Tamil New Year and the Tamil Nadu Government - I
by B R Haran on 14 Apr 2009 5 Comments

Today is the Tamil New Year. Millions of Tamil Hindus will be celebrating it worldwide. But in India, Tamil Nadu as a State will not officially celebrate the event as the present DMK government has changed the traditional Tamil New Year from 14 April (Chiththirai-1) to 14 January (Thai-1), against the wishes of Tamil Hindus. 

Government’s Declaration

On 10 January 2008, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi suddenly announced that the Tamil New Year would henceforth be celebrated on the first day of Tamil month “Thai” (15 January, “Pongal-Sankranti”) instead of the first day of the Tamil month “Chiththirai” (14 April, “Varusha Pirappu, New Year”) from 2009 onwards.

During the inaugural session to the Assembly on 23 January 2008, Governor Barnala in his customary address said the first day of ‘Thai’ would be celebrated as Tamil New Year Day and that Tamils could celebrate ‘Pongal’ and ‘New Year’ on the same day. Thereafter, on 29 January 2008, Mr. Karunanidhi tabled the “Tamil Nadu Tamil New Year Day Declaration Bill,” and an ordinance to that effect was passed on 1 February 2008 by the Dravidian Assembly. 

The Governor’s address alleged that in 1921, over 500 scholars under the leadership of ‘Maraimalai Adigal’ had met in Pachayapas College, Chennai, under the auspices of “Pure Tamil Movement” and decided that Tamils needed a separate calendar and a new era started in the name of Thiruvalluvar; hence, based on this fact, the government had taken this “revolutionary” decision!

No reverence and reference to ancient scholars 

A great Hindu religious traditional festival, celebrated on the first day of Chiththirai for thousands of years, was changed just like that by an “atheist” government, on the basis of a ridiculous demand by a group of self-proclaimed scholars allegedly headed by a Christian in 1921!

There is absolutely no reverence for the great Rishis and Munivars like Sage Agasthiyar, Sage Tholkappiyar and ancient Tamil scholars and poets like Kabilar and Kambar, who religiously followed the timeless culture and tradition.

Even Thiruvalluvar, in whose name this preposterous change has been made, was a firm believer in God and a staunch follower of Sanatana Dharma; there is no evidence that he intended to change the system of Hindu calendars.  

Thiruvalluvar factor

Speaking of Thiruvalluvar, the state government is under the impression that he was born in 31 BC, whereas there is no evidence to support this view.

Normally, any author would divulge his name and the name of his work, but Thiruvalluvar has not done that. Nor has he spoken about his Guru! He has not mentioned any specific king or ruler of his time, nor any rivers or mountains or even places (cities, towns and villages) of his time in his magnum opus. Hence no one knows for sure the era in which he lived.

Renowned Tamil Scholar Vaiyapuri Pillai opined that Thiruvalluvar lived around 600 AD, on the basis of the internal evidence of his work, and the significant influence of Sanskrit works like Manu Dharma Shastra, Artha Shastra, Bhagvad Gita and Jain Prakrit and Buddhist Pali works in his Thirukkural (“History of Tamil Language and Literature,” 1956, pp. 79-88). Thus, creating an era in the name of Thiruvalluvar is a farce! Indeed, there is nothing ‘Dravidian’ about him. The word ‘Dravidian’ represents the ‘southern’ part of the Vindhya ranges and is known as “Dravida Desam;” the northern ranges being designated as “Gouda Desam.” 

Hindu calendar

The Hindu calendar is based on astronomical data and planetary systems and time calculations based on the movements of the Sun and Moon. There are two Hindu calendars, one based on Sun (Saura Maanam – Sun Solstice) and the other based on Moon (Chanthra Maanam – Moon Solstice).

These calendars have been conceived and brought out meticulously by our ancient Rishis and Munivars on solid principles and Hindus world over follow either of the two calendars. 

