Spirituality & the Tamil Nation
"அன்பும் சிவமும் இரண்டென்பர் அறிவிலார்,
அன்பேசிவமாவது யாரும் அறிகிலார்,
அன்பே சிவமாவது யாரும்
"செய்யுந்தொழிலுன் தொழிலே காண்;
சீர்பெற்றிட நீ யருள் செய்வாய்"
"..Change will not come simply by moaning
about what is. Neither will it come from a simple minded
moralising about that which ought to be. It is when our words begin to coincide with our
deeds, that principle emerges with power to influence. We
also begin to learn something about
our own ‘dharma’ or own
‘way of harmony’."
10 May 1998
truth and knowledge are an idle
if they do not bring power to change the world
- Sri Aurobindo
Gramsci was right when he said that man can affect
his own development and that of his own surroundings only in so far as he has a clear view
of what the possibilities of action open to him are. To do this he has to understand the
historical situation in which he finds himself: and it is when he does this, that he can
play an active part in modifying that situation.
Change will not come simply by moaning about what is. Neither will it come from a
simple minded moralising about that which ought to be. The words of Sri Aurobindo in his
epic poem Savitri, which appear above have an abiding
"Truth and knowledge are an idle gleam if they do not bring power to
change the world"
An impatient Karl Marx
put it, perhaps, not very differently:
"Philosophers have hitherto only
interpreted the world in various ways, the point however, is to change it"
Theoretical discourse unrelated to action, serves merely as an opium to the intellect,
enabling us to live in a fantasy world of our creation - and, not surprisingly, such
discourse influences nobody and changes nothing. On the other hand, action divorced from
theory, is a mindless reaction which, sooner rather than later, ends in the dead end of
Theory and practise are the two legs on which we
walk. The man of action is the true philosopher - and the philosopher must of necessity be
a man of action, and in Gramsci's words the real philosopher is, and cannot be other
than the politician, the active man who modifies his environment, understanding by
environment the ensemble of relations which each of us enters to take part in.
During the past two thousand years and more, many a Tamil mother has related to
her young child the
story of Sivan and Sakthi. Sivan, the active, and Sakthi, the passive,
together constituted the whole and from the union of Sivan and Sakthi came the first born
- the idea and this was Ganapathy. Later came the second born - action and this was
As the story goes, one day the two children, Ganapathy and Murugan were playing around
Sivan and Sakthi, who were seated on their celestial throne in Kailasam. It is said that
Sivan with a twinkle in his eye, offered the prize of a fruit to the son who went round
the universe first. Murugan immediately set out on his journey and crossed many lands and
distant seas. He travelled swiftly on his heavenly peacock.
But when, having traversed the universe, Murugan returned to Kailasam, he was astounded
to find his elder brother Ganapathy already there, contentedly eating the fruit that Sivan
had given him. As the story goes, Ganapathy - in modern jargon, the idea man -
had merely walked round the throne on which Sivan and Sakthi were seated - after all, the
universe was in them and they were the universe.
And, it is in this way that Tamil children have come to learn, whilst seated, on
their mothers knees, something about the dialectical reality that theory is a practical
thing - and that the inside and the outside go together.
We need both
Ganapathy and Murugan.
It is when our words begin to coincide with our deeds, that principle emerges with
power to influence. We also begin to learn something about our own dharma or own way of
On the battlefield of Kurukshetra,
Arujna was assailed with
doubts,, when faced with the
prospect of killing his teachers, and his relations, and he turned to Krishna for
guidance. Krishna advised Arujna to fight. It is a story that has sometimes puzzled -
surely, it cannot be right for the Divine to advise a human to kill another human.
