Religious views of Periyar E. V. Ramasamy

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The religious views of Periyar E. V. Ramasamy resulted in him being considered the Voltaire of South India. Both opposed religion virulently because, in their views, the so-called men of religion invented myths and superstitions to keep the innocent and ignorant people in darkness and to go on exploiting them.[1] Periyar has been a harsh critic of the Aryan influenced Hinduism in Tamil Nadu, more than the faiths of Islam, Buddhism and Christianity. He has spoken appreciatively of these other faiths in India finding in their ethics principles of equality and justice, thus advocating them if they can prove an alternative to Brahamanic Hinduism. With regards to institutionalized religion being used for personal gain, Periyar stated that "religion goes hand in hand with superstition and fear. Religion prevents progress and suppresses man. Religion exploits the suppressed classes." As religions, however, they are prone to be hit by accusation of superstition, exploitation and irrationalism.[2]


In periyar's school of thought, there was no religion by name Vedic Hinduism derived from the name of a place. With no distinct doctrines and no particular sacred book, it was said to be an imaginary religion preaching the superiority of the Brahmin the inferiority of the Shudra, and the untouchability of the Panchama.[3]

Maria Misra compares him to the philosophes,

Through the Self-Respect Movement,Periyar preached that compared to other religions, Hinduism placed many restrictions on men by prohibiting all except a small minority of Brahmins from reading the religious texts or discusing religious matters and by evolving a caste system in the name of divine law, and by creating several gods and festivals to provide an assured income and prosperity to the small Brahmin group at the expense of all others.[5]

Vaikkam veerar Ramasamy and Mahatma Gandhi—the former on a mission to destroy the essential practices perpetuated under Hinduism and the latter on a mission to protect, safeguard and rejuvenate the essence of Hindu religion—agreed on the basic point of the need to remove many evils practiced in the form of religion. Gandhiji aspired to 'reform' the religion by rejecting its formalities and moving out of it. Both believed that the Hindus should realize that Hinduism was not a religion and whatever they practiced in the name of Hindu religion had no religious basis or sanction. Both were of the opinion that religious faith was used to perpetuate inequalities on the basis of birth and ideas of purity and pollution.[5]

When the ideal of Dravidian nationalism was projected in the 1940s, Perriyar's religious philosophy also underwent a modification to assert that Hinduism was not the religion of the Dravidians. There was no Dravidian Veda and the Aryan Vedas prevalent among Dravidians were said to be the sacred books which prescribed how Dravidians should be treated but put a bar on Dravidians from acquiring a knowledge of these texts. In his Presidential Address at the Justice Confederation in 1940 EVR said:[6]

"We have to bring about certain reforms in our religion. Many of our countrymen think that they are Hindus. When you call yourself a Hindu you admit Aryan principles. The words Hindu and Hinduism were not used by our forefathers in any of their works. Historians of world religions say that the sacred books of the Hindus are the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Agamas, the Puranas and the Itihasas. You will notice that none of the ancient religious works of the Dravidians have been included among those religious books. A careful study of the Vedas, etc., proves beyond doubt that they were written with a view to disgrace, enslave and exploit the Dravidians. It is this Hinduism which says that we are Sudras and Rakshasas. Again it is this Hinduism which is responsible for the introduction of caste distinction and growth of feud among the sons of the soil. All our superstitions and meaningless and absurd rituals and ceremonies are the result of following the tenets of Hinduism. In addition to our social subjugation and enslavement it paved the way for our political enslavement also by Aryans. If we think calmly we shall see that it is as necessary to be free from Hinduism in the field of religion as it is to be separated from Aryavarta in the field of politics."[6]

Thanthai Periyar, even while upholding rationalism, executed his duties of a `dharmakartha' of a temple at Erode, to everybody's appreciation. ."[7]

Marai Malai Adigal is an eminent Tamil Saivite scholar who founded Saiva Siddhantha Association. He lived as a Saiva saint.This orthodox Saiva scholar was once invited by Thanthai Periyar to stay in his place or ashram. Maraimalai Adigal agreed to stay with Periyar for a month. In that one month, Periyar respected the orthodoxy of Adigal and ordered not to cook non-vegetarian food in the ashram and instructed his aides not to do anything that would offend the saiva practices of Adigal. Periyar respected true believers.


Ramasamy said "Bane of Tamils is Brahmins, Muslims and Christians consider themselves to Tamilans". In his book "Vedangalin Vandavalangal", he had separate chapters where he criticized Quran and Bible.

