In my performances at the Singapore Biennale 2016/2017, I made an offering to of cut mango to Murugan and to Rajinikanth. This was the second of a series of performances in which I have made post-traditional ritual offerings – coconut at the National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, mango at the Burning Man Festival, Mango Dango (dumplings) in , Courtyard Hiroo, Tokyo and Black Grass Jelly in Bangkok and limes and kueh pauh dilayang in Lumut. Amongst the deities and spirits invoked Lord Murugan, Lord Krishna, Momotaro San, Phra Rahu, Phra,Hanuman and all manner of Sial Jambalang.
“The borders are blurring through art!” – A. R. Rahman retweeted Will.i.am, who as appears Rajinikanth (Chitti) from Enthiran in a new music video titled ‘Action’ using what he calls ‘deep fake technology.’ Other films reprised in this music video are Singham, Maryada Ramanna, Aambala and Kopps.
I have, in my Koboi Project (2013 -present), been using the image of Rajinikanth as a signifier for just this kind of cross-boundary cultural communion. Please see –
In the course of my performances at the Singapore Biennale 2016/2017, I offered prayers to lord Murugan (also named Skanda or Kanthan) and salutations to Superstar Rajinikanth. I recited a stanza from the the nerisai venpas (closing verses) of the “Thirumuruhaattup-padai” – a hymn, to the Lord’s glory, composed by the poet Nakkirar. I ended my prayer with with the exaltation “Murugmikku Arohra!” I then praised the SUPERSTAR thus, “Thalaivar Vallha!” My bringing together of Murugan and Rajinikanth in this event, foreshadows the recent Tamil Nadu media spectacle ensuing from the Periyarist Facebook Channel Karuppar Koottam‘s denigration of Lord Murugan. The State authorities swiftly shutdown the offending site and arrested two parties who were allegedly responsible. Rajinikanth praised the crackdown tweeting , “At least henceforth, let there be an end to religious hatred and demeaning of gods. It should end,” ending his tweet … “Kandhanukku Arohara!”
Superstar Rajinikanth is one of the highest paid actors in Asia. He is a renowned philanthropist and an influential figure in Tamil Nadu public life who is respectfully referred to as Thalaiva or ‘leader’. The SUPERSTAR, who recently spoke up in the context of the Karuppar Koottam affair, was himself the first dark-skinned (Karuppu) leading man in the context of Tamil cinema.
Upon meeting Rajinikanth in the early 1970s, director K Balachander is supposed to have been struck by “the fellow’s fragile health and powerful eyes and his chiselled face… [a]nd of course, his skin colour, you know. The dark skin I thought was an advantage because again it is different from others. All the people who are very fair and all that, they have an easy entry into films. Why shouldn’t I take this boy, give him a good role, and see what can be drawn out of him?” While he seems today to be veering away from his promised Tamil Nadu political entry, this dark Dravidian cinema icon has thus far been showing signs of a decidedly ‘saffron’ or Hindutva leaning.
In my 2016 exhibit for the Singapore biennale I performed a ritual offering to both lord Murugan and to Rajinikanth, thereby attempting to articulate the relationship of Traditional Hindu iconolatry and contemporary Kollywood idolatry.
The terracotta pictured above, was installed at the Singapore Art Museum as a part of my work for the Singapore Biennale 2016/17. This icon represents the Puranic myth in which Lord Ganesha wins a miraculous mango in a competition with his brother Lord Murugan by recognizing that his parents Lord Shiva and Mother Parvathy were not just a part of his universe but that in fact they were the whole of it. In my work, this terracotta opens up a highly liminal space between sacred icon, museum artifact and contemporary art work.
In this, the 2nd of a series of posts at the nexus of ‘Murugan’ and ‘Rajinikanth’ I share a very particular version of the Mango of Enlightenment (Nyana Pazham) myth, which is mine by matrilineal descent …. Once, as Lord Shiva, Mother Parvathy and their children Ganesha and Muruga were enjoying a moment of family bliss in their heavenly abode, the Sage Narada paid them a visit. Holding a mango in his hand, Naradha said, “Lord this mango is sweeter than amirtham (divine elixir) it is for you, but it must be not be divided.” Shiva decided to offer it to just one of his sons by way of a challenge, “The mango goes to the one who is the first to circumnavigate the world.”
