In order to reaffirm and rediscover the age-old links between two historic centres of knowledge and culture – Kashi and Tamil Nadu, our Hon’ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi inaugurated the Kashi Tamil Sangamam at Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi on 19th November 2022. Calling upon the 130-crore people of India to break the language barriers, Prime Minister termed it as the responsibility of all countrymen to preserve and enrich Tamil, which is the oldest language of the world. Speaking at the inaugural function of the month-long Kashi Tamil Sangamam, PM Modi said that Kashi and Tamil Nadu were the two cultures closely associated with Lord Shiva and the confluence of two places was as sacred as the Sangam of Ganga and Yamuna. If we ignore Tamil, we do a great disservice to the nation and if we keep Tamil confined in restrictions, we will do great harm to it. [i] The month-long Kashi-Tamil Sangamam has increased the enthusiasm of the participants and concerned people have started saying that the common culture of North and South will come closer with this Sangamam. According to district administration officials, around 2,500 people are expected to attend the event in 12 groups from three centres across Tamil Nadu.[ii] The programme aims to provide an opportunity to people from all walks of life, including scholars, students, philosophers, traders, artisans, artists etc. from the two regions, to come together, share their knowledge, culture and best practices and learn from each other’s experiences. They will be participating in seminars and shall interact with local people of similar trade, profession and interests. A month-long exhibition of handlooms, handicrafts, ODOP products, books, documentaries, cuisine, art forms, history, tourist places etc of the two regions will also be put up in Kashi.
India is a symbol of civilizational connectivity. It will be a great platform to understand the similarities in India’s civilizational heritage through the two historical centres. This is bound to go a long way in making us realise our duties and becoming a source of energy to strengthen national unity.
This programme is in sync with the National Education Policy, 2020 which emphasizes “on nurturing a generation that is modern and in sync with the 21st-century mindset, while being rooted in the Indian culture and ethos.” Among other things, the policy recommends research to integrate the wealth of Indian Knowledge Systems with the more recent body of knowledge. Rediscovering ancient knowledge and integrating them with modern thought, philosophy, academics, technology, entrepreneurship, craftsmanship etc can help us create a valuable body of knowledge. Direct interaction between scholars, experts and practitioners of various trades, crafts and professions can help them exchange their expertise and best practices and learn from each other. This knowledge can lead to new innovations, new craftsmanship, new ways of doing business, innovation in technology etc. While ancient and traditional knowledge systems exist across all regions of India, across all ages and in multiple languages, Tamil Nadu and Kashi have been two of the oldest and most important centres of learning from times immemorial. Both these centres have been fountainheads of knowledge in the intellectual, cultural, spiritual and artisanal realms. What is more important is the fact that these two manifestations of Indian Culture, though geographically distant, have had deep and vibrant links over centuries.
The ancient connection between the two centres of knowledge is evident in many walks of life like:
- Many households in Tamil Nadu name their children as Kailasanatha, Kashinatha etc.
- King Adhiveera Rama Pandiyan of the Pandya Dynasty dedicated a Shiva Temple at Tenkasi of Tamil Nadu after his pilgrimage to Kashi. He wrote “Kashi Kandam” of Skanda Purana in Tamil poetic verses.
- Saint Kumaragurupara from Sri Vaikundam, Thoothukudi District of Tamil Nadu had excelled in bargaining with the Sultanate of Kashi with audacity and drove a lion to his courtyard to get back the Kedarghat and a place for the consecration of Vishweshwara Lingam. He had written “Kashi Kalambakam” a grammatical composition of poems on Kashi.[iii]
The Hon’ble Prime Minister also said that “In Kashi, we have Baba Vishwanath, while in Tamil Nadu we have the blessings of Lord Rameshwaram and both Kashi and Tamil Nadu are immersed in Shiva,’’ adding that be it music, literature or art, Kashi and Tamil Nadu had always been a rich source of art. While linking the cultural and spiritual relation between Kashi and Tamil Nadu, PM Modi underlined that unending love for Kashi from Tamil Nadu signifies the feeling of ‘Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat’ which was the way of life of our ancestors. He remembered Tamil Nadu’s scholars Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Rajeshwar Shastri, Mahakavi Subramania Bharti etc. who had stayed in Kashi.
