includes the followers of Indic systems such as Jainism or Buddhism which have also coexisted since the Sangam era, as well as those who embraced newer belief systems that originated outside India such as Christianity or Islam or Judaism. In such an open architecture, diversity thrives and unity is established based on mutual respect . Dr. Abdul Kalam is an illustrious example of a practitioner of Tamizh Kalacharam whose interactions with others was based on mutual respect. The Tamizhs perform Pooja to a multitude of Devis and Devatas and are happy to accommodate two more, with none claiming and imposing superiority over everyone else. This has been the Tamizh and Indian way for thousands of years.
India is a civilizational state and is perhaps the only civilization that has continually endured since the most ancient of times. Why? There are many reasons, and here is one: Every nation and civilization has to go through a series of crises and upheavals. Each of these challenges demands sustainable solutions. A monoculture can only produce one solution approach that tends to be all-or-nothing and eventually loses out. Indic diversity continually produces many living Gurus, Rishis, and masters whose bold, varied, and novel decentralized solutions rooted in dharma eventually prevail. Hence, this dharmic form of inclusivity and diversity must be preserved for Tamilnadu’s and India’s long-term stability.
However, this inclusivity is being blatantly misused by a few religious zealots who adopt a history-centric version of Christianity, one of the fastest growing religions in Tamilnadu. To better understand this very important threat, we review a graduate school thesis submitted by a Tamizh Christian convert to a US university , advising his western thesis advisors on the best options to convert devout Hindus to their brand of history-centric Christianity. This thesis specifically focuses on how to get Tamils to lower their defenses against conversions in Tamilnadu (“to develop a meaningful form of spirituality which will minimize Hindu opposition to Christian discipleship“). Therefore, it makes sense to limit our discussion to TN noting that if this TN pilot-project succeeds, it will be applied after region-appropriate modifications, to all of India. In this series, we attempt to understand this history-centric Christian view of Tamil Nadu, and the methods being adopted to subvert Tamilnadu’s open architecture. In this introductory post, we provide a high-level summary of this ongoing battle for Tamilnadu.
The term History-centrism was coined in the book ‘Being Different‘  and is fundamentally different from the Embodied Knowing traditions of dharma in Tamilnadu and India.
This brief two-paragraph description from the book is central to understanding the threat posed to Tamilnadu by this Orthodox or Scriptural or History-Centric Christianity (HCC).
HCC is founded on an unconditional, unquestionable, absolute, literal belief in the Nicene Creed.
Unless we can fully grasp the full meaning of history-centrism, we will be unable to properly and completely characterize the threat; and without clearly identifying the threat, no counter-response can be developed.
What is inside this Nicene Creed that is the central tenet of this extreme version of Christianity? Tamizhs belonging to all religions and Jatis need to understand this as well. The beliefs are quite simple to read and memorize. We again turn to ‘Being Different’ for a summary of the ancient Nicene Creed that was adopted in 325 CE by the first council of Nicaea. This remains the only set of beliefs that is accepted by all major denominations of the Christian faith, including those in Tamilnadu.
The Nicene Creed was translated into Tamizh by the Catholic Missionary Francis Xavier in the 1540s and used to convert tens of thousands of the Parava fisherman community. He is quoted as having baptized ten thousand Hindus in just one month . Any moderate Tamizh Christian would focus on emulating the positive qualities attributed to Jesus and not interpret this literally as incontrovertible historical truth, but for the fundamentalist, this belief is absolute and those who do not accept this (including moderate Christians) are treated as hostiles. To quote from the thesis, “the bible is God’s revelation and Jesus Christ is the only way to God” and the aim is to “communicate only Jesus Christ and his Gospel to the Hindus”.
Why is HCC attractive to some converts?
An intriguing question arises when we read the thesis. Why would a Tamizh who is knowledgeable about Vedanta, Bhakti, and other pluralistic traditions of dharma that were nurtured in Tamil Nadu for more than a thousand years, embrace such an extreme Christianity? Why would they prefer this submission to a foreign authority over their own native sophisticated adhyatmic practices that have been available to everybody? Let us examine this question from the thesis author’s perspective.
Indian Rishis, Acharyas, and Gurus may have spent thousands of years searching for the Truth. The Vedas acknowledge the uncertainty about the nature of ultimate reality. But to a believer, the Nicene Creed provides historical evidence of Jesus as the first and only son of God who embodied the absolute and complete truth. While darshanas and Vedanta schools provide intellectual debates and philosophical explanations and techniques to discover the truth for oneself, the HCC truth claim in the Nicene creed provides certainty and proof to its believers – conclusive flesh-and-blood evidence of the Truth. As the thesis  claims “In Christianity, God is the only God who revealed Himself in the historical events of the world. However, in devotional theism, he is only a philosophical concept or a mythological figure“. The absolute and divine truth manifested itself once and exactly once on this earth in history exclusively in the form of Jesus Christ. There is no place for doubting Thomases. One can therefore dispense with the uncertainty of the real world, rational explanations, philosophy, spirituality, or intellectual debates about alternative perspectives.
The Nicene Creed Jesus as the sole living embodiment of truth is the answer to all questions. In the mind of such a believer, this makes HCC superior to all other traditions. Of course, this requires an immediate and complete rejection of any thought system or data that conflicts with HCC and therein lie the seeds of violence in a literal interpretation of the Nicene Creed. The Divine justification to enforce the Nicene Creed all over the world is done by suitably interpreting the Great Commission.
The Great Commission
On an individual level, History-centric Christianity is not an issue if we operate under the principle of mutual respect. For example, it is perfectly fine if a Christian chooses to take the exclusivity and historical claims inherent in the Nicene Creed dogma literally for his or her own personal religion, while also fully and permanently respecting the equal validity of alternative belief systems for others that reject this dogma. This is the Tamizh way since ancient times. Unfortunately, this is not the case with HCC whose interpretation of the ‘Great Commission’ brings it in direct conflict with other thought systems. The Nicene Creed serves to boost the collective ego of followers. Even the possibility of any other divine manifestation before or after Christ, which can supersede the Nicene Creed is summarily dismissed. Its implications for Tamil Nadu are serious, on par with Wahhabism in Islam that is wreaking havoc, except that the violence and destruction in this battle is below the surface. The Great Commission (GC) has been used as a convenient scriptural sanction for ‘discipling’ Hindus who worship ‘false gods’.
The Great Commission carries the instructions of a resurrected Jesus to his apostles to spread his teachings to all parts of the world. There appear to be many versions, but the key version used by History-centric evangelists is the one in Matthew 28:16-20 , where the instructions are given to followers to baptize all people around the world in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit .
Strength and Weakness of HCC
The Great Commission is interpreted recursively by extremist Christians and evangelists to convert Hindus in India today, i.e., the GC is not just limited to the original disciples of Jesus, but to all the disciples of the disciples as well, and is thus a perpetually active instruction until kingdom come. If total submission to the Nicene Creed is the desired end state of a Tamizh Hindu convert, then the fundamentalist interpretation of the Great Commission provides the necessary scriptural sanction and justification to achieve this tragic end. In tandem, these two ideas have been useful in massively increasing the membership count and global market-share of Christianity, and spreading the power of the various churches across the globe. A subscription to the Nicene Creed brings you all the collective benefits of being an official member of a globally organized, rich, and powerful religious organization whose headquarters reside in the west.
On the other hand, when its impact on an individual is evaluated on its own merit, HCC suffers from serious deficiencies and has a dismal track record when it comes to problem-solving, which requires deeper scrutiny. Clearly, it contains no sustainable solutions to the psychological problems and lifestyle challenges that afflict individuals today. It is incompatible with Yoga and meditation practices of India that is bringing so much of happiness and spiritual tranquility to millions around the world. It lacks (and does not need) the adhyatmic (spiritual) aspect as well and does not focus on self-realization. The variety of festivals, the colors, the sounds, the sacred chants, the harmony of woman and man and nature, all of which arise from Hindu cosmology are entirely missing. Only events that serve as historical reminders of the Nicene Creed are useful to commemorate. Consequently in Europe and North America, despite several centuries of monopoly, we are witnessing a steady decline in the numbers of HC Christians. An increasing number of disenchanted and disturbed individuals are seeing through the hollowness and futility of this extremist HCC ideology. They are moving toward atheism or moderate Christianity. In both cases, these people have turned to Yoga and meditation techniques that originated in dharma tradition.
The sobering fact is that Nicene-Creed History-Centrism is neither necessary nor sufficient (and is absolutely of no relevance) for any person to reach a higher level of consciousness and self-realization.
How does this orthodox Christianity resolve this problem? There are two ways to do this – the honest way and the dishonest way. The honest solution is a dharmic resolution, which we discuss first.
Jesus as one of many Avatars or Gurus
Many moderate Christians in India have consciously or subconsciously adopted this approach, either completely returning to their dharmic Tamizh roots, or embracing an Indic version of Jesus that rejects the exclusivity and historicity of the Nicene Creed dogma. In the latter case, a devotee worships Jesus or Mary or any other deity as their own Ishta Devata while fully respecting and acccepting the traditional deities of Tamizhs, their village and sea deities, and their family deities, as equally valid. Here, Jesus is considered (by those who believe) as one of the many avatars or gurus or great thinkers without asserting superiority and therefore, there is no need to convert others to follow the “one true God”. Diversity is preserved. Importantly, this message is passed to following generations so that their children do not fall prey to churches and padres that preach extreme Christianity.
The great commission is not interpreted as a perpetual appeal to convert, but as a encouragement to emulate noble ideas. In such an interpretation, HCC+GC is not a militaristic vehicle to assert and enhance a collective identity and destroy other faiths. A person who achieves great progress in this dharmic path of self-realization has the potential to become a living Guru and emulate all the (non-mythical) achievements attributed to Jesus. Among the multitude of manifestations of the divine in India, one more is easily accommodated, as noted Tamizh thinker and commentator S Gurumurthy has pointed out many times.
