No flowers bloomed in Jaffna culture

You can agree or disagree with this article but you cannot ignore –Noel Nadesan

H. L. D. Mahindapala

Jaffna is a narrow spit of land sandwiched between two great cultures: the Dravidian culture of S. India to its north and the Sinhala-Buddhist culture of the south. With the gathering of the Tamil migrants from S. India in this strip since the 12 -13th centuries Jaffna became the acknowledged centre of Tamil culture and politics. Though there were Tamil-speaking communities in the east and the central hills it is Jaffna that gained the elevated status of being the cultural heartland of Tamils, partly due to historical and geographical circumstances and partly due to the peninsula being cut off from the rest of the nation which enabled it to keep a distance without mixing freely with the other cultures. This isolation helped Jaffna to retain its linguistic archaisms which is rated highly as a mark of “purity” in the Tamil language. Other than that there are hardly any striking creative contributions that came out of Jaffna to make it the sole haven of Tamil culture.

The repeated ethnic cleansing from the pre-Dutch period right up to the time of Prabhakaran also helped Jaffna to keep the “other” at bay and maintain, as far as possible, an exclusive ethnic identity based on mono-ethnic, mono-cultural, mono-lingual factors. Its history is also littered with periodic instances of massacres, persecutions and expulsions of those who were perceived as threats to its mono-cultural rule. Consequently, Jaffna, which was a closed society, turned into an exclusive ethnic zone for the Jaffna Tamils, unlike the multi-cultural,cosmopolitan and open society of the south. It was the region that was least open to external influences. Jaffna was somewhat like the touch-me-not creeper (Mimosa Pudica, thuth-thiri(Sinhalese), thotta chinungi (Tamil)) which closes up at the slightest touch.

Tied to the umbilical cords of S. India, Jaffna invariably looked northwards for its cultural sustenance. The geographical proximity to S. India too was also a vital factor in separating the other Tamil-speaking migrants (examples: the Tamil-speaking Muslims in the east and the Tamil-speaking Indian estate workers in the central hills) from the Jaffna Tamils. The Palk Straits that separated Jaffna from S. India, however, created an ambivalence in the minds of the Jaffna Tamils who developed divided loyalties, one with an endearing attachment to their motherland and the other resisting the invasions of the S. Indian culture polluting the “purity” of the Jaffna Tamil culture.

For instance, during the time of Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike there was a movement among the cultural purists of Jaffna to ban the import of Tamil Nadu magazines and films with critics claiming that the flood of cheap Madras culture was polluting the “pure” Tamil culture of Jaffna. Prof. Swaminathan Suseendirarajah (SS), an authority on Sri Lankan Tamil linguistics, commenting on this movement to keep the S. Indian cultural invasions out of Jaffna wrote: “Today in Sri Lanka a movement to foster Tamil language in every aspect independent of Indian Tamil is gaining popularity. To achieve this end some of the extremists are advocating cessation of Tamil language-link with India and even urging the government to ban the import of certain category of Tamil literature from India.” (p.21 — Studies in Sri Lankan Tamil Linguistics and Culture, Selected Papers of Professor Suseendirarajah, Sixty Fifth Birthday Commemoration Volume, 1998, Edited by K. Balasubramaniam, K. Ratnamalar and R. Subathini.)

One pre-eminent feature of the Jaffna culture has been the obsession to retain its archaic purity. This emphatic claim to be culturally “pure” — purer than the other varieties of Tamil including that in S. India — has been the sole criterion on which Jaffnaites claim superiority over the other Tamil-speaking cultures. Prof. SS states: “The spoken variety of (Jaffna) Tamil seems to have gained prestige over other varieties such as Batticoloa variety, Trincomalee variety, Vavuniya variety, Colombo variety, Moor variety etc. This has given way to a popular view in India that Jaffna Tamil both, spoken and written, is “pure”, “literary- like”, and “grammatical”.” (p.269 – Ibid).

In an insightful passage he also states: “The Tamils in general have a great regard and veneration for the language of the past, especially for the language of the Cankam (Sangam) period. They generally believe that the present day language is somewhat corrupted and deteriorated. Even the minimum educated shares these views as a blind following of the view of the orthodox Tamil scholars.The preservation and high incidence of archaic features in Jaffna Tamil thus make them feel that it is the best among modern varieties of Tamil. They are proud of it and many scholars in Sri Lanka ( Thaninayagam 1955) and India (Meenakshisunderam 1964) have given expression to the fact that Jaffna Tamil is purer and more literary-like. Whenever decried Jaffna Tamil as inferior to Indian Tamil Jaffna scholars like Arumuka Navalar had defended and asserted a prestige position for it. Today in Sri Lanka a movement to foster Tamil language in every aspect independent of the Indian Tamil is gaining popularity. To achieve this end some of the extremists are advocating cessation of Tamil language-links with India and even urging the government to ban the import of certain category of Tamil literature from India.” (p.21 – Ibid).

