(SI-3) Panel Discussion on the Spiritual Traditions of Tamil Nadu

Panelists – Prof. M.V.Pasupathi , J.Neelakesi , Dr. Kangaraj Easwaran – Moderated by Prof. G.Srinivasan.

Tamil culture has always been part of India’s great tradition in spite of its uniqueness. The natural relationship among different schools of Indian thought as well as different regional sub-cultures could be better appreciated with the help of Indra’s Net concept which originated in Vedic literature, developed further by Buddhist thinkers and reintroduced by Sri Rajiv Malhotra to refute the neo-Hinduism hypothesis proposed by western Indologists. Historically, there is continuous interaction between the people of Tamil Nadu and other parts of India. There is continuity between pan Indian Great Tradition and various spiritual streams of Tamil Nadu. This could be observed in the literary, artistic, philosophical and spiritual aspects of Tamil culture and civilization.

We can see a number of references to Veda, Yajna, Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas in Tamil literature since the Sangam age. In the Tamil Kavya literature inspired by Buddhist and Jain spiritual streams also the continuity is observed. The Tamil Saiva and Vaishnava bhakti movements of Nayanmars and Azhvars respectively have contributed to the revival and renaissance of Vedic tradition in Tamil Nadu. This Bhakti movement in Tamil Nadu pioneered by the Saiva and Vaishnava saints reaffirmed the Tamil people’s faith in Vedic cosmology and they have been inspired by Agamic thought and Puranic literature too. Further, these movements have inspired bhakti movements across the south and north India in the course of India’s history.

Thus, the interaction has always been mutual and bidirectional. Tamil Bhakti Saints, Siddhars and scholars have made significant contributions to Indian culture and civilization while they have got inspired by the pan Indic Vedic and Agamic spiritual wisdom.There are attempts to breaking the connection between the great tradition of Indian civilization and Tamil tradition as discrete antithetical entities. The seeds of secessionism have been sown by the colonialists and missionaries to divide and rule Indian people and the nation as its integration is primarily cultural and spiritual. They have been further nurtured and promoted by the theologically inclined folklorists, the Left and Dravidian leaning Tamil scholars in academia of Tamil Nadu. Secessionists are at work within Saivism on a wider scale across the state while a few are working in Vaishnavism also. They often use ‘oppression as a lens’ to reconstruct Tamil Saivism as well as folk religion as altogether different from the great tradition.

The Nehruvian congress dominated political climate at the national level and Dravidian rule in the state have perpetuated diffusion of the anti-oppressive conceptual framework in the academic study of culture and civilization in Tamil Nadu.In this panel discussion, an attempt will be made to discuss the contribution of Tamils to the growth of great tradition of India through different spiritual streams and their connection with Vedic, Puranic and Agamic literature. It will also highlight the linkages between the folk tradition of Grama and Kula devata worship and the spiritual streams of Indian tradition. It will also highlight the role of Jainism in the cultural and spiritual integration of Tamil Nadu. The presentations will highlight the historical attempts to disconnect Tamil tradition and great tradition also.