Centre for Study in Public Sphere (CSPS) exists to explore the contemporary aspects of culture and modernity. The Centre aims to map the journey of Tamil Nadu by bringing out a series of biographies that captures the key nodal moments in which the State took a turn for the better in order to retain its unique language, culture and civilizational norms.
This centre is currently being headed by A. S. Panneerselvan after his nine-year stint at The Hindu as its Readers’ Editor. We have plan to recruit one senior researcher and two junior researchers to work exclusively for this centre.
For both academic and political observers in other parts of the Indian subcontinent, Tamil Nadu remains an enigma. The attempt to read the modern Tamil-speaking region with its starting point being the publication of the non-Brahmin Manifesto on 20 November, 1916 in Chennai has limitations. The Manifesto, indeed, led to the formation of a first non-Congress government in the State as early as in 1920; a series of reformist legislations that included affirmative actions and the creation of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department; a metamorphosis of the Self-Respect Movement which paved way for the genesis of multiple Dravidian Parties who succeeded in keeping the national parties at bay.
The ground for this egalitarian imagination was however laid in the 19th century. The sociocultural wellsprings of Tamil Nadu are firmly rooted in its imagination for an inclusive world and its nuanced relationship with colonialism and modernity. Historically, from Thirumoolar Thirumandiram, a 5th century work, which precedes the Bhakti period, Tamil, both as a language and as a culture, has a unique iconoclasm that gave it a protective shield against bigotry. On the one hand, Thirumandiram became the foundation for theological Saiva Siddhanta. On the other hand, it is the bedrock from which the liberating Siddha Traditions began its nearly millennial journey—a journey that clearly demarcated the quest for spirituality from the dogmas of religious orders. This complex journey gets into a different whirlwind when the British purchased a part of present Chennai in 1639 to establish a base here. While the new rulers preferred a dominance-dependency relationship, Tamils, as a sociocultural ethnic grouping, converted the change in the political landscape into an opportunity for dialogue and inter-dependency. This was exemplified in the works of Tamil philosopher Thayumanavar (1706-1744). In a sense, Thayumanavar showed how to deal with the modern nation-state. He was the minister in the Court of the Naicker Kingdom of Trichy and the first lines that divided the state and the temple (Church was still a European concept) was drawn by Thayumanavar. Today we have with us 1,454 verses of his prodigious creations which some scholars have put at nearly 3,000 verses. His poetry shunned orthodoxy, homogeneity and it became a part of a living musical tradition.
It is in this background that the inimitable Ramalinga Adigal (5 October, 1823 – 30 January 1874), or Vallalar as he is popularly known, burst into the Tamil scene to then define multiple contours of Tamil modernity. His strident criticism of the stifling nature of religious orthodoxy has all the tools to fight bigotry, hate and discrimination. Vallalar also foregrounded the human body as the fundamental unit that needed nourishment. The fight against hunger and illness epitomized his quest for spirituality that is fully embedded in humanity.
Given this vibrant and layered background, it is important to document the trajectory of Tamil Nadu through some of its defining voices that gave its modernity an intrinsic democratic character. The progressive politics of the state is an extension of these socio-cultural practices. We would like to map the journey of Tamil Nadu by bringing out a series of biographies that captures the key nodal moments in which the State took a turn for the better in order to retain its unique language, culture and civilizational norms. As we see glimpses of this fascinating journey spread across various genres and activities, we propose an ongoing research to produce biographies of important personalities, whom we may call the Public Intellectuals of Tamil. As a first step we propose to produce ten biographies within a span of five years of stalwarts such as Vallalar, Mayuram Vedanayagam Pillai, V O C, Thiru. V. Kalyanasundaram, N S Krishnan and T A Maduram, Pudumai Pithan, S Dhanapal, K B Sundarambal, Moovalur Ramamirtham Ammal, K M Adimoolam, and others.