Such a solution preserves mutual respect and a live and let-live attitude. However, such a solution is also a threat to the clergy and history-centric churches since it eliminates the middlemen. Therefore, these vested interests denounce such an amicable approach as ‘unchristian’ and instead promote an alternative predatory approach that preserves their existing power structure. However, the historicity of the Nicene Creed is tied to Europe and Middle East and is completely alien to Tamizh and Indian culture. To execute GC in India requires an adaption of the GC that is suitable to the Indian context. This is achieved through a practical technique that Christian theologians in the 1950s called contextualization .
Four-step Process of Contextualization
The thesis quotes the following definition of contextualization: “the translation of the unchanging content of the Gospel of the Kingdom into verbal form meaning to the peoples in their separate culture and within their particular existential situations”. The thesis states that contextualization is a “missiological necessity” and that the Bible itself as an example, with the incarnation of Christ as the best example of contextualization. The apostle Paul is considered the person who best contextualized the Nicene Creed, and the thesis cites this remarkable quote about Paul: “he became all things to all people, and he did that to win more people toChrist” .
We propose the following top-down four-step process to conveniently summarize the conversion approach for Tamil Nadu that is described in the thesis.
Nicene Creed specifies the unchanging end goal.
Great Commission decides the strategy required to achieve this goal.
Contextualizationidentifies the model that fulfils the Great Commission and is scalable, dynamic, and best suited for a context (e.g. Hindus in India or Tamil Nadu).
Digestion refers to the means and methods used to implement a contextual model for converting (‘discipling’) people belonging to one or more communities or Sampradayas.
The first two levels are common to all countries and regions and specifies the high-level goal and strategy. The third level of contextualization is applicable to a specific country, or region such as Tamil Nadu when the country is diverse. The fourth level of digestion implements a contextualization ‘use case’ of how best to harvest Hindu souls belonging to specific ‘castes’ or sampradayas. The achieved harvest numbers versus the targets are tracked and updated on a regular basis and stored in databases. A quick search of the internet can provide examples.
Digestion is a term coined by Rajiv Malhotra and is another key concept to grasp. We directly present the explanation from his book ‘Being Different’  along with some highlighted points:
The thesis communicates that the aim is not to reject but to digest Hinduism into HCC quite clearly: “Christ can be communicated not as the destroyer of Hindus, but as the Crown of Hinduism”. Furthermore, one “accepts the biblical truths revealed in the writings of the Hindu saints on the assumption that Christ has revealed His light in the Hindu world in the past and He is also actively present now“. Digestion is not done randomly or in haste, but carefully, in order to minimize the risk of the digester’s own traditions getting changed. It is carried out by smart evangelists with full awareness and clarity about the risk versus reward structure inherent in this delicate process, with the first and last goal of preserving the History-centrism encoded in the Nicene Creed. Therefore, the need for deception is critical. The United Nations is planning to make cultural appropriation illegal.
This four-stage process is set up so that no step is redundant. The third and fourth steps involving contextualization is always designed so that it preserves and propagates history-centrism as enshrined in the Nicene Creed at any cost by following the Great Commission. This is done by missionaries in order to eliminate or at least greatly minimize any chance of “syncretism” or contamination of this “pure” Christianity by the age-old village and sea Gods and Goddesses and traditional deities of Tamil Nadu who are “false gods”. The thesis is very careful about how the mechanics of the digestion process should work. There is no equal place for our native Tamizh deities in HCC. Once digestion is complete, they are to be excreted as waste.
Syncretism damages both dharma traditions and History-centric Christianity whereas Digestion only distorts dharma traditions while strengthening HCC.
The thesis explicitly clarifies that “Contextualization is not syncretism, because syncretism is the amalgamation of various pagan beliefs with God’s truths” and it cannot compromise the Gospel with the heathenism of Tamizhs. The author is clear that “the Hindu text should be used to support the Christian view“.
"Syncretism is an apostasy that is condemned in the Bible".
The extraordinary level of detail to which a Tamizh convert to HCC can go to, in order to preserve the beliefs in the European Nicene Creed, prove his loyalty to his western masters, and reaffirm the irreconcilable difference and superiority of his new found faith over his lower native Tamizh traditions can be seen in this statement: “I have used God with a capital “G” in places where reference is made to a deity of a monotheistic religion; a small “g” is used in places where reference is made to a deity to one of the gods of the Hindu pantheon“. The inherent casteism in the thesis is also stunning. It explains how the mass-conversion of poor and ‘low-caste’ Tamizhs have adversely affected the quality of the Christian faith, and that they were so far unable to convert many ‘upper caste’ Hindus. In fact, the main goal of the thesis is to rectify this situation and bring ‘quality’ to HCC.
Operating within this safety net, the evangelist can safely navigate through any culture in the world and convert families en masse. One can incorporate additional “contextual” layers without disturbing the dogmatic core. The fourth step ensures that the implemented contextualization model is maximally effective in its marketing impact on the target audience.
Contextual layers are created in a culturally appropriate manner in order to simulate the appearance of a dharmic solution.
In short, contextualization and digestion employ deception and the net result is the destruction of indigenous traditions to feed and strengthen the predatory system. Therefore, for contextualization to succeed, a cultural genocide is necessary and if contextualization wins the battle for Tamilnadu, the cultural genocide of Tamizhs is guaranteed.
Breaking India and Beyond
A dogmatic system that simulates an external dharmic layer would necessarily have to appropriate Tamizh traditions and techniques. However, dharma traditions of Tamilnadu and India are incompatible with Nicene Creed dogma or indeed any other Abrahamic dogma, and therefore cannot be directly or openly borrowed. It can only be digested. In other words, the original meaning, intent, objectives are deliberately erased. Note the sheer hypocrisy here. HCC’s own beliefs are deemed unquestionable and absolute. Their own ceremonies that mark history-centrism are deemed meaningful while the customs that have been held sacred by Tamizhs for thousands of years can be mangled, bent, and distorted at will since they are false and no one cares anyway. Once this happens, the dharmic symbols, metaphors, traditions, techniques, temple architecture, Puja, Kavadi, Kumbhabhishekam, Bhakti, Jnanam, Thiruvizha, … practically every dharmic element in Tamilnadu belonging to every class and community can be cannibalized and reinterpreted spuriously in support of Nicene Creed and to assert its supremacy. The poetry and songs of the Azhwars and Nayanaars, the wisdom of the Siddhars and so many Tamizh saints can all be deconstructed and falsely reinterpreted to support this extreme form of Christianity.
Such a contextualization is required to reduce the difference anxiety  in Tamizh Hindus who are induced to convert but are repelled by the alien dogmatic and racist roots of history-centric Christianity. Digested customs allow Tamizh Hindus to voluntarily and happily enter the spider web of the Nicene Creed “on their own terms” without giving up their age-old customs and traditions. The aim is not to win over a few Hindu intellectuals but to appeal to entire masses and communities. The thesis explicitly identifies the central role of family in the Tamizh Hindu society and aims to convert and subvert entire families. Targeting individuals is expensive, not scalable, and runs the risk of the person returning to his dharmic family fold after being socially shunned .
The Breaking India threat is real and analyzed in the best-seller by Rajiv Malhotra and Aravindan Neelakandan . This book is a must-read and is available in multiple Indian languages. An upcoming conference with an exclusive focus on Tamilnadu will be studying related topics.
The threat is not just to Tamilnadu but to all other Indian states as well. A superficial unity and pop culture based on speaking Tamizh and watching Tamil films is woefully insufficient to defend against this sophisticated and organized threat. Only the deep culture of Tamilnadu rooted in dharma has the capability to integrally unite and prevail in this battle. It is important for Tamizhs to understand the depth of their culture that they have inherited from their ancestors, and the evangelists are aware of this too.
"It is culture that withstands shocks, not a simple mass of knowledge" - Swami Vivekananda
Tamizh separatism encouraged by HCC converts and their western masters is specifically designed to widen faultlines among Indians and between Tamizhs .
A first step could be the bifurcation of Tamilnadu like what happened to Telugu-speaking Andhra Pradesh with each of the two new Telugu states dominated by a global History-centric religion. Tamizh and Hindi and Kannada speakers are cleverly drawn into futile linguistic and culture wars in a digital era where on-demand mobile translation between Indian languages is becoming a reality, while the Breaking India process continues unhindered.
The Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT) is an especially important propaganda tool in this thesis. It greatly aids digestion and is crucial for alienating the ordinary Tamizh from the traditions and culture of his and her own ancestors and to turn new converts against their own communities. As Swami Vivekananda observed: “and then every man going out of the Hindu pale is not only a man less, but an enemy the more” .
A knowledgeable observer of Indian affairs commented: "We must realize that the real issue isn’t regional languages causing chauvinism as much as it is de-linking from dharmic culture to create Westphalian problems". .
The negative impact of this cultural genocide and wholesale destruction of Indic customs is balanced by projecting a positive public image of the clergy and churches who are portrayed in popular Indian media and movies as social justice champions who feed and educate the hungry and poor Tamizh, as kind nuns who shelter orphans, and as NGOs that fight gender inequality and caste-discrimination, etc. The beauty of contextualization is that in the future it can be potentially accomplished by shedding its ‘Breaking India’ image. How? We conclude this introduction with this discussion.
