Thursday, May 21, 2020

Iyodhee Thass Pandithar ,Dravidian Buddhist Leader

                                 Iyodhee Thass Pandithar ,Dravidian Buddhist Leader
                                          (His 175 Birth Jyanti falling on 20 May 2020)
                                                                                By:- Er.H.R.Phonsa,Jammu ( J&K)
 Tamil Nadu has a long history of providing guides, teachers and mystic saints. The Important Religious Revolution commonly named as Bhagati Movemenr also originated from South in the 7th-8th Centaury AD.  Although Bhagati movement started against religious excesses of Brahminical domination who denial of human rights to the lower Hindu castes  say untouchables.   Although  untouchable were not Hindus but aboriginal Natives of India who professed Buddhism. They were won over by Aryan invaders and declared their servile class. But the Bhagati Movement saints even oppose the  man devised unnatural methods of Bhagati or prayer devised in other religions more so Islam. Protestant Reformation of Christianity although started much later( 16th Century AD) was akin to Bhakti movement as it also was a revolt  against Catholic Church and in particular to papal authority.  In South India Nandanar  also called Tirunalaippovar (Thirunaallaippovaar) a Dalit saint of 8th centaury  was  important Bhagati Movement saint India has ever  given birth. Nandanar was born in the Pulaiya caste, who were regarded "untouchables" . He is generally counted as the eighteenth in the list of 63 Nandanars. Another Dalit saint of south was Thiruppaan Alvar born in Pulaiya( out caste) also known as paanar ( Musician) community also a untouchable caste now Scheduled Caste.  Both did a pioneering work in Bhagati Movement in South India.
Tamil Nadu holds a special place in Indian Dalit political history and many Tamlians  have played a significant role in Dalit ( untouchable) political history. Many important Dalit  politicians were born in 19th century  namely Iyothee Thass (1845-1914), Raja Sir Panaganti Ramarayaningar  (1866 –1928), Dr. C. Natesa Mudaliar (1875–1937), Periyar E.V Ramasamy (1879-1973), M.C. Rajah (1883-1943), Dewan Bahadur Rettaimalai Sreenivasan (1859-1945),  Mrs.Meenambal (1904-1992), Madam Alamelumangai Thayarammal  and Rao Bahadur  N. Sivaraj (1892-1964) and many more. Many of these leaders were part of Baba Sahib Dr. B.R. Ambedka’s struggle of Indian untouchable emancipation.
 The collective work of Dravian leaders  lead to form Justice Party, officially the South Indian  non Brahminical Liberal Federation. This political party in the Madras Presidency of British India which declared its Manifesto of anti Brahminical  movement in South India. They declared that Nagars or  Dasas of  the North and Dravids of south were natural  habitants of their land, others had intruded.  However  the Justice party also did not include all non-Brahmin caste.   In December 1920 elections Justice Party formed its first Non Brahmin government in Madras Presidency and issued orders of granting reservation for non-Brahmins in 1921, nearly 19 years after Chharpati Sahu ji of Kohlapur ordered in his state 50% reservation for Backward caste in 1902. In August 1944, Periyar created the 'Dravidar Kazhagham' out of the Justice Party and demanded Independent Dravida Nadu . This party said Davidian  land was free of caste divide before arrival of  Brahmins . With manifesto changes and divisions, its divides  is ruling Tamil Nadu since 1969   except  Central rule for nearly 40 month.
