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Today the term Dravidian usually refers to a family of languages in south India, the main ones of which are Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam. In the first and second decades of the twentieth century, the term—in south India at least—had both a racial and a linguistic meaning. For example, K. V. Reddi Naidu, a Telugu non-Brahman, speaking in support of the Andhra University Bill, appealed to Dravidians—that is, not simply to those who spoke a Dravidian language but to those who claimed to possess a common racial heritage to unite them against the so-called Aryan invaders from the north.  Reddi Naidu, however, was something of an exception, for the Telugus, even in the Justice Party, did not often speak in these racial terms.[1] In its racial sense, Dravidianism, at a very early stage, was identified with Tamil-speakers, since Tamil was considered to be the most ancient of the Dravidian languages spoken in modern India. Telugus were seldom so eager to claim Dravidian status, because Telugu, unlike Tamil, contained a great many Sanskrit words, which tended to diminish claims that Telugu was a culture independent of so-called Aryan influence. Partly also, the Telugu area did not exhibit the same polarities between Brahman and non-Brahman, such as between the Kapus and the Kammas on one side and the Brahmans on the other, as compared with the feelings of competition and hostility between the Vellalas and the Tamil Brahmans. For these reasons, although non-Brahmans from all the main Dravidian language groups of south India joined the non-Brahman movement, the use of Dravidianism as a political weapon was gradually confined to the non-Brahmans in Tamil Nadu.[2]


As in the cultural discovery of so many other regions of India, the Christian missionaries were the first to show an interest in Tamil culture, and to study the Tamil language. Late in the sixteenth century, in the wake of the Portuguese conquest of the western part of south India, now called Kerala, Jesuit missionaries began to establish schools and to make converts. The Fishery Coast—the area of the Tamil country now formed by Tinnevelly, Ramnad, and Tanjore districts—was also penetrated, and later Madura itself was used as a center for missionary activity. Roberto Di Nobili (1577-1656), the first in a series of remarkable Jesuit missionaries, made Madura his home for some time and was probably the first European to learn both Tamil and Sanskrit' But it was Constantius Beschi (1680-1743) who epitomized the quality and direction of missionary linguistic enterprise in the Tamil area.  Beschi, though he knew Sanskrit, did not introduce Sanskrit expressions into his compositions as did Di Nobili, and was much more a master of Tamil. Besides a long poem in honor of St. Joseph, his Tamil compositions included a series of Tamil grammars and numerous polemic pamphlets denouncing the work of the Lutherans who were stationed in nearby Tranquebar. His work in Tamil grammar was especially important in that he was the first European to describe the traditional division between what are known as the chaste and the vulgar or colloquial styles of Tamil. Owing to his grammatical studies and his knowledge of the classics of Tamil grammar and literature, he became well known among Tamil scholars and English scholars of Tamil in the nineteenth century, and it was largely his groundwork that encouraged later scholars to pursue the laborious task of explicating Tamil culture.' In the late 1920's Dravidianist politicians often referred to him as an example of a European who had been so impressed by the sophistication of the Tamil language as to make the great efforts necessary to master it.[3]


More important for twentieth-century politics than either the work of Di Nobili or Beschi was that of the Rev. Robert Caldwell (1819-1891), a Scottish missionary from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. Caldwell had little formal education, but he applied himself to the study first of Tamil and later, of Telugu and the other Dravidian languages, and within a decade of his arrival in India he was known in Madras circles as a man of some authority in matters of Indian history, culture, and ethnology.' At an early stage in his missionary career, Caldwell became interested in a toddy-tapping caste group known as the Shanars (today called Nadars), and in 1849 he published a book entitled The Tinnevelly Shanars. It earned him considerable repute, but annoyed the English-educated Shanars, who disliked his ascribing a non-Aryan origin to their group. Some twenty years after the publication of the book agitation against it was started. There was great controversy, and some riots occurred, and the book was withdrawn from circulation.[4] In 1881 Caldwell published a long history of Tinnevelly which was subsidized by the Madras government. His most celebrated work, however, which was to be discussed well into the next century, was A Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian or South-Indian Family of Languages, first published in 1856. This was the first attempt at a detailed philological analysis of the interrelations of the Dravidian languages.[5]


In his Grammar Caldwell did not merely analyze the linguistic affinities of the Dravidian languages; he also formulated certain theories about the origins and nature of Tamil Dravidian culture, which he suggested reached to antiquity, perhaps to the time of Christ. In the Introduction he set out his ideas on the characteristics of Dravidian culture. It was this outlines that later provided valuable ammunition for those who sought to prove the antiquity and purity of Tamil. Among other things, Caldwell denied that the Dravidian languages were derived from Sanskrit, as some, including the noted scholar H. H. Wilson, has suggested. On the contrary, he contended that “Sanskrit has not disdained to borrow ... from its Dravidian neighbours”.  Tamil, he said, the “most highly cultivated an intra of all Dravidian idioms, can dispense with its Sanskrit, if need be, and not only stand alone, but flourish, without its aid”. He pointed out that hostility toward Sanskrit had so far pervaded the minds of educated Tamilians that “a Tamil poetical composition is regarded as in accordance with good taste and worthy of being called classical, not in proportion to the amount of Sanskrit it contains, as would be the case in some other dialects, but in proportion to its freedom from Sanskrit”.  Caldwell's theory was that Sanskrit had been brought to south India originally by Aryan Brahman colonists, and with it a peculiar type of Hinduism, which embodied the worship of idols: “There is only one [idea or word] which could not be expressed with faultless propriety and poetic elegance in equivalents of pure Dravidian origin. That word is 'image!' Both word and thing are foreign to primitive Tamil usages and habits of thought, and were introduced into the Tamil country by the Brahmans with the Puranic system of religion and worship of idols”. The Brahmans, he noted, had written nothing “worthy of preservation” in Tamil. The language had been cultivated by “native Tamilians”, called Sudras by the Brahmans, even though they had been Dravidian chieftains, soldiers, and cultivators, never conquered by the Brahmans.  Indeed, the term Sudra should be dropped because its usage was associated with Brahmans and “those Europeans who take their nomenclature from Brahmans”, and instead the name of each “Dravidian caste”, according to the locality, should be used. Most of all, however, Caldwell, with great skill and understanding, showed that Tamil literature—which was only partly known to him—possessed great sophistication both in its manner of expression and in the ideas that it conveyed.[6]


