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COMPARISON OF TAMIL POLITICAL MOVEMENTS

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Although Sinhala Buddhist revivalism was of singular importance in Sri Lanka’s political history, many of the movement’s ideological concerns and claims are comparable to the Indian Hindu revivalist movements that were emerging at roughly the same time. One of the most popular of the Hindu revivalist movements, the Arya Samaj, which numbered half a million adherents by the 1921 census, identified Hinduism as the legitimate source and core of Indian civilization and culture (Sarkar 1989, 74-75). Like Dharmapala it combined an attack on allegedly obscurantist practices, including child marriage and the taboos on widow remarriage, with a defence of what it claimed was Vedic orthodoxy. In 1909 Lajpat Rai and Lala Lal Chand echoed Dharmapala’s efforts to foster a religious and ethnic consciousness amongst the Sinhalese in an article attacking the Congress claiming that the “consciousness must arise in the mind of each Hindu that he is a Hindu, and not merely an Indian” (Ibid., 75). Interestingly the social bases of the Hindu and Buddhist revivalist movements were also comparable. According to Sumit Sarkar, the Arya Samaj had its principle support base amongst urban trading castes in north India while revivalists’ attempts to purge Hinduism of superstitious practices tied them to “an emerging code of middle class respectability” that in Sri Lanka translated into Dharmapala’s code for lay conduct (Ibid., 76). A similar set of concerns animated the Tamil revivalist movements in both Sri Lanka and India. Like Anagarika Dharmapala and the Arya Samajists, the Sri Lankan Tamil Saivite revivalist Arumugam Navalar (18221879) sought to excise syncretic and populist practices from Tamil Saivism and return it to its textual roots. A distinct strand of the Tamil revivalist movements promoted a revival of Tamil literature and south Indian classical music and dance. Although the Saivite movement addressed itself particularly to the Hindus, the revival of music, dance and literature involved Tamil Christians. Christian missionaries working in south India had led the study of Tamil grammar. One in particular, Robert Caldwell, first argued that Tamil was a Dravidian language, autonomous from Sanskrit in its development and grammar. In Sri Lanka there were many Jaffna Tamil Christians who became prominent in activities to promote and revive Tamil literature and culture, and as A. J. Wilson argues: “[the] movement for Tamil cultural awakening did not become segmented or sectarian” (Wilson 2000, 30). Although the Hindu, Sinhala Buddhist, and Tamil revivalist movements were motivated by similar concerns and made comparable ideological claims, their political consequences have been very different. While the Indian Hindu nationalist party, the BJP, was able to become the single biggest party and lead a full term coalition government from 1999-2004, it has not been able to overcome the divisions of caste and region within the Hindu fold.

Sagar XVII — 2007  
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