The holy town of Varanasi and present-day Tamil Nadu share historical and civilizational links. A month-long festival named Kashi Tamil Sangamam aimed to rediscover the connection between the two major cities of language and culture in the country got off to a grand start in Varanasi on Saturday.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who often quotes from the rich Tamil literature in his speeches to drive home his point on a few contemporary issues, launched the celebration in the temple town known as Kashi in Tamil.
Delegates from Tamil Nadu and people from varying backgrounds in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere in the country converged at the temple town for the launch. The ceremony incorporated an enthralling performance by legendary Tamil music composer Ilaiyaraja, now a nominated Rajya Sabha member.
The inaugural event of the festival, which is being arranged by the prestigious Banaras Hindu University (BHU) and the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras (IIT-M), also saw the participation of heads of several Tamil Shaivite mutts from Tamil Nadu. The month-long festival includes cultural programs, seminars, and visits to places of importance in and around Varanasi. The coordinators say though the two places are geographically distant, they have had profound and vibrant links over centuries.
Billed as a cultural festival, the political message attached to the gala celebrations for a month is not lost on anyone as the effort comes amid a massive push by the BJP to make inroads into Tamil Nadu, where it needs a base. The BJP has been going to the town by projecting Modi as the “protector of Tamil history and heritage.”
The first five days will feature folk art that is native to Tamil Nadu like kaliyattam, pambai, kai silambam, sevaiyattam, and devarattam. On the classical side, a Bharatanatyam performance on patriotism, classical dance on the divine, and dance drama on five poses of Siva Thandavam, Jugal Bandhi, and Villupattu will be performed.
In his speech at the inaugural event, PM Modi made lavish praises on Tamil calling it the world’s oldest language, and asked the people of India to be proud of the fact. “Kashi and Tamil Nadu both are timeless centers of culture and civilization. Both regions are the centers of the oldest languages, Sanskrit and Tamil. In our country, confluences have great importance. We have celebrated the confluences from rivers to society and culture,” Mr. Modi said, adding that both places are sources of music, literature, and art. In the next month, as many as 2,500 delegates from different clusters like students, teachers, and those from culture and business fields will travel to Varanasi as a group to explore the city and revisit the links Tamil Nadu shares with the temple town. While many temples dedicated to Lord Shiva in Tamil Nadu are known as Kashi Viswanathar Temple, Tamil poet Bharathiyar lived in Varanasi for five years. The festival is part of a recommendation made in the National Education Policy 2020 on the need for research to integrate the wealth of Indian Knowledge Systems with the more recent body of knowledge.
The organizers say while ancient and traditional knowledge frameworks exist across all regions of India, across all ages, and in numerous languages, Tamil Nadu and Kashi, and the area around it, are two of the oldest and most important of such centers. “Both these centers have been fountainheads of knowledge in the intellectual, cultural, spiritual, and artisanal realms,” they said.