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Know your country: Rooted in tradition, Tamilians have a zillion deities to keep them happy

Know your country: Rooted in tradition, Tamilians have a zillion deities to keep them happy

Know your country: Rooted in tradition, Tamilians have a zillion deities to keep them happy
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By Vijay Kumar Gaba  Jan 7, 2020 8:30:12 PM IST (Updated)

Very few people in North India appreciate that the Tamil people have a major role in the evolution, preservation and promotion of Hindu Vedic culture. Without getting into the Aryan vs Dravidian debate, anyone travelling through the smaller towns of Tamil Nadu could easily appreciate how our ancient heritage is still preserved.

This is the fourth installment of a series that CNBC-TV18 is launching known as Know Your Country. Helmed by our columnist Vijay Kumar Gaba, it is based on his observations about India and its people during his numerous travels across the length and breadth of the country. The fourth article is focused on Tamil Nadu, its culture and traditions and socio-political features. Follow the series here

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I traversed through 15 out of 32 districts falling under Chera Nadu, Pallav Nadu and Nadu Nadu regions of the state. It was wonderful to tread this beautiful landscape inhabited by happy and pious people. And I must confess, this is one of the most mesmerising states in the country. A vibrant history that is well preserved; an ancient culture that is still practised; Its beautiful landscape is dotted with a brilliant amalgam of history, religion, and culture; and incensed with the divine fragrance of camphor and jasmine.
Very few people in North India appreciate that the Tamil people have a major role in the evolution, preservation and promotion of Hindu Vedic culture. Without getting into the Aryan vs Dravidian debate, anyone travelling through the smaller towns of Tamil Nadu could easily appreciate how our ancient heritage is still preserved.
Most people in other parts of India may also not fully appreciate that the rulers of Tamil Nadu from Pallav, Chola, Pandyan and Vijayanagram dynasties may have played a key role in making India the largest and the richest economy in the world. It was this land, along with Kerala, that produced and exported precious spices, silk, art effects, etc., that brought millions of tonnes of gold from foreign lands to India.
Urbanised but parochial
Though Tamil Nadu had always been the most urbanised state in the country, the cosmopolitan culture is limited to a few large cities only. Despite having one of the best literacy rates in the country, it is extremely difficult for any outsider to communicate with local people. For the first time in my journey across the country, I felt stranded. In many villages, I could not find anybody who could communicate in Hindi or English. With all road signs and signboards also in Tamil, not taking a local help along was a mistake. Thankfully I had the blessings of Saint Google, who rescued me from most difficult situations.
Rooted and divided
The best part of Tamil society is that the local people are deeply rooted in their culture and traditions. They have preserved their traditions very well. Even the youth population is attached to their traditions and religion.
The religious bias of the Tamil community is evident from the fact that this state perhaps has the largest number of medieval and ancient temples and monasteries that are still alive and are in very good condition. Even the ruins in the state are in excellent condition.
In fact, seemingly the Tamil people may have extended their pious nature little too far. All achievers in the State are invariably accorded the status of God – be it politicians, movie stars, sportspersons, artists, teachers, local administrators, police officers or even a Robin Hood-like local criminal. There are numerous temples dedicated to politicians and movie stars. These zillion deities keep the Tamil people happy.
The negative side of this deep religious bias is that the caste divide in the state is too stark. Tamil Brahmin (TamBram) community is globally recognised for their racial bias against Dravidians. Surprisingly, however, the religious divide in the state is not much relevant. The 11-12 percent Muslim and Christian population in the state are well integrated into society and do not face any discrimination or racial abuse.
Society
(a)  The state inarguably is the most urbanised state in the country, with strong social and physical infrastructure. It has one of the strongest primary education cultures. However, ever-rising income disparities have resulted in a larger dropout rate.
Like Andhra Pradesh, settling abroad is a passion of middle classes in TN also. However, the Tamil people are generally not as enterprising or risk-takers as their Telugu counterparts. The people who have immigrated are therefore less likely to come back or repatriate money for investing in the state.
(b) The state has a high incidence of income disparities. Society is deeply divided on caste and community lines, though religion is not a dividing factor.
(c)  Tamil society continues to be mostly an agrarian society, and hence deeply rooted in its culture and traditions. In fact, the most heartening feature of travel through Tamil Nadu was to see the common peoples’ zeal in preserving and promoting their traditions, culture, art and religion.
(d) A surprising revelation was the faith of people in the political establishment. Despite being convinced of their corrupt ways, the people had strong party affiliation and unflinching trust in their leaders. However, unlike the US where similar party affiliation is seen, here the trust and allegiance come from peoples’ reverence for individuals not from any ideology or socio-economic agenda. Such a strong party affiliation is not seen anywhere else in the country.
(e)  The socio-economic structure of the state is largely feudal. God, gold, movies and alcohol (mostly in that order) continue to be the primary passions of common people.
Economy
(a)  The state has a well developed and perhaps the most diversified industrial base. However, in recent times infrastructure constraints have certainly impacted the industry.
The major industrial development in the state is mostly around the capital city of Chennai, perhaps a colonial legacy. Other centres like Coimbatore and Tiruppur mostly have small and cottage industries.
(b) The state also has one of the most diversified primary sectors (agriculture and related activities) despite a large part of the state facing chronic water shortages.
(c)  Economically, the growth curve seems to have moved lower in the past five years. Discussion with people suggests that though the level of cash transactions has almost reached pre-demonetisation levels in the state, many small businesses have failed to recover from the disruptions.
(d) Uniquely, we found a strong private enterprise culture along with huge dependence on government provisions. This is perhaps an outcome of the huge economic disparities prevalent in the state.
(g)  The village economy is mostly feudal. Formal credit flow is still poor and exploitation high.
(h) Like AP, people are passionate about gold, movies and liquor, though land is not so much of an attraction.
Vijay Kumar Gaba explores the treasure you know as India, and shares his experiences and observations about social, economic and cultural events and conditions. He contributes his pennies to the society as Director, Equal India Foundation. The views are personal. 
Read his columns here.
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