Dravida Nadu to Tamil Nadu: Evolution of the state's identity

Though State got its current name only in 1968, it was culmination of a struggle that started in 19th century with calls for a separate country.

Published: 20th January 2018 04:35 AM  |   Last Updated: 17th March 2018 08:16 PM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

CHENNAI: The Tamil Nadu government has announced grand celebrations to mark the golden jubilee year of the State being christened as “Tamil Nadu”. But what is there in a name? Perhaps the culmination of the Tamil identity that dominated the political arena in the State for several decades and anyone can safely bet on it to last for a few more decades at least.

When the first DMK regime led by CN Annadurai (Arignar Anna) passed a resolution in the State Assembly on July 18, 1968 to rename the then ‘Madras State’ as ‘Tamil Nadu’, it was the culmination of a struggle that started with a demand for a separate nation of ‘Dravidasthan’ in the pre-Independence years.  It was one of those struggles that changed the course of Tamil Nadu’s politics forever.

Demands to name the State as ‘Tamil Nadu’ became vocal in 1956, after the Congress  finished its first term rule of the State comfortably with no strong opposition party in the horizon. But the demand for a name that identified the State with its language has roots way back to the middle of the 19th century, people who studied Dravidian history say.

It was those years when “Tamil pride” started to take form as a number of ancient Tamil texts, which were until then in possession of a few individuals, began to appear in print. The printed form made ancient Tamil epics and other forms of religious literature accessible to the people.

Though even today, atheism is considered as one of the inseparable aspects of Dravidian philosophy, much of the celebrated Tamil literature, which instilled pride among the masses on Tamil language was religious. Saiva Siddhantha was referred to as the Dravidian religion. Two Tamil scholars, Suryanarayana Sastri and UV Swaminatha Iyer, both Brahmins, wrote extensive commentaries on ancient Tamil literature in the late 19th century. Iyer published a number of ancient poems and epics that had long remained in palm-leaf manuscripts.

“The beginning of the 20th century witnessed an increased consciousness among Tamils about their language and literature,  thanks to the accessibility to ancient Tamil literature which started becoming available in print in the 19th century,” recalls S Thirunavukkarasu, a historian of Dravidian Movement. He says Periyar demanded ‘Dravidasthan’ or ‘Dravida Nadu’ (a nation spreading across the southern India) until the reorganisation of Indian States on linguistic basis.  After 1956, Periyar dropped his separationist demand and instead, campaigned for more rights for Tamils.  

Thozhar Thiyagu of Tamil Desiya Viduthalai Iyakkam recalls how the demand for ‘Dravida Nadu’ was made in the late 1930s.  “During the anti-Hindi agitations in 1938, Tamil scholars including Maraimalai Adigal and Somasundara Bharathi, at a public meeting held on Marina beach on September 11, 1938,  raised the slogan Tamil Nadu Thamizharukke (Tamil Nadu is only for Tamils) for the first time.

In the same period, Justice Party was routed in the elections. So, the leaders of this party decided to accept the leadership of Periyar, who was heading the Self-Respect Movement because both Justice party and Periyar’s movement had a common plank — opposing dominance of Brahmins in government administration and other spheres. So at that time, they agreed to change the slogan as Dravida Naadu Dravidarukke (Dravida Nadu only for Dravidians).”

Thiyagu also recalled that when States were reorganised on the basis of language spoken by the people there in 1956, Periyar had given up ‘Dravida Naadu’ demand as it became meaningless after the reorganisation of the States and reverted to his earlier demand — Tamil Nadu Thamizharukke.  However, Annadurai was still holding on to the ‘Dravida Naadu’ demand.  (He gave up the ‘Dravida Naadu’ demand during 1962 Indo-China war).

“When the demand for renaming Madras State was made in 1956, the then Chief Minister K Kamaraj stoutly opposed it, saying changing the name would affect trade with foreign countries. He said products from the State would lose their market in foreign countries.  At that time, Congressmen put forth a very strange reason for opposing the name Tamil Nadu. In the 1950s, a variety of cloth called ‘Bleeding Madras’ was exported from the State to other countries. So, using this, Congressmen asked whether the name could be changed as ‘Bleeding Tamil Nadu’ as it would give a different meaning,” Thiyagu recalled.   