Cultural Genocide of Tamilnadu
Contextualization, when perfected, can allow a HCC convert to be ‘India first’ and ‘Tamizh first’ in external appearance. Note that in the four-step process, only the first two steps are non-negotiable. The last two steps are adaptive and context-dependent. Unity of purpose with HCC churches and its chosen people located outside India is based solely on the shared loyalty to the Nicene Creed. Such a convert will be able to go to the border in Kashmir or Arunachal Pradesh and lay down his life as a martyr not for Bharat Mata, but as a soldier of an India that surrendered to The Kingdom of Christ. During peacetime, he/she will perform Christunatyam and practice Christian Yoga. Every relevant aspect of existing Tamizh traditions will be digested and simulated for superficial display in such a Taminadu, but in reality, Mother India and its sacred geography and dharma would have perished.
Contextualization of the Nicene Creed and its implementation using digestion is like a neutron bomb that will annihilate India's adhyatmic civilization while preserving its territorial assets and economic prosperity for the benefit of His Kingdom. It sacrifices India's atma to harvest its souls.
Bharatanāṭyaṃ conjures images of statuesque dancers, adorned in fragrant flowers and beautiful temple jewelry, wearing vibrant costumes made from the finest sarees dancing to melodic classical Indian music. The dancer pays homage to the Divine, dances in fast rhythmic movements consisting of complex patterns and portrays characters from the many grand epics. The audience is charmed, stirred, entertained and may even recall the performance for some time afterward. Those discerning audience members will recognize the stories and characters portrayed in the dances. Some connoisseurs might delight in the rare Rāgams of the songs or an unusual composition in the repertoire. Others might appreciate the challenging foot movements (Nṛtta) or the dancer’s expressive portrayals (Abhinaya). And yet others may like the subtle interpretation to a venerated classic. There is something to delight in for everyone and unfortunately, for most people, these prosaic features are the totality of Bharatanāṭyaṃ. Experienced Bharatanāṭyaṃ dancers and teachers may understand the subtler aspects of the performance, but for the most part, the very cornerstone of the art is only grasped by few.
In recent years, Bharatanāṭyaṃ has seen an extraordinary increase in popularity and presence, both in India and globally; it is danced by a diverse group of people, throughout the world, from wide-ranging educational, linguistic, racial, religious and economic backgrounds. Ironically however, the understanding of the dance, its fundamental aim, origins and core philosophy has almost reached a nadir. Hailed as a beautiful dance of vibrant costumes and statuesque movements, the very soul of Bharatanāṭyaṃ is not seen or comprehended by many. Bharatanāṭyaṃ is often relegated as just another art form, a medium in which to voice opinions, or as a simple ritualistic dance of temples. Much confusion and misinformation persist among practitioners and teachers themselves, and among the public. The history of Bharatanāṭyaṃ also is often misunderstood and wrongly bears the mantle that it had to be reformed and many erroneously believe that the current dance of Bharatanāṭyaṃ is a sanitized form of a previous version.
Bharatanāṭyaṃ is much more than just a traditional ethnic dance. Bharatanāṭyaṃ embodies the thought system, profound philosophy and practice of an ancient and sacred art originating from a few millennia ago in India. The performance of Bharatanāṭyaṃ is akin to a type of Yoga and is a form of embodied knowing. There is a definite aim in Bharatanāṭyaṃ. It is not just a performance art that is limited to evoking beauty and creating a pleasant experience for the audience. The aim of Bharatanāṭyaṃ is to elevate the audience to experience a higher state of consciousness. To go above the mundane, limited world and realize a greater reality is a fundamental (and unique) concept in Hinduism. Much as Yoga is not just a series of stretches and is a systematized practice, called Sādhana, in which the practitioner aims to achieve a higher state of consciousness, Bharatanāṭyaṃ is also a systematized artistic Sādhana, in which the artist aims to achieve a higher state of consciousness and evoke this state in the audience, so that they can experience it as well. The dancer does this through the dance, the dance steps and the emotive portrayals and storytelling.
Origin of Indian Dance
To comprehend the essence of Bharatanāṭyaṃ and Indian aesthetics, one needs to step back and view this art from within the frame of reference of its origin – Hindu philosophy. Without this point of view, Bharatanāṭyaṃ will not be understood and will be reduced to a mere materialistic art. The Nāṭyaśāstra, written more than 2500 years ago, by Bharata, is the oldest extant treatise on dramaturgy, dance and music and still is the authority today. This treatise meticulously details, classifies and expounds the deep-rooted thought system, practical application, the fundamental purpose and nuance of Indian classical dance. All the extant classical dances of India (i.e. the Desi styles) are living manifestations of the Nāṭya described by Bharata in his Nāṭyaśāstra. The reason they have lived on for more than a few millennia is due to the enduring Dharmic root from which they emerged. The Nāṭyaśāstra is not a mere instruction manual, but a monumental work, in which Bharata connects the art of movement of the body to the mind, intellect and most significantly, to the human consciousness. These are not just Bharata’s own musings however, but a genuine representation of Indian aesthetics which is deeply enmeshed with Indian philosophy and thought. Bharata referenced earlier Hindu works on dance and drama to compile the Nāṭyaśāstra. As explained by Bharata, the stage, the artist and the audience are all unified in this artistic experience. Many treatises have been written about Indian classical dance after Bharata, but they all are based on his work.
Bharata makes it very clear in his work, that Indian dance, drama and music all derived from the Vedas and therefore represent the thought system and knowledge of the Vedas. He states in the Nāṭyaśāstra that by taking the recitative aspect from the Ṛg Veda, music from the Sāma Veda, Abhinaya (enactment) from the Yajur Veda and Rasa from the Atharva Veda, a fifth Veda called Nāṭyaveda was created (Nāṭyaveda refers to the practice and theory of drama, dance and music).
Furthermore, Bharata states that Nāṭyaveda was created to nurture and uphold Dharma:
“(Nāṭya) teaches Dharma to those who are against it, gives relief to those who are afflicted or overtired, brings determination to the sorrowful, enlightens those with poor intellect, brings courage to the cowardly, gives enthusiasm to the heroic, teaches love to those who are eager for it, rebukes the ill-mannered, promotes will-power in the disciplined, gives diversion to the noble and brings happiness, good counsel and knowledge to all.”
By Bharata’s explanation we see that Nāṭyaveda is a manifestation of the knowledge in the Vedas and is a complete experience that involves more than just providing entertainment or a worldly diversion to the audience. Indian dance was created to give knowledge of Vedic principles and benefit everyone in society. Significantly, we see that Indian dance is not just for the elite or the rich, and certainly not reserved only for connoisseurs, but is for the enjoyment and advantage of everyone from all parts of society. The dance is a transformative experience, like all Hindu customs and rituals. There is a definite aim in all Bharatanatyam performances.
“There can be no meaningful communication without Rasa” – Nāṭyaśāstra
In Bharatanāṭyaṃ and Indian Aesthetics, this aim is Rasa. Rasa does not have a direct translation in English, in this context. In aesthetics, Rasa does not translate to feeling, or emotion or mood. Rasa is a supreme aesthetic experience, a conscious-elevating state that can be experienced by all. Anyone can experience the Rasa state, anyone who is open to it and is a sensitive and attuned spectator (whom Bharata refers to as a Sahṛidaya). Remarkably, Rasa cannot be understood solely in the intellectual and emotional domains. Rasa involves the mind, intellect and consciousness, and must be experienced. The debate about the specifics of Rasa has been going on for millennia by great scholars like Abhinavagupta, Bhatta Nayaka and others. Thus, Rasa is not something that can be simplified and mapped into a one-word translation and the definition resides in the Dharmic world-view. Furthermore, one requires the experience of Rasa to begin to understand what it encompasses and how it applies to Bharatanāṭyaṃ. What is not of debate, however, is that Rasa is paramount. Rasa is not guaranteed in any given artistic work. It is something that must be carefully generated and is born only if meticulously chosen conditions arise in a dance performance.
“Rasa is born (Rasa-niṣpattiḥ) from the combination of Vibhāvas, Anubhāvas and Vyabhicāri Bhāvas.” – Nāṭyaśāstra
Rasa does not exist in isolation; Rasas are the culmination of a complex process that involves the generation of varieties of Bhāvas, which are mental and emotional states that vary depending on the character and circumstance. There are a total of forty-nine Bhāvas consisting of thirty-three Vyabhicāri (impermanent) Bhāvas, eight Sātvika Bhāvas (with Sattva) and eight Sthāyi (permanent) Bhāvas. Rasa is born as result of all these beautiful Bhāvas – the Vibhāvas (determinants), Anubhāvas (consequent reactions), Vyabhicāri, Sātvika and Sthāyi Bhāvas emerging first. The organic and natural coming together of these results in the birth of Rasa in the onlooker (audience). It is not an afterthought or an automatic outcome. So, viewing a sad story does not necessarily mean the Karuna (pathos) Rasa is experienced. And viewing a comic story does not necessarily mean that Hāsya (humor) Rasa resulted. Thus, just having a Padaṃ or Varṇaṃ about a Nāyikā (female protagonist) does not necessarily mean that the audience experienced the Śṛṅgāra Rasa. The dancer must generate these Bhāvas and Vibhāvas in a genuine manner so that Rasa is born. The subject and themes she chooses to do this are of supreme importance. The limited-self disappears to reveal the more pervading Self – a key element in Hindu practices. Rasa is permanent; it touches and elevates your consciousness. The best part is that you experience Rasa by tuning into the performance, with an open mind and without any preconceived biases. That is why Bharata emphasizes that a Sahṛidaya is best suited to experience Rasa. A Sahṛidaya can be anybody who is a sensitive and attuned spectator, an open-minded and unbiased onlooker, and is not the same as a connoisseur. A connoisseur may be a Sahṛidaya but a Sahṛidaya need not be, and in most cases probably is not, a connoisseur. Significantly, one need not know any technical aspects of the dance in order to experience Rasa.
