Historian Tho Paramasivan, whose ‘Alagar Koil’ Kamal referenced, dies at 70

Known for his extensive research on the lesser known aspects of Tamil Nadu temples, Paramasivan had differentiated between the south Indian and north Indian versions of Hinduism in one his works

Paramasivan is survived by his wife and children.

Noted Tamil scholar and historian Tho Paramasivan died on Thursday (December 24) after suffering from prolonged illness. He was 70.

Paramasivan is survived by his wife and children.

Born in Palayamkottai, known as the ‘Oxford of the South’, in Tirunelveli district, he was the first graduate in his family.

Paramasivan developed an interest in literature from an early age and would often indulge himself in books out of his school syllabus. He grew up to serve as a professor of Tamil at Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, simultaneously pursuing a writer’s career.

Fondly called as ‘Tho Pa’, he has written more than 15 books which focus on the historical, archaeological and anthropological aspects of Tamil society. His works also dwell a lot on folklore.

Until Paramasivan’s arrival into the field of temple research, many wrote about the architectural beauty and rituals of temples. But it was Paramasivan, who tried to establish a relationship between temples and people. One of his finest work in this area is Alagar Koil, a work that actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan mentioned in the ongoing reality show Big Boss (Season 4).

The book, which was out of print for nearly 30 years, has been recently re-published by the Madurai Kamarajar University.

At a time when research on ‘material culture’ is still in its nascent stages in Tamil Nadu, Paramasivan’s book Ariyappadaatha Tamilagam provides detailed information on lost objects such as ural (a mortar which powders rice and wheat), ulakkai (a long rice pounder) as well as food and clothes used by Tamils in the past. Published in 1997, it was through this book that Paramasivan shot to limelight.

A follower of Dravidian reformist Periyar, Paramasivan had a critical view on Dravidian organisations.

“Dravidian movements have prevented a massive communal violence till now. But when the organisation went into the hands of people who are economically rich, the party started losing its values,” he once said. Incidentally, his death coincides with the death anniversary of Periyar.

It was also Paramasivan who gave the Tamil reader a thorough insight into the local deities of the state, while also differentiating between the north Indian and south Indian versions of ‘Hinduism’.

“At a time when historians were researching about big temples, Paramasivan focused on small deities seen in village and researched about their tradition. His books Panpaattu Asaivugal, Uraikal, Deivam Enbathor and Samayangalin Arasiyal oppose Hindutva politics and shows how Tamil Vaishnavism and Jainism are different from the Hindu religion of the north,” said poet Madukkur Ranalingam, the state president (in-charge) of Tamil Nadu Progressive Writers and Artists Association, adding that the litterateur should be accorded a state funeral for her contributions to the field.