Perumal Murugan and Home
Perumal Murugan spoke in Delhi, on August 22nd 2016, at Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, after his two books, One Part Woman, (Maadhorubaagan) and Pyre, were published in English, by Penguin. The foremost question in some people’s minds was, “Will you be comfortable in metropolitan cities like New Delhi, Paris, or Berlin?” Murugan, a quiet, self assured, soft spoken man made it very clear that he longed for home, that he had never slept under a roof till he was twenty. The great outdoors, the cowshed, the loveliness of the trees, the rich earth, that was what he missed most, now that he had been forced out of the familiar places which he was so intimate with.
One Part Woman represents the Aradhaneswar cult, a soft and sensuous code for unmitigated passion, when Parvati comes home to Siva, and merges into him. For those who hated Murugan’s representation of an arbitrary coitus as serving the practical interests of people without children, the traditions of local communities were forcibly sanitized by them, in popular protests in order to write new cultural histories. Murugan however, was very clear that tradition and history are suffused in our present. He believed that fiction merely clothed emotions which still lie latent, and all the possibilities of promiscuity, when conjoined by faith, deliver us into a landscape that is peopled with other realities, other truths. To write intimately of the wretchedness of traditional practice, with the seductiveness of the novelist’s claim to represent reality, was his only crime. To be forced to leave home because he told a historical tale, haunted his days, till the Court came out with the verdict that he was free to write, “Write!”
The holy hill at Tiruchengode, Namakkal district, where the Aradhaneswara (symbiosis of Shiva and Parvati) cult still exists, is a site of tremendous power. The ancient Saivite shrines illustrate that the cult of the goddess is dependent on the absorption of the devi. Much of the advaitin principle of assimilation is brought to our notice here, in the convergence of symbols, and the secret and the hidden are represented as important symbols of a cosmic fertility. The local community reinforces the idea not only of the vividness of sarpa worship, which are chthonic reminders of ancient cultic forms before anthropomorphism takes place, but are also emotional organisers of contemporary representations of fear, sexuality and effervescence. The rat, the boar, the elephant, the cow, the bull become the totemistic forms of the meeting of nature and culture, where their sacred and aesthetic presence becomes of immense importance. Within this, the segregation of local communities can be well located in terms of their personal relations with the animal world. In the hill at Tiruchengode, Amba nestles with Durga, which communicates the primacy of her status during Navarathri over other manifestations of the divine.
The hierarchy that Hinduism imposes in tradition is inviolable when the order of birth is prescribed by tradition. Perumal Murugan describes this inviolability by looking at how each caste then represents its order in terms of the consummation of its caste rules. Lower caste orthodoxies can thus be as powerful as upper caste ones, they can be as forbidding and as totalizing. The real world view of the poor then closes upon itself in terms which are borrowed from varna, or colour, and the power of the presence of existing rules can exclude as much as it can forbid. Love by itself can never survive in the face of these terrible rules, they foreclose destiny, they crumple free will.
Perumal Murugan, named after the great Lord at Tiruchengode, now resides in solitude, in exile with his family in an unfamiliar urban milieu. Yet, the landscape that he describes for us, is so over powering, so exquisite, that we can only dwell in the calmness of these rural spaces. Here subsistence farming allows the Tamils their historic splendor of unspoiled lands, with their produce of groundnut, rice, sugar cane, jasmines, plantains, palm trees (providing areca, dates, and nongu, and coconuts,) also the mangoes which ornament every house, and the moringa trees. The sea at Rameswaram, with its cross bow of water at nearby Dhanushkodi, is very close. The blue is turquoise and grey, and the sun provides us a dazzling glimpse of this hot, unfettered land. Not far from Tiruchenkode, the Uttarasumangalai temple presents us the remembrance of the whispered conversations of Siva and Parvati, an upadesha which is love itself.
Saivite cults are open to all, choosing the massive hillocks and flat plains to communicate love and valour. Here are Perumal Murugan’s people, his multi caste village, his green topography of cultivated land on red soil that he longs for most. Surely the Goddess at Tiruchengode will usher his return home.