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Social Reformers of Tamilnadu
Popularly known as Vallalar, Ramalinga Swamigal or Ramalinga Adigal (1823–1874), was born in Marudhur, a village near Chidambaram. After his father’s death, his family moved to his brother’s house at Chennai. Despite having no formal education he gained immense scholarship. Ramalinga emphasised the bonds of responsibility and compassion between living beings. He expressed the view that ‘those who lack compassion for suffering beings are hard-hearted, their wisdom clouded’. He showed his compassion and mercy on all living beings including plants. This he called jeevakarunya. He established the Samarasa Vedha Sanmarga Sangam in 1865 and it was renamed “Samarasa Suddha Sanmarga Satya Sanga” which means “Society for Pure Truth in Universal self-hood”. Ramalinga also established a free feeding house for everyone irrespective of caste at Vadalur (1867), in the wake of a terrible famine in south India in 1866. His voluminous songs were compiled and published under the title Thiruvarutpa (Songs of Grace).
Ramalinga bore witness to hunger and poverty in the country: “I saw poor people, emaciated with hunger and terribly weary, going to every house, yet their hunger was not removed, and my heart suffered intensely. Those who suffer with relentless disease, I saw them in front of me and my heart trembled. I saw those people, poor and of unmatched honor, their hearts weary, and I grew weak.”
Pandithar Iyothee Thassar (1845–1914) was a radical Tamil scholar, writer, siddha medicine practitioner, journalist and socio- political activist. Born in Chennai, he was fluent in IyothithassarTamil, English, Sanskrit and Pali languages. He campaigned for social justice and worked for the emancipation of the “untouchables” from the caste clutches. He worked for the construction of a casteless identity and castigated caste hegemony and untouchability. He considered education as an important tool for empowerment and became the driving force behind the establishment of several schools for the “untouchables” in Tamil Nadu.
Pandithar Iyothee Thassar founded the Advaidananda Sabha to raise the voice for the temple entry of the “untouchables”. In 1882, John Rathinam and Iyothee Thassar established a movement called, Dravida Kazhagam and launched a magazine called Dravida Pandian in 1885. He founded the Dravida Mahajana Sabha in 1891and organised the First Conference of the association at Nilgiris.
Pandithar Iyothee Thassar was disappointed with the Hindu dharma, which served as the basis for propagating and validating caste in Hindu society. Influenced by the Theosophist organizer, Colonel H.S. Olcott, he went to Sri Lanka in 1898 and converted to Buddhism. In the same year, he founded the Sakya Buddhist Society at Madras to construct the rational religious philosophy through Buddhist religion.
He started a weekly journal, Oru Paisa Tamilan, in 1907 and published it until his demise in 1914.
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