TAMIL NATIONAL FORUM
Kasi Ananthan Poesy and the Tamil Eelam Liberation Struggle
An Expository Event – ‘Spoken Word’ with Chandiravarman Sinnathurai
[Annotated and abridged by: Yakov Rubin (YR); Greenwich Village,
- A complete version of this live ‘Spoken Word’ Event will appear
as a chapter in the forthcoming hardback entitled Broken Palanquin
edited by Yakov Rubin, US publishing date - fall 2007. YR]
February 20 – 22, 2006.
[Sinnathurai began the first session by giving a brief biographical-sketch of
Kasi Ananthan’s formative years in his native place Mattakkalappu1 .
He included poems from the embryonic non-violent political struggles against
genocidal violence and the resulting prolonged incarcerations and torture of
Kasi “Annan”2 by the Sri Lanka state. This out line covered the
poet’s life of struggle between the early 1960s until 1978. YR]
We shall swiftly move into the most important thing – the poet and the
message. It must be noted here that his emotive poetry [unarchee kavithaigal] is
yoked in perfect rhythm, jiving with the golden nuggets of deep Dravidian3
is the poet laureate of Tamil Eelam. Few weeks ago, during a telephone
conversation with the poet, I noticed even after many years, one could hear in
his voice, that perfect balance of gentleness and the enflaming passion that is
locked within this man for the liberation of his dispossessed people.
It will be pretentious should I am claiming to be the “authorized” translator of
Kasi Ananthan’s poetry. I am not. What I’m planning to do albeit is to read a
selection of his poetic-prose in Tamil first. In order, that you would hear the
rhythm and blues, as it were of the language. Having done that, I will try my
best to interpret it, not in poetic form; perhaps in fractured prose. Let it be
said, that you find myself as a lowly narrative voice. The express purpose
however, is to get the message across. That is of paramount importance. Put it
differently, you get two for the price of one: First, you would hear one of the
ancient languages spoken in poetic form, which by the way is the language of
bakthi ― of sweet spirituality; melodic in content and useful for meditation.
And then I suggest we make sense of it by hearing it in prose form in English.
That’s the idea.
Dr. Rubin [Critical Quarterly] being a Hebrew scholar and a Tamil speaker said
in his opening remarks that he speaks two most antiquated languages. I should
say rather immodestly; that the Tamils speak the most ancient language -
“antiquated” in the sense of not being obsolete or dead or even in need of
resuscitation unlike the Hebrew language. As we all know, with the vision of
Yehuda, Hebrew was quite literally resurrected! On the contrary, Thamil was a
living classical language in both oral and written form. Some scholars have
opined Tamil has been a living tongue for over
25,000 years, with a 5000-year complex grammar treatise [Tolkappiam]
and pre-eminently rich in its prodigious literary content.
[Poet Kasi in his preface writes that
English language came into being in AD5 and French in AD7.YR]
I would like to begin by reading from a book entitled Kasi Ananthan
Narukkugal5. The poet places these writings in the genre of prose. By
coining a Tamil terminology he calls it “Sinthal Ilakkiyam”, and he translates
in English as ‘Prose Sprinkle’ . Incidentally, Kasi Annan compares these
literary sprinkling to the prose-writings of Walt Whitman.
Sprinkle 1: It is entitled “Enaveri”. This speaks of racism, or more accurately
about being drunk with racial prejudice. Enaveri [Transliteration from Tamil]
let me now try and unpack that prose in English.
||Speaking of Enaveri; meaning being
drunk with racism, the poet draws from his own “Munn” meaning, own soil –
his beloved birthplace. I could mention that one hears the longing for his
soil (as an exilic poet) in . the writings of Kasi Annan.
