When an Adi Dravida hostel operated in an agraharam
Budalur, a nondescript village on the Thanjavur-Tiruchi road, is known outside the Cauvery delta districts as the birthplace of Krishnamurthy Sastri, a renowned Gottuvadyam player, Vaidhyanatha Iyer, the founder of Ananda Vikatan, and Naveenan, a Tamil writer. It also occupies a unique place in the history of social reform. It was in the agraharam (village inhabited by Brahmins) of Budalur that the government of Tamil Nadu ran a hostel for Adi Dravida students in the 1970s before moving it to a new building.
“The government had to pay the rent to occupy the house. But what matters are the circumstances that favored the transition in the 1970s. This must be considered from the fact that houses for rent are denied to particular communities and non-vegetarians, even in cities like Chennai”, said S. Armstrong, professor and head of the English department at Madras University.
Today in Budalur, only three or four Brahmin families live in the agraharam. Other houses are occupied by families from various communities. The old house where the Dalit hostel once stood remains in a dilapidated state. “[Back then] Dalits were never allowed to enter the agraharam. If they rode an ox-cart carrying paddy or other goods, they stopped it at the entrance, and it was driven into the agraharam by workers in intermediate communities. It was a big change that Dalit students could live and study in a Brahmin settlement,” said K. Kesavan, Head of Physics Department, Periyar Maniammai Institute of Science and Technology, Vallam, Thanjavur.
Mr. Armstrong, a native of Budalur, argued that the disintegration of the feudal system in the delta districts, the emergence of communist and Dravidian movements and access to schools and colleges set the stage for such change.
He pointed out that the Sri Sivasamy Iyer Higher Secondary School in neighboring Thirukattupalli, which is over 100 years old, has made education accessible to all. “People didn’t just listen to the radio for movie songs or dramas. The news became an integral part of their lives and the human landing on the moon left a lasting impact. I was named after Neil Armstrong. There are a few other Armstrongs, Lenins, Marx and Stalins in Budalur and nearby villages,” Mr. Armstrong said.
Communist leaders from other communities ate with the Dalits. The Dravidian movement also had a huge impact, and there is a statue of Periyar, which was installed after much resistance. The backbone of caste hierarchy has been broken and communities live in friendship in Budalur. Write in the First linea sister publication of The Hinduin August 2018, J. Jeyaranjan, now Deputy Chairman of the State Planning Commission, said labor migration among Brahmins increased from 1960 when the anti-Brahmin movement gained a tremendous force and with the rise of the DMK to power (in 1967).
Krishnamurthy Sastri joined Kalakshetra as a teacher when Rukmini Arundale founded it and remained in Chennai until his death. The only person in Budalur who saw him was Karuppasamy, 83, Mr Kesavan’s father. Land reforms and amendments to the tenancy law undertaken by the DMK government made the prosecution of landlords untenable. “The most prominent feature of tenancy in the delta today, compared to the past, is the complete decline of Brahmin rule in most villages. Brahmins lost their land either through sale or appropriation by lower caste tenants,” Mr Jeyaranjan said.
Today, only the Abathsahayaswarar Temple, built by Raja Raja Chola during the construction of the Great Temple at Thanjavur, recalls Budalur’s place in the old feudal world. It also fell on bad days. The outer wall covering a large area no longer exists. Only a crumbled part and the overgrown entrance structure show the indifference of the inhabitants, who seem to have no sense of belonging.