20 May 1845|
|Known for||Dalit Buddhist movement|
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C. Iyothee Thass (20 May 1845 – 1914) was a prominent Dalit and anti-caste activist and a practitioner of Siddha medicine who is regarded as a pioneer of the Dravidian Movement. He famously converted to Buddhism and called upon the Paraiyars to do the same, arguing that this was their original religion. He also founded the Punchmar Mahajana Sabha in 1891 along with Rettaimalai Srinivasan. Punchamars are the 5th group in the varna system.
"Iyothee Thass" is the most common Anglicized spelling of his name; other spellings include Pandit C. Ayodhya Dasa, C. Iyothee Doss, C. Iyodhi Doss, C. Iyothee Thoss, K. Ayōttitācar (avarkaḷ) or K. Ayōttitāsa (paṇṭitaravarkaḷ).
Iyothee Thass was born Kathavarayan on 20 May 1845 in a Tamil family from Coimbatore district.:9 His grandfather worked for George Harrington in Ooty and little Kathavarayan profitted immensely from this association. Soon, he became an expert on Tamil literature, philosophy and indigenous medicine and could speak Tamil, English, Sanskrit and Pali.
Assumption of leadership of Dalits
In the 1870s, Iyothee Thass organized the Todas and other tribes of the Nilgiri Hills into a formidable force. In 1876, Thass established the Advaidananda Sabha and launched a magazine called Dravida Pandian in collaboration with Rev. John Rathinam.
In 1886, Thass issued a revolutionary declaration that untouchables were not Hindus. Following this declaration, he established the Dravida Mahajana Sabha in 1891. During the 1891 census, he urged Dalits to register themselves as "casteless Dravidians" instead of identifying themselves as Hindus. His activities were inspiration to Sri Lanka's Buddhist revivalist Anagarika Dharmapala.
Conversion to Buddhism
Iyothee Thass met Colonel H. S. Olcott with his followers and expressed a sincere desire to convert to Buddhism. According to Thass, the Paraiyars of Tamilakam were originally Buddhists and owned the land which had later been robbed from them by Aryan invaders.:9–10 With Olcott's help, Thass was able to visit Ceylon and obtain diksha from the Sinhalese Buddhist monk Bikkhu Sumangala Nayake. On returning, Thass established the Sakya Buddhist Society in Madras with branches all over South India. The Sakya Buddhist Society was also known as the Indian Buddhist Association. and was established in the year 1898.
Political activism and later life
Iyothee Thass died in 1914 at the age of 69.
Iyothee Thass remains the first recognized anti-Casteist leader of the Madras Presidency. In many ways, Periyar, Dravidar Kazhagam, Dr. Ambedkar,and Thirumavalavan are inheritors of his legacy. He was also the first notable Dalit leader to embrace Buddhism.
However, Iyothee Thass was largely forgotten until recent times when the Dalit Sahitya Academy, a publishing house owned by Dalit Ezhilmalai, published his writings. Ezhilmalai, then the Union Health Minister, also made a desired to name the planned National Center for Siddha Research after the leader. However, the proposal did not come into effect until 2005, when vehement protests by Se. Ku. Tamilarasan of the Republican Party of India (RPI) forced the Government to take serious note of the matter. The institute for Siddha Research (National Institute of Siddha) was subsequently inaugurated by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on 3 September 2005 and named the Dalit leader. At its inauguration, the hospital had 120 beds. The patients were treated as per the traditional system of Siddha medicine.
In the early part of the 20th century, he indulged in vehement condemnation of the Swadeshi movement and the nationalist press remarking that he could "locate the power of the modern secular brahmin in the control he wielded over public opinion."
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