The whole life story of Rama Swami Periyar is an everlasting inspiration to all who stand for reason and rationality, uphold justice and fight against exploitation and human degradation. You may praise or denounce him but cannot ignore him. Such is his unique personality. Independent thinking is his hallmark. There is no such thing as traditional or sacred legacy. He would accept nothing he felt wrong irrespective of source. He had a very rare quality of strong conviction.

Brief life sketch

He was born on 17th September 1879 at Erode, Madras (now Chhenai) in a wealthy Kannada speaking family. He dropped the surname 'Naicker' from his name. He is popularly called 'Perriyar'. He died on 24th December1973 at age of ninety four years. He was associated with Self respect movement and Tamil nationalism He was awarded UNESCO award in 1970. He came across many instances of racial, caste and gender discrimination since his early age. One incident worth mention is the humiliation at Kashi. He was hungry and had to disguise himself as a Brahmin to get food at a gathering. The food there was served only to Brahmins. But Periyar's moustaches deceived him. He was pushed away. . He was married at age of Nineteen years and got a daughter who survived only five months. His first wife died in 1933. He married again in 1948. His second wife, Maniammai, continued his social work after his death.

Political and social activities

Periyar was initially associated with Indian national congress. It soon dawned on him that Indian National Congress served interests of Brahmins only. He also traveled to Malaysia, Europe and Russia during 1929 to 1932. He became head of Justice Party in 1939. He renamed Justice Party as Dravidar Kazhagam in 1944. This party later split and DMK was formed under Annadurai. It is worth mention that presently, Congress is on back foot in Tamilnadu because of ideological base established by Periyar. It is undoubtedly true that present day DMK and AIADM K are far from great ideals of Periyar but they are still reaping political advantage of his great legacy.

In the course of self respect movement , Periyar advocated for an independent Dravida Nadu also called Dravidistan. He felt that Dravida heritage was superior to Aryan. He would not tolerate invasion of Dravida culture by foreign Aryan culture. This aspect of his movement is controversial as this is considered separatist and subversive of national integration. In fact, anti Hindi agitation in Tamilnadu flows from the concept of North Aryan invasion of South Dravida culture.

It goes to the credit of Periyar that he defended rationalism. There is too much irrationalism and superstition. . He advocated eradication of caste. This may be contrasted with Mahatma Gandhi's crusade against untouchability. Periyar aimed at abolishing caste system, which is highly supportive of Brahmins and considers lower castes as second class citizens. Gandhi only wanted to improve conditions of so called 'Harijans' but never wanted to end justice unlike Periyar.

Apart from promoting rational thinking and scientific attitude, Periyar fought for women's rights. He believed that Non Brahmin Dravadian Soth Indians were victims of exploitation and Indo Aryan culture and traditions were being imposed on them. His achievement lies in revolutionizing Tamilians, significant removal of caste based discrimination.


His detractors accuse him of controversial statements on Tamil language, Dalits and Brahmins. He is alleged for inciting violence against Brahmins. The citation by UNESCO describes him as "prophet of new age'. He is likened to Socrates.. His opposition to North Indian culture and epics went so far as to burn the pictures of Hindu God Rama despite opposition by congress. He had confrontation with C. Raja Gopalachari for introduction of teaching Hindi. For him, Hindi was more an issue of North Indian Aryan domination than a language policy.

Periyar stressed that disparities, degradation and poverty arise from ignorance and irrational thought and not some divine authority. .He blamed the capitalists for injustice to the workers. He viewed that simply acquiring titles or amassing wealth is useless without self-respect and scientific thought. He quipped that West was sending messages to the planets, while the Indian Tamils sent rice and cereals to dead ancestors via Brahmins

Irrationality Of Periyar

Periyar was not so rational as made out. He had more contempt than reason. In his zeal for justice to oppressed, he cultivated enmity to his detractors. He opposed everything that is North Indian. He opposed Sanskrit and Hindi because he believed these were linked with North Aryan invaders. He opposed Brahmins because they represented upper castes and were instrumental in depriving the Dalits of just and due space in society. He wanted to carve out the southern part of India and establish Dravidsthan. Here we may compare him to Jinnah. Jinnah considered that Muslims are distinct and separate nation. He succeeded in dividing India. We can well imagine what would happen if Periyar plan had succeeded. Periyar even considered that Tamil is original language. He criticized Telugu, Malyalam and Kannada languages for containing Sanskrit words. He favored making Dravidstan out of entire south consisting of non Tamil people also. He little realized that the Telugu, Kammada and Malyalam speaking had no reason to accept Tamil domination. After independence, Kerala, Andhra and Karnataka states were formed and these are progressing well with their distinct lamguages and culture that would be denied to them in Periyar's Dravida Land or Dravidstan whatever he would call.


It is not possible to agree that Periyar was a rationalist. At best, he fought for Dalits and women. In this connection, we may refer to Raja Ram Mohan Roy who thought of entire nation and struggled to fight illiteracy and superstitions irrespective of language or cultural differences. A true rationalists will work for entire humanity. The Sati abolition by Raja Ram Mohan Roy was a step in emancipating .women and saving them from extreme cruelty of burning with dead husband's body. This step affected entire nation. Raja Ram Mohan Roy also considered language only as means to gain knowledge and he stressed on teaching of English. Today, we are proud member of international community owing to Raja Ram Mohan Roy.

Periyar will be remembered as a free thinker and a pioneer in removing injustice to oppressed and women. But owing to his irrational anti North and hatred and contempt for so called higher castes, he cannot be considered a rationalists.


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