Vaikom Satyagraha and first entry of temple by dalits in India - 03: impact in TN, Temple entry in Madurai led by Sri A. Vaidhyanatha Aiyar

Madurai: famous  meenakshi temple.

In Tamil Nadu like Kerala and elsewhere, low caste people were denied entry into Hindu temples  prior to 1939. So, they had to have their own temple in their respective places  and worship there. Even to day, in certain pockets of TN, Dalits are not allowed to either draw water or take the dead body to the cremation ground  through the streets dominated by caste Hindus. However, these incidences do occur in the interior villages and are slowly disappearing.  Efforts were primarily made in the temple city of Madurai  toward the entry of Dalits in the Hindu temples of TN. The credit goes to A. Vaidhyanatha Aiyar of Madurai; In tamil Nadu, people like  T V Subramaniam, J S Kannapan  and  K A. P. Viswanathan (in 1927)  in TN helped the low caste people assert their rights to enter  temples  and courted arrest and their contributions deserve appreciation. They led several protests for more than a decade or so before 1939. 

Well-known lawyer Madurai Vaidhyanatha Aiyar,

A. Vaidyanatha Iyer (1890–1955), also known as Madurai Vaidyanatha Iyer or Aiyar, a reputed lawyer (native of Thanjavur district), freedom-fighter and social reformer  dedicated his life to the cause of Harijan welfare and their progress in the society. Vaidyanatha Iyer was the President of the Tamil Nadu Harijan Seva Sangh that he founded for the benefits of Dalits. Further, he happened to be a member of INC the party that took active role in freedom struggle against the British.  The denial of entry into certain Hindu temples of TN to Dalits  was  of great concern  to certain social reformers who wanted this social evil removed for ever  through a bill in the legislature. After many discussions in the assembly  and appeal by many sections of the society, the Temple Entry Authorization and Indemnity Act  was passed by the government headed by C. Rajagopalachari in 1939 by which restrictions prohibiting Shanars and Dalits from entering Hindu temples were done away with. Sri Aiyar, with the backing of this act, mustered all the courage and made a bold decision to enter the Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple with a small group of Harijans. It was a risky thing as the society was conservative to the core in this matter. Mr Aiyar, unmindful of consequences,  did what others  were afraid to do,  something like blazing  an unknown dangerous trail.   With full support from none other than  Sri. Pasumpon  Muthuramalingam Thevar, an associate of Nethaji Bose, a great patriot and spiritualist,  he spearheaded the temple entry movement in Madurai city, then in Madras Presidency in 1939.  Vaidyanatha Iyer entered the  temple  on July 7, 1939. accompanied by L. N. Gopalasamy and six of his Dalit friends, P. Kakkan (later a minister  When Sri Kamaraj nadar was the CM in the 1960s), Muruganandam, Chinniah, Purnalingam and Muthunars. It became a sensitive and  most-discussed matter in this part of Tamil Desam.

Tamil Nadu, first temple entryin 1939, Madurai,

Seventy-four years down the line in March 2013, Tamil Nadu Harijan Seva Sangam recalled  the historic movement and recollected Aiyar's  contributions to the cause of the downtrodden on  his 58th death anniversary.  Aiyar   followed the instructions of Mahatma Gandhi to fight for the justice of Harijans. “The best part of the movement was that a person from a community that did not want the Harijans to enter temples raised his voice in support of them. His wife and other family members were kind enough to let the Harijans stay in their house and eat with them,” Sri Srinivasan of the Harjana sangh said. Mr. Aiyar earned the ire of several prominent people, including his own clients. However,  then CM Rajaji, his close friend, helped him out.  Sri. Pasumpon  Muthuramalingam Thevar,  stood the ground and justified his cause. Later Vaidhyana Aiyar won the appreciation of a large section of people of Madurai city for his bold act, thus getting credit to the  capital of Pandyan kingdom. It was in Madurai city on September 22, 1921, Gandhiji took the  new avatar and emerged  with the new iconic  attire, the famous loincloth to identify with the poor people. This made the Conservative  and racist British MP and India baiter Winston Churchill a provocative remark: ''half-naked fakir''. The loincloth become the quintessential symbol of the common man and his spiritual strength.

Gandhiji with his loin cloth.

Unfortunately, the Tamil Nadu  School History  text books  do  not carry any chapter on  the  first entry of Harijans at Madurai temple  headed by Vaidyanatha Aiyar for certain'' political reasons'' which is really unfortunate.  Certain unpatriotic political leaders wantonly twist the facts and do not accept his great feat.  I''gnoring some ones'  true contribution  toward the society and  welfare of the people  or just twisting the  historical facts  is not going to do good for the future generation that is entitled to real history and not reel history in the matter of social justice''.