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Ponniyin Selvan | A book, a movie, and the mighty Cholas

Director Vetrimaaran’s take on Hindu religion in Chola period sparks row

The film-maker has accused the Hindutva forces of continuously trying to appropriate Tamil identity; Kamal Haasan endorses the film-maker’s view; Telangana Governor Tamilisai sees bid to hide cultural identity

October 06, 2022 06:57 pm | Updated October 07, 2022 02:14 am IST - CHENNAI

Film director Vetrimaaran. File

Film director Vetrimaaran. File | Photo Credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

National Award-winning film-maker Vetrimaaran’s accusation in a recent speech that Hindutva forces were continuously trying to appropriate Tamil symbols has stirred a debate that raged on Thursday as well, with actor-politician Kamal Haasan the latest to wade in.

Endorsing Mr. Vetrimaaran’s view at a felicitation function for the crew of Ponniyin Selvan I, a Maniratnam film based on the life of Raja Raja Chola, Mr. Haasan said “Hindu religion” was not there during the legendary Chola ruler’s time, there was Vainavam, Saivam and Samanam. “It [Hindu religion] was the name given by the British. There were different religions. In the 8th century, Adi Sankara merged them. It is history,” he said.

However, Telangana Governor and former Tamil Nadu BJP president Tamilisai Soundararajan said there was an attempt to hide the cultural identity and this needed to be opposed. “Worship, Saivam and Vainavam are the cultural identity of Tamils and any attempt to hide these identities would be inappropriate,” she told reporters at Coimbatore on Thursday..

Saturday speech

The entire saga began on Saturday when Mr. Vetrimaaran, speaking at the 60th birthday celebrations of MP and Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) leader Thol. Thirumavalavan, cautioned against continued attempts by Hindutva forces to appropriate Tamil identity. The acclaimed film-maker was referencing posts on social media by certain sections portraying Raja Raja Chola as a “Hindu king” even as Tamils worldwide reacted favourably to PS I.

“Art is political. Initially it was art for art’s sake. Aesthetic beauty is important but art is not complete without people. Art is a reflection of life. Cinema is a mass medium. Tamil Nadu remains a secular State, resisting the external forces with maturity, because the Dravidian movement took control of cinema from their hands,” Mr. Vetrimaaran had remarked.

Stating that it was very important to keep art political, he said, “We [Tamils] have to handle it correctly. If we don’t do it properly, soon our symbols will be appropriated by them,” he said pointing to instances like (Tamil saint-poet) Tiruvalluvar draped in saffron and averments like Raja Raja Chola as Hindu king. “It has been happening continuously. They will use cinema as a tool. We need to be politically aware,” he said.

The speech sparked a debate over social media with sections of supporters of Hindutva, BJP and RSS organisations targeting him and many, including the Dravidians in the Twitter space, defending him.

On Wednesday, Mr. Thirumavalavan said that during the time of Raja Raja Chola, Saivam and Vainavam were different. The two openly fought against each other. There were continuous conversions. “In those times, where was Hindu?” he asked.

The VCK leader asked if it was fair to impose modern-day identities on Raja Raja Chola because he built the Brihadeeswarar Temple for a Lingam. “Is that not twisting history? Vetrimaaran mentioned only this,” he said.

In the BJP’s Tamil Nadu unit, no prominent leader has commented on the issue, except for H. Raja who said Raja Raja Chola was a Siva devotee and a Hindu.

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