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Was Rajaraja Chola a Hindu? Kamal Haasan & Telangana governor weigh in as TN debates ‘identity’

Filmmaker Vetrimaaran's comments last week, questioning depiction of Rajaraja Chola as a Hindu king, has sparked controversy in Tamil Nadu.

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Chennai: After national award-winning filmmaker Vetrimaaran sparked controversy questioning the depiction of Rajaraja Chola as a Hindu king, actor-politician Kamal Haasan and Telangana governor Tamilisai Soundararajan were the latest to weigh in on the debate.

 At the 60th birthday celebrations of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi leader Thol. Thirumavalavan, Vetrimaaran had said that attempts were being made to appropriate Tamil icons and give them a Hindu identity. “Our identities are being taken from us, such as dressing Thiruvalluvar’s image in saffron or depicting Rajaraja Chola as a Hindu king. It has been happening constantly. This will happen in cinema, too. In cinema too, many identities are already being taken away. We must save these identities,” he said.

The filmmaker’s comments came two days after Mani Ratnam’s movie ‘Ponniyin Selvan: 1’, which is an adaptation of Kalki Krishnamurthy’s historical fiction on the Chola empire, released to worldwide acclaim on 30 September. 

The speech sparked a debate with some supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) targeting the filmmaker, who found support from some sections of Dravidian society.

Subsequently, Haasan endorsed Vetrimaaran’s views at a felicitation function for the crew of ‘Ponniyin Selvan: 1’. “There was no name called ‘Hindu religion’ during Rajaraja Chola’s period. There was Vainavam, Shivam, and Samanam, and it was the British who coined the term ‘Hindu’ since they didn’t know how to refer to it collectively. It is similar to how they changed Thuthukudi into Tuticorin,” the Makkal Needhi Maiam president added.

Telangana Governor Soundararajan slammed Vetrimaaran for his comments, saying there was an attempt to conceal the identity of Hindu cultural icons. “Worship, Saivam and Vainavam are the cultural identity of Tamils and any attempt to hide these identities would be inappropriate.” 

She added that the Chola king built many temples and that she was brought up in the vicinity of one such temple in Thanjavur.

Earlier, BJP leader H. Raja had responded to Vetrimaaran’s comment stating that Rajaraja Chola was indeed a Hindu king. “I am not well-versed with history like Vetrimaaran, but let him point out two churches and mosques built by Rajaraja Chola. He called himself Sivapadha Sekaran. Wasn’t he a Hindu then?” he asked.

Similarly, S. Jayakumar, who was associated with the Mani Ratnam-directed movie, said that “very bluntly whether we like it or not, Rajaraja Chola was a Hindu.”

“He [Rajaraja Chola] might have not used the word. It may not be used in the context as we use it today but by practice, by belief, by the temples they patronised, they were Hindus, there is no denying that,” the Chennai-based researcher on cultural history told ThePrint. 

There was evidence to suggest that the Cholas made enormous amounts of endowments to Vishnu temples, as well as Buddhists and Jain temples, Jayakumar said 

“He [Rajaraja Chola] was a staunch Shaivite but within the paradigm of what we call medieval Hinduism which is a term used by historian K. A. Nilakanta Sastri, who is the authority on the Cholas,” the researcher added.  

(Edited by Tony Rai)

Also Read: Take pride in Tamil, oppose Hindi — how Dravidian ideals are influencing young voters in TN



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