Chennai - While the nation witnessed the grand inauguration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, a historic event for the Hindu community, a unique celebration unfolded in Chennai as the Tamil Nationalist Coalition organized the first-ever Ravana Festival. The event, held on the same day as the Pran Pratishtha ceremony of the Ram Mandir on January 22, marked a significant cultural and ideological counterpoint to the mainstream narrative. The program was held at MGR Nagar market, one of the busiest areas in KK Nagar of the metro city.
The Tamil Nationalist Coalition (formed to advocate for the rights of Tamils), comprising the May 17 Movement, Tamizhaga Makkal Jananayaka Katchi, and Viduthalai Tamil Puligal Katchi, gathered to commemorate the Ravana Festival. The event aimed to uphold Tamil cultural identity and challenge the prevailing narrative surrounding the Ramayana. Diverging from the mainstream celebration, speakers at the festival highlighted the virtues of Ravana and emphasized the Dravidian perspective on the ancient epic. The leaders announced that the festival will be observed every year on this day.
Thirumurugan Gandhi, Leader of May 17 Movement, K.M. Sheriff, leader of Tamizhaga Makkal Jananayaka Katchi, Kudanthai Arasan, leader of Viduthalai Tamil Puligal Katchi, Ilamaran leader of Thamizhar Vidiyal Katchi and others participated in the event.
In an exclusive conversation with Kudanthai Arasan, one of the key speakers, The Mooknayak delved into the reasons behind hosting such a distinctive event and the cultural significance attributed to Ravana, the legendary demon king in South India.
Arasan, an influential figure in the Tamil Nationalist Coalition, shed light on the historical context of the festival. He revealed that the concept of Ravan Leela was introduced by Dravidian leaders around 50 years ago. This initiative was a response to the prevalent narrative in Northern India that portrayed Rama as the heroic protagonist and Ravana as the villainous antagonist. However, Arasan emphasized that Dravidians do not subscribe to the myths surrounding the characters, citing the existence of over 300 diverse narratives related to the fictional story.
"We do not see Rama as a hero but as a culprit who abandoned his wife Sita in a jungle when she was pregnant. He is a harasser, not a hero," asserted Kudanthai Arasan, challenging the conventional portrayal of Rama in the Ramayana.
Speaking on BJPs role in communal hatred Kudanthai Arasan said “The Sangh Parivar orchestrated a Genocide against muslims in Gujarat. Riots happened and are happening in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh. Meanwhile you venerate Rama, perceiving him as the bestower of life. Does the statue articulate somewhere? Is it animated? Does it breathe? If you were to fall near the statue, would it assist you in getting up? Does a statue possess consciousness?
Providing insights into the planning and execution of the Ravana Festival, Arasan disclosed that the event was organized within a remarkably short span of two days. Despite the brief notice, over 400 members of the Tamil Nationalist Coalition gathered at a prominent market in Chennai, turning it into a focal point of cultural expression and ideological discourse. The event attracted an audience of approximately 2000 people who engaged with impassioned orators delivering speeches that challenged prevailing narratives.
The festival aimed to dismantle the monolithic representation of the Ramayana, offering a platform for diverse interpretations and perspectives. Kudanthai Arasan highlighted the importance of questioning the mainstream narrative, especially concerning the character of Ravana, who is often reduced to a one-dimensional villain in popular discourse.
Addressing the gathering, Thirumurugan Gandhi spoke of the necessity of celebrating Ravana, "We have conducted a ceremony for Ravana. A need for the festival for Ravana arises when a temple is built for Rama, prompting us to reflect on our history while ceremonies such as the ritual of breathing life into the stone statue are done by them . The Ramayana, a fictional story, unfolds within a historical context. It portrays a conflict between indigenous people inhabiting the Indian subcontinent and immigrants seeking to encroach upon their land. Human migration is natural, but settlement with the intent to dominate and destroy existing inhabitants cannot be deemed a democratic act."
“When the RSS and BJP groups lay claim to the morally questionable Rama, we shall celebrate the festival of Ravana to champion the virtues of Tamils. As they shout "Jai Sriram," we Tamils should proclaim "Long live the name of Ravana." The Arya Dravidian war has not ceased even today," asserted Gandhi.