 Senior most of the names given above was Iyodhee Thass Pandithar alias Kathavarayan who  was born  on May 20th, 1845. He undisputedly was   a pioneer to these leaders. How ever biased historians have neglected him and his works, Present writers are now trying to fill up the shortfalls. Iyothee was born in Thousand Lights locality , a neighbourhood in Madras (now Chennai), and later migrated to the Nilgiris district.  His family had  backing of conventional education and practitioners of Siddha medicine from Chennai.  His grandfather Kanthappan worked as a butler at the residences of Britishers. Butlers employed by the British were invariably Dalits as other castes hated Britishers as untouchable too. Upper caste people due to their education back ground were employed with Britishers as their subordinate employees and performed as main suppressors of Indian freedom movements. Inspired by Kolkata’s Asiatic Society ( 1784),Chennai Education Society was founded in 1812. Mr. Kanthappan supplied to the District collector Chennai Mr. Ellis,  who had first joined East India Company in 1796 as a writer important Tamil classic book Thirukkural. Mr. Ellis rose to become the Collector of Madras in 1810 subsequently land revenue collector.
 Iyothee Thass who’s name is also spelt as Pandit C. Ayodhya Dasa, C. Iyothee Doss, C. Iyodhi Doss, C. Iyothee Thoss, K. Ayōttitācar (avarkal) or K. Ayōttitāsa (pallitaravarkal) ,possessed deep knowledge in Tamil, Siddha medicine and philosophy . He had good literary knowledge in languages such as English, Sanskrit and Pali. He approached the British authorities to list Panchamas ( untouchables) in 1881 censes as separate and he pleaded they  were not Hindus but natives of India.
Ooty had become the summer capital of the Madras presidency and the employees serving the British were transferred, Kanthappan was also moved to the hill station. Iyodhee Thass accompanied him, grew up in Ooty and began his social work by organising the tribal’s. Later, it led to the founding of Dravida Pandian magazine and the establishment of Dravida Mahajana Sabha worked towards land, education and other civil rights of the people. The Dravida Mahajan Sabha was formed in 1890 and later named as Pariah Mahajan Sabha. It sent a petition to Chelmsford Viceroy of India from 1916 to 1921 and B.S. Montagu  the Financial Secretary  for directing the  Madras Government to give agrarian concessions to the Parih and also  lower qualification for them  for admission to subordinate medical services. Their demands were conceded in 1899. On their insistence the government in 1922 passed orders renaming Paiah as Adi Dravida, which specifies them as original inhabitants of Dravida land. Similarly there was movements in Andhara, Karnataka, Punjab to name aboriginals of their areas as Adi Andhara, Adi Karnataka ,Adi Dharmi . Many of these Adi prefixed associations formed part of  the 18 untouchable associations  to submit memorandum to Statuary Commission headed by Sir  Johan Simon in 1927 demanding separate electorate to Depressed classes. The Dravida Mahajana Sabha  chief spokesman was Rau Bahadur M.C. Raja, Adi Dhama ( North India)  Mangu Ram Magowalia and Achhunand Soami..
Iyodhee Thass along with his contemporary R. Sreenivasan’s work is still a source for a critical approach towards nationalism and to analyse the pros and cons of the rise in nationalism. Voices on reservation, rational thinking and anti-Brahmin movements that later became the framework for 20th century Tamil Nadu politics find roots in the works of these Dalit intellectuals. Recent research has also proved that their work has significantly contributed to Tamil Nadu’s unique political identity that we see today. Dewan Bahadur  R. Sreenivasan and Rao Bahadar M.C. Raja along with Baba Sahib Dr.Ambedkar were invited by British Government to represent the case of untouchables in the Round Table Conferences held in London between 1930-32.
