After decades of anticipation in the Tamil Nadu polity, SUPERSTAR Rajinikanth announced his entry into politics on December 31st 2017. Despite much toing and froing since then, he never did launch his party and then, on December 29th 2020, he announced with finality not to enter politics. For those of us who admire his charisma and spirituality but disdain the Hindutva politics he seemed set to bring into Tamil Nadu by virtue of his patent alignment with the BJP, this is a happy outcome! Thailava Valha! (Salutations to the Leader!)
The above image from the series was shot at the Singapore Art Museum. It was shot during a performance at the site of my photographic installation which was part of the Singapore Biennale 2016. It is one of 12 images that make up the upcoming Kiasu Cowboys Series of the Koboi Project.
The terracotta pictured above, was installed at the Singapore Art Museum as a part of my work for the Singapore Biennale2016/17. 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.
Here is The Japan Times Listing for ‘Home in the Expanded Field’, Courtyard Hiroo, Tokyo, May 20018. This is a “group exhibition, with work by artists from Japan, Britain and Malaysia, ‘home’ is explored as an unstable or elusive concept. The connotations of security, belonging or familiarity, are taken to task by Hana Sakuma, John L Tran, Rie Iwatake & Jun’ya Kataoka, Freyja Dean, Richard Paul, Junko Otake and Niranjan Rajah, who reconsider what constitutes home either by drawing from their own experience of displacement, or making the home environment strange and extraordinary”. I am delighted to be a part of this show with John Tran, with whom I initially engaged in an exchange in the Japan Times. I wrote a ‘clarification‘ on his insightful article on the Singapore Biennale 2016. Thanks John for making this possible!
At the heart of the Koboi Performances at Singapore Biennale 2016, was the offering of a mango to Lords Murugan and Ganesha while reciting a prayer addressed metonymically to Lord Murugan’s Vel (spear) –
VALIANT VEL THAT SET FREE IMPRISONED CELESTIAL BEINGS,
VEL OF THE SACRED HAND,
VEL THAT PLUNGED THE OCEANS DEEP,
VEL THAT PIERCED SURAN’S BREAST AND HILL,
THE SOLE REFUGE.
vinnohr siraimeetta theera vel
vaari kullittha vel
soor marpum kunrum thullaittha vel
விண்ணோர் சிறைமீட்ட தீர வேல்
வாரி குளித்த வேல்
சூர் மார்பும் குண்றும் துளைத்த வேல்
The mango was then offered to the image of Thalaivar Rajinikanth and a small portion was served to one member of the audience.