Originally, even the dance foot and hand movements called Karaṇas and Aṅgahāras (analogous to Aḍavus and Jatis of Bharatanāṭyaṃ) produced Rasa. Thus, Rasas should be generated by every aspect of the dance, not just the Abhinaya (expressive enactment) but also by Nṛtta (the rhythmic foot and arm movements). Bharatanāṭyaṃ is a dance of invoking the Divine and was performed, though not exclusively, in Hindu temples as part of the temple rituals. But Hinduism explicitly holds that the Divine is within all of us, so the Raṅga, or stage, becomes a sacred place as well.
Abhinaya and Rasa
Abhinaya is not just the ordinary enactment of stories and characters but the exalted, idealized and glorified re-enactment of stories and characters. This re-enactment generates Bhāvas and Rasas which are readily received and experienced by the Sahṛidaya. By watching the re-enactment of these stories and characters, which are carefully chosen and which enact the four Puruṣārthas of Dharma, Artha, Kāma and Mokṣa, the audience is removed from their mundane day-to-day troubles and problems. The audience forgets the petty limited everyday world and experiences something greater, a limitless Self where the ego disappears and a permanent innate joy is experienced. Hinduism recognizes that this limitless Self and joy is innate and resides in all of us. The dancer must, in effect, disappear from the performance, her ego must not be apparent. For instance, a dancer cannot effectively embody Ānḍāl or dance the Vāriṇaṃ Āyiraṃ without shedding her own persona. The dancer’s petty egos, problems and grievances cannot be visible in such a performance since, if it were, the performance would not be able to produce the desired Rasa experience in the onlooker. Indian dance has survived for millennia because of this unique characteristic. Indian aesthetic theory is unique in that the Rasa concept does not have parallels in aesthetic theories of other world cultures.
The author dancing selected Pāsurams from the Vāriṇaṃ Āyiraṃ
Rasa is of such significance, that Bharata himself declared: “There can be no meaningful communication without Rasa.” Rasa cannot be an afterthought and it cannot be taken for granted in a performance. The challenge to the artist is to be able to produce this Rasa experience for all members in their audience in their performances.
True scholars of Indian aesthetics like Abhinavagupta have commented that Rasānanda (Rasa bliss experience) is akin to Brahmānanda (bliss of Brahman knowledge). Thus, Rasa is not trivial nor commonplace. Every single element of the dance, including the music Rāgas, Tālas, Aḍavus and even the dancer’s costume, makeup and accessories all come together to generate the Rasa experience.
Many may wonder why the Bharatanāṭyaṃ dancer projects the Dharmic view? After all, Bharatanāṭyaṃ is an art, and art has no religion. Certainly, a paintbrush and paint have no religion. But Bharatanāṭyaṃ is not a lifeless instrument like a paintbrush. Bharatanāṭyaṃ, and all Indian Nāṭya, is a vibrant systematized practice, a sincere Sādhana. It is not a mere vessel in which to voice any capricious view. Bharatanāṭyaṃ is a manifestation of the thought and knowledge of the four Vedas, and therefore, the dance intrinsically carries that world view. Syncretically trying to fit personal viewpoints, incompatible theories and politics into the Bharatanāṭyaṃ repertoire only results in a short-lived forgettable experience, with no Rasa to sustain it.
The responsibility of understanding the rich and sophisticated aesthetic theory manifested in Bharatanāṭyaṃ lies squarely on the shoulders of the dancers, dance teachers and propagators. The audience is not and cannot be expected to study these concepts, but the dancers, by having a well-rounded view, should reflect these in their dances.
Does this mean that the dancer is somehow limited in their artistic expression? No, since the literally innumerable permutations and combinations of facial, arm, hand, leg and body movements included in the Nāṭyaśāstra along with forty-nine Bhāvas and nine Rasas provide for countless variety and diversity of thought and ideas that can be portrayed by an innovative and imaginative artist, all while keeping the ultimate purpose of this great art in mind.
Thus, Bharatanāṭyaṃ is not just an art for art’s sake, nor is it a vehicle in which the artist expresses constrained and personal opinions. Indian dance is elevated, exalted and derives from the Vedas and therefore, reflects the wisdom of the Vedas and like the Vedas, seeks to uplift the consciousness of the onlooker.
Understanding the meaning and purpose of Bharatanāṭyaṃ will make it more accessible to all people, not just a chosen few. It will make it more enjoyable even to those who may not be aware of all its technical merits. And this is indeed a great thing. Because, this characteristic is the reason Indian dance has lasted for several millennia and will continue to endure for millennia to come. In other words, just as the illustrious Bharatamuni envisioned, by understanding and putting to practice the purpose of Bharatanāṭyaṃ, it becomes more reachable, beneficial and enjoyable to everyone.
About the author
Prakruti is the founder director of Kala Saurabhi Dance School in the US and she actively performs in the US and in India. Prakruti is also trained in Carnatic music and is fluent in Sanskrit, Tamil and Kannada. She has spent seven years researching Sanskrit texts and other ancient treatises on Indian art and aesthetics. She has written a book based on her research, Rasas in Bharatanatyam, available at amazon.com.
Ghosh, M.M. 2006. P. Kumar (Ed.) Nāṭyaśāstra of Bharatamuni. (Vols. 1-4). Delhi: New Bharatiya Book Corporation.
Prativadi, Prakruti. 2017. Rasas in Bharatanatyam. South Charleston: CreateSpace.
Srinivas, P. N. 2000. Mathugalu [Talks on Kannada Literary Criticism, in Kannada]. Bangalore: Purogami Sahitya Sangha.
Subhrahmanyam, Padma. 1979. Bharata’s Art Then and Now. Bombay: Bhulabhai Memorial Institute; Madras: Nrithyodaya.
Subrahmanyam, Padma. 2003. Karanas Common Dance Codes of India and Indonesia (Vols 1-3). Chennai: Nrithyodaya.
Vatsyayan, Kapila. 1997. The Square and the Circle of the Indian Arts. New Delhi: Abhinav
Copyright: Prakruti Prativadi. All Rights Reserved.
This article represents the views of the author, and is not necessarily a reflection of the views of the Tamizh Cultural Portal. The author is responsible for ensuring the factual veracity of the content, herein.
Prakruti Prativadi has danced Bharatanatyam since she was a child. She was initiated and trained in Bharatanatyam by Guru Smt. Charu Narasimhan and she also learned under Guru (Padmabhushan) Smt. Kalanidhi Narayanan. Prakruti is trained in the Dhandayudhapani Pillai style of Bharatanatyam. (Padmashri) Sri K. N. Dhandayudhapani Pillai, one of the greatest Natyacharyas of the 20th century, is the Guru of Prakruti’s Guru.
Prakruti is the founder director of Kala Saurabhi Dance School in the US and she actively performs in the US and in India. Prakruti is also trained in Carnatic music and is fluent in Sanskrit, Tamil and Kannada. She has spent seven years researching Sanskrit texts and other ancient treatises on Indian art and aesthetics. She has written a book based on her research, Rasas in Bharatanatyam, available at amazon.com.
Smt. Prakruti Prativadi is also an aerospace engineer, working in the industry and has worked on NASA projects. The blessings of Mother Saraswati are upon her. Her brilliant new book ‘Rasas in Bharatanatyam‘, the first in a series, is likely to be an influential work, and we will be discussing it in this space going forward. We express our gratitude to Smt. Prakruti Prativadi and her gurus for their seva to dharma, and are privileged to share her insightful thoughts on Indic Art, Aesthetics, and Culture. You can read her introductory article at TCP here.
This is the third and final part of a serial review summarizing the literary evidence of Vedic traditions in ancient Tamil Nadu presented in Dr. Nagaswamy’s 2016 book: “Tamil Nadu: The Land of Vedas“.
The book chapter covering Silapathikarampoints out that this most ancient and famous Tamil epic is a brilliant application of Bharata’s Natyasastra.
This has been covered in-depth in our previous posts. Here will provide a brief summary of the data regarding Vedic traditions present in these ancient Tamizh epics.
Silapathikaram, authored by Ilango Adigal dates back to the first century CE, per Dr. Nagaswamy, who has also shown that the epic was recognized centuries long ago as the earliest and longest dance-drama written in Tamizh. The main characters are Kovalan, his wife Kannagi, and the danseuse Madhavi. Manimekalai is the sequel authored by Buddhist author Sathanaar and contains within it a critique of certain aspects of the Vedic traditions that were followed during that time. Note that Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism are all dharma-centric thought systems that existed in Tamil Nadu since ancient times. These epics would have been lost to the world forever, but for the untiring efforts of U V Swaminatha Iyer who painstakingly obtained the palm leaf manuscripts of these works and transcribed the information over many years.
Even though Silapathikaram’s characters are fictional, the description of Tamizhakam, the lives of its people, and its three crowned kings are reflective of the times. The story of Kovalan and Kannagi starts with their marriage performed according to Vedic tradition and ends with the Rajasuya Yaga performed by the Chera king Senguttuvan. Dr. Nagaswamy notes that this is the same marriage system that is followed even today by Hindus. This Karpu marriage is in fact the main theme of this epic, and Kannagi’s role is central to the story. The text note that the three capitals of the three main kingdoms, as well as the plains and the hilly areas reverberated with the chanting of the Vedas. We list the three capitals along with their kingdoms below, in the order in which the story traverses through them in three cantos, each associated with a major event in the story:
Vedic Yagnas were performed in the temples for Shiva, Shanmukha, Balarama, Krishna, and Indra in these capital cities. As Kovalan and Kannagi were traveling from Puhar to Madurai through a rural wooded area of the Chola country, they hear Vedic chanting by Brahman boys early in the morning. The story moves from the cultivated plains (Marudam) to the coastal areas (Neydhal) and then to the Paalai (intermediate / desert regions), where the presiding deity is Durga. She is celebrated as the one who defeated Mahishasura, making it crystal clear that he was not some local hero but an asura whose demise was welcomed. It is equally important that she is praised by forest dwellers as ‘the Veda of Vedas, and one who resides in the heart of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva as a flame of knowledge‘. Dr. Nagaswamy notes “that the supreme knowledge of the Vedas was part of all sections of the Tamil people even in remote areas of the land of the hunters“. The author also notes that Vedic and tribal customs are mingled in the story in order to drive home the message that finally dharma won in the life of the chaste Kannagi. In the Mullai (high lands) inhabited by the cowherds, the presiding deity is Krishna. They mirror the Yadavas in the north and their main occupation was cow-rearing. Of course, the very name Madurai is from Krishna’s Mathura.
