Sunday, 24 July 2016

Kabali - What Malaysians Need to Know


As expected, Kabali was received well worldwide. Rajini fans particularly those in Malaysia are very excited about this movie. They believe that PA Ranjith did an excellent work by telling the story of the Indians in Malaysia.

On a personal note, I think Rajini should do more films which shows him as an aged man. It suits him better. Just like what Amitabh Bachan is doing. An aged don Rajini certainly looks better than the young Rajini in Kuselan or Lingga.

Many reviewers from India have stated that Kabali is a Dalit story and not just about the Indians in general. However, the reviewers in Malaysia seem to disagree with it as they believe that there is no caste stereotype in the movie.

Unknown to the Malaysian fans, the Indian reviewers were not wrong. They were right about the review. There are certain elements in Tamil cinema which is understood by those in India but not by those in Malaysia.

Whether we like it or not, caste is a big thing in Tamil cinema. Gone are the days where caste is mentioned openly like in Thevar Magan, Chinna Gounder or Vedham Puthithu. There are many indirect references to caste in present day Tamil movies.

Let me give you some examples:

Sillunu Oru Kathal - Surya is the Thevar boy who falls in love with Bhoomika the Gounder girl of Coimbatore. The father rejects their love and takes Bhoomika away. This movie is inspired by actual love stories which happened in Coimbatore. During the last century, there were migration of Thevar people particularly Maravars from Ramnad and Tirunelveli into Coimbatore which is predominantly a Kongu Vellala Gounder area. After the migration, there has been instances of Thevar-Gounder love story. This is what they showed in the movie. During Surya's arranged marriage with Jothika in the movie, there will be a song. In the song, there is mention of Alagu Thevar, Ambasamudram (an area in Tirunelveli) and Sudalai Madan, the tutelary God of the Maravars in Tirunelveli.

Ejamaan - The movie is about the feud between the Gounder Pattakarar families. The names Vallavarayan and Vanavarayan are titles used by Kongu zamins. In the movie, there will be a dispute between Rajinikanth and Napolean over who should marry Meena. For this, the father of Meena, played by Vijaykumar suggest they compete in their traditional sport which is Rekhla. This bullock cart race is the traditional sport of the Gounders in the western region of Tamil Nadu. 

Rajini Murugan - It is about love stories and wealth dispute among Kallars in Madurai. The panchayat scene involving Raj Kiran and Samuthrakanni is referring to the traditional panchayat of the Kallar feudal lords in Madurai. Not any ordinary Tamil movie panchayat. Parts of Madurai forms the traditional Nadu system known as Kallar Nadu.

In Tamil cinema, references to Madurai, Jallikattu is associated with the Mukkulathor.
Coimbatore, Pollachi, Rekhla refers to Gounders.

Karaikudi refers to Chettiars
Words like Annachi refers to Nadars

There is also color symbolism used in reference to castes or social groups

Red & Yellow or Green & Yellow for the Mukkulathor (Thevar)
Yellow or Yellow, Blue and Red for Vanniyars (Palli. In Malaysia called as Vanniya Gounder)
Black & Light Blue for Dalits

Black or Black & Red for Dravidian supporters
Red for Marxist and Naxalites
Orange for Hindutva
Green & White for Muslims

This is how they insert the caste theme into their movies. It also has a regional flavour and goes well with the movie viewers back in Tamil Nadu because the people understand these symbolisms.

Along this line, we have PA Ranjith who brings in the culture of northern Chennai with the intention of highlighting the Dalit community, especially the Paraiyar community. He is a very creative film maker and tries to be realistic in his approach.

His movie Madras is about the politics involving Dalit youths in Chennai. The song "Yengga Oor Madras, Ingga Nangga Thaan Address" is about them. In the song, you can even see Karthi reading a book entitled Theendatha Vasantham. It is a book about Dalits. 