In the early days of the Self-Respect Movement when Periyar was vociferous that Hindu religion, Manudharma and the Congress should be destroyed, he was inclined to play a political game by expressing an opinion that Islam alone was the religion that carried political weight and those depressed in the Hindu order could consider conversion to Islam.[8]

For eradicating the evil of 'shudrahood', the threat of conversion was occasionally exercised. The Dravidian movement repeatedly complained about the imposition of Aryan religion on Dravidians. "Unless we become either the Panchama, i.e., Adi Dravida or Muslims, we will not get respect, justice and progress," said EVR. He clarified that the idea was not to place the Dravidian people under the authority of Muslim religious leaders abroad but to practice the tenets of equality, righteous conduct and mutual respect. He emphasized that he was not an advocate of Islam but was only trying to find a remedy to the sufferings under Aryan, brahminical system and to find a rightful place for Dravidians in the independent country.[9]


Periyar found in Buddhism a basis for his philosophy though he did not accept that religion as self-respect movement. The search for basis began in the course of the movement and was intensified soon after independence. It was again an experiment in the search for self-respect and the object was to get liberation from the shudrahood of Hinduism. A conference to propagate Buddhism was convened in Erode on January 31, 1954.[10] Later that year, he and his wife [He married Maniammai when he was 74 years old] went to Burma to attend the celebration of the 2500th anniversary of Buddha.[11]

Periyar stated that what he was propagating could be found in the teachings of Buddha given 2000 years ago and wanted to revive them as the independent government had accepted the wheel of the Buddha and Hindus have regarded Buddha as an avatar. Brahmins were accused of covering Buddha within the Aryan religion as they had been hiding Tiruvalluvar within the Aryan fold. EVR pointed out that Buddha also laid stress on rationalism, on intellect as the precept, and on thought process for accepting anything. The persecution of Buddha by Brahmins, the burning of Buddhist institutions and teachings and the 'export' of Buddhism to China, Japan and Ceylon were recalled at the conference and Periyar observed that Buddha Vihars at Srirangam, Kanchi, Palani and Tirupati were converted as Hindu temples.[10]


Periyar said "Bane of Tamils is Brahmins, Muslims and Christians consider themselves to Tamilans". In his book "Vedangalin Vandavalangal", he had separate chapters where he criticized Kuran and Bible.

He was against evangelical movement of DGS Dinakaran and fought with him on this issue. In Periyar's publication, Naathigan, he used to vehemently oppose and criticize Dinakaran calling him fraud.

Christianity was viewed by Periyar similar to monotheistic faith of Islam. He stated that, "So far as god is concerned we find the Christians and Muslims, somewhat reformed from the olden days of barbarians. They say that there can be only one god. They say that it is beyond human comprehension. They say that god does good to those who are good and punishes those who are bad. They say that god has no name or shape. They talk of good qualities".[12] He took an interest in Rev. Martin Luther, where both he and his followers wanted to liken him and his role to that of the European reformer.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Veeramani, K., Periyar on Women's Rights, p. ix.
  2. ^ Diehl, E.V. Ramasamy Naiker-Periyar, p.55.
  3. ^ Saraswathi, S. Towards Self-Respect, pp. 118 & 119.
  4. ^ Vishnu's crowded temple, India since the great rebellion, p181, Maria Misra, 2008, Yale University Press, ISBN 978-0-300-13721-7
  5. ^ a b Saraswathi. Towards Self-Respect, p. 119.
  6. ^ a b Saraswathi. Towards Self-Respect, p. 121.
  7. ^ "The known and the unknown". The Hindu. Chennai, India. August 26, 2006. 
  8. ^ Saraswathi. Towards Self-Respect, p. 124.
  9. ^ Saraswathi. Towards Self-Respect, pp. 124 & 125.
  10. ^ a b Saraswathi. Towards Self-Respect, p. 125.
  11. ^ Diehl, E.V. Ramasamy Naiker-Periyar, p. 28.
  12. ^ Veeramani, Collected Works of Periyar, p. 495.


  • Diehl, Anita, (1977). E. V. Ramaswami — Periyar: A study of the influence of a personality in contemporary South India. Scandinavian University Books: Sweden. ISBN 91-24-27645-6.
  • Saraswathi, S. (2004) Towards Self-Respect. Institute of South Indian Studies: Madras.
  • Veeramani, Dr. K.(2005). Collected Works of Periyar E.V.R.. Third Edition. The Periyar Self-Respect Propaganda Institution: Chennai.
  • Veeramani, Dr. K.(1992). Periyar on Women's Rights. Emerald Publishers: Chennai.