Another missionary, G. U. Pope (1820-1907), also contributed much to the elevation of Tamil studies and Tamil religion as legitimate subjects of study for Oriental scholars.  Like Caldwell, Pope belonged to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, and during his many years in India he prepared a number of Tamil dictionaries and grammars. His most valuable and interesting work was a translation of the Tiruvasakam, a long religious poem which is part of the canon of the Saiva Siddhanta religious system in the Tamil area Pope greatly enhanced the arguments in favor of the antiquity and sophistication of Tamil culture by placing the Saiva Siddhanta religious system in a high position among world religions, “the choicest product of the Dravidian intellect”.[7]

Early British officials were seldom interested in Tamil literature, but they did on occasion help to elevate the cultural position of non-Brahmans. Perhaps the most unusual of the British officials in this way was J. H. Nelson, “a person of some intelligence and insight into south Indian affairs”. Although he was primarily interested in law and legal institutions, he wrote the government manual for Madura district, entitled The Madura Country (1868), in which, like Caldwell, he suggested more than once that the non-Brahman's position, by virtue of his literary and cultural achievements, was superior to that of the Brahman. He also echoed Caldwell's argument that neither the Vellalas nor the other non-Brahmans of south India should be called Sudras because this was a term that had been forced upon them by Brahmans from the north.


The formulation of the concept of Dravidian civilization quickly became involved not only with a full-scale attack on the Brahman’s cultural position but also with political issues. Members of both the Justice Party and the Madras Presidency Association rapidly absorbed the prevailing cultural theories about Dravidian antiquity and made them part of their program; the Justice Party in particular held as part of its fundamental ideology the theory that non-Brahmans were Dravidians and as such were distinct from the so-called Aryan Brahmans. P. Tyagaraja Chetti, addressing the first Justice Party Confederation in Madras in late 1917, said, “The genius of Dravidian civilization does not recognize the difference between man and man by birth. The leaders of Dravidian thought, Thiruvalluvar, Avvai, Cumbar, do not claim to be born from the brain of the God-head.... It is the Aryans who have introduced this birth distinction, which they have elaborated into the system of Varnashrama Dharma [duty to maintain the four ashramas and the four varnas] with its concomitant evils”. Another Justice member, Tangavelu Pillai, who refused to employ Brahmans as priests, told a non-Brahman conference in Madura in 1918 that he was pleased to speak in “this ancient and historic City of Madura, the cradle of the Dravidian civilization and literature. The progress and development of the Dravidas is indissolubly bound up with the growth and development of public life in this ancient city which has been the seat of social, educational and political growth of our community”.[8]


Justice Party commitment to the encouragement of Tamil and Tamil studies took a number of different forms in the years that followed. One of its consistent demands was that Madras University, which only began a research program in Tamil in 1914, should give encouragement to Tamil by putting it on equal basis “with other classical languages”. Tangavelu Pillai complained about the poor quality of Tamil instruction at Madras University in a speech in the Legislative Council and urged that “those who are put in charge of Tamil should have taken either the B.A. degree in Tamil or should be regular Tamil pandits”.  When a proposal for a Tamil university was under consideration, M. S. Purnalingam Pillai, a noted Tamil scholar who was secretary of the Tamil University Committee, moved at a Justice Confederation in December, 1925, that the government should in the near future grant to the Tamil districts a university to encourage the “growth of the Tamil language”, as well as the development of “historical consciousness among Tamilians”. T.N. Sivagnanam Pillai (Justice Minister of Development, 1923-1926) frequently stressed the need for a Tamil university, which, as he pointed out, had been advocated for almost a decade.  He also objected that “Madras University was slighting Tamil and concentrating on Sanskrit, over which Brahmans held a virtual monopoly”. The sentiments of the Justice Party on this issue were reflected in a letter to New India in 1951 (July 5) by one V. Radhakrishnan: “When a well-exploited language like Sanskrit is helped in such a bounteous way as the rewarding of rich scholarships and generous grants, surely Tamil, the language of the land, Tamil, the only hope for the reconstruction of South Indian History, deserves better treatment”. Sanskrit, he declared, “was a dead language, good only for keeping the Brahmans in the ascendant”. In the Legislative Council, too, Justice members questioned whether the government should encourage Sanskrit colleges where the admissions were “restricted to particular castes”.[9]


On a broader level, many Justicites condemned the “Aryan” Brahmans for having introduced into south India their Puranas, their Ramayana, and the Vedas, while they neglected indigenous Dravidian literature like the Silappatikaram and the Kural of Tiruvalluvar. One lecture, in Tamil, on the “Deluge of the Dark Ages”, given at the Madura Tamil Sangam in 1921, particularly stressed the damage inflicted by Brahmans on Tamil literature. Tamil, the speaker said, was “the real language of the land”, and only the emancipation of the Tamil country from the Brahmans would bring true freedom.  Other lectures emphasized the polarity between north and south. “Modern researches”, said one lecturer at a Tamil sangam meeting, “in the domains of archeology, ethnology, philosophy, and anthropology have gone a great way to prove that the Tamilians had no sort of connection with the north or northern settlers, and they never derived their letters or arts or civilization from the Aryans”. [10]


