Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Iyothee Thass

Pandit Iyothee Thass (1845-1914)
Iyothee Thass was a Tamil, pioneer of Dravidian movement in South India.He is the first recognized anti-Brahmin leader of the Madras Presidency. He was also the first notable Dalit leader to embraced Buddhism. He was a writer, social reformer,Buddhist scholar and Siddha physician.
 Born -
He was born on May 20,1845 in Coimbatore district.He belongs to Paraiya, a untouchable caste.His childhood name was Kathavarayan.
His grandfather name was ' Thiru Kaundappan. During British rule, his grandfather Kaudappan had served as a butler to one British officials Lord Arlington.The service of cooks, butler, gardeners, watchman houses of British officials were not offered  by Hindu upper caste as they were beef eater. These posts were filled by lower caste people. Parent of Iyothee Thass was with one British family.

Kandappan's son Kandaswamy was a Siddha Physician. A child born in Kandaswamy family, named Kathavarayan was a clever boy since his childhood. Kaathnarayan had joined Ayothee Thass Pandit's village school. He developed great respect for his teacher and adopted his name. He was married with Dhanalakshmi whose parents were his relatives.

Having contact with British family, Iyothee Thass learn things in new ways. He learn Tamil, English, Sanskrit and Pali. He became expert on Tamil philosophy and indigenous Siddha medicine.

Organizing Lower Castes -
During 1870, In Nilgiri Hills region, where British were used to staying in summer, Iyothee Thass  had organized 'Todas' and other tribal castes of that area.
Dalits are not Hindus -
Iyothee Thass had challenged the Hindu caste system. In 1881, he had demanded that the original inhabitant of India be recorded in the census as ‘original Tamil’ rather than by their caste name. In 1886, he published a manifesto arguing that Dalit were not Hindu.

By 1890, Iyothee Thass had started to convinced Tamils people that their race is aborigines of this land. The Aryans were entered and enslaved these Dravidian people i.e. Tamils. They spread throughout sub-continent. Later, they infiltrated the Dravidians. During the period of Great Ashoka, the indigenous Tamils were Buddhists. He had established  'Dravida Mahajana Sabha in 1891.

Conflict with ' National Congress ' -
 In 1891, he came in open conflict with the 'Nationalist movement' when he attempted to bring a petition for the removal of the caste distinction before the ' National congress '. At a public meeting, demand for a temple entry were rejected with outcries from Brahmanas nationalists that ‘you may call yourself a Hindu But, Shiva and Vishnu are not your dieties. Karuppasamy and Sudalamadan your dieties.

Critique of Swadeshi Movement -
Iyothee Thass was a fierce critique of the ‘Swadeshi  movement '. The columns in the Tamil journal of Iyothee Thass, mostly written by himself, were titled ‘Swadeshi reform’ were detailing the hypocrisy of Brahmans, whose continual exclusion of dalit and non-Brahmans was in contrast to their claim to be leaders of nationalism. He argued that the ‘inner spirit’of swadeshi and ‘Swaraaj’(self rule, a term popularised by the Maharashtrian redical nationalist Lokmanya Tilak) was based on four sorts of pride; caste pride, religious pride, the pride of knowladge and pride coming fron wealth. What needed to be boycotted was not foreign cloth, but caste hatred, prejudice that resulted in burning the houses of the poor and destroying their gods and rituals. He was also critical of those who opposed the ‘indentured labor’ under which Paraiahs migrated to distant lands-because in fact such  migration was an escape from the reality of village slavery. Brahmanic knowledge was ‘really useless’, he argued, since it had never taken up practical arts of agronomy, irrigation and transport.
Unparalleled contribution towards Revial of Buddhism -
Iyothee Thass's meeting with Colonel H.S. Olcott of 'Theosophocal society' was a turning point not only in his life but also for the Tamil Dalit movement. In persuation to Col. Olcott, during 1898, he went to Sri Lanka to study Buddhism. In India, he was the first among those who  embraced Buddhism. He established the Sakya Buddhist society in Madras with branches all over South India.The Saky Buddhist society also, known as ‘South Indian Buddhist Association’ attracted both dalits and non-dalits. In Tamil Nadu, credit for the mass revival of Buddhism in the land of its birth place, goes to Iyothee Thass who carried out on the search for religious identity. He gave Buddhism a mass base in South India and other countries like Burma, South Africa etc where Indian labors were migrated with British colonizers.
Forerunner of Dr. Ambedkar -
Iyothee Thass was a forerunner Of Dr. Ambedkar. As Dr. Ambedkar rejected, Iyothee Thass had rejected the karma and rebirth theory. He was not ready to accept the notion of karma and rebirth particularly, in Buddhist teaching since, these had been used in the Brahmanic framwork to define untouchability.