Literary evidences for “Chiththirai New Year”

As the present Tamil Nadu government rests its decision on so-called Tamil scholars of 1921, we must examine if Tamil literature supports this contention.

rom ancient times, Tamil New Year has been celebrated as per the solar solstice when Sun enters Mesha/Chiththirai through the 11 successive ‘Raasis’ of the zodiac. Ancient Tamil literary works like Nakkeerar’s “Nedunalvadai”, Koodaloor Kizhar’s “Purananooru” and Ilango Adigal’s “Silappathikaram” and Seethalai Chaattanaar’s “Manimekalai” refer to Mesha Raasi/Chiththirai and refer to the Hindu solar calendar with Chiththirai as the beginning of the New Year. 

A Tamil calendar has been in place for centuries by renaming Sanskritised names with Tamil names (with slight changes). Manimekalai speaks of the 27 Nakshatras (stars) as per the Sanskrit reckoning, and as per the Hindu calendar, 12 stars find a place in the names of twelve months; the particular day of the month on which the concerned star descends would be Full Moon (Purnima) Day.

Though the Tamil Nadu government discarded the 60-year cycle with Sanskritised names and replaced it with the so-called Thiruvalluvar Era, the Chief Minister said the government had no intention of changing the names of the ‘months’! The Mesha/Chiththirai New Year celebration, in accordance with the solar solstice, is not confined to Tamil Nadu alone. The Hindu calendar, which commences on 14 April, represents the Hindu equinox and is celebrated in many other places like Assam, Punjab, Bengal, and countries like Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Sri Lanka.  

No evidence for “Thai Pongal”

In fact, there are no references at all regarding the so-called Tamil festival “Pongal” in early Tamil literature.

We can see some references about Thai and the traditional fast (vrat) undertaken by people in that month, which is called Thai Nonbu. Literary works like “Natrinai” (Songs: 22, 80), “Ainkurunooru” (Song: 84) “Kurunthokai” (Song: 196) “Kalithokai” (Song: 59) and “Purananuru” (Song: 70) speak of Thai Nonbu (fasting), which may be attributed to either the completion of Paavai Nonbu (women’s fast during the previous month, Margazhi) and its celebration on Thai-1, or the fast undertaken for Thai Poosam, dedicated to Bhagwan Muruga.

But there was no mention of “Pongal” festival in any ancient literary work as a festival of thanksgiving to the Sun; hence ancient Tamils did not celebrate the festival called Pongal. 

Makara Sankranti factor

The Hindu solstice harvest festival, Pongal, celebrated in Tamil Nadu on the first day of Thai is actually Makara Sankranti, which is celebrated in India and Sri Lanka. This is a celebration attributed to the resumption of the Sun’s journey towards the North (Uttarayan).

While Hindus of Tamil Nadu celebrate it as Pongal, Hindus of Sri Lanka celebrate it as Surya Mangalya, dedicating the harvested grains to the Sun.

Actually, Makara Sankranti is a pan-Indian festival celebrated in Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bengal, Bihar, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Orissa, Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, besides Nepal and Sri Lanka.

As there is no mention of Pongal in ancient Tamil literature, we may conclude that Makara Sankranti came to Tamil Nadu along with the Telugus and Marathas who ruled Tamil Nadu for quite sometime. Tamils could have adopted Makara Shankranti as Pongal. Makara Sankranti, which falls on 14 January, is also referred to in “Surya Siddhanta.” When there is no credible evidence for Pongal as an ancient “Tamil” festival, the question of celebrating Thai-1 as the Tamil New Year simply does not arise. 

Hence, the Tamil Nadu Government’s ordinance changing the Tamil New Year is atrocious and outrageous, and hurts the religious sentiments of millions of Tamil Hindus. It has been done with malicious intent, as we shall discuss later. 

In the early 1950s, the Indian Government constituted a committee to formulate an Indic calendar, in which the solstice falls on December 23. This ‘official’ calendar is used for Gazette purposes only, and neither the Central Government nor any other State Government has meddled with the Hindu calendar or interfered with the Hindu religious tradition. 

To be continued…

The author is a senior journalist; he lives in Chennai

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