Echoing arguments that had first been given currency by Caldwell, many non-Brahmans accused Brahmans of injecting Tamil religion with idols and foreign Vedic doctrines. Many non-Brahman caste Hindus in the Justice Party wished to encourage the Saiva Siddhanta religious system, which had for its chief canon The Twelve Tirumurai in Tamil, and which claimed to be distinctive from the teachings of Sankara in its belief in a separate identity of the Supreme Spirit and the human. In 1886 a Saiva Siddhanta Sabha was established for the threefold purpose of cultivating Dravidian languages and history, influencing holders of religious endowments to eliminate corruption, and popularizing what was called Dravidian religion or Saiva Siddhanta. One of the chief proponents was J. M. Nallaswami Pillai, a Tamil Vellala and government official (the father of J. N. Ramanathan, a prominent exponent of Tamil interests in the Justice Party). In 1897 he began a journal called The Light of Truth; or  Siddhanta Deepika, in the hopes “that some of the alumni of the Madras University” might be induced to explore early Dravidian literature so as to throw light on the “normal literature, manners, customs, and so forth, of their own land; following the example of their distinguished countrymen in Bombay and Bengal”. Nallaswami Pillai lectured on Saiva Siddhanta and translated a number of Saiva Siddhanta texts into English; some of his articles from Siddhanta Deepika were published in 1911 in a volume entitled Studies in Saiva Siddhanta. He had hoped through his work to unite non-Brahmans, but as he told a Justice Party conference in 1918, Saiva Siddhanta did not have the same force in mobilizing non-Brahman opinion as the Justice Party did.


There were many other occasions when Tamil caste Hindus in the non-Brahman movement came out strongly in favor of Saiva Siddhanta as the original Tamil religion. C. Natesa Mudaliar, for instance, in the debate on the Hindu Religious Endowments Bill, said that Saiva Siddhanta was the “prehistoric religion of the Dravidians, [which] stands now as independent as it was thousands of years ago. On another occasion, when the proposed appointment of a Reader in Indian philosophy at Madras University was being discussed in the University Senate, a dispute broke out between S. Satyamurti and T. A. Ramalingam Chetti about Saiva Siddhanta as a system of philosophy peculiar to Tamil Nad. Ramalingam Chetti, a former Justice member, insisted that if a Readership in Philosophy were to be established in the university it should be in ‘south Indian Philosophy’ or Tamil Saiva Siddhanta. Satyamurti opposed him, arguing that simply because the bulk of Indian philosophy was written in Sanskrit was hardly a valid reason for not studying it”.[11]


The distinguished Vellala historian M. S. Purnalingam Pillai was one of those who considered Saiva Siddhanta to be a great Tamilian contribution to World culture, and he explained why in his book Tamil Literature: “The Saiva Siddhanta system is the indigenous philosophy of South India and the choicest product of the Tamilian intellect. The system does not recognise the Aryan limitation of Siva as the destroyer, but considers Him (rather It) as the author of functions, creation, protection, destruction, grace and release... . This high and noble system based on the Agamas or Saiva Scriptures, was corrupted by the puranic writers, whose sole object was to reconcile the Vedas and the Agamas and, in so doing, to give the palm to the former. Hence the modern Saivism ... is full of the lovely creations of the puranic fancy and contains all the inconsistencies and improbabilities of the Aryan pantheism. The Tamilar [Tamilians] overborne by the political ascendancy of the Aryans, accepted the system, which stained the white radiance of their philosophical faith, and popularised it, though it was quite against their grain”.

These feelings of resentment against the Brahmans, as representatives of the Aryan invasion, for their corruption of the original Dravidian religion were transmitted not only by the annual meetings of the Saiva Siddhanta Sabha but by numerous Saiva Sidhanta meetings held in the district towns of the Tamil areas. These meetings did much to popularize the new interpretation of Valmiki's Ramayana, in which Ravana was not a weakling but a hero, and Rama, on the other hand, was immoral and dishonest. It was through these meetings that non-Brahman caste Hindus in the Tamil country were made aware of the superiority of the Saiva scriptures, the Agamas, over the Sanskrit Vedas.[12]


A corollary of the belief that the Aryans had defiled the religion of the Dravidians was the accusation that they had also introduced the caste system into south India. One letter to New India in 1916 (May 3) expressed the opinions of many non-Brahmans when, it said that the Dravidians “are outside the fourfold division of the Aryan Castes. Their castes have each a distinct name of its own. It is true their position at present is very low and pitiable. That cannot justify anyone calling them Shudra, a term contemptible enough”. As we have seen, this resentment dated back to the late nineteenth century, when Vellalas, at least, began to feel offended at being classed in the ranks of Sudras. Sundaram Pillai, writing to Nallaswami Pillai in 1896, complained that the “Vellalas who form the flower of the Dravidian race have now so far forgotten their nationality as to habitually think and speak of themselves as Sudras. Utterances of this sort became more commonplace after the founding of the Justice Party. Tyagaraja Chetti, in late 1917, said that the Brahmans' attitude toward the non-Brahmans was as old as “the Aryan civilization itself, which made all labouring classes servants, the servants of the Aryans, calling them Sudras”.[13]