Knowing that he that must win this challenge, the sprightly Murugan bestrode his glorious peacock and set off around the world. Contemplating his own ponderous gait and his most modest vehicle, the mouse, Ganesha posed his father and mother a question, “Ammai, Appan, is it not true that parents are, for a child, the world?” “Yes”, his glowing parents replied in unison. Ganesha continued, “Is it not also true that the whole universe (Prakriti) is but a manifestation of your Lordly selves (Shiva/Shakti)?” “Well, yes of course!” – the only possible reply! Ganesha slowly circumambulated Shiva and Parvathy, his father and mother, his world – the world, and sure enough, he won the mango.
When Murugan came flying back, expecting to win, he saw Ganesha with the prize. Stunned and feeling cheated, he became enraged. He pierced his brothers generous belly with his Vel (this part of the story seems to be a particularity of my grandmother’s version) and abandoned his Heavenly abode. Discarding all his celestial accoutrements, he journeyed South, to stand alone on Mount Palani in a meager loin cloth. To this day, he stands there and is hailed as Palani Aandi (Mendicant of Palani), a form of the Lord that is dear to the hearts of the Shivites of South India and the diaspora.
In the midst of the Political storm caused in Tamil Nadu by the Periyarist Karuppar Koottam facebook chanel’s recent denigration of Lord Murugan and his Kanda Sashti Kavasam, Superstar Rajinikanth came out form his political hibernation to acknowledge the sitting AIADMK state government, itself Periyarist in inception, for the swift crackdown on the alleged provocation. Two protagonists of the disturbance were arrested and charged with ‘giving provocation intent to cause riot’, ‘promoting enmity between different groups’ and ‘deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings’ under the Indian Penal Code.
Writing on this matter based on my valid, if limited, locus standi, as a Jaffna born Tamil, I must note that while I am enamored of the ethos and charisma of Dravidian politics, I have never appreciated its central praxis of narrow communal scapegoating as a means to mass mobilization. While admiring their pioneering deconstruction of religion and myth as means to power and as forms of social control, I have always rejected their blank atheism as a window onto the truth of human existence. Without developing this sensitive, explosive even, subject further, I would like to take the opportunity of its topicality to index my own engagement with this nexus of Muruga and Thalaiva! In 2016/17, I presented an installation and performance at the Singapore Biennale which itself became the basis for 5th photographic series of the Koboi Project titled Kiasu Cowboys. Central to this work are the acknowledgement of Lord Murugan, via an antique terra cotta icon of the ‘mango myth’ and a large photographic print of a cinema hoarding of Superstar Rajinikanth.
Sorry Dr M
- You cant blame Myuhiddin for Najib’s comeback.
- Najib came back because you demurred on your promise to Anwar.
- Najib came back because of the weakness in Pakatan Harapan due to the originary fallacy that you and Anwar were united.
- Najib came back because you lost your channel to the Agong when you tried to usurp his role by announcing that vote of confidence on 2 March 2020, feigning that His Majesty had consented.
- Najib came back because you lost credibility and trust when you tried to form a parliamentary dictatorship that was not acceptable to anyone.
- Najib came back because you were working with PAS to while PAS was working with UMNO.
- Najib came back because of you!
- If you are unable to strike an honest and enduring alliance with Anwar, Najib will remain.
Still, we have to acknowledge that, right or wrong, Dr M’s way is a தனி வழி (one of SUPERSTAR Rajinikanth’s greatest punchlines is “En vazhi thani vazhi,” which means, “My path is a unique path.”)
Indeed, in spite of all of the above intrigue and conflict, Anwar and Harapan still back Mahathir as their prime ministerial candidate. Even after a massive box office failure, the SUPERSTAR still remains the SUPERSTAR!
According to an article in India Today, when Superstar Rajinikanth, who has shown strong BJP affinities in the runup to his anticipated entry into Tamil Nadu politics, finally went against the BJP for their failure to control communal riots and violence in New Delhi in which 38 have been killed, his friend, colleague and fellow political aspirant, Kamal Haasan tweeted, “Shabash, my friend Rajini. That’s the way. This is a good path. It’s not a path for just one person, but a royal path for an entire community. Welcome, and congratulations.” The article explains how this ‘path’ statement is a reference to one of the SUPERSTAR’s greatest punchlines: “En vazhi thani vazhi,” from the hit movie Padayappa. It means, “My path is a unique path.”
Disappointingly, as reported in Swaraj, SUPERSTAR Rajinikanth supports the BJP’s new Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019. Wearing his politician hat he has stated, with a Kollywood glibness, “CAA is no threat to Muslims. If they face any problem, I will be the first to raise my voice for them.” Ludicrously, his measure of harm seems to be the effect this act has on Muslims who crossed over into India at partition, while the act’s direct impact is on newer refugees, and indirectly, on the very definition of India as a secular nation.
