The ageless bond between Kashi and Tamilakam – R.N. Ravi

Kashi on the Ganga.

R.N. RaviEven though the physical infrastructure of the connection between Kashi and Tamilakam was dismantled during colonial rule, the emotional bonds remained alive in the hearts and minds of the people. – Gov. R.N. Ravi

The Constitution of India introduces our country by name as Bharat, the name by which she has been known since the beginning of our history. This is how ancient Indian works of literature refer to her. This is how she is invoked in traditional day-to-day rites and rituals. Bharat, as the Mother, was the rallying point for the national freedom movement.

The western notion of a state created by a sovereign ruler, often by force, fails to comprehend Bharat, which has been a civilisational evolution, catalysed and organically shaped by a shared cultural spirituality. Rishis, siddhars, yogis, poets and social reformers have shaped this evolution. Kings of yore liberally patronised it as their duty.

In the long evolutionary journey of Bharat, Tamilakam (the land of Tamil-speaking people) has played a crucial role. It is here that the physical manifestation of Bharat, north of the ocean, begins.

Several thousand people travelled every year both ways between Kashi and Rameswaram until the British dismantled the unbroken chain of centuries-old infrastructure built in between for their rest and recuperation.

The letter dated January 20, 1801, of Serfoji Maharaj, the last ruler of Tanjore, to British Resident Benjamin Torin who had taken control, pleading for not disturbing or dismantling the chain of chattrams (dharmashalas) between Kashi and Rameswaram where several thousand pilgrims, travellers and traders were provided three free meals a day and medical care, bears a heart-wrenching testimony to it.

Kashi had such a deep influence over Tamilakam that her kings patronised Kashi so much so that when it came under severe existential threats during invasions from Central Asia and the near-West, they built a large number of Kashi Vishwanath Temples in various parts of Tamilakam. Parakrama Pandya, a Pandya king, even built a replica of Kashi called Tenkasi (Kashi of the South). Villages in Tamilakam have Kashi Vishwanath Temples.

Fifteenth-century great saint Mahapurush Sankardev of Kamrup (Assam) studied at Rameswaram and Kanchi and later came to Kashi for further studies.

After studying at these places, he returned to Assam, established a chain of Vaishnavite monasteries called ‘shatra’ in the Brahmaputra valley and composed a beautiful poem in praise of Bharat called Dhanya Dhanya Bharat Bhoomi. In the 17th century, Swamy Kumaragurupara Desikar of Dharmapuram Adheenam, a great Saivaite institution in the present-day Mayiladuthurai district of Tamil Nadu, came to Kashi and built the Lord Kedareshwar Temple at the Kedar Ghat on the banks of Ganga. Later, his disciples built a Kashi Vishwanath Temple at Thiruppanandal near Kumbakonam in Thanjavur district on the banks of Cauvery, another holy river of Bharat.

Kodaganallur Sundarar Swamigal, the guru of Dr Sundara Perumal Pillai, popularly known as Manonmaniam Sundaranar, the author of Tamil Thai Vaazhthu, the state song of Tamil Nadu, spent a good part of his life at Manikarnika Ghat in Kashi. Kashi had a deep influence on Manonmaniam Sundaranar, who is believed to have taught Saiva Siddhanta to Swami Vivekanand.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, Mahakavi Subramania Bharati, the revolutionary poet of the national freedom movement and an ardent devotee of Bharat Mata, came to Kashi for studies.

He was so deeply influenced by the intellectual and spiritual serenity and vibrancy of the place that he paid an emotional tribute to Kashi with a beautiful poem. Mahakavi’s grandnephew and their family, even today, live in Kashi near Hanuman Ghat. In fact, Kashi is home to a number of Tamil families.

Kashi and Kanchi were also two great centres of astronomical studies and research. There are pieces of evidence of the two institutions regularly sharing their knowledge.

British astronomers, including Barker, Pearse, Campbell and John Playfair, who visited observatories at Kashi and Kanchi for research between 1770 and 1780, have expressed their amazement at the mathematical genius and astronomical findings at these places.

Kashi and Kanchi had a long connection also through trade in their unique silk products—the world famous Kanchivaram and Banarasi sarees. Evidence abounds, showing a multi-faceted, deep, almost umbilical relation between Kashi and Tamilagam. A rich history destroyed during colonial rule is waiting to be rediscovered.

Even though the physical infrastructure of the connection between the two was dismantled during colonial rule, the emotional bonds remained alive in the hearts and minds of the people under the bold and visionary leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has a deep and intimate understanding of Bharat, which is being rejuvenated.

His abiding love for the Tamil language and setting up a Subramania Bharati Chair in the Banaras Hindu University for its promotion and propagation as well as imaginatively inspiring patronage to the forthcoming Kashi Tamil Sangamam, a month-long festival from mid-November for celebrating the age-old connection between the two, are testimonies to his deep commitment to Ek Bharat, Shreshtha Bharat (Ore Bharatham, Unnatha Bharatham). – The New Indian Express, 19 November 2022

Gov. R.N. Ravi a former IAS bureaucrat  and politician serving as the current Governor of Tamil Nadu.

Kashi Tamil Sangamam