The Tamil Vellalas were indeed, of all the non-Brahman caste Hindu groups, the ones most anxious to shed the Sudra designation. And since they formed the backbone of the Justice Party, their social and political resentments were closely intertwined. They were second as a caste group only to the Brahmans, and thus in a position to feel particularly threatened by the Tamil Brahmans. In certain areas such as Tinnevelly district, a seat of Vellala strength, they were almost as orthodox as the Brahmans. And they were in an ideal position to reap the advantages if the Brahmans were toppled. Another element that added a sense of dynamism to their conflict with the Brahmans was the identification of the Vellalas with the original Dravidians, an identification that they liked to assert by using the term Tamilar or ‘Tamilians’, by which Vellalas are commonly referred to in Tamil. M. Srinivasa Aiyangar, a Tamil Sri Vaishnava Brahman, popularized this identification to some extent in his work Tamil Studies, 64 but it was carried furthest by Swami Vedachalam (1875-1950). In a Tamil work called Vellaar nakarikam (“Vellala Civilization”), published in 1923, Swami Vedachalam declaimed at length against Brahmans  Using the Tolkappiyam and other Tamil works as his sources, he argued that the Brahmans had come to the Tamil country, established their caste system under a code of Manu, and relegated all Dravidians to positions of servility and degradation. Unlike other parts of India where there were Kshatriyas and Vaisyas, the Tamil-speaking areas had been forced by the Aryan Brahmans into a strict division of Brahman and non-Brahman, all the non-Brahman caste Hindus being classed as Sudras and kept down by means of vicious laws. Like many other writers, Swami Vedachalam identified the Vellalas with the ancient Dravidians, the heirs of a proud and great civilization. Thus the Vellalas got a myth of their origins and degradation, from which they developed a strong drive for a sense of identity and cultural self-confidence.[14]


Other writers, such as the Indian Christian J. P. D. David, originally a Vellala, and the author of a pamphlet entitled Tint-vitaiyakkamum vellalar kavuntarum (“The Dravidian Movement and the Vellala Gounders”), published in 1918, urged this caste group to take advantage of the opportunities implicit in the non-Brahman movement. Vellalas also claimed a special role as patrons of the major Tamil authors. In 1915 S. Somasundaram Pillai, the future spokesman for non-Brahman interests in government service, was quoted in New India (Apr. 28) as saying,-that “The Vellala has been lord of the manor, the patron of literature, and promoter and conservator of piety and virtue.... Kamban dedicated his immortal Ramayana to his patron, a Vellala”.[15]

One of the most perceptive analyses of the relation between the Vellalas and Tamil culture was written by a Telugu Brahman, N. Subba Rao (general secretary to the Congress in 1915). In an essay For and Against the Andhra Province (1913), he pointed out the uniqueness of the Tamil language. The Tamils were, he wrote, justifiably proud that their literature “is the only Vernacular literature in India which has not been content with imitating Sanskrit but has honourably attempted to ... outshine it”. Furthermore, “The Tamils have developed a religion and philosophy on their own lines, known as Saiva Siddhanta which Dr. Pope regards as the ‘most influential and undoubtedly the most valuable of the religions of India’ and whose orthodox Vellala followers have adopted a strictly vegetarian diet, eschewing all liquor and claim to rank as high as the Brahmins in their intellectuality and purity of life”.[16]


In the face of these challenges south Indian Brahmans made increasing attempts to illustrate the contribution of Brahmans to ancient Tamil civilization. One of the attempts was that of M. Srinivasa Aiyangar in his Tamil Studies. In this work Srinivasa Aiyangar reviewed all the materials available for research on the Tamil past and arrived at a number of conclusions, some of which would not be accepted by scholars today. He agreed with many of his non-Brahman contemporaries that the ancient Dravidians were to be identified with the Tamil Vellalas, but he also argued against the ideas of Caldwell, Somasundaram Pillai, and Somasundara Bharati that Tamil and Tamil culture were free from Sanskrit: “The Early Dravidians are considered by Dr. Caldwell as the framers of the best moral codes, and by the new school of non-Aryan Tamil Scholars as the inventors, independent of the slightest Aryan or other influence, of grammar, philosophy, theology, and in fact of every science and art. It is enough to remind them that the earliest grammarians of Tamil were Brahmans, their first spiritual instructors were Brahmans, and their first teachers of philosophy were also Brahmans”.[17]


Another Brahman scholar, R. Swaminatha Iyer, a retired deputy collector, took up the argument from the philological point of view. Evidence showed, he wrote, that “what are known as Dravidian languages are in all their present essential features a creation of Aryan and Aryanised immigrants from the North ... It also follows ... that the tradition about Agastya's immigration to the south is not a mere myth and that what is known as Dravidian civilization of the South is merely the civilization of these Aryan and Aryanised immigrants”. A. Tamil Brahman novelist named A. Madhaviah wrote an article in New India (Aug. 10, 1916) denouncing those who called the Bhagavad Gita and the Ramayana and other Sanskrit works the cunning invention of a diabolical priesthood.


It is evident that many Brahmans thought the best way to defend their position in south Indian society was to join Mrs. Besant—either as members of the Home Rule movement, or as Theosophists, or at least as readers of New India. Others joined the Varnashrama Dharma movement. This movement was centered on a belief in so-called ‘pure’ Hinduism, including a respect for, and adherence to, caste duties and to the four ashramas. In April, 1915, a group of Tamil Brahmans mainly from Srirangam and Kumbakonam formed a Varnashrama Sabha, and later that year they began to publish a journal, Varnashrama Dharma. Another journal, the Hindu Message, was started in October, 1917. Under the leadership of two Smartha Brahmans, K. Sundaram Aiyer (1854-1938) and N. Subramanya Aiyer (1854-1948), a series of conferences was held at which Brahmans such as K. S. Ramaswami Sastri gave lectures on the place of the Sastras in the ‘scheme of Life’.  At one of these conferences a resolution was passed reiterating the belief that the ‘Vedas and the Smritis had for their sole object the preservation of the Brahmana race without any admixture of other blood, so that the Vedas may be preserved by a set of qualified people and bred up in a purely Vaidic atmosphere’.  One essay sponsored by the leaders of the movement noted that “The Brahmin is the fit leader in the field of Varnashrama Dharma, in the sense that he alone is qualified to show the way to others”.[18]