This Citizenship Amendment Act provides access to Indian citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who fled to India from Muslim-majority Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan before 2015, glaringly excluding Muslims. The CBC cites Niraja Gopal Jayal, a professor at the Centre for the Study of Law and Governance at New Delhi’s prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University, who states that the Act runs afoul of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees to all persons (not just citizens) the right to equality before the law and the equal protection of the law. She stated that it “creates gradations of citizenship based on religion, which is clearly discriminatory.”
One scene from the Pa Ranjith/ Rajinikanth film Kaala (2018) that resonates deeply is that in which the villainous Hari Dada’s (Nana Patekar) granddaughter asks him “Who is Kaala dada?” and he answers pensively, “Ravan … Ravan.”(second 0.37 in trailer) In this moment the films palpable Dravidian ethos is emblazoned upon the screen narrative, eliminating all possibility of a misreading. For those who are unfamiliar with the political history of Tamil Nadu, the central tenet of the Dravidian self-respect movement that informs the political parties that have governed the state since 1967 is that of the a North/ South (or Aryan/ Dravidian or Brahmin/Non-brahmin) divide. In symbolic terms, this dichotomy has been articulated in a deconstruction of the Hindu religion, particularly in the desecration one of its sacred narratives, that of the Ramayana. Those who subscribe to the Dravidian ethos, identify with Rama’s nemesis Ravana or as Nana Patekar refers to him, ‘Ravan’.
This identification of Ravana with the hero Kaala, and with the SUPERSTAR, clearly advances director Pa Ranjith’s well known brand of Dalit activistivism. This film is a vehicle for his message about the ancient dispossession of Dravidian peoples in an Aryan conquest and the consequent oppression of casteism in contemporary India. If the film can be said to echo its director’s politics what can be said of its resonance with that of his star, his SUPERSTAR, Rajinikanth, who is in the runup to an entry into Tamil Nadu politics? Rajinikanth is himself a signifier of the Dravidian ethos in that he was the first dark skinned (the North/ South dichotomy presents as the light skin/ dark skin complex of the Tamil people) leading man in Tamil cinema. It has long been known that Rajinikanth is not a stalwart of Dravidianism as the movement is atheistic whereas he is invested in Hindu spirituality. Further he has explicitly announced a platform of spiritual politics and has regularly aligned himself with the policies of the federal BJP, while at the same time working hard to eschew over-identification with the Hindutva branding of the BJP.
Indeed, Rajinikanth seems to have tried to keep his potential alignments open for the coming assembly polls in Tamil Nadu in 2021. In a recent statement however he seems to have burned all bridges with the hard-core Dravidian parties by raising the spectre of an anti-superstition rally from 1971 in which the founder and light of the Dravidian social reform movement, E.V. Ramasamy Periyar, is said to have desecrated icons of Rama and Sita. In the ensuing decades, the Dravidian movement has regressed to an accomodation with Hindu theism, and paradoxically Periyar has himself come to be venerated as an icon of sorts. In this light, Rajinikanth’s indexing of this controversial event, compounded by his refusal to apologise in the aftermath, has resulted in what, I suggest, is an unbridgeable chasm between his spiritual politics and secular Dravidianism. Most significantly, it might have soured the potential alignment with his friend and staunchly secular political co-aspirant Kamal Haasan who seems to have reached out to him recently.
It has even been suggested that Rajinikanth’s speech was ‘scripted’ by the BJP. Frontline magazine has reported that former head of the Tamil Department of the University of Madras , V. Arasu, has said: “Why should Rajinikanth broach an incident that was half a century old and long forgotten? The D.K., too, over a period of time has toned down its anti-god rhetoric significantly. Hence, the actor’s casual remark on a revered social reformer needs strong convincing. Periyar stands for rationalism and social justice. The anti-god doctrine was just one among many themes of his social reform campaign. Besides, recalling an event that was mired in legal and political controversies at that time has no relevance now. By raking up this issue, Rajini has willingly fallen into the hands of those who are out to exploit the name and fame he has earned as an actor.” This brings us back to the question of what can be said of Kaala’s resonance with the politics Rajinikanth. It is with regret that I must note that if the question to be answered here is, “Who is Rajinikanth dada?”, given the accumulation of the SUPERSTAR’s statements to date, I find myself having to say, no less pensively than Hari Dada, “Hanuman Ji … Hanuman Ji”