The rationalist Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi has said that he always wears a yellow shawl or scarf not because he has become superstitious, but because the Buddha wore a similar one.
Gautama Buddha is viewed in Tamil progressive circles as a rationalist, who fought against the caste hierarchy, Brahminical ritualism and Hindu superstitions.
According to the Colombo-based Tamil daily Thinakkural, Karunanidhi had given this explanation at a public function held in Chennai last week to honour the visiting Sathya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi.
The Baba had asked him why he insisted on wearing a yellow shawl ignoring taunts from his detractors.
"I told him that the Buddha's angavastram was a piece of yellow cloth and that was why I was wearing it. The Baba was amused," Karunanidhi said.
An avowed follower of the iconoclastic Tamil leader Periyar EV Ramaswamy Naicker, who broke idols of Lord Ganesh in virulent campaigns against idol worship and Hindu superstitions, Karunanidhi had started wearing a yellow shawl about eight years ago, touching off speculation that in the evening of his life, he was reverting to religion like many of his colleagues in the rationalist "Dravidian" movement.
History was made when, breaking a taboo, Sai Baba visited Karunanidhi's residence in Gopalapuram this time. He was the first Hindu religious leader to do so.
While Mrs Dayalu Karunanidhi worshipped the Baba in the traditional Hindu style by touching his feet, Karunanidhi himself welcomed him with just a namaste.
The two leaders talked for about 45 minutes. At the end of it, Karunandhi scotched rumours that the subject of discussion was religion.
"He did not talk about religion and I did not talk about politics. We talked about the Tamil language. The Baba speaks Tamil well," Karunanidhi told eager newsmen outside his residence.
Much interest among Lankan Tamils
The close encounter between the two opposites - Karunanidhi and the Sai Baba - has excited much interest among Sri Lankan Tamils, with the Tamil press in the island covering the event well.
Sri Lankan Tamils, deeply Hindu though they may be, tend to get disturbed when "Dravidian" or radically "pro-Tamil" leaders like Karunanidhi become Hinduistic and join the All-India "Aryan" mainstream.
They fear that this may dilute the leaders' commitment to the cause of Tamil assertion in general and Tamil rights in Sri Lanka in particular.
They find Karunanidhi's swings between "Dravidam" (Tamil nationalism) and "Desiyam" (Indian nationalism) a bit disconcerting.