Speaking at the Tamil Nadu State Assembly on Friday on the budget allocations of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Communist Party of India’s Tha’li constituency member, Mr. T. Ramachandran urged the Tamil Nadu Government to initiate an Eezham Tamil Cultural Centre at Chithamparam by taking over and protecting the enclave of Eezham Tamil Mutts in Chithamparam. The Mutts date from the times of the Kingdom of Jaffna. King Pararaja Sekaran, who ruled in the 16th century, before the advent of the Portuguese, built the earliest known among them. Most of the Eezham Tamil Mutts at Chithamparam are located as an enclave around a large tank called Gnaanap-pirakaasam, excavated by the ascetic Gnaanap-pirakaasar who came from Jaffna in the 17th century.
Another ascetic, founder of a Saiva Siddhanta Mutt at Vara’ni in Jaffna, Thillai Naatha Thampiraan, received endowments in the 17th century from a ruler of Thanjavur after curing his daughter’s illness. Apart from managing the temple at Vedaranyam endowed to it, the Varani Mutt also built a Mutt at Chithamparam.
Later, many villages in Jaffna built their own mutts for pilgrims around the Gnaanap-pirakaasam tank.
The enclave at Chithamparam was the spiritual and intellectual centre for many of the Eezham Tamils, including Arumuga Navalar, who contributed to Tamil, Saivism, education and publication of Tamil classical texts in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The free educational institution started by Arumuga Navalar at Chithamparam in the 1860s, with a curriculum to teach Maths, Agriculture, Commerce, Geography, Politics, Astronomy and Native Medicine, besides Tamil and Saivism, predates the Annamalai University by several decades.
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In the last half a century, charities related to the Mutts became largely unattended, Mutts dilapidated and many of the properties were either given to individuals in Tamil Nadu through Power of Attorney or were appropriated.
It became inevitable since crucial requisites of cultural contacts such as direct travel, monetary transaction and people to people contact across the Palk Bay were severed after the so-called independence, due to policies followed by Colombo-centric and New Delhi-centric Establishments.
Ever since the so-called independence, the Sinhala State in Colombo was strictly following the policy of sealing off Eezham Tamils from having contacts with Tamil Nadu. New Delhi’s policies abetting Colombo in this regard and the targeted restrictions it makes on Eezham Tamils, especially since 1990s, are well known.
In the latest example, a hereditary trustee in the village Maathakal in Jaffna, located at the nearest point to the coast of Tamil Nadu, had to give Power of Attorney of his village’s Mutt called Chevvaayk-kizhamai Mutt in Chithamparam to a priest of the Chithamparam temple, because of the ‘difficulties in coming and going.’
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The Tamil Nadu government has to embark on a major move to give due status to the Eezham Tamil cultural enclave at Chithamparam on a par with the Sinhala-Buddhist Maha Bodhi Society functioning in India, is the request of circles connected to the charities living in the island and in the diaspora.
The enclave and the properties have to be protected by legislation and they could be made into a heritage site, having a museum of Eezham Tamil culture, archives and library displaying the first editions and publications by Eezham Tamils scholars, research and publication facilities to bring out standard new editions of the academic contributions of Eezham Tamils, and heritage tourism facilities for visitors from the island and from the diaspora, the sources connected to the charities told TamilNet.
The Tamil Nadu Government move has to incorporate Eezham Tamil institutions in the island connected to the charities and may have to explore ways of accommodating institutional representation from the diaspora, in making the charities meaningful to contemporary times, the sources said.
Temple consortiums, village associations and even alumni associations in the diaspora have to play a role in making a formal request to the Tamil Nadu Government in claiming the heritage site at Chithamparam, in coming out with ideas of making it meaningful, in contributing to its development and in participating in the management. It will culturally benefit to the posterity in the diaspora, the sources further said.
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CPI’s MLA Mr. Ramachandran has made a strong note on the issue in his speech on Friday, as a part of many other progressive proposals brought out by him on the Tourism and Culture Ministry budget debate. His proposal got into the records of the Assembly, news sources in Chennai said.
Even though the facts are not accurate, Ramachandran’s welcome proposal should create awareness in Tamil Nadu to first conduct a survey researching on facts and feasibility, and to evolve opinion through media efforts, in order to materialise the project for the mutual benefit of Tamil Nadu and Eezham Tamils, the sources connected to the charities commented.