Jayalalithaa transitions from ‘revolutionary leader’ to ‘goddess’
Jayalalithaa’s statue sculpted in a huge black granite block weighing nearly eight tonnes is drawing AIADMK faithfuls who offer prayers daily.Updated: Jul 20, 2019 15:10 IST
While she was alive, Jayalalithaa was ‘revolutionary leader’ and ‘Idhaya Deivam’ (goddess in the heart) for the AIADMK rank and file. Now, less than three years after her death, the late Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and former AIADMK chief has been elevated as a deity and is worshiped in Coimbatore, about 500 km Southwest of the state capital, Chennai.
She is the second AAIDMK after iconic actor and former Chief Minister MG Ramachandran (MGR), who founded the AIADMK to be elevated as a deity with a statue sculpted in a huge granite block weighing nearly eight tonnes, alongside Anjaneya and Amman besides 12 zodiac signs. Devotees turn up every day to offer prayers with flowers and lighted camphor.
The statue is located in front of the city’s Corporation Yoga Centre at Ganesapuram which is close to an Amman temple. Those who frequent the temple visit ‘goddess Jayalalithaa’ as well.
Jayalalithaa died on December 5, 2016 after 75 days of hospitalisation. Her memorial on the Marina sea front in Chennai has also turned into a place of pilgrimage for party faithfuls.
“The statue was sculpted along with other deities and the 12 zodiac signs and installed last Saturday (July 13) by AIADMK workers. This cost Rs 5 lakh and many have contributed to it, including Local Administration Minister SP Velumani, who unveiled it. The work was going on for a year,” said B Venugopal, a former municipal councillor and an AIADMK functionary. Incidentally, he was in the news last year for locking the yoga centre to deny BJP supporters from performing yoga on international yoga day.
But why a roadside temple for Jayalalithaa? According to Venugopal, it was during her Chief Ministership that the area had witnessed developmental works and basic amenities and that they owe her a lot. Hence, the reverence to the departed leader, says Venugopal.
Though AIADMK cadre and functionaries visit the temple, some locals are not happy since the temple is built on encroached public land. But, Venugopal brushes aside such criticism. “It is Easappan temple and we have installed Amma sculpture in it since the yoga centre is also her gift to the area. Besides AIADMK workers others too offer prayers to Amma,” he explains.
MGR has a temple at Nathamedu in Tiruvallur district, near Chennai, built in 2011 by one Kalaivanan, an ardent admirer of the late leader. It attracts not only hardcore MGR fans and AIADMK cadres, but the general public and those from other political parties as well.
Earlier in 2014, a tiny MGR temple at the entrance of the Madras High Court campus was razed to the ground on the orders of the court. The temple was built in the 1980s.
But temples for leaders are not unique to the AIADMK. Fans of actor Kushbu, now Congress spokesperson, had built a temple for her in Tiruchirapalli. But, the same ‘fans’ themselves had demolished it in the wake of her comments on pre-marital sex. Fans of another Kollywood actor Namitha also built her a temple with a life-size statue of the actor in Tirunelveli district.
Why this elevation to divinity? According to political analyst C Lakshmaman of Madras Institute of Development Studies, hero worship and loyalty attached to those in power, seen as benevolent, is ingrained in Tamil society which has been appropriated by Dravidian political culture, wherein the leaders have replaced the gods. Further, the Dravidian parties have given up rationalism long ago for ‘Ondre Kulam, Oruvane Devan’ (One god and one race) was their slogan in the early 60s.
“Even after 70 years of independence, people are identifying the state with the power and persona of a leader instead of looking at them as mere instruments, duty bound to carry out welfare measures. The Dravidian parties too celebrated this turning hero worship into a cult, rather than resisting it. This is detrimental to democracy,” he said.