Dharma, Karma, Punar Janmam
Dr. Nagaswamy notes that most of the chapters are called Kaatais. This is not the same as Kathai (story, from Sanskrit Katha), but from the Sanskrit word Gaathaa (song), representing music compositions. The events mentioned in the katturai kaathai chapter are important to mention. Goddess Durga (Korravai), the presiding deity of Madurai appears in Kannagi’s dream and informs her of her husband’s beheading by the Pandya king, a person who never tolerated adharma in his kingdom. “The king had never heard any call of the bell of justice at any time, but had always heard only the sound of Vedic chants“. Durga explains to Kannagi what a staunch defender of dharma the king was and narrates the story of the Brahman boy Dakshinamurthi, son of Vaartikan, who lived in the Pandya kingdom. The boy, by his flawless recital of the Vedas is richly gifted by another Brahman scholar Paraasara, who had only recently been gifted that wealth by the Chera king for defeating a group of Vedic scholars in a debate. Jealous people falsely implicate Dakshinamurthi and get him imprisoned for theft. His mother wept at this injustice, and the Korravai temple door closed after this adharma occurred. The Pandya king immediately realized something wrong had happened, got to the bottom of the matter, released the boy and fell at the feet of his parents, seeking forgiveness. The Goddess further explains to Kannagi that Kovalan’s unjust end at the hands of the king was due to each one’s karma in their prior birth. Note the firm belief in Karma and reincarnation. This is a fundamental part of all major dharma systems – Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, and Sikh, but cannot be accepted by, and is incompatible with history-centric religions like Islam, Christianity, and Judaism . Dr. Nagaswamy notes that this story describes in depth, the Vedic lifestyle and education in ancient Tamil Nadu.
Toward the end of the story, the Pandya king who had Kovalan executed, drops dead after being confronted by Kannagi and realizing his injustice. Such champions of dharma were the Tamizh kings! Fourteen days after Kovalan’s death, the Devas from Svargaloka take Kannagi with them and she is united with Kovalan there. Per Vedic customs, she remains a pattini forever. Kannagi has remained an icon for Tamil women from then to this day. The Chera king built a temple for Kannagi per Vedic tradition, installing her image made from stone obtained from the Himalayas and washed in the river Ganga. Kannagi is elevated to a Goddess. He then returns to his royal grove to perform the Rajasuya Yagna. The story concludes here. In this paragraph, we see the seamless transition from the material to the spiritual world without borders, and also the shared tradition between northern and southern India. This unambiguously demonstrates the seamless unity of Bharatvarsha, its cultures, and spiritual traditions since ancient times.
Panchatantra in Silapathikaram
The Panchatantra by Vishnu Sharma appears to be predating Silapathikaram by about 200 years. There are multiple stories from the Panchantra that enter the store at certain critical junctures, and, are crucial to the epic, per Dr. Nagaswamy.
After squandering all his wealth pursuing Madhavi, Kovalan meets his friend Maadalan, a Vedic Brahamana. To boost his morale, Madalan reminds Kovalan of the charitable acts he performed earlier in his life and as part of their conversation, narrates to him the story of the ‘Mongoose and the Foolish Lady‘.
To explain the treachery of the goldsmith that led to Kovalan’s execution, Ilango Adigal tells the story of the ‘Ungrateful Goldsmith‘ .
Vedic Traditions in Manimekalai
The epic was written much later than Silapathikaram as a sequel focusing on Manimekalai, the daughter of Madhavi and Kovalan. The writer Sathanaar is Buddhist and has a polemical element to it and tries to promote the superiority of the Buddhist way of life over other dharma thought systems including Jain and Hindu. As part of the story, there is a description of the Vedic society viewed from the author Sathanaar’s Buddhist perspective.
Dr. Nagaswamy notes that the Vedic system attached a lot of importance to the presence of the Hindu wife in all rites, particularly sacrificial rituals. In fact, the Patni was considered the prime necessity for a man to attain moksha. “Dharmadatta, a merchant was counselled by a Brahmana to marry a woman otherwise any number of sacred gifts would not give him spiritual merit“.
The Buddhist author examines the key features of the various Indic systems at that time, especially the Vedic, before proclaiming the superiority of the dharma thought system that emerged from Buddha’s teachings. Manimekalai becomes a follower of Buddha at the end of the story.
We thank Dr. R. Nagaswamy for his several decades of service to India and Tamil Nadu. At the second Swadeshi Indology Conference in New Delhi, February 2017, a lifetime achievement award was conferred upon Dr. Nagaswamy.
‘Tamil Nadu: Land of the Vedas’, Dr. Nagaswamy, Tamil Arts Academy, Chennai 2016.
‘Being Different: India’s Challenge to Western Universalism’, Rajiv Malhotra, Harper Collins, 2011.
In Part-2, we discuss the chapter on Tolkappiyam in Dr. Nagaswamy’s recent book ‘Tamil Nadu: The Land of Vedas‘, and share some broader points regarding the preservation of Indian languages along their deep roots in dharma.
Tolkappiyar’s work on Tamizh grammar is the earliest extant one. We have extensively discussed as part of an earlier two-part series, Dr. Nagaswamy’s findings about the common foundation of dharma that supports Bharata’s Natyasastra, Ilango Adigal’s Silapathikaram, and Tolkappiyam.
Part-1 (massive evidence that demolishes the very idea of a Tamizh culture and tradition that is separate from those followed in the rest of India)
Part-2 (Natyasastra – a common thread in Tolkappiyam and Silapathikaram)
What does Tolkappiyam contain?
Tolkappiyam, authored by Tolkappiyar, is divided into three chapters:
Ezhutthu (varnah) – phonetics, including script
Sol (pada) – word formations
Porul (artha) – content and meanings
Dr. Nagaswamy mentions that the integration of Sanskrit tradition is visible in all three chapters, and has shown that it follows Natyasastra (see ‘part-2’ above). The ancient Tamizh poet Panampaaranaar notes that this text was composed after studying the common and popular usages, poetic convention of the Indians living in the region between Venkatam (Tirupathi) and Southern Kumari. Subsequently, he made this the technique of communication. Also, he had studied earlier texts on this subject. This simple but pertinent point reveals the nature of Tolkappiyam.
Nagaswamy has noted elsewhere that Tolkappiyar was well-versed in Panini’s Ashtadhyayi. However, Tolkappiyam is not a simple Tamizh translation of Panini’s astounding grammar work . Neither was the content developed in isolation as some independent and perfect linguistic theory. Either of these options would have resulted in the work being imposed, either as ‘one-size fits all’ or ‘self-evident truth’, in a top-down manner on the people of Tamizhakam. This would not be a sustainable or harmonious solution. There is a deeper idea at work here. So how did Tolkappiyam come about? As the ancient poet Panampaaranaar noted, Tolkappiyam organically arose from the ground-up,after carefully studying the reality of common spoken, recited, and written Tamizh patterns already in existence in Southern India, and after analyzing prior texts. This ground-up approach is an important marker of the Vedic method wherein the real is considered the ideal, and preferred to the ‘abstract perfect’ that is at best, an approximation of reality. The excerpt below (courtesy Indicportal.org) that discusses Patanjali’s commentary on Panini, shows that Tolkappiyar mirrors Panini in adopting this scientific Indian approach rooted in ultimate reality. In addition to the aesthetic and deep-cultural unity across Bharatvarsha due to Natyasastra, we have evidence of a methodological unity that spanned India’s vast and diverse expanse since ancient times.
Speculation aside, it is highly improbable, if not impossible for Tolkappiyam to be a product of some separate non-dharmic culture. It is a quintessential Indian work; a cultural treasure of dharma civilization that every Indian must be aware of.
The poet Panampaaranaar further notes that Tolkappiyar got this grammar published in the royal court of King Nilam Taru Thiruvil Pandya. Prior to publication it was subject to review by the great scholar of Adankodu who was learned in all four Vedas and laws. This approach bears resemblance to the modern peer review process followed by scientific journals. Dr. Nagasway notes that it is indisputable that Tolkappiyar was guided by such a Chaturvedi Brahman, which accounts for the prolific use of Vedic concepts in the text. Per the famous commentary of Naccinaarkkiniyaar based on a cited Tamizh text, Tolkappiyam adopted the technical vocabulary followed by Agastya (Vedic scholars of the Agastya gotra settled by the Chola kings).
How Old is Tolkappiyam?
Dr Nagaswamy notes the chapter on phonetics to date it to no earlier than 3rd century BCE (Brahmi script adapted to Tamizh, time of Ashoka), and based on the accounts of Tolkappiyar’s contemporaries, no later than the 1st century CE. Furthermore, Nagaswamy says “The origin of Brahmi script in Tamilnadu could not be taken earlier than the first BCE. As Tolkappiyam refers specifically to the Tamil script, it could either be contemporary with first cent BCE or later. We are satisfied to note that it could be firmly placed in the first cent CE.” Refer to the book for a detailed discussion.
