Portrait of Periyar EV Ramasami, Oil on Canvas 36"X48"- 2011

Dhaliwals’s portrait of E.V.Ramasami Naicker (1879-1973) a fierce and radical ideologue of Dravidian identity represents the well-known visage of a radical and outspoken social reformer of the Tamil people.

Today’s development of Tamil Language and Tamil culture in India derives largely from Naicker’s social activism that reached the marginalized and neglected communities of rural poor, among whom were women.  His radical views on Hindu religion and the system of caste division of Hindu society were deeply rooted in his unshakeable rationalism. Outspoken as an atheist and autonomous as a thinker, “Periyar” (or, the “Elder”, as he came to be known) lived and worked much of his life without popular support. Politically aligning himself with the Indian National Congress initially, he was inevitably estranged from it, eventually forming his own Dravida Kazhagam (the Dravidian Union), which, too, splintered within his lifetime. But in his Dravida Kazhagam lay the seeds of virtually all of today’s regional development of Tamil Nadu in India.

Ramasami “Periyar” was too much of a non-conformist and too much of an individualist. He was essentially self-educated and his rationalism was an outcome of his critical and vocal response to his traditional upbringing.  He put his faith in rationalism, humanism, scientific thinking, and socialist ideals, uncompromising on opposing the division of society along caste lines, fearless in articulating his beliefs in unembellished spoken Tamil and journalistic prose.

Where the map-line of India indicates the geographic location of the scene, the fish is used as an important ancient cultural symbol of Dravidian culture. The Swastika skin patterns of the snake in the portrait symbolize antihuman Brahmin ideology. The direction of the snake entering the landscape corresponds to the entry routes of the Indo-Aryans. The physical geography of peninsular India’s coastline and the mountains of the north are unexpectedly reversed, presenting an unfamiliar perspective.

- Kamakshi Balasubramanian