Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Kasi Ananthan's Poesy and the Eelam Liberation Struggle

Speech by Chandi Sinnathurai, February 20-22, 2006

Annotated and abridged by Yakov Rubin (YR), Greenwich Village, NYC

Kasi Ananthan is the poet laureate of Tamil Eelam. A few weeks ago, during a telephone conversation with the poet, I noticed, even after many years, one could hear in his voice, that perfect balance of gentleness and the enflaming passion that is locked within this man for the liberation of his dispossessed people.


[Sinnathurai began the first session by giving a brief biographical-sketch of Kasi Ananthan’s formative years in his native place Mattakkalappu [1]. He included poems from the embryonic non-violent political struggles against genocidal violence and the resulting prolonged incarcerations and torture of Kasi “Annan” [2] by the Sri Lanka state. This outline covered the poet’s life of struggle from the early 1960s until 1978. YR

Kasi AnanthanWe shall swiftly move into the most important thing – the poet and the message. It must be noted here that his emotive poetry [unarchee kavithaigal] is yoked in perfect rhythm, jiving with the golden nuggets of deep Dravidian [3] spirituality.  Kasi Ananthan [4] is the poet laureate of Tamil Eelam. A few weeks ago, during a telephone conversation with the poet, I noticed, even after many years, one could hear in his voice, that perfect balance of gentleness and the enflaming passion that is locked within this man for the liberation of his dispossessed people.

It will be pretentious should I claim to be the “authorized” translator of Kasi Ananthan’s poetry.  I am not. What I’m planning to do is to read a selection of his poetic-prose in Tamil first, in order that you would hear the rhythm and blues, as it were of the language. Having done that, I will try my best to interpret it, not in poetic form; perhaps in fractured prose. Let it be said, that you find in myself a lowly narrative voice. The express purpose, however, is to get the message across. That is of paramount importance. Put it differently, you get two for the price of one: First, you would hear one of the ancient languages spoken in poetic form, which by the way is the language of bakthi ? of sweet spirituality; melodic in content and useful for meditation. And then I suggest we make sense of it by hearing it in prose form in English.  That’s the idea.

Dr. Rubin [Critical Quarterly] being a Hebrew scholar and a Tamil speaker was saying in his opening remarks; that he speaks two of the most antiquated languages. I should say rather immodestly; that the Tamils speak the most ancient language; “antiquated” in the sense of not being obsolete or dead or even in need of resuscitation unlike the Hebrew language. As we all know, with the vision of Yehuda, Hebrew was quite literally resurrected! On the contrary Thamil is a living classical language in both oral and written form.  Some scholars have opined that Tamil has been a living tongue for over 25,000 years, with a 5000-year complex grammar treatise [Tolkappiam] and pre-eminently rich in its prodigious literary content.

? [Poet Kasi in his preface writes that the English language came into being in AD5 and French in AD7.YR]

‘Prose Sprinkle’

 I would like to begin by reading from a book entitled Kasi Ananthan Narukkugal. [5] The poet places these writings in the genre of prose.  By coining a Tamil terminology he calls it “Sinthal Ilakkiyam”, which he translates in English as ‘Prose Sprinkle’ [6].  Incidentally, Kasi Annan compares these literary sprinklings to the prose-writings of Walt Whitman.

Sprinkle 1: [Transliteration from Tamil]


‘Kuri’ podum
Konja naalai
Manithar galayei
Karna villai.     

Let me now try and unpack that in English. Speaking of Enaveri, meaning being drunk with racism, the poet draws from his own Munn, meaning, own soil – his beloved birthplace. I could mention that one hears the longing for his soil (as an exilic poet) in the writings of Kasi Ananthan. The poet writes that the oxen in our soil are branded on their back in order that they may not disappear. But the poet laments the disappearance of many manithargal=humans.

