Review of ' Periyariyam-an Anthology of Tamil Essays'

 Review by:Dr.Palani Arangasamy

This booklet of about hundred and fifty pages centers around the ideas of Periyar in comparison with philosophical concepts of Indian heritage and traditions.  Periyar never declared himself a philosopher and he never adhered to any system of philosophy initiated anywhere else, whether East or West.  He never aspired that he should be deemed  to be so.  

In fact, with an apprehension of such a possibility cannot be ruled out in this conservative society, he pre emptively said that a day may come even to refute his ideas and if that were also acceptable to the contemporaries, he would have no objection in his idea being neglected. An indication that Periyar was not only an innovative but also a liberal thinker accommodative to reasonable adverse remarks.  He never entertained a tall claim that he should be deified.

Annals of history and intellectual society revere him as a great social reformer.  Six decades of his strenuous efforts were singularly channelled towards energetic field work in eradicating religiosity, casteism, and doing away with a blind belief in Soul, Heaven and Hell.  Scriptures such as Vedas, Smritis, and myths that were leading to those dogmatic beliefs must be put into bonfire, he said.  Rituals and ceremonies, he shunned.  Equally alert he had been in championing the cause of widow remarriage, women’s education, disciplined character and self respect.  Hence, if need be, he may be categorised as a pragmatic realist and temperamentally a humanist.  He had a soft corner towards socialism even prior to his tour to Soviet Russia in 1931-1932.

However an attempt to give a philosophical image to what all he professed and practised in comparison with oriental and occidental philosophers has already been made by Prof. R. Perumal in his, Periyar – A comparative Study.   The work under review is identical even though its coverage is confined, mostly to the traditions of Indian philosophy. 

The opening essay speaks more elaborately with one half of it on the definition of materialism rather than on the comparative aspect of the policies and principles of Periyar.  In a place where a brief introduction to materialism would have been suffice before getting into the topic relevant, this proves to be an ambitious attempt if not unnecessary, more to thrust what one knows rather than what should be said relevantly. However the contributor’s analysis of Periyar’s orientation of discipline is fair, even though there are no details about social reform, an endearing subject to Periyar.

Comparing the concepts of a social revolutionary like Periyar with the principles of Jainism is rather problematic and difficult, as the contributor himself says at the outset but what points that are comparable are enumerated in the article.  Vedic religion has annihilated both the Jainism and Buddhism some where around the 7th century A.D.  Points for comparison of decadent Jainism with those of Periyar are few and far between but matters of contrast may be more.  In negating godliness, casteism and in adhering to tolerance, there seems to be a partial coherence.  

But still, the contributor has taken pains to strike, somehow or other a balance between Periyarism and Jainism.  A slender cue of tenuous comparison has been strainingly done by the contributor.  Not getting either into ecstasy or into miserable agony is a supreme quality of divine passiveness as evidenced by Jeevagan in  Chinthamani   and Lord Rama in Ramayanam but comparing it with Periyar’s refusal of a chief ministership  seems more to be an irony and comical than of a supreme sacrifice and that too when Periyar’s hatred to politics is an open secret.

Vedic –oriented Sankya System is an earliest offshoot of Indian philosophy.  But unlike Vedas, it denies the existence of god and concurs with everything that is visible and scientifically provable.  Periyar’s opinion is alike with a proviso that a scientific thinking will remove a belief in god.  As and when scientific temper grows, belief in god will gradually vanish. 

It is in this respect Sankya concept is identical with that of Periyar.  It is akin to the materialistic philosophy that does not accept anything that is invisible.  Periyar’s argument is, if there is truly a god benevolent, he would not have subjected certain people to suffer in misery and certain others in happiness.  Even though there had been atheistic statements even in the stanzas of   Purananooru(194), Nalvazhi(2) and Thirumanthiram(81), it is only Periyar who very strongly and boldly voiced  a die-hard opposition to god. 

With the same vehemence he stoutly opposed the Brahminical hegemony that was championing the belief in god.  The contributor’s opinion in juxtaposing Periyar and Karl Marx is highly appreciable.  His opinion that if Marx had been born in India, he would have thought of, as much as Periyar had planned and worked, is not a mere far-fetched notion but a correct assessment.

An article on Buddhism keeps Jothiba  Phule, Ayothidasar, Rahul Sankrityayan and Kosambi on par with Periyar and highlights in what aspect Periyar is identical with Lord Buddah.  If Buddah denies God and Soul, so is the opinion of Periyar as evidenced in an article Periyar wrote in a special issue of kudi Arasu(1931).  Periyar says that if all religions except Buddhism strongly speak about soul, it should be understood as an intellectual weapon of the vested interests to prevent the awakening of the masses.  To drive home the point that one should apply one’s own common sense instead of simply believing in what others say, however great they are, Periyar quotes Buddah and hence Periyar’s affinity with Buddhistic principles.

Comparatively easier to juxtapose Saint Ramalingar with Periyar since both these great men lived in the recent past and the general public are familiar with their ideologies.  Hence the essay seizes the matter straightaway and points out that Periyar Vehemantly confronted to say that Sanmargam, a harmonius and agreeable way of life is next to impossible in the present set up of religious and caste – oriented society.  This he expresses very forthrightly in a lecture addressed in none other function than in a Sanmarga Sang meeting itself. 

In Periyar’s opinion, the concept of Sanmargam is easily said than done.  God, religion, caste and wealth are the factors that are diversified in our pluralistic society.  Ups and downs in it are also as much.  Unless these are levelled and society is radically reformed, Sanmargam is impossible.  Periyar doesn’t outrightly rule it out but says it is possible if only casteism and religious fanaticism are weeded out.  Saint Ramalinga’s belief in the human soul differs from Periyar.  So also in meat – eating which Periyar relished but  the saint rejected.

Despite differences galore between these two, areas where they are found in consensus include a mere elementary education, condemnation of foolish rituals, casteism, and superstitions.  If the saint stood for spiritual harmony, Periyar preached humanism all through his life.  This moderately priced slender anthology has to be welcomed and studied by the scholarly public.  An editorial effort towards collecting the essays from various scholars is appreciable.  This slender volume is fit enough to be the latest addition to the shelves of Periyarism.

Publisher : Bharathidasan University Trichy-24.-2014
Price. Rs.105/-

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