Periyar E.V. Ramasamy: Biography, Achievements, Books

PERIYAR E.V. RAMASAMY: A person’s personality is described by his/her interests, activities and most importantly his social roles. Usually, our traits are best explained by public support that we gain in our lifetime. Erode Venkatappa Ramasamy (17 September 1879 – 24 December 1973) is one of those legends who supported good for his people and fought for it. He was also known as “Thanthai Periyar” or “Periyar” means “respected one” or “elder”. For his rebellion temperament against social discrimination, Brahmins dominance, oppression against women, etc., he is also called as “Father of Dravidian Movements”. His Dravidian movements gave birth to DMK, AIDMK, and MDMK.

Babasaheb_Ambedkar_with_Periyar_when_they_met_in_connection_with_a_Buddhist_conference Source 

From Tamil history, Periyar is a prominent social and political reformer. He laid the foundation of many ideologies in modern Tamil politics. EV Ramasamy was born on 17 September 1879 in Erode the then part of Madras Presidency. Even at his young age he began to criticize the use of religion to carry discrimination. He is always remembered to redeem the identity and recognition for Tamils. He was against the principle of Brahmanism.

He joined Indian National Congress in 1919. In his chairmanship of Erode municipality, he took so many significant policies like boycotting foreign clothes, eradicating caste discrimination and so on. Till 1925 he worked for INC but then he left it due to internal clashes with Congress officials.

Some Important Movements

Once in 1904, he went to the Kasi pilgrimage where an incident occurred. Due to the dominance of the Brahmin community he was not allowed to eat food. The treatment was so brutal when he forcefully went to eat food. This depressing event of his life moved him towards social reformation which led to helping many other innocents.

Viakom Satyagraha (1924-1925)– This movement triggered on 30th March 1924. The prevailing cruel behavior for non-Brahmins was the main cause of it. They were not allowed to step into temples and to walk on the roads which led to temples. At Vaikom Mahadev temple, satyagrahis made an entry into the temple in three groups and leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Shree Narayana Guru supported it. The Akalis from Punjab, Christians and Muslims gave support too. On Gandhiji’s advice, the movement was temporarily taken back because he wanted it to be intra Hindu but it got started again. Periyar came from Tamil Nadu to support it and he was arrested. This was the first movement in Kerala against caste discrimination and untouchability. In 1925 except for the entry from eastern gates, all gates were free for entry.  He was referred to as Vaikom Veerar (Hero of Vaikom).

Self Respect Movement – For Periyar, the philosophy of self-respect was of utmost importance. He promoted Self Respect in 1925 and in 1952 the movement was institutionalized. He made a list of objectives that included the proper political knowledge, freedom from slavery, avoid unnecessary customs and rituals, eradicating the caste system, establishing an egalitarian society and many more. It was more like a social revolution.

Opposition to Hindi Respect in him for Dravidian Culture could be felt when he opposes the new policy of compulsory Hindi language to study in schools. This was the reform of Chakravarthi Rajagopalachari the then Chief Minister of Madras Presidency in 1937. He established his views as anti-Hindi because it would destroy the culture and notions of Tamil people. Then whole South India went against the promotion of Hindi as a compulsion.


He was a very influential orator. Nearly fifty years of his life were given to propagate speeches for equality and justice. Every prominent change in Tamil politics and society was initiated with his arrival in the reformation process.