Vedic Tradition in the Tolkappiyam
Tolkappiyam refers to the four-fold Varnashrama dharma, and Dr. Nagaswamy notes that during that time period, it did not solidify into a rigid ‘caste’ system. The division of the poetry in the text is based on the Hindu purusharthas, and classified as Aham (kama), and Puram (dharma, artha, moksha) and mirrors Bharata Muni’s Natyasastra. The latter is regarded as the greatest work on dramaturgy in history, and is widely recognized as a fifth Veda that is easily accessible and available to all people, and contains key elements from all four Vedas incorporated within. We briefly refer to key Sutras of the Tolkappiyam (both Aham and Puram) pointed out to the reader by Dr Nagasway.
Sutra 3 (Ahattinai): refers to the four fold division of the landscape found in the Vedas (refer to our prior posts for more details).
Each land division is associated with a divine icon who is also a Vedic deity (Indra, Varunam Krishna, Muruga). It is worth noting that Murugan is a popular Tamizh deity but not exclusively so, since it has been shown from several Sanskrit sources that he was also a Vedic deity.
Sutra 18 (Ahattinai): employs the word deivam which is a Sanskrit idea.
Sutras 27-29 has discussion around Varnasharamas.
A sutra toward the end of the Ahattinai refers to Nataka Vazhakku and Ulagiyal Vazhakku. This perfectly mirrors Natya Dharmi, and Loka Dharmi of Natyashastra, respectively. Dr. Nagaswamy concludes that “from the beginning to the end of the chapter, the Ahattinai chapter is based on Vedic concepts that are the main social concepts of the ancient Tamils.”
In the Purattinai, we find a Sutra (74) that employs the term Vahai (type) denoting the four Varnas. The sutra describes the general functions of a vahai. Vedic chanting and recital, Yagnas, study of the six angas, etc. are discussed. The Itihasas and Puranas, tantras, darshanas, etc. were part of the final studies.
A wealth of information about Vedic tradition followed by the Tamizh people is available in this section. For brevity, we skip details and list some examples:
Five fold system for kings
Six fold system for Vanigas, Vellalars, Yogins, etc.
Role of Dharma Sastras, impact of Purusharthas
Kalaviyal and Karpiyal. Eight forms of marriages given in the Vedas are listed.
Vedic tradition was followed by the Tamizhs with respect to their pre-marital life and marital customs.
What Earlier Works Does Tolkappiyam Follow?
Dr Nagaswamy notes that the chapter on Marabiyal deals with the translation of other language texts into Tamizh. A key definition specified in this chapter is Vazhinul, a derivative work created from an original text. Commentator Peraachiriyar states that Tolkappiyam is a derivative text that followed the Aggatiyam, carefully preserving the science of this prior text, and that this gives Tolkappiyam the position of an authoritative text. Per Nagaswamy, Peraachiriyar also showed that Kaakaipaatiniyaar created her text as a derivative of Tolkappiyar’s work, and questioned the attitude of a few Tamizhs who were opposed to following such derivative works because Tamizh language would be affected. The book notes that “the translation is an abridgment and elaboration and further enlargement [and] there need not be any fear for both the Tamils and the Aryas. As this process is called translation [Mozhi Peyarttal], the meaning will not be twisted or faulted“. In fact, Nagaswamy says is it evident from the chapter on word formation (Sol athikaram) that historically, “the Tamils were never against using northern words [Vada-Sol] and translations of Sanskrit texts like Vedas, aagamas, and logical texts..”, and that the Tamizhs remained forward looking for more than 2000 years until the 1950s (which coincides with a period of intense political agitation and the emergence of a more virulent Hinduphobic demagoguery in Tamil Nadu rooted in the racist Dravadian theory fabricated by Catholic Bishop Robert Caldwell). We delve deeper into the issue of translation and derivative texts.
When do Translations work well?
A translation of foundational Indian works from Indic to European languages is not as simple and transparent as Indic-to-Indic (e.g. Sanskrit to Tamizh). This is due to the presence of a large number of important non-translatables within Sanskrit and Indian languages that are not part of the western vocabulary, tradition, or psyche. These non-translatables end up getting mangled in the attempted translation, resulting in distorted output text filled with misleading interpretations that are biased in favor of the dominant cultural (western) perspective.
Refer to ‘Being Different(BD)‘ for a detailed discussion on the importance of non-translatables. For example, we can observe the mistranslations in the Murty classical library translation project in the US, which is part of a bigger battle for Sanskrit. This seemingly noble project is funded by an Indian billionaire’s money but operates without an insider voice or authority overseeing the quality, and is turning into a vehicle for brazen cultural appropriation. Such an enterprise precipitates a steady and sure shift in adhikaram away from native practitioners, scholars, and speakers, and into the hands of outsiders to the Indian traditions . Lest Tamizhs think myopically that this is “someone else’s problem”, note that தமிழ் too will not be spared by such anti-Indian Indologists. These Indologists have been aware of the strategic importance of Tamil Nadu as the land of Vedas for a long time.
A key reason for these mistranslations, as Rajiv Malhotra states in a recent comment is that, “the mis-translation is not just of words but the ideas behind them. Once you require the original word to be retained, you also force people to think what the words mean more deeply. Because puja is not same as prayer, it compels the person to learn what puja is, where and why it differs, and why the difference matters a lot. The Sanskrit non-translatables initiative started in BD has far reaching implications, beyond just preserving certain words. Each word is an ecosystem of knowledge, a signpost to deep structures“. On the other hand, as discussed in an earlier TCP post, equivalent Tamizh words for crucial Sanskrit terms existed since ancient times; if not, Sanskrit terms were retained ‘as is’ along with their full range of meanings. Thus, a derivative or translation from/to Sanskrit/Tamizh, is likely to preserve satya and is a relatively straightforward procedure, as observed by the 12th century Tamizh poet, Peraachiriyar in his commentary on Tolkappiyam. This nontranslatable ecosystem is also a beautiful shield that helped protect Sanskriti for thousands of years. It is also protecting Tamizh Kalacharam and preserving the distinctiveness of India’s diverse regional cultures. We should never surrender to those outside the Indian tradition, this divine armor and earrings that Indian languages are endowed with.
It is abundantly clear to Peraachiriyar that Tolkappiyar followed the great Vedic Rishi Agastya, who not only gave us Tamizh language, but is also considered the pioneering author of Muthamizh – the trinity that comprises the deep culture of Tamizhs including Iyal, Isai, and Naatakam. Nagaswamy notes that this information is mentioned in the commentary of Peraachiriyar (chapter on Uvamaiyal) who lived in the 12th century CE during the reign of Vikrama Chola. We conclude with a brief discussion of the book subsection on the Meypaattu portion of Tolkappiyam.
Meypaattu and Rasa Theory
Dr Nagaswamy calls our attention to a section in the porul athikaram chapter called Meypaattu, which he defines as “bodily reaction as a result of inner feeling of either the actor or the spectator when he was acting or witnessing a dance. It may also be said to be the basis of aesthetic joy while witnessing a dance. This feeling might be under any of the eight categories called rasa“. The entire section is related to Naatiyam (dance), as explained by the commentary of Peraachiriyar and he has no doubt that this text follows the Natyasastra, the great Indian text on dramaturgy that contains an exposition of rasa theory. The commentator lists eight rasas in Meypaattu, omitting Krodha (Raudra, anger). Dr. Nagaswamy lists the commentator’s version:
Shaantam (Middle State)
Nagaswamy notes that the Natyasastra does not mention Shaantam (nadu nilai, or middle state, i.e., tranquil) as a ninth rasa, which was included by the commentator Peraachiriyar in place of raudra. However, Nagaswamy notes that in the next Sutra of Tolkappiyam as well as in two others, the sthaayibhava (dominant emotion) of raudra is included as one of the eight Bhavas, and one finds no mention of the nadu nilai. Based on such evidence, Nagaswamy concludes that Tolkappiyar himself did not recognize Shaantam as a Natya rasa, and followed the eight rasas originally laid out in the Natyasastra. The interested reader can refer to the book for more technical details.
Next, Dr Nagaswamy directs our attention to the chapter of Meypaattiyal which refers to “the realisation of suvai (rasa) mentioned in Bharata’s Natyasastra….. persons who realise certain feelings in their own inner consciousness, communicate the same to outsiders, to see or visually understand it, that is called meyppatu. Nagaswamy notes that this section is related to dance and the whole chapter is related to natya and summarizes his findings as follows: “Meypaatu of Tolkappiyam is the rasa theory of Bharata’s Natya Sastra. A careful study of Tolkappiyam indicates it follows Natya Sastra of Bharata and so the whole text is a reflection of Natya Sastra and shows unmistakable role of the Vedas“.
In the next part of this series, we will study the book chapter covering two of the greatest Sangam Tamizh works, Silapathikaram and Manimekalai.
The Mirror of Tamil and Sanskrit, R. Nagaswamy 
The Battle For Sanskrit, Rajiv Malhotra .
Acknowledgment: thanks to n.r.i.pathi for reviewing the Meypaattu section.
‘Tamil Nadu: The Land of Vedas‘ is Dr. Nagaswamy‘s latest publication in a long series of scholarly works studying the history and culture of Tamil Nadu. Nagaswamy’s several decades of contributions in this area have lead to a better understanding and awareness among the people of Tamizh kalacharam in particular, and Indian Sanskriti as a whole. Through this book, Nagaswamy demolishes several ill-formed and spurious assumptions and claims regarding Tamizh culture, history, and language that have been postulated in the last century. Leading Hindu and Indian-American intellectual Rajiv Malhotra, in this video below, shares his thoughts regarding the importance of this work.