After many agitations, Sankaralinga Nadar, a freedom fighter and one of the disciples of Mahatma Gandhi in Virudhunagar went on a fast unto death from July 27, 1956 and died on October 13, 1956. He refused to heed the request of DMK founder CN Annadurai and others to give up his fast. The death of Sankaralinga Nadar gave fresh momentum to the demand for renaming the State as ‘Tamil Nadu’.  
While saying this, Thiyagu relates to the present position: “Even after 50 years, the name Madras continues to be used in Tamil Nadu.  Two decades ago, the name Madras city was changed as Chennai officially. But even now, Madras Medical College here continues to be called so.  The High Court of Judicature at Madras remains the same.”

P Maniarasan (71), president, Tamil Desiya Periyakkam, who witnessed the agitations for ‘Tamil Nadu’, recalls  some of the interesting developments during that phase.

After many agitations for renaming the State, the then Finance Minister C Subramaniam announced in the Assembly on February 24, 1961 that the State which was written as ‘Chennai Rajyam’ in Tamil would be thereafter be referred to as ‘Tamilnadu’.  However, this could be done only within the State and in official correspondences to the Central government and foreign countries, it is mentioned only as Government of Madras.  The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam opposed this partial arrangement and insisted that the State should be declared as ‘Tamil Nadu’.

Sometime later, Bupesh Gupta of Communist Party raised the issue in Parliament. He introduced the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 1961 in Rajya Sabha on March 10, 1961 which sought to change the name of Madras State to Tamil Nadu.  However, as he fell sick, B Ramamoorthy spoke on the Bill and at that time, Arignar Anna was also a member of Rajya Sabha. When Keralites raised the slogan ‘Aikya Keralam’, Kannadigas wanted a ‘Samyukta Karnatakam’, and those in Andhra Pradesh wanted a ‘Vishala Andhra.’ Ma.Po.Si raised an equally important slogan — ‘Puthiya Thamizhagam’.

Though after many agitations, Congress leaders accepted that the State could be called as ‘Thamizhagam’, the name Tamil Nadu got a constitutional validity only after the resolution moved by Annadurai in 1968 and it was adopted by the State Assembly.   From then on, not only within the State, in all correspondences across the country and globe, the State was called as Tamil Nadu. Thus, the naming of the State has been an evolution.

But the name ‘Tamil Nadu’ was not coined just 50 years ago. It was there for hundreds of years.  This name is mentioned in Sangam literature Paripaadal and in Silappathikaaram, one of the five epics in Tamil. It is also present in Aganaanuru and Puranaanuru. In 1910, poet Bharathiyar reiterated this in his poem, as Senthamizhnadu.

Another key aspect is that Congress was the first to call this State as ‘Tamil Nadu’.  When Congress, in its conference in Nagpur in 1920, moved a resolution to form linguistic States, the party in this State was named as Tamil Nadu Congress Committee in 1924 when Tamil scholar Thiru.Vi.Kalyanasundaranar was the then president of the Congress party here and the name still holds here.  It is to be noted that in all other States, the local units are called with an appendage ‘pradesh’ and it is not used in ‘Tamil Nadu’.

“As per the resolution moved by the then CM CN Annadurai in the Assembly on July 18, 1967, the name of the State was Tamilnad.  Later, Ma.Po.Sivagnanam, who fought for renaming of the State, insisted the State should be called as ‘Thamizh-nadu’ while many Tamil scholars insisted that the name should be coined as ‘Thamizhnattarasu’ in accordance with Tamil grammar

After much consultation, leaders like C Rajagopal-achari (Rajaji) suggested that it can be called as Tamil Nadu, adding a ‘u’ in it.  So, the letter ‘u’ in the name of the State exists because of the insistence of Ma.Po.Si.

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