During the song "Agayam Thee Pidithal Nila Kayuma", you can see a quick glimpse of a couple behind Karthi. It resembles Ilavarasan the Dalit youth and his Vanniyar girlfriend Divya. The girl's churidar in this song clip resembles the flag of Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), a political party for the Vanniyars. Do a quick search in Google about the Ilavarasan case. I don't wish to elaborate further.

Kabali is no exceptional. There are Dalit elements in this movie which some Malaysians refuse to acknowledge.

The movie Kabali is about a Malaysian man from the rubber estates. He fights for the estate workers and rise to become a don. He also runs a foundation to rehabilitate troubled youths. This idea of foundation was taken from our very own Myskills foundation.

To the general Malaysian public, Kabali is the story of Indian plight in Malaysia. Therefore, our local reviewers rejected the caste tag which the Indian reviewers mentioned.

This is what most of us didn't notice about Kabali.

The movie starts with a description of gang activities in Malaysia. It then shows Kabali in prison reading a book entitled My Father Baliah. What is this book about? The book is about a Dalit family from Telangana which goes through hardship. By showing this scene, Ranjith made things clear just like how he did in Madras. The opening scene establishes that the hero of the movie is a Dalit. 

Then throughout the entire movie, there are references to Ambedkar, the famed Indian leader who struggled for Dalit uprising in India. There are also scenes which shows portraits of Ambedkar and Buddha. 

Usually, in the Indian political sense, Buddha-Ambedkar combination is an expression of Dalit uprising. Even today, you can see this form of expression used by Dalit political outfits in India.

Then during the session with students in the foundation, Kabali's friend Ameer explains that Tamils will take their caste and religion wherever they migrate to. He also tells that Kabali was rejected by Valli's family. In the movie, we know that both Kabali and wife were Hindu Tamils. So the rejection mentioned here is intercaste marriage. 

Then during the scene in the gang gathering, Tamilmaran mentions that it was a mistake by his family to even allow Kabali enter his house. Another reference to caste stigma practised during that era.

There is a direct provocation found in Kabali's song Ulagam Oruvanukka (Is The World Only For One). This song was written by lyricist Kabilan.

Mettukudiyin koopadu ini naatukulle kekkadhu 
(The voice of the upper caste won’t be heard in the country anymore)

Kalagam Seidhu Aandaiyarin Kadhai Mudippan 
(End the story of the upper caste by creating chaos)

The word Mettukudi and Aandaiyar refers to the traditional upper castes of the Tamil society, the non-Dalits like the Thevars, Pillais, Mudaliars, Gounders and Chettiars. 

Even in the caste themed movie Thevar Magan, we can't find offensive lyrics. The movie only focused on  caste pride, internal feud and honour. 

In Thevar Magan, there were phrases like "Thekku Thisai Aanda Mannar Inam" (The Royal race which ruled southern land).  But Thevar Magan or even movies like MadhaYanai Kootam did not provoke the Thevars (Mukkulathor) to attack the Dalits. Because those movies were about internal fighting within the same community.

But the lyrics in Kabali is about Dalits vs Non-Dalits. 

These elements in the movie only confirms the first scene in prison involving the book, that Kabali is a Dalit and it is about Dalit uprising.

There are some truth in Kabali about the Malaysian Indian plight such as discrimination in education, estate fragmentation, gangsterism though not accurately described. 

For example, unequal wage between Chinese and Indians didn't happen in the 90s, it happened in the 40s and earlier. But those are probably just minor errors in his movie. 

He did well in showing how some words like sareke, ponne, semme, gaadi, lah, are used by Malaysians. The gang ritual involving guardian deities and the funeral scene were fantastic. Ranjith did his homework well to understand local culture.

Although we would like to see the movie as a Malaysian Indian story, we need to accept the bitter truth that it was made by a non-Malaysian influenced by Ambedkarism and Dalit politics. PA Ranjith inserted caste elements which are irrelevant.