But Arujna sought advice because he was in doubt - because he had not reached the stage
in his own evolution, when he could simply walk away from the battlefield without
internal conflict. If he had walked away, he may have laid himself open to the charge of
being a coward - and this he was unable to face with equanimity. Despite his doubts,
Arujna was still a Kshaitirya, a warrior, in his being. Krishnas Gita Upadesam
served to clarify for Arujna the confusion in his mind, by identifying Arujnas
dharma - the path which Arujna must follow if he were to act in harmony with his own
being. It was Arujnas dharma to do battle and it was in battle that Arujna found
peace - and eventual growth. Any other path would have left him in pain and in
On an occasion in London, in 1989, at a discussion with
(for whom the struggle for Tamil Eelam was his life) the
conversation turned to the Gita Upadesam. Kittu, as he was
affectionately known, commented:
"Annai, in the Maha Bharatham, it was Karnan who truly knew
his duty. He was stead fast in his commitment to his
friend Duryodhana - he had no doubts about his 'Nanri Kadan' and
in the end Karnan willingly gave away all his 'punyam', knowing
that by doing so, he would die. Karnan knew well his
dharma - he did not need a 'Upadesam' to clarify his doubts -
and so, in the Maha Bharatham, there is no 'Gita Upadesam' for
Again, unlike Arujna at Kurushetra, the Buddha simply walked out of his
palace one night. He did not seek anybodys advice, neither did he awaken his
sleeping wife and child and seek to explain his conduct. He was not in doubt as to his
immediate step. On the contrary, he would have been in conflict if he had not walked out -
and so to renounce was his dharma.
However Arujna is by no means alone in his confusion. The search for harmony is
elusive. It is said that the long journey ends with coming to the beginning and truly
knowing it for the first time. It was Annie Besant,
translating the Gita, who remarked that it is better to act
in accordance with one's own dharma rather than try 'to act out some one else's dharma
Each of us have our dharma - 'our way' which is in harmony with our being. At the
same time, no human is an island unto himself. We will not be what we are if not for our
interaction with others. Life is relationship. Today Tamils who live in many lands and
across distant seas are inevitably drawn to examine their relationship with the world in
which they live.
Unsurprisingly, the sense of their own identity as Tamils,
quickly emerges within
them as they comes across the lines that are drawn by an outside which often regards them
as not quite us.
The struggle of the people of Tamil Eelam for self
determination, then assumes a special significance to the expatriate Tamil whether he
traces his origins to Tamil Eelam, or to Tamil Nadu or to
Malaysia or to
some other land.
The struggle in Tamil Eelam becomes not simply a struggle of a people 'out there'.
It is not only a matter of caring for that which is happening
to ones kith and kin, or to one brothers and sisters back in Tamil Eelam or to
one's 'udan pirapukal'. Nor is it simply a matter of a naive nostalgic search for a
The struggle becomes linked with the expatriate Tamil's own present need to live
with dignity (in Tamil we say 'thanmaanam'). Our past becomes relevant to our present and
in this way, has something to do with our future.
It is true that a time will come when the separate national identities of the peoples
of the world will be transcended by a greater unity. But it will be romantic to imagine
that we have reached that stage today. We cannot live in a world which has not yet arrived
- though we can certainly work towards it.
To work for the flowering of the Tamil nation is to bring forward the emergence of a
true trans nationalism. A true trans nationalism will come only from nationalisms that have
flowered and matured - it will not come by the suppression of one nation by another.
Today, many who deny the national identity of the Tamil people are rarely prepared to give
up their own.
Tamils have no cause, to be apologetic about their togetherness as a people - and the
Tamil nation is not simply the addition of its separate parts. A
nation is a deep and horizontal togetherness which cuts across the vertical divisions
which exist amongst a people.
Each Tamil wherever he lives is a part of that Tamil nation and even if he should
forget his national identity, the environment around him will conspire to remind him from
time to time, of that which he has forgotten. Yes, every inside
has an outside and every outside has an inside - and the two go together.
"The relation between a society and its members' spirituality is reciprocal. A
society's customs and laws, on the one hand reflect the spirituality of its members. The
spirituality of its members, on the other hand, is largely shaped by the nature of
society. This 'largely' is never, however, 'totally'... we are not simply the products of
our natural and social environments." (David Ray Griffin
in 'Spirituality and Society: Post-modern Visions)