Periyar-A Saint of No Religion!

Periyar05.JPGRamachandra Guha recently in an essay wrote, “Bose, Savarkar, Periyar, Ambedkar, and Shivaji were all remarkable figures, to understand whose significance one needs many books, films and plays about them. But where are the writers, scholars, and playwrights who can write fearlessly about these leaders, juxtaposing their achievements with their failures, contrasting their qualities of courage and character with their angularities and their prejudices?”

Considering the same concern of Guha, which I particularly had about Periyar, I decided to write this blog.

“There’s no god. He who created god was a fool; he who spreads his name is a scoundrel and he who worships him is a barbarian.”

Periyar E.V.Ramaswamy.

Periyar! -Periyar is  a  terrorist who instigates his followers to indulge in violence?  He creates  factions among our peaceful citizens and divides them with communal hatred and bias? He resorts to violence in order to achieve his goals?  He is very rude , filthy, and uncivil in talking about Hindu gods and religion in an attempt to expose the falsehood and cheating intentions of the Hindu texts? He condemns the religious rites and commandments enshrined in the sacred texts of the three thousand year old tradition, thereby creating calamities and social disunity?

What does this man have to do with me? Why do I feel ecstatic, when I hear or talk Or read about this person? Why should I write about him now? Okay! He has propagated about anti-religion. As some may think he was beating around these bushes all his life and was a nuisance to a so called well organized and structured Indian society! So what about him now, that we should recognize?

Let’s go further and discuss why he is a maker of modern India and why after all being an atheist of his own form, he is a Saint.
I always admired Tamilnadu politics, the way it was formed. While most of the Indian state politics were formed based on caste and religion, much of the difference, there were Marx, Stalin, and Lenin in Tamilnadu. Periyar and his party. Periyar was bold in his opinions and blunt in his expressions.

Periyar bluntly wrote: “We find fault with religion and scripture because they ruin not only intellectual faculty but character, honest behavior, love, compassion, unity, equality”. Periyar was a Hero, a Courageous man to have stood up to detractors of his time. His influence on Tamils has been enormous. Inspired several forward thinking socio-political movements in Tamil Nadu.

Periyar was such a strong personality who left an indelible impact on both Tamil psyche and policy, that one may either love him or hate him, but none can ignore him. This is why I personally respect Periyar.
A few years back, I was involved in working on Human Eclipse, a film about the story of an outcast, discriminated for belonging to a lower caste and was not allowed inside the temple for worship. This was the time when I got closer to Periyar ideologies and experiences got me deep in his thoughts and reflections.
A man is equal to another man. There should not be exploitation. One should help the other. No one should harm anybody. Generally, there should be no room for grievance or complaint from anybody. Everyone should live and let others live, with a national spirit.
Erode Venkata Ramaswamy, fondly called Thanthai Periyar (Thanthai = Father, Periyar= Stalwart) was the rebel, who dared to question the status quo, and openly revolted against thousands of years of oppression of man by man in the name of caste and exhorted people to throw away the yoke of servility and stand up for Self Respect. This is why he named his social movement as Suya Mariyaadhai Iyakkam (Self Respect Movement) and the counter-intuitively recognized that it must be very difficult to usher in a sense of self-respect in the minds of the people unless they were first prevailed upon to repudiate their religious beliefs and reverence for the priestly classes, and therefore made espousal of atheism and anti-Brahminism the twin planks of his peoples’ movement. His views on religion and oppression were almost similar to the Marxian ideals of Liberty Equality and Fraternity and Marx’s own opinion that “Religion was the opiate of the masses” and to adopt this to local conditions, he shrewdly replaced class struggle with a much narrower caste struggle.

Dravidian Movement

People may have legitimate differences of opinion and reservations against many of Periyar’s utterances and actions, but none can deny the fact that among the many contemporary social reformist movements of his times, Periyar was the most successful in impacting the society and polity of his state, leaving in the process a lasting, though much watered down political legacy in the form of the nearly five decades of uninterrupted Dravidian rule in Tamilnadu.

Any opposition not based on rationalism or science or experience will one day or other, reveal the fraud, selfishness, lies, and conspiracies.

This, in turn, gave a strong impetus for not only the people of Tamilnadu but also people of many other linguistic states to stop the onslaught of Hindi language and made them more resolute in safeguarding their own cultural and linguistic identities. The Dravidian Rule in the state also strengthened the Federal structure of the Indian Union by standing up for the rights of the states and at the same time extending constructive cooperation at the Center by becoming part of coalition governments.

Periyar – Respect and equal status for women

Moral codes followed in India were discriminatory and gender-biased.  Chastity is an obligation only for women and virginity a physical entity was always confused with morality a  spiritual concept. Women have long been treated like slaves meant only for the carnal pleasures of men. They were forever confined to the care of men at every stage of their lives. They were denied all the basic rights  of human dignity and existence.  Periyar introduced a comprehensive social order in which they were freed completely from all the shackles binding them to eternal bondage. He insisted on a uniform code of conduct and morality for both men and women. A total restoration of human dignity was the hallmark of women’s liberation as conceived by Periyar. Certainly, this created ripples of shock and dismay in the fortresses of tradition. To be precise, he achieved the liberation of the fifty percent of the population in a single stroke.   Should not the whole nation stand and salute this great emancipator of women?  Where comes the need to blame him? Seriously introspect.

