From putting saffron shawl to designing Thiruvalluvar with black clothes, the ideological and political war over ancient Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar stubbornly continues. It all started when the Bharatiya Janata Party's Twitter handle of the Tamil Nadu unit posted a picture of ancient poet Thiruvallur with saffron attire, vibuthi (sacred ash) smeared on his forehead and rudraksha mala, triggering widespread outrage. The ideological debate initially kick-started on social media, between the left and right-wingers. The incident took place on the same day when Prime Minister Narendra Modi released a Thai translation of Thirukkural at a community event in Bangkok.
தமிழுக்கென்று தரணியில் ஓர் இடம்— BJP Tamilnadu (@BJP4TamilNadu) November 1, 2019
உலக தமிழர்களின் அகமாம்
தமிழகம் உருவான நாள் இன்று
அமுதினும் இனிய தமிழ் ஊட்டி
நம்மை வளர்த்தெடுத்த தமிழ் அறிஞர்களை நினைவூட்டி
தமிழின் சிறப்பை உலகெல்லாம் கொண்டு சென்ற தலைவர்களை போற்றி கொண்டாடி மகிழ்வோம்
வாழ்க தமிழ், வாழ்க நற்றமிழர்#TamilNaduDay pic.twitter.com/irFvmOSCbc
BJP supporters claimed that Thiruvalluvar is Hindu and even his work Thirukkural has reference to many Hindu gods and so there's nothing wrong in giving the poet a saffron attire. Atheist commentators opposed this narrative and started sharing images of Thiruvallur with black clothes supposedly symbolizes atheism. The back and forth kept trending on social media for days.
Thiruvalluvar Day is celebrated in January in his honour after Pongal. But the legendary poet's origins and ideologies have been debated for centuries. This debate has often brought in a political tussle.
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Chief MK Stalin said, "BJP trying to give saffron tone to Thiruvalluvar is a betrayal to Tamil language and BJP's attempt to show Valluvar in the saffron attire is trying to pull into their saffron clan."
Just after this controversy broke out, a statue of Thiruvalluvar at Thanjavur district's Pillayarpatti village was smeared with cow dung by miscreants on Monday morning. The police are yet to determine the culprits behind this. However, Stalin went on an offensive alleging that right-wing groups were involved and condemned them. On the other hand, BJP leaders blamed atheist groups for desecrating the statue; all this before law enforcement could even begin conducting their investigation.
Meanwhile, Hindu Makkal Katchi leader Arjun Sampath, known for making provocative statements, added more fuel to the fire as he draped a saffron shawl to the same Thiruvalluvar statue. He climbed up a ladder and draped the bust with a saffron shawl and tied the rudraksha mala before lighting a lamp. Captured live on TV channels, police flung into action and took Sampath under custody.
Historians speculate Thiruvalluvar could have been a Shaivite/Vaishnavite or a Jain saint and not an atheist with a considerable amount of certainty as Valluvar has spoken about gods in many of his couplets. Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) chief Kamal Hassan jumped into the Thiruvalluvar controversy on November 5 and said the Tamil poet doesn’t belong to any religion and it’s wrong to portray him as someone who belongs to one particular religion. The controversy is far from settling as both sides are fueling it by retaliating against each other on social media and protest grounds.