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Who is Dravidian is a perennial question in Tamil public life. Even the Ilaiyaraja controversy has meandered to that question.

The Ilaiyaraja row is not a naturally occurring event that is the job of journalists to uncover and write about. It is a staged event orchestrated to create hype, influence public opinion, and make people talk and think about.

But a spinoff of the controversy that also has a deep implication is Yuvan Shankar’s apparent response to his father’s stance that he remains a dark-skinned Dravidian and a proud Tamizhan. Only sons can jump to fiercely oppose their fathers.

BJP’s K Annamalai has taken that further and said he too is a dark-skinned Dravidian and he doesn’t know Hindi. Looks like the BJP will do anything, go on all fours, or even beg to get some support in Tamil Nadu.

Tamil nationalist Seeman, who has sought to demarcate between Dravidian and Tamil, has said that being dark-skinned alone doesn’t make one Dravidian. Even the buffalo is dark-skinned, he said. Taking umbrage, former minister and AIADMK leader D Jayakumar has taken this to mean comparing Dravidians with buffaloes.

This is not the end. Whoever is going to weigh in will get media and social media attention. So many will be tempted to get their fifteen minutes of fame although they have already started looking silly.

But who is Dravidian, then? From Periyar through Anna to others, many have spent much time to expound their ideas.

Initially Dravidian referred to the generic South Indian since the Madras Presidency covered all four linguistic groups in the south. The founders of the Dravidian movement were a Tamil, a Telugu and a Malayalee. Periyar’s native language was Kannada. Today, Dravidian only means Tamil, just like the original word, Dravida, was a corruption of the word, Tamila.

Dravidian referred to those who were not Aryan, in other words, brahmins. It was an ethnic, caste category. You were born into it and could not become it. You could choose to leave though.

This has resulted in a lot of stereotypes entering the discourse. The brahmin stereotype, for instance, is that of a calculating, selfish man given to intrigues and deceit who has an innate sense of superiority and looks down upon others of not his own caste. There are many other stereotypes of such kind.

But some of the early writings of Periyar and Anna have gone a lot further on what or who is Dravidian. And they have cited the early Sangam works to support their viewpoint.

The Aryan lifestyle is driven by metaphysics and other-worldly standpoints. It denies reality and values rituals, traditions and spirituality. It upholds strict rules and curbs on individual action and freedom. The caste system is one strong example of the Aryan worldview. The Aryan lifestyle leads to a closed world and a mind that is neurotic. The exuberance and joy in freedom is lost. Creativity is limited because of the inhibitions. But power, statecraft and intrigue are part of it.

Dravidian referred to those who were not Aryan, in other words, brahmins. It was an ethnic, caste category. You are born into it and cannot become it then. You could choose to leave though.

The Dravidian lifestyle is the opposite. It is close to nature. The Sangam verses talk about nature, beauty in nature, and beauty in humans. There is no metaphysics, no transcendent reality that is contemplated, described or even speculated. Dravidian life is fully immersed in the world, not in the other-world. Agriculture, engineering, shipping, warfare, love, politics and romance constitute the Dravidian lifestyle. Earthy, blunt, fierce and open, the Dravidian man or woman enjoys nature and life. He is interested in what is new.

These are ideas, poles around which human life revolves everywhere. They are conflicting pulls that govern all life, whether in Tamil Nadu or anywhere else in the world. They are a product of history and evolution in human consciousness.

Many decades ago, these two worldviews were probably lived by different caste groups. Consider Rajaji and M Karunanidhi. More than anyone, Karunanidhi lived a fully Dravidian life.

So, who is Dravidian has little to do with the colour of the skin. It doesn’t have much to do with the buffalo either.


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