To combat the way, in which Brahmnism had absorbed many popular deities of indigenous people, Iyothee Thass said his people that many Aryan god and godesses  were great Buddhists who had achieved ‘Nirvan’. The Tamil popular godess 'Ambika Amman ' was great ‘ Buddhist Bhikkhuni ’. He linked popular festival of Tamil Nadu with Buddhist tradition.This themes of Iyothee Thass formed the radical cultural-history that  thrust ed Tamils and pave a way of political  ' Dravidian movement '

Iyothee Thass had countered Brahmnism orthodoxy. When he said, Brahmnism is steeped in caste ism and non-Brahmins are victims of caste ism, he was not indulging in speculation rather, he was speaking the truth. He was telling on the basis of strong evidence that the untouchables were once followers of Buddhism. Brahmanism punished recalcitrant individuals and denounced them as caste less person and people of low birth. When one fights Brahmanism he is immediately branded as a person of low birth. Iyothee Thass had understood this and that is why; he opposed it.

Iyothee Thass came to the conclusion that Hinduism is the source of caste ism and its all evils. He searched for a counter culture and discovered Buddhism as a solution. He not only pointed out the short comings of Hinduism, but also explain how Buddhism is its remedial measure ?

Iyothee Thass  found out two sources of Buddhism in Tamil Nadu- 1. The oral tradition, customs and usage prevalent among the Tamils.2. The songs and tales were recorded in palm-leaf manuscript and preserved by the lower rungs of people. He studied the collection of Tamil ethical poems (Thirukkural )  and came to the conclusion that these represented 'Tamil Buddhism'. Thirrukkural is a collection of 1330 Tamil couplets organized into 133 cheaters. Each cheater has a specific subject ranging from ' ploughing a piece of land ' to ' ruling a country '. Ancient Siddha texts proved to be a source of Buddhism.

Buddha's concept of  love, tolerance,equality, rationalism etc were for liberation of oppressed people. Iyothee Thass studied Buddhism and wrote continuously.  His book 'Aathivedham ' reveals his total personality.He wrote the life of Buddha in a special manner. Buddha wanted people to live a life of dignity and honor, he said. 
He wrote the history of Pariahs. He explained how the word Pariahs has becomes a term of abuse in the present days. He disclosed that so-called Untouchable in general and Parayars in particulars had an age-old contradiction with the Brahmins. Hence, the animosity of Brahmin community transposed the social stratum of the Parayars or ancient Buddhist from ritual master to untouchables.

Thass had launched a Tamil Newpaper called Oru Paisa Tamizhan in 1907 and published it til lhis demises in 1914.

Iyothee Thass was a outstanding rationalist scholar and writer. He wrote 37 books. Since, he was anti-Brahmanism move, his literature purposely made wash out from Indian current text .But, Dalit Ezhilmalai of the PMK, the former Union Health  minister of India, made some project work on his  personality and made  known to us through publishing his writings. It was Ezhilmamli'e effort that the name of ' National Institute of Research Center ' Chennai  was kept as 'Siddha Research Center' after the Dalit leader as he was a renowned practitioner of the Siddha form of native Tamil medicine.