SI – 3: Report

The third edition of the SI conference series was held at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras from 22nd – 24th of December 2017.

The conference had scholars, participants and well-wishers from all over India and abroad. Under its theme “Tamil Nadu – The Land of Dharma”, the conference addressed various issues feeding the divisive, separatist, and racist discourse currently prevailing in Tamil Nadu, including the exploitation of caste and untouchability, Aryan invasion theory, Dravidian movement, Hinduphobia, etc.

The inaugural was graced by luminaries like Shri Vallabh Bhanshali, founder of Satya Vijayi foundation and Shri Mohandas Pai, Chairman of Manipal Global Educational Services. Shri Pai underlined the fact that India is the only country civilization in which multiple identities are an integral part of the people.

Figure 1 Inaugural Session (L-R) Rajiv Malhotra, Prof Ramachandran, Shri Mohandas Pai, Justice N. Kumar, Dr Nagaswamy, Shri Vallabh Bhanshali

The Keynote address by noted archaeologist Dr. R Nagaswamy proved for the first time that the Thirukkural by Thiruvalluvar is a Tamil rendering of the Dharmashastra and other Shastras. In effect, this Tamil classic is meant to bring Dharma into the lives of Tamil people. He pointed out that while the language is different, the culture is similar and that Valluvar was the first to highlight and project this all-India character of Sanskrit shastras.

Figure 2 Dr Nagaswamy highlighting the similarities between Thirukkural and Dharma Shastras and the essential unity among Indian traditions

In his inaugural address, internationally acclaimed Neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego, Dr. Vilayanur S. Ramachandran discussed some of the cutting-edge findings of neuroscience. Shri Rajiv Malhotra pointed out to a huge applause that Tamil is the only ancient language that has remained in uninterrupted daily use by millions of people. Even Sanskrit cannot lay claim to such widespread use continuously for its entire history. He mentioned that Tamil culture is an important building block of the Indian grand narrative.

A book titled, Western Indology & Its Quest for Power, a consolidation of selected papers from the first two conferences of the SI series (SI – 1 and SI – 2)was released during the inauguration. Seven more volumes from SI-1 and SI-2 are in the pipeline.

1.1.1        Major Panels

The first panel was on “The Harvard Tamil Chair” to debate the benefits and dangers from the recently proposed Tamil studies chair at Harvard. There was an intense but mutually respectful debate between Rajiv Malhotra and noted Dravidian intellectual and media personality, Dr G Olivannan. While Dr Olivannan was initially in full support of Harvard’s proposed Tamil Chair, Rajiv Malhotra was able to convince him of the problems caused by the lack of expertise and due diligence on the part of Tamil leaders creating this chair.

Shri Malhotra emphasized the need for the Tamil community to be very cautious of the motives of foreign institutions, given their track record of not representing our traditions in an authentic manner, and promoting separatism. Shri Olivannan agreed with Shri Malhotra’s proposal to ensure the development and control of discourse of Tamil culture within Tamil Nadu, and popularizing it within India.

As a direct result of this timely intervention of Rajiv Malhotra and Infinity Foundation, a recent wave of awareness and concern has spread through Tamil intellectuals on the need to undertake stringent due diligence rather than blindly outsourcing our heritage to places like Harvard.

Another panel was on “Aryan theories” where panelists deliberated the various theories that have emerged since colonial times leading to the formulation of the Aryan and Dravidian “races” and driving the divisive politics in Tamil Nadu. The panel on “Contemporary Hinduphobia” discussed how Hinduphobia operates in the media, in academia, in religious discourse and in society in contemporary Tamil Nadu. The panelists consisted of researchers in various disciplines including Shri Shrikant Talageri, Shri Nilesh Oak, Dr. Gyaneshwer Chaubey, Shri M. Venkatesan, Shri Jataayu and Dr Kanakaraj Easwaran.

Some of the other panels were on:

  • “Spiritual traditions of Tamil Nadu” discussed how since ancient times, the various Indian spiritual streams such as Jainism, Vaishnavism, Saivism, Shakta tradition have co-existed without serious antagonism.
  • “Pan-Indic traditions” discussed the specific practices, language, healing systems of Tamil Nadu and how they were intertwined and enmeshed with the pan Indic systems.
  • “Legal perspectives on Hinduphobia” discussed the Hinduphobia prevalent in the judicial system and processes. Shri Raghavachari highlighted the deep-seated legal prejudices against Hindus in the context of Tamil Nadu.

Prof. P Kanagasabapathi gave a talk on jati, kinship and entrepreneurial development in Tamil Nadu.

The conference also had paper presentations in three parallel sessions from scholars, artists and researchers from various fields. Papers were presented on various themes of the conference as laid out in the concept paper.

Some of the themes of the conference were “Spiritual streams of TN”, “Caste Untouchability and Hinduism”, “Embedded Sacredness in Tamil life”, “Dravidian movement and evidence” and “Modern Hinduphobia”. Seven papers were chosen as best papers, and were awarded a cash prize of seventy thousand rupees and a memento.

The intense deliberations over three days ended with the consensus that all evidence in various domains points to an integrated civilization throughout the geography of India for a very long time and that the schisms drawn between Sanskrit and Tamil, Aryan and Dravidian, Vaishnavaites and Saivites etc. are largely exaggerated and artificial constructs with malicious intentions.

Indians across the spectrum need to reclaim our discourse from outdated and warped theories.

Publication of the first volume from the above conference is almost ready. Final corrections are being made to the papers selected for the first volume. Two more volumes from this conference are being planned. The title of the first volume is “Land of Dharma”.