For the most part, the Varnashrama Dharma movement, rather than facing the Brahman—non-Brahman issue squarely, tried to cajole the non-Brahmans into joining the Brahmans. They too, the reasoning went, were ‘noble Aryans’, and they must “firmly believe that the truly orthodox Brahmin is your real friend and Saviour, both for the life here and for the life beyond”.[19]  Many Brahmans as well as non-Brahmans were dismayed by these pronouncements. The poet Subramania Bharati very clearly disassociated himself from the movement and its beliefs. “I happen”, he said, “to differ from the worthy Professor [Sundaram Aiyer], aye differ fundamentally, radically, absolutely. I think that even we, Brahmanas, are men and each man's tuft or dinner is his own private concern. V.S. Srinivasa Sastri, a Tamil Smartha Brahman who led the Servants of India Society, told the Joint Select Committee in London that no politician of “any consequence” had anything to do with such an “obscurantist body” as Varnashrama Dharma.  Justice Party leaders also strongly opposed the movement, which they thought aimed to re-enslave non-Brahman Hindus.


In politics, where the threat to the Brahman position was even more apparent, the Brahmans never organized any concerted counterattack on the non-Brahmans. Individual Brahmans, like C. P. Ramaswami Aiyer, a man of great intelligence and sophistication, suggested that the non-Brahman's feeling of being threatened was purely subjective. Ramaswami Aiyer told Montagu during his visit to India in 1917 of his strong desire to rid politics of the ‘absurd representations against the Brahmans’. Some Brahmans thought the division of south Indian society might be healed by abandoning the terms Brahman and non-Brahman. As V.P. Madhava Rao, a Maharashtrian Brahman from Tanjore put it, there were Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas, and Sudras in Hindu society, but there was no such distinction as between Brahman and non-Brahman.[20]


As the stature of Tamil as an ancient and venerable language became more and more apparent, moves were made to develop it into a workable political language. Unlike Telugu, which had begun to take on the characteristics of a modern language in the nineteenth century, Tamil still lacked much of the vocabulary that it needed for politics. Only at the beginning of the Home Rule movement in 1916 did it come into use as a campaign language.  The Telugu Congress unit, granted in 1917, and the subsequent use of Telugu at meetings encouraged the Tamils to employ their own language for political purposes. Nearly all these efforts were the result of Congress members—both Brahmans and non-Brahmans. The Justice Party, having no desire to become a mass-based party, made no particular attempt to work in Tamil. At a Madras Congress Provincial Conference held at Cuddalore in 1917, V. P. Madhava Rao, a Maharashtrian Brahman from Tanjore, pointed out that those who had spoken in Tamil at the meeting had demonstrated conclusively “the capacity of the Tamil language for the expression of ideas connected with administration, with law, and politics”. The following year Dr. P. Varadarajulu Naidu, a Congress member, undertook a political tour for the Home Rule movement in which he used only Tamil, and he effectively proved how valuable it could be as a political tool. At Negapatam, his first triumph, he attracted a huge crowd of workers from the railway shops. At Madura he spoke to millworkers—so vigorously, in fact, that he was arrested.  He was convicted on the evidence of shorthand transcripts of his Tamil speeches, despite his protest that such transcripts could not accurately represent his statements because Tamil shorthand was insufficiently developed. But he still continued to advocate the use of Tamil for political purposes.[21]


After the First World War had ended and greater freedom of speech was possible in the presidency, the issue of speaking only in Tamil at political meetings in the Tamil area arose once more. At a Congress meeting on August 23, 1919, S. Somasundara Bharati successfully got through a resolution declaring that “all speeches at political meetings should be made in Tamil instead of in English.  This meant that at later meetings even C. P. Ramaswami Iyer and V. S. Srinivasa Sastri, Brahmans well known for their command of English, were obligated to speak in Tamil”.  Two years later, in 1921, when all four Dravidian language areas at last had separate Congress organizational units or circles, it was stipulated that all proceedings, accounts, and transactions were to be carried out not in English but in the language of the circle—that is, in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, or Malayalam.


Journalism, too, was useful in developing Tamil into a political language. The first Tamil-language daily newspaper, Swadeshimitran, founded as a weekly in 1880 and made a daily in 1899, was for some years the only Tamil or vernacular daily in south India. But in 1917 both the Justice Party and the M.P.A. established daily papers printed in Tamil. The Justice daily, Dravidian, was perhaps financially more successful than the M.P.A: s Desabhaktan, but the latter, under the editorship of Tiru. Vi. Kaliyanasundaram Mudaliar, was certainly the more distinguished.[22]


Tiru. Vi. Ka. (as Kaliyanasundaram Mudaliar is known in Tamil Nadu), a Vellala, was born in 1883. He was educated at Wesley High School in Madras and later at a school of commerce. He was first attracted to Mrs. Besant's Home Rule movement, but later joined the M.P.A. Through his efforts as editor of Desabhaktan he established a new style of Tamil journalism, less conservative than the old and openly directed at the mass Tamil-speaking public, whom he hoped to arouse to political awareness. It was, he thought, “regrettable indeed that while all the rest of the world is basking in the sunshine of liberty, the Tamil land alone should not be alive to it. A good many of his editorials criticized the government and the Tamilians, and on at least two occasions in 1918, while the war was still in progress, he was in trouble with the Government of Madras. He also became involved in the labor movement started by Mrs. Besant's friend B. P. Wadia, and he later became an important labor leader himself. His most enduring contribution was, however, in the field of journalism. He left Desabhaktan in July, 1920 (the paper was taken over by V.V.S. Aiyer, who later founded the Tamil Gurukulam at Shermadevi), to start his own journal, a weekly called Nava Sakti. Nava Sakti was more intellectual and serious than Desabhaktan, and dealt not only with political matters but also with education and art and such topics as social equality and the welfare of women. Like Desabhaktan, however, the new journal spoke directly to Tamilians, in Tamil Nadu and overseas as well, creating for them a picture of their past heritage and at the same time trying to stir them to action in the present.  In 1921, for instance, Tiru. Vi. Ka., complaining of the poor response of the Tamil districts to the non-cooperation movement, wrote that “If the old Tamil civilization, education and rule were now prevalent in the country spiritual movements like that of non-cooperation would spread without any effort. But modern civilization, education and [the] system of administration stand in the way of that movement whose express object is the destruction of these three things.[23]


