Linguistic fights: Sanskrit vs Tamil

Madhav Deshpande mmdesh at UMICH.EDU
Wed Nov 11 11:34:16 UTC 1998

Dear Folks,
        Here is an article from today's Times of India:
                                Madhav Deshpande

                TIMES OF INDIA
                                     Wednesday 11 November 1998

              Lingua franca of Tamil gods: Sanskrit
              or Tamil

              By Sudha G Tilak

              The Times of India News Service

              CHENNAI: What do the gods in Tamil Nadu temples want to hear
              from their devotees? ``Only Tamil,'' say Dravidian
              ideologues and Tamil scholars.``Nothing but Sanskrit,''
              contend saffron groups.

              The issue heated up recently with petitions and
              counter-petitions being filed in the Chennai High Court.

              In the first week of October, president of the Hindu
              Temples' Protection Committee V S Sri Kumar filed a writ
              petition in the high court seeking to restrain the state
              government from interfering in the temple rituals. He argued
              that though Sanskrit was the language prescribed in the
              agama (mode of worship) texts, the Hindu Religious and
              Charitable Endowments Act (HR&CE) secretary under the orders
              of the state government had directed that pujas and archanas
              in temples be conducted only in Tamil.

              This, he said was in violation of Articles 25 and 26 of the
              Constitution which stated that rituals and mantras could not
              be changed.

              Following his writ, the Madras High Court led by Chief
              Justice M S Liberhan issued a notice to the HR & CE
              secretary on October 15.
              The secretary had earlier claimed that there was no
              compulsion to perform pujas only in Tamil.

              On October 30, Pazha Karrupiah, a social worker made a
              counter plea in the high court that Sanskrit as the mode of
              chanting mantras was redundant as it was not understood by
              many, including Brahmins who since long conducted prayers in
              Tamil and Sanskrit.

              Tamil scholars point out that the agamas prescribe Tamil and
              18 other Indian languages as a means of worship. Karuppiah
              contended in his petition that by insisting on Sanskrit, Mr
              Sri Kumar was giving the impression that the gods knew only
              Sanskrit and hence all other languages were inferior.

              Adding fuel to the court battles, a day later at a public
              meeting in Salem, state minister for Tamil culture and
              language M Tamilkudimaghan said the state needed a god who
              `listened' to Tamil prayers and there was no place for those
              who did not want the Tamil mode of worship.

              ``It is important that the government concentrates on
              solving problems like caste clashes rather than decide on
              the people's mode of worship,'' says L Ganesan, district
              secretary of the BJP.

              Asks Cho Ramaswamy, political commentator: ``If those using
              Sanskrit to worship in temples are asked to leave the state,
              will the minister ask Allah to leave since mosques conduct
              prayers in Arabic?''

              Says Rama Gopalan, president of the Hindu Munnani: ``The
              DMK's language policy is now being thrust upon the temples,
              following their long-standing anti-north, anti-god tenets.
              God understands all languages, even those of the dumb. Hence
              the choice should be of the people's.''

              ``Devotees should have the choice to conduct worship in
              traditional or non-traditional mode. A secular government
              has no business to dictate how devotees should act in
              religious matters,'' reiterates Mr Cho Ramaswamy.

              Ironically, Tamil and Sanskrit are known to have links in
              their structure and growth.

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