The word ‘Sudra’ which means ‘Son of a prostitute’ should not find a place even in the history hereafter. We will not allow it to find a place in the dictionary or encyclopedia

Respect and social equality for Women
The biggest achievement of Periyar has been that he almost abolished devadasi system in Tamilnadu.It was under his leadership many men from rich families married devadasis and gave them a family. It was because of him they came into the family set up and lived life like any other women.

Periyar, a great Human Being

Yet another great quality of Periyar was his ability to maintain personal relations with and lend issue based support to even opponents in matters of public importance. Thus despite his strong anti-Congress sentiment, he extended his unreserved support to the then Chief Minister of Tamilnadu, K.Kamaraj when the latter initiated many welfare measures for the people of the state. Periyar’s lifelong and intimate friendship with C.Rajagopalachari aka Rajaji, notwithstanding the unbridgeable differences in their religious and political ideologies was stuff fit for legends. Not to mention that his best friend Rajaji is a brahmin.

Periyar and Rajaji disagreed often, but it is said that it was to Rajaji that Periyar went for advice as regards to his marriage. During Rajaji’s last illness Periyar visited him several times in the hospital, went to the cremation in a wheelchair, and told the press that his lifelong friend and adversary was “a leader unique and unequaled, who lived and worked for high ideals”.

You cannot expect any rational thought from a religious man. He is like a rocking log in the water .

Periyar Movement – Anti Brahminical

Periyar Movement was not an anti-brahmin movement- it was a movement for social improvement and social equality. He has talked mainly against Hinduism because Hinduism is the only religion in the world where there is no secularism or equality within that religion. It discriminates even the people who belong to that religion. Many social evils such as untouchability, child marriage, discrimination against women, casteism, superstition, were present at that time. Periyar fought for the upliftment of the people who were affected by these. He even felt the people who are discriminated severely in Hinduism should find some solace by converting to other religion if they are really in need of pursuit of God. However, he himself has not converted to any other religion (like Ambedkar), which is a proof that he is not in support of any religious dogmas.

While all men are born as equals, to say that Brahmins alone are the highest and all others are low as Pariah (the Untouchables ) or Panchama is sheer nonsense. It is roguish to say so. It is a big hoax played on us.

Periyar belonged to a upper-class trading community. While Periyar was indeed critical of Brahminism his ire is more against some of the practices followed by them at that time and nothing more than that.

He was more of an anarchist or rebel than an ideologue or politician.He was unconventional in his opinions and uncompromising in his political actions. He was not very concerned about popular sentiments and minced no words.On the flip side, he was not very clear in his ideas and confused in his social philosophy. So, his appeal was more emotional than cerebral, his movement was more sectarian than secular and the path he chose to carry forward his movement was more adversarial than accommodative.
Perhaps because of these traits, many people, everyone both from his supporters and opponents, did not exactly like him, (though they neither exactly disliked him) and still respected him. Even those who differed with him on social or political issues would still readily vouch for his exemplary etiquette everyone, his personal humility, and public integrity.

Capitalists control the machinery. They create difficulties to the workers. Consequently, rationalism , which has to lead the way for peaceful life to all, has resulted in causing poverty and worries to the people because of dominating forces

Periyar Revolution

Like most of the mass leaders of those times, Periyar too diligently watched the developments in the Soviet Union and the workers’ movement across the world (Comintern and Second international). Periyar visited the Soviet Union and other countries across the world, including the U.S. and Britain. He addressed workers rallies. It was during that time period (early and the mid-1930’s) Periyar, despite the repression of British imperialism against any Communist activities worked along with Trade union and Communist leaders and actively supported revolutionary Socialist politics. The British regime banned Periyar’s ‘Kudiyarasu’ ( a magazine called ‘Republic’) as it flirted with communist opinions. Periyar started publishing ‘Puratchi’ (Revolution); Periyar then steadfastly stood on the revolutionary platform inspired by the events in Russia.
Money lending is a horrible profession. If we are to call it otherwise it is lawful plundering.


The citation awarded by the UNESCO described Periyar as “the prophet of the new age, the Socrates of South East Asia, father of social reform movement and arch enemy of ignorance, superstitions, meaningless customs and base manners.”                                          If we carefully and objectively  analyse  the words and the activities of  Periyar with an open and fair mind,  we  are sure to be thrilled to have  discovered   a totally honest ,  selfless , genuine , benevolent and humanistic  leader endowed with  the prophetic  vision, courageous fight , and  forthright    pragmatism that matched  his   stupendous  efforts of social justice and emancipation  unattempted   by any leader in any field  in the  entire history of this land.



5 thoughts on “Periyar-A Saint of No Religion!

  1. Ajay! Bravo! Kudos for writing a blog on Periyar!

    When we look into The narration and use of words – it gives us an Impression of a seasoned writer.

    I have two options 1. Praise you for your writing skill and leave.( which you honestly deserve as per my opinion) or option 2 : have a debate on the topic and your narrative in detail ( my selfish option) so that we will get our writer out soon ! I prefer option 2.

    Warm regards – shankar


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