“It was with this attitude of breaking language barrier and surpassing the intellectual distance that Swami Kumargurupar came to Kashi and made it his ‘karmabhoomi’ and got Kedareshwar Mandir constructed in Kashi. Later, his disciples got Kashi Vishwanath temple constructed in Thanjavur on the banks of river Kaveri,” the Hon’ble Prime Minister said and added that personalities like Manonmaniam Sundaranar, who wrote a Tamil State song, had connection of his guru with Kashi. He also remembered the role of Ramayana and Mahabharata written by Rajaji [C.Rajagopalachari] in connecting the North and the South. Referring to the ‘Panch Pran’, the Hon’ble Prime Minister said that a country with a rich heritage should be proud of its legacy and added that despite having one of the world’s oldest living languages, i.e. Tamil, we lacked in honouring it fully.[iv]
Undoubtedly, the civilisational strength driven through cultural unity is the focal tune of Kashi Tamil Sangamam (KTS) which resonates with Bharat’s Bhaava, Raaga and Taala. The relevance of such events in the modern context is extremely important. While researchers spend resources to understand the future of India, there also needs to be an equal effort to understand its past. With its present geopolitical strength recently nourished by its G-20 presidency, a growing superpower like India cannot afford to leave its past uncertain. The uncertainty in India’s past cannot be porous to leaky outflow and distorted inflow and needs to be sealed with authentic information.[v]
The Dravidian political parties in Tamil Nadu have always been at the forefront of agitations surrounding what they call as ‘Hindi imposition upon the Tamils.’ Time and again, the state of Tamil Nadu has seen a strong history of identity politics based in language, one that successive governments have sought to vehemently maintain. Anti-Hindi protests are not uncommon in a state where the current ruling party DMK has called out the New Education Policy for its supposedly ‘Brahminical undertones.’ Tamil Nadu has had a strong history of identity politics based upon language right from the early decades of post-1947 India, one that successive state governments have sought to vehemently maintain.
With the BJP emerging a major player in Tamil Nadu following the constant bickering in the opposition AIADMK since it lost the 2021 assembly polls, the DMK and its allies have been targeting institutions seen as ‘pan-Hindu bodies.’ These Dravidian parties have constantly harped on issues like the “imposition” of Hindi by the Centre, so-called neglect of Tamil language and sought to drive a Hindu-phobic narrative to check the challenge posed by the BJP. These political parties, driven by narrow political considerations, have even sought to claim that the age-old worship of Shiva in Tamil Nadu’s ancient temples is distinct from the Hindu practices in the rest of the country–just for the sake of driving a wedge in the minds of local youths. The “Sanatan Dharma”, as the oldest religion in India is described, is also sought to be equated with the pernicious caste rivalries– so that their brand of “Periyar politics” stays relevant. Having said that, in response to the Samagam, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), attacked the BJP for attempting to “impose Hindi” and “Saffronise” Tamil Nadu.[vi]
Such kind of low-level politics is bound to encourage separatist tendencies. In this respect, the Kashi Tamil Sangamam can be termed as a masterstroke by the government led by Shri Narendra Modi which will engage the youth directly through exposure to a cultural tapestry that is a common heritage of all Indians. Keeping the above-mentioned concern in mind. Modi ji chose to elaborate on the linkages between Kashi and Tamil Nadu when he underlined that Kashi and Tamil Nadu are timeless centres of our culture and civilisation. Both Sanskrit and Tamil are one of the most ancient languages that existed and hence there could not be any conflict of interest as sought to be made out by some political parties. Even today, the people from Rameswaram take a dip in the “Koti teertha” (in the main temple) before visiting Kashi for the darshan of Vishwanath. They bring back (Ganga) water from Kashi for abhiseka (ablution) at the temple in Rameswaram.
Bharatiya way of life is a continuous exploration and understanding of the unique manifestation of common civilizational treasure among the citizens in the country. It is the pathway to experience the rich and proud heritage of India that no country in the world can showcase. It therefore becomes imperative to appreciate and strengthen the bonds amongst the people of India. It is about a decisive engagement of minds that PM Modi referred to, so that the myth of separateness between northern states and the south, particularly Tamil Nadu ceases.
Amidst the concern that some sort of alienation is driven by the politics of Tamil Nadu, the need of the hour is to counter it by engaging the youth so that misconceptions about cultural differences are not overplayed. The Kashi-Tamil Sangamam can surely be termed as a step in the right direction, not in terms of gaining political ascendency, rather strengthening the concept of ‘Bharatiyata’ and fostering a sense of national unity by taking pride in the cultural heritage of our country.
(the writer is, Research Associate, SPMRF. Views expressed are his own.)
[i] Rajeev Dikshit, At Kashi Tamil meet, PM calls for breaking language barriers, The Times of India, 19 November 2022
[iv] Ramatma Srivastava, Kashi-Tamil Sangamam holy, unique: Modi, The Pioneer, 21 November 2022.
[v] Dr S Vaidhyasubramaniam, Kashi Tamil Sangamam and Dvadasha Darshan, The New Indian Express, 19 November 2022