The poll fever generated by the Tamil Nadu Assembly Elections could not in any way dampen the spirit of the Tamil people from celebrating their traditional Tamil New Year on April 14, despite having the poll day on April 13. In fact, the holiday declared by the state for the poll day on April 13 facilitated the people to celebrate the New Year with their respective families in their respective native places with great piety and fanfare.
Ever since the Dravidian Assembly passed the “Tamil Nadu Tamil New Year Ordinance” in January 2008, changing the Tamil calendar from Tamil months “Chithirai—Panguni” to “Thai—Margazhi”, the Tamil people have been treating the government’s ordinance with utmost contempt continuing with the original traditional calendar.
Though the state government has been attempting to impose its ruling on the people with arrogance, by stopping the traditional customs and rituals in the temples through the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department (HRCE), the people continued with their faith on tradition, ignoring the government’s tantrums.
Immediately after the passage on the ordinance in January 2008, the people conveyed their rejection by celebrating the traditional Tamil New Year on April 13, 2008. Again they refused the government’s call to celebrate New Year along with Pongal on January15, 2009, by celebrating only Pongal and Sankranti along with the traditional Bogi, Mattu Pongal, etc. Since then during every subsequent April and January, the Tamil people continued with their celebration and festivities without deviating from their tradition, and the government has been watching helplessly.
But then, the government has been using its might to quell the efforts made by a few concerned individuals, who wanted to correct the records by taking the legal course. Now, in the absence of an open commitment from the opposition alliance (AIADMK, DMDK and others) that it would revoke the ordinance and revert to the traditional calendar, people are left with no other option but to proceed with launching the legal course.
The DMK government tabled the “Tamil Nadu Tamil New Year Day Declaration Bill” on January 29, 2008, and an ordinance to that effect was passed on February 1, 2008, unanimously by the Dravidian Assembly. The main opposition AIADMK neither opposed nor abstained, but remained mute to the proceedings and allowed the free passage of the bill. As per the ordinance the date of Tamil New Year was changed from the traditional Tamil month Chithirai 1 (April 13/14) to Tamil month Thai 1 (January 14/15) clubbing it with the traditional Pongal (Sankranti) festival.
However, the people of Tamil Nadu treated the government’s ordinance with the utmost contempt it deserved, and celebrated the Tamil New Year with great fanfare on April 13, 2008. But, in a show of arrogance the DMK government instructed its HRCE to ban all temple rituals such as reading of the almanac, special pujas, etc., on the auspicious day. Despite the utter failure of its ordinance, the government remained adamant in enforcing it on January 15, 2009 (1st day of Tamil month Thai), but the people observed it only as the traditional Pongal festival.
Meanwhile, two Public Interest Litigations (PIL) against the Tamil Nadu Government’s Tamil New Year Ordinance were filed, one by a social activist known as “Traffic Ramaswamy” and the other by S Mani and 11 others, in the Madras High Court.
Earlier, when Ramaswamy had filed a petition in Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court, he was harassed for his activism on other issues, jailed and ultimately his PIL was dismissed after imposing a fine of Rs 10,000 on him for non-appearance. However, Ramaswamy approached the Supreme Court and got the order reversed, and the SC asked him to file a fresh petition in Madras High Court.
Hence, Ramaswamy filed a fresh petition on the grounds that the state legislature lacked competence to enact such an ordinance, saying that the government’s move was contrary to thousands of years of tradition, based on the Tamil people’s faith, religion and culture, and that it was not open for the government to change the calendar, and prayed the court to declare the legislation unconstitutional and ultra vires of Articles 14, 25, 26 and 29 of the Constitution.
On February 12, 2009, S Mani and 11 others filed a writ petition (WP 2220/2009) challenging the ordinance in the Madras High Court, before the then acting Chief Justice SJ Mukhopadhyaya and Justice V Dhanapalan, who ordered notices to the respondents, state government represented by Secretary to Government, Law Department, and the Union of India represented by Secretary to Government, Law Department.
The petitioners asserted that the state government curtailed the fundamental right to practise any religion and hurt religious sentiments, and that the government committed an innovative departure from tradition without disclosing any reasons. They averred that the government offended the time-cherished customs and traditions inseparably intertwined with religious practice, belief and faith. The petitioners categorically asserted that the enactment serves no purpose and could render no gain or profit to the state or the citizens, but has positively hurt religious sentiments and shaken the freedom of religion enshrined in the Constitution of India. Emphasising the importance of “solar solstice” and its astronomical calculation and religious aspects in practice since ancient days, they rejected the government’s attempt to make the Tamil month Thai the first month, saying there is absolutely no evidence to prove it. Finally, they prayed for the court’s declaration that the state government’s ordinance is unconstitutional and void.