There is no doubt that Tiru. Vi. Ka. gave Tamil journalism a literary stature and quality that it had not possessed before. He used a style of Tamil known as sen Tamil or “pure Tamil” to describe political and social ideas—the first time this had been done—and his efforts won him great admiration and attracted to him and to the cause of Tamil journalism many who would otherwise have remained untouched by political opinion.


The identification of a Dravidian culture by the Christian missionaries provided non-Brahmans with an opportunity to identify themselves with this ancient Dravidian culture. Their methods of documenting this identification took many forms—the formation of political parties, a demand for the recognition of what were thought to be indigenous systems of language, religion, and medicine, and, in the second and third decades of the century, an interest in literature and journalism. Gradually, the Tamil language was being transformed into a weapon of great power and expressiveness. Mostly through the efforts of the editors of the Dravidan, Bhaktavatsalam Pillai and later J.S. Kannappar, through Varadarajulu Naidu and his papers the Prapanchamitran and Tamilnadu and those of Kaliyanasundaram Mudaliar in the columns first of Desabhaktan and later Nava Sakti, Tamil as a literate modern language came to have a stature of which Tamils could feel proud.[24]


Implicit in all these activities was that the Brahmans as Aryans from the north had no role in the creation or maintenance of Dravidian culture. If some Tamil Brahmans, long renowned for their Sanskrit learning, reacted to the threat of Dravidianism by seeking to emphasize their connection with Tamil and with the Tamil region and all it represented, it was a losing battle. Other deeper and more elemental forces were at work which assisted in giving currency to the belief that Tamil was the sole possession of the non-Brahmans. By law, Brahmans were to lose their positions as administrators and government servants. Their hold on the educational institutions, particularly Madras University, was broken. And as politicians their position was challenged both by the Justice Party and by Congress. It was the non-Brahman threat to their economic welfare and security that posed the greatest immediate problem and the only solution was to redirect Brahman skills and capacities into trade and industry in Tamil Nadu and in the urban areas of north India. Non-Brahman successes were to have more significant long-term effects for south India; for the Dravidianists realized that in the Brahmans they had good whipping boys, and as a result the forces for Tamil separatism became involved in a series of battles which helped to perpetuate social conflict in south India, and particularly in the Tamil area.[25]


When the Justice Party was formed in late 1916 anti-Brahman sentiment was not a new phenomenon in Madras. In the 1880's and to an even greater extent in the 1890's, non-Brahmans in many different capacities voiced their concern about the growing number of Brahmans in the public services, in the Indian National Congress, and on the District Boards, and about Brahmans in general as the dominant group in the religious and social life of south India. This criticism was not confined simply to the Tamil areas; it appeared also in the Malayalam-speaking Malabar district, in Mysore, and in the Telugu districts. But even though feeling against Brahmans—and particularly against Tamil Brahmans—became a recurrent and ever louder theme, it was not until 1916 that a non-Brahman organization came into existence.


In 1896 the I.C.S. and other members of the British bureaucracy in Madras were hostile to Brahman politicians and to what they represented. Twenty years later, however, Mrs. Besant's Home Rule movement, with its Brahman support, seemed a much more alarming menace to the British raj, coming as it did after some years of Brahman participation in the Swadeshi and Terrorist agitations in Madras and elsewhere. Madras I.C.S. and police officials could point to the murder of the District Magistrate Ashe by a Brahman in 1911, and to many other acts of violence by Brahmans in Bombay and Bengal to substantiate the claim that Brahmans—especially Brahman lawyers—were a threat to the peace and tranquility of India. Furthermore, to the extent that Brahman city-trained politicians made demands that were not considered to represent the real needs of India but rather those of an artificial and highly vocal elite, it was felt that more attention should be paid to the increasingly persistent and articulate requests of the non-Brahman caste Hindus. Because they under the aegis of the Justice Party favored the continuance of ties between England and India, they gained the support of the British bureaucracy in Madras during a period when the Empire was threatened by war and when a demand for Home Rule for India was considered nothing short of treasonable.[26]


In 1916-1917 the Justice Party was able to develop a leadership and a following that would have been impossible twenty years earlier. In 1896 there were few educated Hindus to take on the responsibilities of organizing a movement, or to comprise any very large membership. Furthermore, though there was in 1896 great hostility toward Brahmans, the hostility was not widespread in the non-Brahman community, nor of a character to stimulate political interest. Neither were there sufficient non-Brahmans in the higher ranks of the government services to support non-Brahman demands, whereas by the time of the hearings of the Public Services Commission in 1913, non-Brahman leaders could count on the backing of several important non-Brahmans in the government. Finally, the work of Caldwell and Nallaswami Pillai On the Origins and Nature of Dravidian civilization, had met with a large, and growing, readership among first-generation college-educated non-Brahman caste Hindus.