The poet writes that the oxen in our soil are branded on their back in order
that they may not disappear. But the poet laments the disappearance . of many
When we place the text of suffering in its context of “Munn” [soil; the birth
soil-bond] we understand the seriousness of the situation the Tamils are facing
in their indigenous soil. Many have disappeared without a trace. Eelam Tamils
numerous hidden Guantanamo Bays in Sri Lanka. Sadly the main-stream media
functions within its limitations of a moral paralysis. Such distant reports
escape its profound conviction! The poet makes the comparison that the oxen in
Eelam seem to be much safer than the Tamils. The military aggression and the
torture of innocents by the State are mocked as the adversary par excellence.
Kasi Annan stands tall as an acute and acerbic social critic.
[Between each reading brief conversation took place and
questions arose from the forum and answers given. For obvious reasons of column
inches notations are not included here. YR]
Sprinkle 2: The title is Neruppu. Neruppu means fire. The poet is engaging in
an imaginative verbal duel with the aggressor.
||The point however must be made that the
perpetrators of aggression
is not a figment of imagination. It is real.
The … real horror of the situation faced is conveyed
In the title: Neruppu – fire.
There are no deserts in my soil; yet you made my Soil, a barren land.
There are no volcanoes in my soil the poet cries,
but you ― the aggressor, made Erri malai yai my soil to become Nerrupu ― a
fire producing Volcano!
|Palai vane mai Illathe
|Paalai vane makinai
|Ai yetru munn,
[An interesting discussion took place soon after this reading which arose
from the question whether the Tamil armed resistance was the result of State
aggression. Further discussion after a short coffee-break was about the
ecological-terror and the result of seeing the land being made barren! The NYU
undergraduates in particular, actively engaged in conversation and made the
point that many think of terror only in terms of “blood, guns, bombs and fighter
jets”. It was expressed with some passion that “All must think and act against
the aggressors who are bleeding the mother earth into a waste land”. YR]
Sprinkle 3: Maveeran.
||The word maveeran could be translated as hero. In this
Maveeran context however, the poet must mean to say life-seed
|Ethu – Thiyagi
||[devotional sacrifice]. In order to bring out the
Shades of nuance and its true meaning, I ought to explain
Uyiruku so that we don’t get ‘hung up’ on the wrong idea. First, let’s
Vantha translate the prose: the poet writes -
|Saavukku al ler.
||This act of Maveeran is not death to Uyir
Savu [life]. On the contrary, savu, death has received life.
I must say it is quite similar to reading St Paul’s Epistle to the Church in
Corinth. St Paul is speaking of the thiyaga offering (Arpanippu =Tamil; Devotio=
Latin). In Pauline thinking, life is seen as overcoming death. In other words,
death is viewed not as a terminator. The self-offering of Jesus has vanquished
death and thus death is swallowed up in victory. Christ’ representational death
is seen as a universal model for victim hood ― however, in the end there was
victory over evil powers. Hence the liberating hymn of St. Paul is, “Death where
is your victory?” The refrain is that death the “last enemy” is won. It’s an
overwhelming victory! The fear of death is overcome in the hearts and minds of a
veeran ― “Saavukku vantha Uyir” death is overcome by life. In Pauline exegesis,
it would be viewed as, mortality putting on immortality, as though replacing an
old pair of garment for the new.
[Many points were raised on the subject of social,
political and theological matters. A direct question by a Quaker about the Black
Tigers received a lengthy reply followed by discussion. An edited version is
provided below. YR]
I am not making any value judgments here. The Tamil Tigers’ pragmatic
approach to warfare has motivated them to revive the ancient martyr cults in
order to defeat a large and powerful military machine that which is not only an
oppressive tool of the State but also an effective “legitimate instrument” of
annihilation. Given the context it is seen as a tactical and practical decision,
on the part of the Tamil Tigers to utilize ‘life as weapon’, Uyir Areyutham.
Such sacrifice is an effective areyutham of last resort in self-defense for mere
survival in the struggle for state-formation. Professor Schalk [University of
Uppsala] has written extensively on this subject . He notes, that there is a
special group of fighters, males and females, who are aware that in this mode of
confrontation there is certain death, of course, there is no hope of survival.