Though the First Bench ordered notices to the state and the central governments, it refrained from admitting the petition and kept it in the list itself. On March 4, the state government requested for more time and after dodging the issue for another month, the case came up for hearing on April 30, 2009. Justice S J Mukhopadhyaya, asked the government pleader three questions: 1. Does the state government have the constitutional authority to change a centuries-old religious/cultural tradition? 2. What circumstances forced you to pass the legislation in the assembly? 3. Is this change in “New Year” (calendar) applicable only to the Tamils of your state or to the Tamil community world over? The state government could not give a convincing answer to these questions, and since then, the state has been dragging its feet, dodging the issue, obtaining adjournments and using all sorts of delaying tactics. Expectedly, the “non-Hindu” central government, which was also a respondent, has been colluding with the “anti-Hindu” state government on this issue.
Ironically, the Union of India devised an “Indian National Calendar” through its “Calendar Reform Committee” in 1957 as part of the Indian Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac to be used as the Official Civil Calendar in India and the usage officially started at Chaitra 1, 1879 Saka Era. However, it is only on paper and the central government has never interfered in the celebrations of the New Year by the people as per the Hindu calendar in their respective states and regions as per their respective tradition.
The impending defeat
When there is a national official calendar as introduced by the Union of India, whether a state government can have a separate calendar is a debatable question. Even if it has a separate official way of marking its calendar year—Tamil Nadu already has one in the name of “Thiruvalluvar Era” (though the age of Thiruvalluvar remains a perennial question)—the state government doesn’t have the constitutional authority to meddle with the centuries-old religious and cultural traditions.
Also, there has never been a situation of grave circumstances demanding the change of calendar. History will tell us that Tamils have always rejected the rulers’ unwarranted and uncalled for interferences in their age-old traditional affairs and have never compromised with their traditional rights.
Finally, from the third question posed by the Madras High Court, it can be concluded that the state government has lost its case. How can the Tamil Nadu government change the tradition of a community, which has a global presence? Knowing pretty well all these limitations, why then the DMK government indulged in this exercise? Here comes the devious role of the Church and the effect of the unholy Christian-Dravidian nexus.
The Church’s play
Ever since (16th century) the Christian missionaries from European countries landed on the Tamil soil, the process of alienating the Tamil people from the Hindu fold started through the concept of Dravidianisation by creating the Aryan-Dravidian divide. In order to convert the religiously and culturally strong local people, the missionaries set their eyes on the native language and learnt it so that they could get close to the community and indulge in evangelisation through propaganda and inculturation methods. Dubious Padris such as Robert-de-Nobili, Joseph Beschi, Ziegenbalg, Robert Caldwel and many others indulged in such devious activities.
Notwithstanding the arrival of Dutch, Portuguese, French and Danish, the invasion by East India Company leading to British regime for almost two centuries, helped the speedy accomplishment of the Church’s hidden agenda of Christianising the state. With a considerable presence of Tamils in North and Eastern Sri Lanka, the Church smelt a great opportunity to divide the island nation also on linguistic lines, so that it could form a separate Tamil Christian nation, comprising North-East Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu.
With this hidden agenda, the Church started supporting Tamil secessionism in both Tamil Nadu (Dravidian parties) and Sri Lanka (Eelam Militant groups, particularly LTTE). The Dravidian-Christian nexus started growing over the years resulting in Tamil Nadu falling under Dravidian rule for more than five decades and Sri Lanka becoming a war-torn country. Both the Dravidian parties, which alternatively ruled Tamil Nadu, helped the Church achieve its dubious agenda such as conversion, purchase of lands, planting of Cross, building of Churches, etc., to a great extent.
Researcher Laura Kelly from Finland wrote an open letter to Krunanidhi in August 2006, wherein she had mentioned about Pope Benedict greeting Krunanidhi on his victory in Tamil Nadu Assembly elections conducted in May 2006. He facilitated every agenda of the Church and the most significant of them all was the change of Tamil New Year. Once the New Year is shifted to the English month of January, it would be easy for the Church to make the Tamils slowly follow the Christian calendar.
The so-called folk festival “Sangamam”, floated by the Christian Padiri “2G fame” Jegath Gaspar Raj along with his friend and Chief Minister’s daughter Kanimozhi, celebrated for more than 20 days from Christmas to Pongal festivals, is a part of the plan. Only during the inauguration of the first Sangamam show, Karunanidhi announced that he would bring in an ordinance to change the New Year from April (Chithirai) to January (Thai). Again, he brought a new concept called “Samathuva Pongal” (Egalitarian Pongal) saying that all Tamil-speaking people, irrespective of religious affiliation, could celebrate Samathuva Pongal. While the Muslims simply ignored his idea and refused to cook Pongal inside mosques, the Christian clergy pretended to celebrate by cooking Pongal near the entrance of the Church and not inside the main hall.
So, it was very clear right from the beginning that, announcement during Sangamam, creation of a concept called Samathuva Pongal and changing the New Year to Pongal time have all strategically been done to de-Hinduise Pongal and New Year festivals and take the Tamil New Year to Christian Calendar.
The Global Tamils
Now, let us recall the third question posed by the Madras High Court to the DMK government: “Is this change in “New Year” (calendar) applicable only to the Tamils of your state or to the Tamil community world over?”
So, it becomes imperative to see how the Tamils world over welcomed and treated Karunanidhi’s ordinance changing the Tamil New Year.
