As part of the Infinity Foundation’s efforts to promote Indic thought and consciousness from a Dharmic perspective, the third edition of Swadeshi Indology conference series was recently held in IIT Madras from December 22-24. Right from its inception in July 2016, the SI conference series has garnered considerable amount of interest and active participation from academic scholars, researchers, students, young and old alike. Hindu Students Council (HSC) was represented at the event through its leadership team member, Venkat Ganesh.
The theme of this edition was aptly titled, “Tamil Nadu – The Land of Dharma”, emphasizing the state’s rich and varied contributions to the Hindu culture in the form of literature, arts, dance, music, food, medicine etc. As soon as Infinity Foundation (India) formally announced its intention in May 2017 to hold a conference in Chennai on the aforementioned theme, it created a buzz among Indology circles considering the socio-political activities in the state. Just to put things in perspective, the state has been thrown into a political turmoil (read- leadership vacuum) in the recent months which has brought out certain opportunistic anti-social elements in the mainstream with Breaking India inclinations. Also considering the state’s political leaderships’ constant flirtations with separatist Dravidian identity, anti-Hindu policies and minority appeasement, the timing of this conference became all the more significant. In this regard, the overarching premise of the event was focused on creating an all-encompassing united identity for Tamils with rest of the country by carefully examining and disproving the Aryan–Dravidian divide.
The conference was inaugurated by Vedic pundits with a wonderful rendition of shlokas from Sama Veda and Tevaram – devotional Shaivite Tamil poetry composed by the 7th Century Nayanars. After a couple of engaging talks from Mr. Vallabh Bhansali (Chairman, ENAM Securities) on the need for creating a holistic model of development in tune with Dharma and Mr. Mohandas Pai (Former CFO, Infosys) on ways to win the battle of minds by taking control of the narrative, Dr. Vilayanur S. Ramachandran (Neuroscientist, UC San Diego) who was also the Chief Guest for the event delivered a mind-blowing talk about mechanics of the brain and postulated about the evolution of certain psychoanalytical theories like the one developed by Sigmund Freud – which is the usual gaze upon which the Indian society is viewed by the academic scholars in the West. This talk was keenly received by the audience and involved lot of interactive Q&A. This was followed by a plenary session hosted by the recent Padma Bushan awardee Dr. Nagaswamy (Founder, Tamil Nadu Archaeological Department), with highly informative talk that compared the similarities in the Sangam literature works and the Vedic texts. He explicitly showed several examples from Tirukkural, a famous 5th century work by the Hindu poet, Tiruvalluvar correlating with Manu’s works and concluding that the ancient Tamil text was inspired from the Dharma Sastras of Manu and many of the Tamil texts especially during the Sangam period were written to popularize Sanskrit thoughts and works in Tamil.
The afternoon session saw a lively panel discussion on the controversial Harvard Tamil Chair issue which was moderated by Mr. Rajiv Malhotra (Founder, Infinity Foundation). The main bone of contention between both the sides was whether there was a need for Harvard to ‘research’ the ancient classical Tamil language. Because according to the deal which was agreed, once the Chair is established, Harvard will start the research focusing on Tamil language and literature, history of Tamil rulers, and digitization of palm manuscripts. There are concerns in various circles in academia that this would lead to a situation similar to Indology and Sanskrit departments where the insiders completely lose control of the narrative and merely become consumers of the work done by researchers and scholars not well-versed with the local language and culture. Under this pretext, there were animated exchanges on both the sides, with Mr. G. Olivannan (Contributor, Times of India) arguing that the Chair be established so that scholars from Harvard can research the Tamil language in order to spread its greatness to the world. But Mr. Malhotra and Ms. Padmini Ravichandran (Editor, Sudeshi) countered that the research and the content production should be done at the ‘home ground’ by establishing chairs in Indian universities with reputed scholars well-versed in Tamil and a Chair at Harvard be established only to promote and distribute the works of Indic scholars. Mr. Rajiv even spoke from his own experiences engaging with Harvard and other top American universities about their ability to negotiate favorably in order to gain control of the narrative. He also cited examples of how Korean, Japanese and Pakistani universities smartly negotiated deals with Harvard in order to have control over the narrative by appointing Chairs who were immersed in their respective cultures. The session ended with both sides agreeing the immediate need to re-negotiate the deal for formation of the Chair with certain prerequisites. As a result of Rajiv’s work before and during this conference on this issue, the future of the Tamil Chair at Harvard is still uncertain.
