Mangal Sutras And Crucifixion: Devotion Knows No Bounds In Star-Struck Tamil Nadu

03/05/2016 4:04 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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Kavita Kishore

In Tamil Nadu, politics is not simply about electing their leaders, it is a way of life. Both the main Dravidian parties, the AIADMK and the DMK, have their fair share of followers, with many of them willing to give up their lives for the party.

Formed in 1949, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam is the oldest regional party in the state. As expected, it has a number of elderly people who have stayed with the party for well over six decades. In one village called Nadayampathur in Cuddalore district, the people have taken their devotion a step further. Women that marry men from the village are also married to the party, with their thaali (mangal sutra) having the party’s symbol: the rising sun.

R Mythili, whose husband is Ramesh, wears her thaali proudly. “I come from the neighbouring village, and my parent’s family supports AIADMK. When our marriage was fixed, my husband said he did not want a dowry, but he insisted that my thaali bear the DMK symbol. Almost a decade after my wedding, I proudly wear the symbol close to my chest,” she said.

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The tradition of placing the rising sun symbol on the thaali started with two men, A Jambulingam and Subramani. These men joined the DMK in 1956, when they were barely 18.

“We went to the DMK headquarters, and were so impressed that we came back and hung the DMK flag in our houses. Our parents did not understand why our party was so special. Today, however, our children understand the importance of the party and the Dravidian philosophy it introduced,” an 84-year-old Jambulingam said. His household now has 11 votes, and they will always be reserved for the DMK, he added.

I got married in 1958, and we were the first people in the Vriddhachalam Taluk to have a non-denominational wedding that the DMK encouraged. Instead of paying a temple priest to preside over the ceremony, my father had that honour.

“I got married in 1958, and we were the first people in the Vriddhachalam Taluk to have a non-denominational wedding that the DMK encouraged. Instead of paying a temple priest to preside over the ceremony, my father had that honour,” he said.

rising sun symbol

(The village of Nadayamputhur has a number of women who have the rising sun symbol on their mangal sutras)

His friend Subramani, who passed away a couple of weeks ago, was the first to give his wife the rising sun on the thaali when he got married in the 1960s. Since then, many other families in the village have adopted the custom.

According to Anjali, another villager, there were at least 30 women, in a village of a little over 100 households, who wore the DMK thaalis, but over the years, many of them were widowed. “Only a handful of women in the present generation had the thaali made, but most families in the village support DMK,” she said.

Jambulingam’s wife, Mahalakshmi, explains how she insisted that her children be named after prominent DMK personalities, with two of her sons being named Anbalagan, Annadurai. “My third son was initially named MGR, but when the actor broke away from the party to form his own AIADMK party, we changed his name to Venkatesan. My daughters in law wear the rising sun around their necks,” she said.

In Tamil Nadu party loyalty bordering on fanaticism is not unusual. When veteran actor turned politician, MG Ramachandran, left the DMK in 1972, his fans followed him. V Rani, a house maid in Chennai speaks of how it was impossible for many of his fans to imagine life after MGR had passed. “Even today, I am a follower of the AIADMK because of MGR. A group of us even went together to get tattoos of the two leaf symbol to prove our loyalty,” she said, proudly pointing to the crude tattoo draw on her right forearm.

When MGR passed away in 1988, there were riots across the state, and it was reported that dozens of people took their lives in grief over the death of their leader. Before that, in 1969, when CN Annadurai, who founded the DMK, passed away, there were over 15 lakh people who attended the funeral. This was even recorded in the Guinness Book of Records in 1984 for the most number of people attending a funeral.

rising sun

(The village of Nadayamputhur has a number of women who have the rising sun symbol on their mangal sutras)

Even today, leaders draw a similar kind of fanaticism. In February this year, to commemorate the 68th birthday of AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa, over 1000 people to get tattoos of Chief Minister with the word ‘Amma’ written beneath it.

The mass tattoo event ended in controversy, with an NGO filing a complaint with the Human Rights Commission stating that a young girl was forced to get a tattoo of Amma in front of several AIADMK ministers.

The mass tattoo event ended in controversy, with an NGO filing a complaint with the Human Rights Commission stating that a young girl was forced to get a tattoo of Amma in front of several AIADMK ministers. Although the girl issued a statement saying she was not forced to get the tattoo, MK Ashok, the MLA who sponsored the tattoos ceremony, was removed from all party posts.

There are some actions by party fans that can be viewed as extreme by many. For example, last year, Jayalalithaa supporter Shihan Hussaini crucified himself, and nailed himself to a cross for several minutes, to help support her campaign. The move was driven by “Sheer, pure, unadulterated adulation, love and devotion towards her (Jayalalithaa),” he said, adding that it was a way for him to help her “surmount her political obstacles”.

For many people, it was parties like the DMK, and later the AIADMK that helped define their identities, political commentator and farmer leader KV Kannan explained. “These party’s policies were eye openers, and the anti-Hindi agitation and Dravidian ideology helped these people better understand themselves. It helped them ensure a better quality of life,” he said.

For many of the older DMK followers, this could be the last election in which they get to vote for their party.

rising sun

(Manickam from Periyakaatupalayam who has the rising sun symbol painted outside his house the year round)

In another village in the Cuddalore district, Periyakaatupalayam, a 92-year-old man, Manickam, sits by himself in the corner, doodling on a piece of paper. “I cannot see anymore, but when I was younger, I met Kalaignar (meaning artist, a moniker for DMK chief Karunanidhi) in his house in Tiruvarur. Both of us were the same age, and Kalaignar’s speeches and his ideology resonated with me. It was then that I became devoted to the DMK for life. Now, I can barely see or walk, but I want to vote and ensure my idol is back in power,” he said. Manickam was the one who introduced DMK to his village.

“Both Subramani and I wanted to stay alive to ensure that Kalaignar Karunanidhi was voted in this time. While Subramani may not have made it, I am determined to vote in my party,” Jambulingam says. He had a heart attack earlier this year, but he says that he will not give up his vote, even if he has to be carried there.

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