Aside from the question of timing, two other points are relevant to an assessment of the non-Brahman movement. The first of these has to do with the importance of the Justice Party and what it represented for other regionalistic movements in India. What bearing has the development of the non-Brahman movement on the reasons for official support and the internal development of other ‘backward classes’ movements in India during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries? Second, what was the effect of the non-Brahman movement on the life of south India and of the nation generally? To what extent did it transform social and political relations in Madras province?


Government support to ‘backward classes’ movements in India has occurred in many contexts. When the I.C.S. officers in Madras assisted non-Brahmans in their drive for a more substantial control over the positions of importance in government employment, they were following a practice that had been part of I.C.S. thinking for many years. Yet when the Justice Party was given help by the government in 1918 and 1919 it was the first time that the traditional British distrust of Brahmans had been expressed in plainly political terms in Madras. One must remember that British members of the I.C.S. had had little experience with politics in England, and in India their attention was largely focused on the needs of the peasants in rural areas—needs which did not figure prominently in the demands of the Indian National Congress and the Home Rule movement. Therefore, in granting assistance to the Justice Party the British administration was probably seeking to do several things. First of all, the British seriously wanted to redress the social imbalance in Madras.[27] According to British principles of social justice, the Brahmans possessed far too much social and religious control over the non-Brahman caste Hindus and the untouchables. Second, the British were still worried about saving the government services from complete domination by the Brahmans. Possibly, also, the British encouraged the Justice Party because they found it an effective way of keeping the province divided and weak, thus controllable, at a time when the British raj seemed to be threatened by the activities of Mrs. Besant and the Home Rule League. By encouraging the self-awareness of non-Brahmans, the British could help to popularize the need for a continued British connection with India, and in so doing maintain the stability of the British position. All these motives in different ways played a part in shaping the British administration's reaction to non-Brahman demands. There is, for example, little doubt that Lord Pentland was interested in keeping Brahman politicians in check, and of retaining the ‘administrative splendor’ that Montagu found in Madras in December, 1917. At the same time, an important element in the Madras bureaucratic establishment continually sought to uphold the efficiency of the government regardless of caste considerations and resisted Justice Party attempts to impose measures giving preferential treatment to non-Brahman caste Hindus. The British reaction to the non-Brahman movement in Madras in the middle of the First World War was one in a series of attempts to quash the pretensions of south Indian Brahmans. In other words, the British administrators in Madras were responding in much the same way as might other provincial governments in India which wanted to limit the control of elites over public life. This suggests that one of the ways in which the British sought to ‘manage’ nationalist expression in modern India was to encourage regionalist feelings. Maintaining the British hegemony meant keeping the country divided.[28]


In many ways the regionalist feeling which arose in the Tamil area during the decade after the First World War was typical of movements of this sort elsewhere on the subcontinent. Customarily, such movements have used Legislative Councils to assure a position to ‘backward classes’ in the matter of government employment; they have developed a myth of antiquity and cultural superiority; there has been a provincial political party to voice their demands, followed by a series of auxiliary organizations whose function it is to communicate the origin-myth to the wider population. A direct outcome of the non-Brahman movement was the legal granting to non-Brahman caste Hindus in Madras presidency of all the apparatus necessary to operate the provincial political, administrative, and educational machinery. With the requisite government support, educational places for non-Brahman university students, a political party that served the needs of caste Hindus, and the cultural self-confidence that came with the articulation of the myth of Dravidian origin, non-Brahmans in the Tamil area were able to achieve a commanding position in the province. Like other Indian regionalist movements, the non-Brahman movement in south India not only allowed members of the non-Brahman elite to play a predominant provincial role but ultimately thrust them into positions of national importance, as politicians, administrators, businessmen, and so on.[29]


It is often assumed that the only effect of the rise of the non-Brahmans to power in Tamil Nadu was to force the Tamil Brahmans out into the cold, driving them away from the professional life of Madras and cutting them off from the sources of power at both provincial and national levels. As this study has sought to indicate, there is little question but that the drive of non-Brahmans for places in government and education and the decline of Brahman social and religious prestige in Tamil Nadu—which became much worse in the 1930's and immediately after Independence—caused great anguish among Brahmans. Many were denied admission to colleges and universities and were discriminated against in government employment. But this hostility also forced them to rechannel their energies and interests into other areas of employment. One field in which they worked with great energy and imagination to find a place for able personnel was that of business and commerce. Indeed, Brahman efforts were so successful that present-day Madras business enterprise has a very large Brahman contingent. This redirection of Brahman literate and professional skills toward entrepreneurship was not entirely new even in the 1920's, despite many assertions to this effect by Brahman commentators at the time. Many Tamil Brahmans also entered educational institutions outside Madras, and others became businessmen, journalists, and bureaucrats in the cities of northern and western India. Thus the non-Brahman movement had the effect of forcing many Tamil Brahmans out of the province and into the all-India sphere.[30]


One of the important areas in which the Brahman provincial role was altered in the Tamil area was in the Tamil Nadu Congress organization. During the 1920's and even more in the following decade, Brahmans in the T.N.C.C. were attacked both ‘from without and from within’; after non-Brahmans began entering Congress in large numbers following the 1927 Justice Party decision, Brahmans found their position increasingly tenuous. When Independence came, non-Brahmans were in control of most of the Congress leadership in the area. But the process by which the Tamil Congress became non-Brahman was only one of several ways in which the whole nature of south Indian politics and social relations was transformed with the introduction of the competitive style of politics. In the political arena the change was seen to some extent in the fight between Swarajists and Justicites for power and position in the Madras Legislative Council. In life it affected a much wider variety of situations, at first in the towns, and later, with the rise of the Self-Respect movement, in the villages as well. Here the traditional position of the Brahmans at the head of the social hierarchy was challenged, and political and social relations between Brahmans and non-Brahmans were gravely shaken.


