E. V. Ramaswamy Naicker, or Periyar as he came to be known, was a radical social reformer of Tamil Nadu. What is less known about him is that he was also active in the freedom struggle for sometime, participating in the non-cooperation movement, offering satyagraha and defending khadi, which Gandhi was then propagating. But soon gave them up to start a violent Dravidian movement.
Portraying Periyar as just anti-Brahmin or anti-God would be to do injustice to a man who fought against Hindu orthodoxy with the kind of rare energy and conviction that transformed the social landscape of Tamil Nadu. To understand why Periyar's advocacy of rationalism and social reform caught the imagination of the underclass, his movement must be placed in the context of the rigid rituals that had legitimised caste oppression at that time.
Periyar left the Congress because of a difference of approach with Gandhi and developed Dravidian cultural alternatives to the prevailing hegemonic Brahminical culture. Periyar's methods of struggle, which included breaking idols and taking out anti-God processions, earned him a lot of criticism. Yet he was adamant that from his radical point of view, idols were symbols of Brahminical ideology and superstition.
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