Being aware of this, by his/her death the fighter accepts the reality and
accomplishes his task that leads to the elimination of the enemy. The death of a
normal Tiger is envisaged, but so is his/her survival. The èlite Black Tiger
however, calculates only with his/her death.
Dr. Sachi Sri Kantha [Japan] being an Eelam Tamil has a natural instinctive
understanding of socio-cultural/language nuances. He too gives an eloquent
exegesis of the martial culture found in Mahabharatam epic and by comparative
study he extracts understanding of the modern Black Tigers.
Kantha’s selected writings could be found at the Tamil Nation web ―
I would recommend this website as an excellent tool for research students of the
Eelam Tamil struggle.
We understand that an elite Black Tiger calculates the combat only with his
death. His/her act is understood as a supremely devotional sacrifice. A “laying
down of life” in the Gospel sense perhaps, for the “emancipation of many”. We
ought to fully understand the genocidal context in which these resistance
techniques are employed and only then we must proceed to interpret accordingly.
I am not passing any moral or ethical judgments. The world nonetheless cannot
turn a blind eye to a slow-genocide. I would urge you to enquire, what really
pushes these people to the edge of self-offering [Thatkodai].
We note here an important distinction. The difference between a Black Tiger
(Thiyagi) and that of a Hamas Shahid (martyr) -
1) The claim of the Tamil Tigers is that it attacks only military targets and
NOT civilian targets.
2) The Black Tiger’s Thiyagam, sacrifice is made in a secular setting.
The Hamas Shahid is propelled by religious rationale and with the belief that
he will be compensated in a life here after. An ideal Black Tiger on the
normative level is not religiously motivated. The critical difference however is
that, the Black Tiger is not made to believe that he/she will be compensated in
next life. Each Black Tiger who has given his life as uyir areyutham is
considered to be a living flame of sacrifice and their burial tomb (normal Hindu
practice of cremation is not followed) is a naddukal (apotheosis of a hero) to
Ellai kavalgal ― protection of territorial borders of Tamil Eelam. According to
Schalk, naddukal is a “territorial seal”. A Tiger Thiyagi is held in high honor
as a corner stone to Tamil Eelam. [Schalk,
The Revival of Martyr Cults among Ilavar, Temenos 33, 1997, pp151 - 190]
[Sinnathurai however, abstained from offering a
critique on these writings. YR]
Sprinkle 4: We shall end with this prose, entitled: The Cross, Siluvai.
||only for a day
||YOU arose from the dead…
||he is resurrecting
|Uyir thelu kiran
This is unadulterated liberation theology. All of us long for the day there
will be no war. As a result the Arms industry will be made redundant. Conflicts
would be solved solely by dialogue. That is our vision. Conflicts ought to be
solved ideally by talks rather than by arms; by conviction of the truth rather
than duplicitous coercion.
However, there are historical evidences that indicate engaging in the
processes of dialogue with the Herod’s of this world is a universal illusion ―
perhaps even an oxymoronical slang. Herod’s of this world [the institutionalized
oppressive systems] are bent on prevaricating. Resurrection therefore is a
dynamic vision and a weapon of hope; which breaks the shackles; setting the
human spirit free. It is no coincidence that the hermeneutics of Siluvai – the
Cross; interprets the “long-walk through the Red Sea of the Hebrew slaves” as a
baptism ― a profound spiritual experience of dying and being brought back to
life. You find yourself sandwiched between the onslaught of Herod’s
“institutionalized revenge” and the deep blue sea. You are trapped by death;
expelled to extinction. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil . The prose of the
psalmist is echoed here. Death is but a shadow ― a
farcical procedure, which binds communities with the paralysis of fear. The
cross however, gives all victims a decisive victory.