The Malaysian Indian plight is a class struggle involving all Indians in this country irrespective of caste. Therefore, it was not necessary to show My Father Baliah or Ambedkar-Buddha in Kabali as those things are about Dalit politics in India and not about us in Malaysia. 

One movie which showed the Malaysian Indian plight well was Jagat. There is a difference between Jagat and Kabali. Jagat's movie makers are Malaysians and they understood the local class struggle better.

PA Ranjith should have used elements which are more general in nature and one that reflects struggle from a class perspective and not a caste perspective. He could have used books or portraits which are more relevant to Malaysians.

It is for these reasons reviewers from India has labelled Kabali as a Dalit story instead of a typical Malaysian Indian story. Of course we Malaysians do not realise it because most of us are not even aware of casteist themes and Dalit elements in cinema which I explained here.

So we can't blame those reviewers because that is how Ranjith has made the movie look like for them.

Indian reviews:

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Muruga & Naga Worship

Muruga or Skanda is the God of war for the Hindus. He is the general of the Devas. Hence he is also known as DevaSenapathi. Muruga's mother is Durga,  the Goddess of war and also victory. The Tamils call her Kotravai. Muruga has many names. Each name has its own meaning.

One of it is Subramanya. MahaPeriyava mentioned that Subrahmanya also known as Subbarayadu in Telugu region refers to serpents or nagas. In the state of Karnataka, there is a temple called Kukke Subramanya temple. In this temple, Muruga is worshipped as the Lord of Serpents. This is something uncommon for many Hindus especially the Tamils.

Kukke Subramanya

However, even in Tamil Hindu temples, he is indirectly worshipped as the Lord of Serpents. It is just that we do not realise it.

Do you notice that there is often a separate shrine under the arasamaram (Sacred Fig) in our temples?
Do you also notice that in this shrine, the statue of Vinayagar is often paired up with a statue of naga?

There is also a ritual where devotees will go around the Vinayagar statue under this arasamaram.

It is best to first drench ourselves wet before doing that. The logic given is that the oxygen from the tree is taken in not only through breathing but absorbed by the wet skin thus cleansing ourselves. It also activates our chakras. It is some sort of therapy for the well being of the mind and body.

So the concept here is to first cleanse ourselves before continuing. The ancient wise people knew that not everyone had the capacity to understand the scientific reason behind. So they placed the statue of Vinayagar and the naga under the tree. They then tell the people that if they go around this two statues good things will happen to them. The people then just do it without understanding the actual reason behind.

One thing to realise here is that they could have used any statues and tell the people to go around the tree. But why did they put Vinayagar and that too paired up with a naga statue?

When we cleanse and energise ourselves, our chakras will be activated. Our Nadi will flow smoothly. Our nervous system will function well.

Vinayagar represents the first chakra in our body, the Mooladhara. This is why he is shown as the first God to be worshipped before any ritual. Activate the Mooladhara first before proceeding to other chakras. The naga statue which you see is actually Subramanya or Muruga.


Let's take a look at Murugan iconography. Muruga is often shown together with his two consorts, Valli and Devasena. There is another scientific reason for this.

There are many Nadi in the human body. To understand what Nadi is all about, you can do a quick Google search. Of the various Nadis, there are 3 main ones. It is known as Ida, Pingala and Sushumna.

Valli is Ida
Devasena is Pingala
Muruga is Sushumna

Both Ida and Pingala coils together with the Sushumna in the centre. When you look at it, it looks like serpents. Hence, this image of the Nadis is shown in the form of naga statues. Since the Nadis begin in Mooladhara, the statue of Vinayagar representing Mooladhara and naga representing Muruga with his consorts is kept as a pair under the tree.

So going around the arasamaram by having these two as focal point is a symbolic way of telling us that when you go around, inhale the air under the tree, you activate your Mooladhara and that is good for your Nadi and nervous system!

This is why Muruga or Subramanya is worshipped as the Lord of Serpents.