18th and 19th centuries shaped Tamil society’s spirituality, writer says

Spirituality functions through images, it does not require tradition or history or life, the language of spirituality is images, we have not understood spirituality within a historical context, we have concern for economics, and for politics but disregard spiritualism, said renowned writer Jeyamohan.

Delivering a talk at a workshop, Politics for a change: Iyothee Thassar’s thoughts, here on Saturday, he said that, “We neglect spiritualism, we feel that we don’t need it, but there is no individual who has not approached life by taking into account the substance of it and moved ahead and it is this condition of what we call spiritualism.” There has been hardly any debate on the spiritual aspects of life, he added.

A big debate that took place in the 18th and 19 centuries shaped Tamil society’s spirituality and thousands of books were written during that period. The debates and images of that period on spirituality still rule our ideas on spiritualism.

An alternative voice

Pandit Iyothee Thass’s contributions took place during the debate, however, given the strong structural basis and caste foundation on which those debates took place, Thass’s contribution as an individual never found its place and for almost one hundred years none knew such an alternative voice existed before he was rediscovered, now seen as an important alternative voice.

Iyothee Thass’s contributions should not be seen in isolation, one had to see it within the context of such big debates to know the importance of his contribution. It was not his text but the context in which he propounded such ideas that gained importance as he had put forward an idea that was another page of spiritualism that was not read before, Mr. Jeyamohan said.

He called Iyothee Thass an important rebellious voice against external resource-based historical writing, even at a time when European style of historical writing was making its mark; he used epic style narrative based historical writing. His Indirar Loka Sarithiram is a difficult text for any modern reader to read as we could find it difficult to differentiate historical references over images of the text.

Iyothee Thass had taken oral tradition present among the oppressed castes and presented it in a modern form, his works were based on a different historical pattern, a subversion of the existing practices of historical writing, and he reconstructed the existing terminology. Iyothee Thass’s writings needs to be explored more to unravel the alternative spiritual history that existed then.

Gnana Aloysius, independent researcher and who compiled the works of Iyothee Thass, said that in just 12 years since the first work on Thass came, he had joined the as third to form the triumvirate of Phule Ambedkar and Iyothee Thass tradition. His subversion of texts had an economics attached to it and his works were not mere texts but weapons of liberation.

Thass’s discourse remained an antidote to the dominant discourse which proposed to look at caste issues as not Dalit issues but common issues that would affect the polity, productivity and nation’s security.

The other speakers who participated include N. Muthumohan, Head, Guru Nanak Chair, Madurai Kamaraj University, writer Prem from Delhi, and K. Jayabalan from Madras University. The event was organised by writers Paari Chezhian and V.Alex of Iyothee Thassar Research Centre, Madurai.

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