Kashi, the name itself electriﬁes the Hindus of our beloved nation Bharat. It is a place that one must visit at least once in his lifetime, and from times immemorial, people from every corner of the nation had kept that as a lifetime objective.
The ﬁrst Tamizh Sangam, or the assembly of Tamizh poets which existed about a millennium before Common Era, had Lord Shiva as its presiding chief. So Shiva’s seat at Kashi was always relevant and reverent to the Tamizhs. Varanasi, another name by which Kashi is known, ﬁnds a place in the Tamizh literature of pre Common Era. In the book Kalithogai, 60th poem uses a simile “why to assume like everyone going to Varanasi will be freed from sins.” It amply establishes the existence of Varanasi even in those days as the pinnacle of pilgrimage, thronged by people from Tamizh Nadu to emancipate themselves from the sins.
In later times the city has been known more popularly as Kashi. A very popular episode still continues in the wedding rituals of Tamizh brahmanas where the groom sets oﬀ to Kashi for further studies and the bride’s father entreats him to marry his daughter and settle down into householder’s life. Only after that, the marriage ceremonies start. This is known as Kashi Yatra – or the pilgrimage to Kashi, standing even today as a testimonial to the reverence the Tamizhians had for Kashi as a seat of higher learning.
Mention of Adi Sankara is very pertinent here. He travelled all the way from Kalady in central Kerala, that time a part of Madras Presidency to Varanasi in order to establish thephilosophy of Advaita Vedanta. He went there since that was the place where all scholars congregated and if they are convinced of Advaita, the ancient school of Indian philolosphy resuscitated by him, then the rest of the country would adopt it. True to his understanding, it stands head over shoulders among all philosophies even today. Kashi and Kanchi – the city of Kanchipuram in Tamizh Nadu – were lourishing seats of learning to which students from diﬀerent parts of the country thronged for specialization. It is generally believed that Kashi and Kanchi specialized in branches of metaphysics like Tarka, Vyakarana, Nyaya, Mimamsa etc. as well as literature. Vedic studies were pursued intensely in both the places.
Periya Puranam, the 12th century account of the great Saivite saints, being the 12th book of the compendium of Tirumurai, categorically states that Appar visited Kashi and worshipped Viswanatha in the temple and then proceeded towards Kailash. In the sixth book of the same compendium, in the 70th decad, it lists some prominent Shiva temples including Varanasi. Similarly Arunagirinathar of the 15th century mentions Kashi in his Tiruppugazh, saying that the city is the holy place of Shiva, the father of Murugan (Subrahmanya).
In the 17th century, Swamy Kumaragurupara, a great Saivite saint, reached Kashi and got a piece of land in the city adjacent to the river bank and built a mutt and also renovated the Kedareshwar temple. This place has served as the landing point of many a Tamizhian coming to Kashi for the ﬁrst time. Later the Nagarathar community from Karaikkudi in Tamizh Nadu have also established a choultry for the pilgrims, which has become a major landmark of the city. In fact the Visalakshi temple is wholly managed by them and the bhog – the food oﬀering – to Lord Viswanatha every day is provided by them along with other oﬀerings for many decades. When one travels in Tamil Nadu, one would see many Shiva temples dedicated to Kashi Viswanatha and Visalakshi, the presiding deities of Kashi. As people found it quite tedious to travel to Kashi in those days, they built temples dedicated to Kashi Viswanatha in their villages and prayed to Him as if he is the one from Kashi itself. The most popular of them is the temple at TenKashi – meaning the Kashi of the South. It was built in 15th Century by the Pandya Kings Parakrama Pandya and his son Kulasekara Pandya. The stone inscriptions in the temple mention that Kashi in the north is Uttara Kashi and this temple is South Kashi or Dakshina Kashi. It goes well to show as to how much the Tamilians, even their kings, revered the city of Kashi and the deity Viswanatha residing there.