New TV serial on Aryan/Dravidian conflict expected soon on Star Plus. Goldie Behl producer-director. I plead them to pause the project & consult scholars rather than politicize irresponsibly based on myth-makers & breaking India forces. This could be serious so please get involved in a responsible manner. Rajiv Malhotra
TCP painstakingly curated the content of Dr. Nagaswamy’s important talks demonstrating the fundamental dharmic links between Tolkappiyam, Silapathikaram, and Natya Shastra as part of a two-part series that demonstrated an integral unity between Tamizh and Sanskrit traditions. In the process of understanding the nature of this unity, it becomes evident that the culture of Tamizhs, while distinct, is not separate from other regional cultures in India since ancient times. Many of Nagaswamy’s prior works, including his lectures, are focused on this remarkable consonance between Tamizh and Sanskrit. In this new book, his research, expertise and wisdom come together to bring to the reader a fascinating and factual description of the Vedic culture of the Tamizh land. In doing so, his work reaffirms the philosophical unity of Bharatvarsha. This book is a fact-driven work representing several decades of research by Dr. Nagaswamy in four different areas:
Epigraphy and Inscriptions
Ancient Structures and Monuments
Darshana / Philosophy
The magnificient ancient temples of Tamil Nadu, with their proud Gopurams, majestically proclaim to the world that the land on which they stand is the land of dharma and Vedas. There is also a massive amount of historical and literary data directly attesting to the dharmic and Vedic basis of Tamizh society since ancient times. For example, Nagaswamy notes that the organization of Tolkappiyam, the first Tamizh grammar work, and its rules, is reflected in Vedic Pratisakyas and Paanini’s grammar, as shown by P. Subramanya Sastri. Furthermore, the marriage of Kannagi, the main character of Silapathikaram was conducted as per Vedic rites. Ancient Tamizh kings invited and rewarded thousands of meritorious brahmanas by providing them residences and land grants. It is worth noting that the necessary and stringent qualifications imposed by the Kings here. Rewards were not simply bestowed on the basis of birth, but required the individual to exhibit good conduct, maintain their vow of poverty, be a living embodiment of the Vedas, and demonstrate their adherence to dharma.
This first post briefly summarizes some key comments and insights provided by Nagaswamy in the chapter on Sangam literature.
Purananooru (Puram Anthology)
First two songs
This collection of poems has been recognized as the most authentic record of ancient Sangam literature without any latter additions. Nagaswamy points out to us the rich Vedic tradition and dharmic concepts present in this anthology which seamlessly spans the material and sacred domain. The first prayer song is attributed to Perumdevanaar who sang the Mahabharata in Tamizh, and the second to Mudinaagaraayar, the earliest known Tamizh poet in history. This latter fact is known to us thanks to Tamizh Thatha (grandfather) U. V. Swaminatha Iyer’s work with palm leaf manuscripts. Legends like UV Swaminatha Iyer and Dharampal, through their decades of tireless seva, are true Bharat Ratnas. Mudinaagaraayar praises a Chera king in this song as a participant of the Kurushetra battle between the Kauravas and Pandavas. Nagaswamy’s commentary is extremely powerful and important, clearly bringing out the integral unity of India. He notes that even if this is were a case of poetic exaggeration, “it still makes clear, that this Tamil king did feel he was a part of this country and did not stand in isolation. The reference to Mahabharata war the king’s participation would show that the epic was a part of Tamil ethos at the very beginning of Tamil history, is an identity but not isolation. The Tamil territorial division and linguistic difference did not make them followers of an independent culture, but remained one with the rest of the country. Each region of India had its own boundaries and different dialects, but the culture remained one and the same‘. This song gives the Vedas a sacred and venerated place.
The lady saint and poetess Avvai is deeply respected in Tamil Nadu to this day.
The lady saint and poetess Avvai is a most respected and revered saint of Tamil Nadu. A Sangam poem (in the puram anthology) describing the Rajasuya Yaagashaala by a Chola king was sung by her. The Chola king invited the Chera and Pandya king to attend, and both accepted. Thus we have the three crowned kings of Tamizhakam of the Sangam era participating in a sacred Vedic Yagna. This amazing sight gladdened the heart of Avvaiyaar, and led to the composition of the poem. The trinity of kings are recognized as the direct representatives of Tamizh society and its culture, as noted by Nagaswamy, and is emphatically expressed via the Tamizh saying “Mannan Uyirte Malar Talai Ulakam. The king is the living embodiment of the nation. In her poem, the great Avvaiyaar notes that the the kings honored meritorious Brahmanas following a specific custom that is prescribed in the Dharmashastras. Avvaiyaar has praised the Vedas in her songs.
Yagnas and dharmayuddham
Poet Nettimaiyaar in verse 15 in the Puram section praises Pandya king Peruvaluti for the completion of many Vedic Yagnas as prescribed in the Vedas and directed by the Dharmashastras. These Yagnas were not merely ceremonial and occupied an important role in Tamizh life, and were guided by Vedic Brahmanas of the Sangam era. This is also seen in Avvaiyaar’s poem and even the Tolkappiyam. This fact demolishes any claim of Vedic priests not being present in the Sangam era. In fact the Tamizhs performed two types of Vedic Yagnas (Velvi). The Kala Velvi is performed by the farmers who follow their dharma, and the Mara kala Velvi is done by the kings after victory in the battlefield, who followed the kshatriya dharma. Thus the farming and warrior communities of the Sangam era commemorated and celebrated their successes by connecting to and dedicating their work to the divine via Vedic Yagnas. The poem refers to the marriage festival as Vaduvai, which is derived from the Sanskrit term for marriage.
Battles were fought by Tamizh kings in accordance with the dharmasastras, for e.g., ensuring that innoncents were not killed, with due warning given to civilians so that they could ensure their safety before the battle started. The Tolkappiyam states that the warring kings had to make sure that women, children, Brahmanas, the sick, and the cows would be protected.
Respect for Brahmanas in Tamizhakam
Puram poem 43 mentions an interesting episode that highlights the need to respect a group of Brahmana Rishis who were revered for their sacrifices on behalf of humanity. To teach a Chola prince who insulted such a Brahmana, the story is told by a poet of the great King Sibi who followed the path of dharma and whose self-sacrifice astounded even the selfless Rishis.
Sibi was recognized by the ancient Tamizhs as an ancestor of Cholas. This story is also known in the Jataka tales of Buddhism that originated far north, and is praised in the Silapathikaram and later Tamizh poems. Clearly, there is no trace of north-south divide here. The prince realized his mistake, and poet too relented. The poet blesses the land with prosperity as long as the sands of river Kaveri remain.
Karma and reincarnation
Karma and Maru Janmam (Punar Janam, rebirth) are two non-negotiable beliefs held not just Hindus, but also by Jains and Buddhists. These are fundamental truth claims of dharma thought systems. Puram poem 27, sung by Saatanaar, an adviser to the Chola king, echoes this belief, and clearly this was part of the ancient Tamizh culture and belief system.
Nagaswamy cites verse 166 sung by Avur Mulam Kilaar in praise of a Brahmana named Vinnantaayan (Vishnu Dasa) of the Chola country, as a very important one for understanding the Vedic studies in Tamil Nadu. Nagaswamy notes “this poem points to the immense faith the ancient Tamil society had for Brahmanas as leaders among the men of knowledge“.
Vinnantaayan is praised for as performer of a variety of Yagnas and as a descendant of the foremost men of learning who were well versed in the dharmasastras. His family had studied all four Vedas as well as the six Vedangas. The Sangam Tamizhs were familiar with the visualization of the shandangas as six limbs of the body:
Vinnantaayan did a Purva-Paksha of other dharmic systems that refuted some aspects of the Vedas, and is known to have debated and defeated several such opponents using brilliant arguments. Thus we see Sangam Tamizhs were not only followers but also leaders and defenders of India’s Vedic tradition.
Nagaswamy states that this poem provides an example of Vedic lifestyle in Tamil Nadu at the start of the first century CE, i.e., around 2000 years ago, and that were many such Brahman families living in the Kaveri delta at the time. Sangam literature also highlights the centrality and sacredness of Kaveri to Tamil Nadu, which remains to this day.
Pulaviyanaar’s song about the famous Pandya king Nedum Chezhiyan is recognized by Nagaswamy as another important one that depicts the Vedic basis of ancient Tamil Nadu. The poet while celebrating the king’s victories as a vanquisher of the nation’s enemies, exhorts him to also be a protector and sustainer of people, noting that this is the way to everlasting fame. The passages in the Taitreya Upanishad highlighting the importance of food, light, and water are then translated into Tamizh by the Sangam Poet and sung in the aftermath of the battle of Talaialanganam where thousands of lives were lost. Nagaswamy notes: “this is perhaps the earliest translation of the Taitreya Upanishad, Brguvalli, in any regional language. This is an important illustration of Vedic Upanishad absorbed in the earliest of Tamil literature and expressed in lovely Tamil. It is also an unimpeachable evidence of amalgamation of Vedic and Tamil culture… The poem also proves the Tamil society is irrefutably based on the four “Purusharthas” (the four foundational pillars Dharma, Artha, Kama, Moksa) of the Vedic tradition.”
We have discussed just a few snippets from a large body of amazing facts in this chapter that includes discussions on:
Beyond all this direct material evidence, we find within the conduct and expressed beliefs of all illustrious Tamizh saints and scholars since ancient times, an unswerving commitment to Satya, the Truth, that is the foundation of the Vedas and Indic civilization.
We will continue this discussion in Part-2.
Tamil Nadu, The Land of Vedas is available for purchase at the Tamil Arts Academy, Chennai.
I should prefer to hear "Hari tum haro" spoken by Subbulakshmi than sung by others - Mahatma Gandhi
Popularly known as ‘M.S’ or ‘MS Amma’, M. S. Subbulakshmi is not only one of the greatest exponents of an ancient vocal music tradition of India that can be traced back to the Samaveda, she is also a Bhakti saint of the modern area. Hers was an unselfish life completely devoted to Sangeetam, dharma, and danam. The divinity in her music transcended man-made limitations to touch the atmas of listeners all over the world.