  • Ramasamy took rationalism as his weapon to disclose the suppression of the upper class. He started talking about realistic and idealistic principles. There should be a feeling among us that caste cannot divide us. The evils that prevail in any society are due to our selfish deeds. Culture always validates wrong things and we wholeheartedly accept them. He also voiced against the Capitalist class which always creates difficulties for the working class. He adopted rationalism to lead a peaceful life in all aspects. In the context of Brahmin oppression, he stated that in the name of God and religion we have forgotten humanism.
  • As mentioned earlier, self-respect got huge roots in his era. He educated others to regard themselves as respected beings. Human actions should be based on rational thinking. Here also he criticized Brahmins to act as monopolists and cheat other communities. He condemned the practice of using caste into religious practices.
  • His best contribution was made for women’s rights. He strongly disagreed on the fact that women are only child bearers and have no other image. He wants to legitimate the equality of men and women in society. Under the dowry system, brides are burnt alive, assaulted and blackmailed along with their parents. He stood fiercely against this practice. According to him after divorce women would also get the right to property and in education and health, there must be equal opportunities. Moreover, he also explained many contraceptive methods. According to biographer D. Gopalakrishnan, Periyar and his movements led Tamil society towards the betterment of women’s conditions.
  • One of his booklets called Village Upliftment; he called for the progress of rural areas. The word “rural” in itself is a symbol of discrimination for him. There was a lot of social and economic difference among regions and rural people were generally regarded as poorest ones. His social reforms went to the ground realities.
  • If we start looking for any stubborn advocate against Brahmanism then Periyar would definitely get a high place. He did not only place Brahmins in this category but also the non-Brahmins who supported caste and class differences.
  • Periyar was very obstinate for his Tamil culture and language preservation. He always claimed that Old Tamil was the mother of Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam. Through his writings and art, he spread the use of the Tamil language. He believed that if (Dravidians) have control of our mother then it would enrich and enlighten our lives. Apart from this, it could easily make us unite.
  • Periyar laid the foundation for using the “idea of dialogue” in every matter. The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates was his ideal and he insisted to think rationally and logically for any decision making and discuss it with each other.
  • Initially, with Gandhi his relation was cooperating. Both were against untouchability and social discrimination. But later on, they disagreed on a political and intellectual basis. He questioned how freedom could be achieved if people forgo their ideals and respect. He did not prefer the methods adopted by the Indian National Congress for the freedom struggle. He saw Gandhi as supported by some Brahminical ideals.

His ideals of a free nation are altogether based on the spread of knowledge and education, logical thinking, casteless society, abolition of poverty and untouchability and all-round growth of individuals.


The work of every leader is best only if it has the scope of criticism. The most important critical analysis of his work is that he used Nazi-style in his anti-Brahmanism propaganda. In one of the magazines that he edited, he openly quoted that the plight of Jews should not be forgotten by Brahmins. Sometimes, he was witnessed to remove Brahmin reporters who came to his place. Regarding women’s rights, his participation was not seen in any women’s movement. During his time, there was a struggle for the Sarda Act and it was supported by Ambedkar and Gandhi along with Tamil women. But he was seen nowhere. There was also an instance where he defamed Dr. Ambedkar. He reformed the institution of marriage as “self-respect marriage” without any community customs and priests but it was criticized by many feminist scholars regarded as modern contracts. He was pro British and openly supported pro-Pakistan cause to get British support to Justice Party. Karamraj who was anti-Brahmin leader never accepted his racist and anti-Hindu views. He burned many Hindu gods idol that always led to aristocracies for lower-caste Dalits. His way of destruction to promote his ideology is not valid.

Some of Periyar Books:

He has written many books, articles, and magazines. Some of these include:

  1. Collected works of Periyar EV
  2. Why were women enslaved?
  3. High thoughts: Uyar Ennangal
  4. Periyar Kalanchiyam: Matham-1
  5. Periyar Warehouse

Some of the books which are written on him by different authors are:

  1. Thoughts of Periyar by Dr. K Veeramani
  2. Periyar by R Muthukumar
  3. Periyar of Feminism by Arunan
  4. The Dravidian Years: politics and welfare in Tamil Nadu by S. Narayan

The popularity of  EVR Periyar among the masses of Tamil Nadu could be witnessed even today. Nobody wants to hear a single negative word about him. The socio-political breakdown in society was natural during his era. He placed himself as a very significant figure among modern Indian Politicians. His approach was directed towards modernity on which he faced a lot of questions. But he was a well known social reformer in south Indian History. He was so ardent and ambitious.

Wisdom lies in thinking. The spear-head of thinking is rationalism-  EV RAMASAMY


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