‘DMK against fundamentalists, not Hindus’

He has been the most authentic face of Dravidian politics for over half-a-century. As one of the old guards of the movement, M. Karunanidhi has been a proponent of rationalism and atheism. And when he recently disclosed that he plans to script a TV series on Saint Ramanuja, to be aired on Tamil channel Kalaignar TV soon, it naturally raised a few eyebrows.

In this interview to Sruthisagar Yamunan, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam president explains why he chose to narrate the life story of the philosopher-saint at the age of 91. Excerpts:

You have said you came to know about Ramanuja at a very young age and was attracted to his social reforms. Why did you not write about him earlier?

There is no specific reason. I did not get an opportunity to write about Ramanuja then. I know that Ramanuja is one among the great men who engineered revolutions in religion. When a request was made that I narrate those incidents, which sowed the seeds of change, to the people to nourish their thinking, I came forward and took it up. But because I am writing about a part of his life, it does not mean I have accepted his theistic ideas or given up my atheistic, self-respect ideology.

There is a perception that the DMK criticises Hinduism more than other religions. Will this series break that perception?

That popular perception about the DMK you are stating is false. Our idea is that all religions should be treated equally. In fact, 90 per cent of those in the DMK belong to the religion you mentioned. However, we are against fundamentalist activities of a few who claim to be the protectors of Hinduism.

As a senior leader of the DMK, could you tell us how the Dravidian movement views Ramanuja? Despite his Brahminical roots, why did leaders like Periyar hold a high opinion about him?

It is true that Ramanuja professed spirituality every day. At the same time, he transcended religion and lived by the higher value of treating all faiths equally. More specifically, he showed through his life that the oppressed and backward communities were not those to be hated and sidelined. As someone who grew up with the Dravidian movement, I have no agreement or compromise with Ramanuja’s theism. But I do have the culture to appreciate his secular ways. This is why we do not consider his spiritual, Brahminical background as his foremost traits and worry about it. Though they were Brahmins, many like Rajaji have mingled with our thoughts.

Among the social reforms he ushered in, which one do you think was the most important?

His actions stemming from the belief that the oppressed classes too should be treated equally with respect and without discrimination, and a hand should lent to them for their uplift, was the greatest of his reforms.

Do you think his reforms have created the social changes he wanted? Have his followers done justice to his ideas and implemented it?

Those reforms have not led to wide changes that Ramanuja himself and the Dravidian movement desired. But we cannot deny that in the epoch he lived in, it did create awareness to an extent. Whether a majority of his followers have given a practical shape to his ideas is something only time can judge.

The life history of Acharyas and saints is prone to exaggeration. As a scriptwriter, how do you differentiate between what is factual and fictional in Ramanuja’s story?

You will get an answer to your question when my series on Ramanuja is aired on Kalaignar TV.

Why did the DMK not recognise Ramanuja or his reforms when it was in power? For example, his efforts to introduce Tamil in temple worship.

It is true we did not recognise him individually when we were in power. But we did function in a manner that recognised his social reforms. For example, the Government Order allowing persons of all communities to become priests; release of several books such as Tamil Aagama Noolgal, Tamilil Vazhipadu, Tamilil velvi, Tamil Potri; coaching centres for training in Divya Prabhandam (Vaishnavite bhakthi poems) in areas where Dalits, Tribals and Backward Class people lived etc. There is a long list of such achievements under the DMK’s rule.

Since you are an atheist, some fear that your series might distort his life history.

Even though I am an atheist, I very well know that some around me and in the DMK aren’t totally committed to that ideology. When my series comes out, you will know whether I have distorted Ramanuja’s life story. I never impose my party’s ideas, especially those relating to divinity, on others. Not even on members of my family. I may even leave out some portions of Ramanuja’s life but rest assured I will never distort anything. There is no necessity for me to do that.

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Printable version | Oct 20, 2021 12:07:23 PM |

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