Tamil Nadu

How Thiruvalluvar’s portrait evolved over time

While the State BJP units has triggered a political controversy depicting Tamil poet-savant Thiruvalluvar in saffron robes, it is interesting to see how the portraits of the poet showing him donning the white robe have evolved over the years.

“In Tamil tradition, all the saints, including Saivite saints dressed only in white attire. Saffron has no place in Tamil culture and tradition. The only saint who wore saffron was Sakkiya Nayanar, who converted to Saivism from Buddhism. Saffron is a new phenomenon and even Tamil Mutts have embraced it,” said Sivalayam J. Mohan, who has released various old commentaries on Thirukural.


In a book of ‘Thirukural’ commentaries penned by well-known scholar K. Balasubramaniam, Mr. Mohan has published an old picture of Thiruvalluvar and an old poetry — Thiruvalluvar Swaroopasthuthi — depicting the features of the poet.

“The picture of the Thiruvalluvar, now widely in use, depicting him in a white robe and without any religious marks was drawn by Venugopala Sharma, who resided in Mylapore. It was first used in a stamp released by the former Union Minister Dr K. Subbarayan,” said K. Thirunavukkarasu, historian of the Dravidian Movement, who had written in detail about the transformation of the portrait in his book on the history of the DMK.

Even during the release of the stamp a question was raised about the absence of the “sacred thread” ( poonool ) in the picture and Subbarayan had explained that either it would not be there in the picture or covered by the robe on the poet’s body.

Mr. Mohan said the robe, originally known as yogapattai, was worn by those who meditated and it was reduced to a sacred thread.

Recalling the changes made in the portrait of Thiruvalluvar, Mr. Thirunavukkarasu said leaders and Tamil scholars felt that the portraits with religious marks did not do justice to Thiruvalluvar and poet Bharathidasan was particular about creating a new portrait. The portrait released by Saiva Siddantha Noorpathippu Kazhagam adorned houses in T.N. at that time.

Religious marks

Before the arrival of Venugopla Sharma’s picture, Balu brothers, who ran a magazine Kalai, drew a painting devoid of all religious marks. “They drew two portraits and they were used in the meetings and offices of the DMK,” explained Mr Thirunavukkarasu. The stamp released by Subbarayan also became a subject of debate in the Tamil Nadu Assembly, since it was mentioned that the release marked Thiruvalluvar’s death anniversary.

“DMK member Ma.Pa. Sarathi raised in the Assembly the issue of whether the State government was taken into confidence before the release. Then Minister M. Bhaktavatsalam replied in the negative,” Mr. Thirunavukkarasu said.

When DMK leader M. Karunanidhi sought to know whether the State government would keep a picture of Thiruvalluvar drawn by Venugopla Sharma in the Assembly, Bhaktavatsalam said the government would consider it if the member came forward to buy a portrait.

“Subsequently, the portrait found a place in the Assembly. The statue of Thiruvalluvar in Mylapore was made based on the portrait of Venugopala Sharma,” Mr. Thirunavukkarasu said.

In 1960, DMK founder C.N. Annadurai unveiled the portrait on the Congress grounds, and the meeting was attended by many leaders, including Union Minister C. Subramaniam.

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Printable version | Jun 24, 2022 1:00:41 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/how-thiruvalluvars-portrait-evolved-over-time/article61623716.ece