Of all the literary values the Jaffna Tamils harp only this attachment to archaic peculiarities as a sign of their creative contribution to the Tamil language. There is, no doubt, a quaint charm about archaic peculiarities being used in modern times. It is like listening to the guttural accents of Chaucer’s Middle English. But a living language leaves behind the archaisms and moves on to acquire new intonations, new vocabulary, new rhythms in the patterns of speech without fear of being polluted. It was not so in Jaffna. The Jaffnaites took pride in being archaic. This attachment and reliance on their past conformed to their common trait of being conservative, intransigent, and inflexible. In their minds the past was “pure”, “glorious” and most desirable and a return to the past was seen as the highest attainable peak of their culture. However, Prof. SS points out that “(A) modern linguist may like to examine the validity of some of these general statements on a scientific basis.” (p.5. – Ibid).

As stated earlier, the high watermark of Jaffna culture is in retaining a “purity” derived by clinging on to archaisms. Other than that there are no great contributions to the creative arts of Jaffna. Whether in language, arts, caste, religion or everyday practices this notion of “purity” dominated the culture of Jaffna. It gave them an exaggerated sense of superiority. Prof. SS repeatedly emphasizes the superiority complex that emerged from the purity of archaisms prevalent in Jaffna Tamil language. The Jaffnaites take great pride of being the custodians of the archaic purity and, consequently, not succumbing to the pressures of the vulgar idiom coming from the streets. This tendency to hang on to a stagnant past as opposed to an evolving and creative modernity is hailed as a sign of “purity”. What is regarded as “purity” in archaic linguistics can also be interpreted to mean that Jaffna was resisting modern intrusions into its traditional way of life. They were like King Canute ordering the waves to roll back.

Receding into a time warp is rated as a positive factor that bestows superiority over modernity. But language that is locked in time is as good retreating into a black hole. Creativity comes out of leaving the dead past and leaping into an ever-changing future. Jaffna culture — in all its dimensions — has opted to recline in the past without using the past as a springboard to leap into the future. Jaffna mentality has been to cling on to the past as if there is sanctity only in antiquity. Even when they reform (like Arumuka Navalar who restructured Saivism to elevate the Vellahlas to the highest rank in the casteist hierarchy) it was to reinforce the past and not to break away from it.

Perhaps, it is this factor that has stunted the growth of Jaffna culture. For all its boasts of belonging to the great Tamil culture Jaffna has nothing substantial in its records to hail the peninsula as a dynamic creative centre for the Jaffna Tamils. The reality is that Jaffna has been culturally arid as its land. Though Jaffna claims to be the heartland of Tamil culture it has yet to produce something significant, or classical to stand out of the other varieties of Tamil, either local or abroad. It has yet to produce masterpieces of value to be recognized as the fountain of Tamil arts, architecture, music, literature and other creative activities. If a Jaffnaite is put to the test and asked to cite one piece of literature, drama, poetry, music, architecture etc that could match either the Tamil culture of S.India or the Sinhala-Buddhist culture of the south he/she would withdraw into a stunned silence like the thuthiri creeper. In other words, they have come to believe that they have a great culture with nothing to back up their claim.

In my last visit to Sri Lanka in April-May 2012, I spent some time discussing this issue with some leading Tamil academics — my good friend and colleague, Prof. S. Thillainathan, Prof. S. Pathmanathan, the historian, and later Prof. S. Suseendirarajah — and they all agreed that the Jaffna Tamils do not have anything comparable to that of the cultures of the Sinhala-Buddhists or the S. Indians. There isn’t a single masterpiece that the Jaffna Tamils can cite to prove that they have a great culture. When I asked professors Pathmanathan and Suseendirarajah to explain why Jaffna failed to produce a classical masterpiece to live up to its claim to be a great culture both were candid enough to say that the question had not occurred to them earlier.