The inhabitants of early India, known as Dravidians, according to the historians, constructed civilized cities, living peacefully until the arrival of Aryans, who sought to invade their lands. This aggression led to the Arya-Dravidian war, a struggle between outsiders and the original inhabitants of the land. The Ramayana narrates this war, and there exist nearly 300 versions of the epic, not confined to Hindus but also embraced by Buddhists and Jains. Different Ramayanas feature diverse characters; for example, in one version, it is Sita who kills Ravana, not Rama. In one, Sita is the sister of Ravana.
In Ramayana, Rama killed Ravana, a morally upright and talented king ruling in the south. The narrative raises the question: Who was Ravana? While Rama's character is defined, it is essential to shed light on Ravana's virtues, which has already been established in Ramayana itself. Ravana, hailing from the South, was a Shiva worshiper, passionate about music, morally upright, and beloved by his people. It was such a kingdom that "Mighty" Rama maneuvered, conquered and destroyed.
Essentially, the Ramayana can be seen as a narrative that denigrates the Tamil kings who opposed the Aryans as monstrous figures. It serves as a cultural narrative that symbolizes Rama as representative of Aryan culture and Ravana as emblematic of Dravidian culture. Ravana becomes a symbol of the South Indian kings who resisted.” Thirumurugan Gandhi stated.
On his turn K M Sheriff, Leader of Tamizhaga Makkal Jananayaka Katchi said “ I am donned in a black shirt today, as black is our chosen color. Ravana, too, is associated with this color. Another etymological interpretation for the name Ravanan is 'Iravu-vannan,' meaning night-colored. I am one of the many Muslims who have converted from Hinduism, where touching or even seeing fellow humans is prohibited based on the caste system of Sanatana Dharma. The 100-year work plan for the Ram temple has been executed after BJP came to power today."
He further said , "The BJP believes it can control the people in India through intimidation, but we will not be intimidated. Even if you return to power again, we will not cease to voice our opinions. We won't issue an apology letter; it's your customary behavior. We belong to the lineage of Periyar. When he burned the Constitution of India, he went to court and admitted, "I have committed this crime. Give me the punishment for that." Periyar challenged the judge, saying, "You first announce the punishment, whatever it may be, I will burn it." Periyar might have been forgotten by the DMK, AIADMK, and Congress parties, but he will never be forgotten by us, He will remain with us. If the non-existent “Ramaswamy of Ayodhya” is held in such high regard by you, won't the actual Ramasamy, who lived among us, be with us? He will always be. Regardless of which party - DMK, AIADMK, Congress, BJP - comes to power, we will steadfastly adhere to his principles. On that foundation, we will celebrate the non-existent Ravana while you commemorate the non-existent Rama. This is Tamil Nadu. You can do your “One country, one election, one God” politics in other parts of India, not in Tamil Nadu. I do not proclaim this as the leader of Tamizhaga Makkal Jananayaka Katchi; I am expressing the sentiments of 7 crore people in this country. Who in this country will abstain from commemorating a festival for Ravana? Let's celebrate Ravana every year, much like the Pongal festival. While you celebrate Ram Navami, we celebrate Ravana. While you chant "Rama Rama," we call out "Erode Rama (Thanthai Periyar)."
The speakers at the event raised important questions related to the Ram Temple consecration at this time. They noted that the BJP and RSS are presently reviving the Ramayana narrative, claiming that the losers are Ravana's offspring and the winners are Rama's progeny. The question arises: Why do we need the Ramayana today, and what is the BJP aiming to achieve by building a temple for Rama? Will the Indian economy flourish, and will everyone in India become wealthy? The BJP's revival of the Ramayana suggests an agenda to implement the story in contemporary times. They asserted that the BJP is using the inauguration of the Ram temple for political gains in the 2024 elections.
Allegations of discrimination were also raised in the event. The speakers noted that the BJP is investing substantial funds to worship Rama, who was born in Ayodhya. What has the BJP led government done for the Kumbakonam Ramaswamy Temple, constructed in 1625 by King Kulothunga, in Kumbakonam? Called Southern Ayodhya, the temple comes under the Archaeological Department of India. What measures have been taken for the Rama devotees visiting the 400-year-old Temple? How can one be a true Rama devotee while embracing the idea of Northerner’s Rama and reject southern Rama only because it's been worshiped by Tamils?
The speakers said, there is an attempt to import Rama's culture into Tamil Nadu. Uttar Pradesh serves as an example of a Hindu kingdom today, marked by the massacre of thousands of Muslims. In the northern states, the rights of nationalities have been lost, along with State and language rights. All are fooled in the name of One Nation, One Ration, One Adhar and all. The phrase "Jai Shri Ram'' agitates those from the northern states.