Sengol 'Wrought By People's Labour', an Expression of Feudal, Religious Privilege: C.N. Annadurai

Excerpts from a Tamil essay written by former Tamil Nadu chief minister Annadurai in 1947, translated by V. Geetha.

Originally published in Tamil in Dravida Nadu, August 24, 1947

The Thiruvaduthurai Aadheenam has handed over a sengol to Pandit Nehru, who is the prime minister of the new government … Why did he do this? Was this a gift, an offering … a license fee? It is certainly unexpected. And unnecessary. But if it were only unnecessary it wouldn’t matter. But there is deep meaning in this gesture, and it is becoming increasingly clear that it bodes danger.

We don’t know what Pandit Nehru thought of this and neither do we know if the Thiruvaduthurai Aadheenam sent a note along with it. But we have a few words for Pandit Nehru …

You are well aware of the histories of nations. An anointed king who put his subjects to work so that his cohort of nobles could live off their labour … within the king’s golden castle, there are men who have the freedom and permission to wander within its precincts. Men who are in possession of religious capital. If we are to sustain the rule of the people, that such men ought to be stripped of their privileges is a historical truism. You know this.

The question that worries those like the Aadheenam is this. They wonder with some anxiety if your government will act on this knowledge and they are likely to bring forth and offer you, not just a golden sceptre, but one embellished with nine gems, all because they wish to protect their self-interest.

This is not a sceptre brought forth by the devotee seeking God’s grace by his ardent singing … no, the Aadheenam’s gift has been wrought by people’s labour. The gold that has gone into its making is paid for by those who do not care for the poor who go hungry day and night … who have misused the wealth of others, hit the peasants in their belly, paid workers the least that they could, not honoured their debts, multiplied their profits … and who in order to hide their wrong doing, their sins, and to cheat God, have poured their offerings to him by way of this gold … and if our future rulers are to receive this sceptre from those who are in the habit of exploiting bodies and minds, that does not seem right.

The original article in Dravida Nadu, titled “Sengol: Oru Vendugol” (Sengol: A Request). Photo: V. Geetha

The Aadheenam … by granting the sceptre, as if he were blessing the new government, granting it permission to start functioning … this is what will be the talk of the town. Not only now, but in the future as well.

Take a look at the sengol. It is beautiful. But perhaps you can see more than the sacred bull, the rishabam … you can also see thousands of acres of land, planted by the agricultural worker, who is reduced to a life of sorrow. You will also be able to see his hut, and the poverty therein, presided over by this sceptre … you will also see the mirasdar, his bungalow, the golden plate he eats from … you will see the mutt, and the ascetic with his dreadlocks … his beads… the gold in his ears … his golden slippers …

… This sengol sent to Pandit Nehru is no gift offering. Or a symbol of love. Or for that matter, an expression of patriotism. It is a request to the future rulers of India that they spare the Aadheenams and not take away their wealth and glory … by offering this to our rulers, the Aadheenam is seeking their friendship … so that their fame and domination do not wither away.

… All this gold in the possession of these ascetics … yet it is a speck of what they actually hold … if all the gold in their premises is confiscated and spent on the common good, this sceptre will cease to be a decorative symbol … and instead become a means to improve the common person’s life …

Translated by V. Geetha

Translator’s note: Dravida Nadu was founded and edited by C.N. Annadurai, founder of the Dravida Munnetra Kazahgam (DMK) and former CM of Tamil Nadu. Annadurai was with Periyar’s Dravidar Kazhagam at this time. He was a gentler, though as incisive satirist and critic of religious authority, as Periyar was. Dravida Nadu was begun in 1942 and offered a broad-based critique of caste, brahminical hegemony and nationalism.