[Sinnthurai proposed that the cross is put forward
here not as a parochial religious icon/designer brand/celebrity symbol, on the
contrary purely as a spiritual principle. YR]
Siluvai for the poet is the moral paradigm within the vicissitudes of
frustrated groans. That is perfect peace ― in the eye of the hurricane; even in
the face of aggression, turmoil, victimization and conflict. René Girard in his
seminal work on anthropological foundational violence makes a piercing
observation that communities are often “indebted to violence for the degree of
peace that they enjoy.” It’s a bit like the war to end all wars or the war
against terrorism or war for peace ― as someone interpreted all [this rhetoric]
to be just a tiny coracle of good intentions borne away on an incorrigible tide
In his analysis Girard points out that if ‘all offered the other cheek, no cheek
would be struck… if all men loved their enemies, and there would be no enemies.
But if they drop away at the decisive moment, what is going to happen to the one
person who does not drop away?’ [Girard, Non Sacrificial death of Christ, 1996,
The logic of non-violence is undoubtedly superior. The non-violence mode of
thinking however might be in the grip of illusions, if it simply fails to
differentiate the warped logic of
genocidal threat ― which is of course an appalling reality faced by
many indigenous communities and cultures.
State terror in Sri Lanka is a “legitimate” weapon that has been unleashed to
annihilate the Tamils. The idea of the sanctity of the state requires an urgent
revision. Perpetrators of state terror have to be held accountable by the
International bodies especially the UN [see below deteriorating human rights
However a deep unease has been raised among third-world thinkers including
some Western political analysts and social commentators, that the UN is one of
the greatest inventions of mankind only to tragically evolve lately as a
universal illusion! The contemporary state of affairs glaringly reveals
international system that is in operation. Permanent membership and the
power of veto within the structure of the UN Security Council are reserved only
to China, UK, France, Russia and the United States. The frightening reality
nonetheless is that there is only ONE super power. France’s Chirac thinks that
India should have a permanent seat in the Security Council. Does it really
matter? How about Germany, Brazil and Japan? As we ponder on non-violence and
the prospect of world peace one must genuinely ask, quite rightly whether there
is a future for a single international system. Only time would tell.
Now to conclude. The ‘threat’ of resurrection ― uyirtheluthal or in Kasi Annan’s
word: Savukku vantha Uyir [death overcome with life] will keep the flame of
liberty burning. The power of the “indestructible life” is revealed. Where there
is life there is hope. So it is with such hope that we will render powerless the
And we shall overcome.
1] In the East coast of Tamil Eelam. Anglicized version Batticaloa.
2] An endearing term of respect for an older brother/senior person. Sinnathurai
switches from Poet’s last name Ananthan to Annan (endearing term) almost similar
sounding words in this inspiring “event”.
3] Dravidians are one of the aboriginal races in South and central India and Sri
Lanka. Tamil being the mother/root language, it includes Malayalam, Telugu,
Kannada and Gondi.
4] Since the late 1970’s poet Kasi has been living in exile in Madras/Chennai,
South India. Refer:http://www.tamilnation.org/hundredtamils/kasiananthan.htm
5] Sinnathurai thanked
Nakkeeran, a writer based in Toronto for presenting him this book in 2005.
6] Poet Kasi also calls it “Kirrukal Ilakkiyam” – a relatively recent literary
format known as Puthu kavithaigal/prose scribbles.
7] Pauline epistle – 1 Corinthians 15: 50ff “The Mystery of Resurrection”.
Sinnathurai also questioned whether this particular prose Maveeran could have an
interpretative-persuasive in the model of Christ - “Truly, truly, I say to
you, unless a grain of wheat (Kothumai mani) falls into the earth and die; it
remains alone; but if it die; it bears much fruit” St. John 12: 24 [New American
8] Schalk. “Concepts
of Martyrdom and Resistance of the LTTE". Martyrdom and Political
Resistance. Ed. Joyce Pettigrew. Centre of Asian Studies Amsterdam. Amsterdam:
VU Press, 1997, pp. 61-82.
