Some thoughts on Sanskritization or Tantrification?

Palaniappa at Palaniappa at
Fri May 2 00:13:36 UTC 1997

As I have looked at the Classical and post-Classical Tamil literature, and
also the Indian religious history, I see something interesting. The following
is a simplified view concentrating only on the major threads in cultural

In the cultural interplay between Indo-European and other cultures like
Dravidian in India, I wonder if we should not be using the word
'tantrification'. As I look at the cultural history, I see the following
taking place. Dravidian and pre-Vedic Indo-European  mix to form a 'tantric'
culture. This 'tantric' culture co-opts the later Vedic culture and relegates
the original Vedic gods to insignificance. After this is completed in north
India, the same thing happens in South India with a phase difference of about
several centuries. Now called the Bhakti movement, it transforms the South
and is re-exported back to north making the religious culture there even more
'emotional'. The building of agamic temples which changed the cultural and
economic landscape of Tamilnadu was part of this 'tantrification'. The
secular realm of music, dance, etc gives way to the religious realm.

As a student of marketing, I see the original pre-Vedic Aryans as very
sophisticated marketers. They used the music and dance forms in the Dravidian
culture to design and spread the new syncretistic religion of 'tantra'. They
were very successful in the north and they were successful in the south also.
However, this religion seems to have elicited criticism at least from a
subset of the Vedic Aryan as well as Dravidian. The criticism of
tirugnAnacampantar by the relatives of the bard tirunIlakaNTar suggests this.
(When the three Tamil kings of the Classical Tamil period, failed to defeat
pAri,an independent chieftain, the chieftain's poet-friend advised tham that
if they go as bards and dancers and perform before him he would give the
kingdom along with his own life. Apparently they did that and eliminated him.
I think the weakness of Dravidians for music and dance, etc. is still there
if one considers the film stars' influence on Tamil political life!) 

I think the pre-Bhakti Tamil texts, even though they might be chronologically
late, has recorded elements of culture which goes back to pre-Vedic times. I
think Indologists may find it profitable to devote more to the study of Tamil
texts from this perspective. They can see possible pre-cursors of 'tantric'
traditions. For example, the vETTuva vari section of CilappatikAram dealing
with the worship of the Goddess can be compared to other similar events in
Classical Tamil. One can see secular events transforming into religious
events similar to iRaivan the king being replaced by iRaivan the deity,
viRali the dancer being replaced by tEvarATiyAr the dancer. 

I think Kerala is a model of what could have happened in Punjab 2500 years
earlier. Kerala, known for its tantric practices, can be studied with respect
to hypergamy, language change, religious change and continuity as an example
of history repeating itself.


S. Palaniappan 

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