The DMK government received a tight slap when the LTTE rejected its ordinance and celebrated Tamil New Year on April 13, 2008. Even the Church, which was backing the LTTE, could not stop it! Even the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora, which otherwise was submissive to the Church’s machinations, celebrated it on April 13. What is to be noted here is the fact that the Sri Lankan diaspora is largely Hindu and very observant, and that they have built many temples on foreign soil. As their leadership has gone to Church’s cronies, they have been misled in supporting the divisive agenda of the LTTE. A good Hindu leadership for the diaspora will strike down the devious Church and its shenanigans.
Malaysian Tamils, barring the small but rich segment which belongs to the dubious Sami Velu’s Malaysian National Congress, celebrated Tamil New Year with devotion and fanfare on April 13. Any wonder in the Malaysian Tamils, who proudly grouped under the name “Hindu Rights Action Force”, celebrating as per the age-old Hindu tradition!
It was identical in Singapore as well. Here April 14 is called the Indian New Year, as it is celebrated by Tamils, Sikhs and Malayalees. In the rest of the world too Tamils celebrated their New Year as per the Hindu calendar.
With the decimation of Church- backed LTTE, the Tamils of Sri Lanka have started asserting their Hindu identity. The moment war ended and peace returned, the people started focussing on religious and pious cultural activities. People started visiting temples and observing auspicious days. All this happened despite the destruction of temples by lumpen elements and the incarceration of poor internally disposed Tamils in camps.
This year the Tamil New Year was celebrated on April 14 with devotion, gaiety and fanfare in North and East of Sri Lanka notwithstanding the Tamils in and around Colombo. This celebration of Tamil New Year as per traditional Hindu calendar has been continuing and there was no one to bother about DMK government’s ordinance.
But then, how would the Church keep quiet? It tried to influence through its slaves, otherwise known as “Dravidian” elements. A small section of Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora in Canada, in the name of “Tamil Creative Writers Association” (TCWA), attempted to mark January15, 2011 as Tamil New Year and announced it in a Murugan Temple in Birchmount Road, Canada, purportedly belonging to a small section of Tamil Shivites, who are fanatic and are always hostile to Vedas, Agamas and Sanskrit. This has been the habit of the Church to strike Hindu tradition with the help of the “Atheist Dravidians” through the “Tamil Shivites”.
The TCWA even went to the extent of giving awards to those parents who gave “Tamil” (read non-Hindu) names to their children in Canada. These people use “Tamil” identity to attack Hinduism and such efforts are backed by Church. There is even an attempt to design a “Flag” for the Global Tamil Community with the symbols of Bow, Tiger and Fish (symbols of Chera, Chola and Pandya Kings). Fortunately, this sustained campaign has so far not succeeded, but steps must be taken on a war footing to end such divisive campaigns.
We have a classic example of how such campaigns may end successfully if not curtailed in the beginning itself. Separatist elements of the Sikh community in Canada formulated a Nanakshahi calendar, jettisoning the Lunar Hindu calendar in 1990s. Though it has not been followed in Punjab, the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabhandak Committee has now endorsed it. The same thing must not be allowed to happen with the Tamils.
In Malaysia too, a small organisation (Persatuan Pengajian Kesusasteraan Tamil) attempted to mark January 15 as Tamil New Year, by bringing out a Tamil calendar starting from Thai-1 (January 15) to Margazhi-30 (January 14). Here again the Tamil Hindus of Malaysia totally rejected it. While Tamils celebrated the birth of “Kara” year, Sikhs celebrated Baisakhi on April 14, 2011. Malayalees joined them for their “Vishu”. The Indian community in Malaysia celebrated the New Year as per the traditional Hindu calendar.
On the whole, across the world, baring a small section, the entire Tamil community has been celebrating Tamil New Year as per the traditional Hindu calendar. The Prime Ministers and Presidents of all these foreign countries also extend their greetings only on April 14 . In fact, in many countries a week-long celebration happens with Tamils, Sikhs, Telugus, Kannadigas and Malayalees celebrating their respective New Years from April 6 to 14 (Yugadhi, Puthu Varusham, Baisakhi and Vishu, etc.)
In countries across South East Asia people celebrate the New Year as a great event. “Songkran”, as the festival is called in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, is celebrated from April 13 to 17 every year.
It is a known fact that both the Dravidian parties of Tamil Nadu do not care for the Hindu majority. If DMK brought in an ordinance changing the Tamil New Year, AIADMK allowed it to get it passed in the assembly. Even during the recently concluded campaign AIADMK never said that it would revoke the ordinance if voted to power. Not even a promise about it in its manifesto!
Leave alone the foreign countries, the Union Territory of Pondicherry, which is just a few kilometres away from Chennai, celebrates Tamil New Year only on April 14. The people of Tamil Nadu also have rejected the government’s dictate. But then, people cannot be complacent. The ordinance must be defeated at the court of Law and the age-old tradition must be restored in government records and government-controlled temples. Hindu organisations must focus on this.
By R Haran from Chennai