In short, despite all the claims of Jaffna Tamils to be superior they have been, like other migrant groups, mere carriers of the cultural baggage with which they arrived in Sri Lanka. The Jaffna Tamils have been mere imitators of the Tamil Nadu culture with hardly any significant variations to make it unique, or even noteworthy. At best, Jaffna culture is nothing more than a narrow rivulet that branched out from S. India and ran into a billabong in Sri Lanka. (Billabong, n. (Austral.) river branch that forms a backwater or stagnant pool – p.96, The Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary, Melbourne University Press, 1987)

To change the metaphor, Jaffna culture which was imported lock, stock and barrel from S. India remained as a twig that put its roots down only on the top soil in Sri Lanka without digging deep to produce any multi-coloured, multi-scented flowers. Prof. Pathmanathan told me that “Jaffna culture remained at a very low-level at all times “. While the S. Indian and the Sinhala-Buddhist cultures can be compared to the “karatha-Colombu”growing vertically, skywards, into a huge, broad, wide-spread, luscious, fleshy, juicy, fruit-bearing tree the Jaffna culture can be compared to the thuthiri creeper, moving horizontally at ground level, which turns inwards and remains closed to any outside influences. It could be argued, therefore, that the lack of creative energy has been one of the factors that has contributed to the failure of Jaffna to mutate creatively and rise above the thuthiri level. It retained the original archaisms but failed to transform into a new fruitful plant in the new Sri Lankan environment.

Besides, their claim to be a superior culture has to be justified along with their claim to have been the first arrivals in Sri Lanka – long before the Sinhalese (?). If they were the first arrivals why did they fail to lay the foundations of a Tamil nation from the time they arrived? Why is it that the Sinhala-Buddhists were the first to lay the foundations of their nation from its classical period in BC and not the Tamils? Why is it that they allowed the Sinhala-Buddhist to take over the land and why did they wake up only in the 20th century to claim territory after the Sinhala-Buddhist had cleared the ground for all comers to share the land in common? The proof that can validate their claim to land is not in landing in boats in the year dot, or living in pockets of settlement here and there but in creating a nation of their own. Their politico-cultural movements indicate that they had no commitment to make Sri Lanka their homeland. If, as they claim, they were the first settlers they had all the opportunities in the world to make Sri Lanka a nation of their own without creating Prabhakarans to run amok like Hanuman. Their thinking and their actions go to prove that they didn’t have the slightest notion of being a nation in the past and when the idea occurred to them in the forties they could only run from Vadukoddai to Nandikadal Lagoon.

Unlike the Sinhala-Buddhist they, obviously, had no sense of belonging to the land , or sense of destiny tied to the land. This is understandable because they were always linked to their motherland and they regarded Sri Lanka as a convenient transit lounge to get back to S. India as and when they please. The historical fact is that while the Sinhalese settled down as the inheritors of the good earth from the pre-Christian era the Tamils decided to settle down as permanent inhabitants only in the 12 – 13th centuries. If they had settled down from the time they claimed to have arrived — i.e, the pre- Buddhist era — and dedicated themselves to make the island theirs they would not have been passing the Vadukoddai Resolution in 1976 making spurious historical claims to a land which belongs to all communities. It is after the Sinhala-Buddhists transformed the natural wilderness into a glorious civilization that they set out to grab a share of it claiming that they were founding fathers of the nation.

The failure to produce a significant Tamil culture debunks the mythology which leads them to believe that they are the creators and owners of Sri Lanka — at least a part of it. Before I go any further and run into fierce opposition from the aficionados and worshippers of Jaffna culture let me quote one of the best authorities on the subject, Prof. Sinnappah Arasaratnam, who was the professor of history at Armidale University, New South Wales, Australia. He, in fact, has shown an awareness of this issue – i.e., the imitative and the mediocre standards of the Jaffna culture, though he does not deal with it head-on in his book CEYLON (Prentice-Hall, Inc., New Jersey, 1964).

The claims made by the Jaffna Tamils has left the impression in most minds that their culture is monumental enough to dwarf, or even match its two neighbours. But Prof. Arasaratnam, after surveying the Jaffna Tamil cultural scene, says: “No original artistic tradition grew in Tamil Ceylon. Culturally, the Tamils looked upon their arts as part of the Dravidian tradition of south India.” (p. 115 – Ibid). This sums up succinctly the history of Jaffna Tamil culture in two sentences. In other words, he is saying that the Jaffna Tamil culture got stuck in a billabong, a stagnant pool, and never attained any great heights. Simply put, this means that, like most other exaggerated claims of the peninsular propagandists, there is no such thing as a uniquely creative Jaffna culture that has risen above the thuthiri level. At best, it was an imitative culture that survived on parasitic borrowings from Tamil Nadu.

