05 March, 2021

Weight Of The Poonool Wearers

In the land of ancient architectural wonders, craftsmen also wear janeu, something ritualistic radicals don’t get

Bhaskar, a Chennai goldsmith, is a Vishvakarma and wears a poonool
Photograph by G.C. Shekhar
Weight Of The Poonool Wearers

Over the past century, the janeu—in addition to its age-old connotations—gathered an extra charge in Tamil Nadu, where to cut off the ‘poonool of a parppaan’ (the sacred thread of a brahmin) was considered an act of radicalism in the high noon of the state’s self-respect movement.

That tradition of throwing a spanner in the works of rigid Brahminism has new adherents, armed with new, imaginative methods. A fringe group put up posters last August that declared its intention to hold a thread ceremony for pigs—to coincide with Aavani Aavittam, the day Brahmins and a few other communities change their sacred threads and renew their vows. While Brahmin groups were aghast at the proposed insult, others were merely amused. “By tradition, only a fat­her would put the poonool on his son. So, I have no objection if these Periyarists want to put a poonool on a pig. For them, anti-Brahminism equals to anti-Hinduism. But they do not equate any other community’s practice with Hinduism. Thus, they are...

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