Updates...

Sibi has started school. Now, he has started school last week itself and I was there for a couple of days to send him off and bring him back. He is crying and ofcourse, now saying that 'school vendam' but once he comes back from school he says 'school alama ponum'. But he cries anyway the next day. He is talking cutely these days and there is no way to tell him anything harshly. I often wonder about that kural 'Kulazinithu Yazhinithu enbartham makkal mazhalai sol kelathar'. That is so true. At home, he writes a few words and numbers and is making progress in learning rhymes and Tamil. Hopefully he learns to adapt in school and like it.

As promised here is my take on the conversion of Nadars/saanars into christianity. Since one of my grand mother was a converted christian and many other relatives of mine are christians, I had an interest in understanding the history and thereby try to reason the conversions that goes on within the Nadar community. There is a very good document by a missionary which studies the spread of christianity in the Thirunelveli district and the conversion activites in the area in the past 300 years. This is interesting because there are passing references to the reasons for the local converting into the fold. Nadars/Saanars are the people in the south tamil nadu area who are dependant on the palmyra trees for their livelihood. In fact, my grandfather used to tell us that we are the 'panai eri kootam' (people who climb palm trees). They are not caste hindus (like the vellalas of north TN) or the untouchables. They are somewhere in between and this is one of the major reasons why the conversions took place. The aspiration for a social status within the community was high and there were riots and struggles by the Nadars in the south recorded by the Bristish demanding social justice in the 19th century. Christianity promised a social status for these people if they converted. This was one of the major inducements for converting and there are records showing conversion of entire villages(of nadars). Since the conversion was in groups, there was not much friction in the social fabric of the village except that there is church in the village now. One of the events that triggered the large scale conversion was the 'thol seelai' struggle in the Travancore samasthanam(which included Kanyakumari, Nagerkoil and other areas of south TN) in 1860. Before these times, anyone other than the caste Hindus were prohibited from wearing the upper garments. The struggle for wearing the upper garments started sometime in the 1850s and there were riots and uprisings in support of this. This was the period when the missionaries were able to convert large number of Hindus (including Nadars) promising (and delivering) them the rights to wear upper garments. Uthram Thirunal Marthanda Varma, the ruler of Travancore, noticed this and gave the same right to everyone by 1860. This ,along with the temple entry for lower castes, seems to be the major reasons why a large number of Nadars converted into Christianity. One other aspect is the educational oppurtunities available for the christians in the area. Even today, Thirunelveli is literally swarmed with schools and colleges, most of which were run by Christian missionaries and institutions. Education offered a chance for the community to rise beyond the daily grind of palmyra business and respect gained because of it is another bonus. Thus by 1895, the missionaries had accomplished their mission in the southern TN to a large extent. There were resistance from the Hindus for these activities from earlier days and the notable ones include Arumuga Navalar, who basically took on the missionaries in refuting their claims on Hinduism and was able to re-convert a few as well as convince a lot more not to convert. Of course, the missionaries view of this and the Arya Samaj activities is to cry persecution. By 1900s, the conversion activites has slowed down and the social reform movements were in full swing. I really have no idea about the current state of affairs. But as it is, it goes to show that till social justice is meted out, these activities will continue.

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ராமானுஜர் - நாடகம்

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