Of course, it is the common tendency of all cultures to borrow from other advanced cultures. But the genius of the borrowers is demonstrated in innovating creatively and transforming the old borrowings into something new, something of their own. But as stated by Prof. Arasaratnam “No original artistic tradition grew in Tamil Ceylon.” There was nothing significantly different that they could call their own. There were some low-level creations that aspired to be among other works of artistic excellence. But there were no major creative achievements that would lift them above the run-of-the-mill productions. For any major achievements they had to look either towards S. India or towards the Sinhala south. In other words, while the Sinhala south was creating a new culture the Jaffna Tamils were producing carbon copies of the Tamil Nadu culture.

Prof. Arasaratnam also adds: “When any major work was to be undertaken, craftsmen would be brought from Tamil Nadu. Geographic proximity and close political relations made this possible. An expert artist of Jaffna would soon cross the straits to gain wider recognition in India” (p.115 – Ibid). This reveals howthe geographical proximity made Jaffna dependent on Tamil Nadu for cultural sustenance. Besides, there were no prospects for a Jaffna Tamil artist to gain recognition or prosper unless he/she crossed the straits. This was demonstrated in the case of Arumuka Navalar (1822 – 1879), the greatest cultural icon ofJaffna. In his missionary zeal he was the equivalent of Buddhist Anagarika Dharmapala in the south. His talent rose to new heights and gained recognitiononly after he went over to Tamil Nadu .

However, in recognizing the failure of the Jaffna Tamil culture Prof. Arasaratnam sets out to explain why the Jaffna culture did not take off creatively into a higher level. He says defensively: “The Tamil kingdom did not indulge in any great architectural activity because it did not have the resources to do so. Constant fighting swallowed up considerable revenue. The temples built by the Tamils were of a medium size and in the Madura style of the Vijayanagar period. …..” (p.114 – Ibid). This argument, as any critical historian would agree, does not hold water. It is an untenable argument advanced as an excuse to cover up for the failure of Jaffna to rise to any worthy or significant cultural heights.

Throughout history human beings have struggled to rise above the limitations of resources and other challenges posed by nature and fellow human beings.The strength of any culture is in overcoming the limitations and challenges posed by its environment. Arnold Toynbee wrote his monumental study of history on this theme of challenge and response. In his study he includes the hydraulic society of the Sinhala-Buddhists but skips the Tamils. Even Karl Marx studied the Sinhala-Buddhist society to balance his Euro-centric view of history divided into classes. When the aesthetic savant, Ananda Coomaraswamy, son of Jaffna, decided defend the arts and crafts of the traditional societies he wrote a monograph on the Medieval Sinhala Art. So where does all this leave theJaffnaites who tirelessly boast of their great culture? Besides, if they failed to overcome the lack of resources and rise to great heights how can they claim to have a great culture? Why did the Jaffnaites fail to rise above the thuththiri level to claim equality with its two cultural giants in the neighbourhood?

Does Prof. Arasaratnam’s excuse of not having resources provide the answer? A comparison with the Egyptian culture is appropriate. It is common knowledge that the ancient Egyptians – in BC, mark you, and not in the post-13th century – produced monumental art, architecture, the first monotheistic religion and virtually laid down the foundations for the rise of Greek culture, as stated by Herodotus, the father of historiography, and consequently the Western culture, from the dry sands of the desert. The pride and glory of the Egyptian culture still dominates the Saharan landscape. Jaffna, on the contrary, had far more resources than the people on the edge of the Saharan desert. So why did the Jaffnaite fail?

Then again, take the case of Sigiriya. What resources did King Kasyappa have when he decided to transform a hard, dry rock leaping out of a densetropical jungle into an architectural masterpiece? He had no electricity or gas. He had no high-tech drills to bore into the rock. No cranes to lift heavy material to the top. No pantechnicons to transport raw material. No water pumps to supply water to the top of the rock. But he did it all without these resources. He may have been a parricide. But the creative genius of the people who transformed a barren rock into a palace, with luxuriant gardens and roadways, speaks eloquently for the Sinhalese who gave birth to a new culture and civilization to the world. Kasayappa, mind you, did all this while facing the biggest political threat to his life from his brother, Moggalan, who was raising an army in India.