At the same time, the competitive style of politics which came into being in with the rise of the Justice Party in 1919 and 1920 also saw the introduction of the Montagu—Chelmsford Reforms. Though these Reforms were boycotted by the Congress, they nonetheless taught the educated of Madras the value of parliamentary democracy and gradually involved many persons formerly outside the political process. The Justice Party's participation in the Reforms exaggerated the already substantial administrative and political ‘gulf between Madras and the central government in New Delhi’. In arguing so forcefully with Delhi for the rights of Madras in the provincial contributions issue, Madras spokesmen were merely giving political voice to what until then had been an administrative irritation. The feeling that Madras is being treated shabbily has been a continuing feature of twentieth-century politics. Right or wrong, Madras politicians and bureaucrats have continued to believe that their province is unique and that its problems require special attention.[31]


In cultural terms, the non-Brahman caste Hindus, particularly from the Tamil area, considered that Tamil Nadu had been the victim of Brahman scheming and attempted cultural conquest. Both in the 1920's and later this belief expressed itself in a demand for a ‘Tamil Nadu for the Tamilians’—that is, for non-Brahmans—which could operate free from Brahman and north Indian interference. Tamil separatism therefore came to represent a distinct threat to Indian unity in the years immediately following Independence. Claims for a separate south Indian political entity have usually been expressed in terms of the validity of Tamil and Tamil culture as opposed to north Indian Sanskritic culture.[32]  This claim has implied the need to satisfy the aspirations of Tamil non-Brahmans and to promote the role that Tamil, both as a language and as a symbol, should play in regional affairs. As these aspirations are satisfied or acquire a place in the life of the country, the demand for a separate Tamil country is bound to become less insistent. Representatives of south India in the center, in both administration and in politics, will also enhance the connection of the south with the rest of Indian public life. Tamil separatist feeling and social conflict has perhaps brought about the decay of many traditional values, but it has also made Tamils more aware of their part in a developing India.





[1]       G.V. Subba Rao, Op.Cit., p. 48.  Also see Autapalli Narayana Rao, Visalandhramu (Telugu), Madras, Jupiter Press, 1940, pp. 76-83.

[2]       C.J. Baker and D.A. Washbrook, Op.Cit., p. 65.  Also see C.J. Baker, Op.Cit., p.333.

[3]       C.J. Baker and D.A. Washbrook, Op.Cit., pp. 66-70.

[4]       R.L. Hard Grave, Nadars of Tamilnad, pp. 120-40.

[5]       C.J. Baker, Op.Cit., pp. 240-60.  Also see Eugene F. Irschick, Op.Cit., pp. 220-30.

[6]       R.L. Hard Grave, The Dravidian Movement, Bombay, 1965, pp. 30-40.

[7]       C.J. Baker and D.A. Washbrook, Op.Cit., p. 78.

[8]       R.L. Hard Grave, The Dravidian Movement, pp. 55-60.  Also see Krishna Patrika, December, 20, 1917, p. 15.

[9]        Ibid., pp. 67-70.  Eugene F. Irschick, Op.Cit., pp. 110-15.

[10]      C.J. Baker and D.A. Washbrook, Op.Cit., p. 77.

[11]      Ibid., pp. 78-80.

[12]      E. Thurston, Op.Cit., Vol. II, p. 119.

[13]      Ibid., pp. 119-122.  For more information see R.L. Hard Grave, The Dravidian Movement, pp. 65-70.

[14]      C.J. Baker and D.A. Washbrook, Op.Cit., pp. 80-82 and R.L. Hard Grave, Essays in the Political Sociology, pp.  40-45.

[15]      C.J. Baker and D.A. Washbrook, Op.Cit., p. 125.  Also see E. Thurston, Op.Cit., Vol. II, pp. 115-20.

[16]      R.L. Hard Grave, The Dravidian Movement, Op.Cit., p. 64.  Also see Autapalli Narayana Rao, Op.Cit., pp. 350-51.

[17]      E. Thurston, Op.Cit., Vol. IV, pp. 150-52.

[18]      E. Thurston, Op.Cit., Vol. II, pp. 115-25.  Also see Eugene F. Irschick, Op.Cit., pp.80-82 and R.L. Hard Grave, Political Sociology, p. 130.

[19]      Ibid.

[20]      E. Thurston, Op.Cit., Vol. IV, p. 133.

[21]      C.J. Baker, Op.Cit., pp. 230-35.  A. Kaleshwar Rao, Op.Cit., pp. 230-35.

[22]      Ibid.

[23]      C.J. Baker and D.A. Washbrook, Op.Cit., p. 104.

[24]      C.J. Baker, Op.Cit., pp. 230-32.  Also see Eugene F. Irschick, Op.Cit., pp. 240-55.

[25]      Ibid pp. 260-65.  Also see R.L. Hard Grave, Political Sociology, pp. 130-35.

[26]      C.J. Baker and D.A. Washbrook, Op.Cit., p. 107.  Also see C.J. Baker, Op.Cit., pp.220-30.

[27]      Andhra Patrika, June, 27, 1919, pp. 10-12.  Also see C.J. Baker, Op.Cit., p. 232.

[28]      Eugene.F. Irschick, Op.Cit., pp. 283-89.  R.L. Hard Grave, Dravidian Movement, p.132.

[29]      G.V. Subba Rao, Op.Cit., pp. 32-38;  A. Kaleshwar Rao, Op.Cit., pp. 230-35;  B.Kesavanarayana, Op.Cit., pp. 300-302.

[30]      Eugene.F. Irschick, Op.Cit., pp. 288-89.

[31]      Andhra Patrika, June, 30, 1919, pp. 15-16.  Also see C.J. Baker, Op.Cit., pp. 215-20.

[32]      R.L. Hard Grave, The Nadars of Tamilnad, pp. 205-10.