April 02, 2005

'We Are Like The Jews'

'We Are Like The Jews'

Politics apart, Brahmin-bashing is rampant in literary and cultural
worlds too

ASHOKAMITRAN


The acclaimed Tamil writer opens his heart to S. Anand on the
experience of being a Brahmin in Tamil Nadu.

For the Tamil Brahmins, it has been one century of being on the
defensive. The community feels castrated. The Brahmins have never
anyway been the placard-holding type; they have rarely expressed their
feelings openly. The Tamil Brahmins have been used to taking insults.
Hence perhaps the lack of visible protests or reactions. Theirs is a
guilt-ridden existence, their spirit has been killed by a negative
self-perception… They have been driven to a quiescent state. Their
situation is very similar to that of the Jews in the 1930s.

With the anti-Brahmin movement dictating the terms, the urban Brahmins
began to eschew ethnic markers that revealed their identity. They gave
up the kudumi (tuft), began to sport moustaches like non-Brahmins,
changed the manner in which they spoke Tamil, changed their attire,
some even began to eat meat… they did everything so that they are not
identified as Brahmins in the public sphere. These were all modes of
defence, strategies for survival.

Today, few Brahmins speak the brahminical dialect. Despite all these
camouflages, even today 50 percent of the Brahmins stand out in a
Dravidian setup. One can easily mark them out physically! They are so
obvious! Over the years, it has been fed into their psyche that they
are different from the Dravidians. The Dravidian movement always
called them vandherigal (immigrants/ outsiders)… Even in non-Vedic
classical texts, there's an injunction to safeguard and feed the
Brahmins.

The Sangam epic Silappadikaram was written by a Jain monk, Ilango
Adigal. When a wronged Kannagi ordains the burning of Madura, she
says: 'Let the city burn except the Brahmins and cows.' Even the Jaina
author showed high regard for the Brahmins. But the last 50 years have
been very tough. The Brahmins gave up on government jobs, and in
whatever they did have had to work harder to prove themselves. Natural
discipline and thrift are brahminic qualities that have survived. If a
nonbrahmin has a windfall he just spends it on meat and drink. The
Brahmin always saves for the rainy day.

Though not a follower of the math, I had some regard for the earlier
pontiff. In 1951, my mother was widowed. In 1954, Periyaval
(Chandrashekarendra Saraswati) had camped in Chennai's T.Nagar area as
part of chaturmasya. It was a time when M.S. Subbulakshmi sang for the
first time in the presence of Chandrashekarendra Saraswati, but at
that point he ignored her and Sadasivam too. My mother repeatedly
visited the Acharya on an empty stomach at his T. Nagar camp, but he
never blessed her with the holy water since she was an unshaven widow.
I never had much interest even in Chandrashekarendra Saraswati. The
last I saw him was when my son and I attended the centenary
celebrations of Periyaval (Chandrashekarendra Saraswati). He was a
merely an exhibit on the occasion. It was humiliating to the
Paramacharya.

After Jayendra Saraswati took over, I never visited the math. Jayendra
Saraswati has been silly at times, making loose remarks and courting
controversy. But when his arrest happened, I personally felt very
shocked. Now, I'm indifferent. There must have been something murky in
the Kanchi math. But the manner in which the case has been treated
makes us feel that there is indeed persecution. Irrespective of a
Brahmin's faith or belief in the Kanchi math, the arrest of the
Shankaracharyas and the manner in which the case is being dealt with
is a humiliation for the entire community. The only sign of hope after
the Shankaracharya's arrest is that several women have come out in
protest.

This is encouraging and extraordinary for the community.

Brahmin-bashing is not confined to politics. It is a pastime of the
cultural and literary worlds as well. Even the Tamil film industry
merely caricatures the Brahmin. It is a totally non-brahminised public
sphere that Tamil cinema depicts. It is very difficult for a Brahmin
to get a foothold in the film industry today—as an actor, assistant
director or lyric writer. Earlier, when Brahmins played a significant
role in establishing the film industry, the world of cinema had a
neutrality, but today an obviously non-Brahmin ethos permeates it.

[When pointed out that Kamal Haasan and Mani Rathnam are significant
Brahmins in the industry today:] Kamal Hasan is a beef-eater who to
debrahminise even espoused the philosophy of the Dravidar Kazhagam.
Mani Rathnam is an intelligent filmmaker, he is a good entertainer,
and yet the intellectual class of the little magazines circle targets
every film he makes. There's an undercurrent of anti-brahminism in
everyday life.

The Tamil Brahmin community appears doomed. I see no possibility of a
good leadership emerging from this community. Jayendra Saraswati
certainly would not have made for a good leader. He is very poor in
his understanding of religion or politics. C. Rajagopalachari would
have been a good choice, but then he is not around. Institutions like
Thambras cannot really provide the leadership we need. A Brahmin
resurgence is very unlikely. Even in terms of Brahmin tradition, very
few are learning the Vedas.

Maths may offer freeships for Vedic pursuits but there are few
takers. Priesthood or the Vedic way of life is no longer a viable
means of livelihood. Nor are there any Brahmin landlords left. My
father-in-law owned a lot of land. Each time he got a daughter
married, he sold a part of it… today his family owns no land. Even
rituals have merely become social occasions. The marriage rituals are
also much-abbreviated to reduce costs. Fortunately, the upanayanam
(thread ceremony) still continues, but this is more an occasion to
meet up with relatives. Sandhyavandanam should be done three times a
day by a thread-wearing Brahmin. It is good thing to do. But who
performs it? A Brahmin does sandhyavandanam only once in his lifetime
and that is on the day the thread is bestowed on him. 50 years hence,
perhaps even upanayanam would be given up.

Rituals are not easy to follow. They require a lot of energy and
money. The 13-day post-death rituals are very, very difficult to
observe. When my sister died, we stopped with the cremation rituals.
Soon we may not have priests who know how to perform these obsequies.
I have told my sons not to perform them for me... I of course remember
my father on the day of his death, but I also wonder why are we really
bringing the spirits of the dead back to this stupid world.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

This is the full text; an abridged version appeared in the print
magazine

http://www.outlookindia.com/full.asp?fodname=20050411&fname=Brahmins+%28F%29&sid=2&pn=2

86 comments:

Anonymous said...

i also thing as u

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indrashyam said...

It is so frustrating first of all that we are facing so many issues.. But still how many days we will be like this..
Nice one.. Really thought provoking..

Anonymous said...

dear author, i cried.

But things will surely change.

Gowri Ram said...

It was very thought provoking and disturbing.Will there be a change?
Having brought up in north India,I had never felt this feeling,but today,with all the issuses around us,I feel alienated.

chittappa said...

every non brahmin support us but individually, collectively against! what to say.

Ramalakshmi said...

It was good!I personally feel we got to rectify so many things!!
Brahmins are the first trouble makers for Brahmins!
It is nothing gr8 to be born as a
Brahmin..But Very Gr8 to live as a Brahmin.Brahmin is one who does no harm to any creature neither by words or by physic!
I visited Pharthasarathy Temple few months ago..I am an Iyer ..It is Vishnus' temple So I could not get into the urshava mandapam as only Iyengars'(that to some sort of vadagalai or thengalai) are allowed!!!This was not by law but by people!!!!
I stricly believe God will never be happy when all his kids r just fighting!!
Come out of a small circle..
SSS we have to fulfil ur duties as Brahmin but that doest' mean we could feel we r the messengers' of God!!!!

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