The historical evidence, as it stands now, points to the naked truth that Jaffna political class ran a fiefdom without creating a worthy culture of their own. They were quite content to bask in the borrowed feathers of Tamil Nadu. Jaffna claimed greatness by climbing on the shoulders of the Tamil Nadu giant. It neither produced outstanding local talent nor did it have an audience/market to thrive as in S. India. Its greatest cultural claim is related to the Tamil renaissance led by Arumuka Navalar.

The main thrust of “Tamil Revivalism” led by Arumuka Navalar was to combat the invasive forces of Christianity threatening to uproot the Vellahla casteist culture. His answer to Christianity was to mount a religio-linguistic movement with cadres recruited from his newly created army of Saivite Jaffna Vellahlas. It was he who elevated the Vellahlas into the highest peak in the casteist hierarchy which had no Brahmins to rule from the top. According to Brahamanism they were tabooed from crossing the sea. The greatest contribution made by Arumuka Navalar was to fill in the gap at the top by elevating the Vellahlas as the new Brahmins of Jaffna. It was this Vellahla casteist elite that dominated peninsular and national politics in the 20th century.

The Dutch had reinforced the legal power of the Vellahlas when they codified the customs and laws of Jaffna in the Thesawalamai. But the Vellahlas lacked moral authority to dominate the peninsula with an ideology that would validate their right to be in command as sub-rulers. Of course, they relied on casteism derived from Hinduism. But in the absence of Brahmins there was huge lacuna at the top of the hierarchy which was filled by Arumuka Navalar who anointed the Vellahalas as the substitute for the Brahmins. Other than creating a new Vellahla-based political culture Arumuka Navalar failed to provide any outstanding culture that could stand proudly with any other culture of the region. In fact, even his “Tamil Revivalism” proved to be an imitation of the anti- missionary movement that had run its full course in Madras.
Confirming this, R. F. Young, and Bishop S. Jebanesan who produced a well researched monograph on the Hindu-Christian movements in the 19th century in Jaffna, wrote in their book, The Bible Trembled: “Contrary to convention, we view Navalar more from a regional than local perspective, as less initiatory than remarkably well attuned and responsive to events and trends on the opposite side of the Palk Straits separating Jaffna from the Madras Presidency. Viewed from this angle, there was actually little in the northern revival that had not already appeared first in Madras or the rural districts of the mainland (e.g., Tirunelveli). Instead of the usual emphasis on what Navalar achieved in India, we stress how India influenced him. Revivalism in Jaffna did have distinctive features that will be discussed in relation to the fact of Vellala domination in North Ceylon, but the Tamil mainland was far ahead of Jaffna in giving birth to the reactionary revivalism of the 1840s.” (p.41 – The Bible Trembled, Institute of Indology, University of Vienna, 1995)

The upshot of Arumuka Navalar ‘s “Tamil Revivalism” was to create the political entity described as “Saivite Jaffna Vellahlas” ( p.42 – Ibid ). He revived the Tamil language by re-publishing the S. Indian classics. And he recast Saivism to give new life and power to the Vellahlas. They naturally made him the greatest cultural icon of Jaffna. He even attained saintly status in the Hindu pantheon. He is remembered and revered for the so-called “Tamil cultural renaissance” which has many strands including Hindu-Saivite religion, Vellahla casteism, anti-missionary campaigns, and, above all, oppression of the non-Vellahla castes. The ruling elite of Jaffna, their religious and secular institutions, their politics and culture rode on the backs of the oppressed low-castes for survival.

When the Vellahlas were facing threats to their established culture it was Arumuka Navalar who stepped in to reconstruct and reinforce the socio-religious casteist politics of Jaffna. His strategy was to elevate the Saivite Jaffna Vellahlas to fill in the gap created by the absence of the Brahmins. It was this Vellahlapolitical force that reverberated down the 20th century in the corridors of power. He made his greatest contribution to the political culture of Jaffna by reinforcing the power of the Vellahlas. But his contribution to the creative culture of Jaffna was limited to the translation of the Bible into Tamil and re-printing the classics of S. India. Despite his stature in the Vellala pantheon he was rejected by the low-castes of Jaffna as an oppressor and was portrayed as an imitator by Bishop Jebanesan and Young. Though Navalar is “portrayed as a triumphant human (manushya) avatar” ( p.39 – Ibid) he was primarily an arch conservative who “ardently championed Vellahla interests and prerogatives as an integral aspect of Saivite renewal. Where the Brahmins left off he took over.”(p.40 – Ibid.) Navalar’s “arch conservative Saivism” was directed at reinforcing the power and prerogatives of the Vellahlas and “it had little or nothing to do with anti-colonial, incipient nationalism,” (p.42. Ibid)