The second day saw plethora of paper presentations that were subject to double blind peer reviews under seven different themes such as: Spiritual Streams of Tamil Nadu; Embedded Sacredness in Tamil Life; Dravidian Movement and Evidence; Modern Hinduphobia and Dravidian Movement; Caste, Untouchability and Hinduism; Roadmap for Future – Tamil Identity Reasserting Pan-Indic Nature and Origins of Aryan Invasion Theory. It was heartening to listen to several presentations in Sanskrit which reaffirmed the fact that the revival movement which was started by institutions like Samskrita Bharati in the early 1980s is well and truly alive. Out of several interesting papers that were presented, two papers stood out. The first one was, “What falsifies the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT)?” by Mr. Nilesh Oak (Author, ‘When did the Mahabharata War Happen? – The Mystery of Arundhati’). In this paper, the scholar discredited this theory using modern astronomy. He suggested that migration happened in both the directions – in and out of modern day Indian subcontinent and provided necessary evidences based on time and location in his presentation. He rejected the claim that Vedic knowledge came from the Aryans when they invaded/ migrated to India. The second was, “Decolonizing the Indian Mind – A Case Study of Tamil Nadu” by Mr. T.N. Sudarshan. In his presentation, the scholar proposed ways to heuristically measure different ways by which individuals are colonized through media, movies etc. He proposed this approach of quantifying the level of decolonization will help in quickly turning around the masses as it is backed by empirical data and provides people an opportunity to evaluate themselves from time to time to work towards decolonizing their minds. Both these presentations were well received by the packed audiences in the auditorium. In total there were 46 paper presentations on this day spreading across 12 sessions.
The final day started with an enlightening panel discussion about the spiritual traditions of Tamil Nadu. There were speakers representing the Shaivite, Vaishnavite, Jaina and Aagama schools of tradition. Each spoke about how these traditions and schools of thought flourished and coexisted in TN for thousands of years. Dr. Kanagaraj Easwaran spoke about the origins of the Saivism movement in Tamil Nadu while Prof. M.V. Pasupathi discussed how Saivism had a strong influence on the food and diet habits of people in the region and helped them to veer towards saivam – vegetarian food for well-being of the body and mind. Dr. J. Neelakesi spoke about the relevance of Jaina tradition in Tamil Nadu. She specifically referred to the city of Tiruchirapalli in Central Tamil Nadu whose etymological origins could be traced back to the influence of Jainism in the state, Tiru – respect, Chira – Jain monk, Palli – town meaning a city of the Jain monk Chira. Dr. M.A. Alwar, a Vaishnavite scholar spoke about a dialect called Manipravala which was in vogue during 14th century when Manavala Mamunigal began writing commentaries on Pillai Lokacharya’s work. This name of this dialect can be broken down into Mani meaning ruby in Tamil and Pravala meaning coral in Sanskrit. The entire structure of this language was formed by combining Tamil and Sanskrit words. He further explained to show how Tamil and Sanskrit languages have always borrowed from each other and in the process enriching both. This clearly dents the arguments that Tamil to be exclusive without having any influence of Sanskrit. The takeaway from this session was that though Tamil Nadu was influenced by various schools of thought from Saivism, Vaishnavism to Jainism, its culture has always had pan-Indic Dharmic identity and not unique from rest of the country.
The plenary talk by Prof. P. Kanagasabapathi (Member, Indian Council of Social Science Research) in the afternoon about Jati, Kinship and Entrepreneurial Development focused on how the current system of caste could be leveraged for economic growth. He spoke how certain businesses owned by certain communities were successful due to easy availability of loans/credit within the same group, good understanding of local market and needs, better market access due to networking within the community, risk mitigation due to support within the caste and long term stability of the business due to ownership model within the same family. It was a refreshing talk in the current scheme of things as it touched upon inherent, unintended economic benefits of the caste system rather than equating jati with discrimination, exploitation or appeasement. The final panel session was presided over by Mr. Ayush Garg (Attorney based in the US and India) and Mr. R. Raghavachari (Lawyer, Madras High Court) that focused on tackling Hinduphobia in the society and necessary legal remedies that are already available and new legislatures that need to be enacted.
Just like the previous two editions of the Swadeshi Indology conference series, the 3-day event did more than just creating awareness about the potential threats from Breaking India forces. It also provided people with enough ammunition to counter the Aryan-Dravidian narrative while firmly establishing the pan-Indic identity of Tamil civilizations over thousands of years. According to Infinity Foundation, it plans to hold series of conferences in conflict areas such as Kashmir and North East in order to quell separatist tendencies in those regions. The organization has already announced that it plans to hold the next conference in New Delhi about Mind Sciences and Psychology in collaboration with the Delhi University from March 22 – March 26, 2018.
Photo Credits: Twitter feed of Sujeev Kommana @skommana1