10] Psalm 23 Hebraic Psalms of King David.
11] See - The Epistle to the Hebrews 2: 14ff; and Hebrews 7:16. [The Greek text]
* Below we quote some peace talks and the deteriorating human rights of the
Tamils in the NorthEast :
Peace pacts signed
Thimpu Talks – 1985
J R Jeyawardene- 1986
R Premadasa – 1989
C Kumaratunga – 1994
R Wickremasinghe – 2002
M Rajapaksha – 2006
List of Kasi Ananthan’s published works [Courtesy of -
http://www.tamilnation.org/ ] Books
1. Kasi Ananthan narukkukal. Chennai: Naa. Arunasalam, 1999.
2. Kasi Ananthan kavitaikal. Chennai : Naa. Arunasalam – Manavar Puttakappannai,
1998, 221 p.
3. TamilanA taminkilanA. Chennai : Manavar Puttakap Pannai, 1995, 126 p.
4. Kasi Ananthan kataikal. Illustr. by VIra SantAnam. Chennai: Kantalakam, 1992,
5. Kasi Ananthan kavitaikal. ?: Ramanathapuram-Koyampathur, 1990, xx-164 p.
6. Tampi jeyattukku… ?: Cholan Patippakam, n.d., 116 p.
A reference to “resistance literature”
V.Geetha in her article: «
Cultural Guerilla Warfare in Tamil Eelam: Aspects of Tamil Resistance Literature
» [Geetha, 1989: 5-27] finds ground for theorising on Tamil poems emanating from
the civil-war period in Sri Lanka, including poems written by the participants
in the guerrilla struggle against domination by the Sinhala forces in Colombo.
Seeking her parameters in Barbara Harlow’s Resistance Literature and Franz
Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, she quotes [Geetha, 1989: 6] and bases her
characterisation of Eelam Tamil poems on the findings of Elias Khouri, a
Palestinian critic and writer, to affirm:
The culture of resistance in Sri Lanka that grew out of the Tamil People’s
struggles for their traditional homeland of Eelam sought to respond to the
genocidal assault on Tamil language and culture through various strategies of
defiance and subversion. The cultural realm was thoroughly transformed in the
process and soon, literary and aesthetic guerilla warfare’ came to be, whose
instances of protest and resistance may be regarded as the articulations of a
Resistance Literature. [Geetha, 1989: 6]
As with the literatures of struggling nationalities all over the world, Tamil
literature, including Tamil poetry, soon acquired a double edge: on the one
hand, it drew inspiration from the traditions and cultures of its origin, while
on the other hand it turned visibly ‘modern’ and set about its adventurous
search for forms of expression adequate to its historical moment of chauvinism
and violence. [...] Tamil poetry necessarily dwells and broods on the phenomenon
of death, destruction, the shattering of familial bonds, the pain of separation
but most of all on the insidious politics of race. But it has its liberative
moments as well, its moments of celebration of community and a brave new world
to come, its moments of surprise when silenced voices, especially women’s voices
begin to emerge. [ Geetha, 1989:9]
1. Barbara Harlow. Resistance Literature. New York & London: Methuen, 1987.
2. V. Geetha, «
Cultural Guerilla Warfare in Tamil Eelam: Aspects of Tamil Resistance Literature
», Journal of Eelam Studies, no.3 (London), Fall 1989, pp. 5-27.
3. Jesurasa Cheran & Padmanaba Iyer, Eds. Maranuthul Vazhvum (We Live in Death)
[An Anthology of Tamil Eelam Resistance Poetry].
4. Solaikili. Ettavathu Naragam . (Eighth Hell). Batticaloa, Sri Lanka: Vyugam,
1988. Intro. by Nuhman.
5. Patmasothi Shanmuganathapillai. Vanatiyin Kavitaikal. Linnich, Germany:
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam - German Branch, 1st. ed. 1991, repr. 1993,
55p. Preface by Jaya, responsible for the Youth section of the LTTE.