The Tamil renaissance that the Jaffna Tamils boast about is primarily a Vellahla movement which was essentially political than cultural. This was inevitable because it was headed by the dynamic Vellahla guru, Arumuka Navalar. His way of redefining Jaffna had a lasting impact on the socio-religious politics of Jaffna. He revised the Hindu ideology to arbitrarily elevatethe Vellahlas who, as Sudras, were the lowest in rank in the classical Hindu hierarchy. He alone is responsible for giving a face-lift to the Vellahlas as the anointed successors to the Brahmins. As stated by Young and Jebanesan the “northern revivalism became largely an affair of the Vellahlas, the dominant, land-owning, cultivator caste from which, as (Prof. K.) Sivathamby has effectively argued, revival had inevitably to originate. ….This was the caste to which Navalar belonged, and he ardently championed Vellahla interests and prerogatives as an integral aspect of Saivite renewal. Where the Brahmins left off, he took over.” (Ibid –p. 40).

Taken as a whole, there are no visible, outstanding or memorable achievements of an autochthonous or indigenous culture that came out of Jaffna. Jaffna, for instance, was the fist to get a printing press but it failed to produce memorable literary works of art. Poets, novelists, dramatists, thinkers, artistes who have led cultural movements, either as individuals or as creative schools, are present only at a low level, nothing higher than the thuththiri creeper. Arumuka Navalar, the literary lion who helped to translate the Bible, was a “revered pioneer of Tamil renaissance who saved (Tamil) classics from passing into oblivion in an age infatuated with English….” (ibid – p. 40). His contribution boils down to ferreting out the old Tamil classics and using the new medium of the printing press to republish them to awaken the Tamil consciousness. Clearly, the Tamil Revivalism that is talked about so effusively is all about reviving the old Tamil classics. Throughout the history of Jaffna there is hardly any creative literature that stands out as an original contribution to make Jaffna culture shine as a cultural shrine.

Take also the other example of a Jaffna Tamil literary icon, C. W. Thamotherampillai. He too was noted for collecting and editing the texts of antiquity. Navalar and Thamotherampillai were engaged with the antiquarian zeal of reviving the old classics. The Ceylon Patriot, a newspaper published in Jaffna,wrote (4/4/1874) : “In Madras there is not a house he (Thamotherampillai) has omitted to visit (except of course the residences of the hateful Christians)……to collect information. Upon one sacred person he has been in attendance 30 days, fanning him and performing such menial services, simply to get an old book from him.” (ibid –p.155).

Obviously, these two pioneers went in search of old classics in India because nobody was producing any new classics in Jaffna. Reviving the old classics was also a politico-cultural reaction to combat the invasions of the Western culture. Resisting invasive Western culture with the native culture was the standard reaction in the colonies. But Arumuka Navalar, who was the leading light of the anti-Christian movement, did not have a home-grown culture toresist the foreign invaders. He had to borrow from Madras all the literature he could to inspire and lead a new wave of anti-Christian, anti-Western forces undermining the traditional base of Hindus. He also needed a new army of dedicated followers to fight the Christian missionaries gaining ground by the day. It was at this critical point that Arumuka Navalar anointed and elevated the “Saivite Jaffna Vellahlas” as the bulwark to resist the invasions of Christianity.

It was Arumuka Navalar’s army of “Saivite Jaffna Vellahlas” who took command of Jaffna and directed its political agenda right up to Nandikadal Lagoon. His first political acolyte was Sir. Ponnambalam Ramanathan, who won his first seat in the Legislative Council through Navalar’s backing. The elevation of the Vellahlas to the status of the Brahmins seemed to be a good idea at the time it was done. What Navalar did not know was that he was giving birth to a self-destructive force. They were obsessed with grabbing power and territory and not in creating a humane culture. In a land without a creative culture Arumuka Navalar is hailed as the unrivalled icon. But his transportation of classical texts from S. India did not raise Jaffna from thethuththiri level to the heights of “Karatha Colombu” (the dark-skinned juicy mango). In reality, his movement reinforced the thuthiri culture, which consistently withdrew inwards to defend the dying, decadent casteist Bastille of the Vellahlas.

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About noelnadesan

Commentator and analyst of current affairs.
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