Lord Shiva as Nataraja as the main symbol at the Bharat Mandapam shows the unity and continuity of our unbroken civilization.
The roof of Peace rests upon the walls of Understanding
Through the G20+1 the Delhi Declaration, PM Modi heralded a clarion call for Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam of one earth, one family, one future—a presidency of hope, harmony, peace and stability. But here in Bharat one saw a chilling testament constructed by the colonial discourse built by Bishop Robert Caldwell, a big mentor of the Dravidian Movement, who used his knowledge of Tamil grammar to further his agenda of his evangelical mission to convert the Tamils. The same arguments put forward by him have been repeated by a young dynast Udhayanidhi, whose motto seems to be ignorance is bliss. What is a surprise is the attempt to repeat the colonial and conversion mindset that still exists, and to try and insult a faith that is practised as a way of life by 80% of the people of the state.
Is this a way to dent the cultural unity of this civilizational state that has entered the fourth Industrial Revolution and declared its arrival on the world stage? The unity of ideas can be seen in that we have been one people, as reflected in the Sangam literature poem 192 in Purananuru, it gives a glimpse on the richness, maturity and wisdom of the urban culture of Tamilakam and beyond. “Every city is your city, Everyone is your kin.” This is by a people who for centuries followed a Hindu way of life. This colonial evangelical constructs being repeated by the neo-converts bring a dangerous conspiracy of creating a false reality that all other faiths are equal, when none are. One agrees that the caste system is a social evil that exists among all South Asians, irrespective of faith. It needs to be eradicated, but not by spreading militant hatred.
The Keeladi excavations of the Vaigai river civilization have challenged the so-called Aryan invasion, as well the Tamil-Sanskrit divide, thereby underlining the Dravidian-Aryan divide as an ideological construct. These excavations seem to predate the Indus Valley Civilization and there is a similarity between the Tamil Brahmi and Indus Brahmi scripts. This substantiates the unity of this great civilization. Initially, it was constructed with the purpose of the 19th century evangelicals to convert during the time of Bishop Caldwell. Later it was used by the Dravidian Movement and the Dravidian political parties and are the latest post-colonial manifestation of the British colonial policy of divide and rule. Why are the same arguments constructed by Bishop Caldwell being repeated verbatim today? Are the same forces of divide-and-rule still at work owing to the failure to convert the majority in the state?
The revisionist attempt to use Caldwell’s construct and mindset in free India will not work for vote bank politics. Their attempt to strip off Hindu practices in order to construct a so-called secular (in fact, an anti-Hindu) Dravidian Tamil identity seems to have failed. One such example at this continuous efforts is to depict the Hindu Tamil festival on Makara Sankranti as Tamil new year day failed, as the festival is closely rooted with the culture of the state. Likewise, attempts by international NGOs to ban Jallikattu also failed. Jallikattu is closely intertwined with Pongal and the farming community.
Are the Dravidian parties blindly following the colonial evangelical construct that failed to eliminate Hinduism or Sanatan Dharma as a way of life that has no beginning or end unlike the Abrahamic faiths that are based on revelation and not through a process of evolution. Is it old wine in a new bottle to break this synergistic trinity of religious practices British colonial rule tried to do by divide and rule? They cleverly divided temple events into religious and secular functions. Then they usurped the secular functions from the temples, the centres of Hinduism to debilitate its social welfare contribution across India. Hindus are still grappling with reality and the hypocrisy of secularism in Independent India, which followed the post-colonial agenda of dividing and controlling the Hindus as the British did. Hope Bharat will give up this hypocrisy and discrimination and create a true Amrit Kaal for the 80% at both the levels of de facto and de jure.
Now let us put the facts together that the divisive construction of Bishop Caldwell was done to divide and rule. Conversion was a major agenda. To further this, Caldwell constructed the divisive narrative based on Brahmins as Aryans and ethnically as foreigners who invaded from outside and ruled over the low caste indigenous Dravidians who are religiously different from high-caste Brahmins. Caldwell cloaked his conversion and divisive agenda with his unmatched scholarship of the Tamil language. He invented a new identity by coining the term “Dravidian” in his ground breaking work “A Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian or South Indian Family of Languages”, that paved the new assertion of the superiority of Tamil, independent of Sanskrit; this agenda-driven narrative inspired and continues to inspire the Dravidian movement and parties.
Does the Church of South India hold the same construct by Bishop Caldwell, who as a Christian missionary wanted to prove the superiority of the Western civilization as a White man’s duty? Hinduism or Sanatan Dharma has always been a fragmented, federated religion that allowed local communities to develop and maintain their own sets of Gods, agamas, rituals, customs and worship patterns. Tamil Hindu culture is no different. Hindu society was organized around local temples with spirituality, social welfare and social practices interwoven together.
The symbol of Lord Shiva as Nataraja as the main symbol at the Bharat Mandapam, where the recent G20 summit was held, brings in this unity and continuity of our unbroken civilization. Shiva’s dance has three significances, aptly brought out at the G20—the oneness of one earth, one family and one future. It is the image of Nataraja’s rhythmic play as the source of all movement within the cosmos, which is represented by the arch. The purpose of his dance is to release the countless souls of human beings from the snare of illusion. The place of the dance, Chidambaram, the centre of the universe, is in the heart every Hindu or Sanatani.
The philosophical dimensions of Shiva’s dance, stands at the Amrit Kaal of Bharat, interpreting the icon of Nataraja to be the perfect combination of the mystical, philosophical and aesthetic aspects of Indian culture. The dance of Shiva relates to its cosmic significance, symbolizing the creation, maintenance and destruction of the universe and ultimately its rejuvenation. All this is symbolic of what the G20 has achieved trying to rejuvenate a polarized and divided world towards consensus. It is the signifier of cosmic activity envisaged in the five aspects [pancakritya]—srishti [creation], sthiti [maintenance], samhara [destruction], tirobhava [concealment] and anagraha [grace].
This symbol of Shiva as Nataraja are the greatest of His names, Lord of Dancers or King of Actors. At the G20 this symbol of the Hindu civilization that the cosmos is His theatre and He himself is the Actor and the Audience. The Lord of Tillai’s court performs this mystic dance and the Unmai Vilakkam, verse 36 tells us, “Creation arises from the drum; protection from the hands of hope; the foot held aloft begives release”. What Shiva creates is the manifest and unmanifest world; what He destroys are the illusory bonds that fetter not only the world at large, but every individual soul in the cosmos.
All this truly symbolizes the renewed spirit of the PM Modi and a new confident, inclusive and confident Bharat.
Prof Santishree Dhulipudi Pandit is the Vice-Chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.