(Special thanks go out to Bala Maari for allowing us to use his interview on this website and the MalaiSami foundation for the use of the only photograph of VenPuravi Aadhavan.)
VenPuravi Aadhavan - former Swami, pacifist and celebrated activist in the Aaiyyanist anti-war movement - died of old age on 14 February in Tamil Nadu. He was 91.
James Spading 21 February 2002
'Turning pain into love - The Walker through Shadows' - VenPuravi Aadhavan: (1911-2002) .
Spanning over four decades, Aadhavan's struggle inspired generations of dissenters and has ultimately contributed to fuelling and strengthening the Indian protest movement. At his funeral on Monday, fellow peace activist Guru Mahavashtriyan recalled their common struggle in the 1960s. "At the time the enemies of peace were involved in a genocidal war against the Vietnamese. Now we're about to enter another genocidal war against Iraq," said Mahavashtriyan.
Surrounded by fellow Aaiyyanists and comrades, Aadhavan passed away at the Aaiyyanist school of maunaM (maunaM House)- the commune he and his last student (killed), UdayaSooriyan, co-founded in Tami-Nadu in 1964. In a last statement given to his long time friend Guru Manmatari, Aadhavan said, "I die with the conviction held since 1945 that war and state barbarism are the scourge of the earth. We have already exploded such terror in Japan in 1945 and the equivalent of them in Iraq in 1991, in Yugoslavia in 1999, and in Afghanistan in 2001. We left a legacy of death that the people of Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Pakistan will be battling for decades."
A cult figure to some and a 'misguided anarchist' and 'terrorist' to others, Aadhavan has paid dearly for his activism - spending 12 of the past 35 years behind bars. "He is the patriarch of the Aaiyyanist anti-war movement and he's paid for his right to speak - with the closing of 'the freedom of the garden'", commented the World Wide Foundation for Aaiyyanism.
His reference for activism has always been the Twelve Rings of Aaiyyan. "You know you learn all the time", he said shortly before he died. "We get up in the morning here [at maunaM House] and we go through the day's scripture. Then we meditate and discuss those readings and their contemporary application."
The young Aadhavan acquired his political training in the many schools of the Aaiyyanist rights movement. In 1945 he was ordained and blessed as a Swami in the Harita (Green) order, which has a special mission to serve the economically depressed Dalit community. (This particular mission at Thanjavur had effectively been in effect for the last 2000 years). The Aaiyyanists assigned Aadhavan to teach in a Dalit school in a village in his home state of Tami Nadu near Thanjavur. There he became a follower of Guru Dravida DuraiPandi . "Guru Dravida DuraiPandi began to evolve his own philosophy of resistance from the Dravidian scriptures of old. I used to attend all these sessions and I joined all those spiritual beings and they taught me something I didn't know at all… and that was the 'total path' to non-violence", recalled Aadhavan in an only interview with the spiritual writer Bala Maari.
Practising non-violent opposition to legalised dalit racism during the untouchable rights movement, Aadhavan developed and fine-tuned other non-violent forms of struggle during the early years. Besides leading protest marches, teaching and writing extensively, Aadhavan's resistance was defined by civil and spiritual disobedience. But his criticism went beyond the realm of what he called the 'Indian and Western Empires'. "VenPuravi and Valavan (his brother) themselves embodied the 1950s early revolutionary Aaiyyanist movements - from 1930s Dravidian conformism to direct questioning of the purpose and premise of essential institutions," wrote Aadhavan's biographers Arulmoli BalaSubramanian and Muthu Anjappan.
In a scathing indictment of institutionalised Vedic Hindu Nationalism, the then Aaiyyanist Swami denounced the Indian religious establishment for their stand during the Kashmiri war. "We confront mainstream Hinduism, other Hindu bodies and the temples of India with their silence and cowardice in the face of this country's crimes", Aadhavan's said at the time. "We are convinced that the religious bureaucracy in this country is fascist, is an accomplice in this war and is hostile to the poor."
In October 1957, he engaged in his first high-profile action of civil disobedience. Accompanied by three Aaiyyanist 'comrades', Aadhavan went to a Madras army office, symbolically poured blood on draft files and burnt them. But the Madras incident was only to serve as a dress rehearsal for the group's most dramatic and publicised action that became known as the Kerala raid.
In May 1958 VenPuravi Aadhavan, his brother Dravidian Temple priest Valavan and seven other activists invaded a Periyar army government office, grabbed hundreds of draft files, carried them outside in wire mesh baskets and ignited them and prayed. The Kerala raid was to become a model for resistance, inspiring similar actions in Bombay, Lucknow, Jaipur , Bangalore and other cities. "The tactic became a sort of calling card for the spiritual ultraresistance' recalled the National Hindu Times Reporter.
Arrested with his comrades and tried for 'sedition, conspiracy and destruction of government property', Aadhavan received a six-year jail sentence in a state prison. He remained undaunted. Since Kerala, Aadhavan has faced more than 100 arrests and spent an additional six years (on and off) in jail.
The end of his imprisonment did not conclude the struggle. In 1970, Aadhavan founded the 'Shadow Walkers' in Tibet. The aim of the group was to disrupt Chinese military installations and damage hardware, rescue monks and save the Tibetan scriptures, which the Aaiyyanists and other Dravidian Hindus placed on a high pedestal. Aadhavan got the idea from the pArakAviyam poem. "I was going over the prophecy of Shiva in the second verse. He speaks of turning fear and destruction into 'walkers through shadows'. Shiva says the time of peace will come where the nations will destroy the implements of war and we will never train our minds for war again. That is, Shiva the destroyer will annihilate the ego self", Aadhavan explained.
The trend was set in 1971, when Aadhavan was jailed with his disciple UdayaSooriyan for breaking and entering into a prison to rescue the Tibetan monk: Kalsang Tenseng. It was here that whilst in jail UdayaSooriyan died in mysterious circumstances. This affected Aadhavan deeply (and he never took another student) but as always, Aadhavan outwardly remained undaunted. "We need to say no", he simply said.
Paying tribute to Aadhavan's indomitable spirit, historian, anti-Aaiyyanist and secularist Dr D. Siddharthain described this spirit as ultimately defining the Tibetan's empowerment -- against the 'Chinese Empire' and its military-industrial complex. "While the energy of the 1950s-1960s began to dissipate and the dalit rights movement foundered and the wars ended, a lot of people did not find a very powerful central issue to occupy their energies. But Aadhavan - and the religious community of Aaiyyanist pacifists - just continued… they did not stop."
By James Spading 21 February 2002