Iyodhee Thass was also one of the early critics of the idea of Swadeshi movement for  India proposed at the time of freedom movement by Bal Ganga  Dhar Tilak and Gandhi. He said it would merely end up catering to the benefits of the Brahmanical political class. When the Swadeshi movement got aggressive during the Bengal partition in 1905 and its influence was being felt in Tamil Nadu, Iyodhee Thass strongly opposed it.  No doubts their apprihensions have proven right in the last 73 years after India attained independence in 1947.                                                          Shri Iyothee Thass propagated that the Paraiyars of Tamil were originally Buddhists and owned the land which had later been robbed from them by Aryan invaders. He met Colonel H. S. Olcott(1832-1907) with his followers and expressed a sincere desire to convert to Buddhism. Colonel Olcott  was an American military officer, journalist, lawyer , the co-founder and first President of the Theosophical Society. He was the first well-known American of European ancestry to make a formal conversion to Buddhism. With Olcott's help, Thass visit Ceylon and obtain Diksha from the Sinhalese Buddhist monk Bikkhu Sumangala Nayake. On returning to his native land, Thass with the assistance of his associates established in 1898 the Sakya Buddhist Society alias Indian Buddhist Association  in Madras with branches at other places .   The Dravidian worker were working in  Kolar Gold Mines, Banglore , Rangoon, Durban and Thass tried to contact  and convinced them to embrace Buddhism. When Buddhism in India with Thass efforts went through a period of revitalization with emerging of its two main branches namely
1.        spiritual and scholarly purpose
2.        social reformation purpose
 Iyodhee Thass chose the latter as he was committed to carry on social reformation. He said intimate need of his people was social, political, spiritual and education, elevation .
To manage and co-ordinate the functioning of the Indian Buddhist society, he began a weekly magazine, Tamizhan in 1907. Its operation was briefly interrupted due to his death in 1914. This magazine was renewed later by others. Thass’s approach stands clear through his evidence based methods and documentation of Buddhism for which, Tamizhan magazine stands as a testimony to his contribution on Buddhist writings. As contained in “ Politics of Belonging to Contemporary India by Kustav Chakerborty” there were 42 journals between 1850-1947 in Tamil Nadu, dedicated to social change. Iyodhee Thass was profile writer too and had written many books in Tamil  on different subjects including Buddhism.                                                                               Thass’s writing on Buddhism argued that texts, statues and other visible evidence could have been destroyed due to religious invasions, but, the life practices inspired by Buddhism remain as proof. He also added that adversaries of Buddhism, when  unable to fully eliminate the traces of this religion resorted to  either forced newer forms or distorted the existing framework or both.
In Tamil Nadu, he cited temples like Madurai Pandi Munni and Salem Thalaivetti Munneswaram as examples, where beheaded statues of Buddha were replaced with local deities. He claimed that while the heads were replaced, the statue’s body remained to be that of Buddha’s meditative posture. Iyodhee Thass also saw contradictions not just in these statues, but in various other aspects of society and how these changes stayed on. He explicitly said the Hindu festivals are residues of Buddhism remain. He inferred that somewhere between the early and modern times, distortions would have occurred in the course of history. He says due to the reversal of power structures, the early Buddhists were made untouchables and resulted in caste discriminations.  Iyodhee Thass stressed that finding the period and reason behind this distortion and its restoration would  be reasons for annihilation of caste. By advocating that the oppressed society should embrace the  Buddhism of ancient times so he attempted to build modern politics over the  ancient framework of Buddhism.                                                                      
 Iyodhee Thass was highly proficient in Tamil, he wrote texts to books written by Tamil classical writers Thiruvalluvar ( a low caste Shudra converted to Jainism or Buddhism) and Avvayai (lady saint). There is strong tradition that considers Thiruvalluvar as a priest belonging to the Paraiyars – a Dalit sub caste. This leads Iyodhee Thass to link Thiruvalluvar, a pioneer of Tamil literature, as an early Buddhist, which later formed basis of  Bhagati Movement.                                                                                          
 Iyodhee Thass, one of the first intellectuals to view the Dalits as a set of highly educated people with high conduct passed away in 1914 at an age of 69 years. The colonial period’s printing press and his scholarly approach to traditional literature contributed to the alternative history making shall be long remembered.
 Words  1883                                                                 Er.H. R. Phonsa
Date:-20-05-2020                                            Contact: +9194934060,  E mail
 Further reading:-
1.          Dalit Movement in India and its Leaders, by R.K. Kashirsahar
2.          "Iyothee Thass and the Politics of Naming by Ravi Kumar.
3.          "Death centenary of a Dravidian leader". The Hindu. Coimbatore, India. 13 November 2014.
4.          Wikipedia

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