1. At the end of the 19th century, the British-controlled regions of South India were dominated by Brahmins (both politically and socially) even though they were a tiny minority.
2. These powerful Brahmins mostly identified themselves with English and Sanskrit while looking down on Tamil language and culture.
3. The origins of the Dravidian Movement can be traced back to an ideology created by “a tiny group of highly educated and capable Vellalas” in the early 19th century.
4. Maraimalai Adigal was one of the last famous Vellala thinkers to shape Dravidian thought. He claimed that in ancient Tamil society, Vellalas were the most advanced community because they were cultivators and followers of Saivism. To him, Brahmin culture was uncivilised.
5. Based on this understanding of history, Adigal then articulated a new vision of society that dethroned Brahmins, putting Vellalas at the top instead. Essentially, he replaced the Brahmin caste system with a new Vellala “caste-like” system.
6. So this early Dravidian ideology was just about deciding who should be the real elites – until the arrival of the Self Respect Movement in the 1920s. At first, the two worked together to attack Brahminism. But that quickly changed when Periyar, began to attack all of Hinduism – including Saivism followed by Vellalas.
7. Periyar’s Self-Respect Movement took the original selfish vision of Dravidian politics and turned it into a real mass movement that fought against many kinds of oppression. His philosophy of rationality and freedom always looked towards the future and would come to shape Tamil politics for decades.
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