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Suicide for a cause, an age-old Tamil custom-

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Suicide for a cause, an age-old Tamil custom-

July 19, 2015

The act of committing suicide for political allegiance is an age-old phenomenon in Tamil society.

Italian traveler Marco Polo, who had recorded the deeds of ‘Munaiethir Mogar’ (which roughly translates as guards who love to be in the forefront), had called them the “King’s Trusty Lieges.”

“When the King dies, they put him on the fire, these Lieges cast themselves into the fire, for they say they have been his comrades and they ought also to keep him company in the other world,” noted Marco Polo. This is cited in K.A. Nilakanta Sastri’s ‘The Pandyan Kingdom.’

Kalki’s historic novel ‘Ponniyn Selvan’ gives some insights into the functioning of ‘Velakkara Padai,’ the bodyguards of Chola Kings who had taken a pledge to lay down their lives in their duty to protect the king. If they fail, they would chop off their own head and offer it to Goddess Kali. In modern times, the LTTE’s suicide squad had few equals.

“It is in the Tamil psyche and you cannot blame the Dravidiam movement or its leaders for the suicide culture. Tamils are emotionally attached to their language as it has been facing onslaught since time immemorial,” said Dravidian scholar K. Thirunavukkarasu.
The emotion manifests itself when the language faces crisis or a leader dies. When Kopperuncholan decided to commit suicide by facing North and fasting, Pisiranthayar, a poet, who had never seen him, rushed to the spot and joined the king in his ritual suicide.

Today Tamil Nadu witnesses self-immolations by cadres of political party. “When former Chief Minister C.N. Annadurai’s body was kept in Rajaji Hall, a few followers died seeing his remains overcome by grief. The anti-Hindi agitation in 1965 witnessed suicide of 10 persons and again 15 persons in 1981,” said Mr. Thirunavukkarasu.

V. Arasu, former head of Tamil Department of Madras University, said the ancient tradition of hero worship was the root cause of political suicides.

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