There is also a long standing tradition of everyone visiting Rameswaram, the Shiva temple on the sea shore in southern Tamil Nadu, take the sea sand to Kashi and then to Prayag to immerse the same in the conﬂuence of the three rivers – Triveni Sangam – and bring the waters of Ganga back to Rameswaram to perform Abhisheka to Shri Ramanatha Shiva there. Till date, people of Hindu Dharma from all over the country, irrespective of the region and language complete this yatra or holy pilgrimage that stands as a tall testimony to the connection of Kashi with the land of Tamils. Religious tourism fetches devotees from the north to many places in the south including Kanchipuram, Thanjavur, Madurai, Tiruchi and Kanyakumari. Ancient Tamil Nadu had four major kingdoms – Chola, Chera and Pandya – all of whom had an ambition to gain victory over all the kings up to the land of Ganges. At diﬀerent points they had achieved it, though they never annexed the lands and subjugated them to ﬁefdom. It was only to establish the military prowess and also to leave the seeds of the rich culture of Tamizhs in those lands.Kashi has attracted men with thirst for higher learning and spiritual progress; that has seen many a family shift and settle down in the city from ancient times and later in the BHU. Men who have dedicated their life in pursuit of the highest levels of knowledge have added value and richness to the city while many have brought such rich knowledge to the south. Such travels and exchanges have resulted in excellence in the Indian Knowledge system and also a very high degree of synchronization in a country of myriad variety and knowledge as old as three millennia. Many distinguished intellectuals from Tamil Nadu visited Kashi over the centuries. Subramania Bharati, the great freedom ﬁghter-poet, spent a few months in Kashi, imbibing the religious spirit. Muthuswamy Dikshitar, the celebrated Carnatic musician from Tamil Nadu, went to Kashi and was blessed by Devi Saraswathi with a Veena when he b a t h e d i n t h e h o l y G a n g a r i v e r. Bhaskararaya, the famous Yogi and author of many books on Shaaktam including commentary on Lalita Sahasranamam, impressed the scholars of Kashi not only with his learning, but also with his spiritual powers.
In keeping with the age old tradition of assimilating higher learning and rich culture of Tamil Nadu, the current government has arranged a month long program titled Kashi Tamizh Sangamam at Varanasi ie Kashi during the Tamizh Karthik month, from 17 November to 16 December 2022, where Tamizh as a language and the Tamilian traditions and culture are being show cased. While inaugurating the program, the Hon’ble Prime Minister had avowed that:
“Embracing entire India, Kashi is the cultural capital of India whereas Tamil Nadu and Tamizh culture is the centre of India’s antiquity and glory”“Kashi and Tamil Nadu are timeless centres of our culture and civilisations”.
“In Amrit Kaal, (the celebration of 75 years of Independence) our resolutions will be fulﬁlled by the unity of the whole country”.
“This is the responsibility of 130 crore Indians to preserve the legacy of Tamizh and enrich it” At the inauguration, many Mathams and Adhinams from Tamil Nadu participated. During the month long programme, academic exchanges – seminars, discussions etc. were held between experts/ scholars on various facets of the two ancient manifestations of Bharatiya culture, with focus on bringing out the links and shared values between the two. Practical demonstrations of various art forms, Yoga, Ayurveda, handicrafts, handlooms, village enterprises etc. were also held. Exhibitions depicting these interests, food courts, and stalls of classical Tamizh texts with translation in Hindi and other languages were a popular attraction. Visitors, who included many opinion leaders and experts, were brought from Tamil Nadu in batches in special trains and taken to Viswanatha Temple, the new Corridor, Ganga Aarathi, cruise across Ghats, Subramania Bharati’s ancient house, and Handloom and Handicraft exhibition. They also travelled to Saranath, Prayag Raj and Ayodhya. Kashi Tamizh Sangamam, the historic and epoch-making event, it is expected, will bring minds and hearts together and strengthen the ageless bonds of the boundary-less people of Bharat.
In the years to come, a harmonious blend of learning and exchange from the two ancient regions of the country should herald an awakening of the pursuit of higher studies and cultural facets and methods to enhance the wellbeing of not just the Indian citizen but the entire world citizens.