M.S. Subbulakshmi was born on September 16, 1916 to Subramania Iyer, a Tamizh Brahman, and Shanmukavadivu Ammal, an immensely talented music artist hailing from the sacred Devadasi tradition of temple dancers and musicians. Her initials are derived from the ancient Tamizh city of Madurai where she was born, and her mother Shanmukavadivu. Her musical journey began at home and her mother was her first guru. She learned to sing and play musical instruments, and her amazing skill level was achieved not by mastering the formal music sheets employed in the west, but through the distinct traditional Indian method of ’embodied learning’ from Guru to Sishya. As MS recalls “My earliest interest in music was focused on the raga. I would try to reproduce the pipers as well as I could. My mother played and rehearsed constantly. No formal lessons, but I absorbed a whole wealth by listening and humming along with the veena.” Her approach to music practice and training was like that of a Yogi. She was a child prodigy who received the blessings and instant admiration of virtually every leading Carnatic vocalist of that era who heard her sing. Her first song recorded at age 10 was in Tamizh, devoted to Lord Muruga, with her mother accompanying her on the Veena.
Her first public performance the same year at her Madurai school included a Marathi song. She never looked back and went from strength to strength, her god-given voice and talent enthralling audiences eveywhere, transcending language barriers.
In the 1930s she met Thyagaraja Sadasivam, a freedom fighter and artist who co-founded the famous patriotic Tamizh weekly Kalki. Sadasivam, the son of Tyagarajan and Mangalam Iyer, was deeply influenced by the Indian freedom movement, especially ‘Lal-Bal-Pal’ and Sri Aurobindo. MS shared the dharmic and patriotic views of Sadasivam, and the two were married in 1940. By all accounts, her husband played a positive role in her successful career, a fact that MS recalled when she was awarded the Bharat Ratna.
MS was a devotee of Kanchi Mahaswamigal and most of her royalties and earnings from music were given to charity. She had great concern for the people around her, enquiring about their health and their family, and graciously donating the amount received for her concert to any good cause that needed financial support. Humility was her adornment. Once her husband Sri Sadasivam quoted that she did not know how many ciphers followed number 1 for one lakh! If a child asked her casually to sing a song for him/her, she would sing without any hesitation.
MS Subbulakshmi’s concerts all over India and around the world brought the sacred music of Carnatic to audiences that had heard mostly Hindustani classical from Indian musicians before. Some notable overseas concerts include:
Festival of Arts in Edinburgh (1963)
US fund-raising tour for the Flushing temple in NYC and the Pittsburgh temple (1977)
Carnegie Hall, New York City (1977)
Festival of India in London (1982) and Moscow (1988)
She started her movie career in 1938 with Sevasadanam, and acted in some memorable movies based on dharmic themes, including Sankuntalai and Savitri, where she played Narada Muni, which helped fund the nationalist magazine Kalki. She reserved the best for her last role in, and as the Bhakti saint Meera in Tamizh in 1945 (and later, in Hindi).
"In the Bombay Studio where the Meera score was recorded:, it was the same story. Artists who came for other recordings would stop by and become rapt listeners. A thin newcomer, two long plaits dangling behind, refused to record her song after the M.S. session." "Not now, not after that!" She went on to become a legend in her own right as Lata Mangeshkar, while continuing to remain a devoted M.S. fan" - Frontline (2004).
In 1963, the famous Venkatesha Suprabatam album was released, and this was soon followed by her famous concert in the UN. Her sublime rendering of Vishnu Sahasranamam and Bhaja Govindam were released as albums in 1970. The Tirumala Tirupathi Devasathanam began broadcasting her Venkateshwara Suprabhatam in 1975 forever uniting the sacred verse with her voice. The Annamacharya Pancharatna Album (Telugu) was released in 1980. She gave innumerable charity concerts with the proceeds going to noble causes. Her last concert was in June 1997 and she never sang in public after her husband passed away later that year. Her selfless service to India, her Bhakti, and adherence to dharma without expecting anything in return, elevated her to the position of a saint in the eyes of many. She left her physical body on December 11, 2004, but her nishkama karma will continue to be an inspiration for generations to come.
Achievements and Notable Awards
Asthana Vidwaan of Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanam
Bharat Ratna (1998, first musician to receive this award)
Padma Bhushan (1954), Padma Vibhushan (1975)
Sangeet Natak Academy Award (1956)
Ravindra Bharathi Cultural Academy’s Award (1967)
Isai Periaringar Virudhu, by Tamil Isai Sangam (1970)
Fellow of the Sangeet Natak Academy (1974)
Desikottama, Vishwa Bharati University at Shantiniketan (1981)
Kalidas Samman, Government of Madhya Pradesh (1988)
Swaralaya Puraskar (1997)
MS started and ended the daily cycle of activities in Southern India. Her Kaatrinile Varum Geetam is the earliest song in my memory, in a mother’s comforting voice as her child sleepily dozed off into the night, to wake up the next morning to Kowsalya Supraja Rama Poorva Sandhya Pravarthathe.. from her Venkatesa Suprabatam. MS Amma thus became an integral part of many Indian families in this endless cycle of night and day.
MS Subbulakshmi was universally recognized by admirers and critics alike as an outstanding singer of Carnatic music and devotional songs. She was noted for her precision in pronunciation; a crispness not only in Sanskrit, but any language in which she sung. While the aesthetic heights, Shruti Suddham, diction, and effortless genius of her singing have been explained by Carnatic aficionados and music connoseiurs, the sacredness and divinity in her songs can be experienced by everyone. What do I care of technical excellence when the bhava and depth of her Bhajans shreds through all my carefully acquired layers of false projections and reconnects to the divine latent within? For me, to hear MS Subbulakshmi sing is to feel a stirring sense of bhakti, but the voice i hear within me belongs to my mother.
"What is this almost transcendental quality behind the unfailing rapture? ... Many would attribute it to the Indian Bhakti tradition of poetry and song to which the singer belonged...The Bhakti polarities of seeking and finding, loss and conquest, desire and fulfilment are realised in their verses." -Frontline (2004)
*** Adi Sankara’s Bhaja Govindam ***
In the 1940s, MS retraced the journey of Meera before she enacted that role in one of the greatest Indian motion pictures ever made. When she sang in the praise of Giridhara Gopala, the listeners were thrilled, be they king, prime minister, or commoner. Those who heard MS Subbulakshmi sing in praise of Krishna during this pilgrimage regarded her as the reincarnation of Meerabai. I visited Chittorgarh earlier this year to pay humble tribute to the heroic Indian women and men who resisted the tyranny of invaders and conquered even death in that process. There is also a mandir of Meera, who, through her Bhakti, defeated the tyranny of ego and secular materialism that invades our sacred realm.
MS sang there too. ‘Kalki’ Krishnamurthy recorded the events that transpired that day: “Among the ruins a single structure stands unscathed, its loveliness undimmed. This is the Krishna shrine built by the Rana of Chittor for Meerabai, to grant her request during the (happy) days of their married life before he turned against her. When Subbulakshmi sat in the Lord’s sanctum and sang the songs of Meera, every one of us had the same thought: Meerabai had sung the same songs from the same spot in rapturous devotion! M.S. shed tears as she sang. Everyone had moist eyes. Most remarkable was the sight of the old, half blind temple priest, going off into a sudden trance, clapping his hands in rhythm to Meera’s songs.”
Thus when she was young, MS was already a living saint in the minds of many in Northern and Southern India. And that is a most simple and natural Indian way to ‘sainthood’, not by marketing and institutional certification post-mortem. Her mystical, youthful beauty as princess Meera was akin to a ‘Kovil Silai’, and captured on-camera by Ellis Dungan. She made famous the blue Kanchipuram saree, which became popular as ‘MS blue’.
Her fame spread far and wide after concerts all over the world. When she sang Maitreem Bhajata composed by Kanchi Mahaswamigal, at the United Nations during the height of the cold war in 1966, she shared Hinduism’s ancient and universal message of mutual respect and harmony with a global audience – perhaps the most powerful, sincere, and profound anti-war and dharmic message ever put to verse and sung on a global modern stage. When she sings Kurai Ondrum Illai.. composed by Rajaji: I have no regrets, O Lord Venkateshwara, even if you are in a place where my mortal eyes cannot reach…, the divinity and Bhava simultaneously overwhelms and comforts the Rasika.
The power of her singing is such, we feel that additional accompaniment or harmonies only detract from the pure, integral unity of the sacred song. This unity, which is a salient feature of Indic traditions, is a reason how a simple Tamizh girl from Madurai could authentically and confidently re-enact Meera of Rajasthan.
She was not acting like Meera. She was Meera reincarnated who bridged the north-south divide fabricated by colonialism. Questions like “Why are you making this film in the Madrasi language? Why not in Hindi?” quickly dissolved into admiration and wonder. The quintessential Tamizh song ‘Kaatrinile‘ in that movie, which is deeply embedded in the hearts of millions of Tamizhs is inspired by bhajans from Bengal.
The Bhakti movement that originated in the Tamizh land several centuries ago and reached Rajasthan and all other parts of India came back to Tamil Nadu via ‘Meera’. That was her last movie, and what a way to sign off the big screen. MS aged gracefully, her beauty undiminished, carrying herself with a charm and poise that only a true Yogi and Sattvic lifestyle can achieve. When MS finished her concerts, large sections of the audience, young and old, did their namaskarams to her, recognizing an enlightened atma – the youthful saint who became MS Amma.
**Documentary on MS**
"Every citizen of this great land is a Ratna." - MS Subbulakshmi