On April 28, 2010, the speaker of the weekly ICRS-CRCS Wednesday Forum was Dr. M. Valliammal Baskaran who spoke on “the Inter Religious Relations in Ancient Tamilnadu.” While Maufur, the ICRS academic coordinator, acted as moderator.
Before proceeding to the meat of her presentation, Dr. Baskaran showed first the map of India to locate where Tamilnadu is to the audience. According to her, during the Sangam Age (300 B.C. to 300 AD), there were three major types of religions that existed which were the: Vedic religion; Indigenous faiths; and Shramanic religions – refer to Jainism, Buddhism, Ajivaka etc. She said that during that time these three major types of religions co-existed until the end of the Sangam Age.
She continued that there were no conflicts among them and there is no evidence for any religious conflicts. To support her research, she pointed out the reason why there were no religious conflicts during the Sangam Age, which are as follows: people were accommodative; there was a grand vision of “every village as their village and every people as their relative/kin person;” they have an eclectic tradition e.g. Tirukkural, Silappadikaram, Manimekalai; kings constructed temples for different gods and patronized them.
During this period, kings themselves promoted inter-religious relations; they encouraged healthy debates and discussions among the followers of different religions and encouraged them to respect the procedure to be followed in debates in public halls; they also advised people to avoid any kind of conflict, anger even with enemies and not to rage confrontation; and differences in opinions and views, doctrinal differences among people were treated with mutual respect.
Dr. Baskaran said that the causes of religious conflicts were doctrinal differences, absolute Truth claims, missionary spirit and proselytizating efforts of religions (organized efforts of the Saivite and Vaisnava leaders), conversion, fear and feeling of insecurity, misconceptions, prejudice and stereotyping, economic and political factors (competition to win royal patronage), and institutionalization of Hindu religion.
She continued her presentation with the changes that happened after A.D. 800, like 200 years later, Jainism gradually began to re-emerge, Jain sculptures were installed and temples were constructed, people and local government bodies initially and later kings also gave liberal endowments to Jain temples but it did not happen in the case of Buddhism except in few pockets, both were confined to rural areas, and there existed no major religious conflicts between Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.
During the open forum, as if the audience was in awe, no one dared to raise a hand to ask a question or two at first, however after a little persuasion from the moderator, a few hands were raised. The speaker answered the inquiries well and responded well to the response of the attendees. The forum ended at exactly 2:30 in the afternoon with a warm round of applause for Valliammal. Dr. M. Valliammal Baskaran is an associate professor of the Department of History at the Lady Doak College in Madurai, Tamilnadu, India. She is currently in Yogya as a fellow at ICRS-Yogya.
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