When we place the text of suffering in its context of Munn [soil; the birth soil-bond], we understand the seriousness of the situation the Tamils are facing in their indigenous soil. Many have disappeared without a trace.  Eelam Tamils are tortured in numerous hidden Guantanamo Bays in Sri Lanka. Sadly, the mainstream media functions within its limitations of moral paralysis. Such distant reports escape its profound conviction! The poet makes the comparison that the oxen in Eelam seem to be much safer than the Tamils. The military aggression and the torture of innocents by the State are mocked as the adversary par excellence. Kasi Ananthan stands tall as an acute and acerbic social critic.

[Between each reading brief conversation took place and questions arose from the forum and answers given. For obvious reasons of column inches notations are not included here. YR]

Sprinkle 2:


Palai vane mai
Paalai vane makinai
Erri malai
Ai yetru munn
Enn Munn            

The aggression is real. The horror of the situation is conveyed in the title: Neruppu = fire. There are no deserts in my soil, yet you have made my soil barren land. There are no volcanoes in my soil, the poet cries, but you, the aggressor have made my soil neruppu, a fire-producing volcano!

[An interesting discussion took place soon after this reading which arose from the question whether the Tamil armed resistance was the result of State aggression. Further discussion after a short coffee-break was about the ecological-terror and the result of seeing the land being made barren! The New York University undergraduates, in particular, actively engaged in conversation and made the point that many think of terror only in terms of “blood, guns, bombs and fighter jets.” It was expressed with some passion that “All must think and act against the aggressors who are bleeding the mother earth into a wasteland”. YR]

Sprinkle 3:    


Ethu –
al ler.


The word maveeran could be translated as hero. In this context however, the poet must mean to say life-seed: EthuThiyagi [devotional sacrifice]. In order to bring out the Shades of nuance and its true meaning, I ought to explain Uyiruku so that we don't get 'hung up' on the wrong idea. First, let's translate the prose: the poet writes - This act of Maveeran is not death to Uyir Savu [life]. On the contrary, savu, death has received life.                           

I must say it is quite similar to reading St Paul’s Epistle [7] to the Church in Corinth. St Paul is speaking of the thiyaga offering (Arpanippu =Tamil; Devotio= Latin). In Pauline thinking, life is seen as overcoming death.  In other words, death is viewed not as a terminator. The self-offering of Jesus has vanquished death and thus death is swallowed up in victory. Christ’ representational death is seen as a universal model for victimhood, however, in the end there was victory over evil powers.  Hence the liberating hymn of St. Paul is, “Death, where is your victory?”  The refrain is that death, the “last enemy” is vanquished.  It’s an overwhelming victory! The fear of death is overcome in the hearts and minds of a veeran ? “Saavukku vantha Uyir” death is overcome by life. In Pauline exegesis, it would be viewed as, mortality putting on immortality, as though replacing an old set of garments for the new.

[Many points were raised on the subject of social, political and theological matters. A direct question by a Quaker about the Black Tigers received a lengthy reply followed by discussion.  An edited version is provided below. YR]

I am not making any value judgments here.  The Tamil Tigers’ pragmatic approach to warfare has motivated them to revive the ancient martyr cults in order to defeat a large and powerful military machine which is not only an oppressive tool of the State, but also an effective “legitimate instrument” of annihilation.  Given the context, it is seen as a tactical and practical decision, on the part of the Tamil Tigers to utilize ‘life as a weapon’, Uyir Areyutham. Such sacrifice is an effective areyutham of last resort in self-defense for mere survival in the struggle for state-formation. Professor Schalk [University of Uppsala] has written extensively on this subject [8].  He notes, that there is a special group of fighters, males and females, who are aware that in this mode of confrontation there is certain death, of course, there is no hope of survival.  Being aware of this, by his/her death, the fighter accepts the reality and accomplishes his task that leads to the elimination of the enemy.  The death of a normal Tiger is envisaged, but so is his/her survival. The èlite Black Tiger however, calculates only with his/her death.

Dr. Kantha [Japan] being an Eelam Tamil, has a natural instinctive understanding of socio-cultural/language nuances. He also gives an eloquent exegesis of the martial culture found in the Mahabharatam epic and, by comparative study, he extracts understanding of the modern Black Tigers. Kantha’s selected writings can be found at the Tamil Nation website [9] . I would recommend this website as an excellent tool for research students of the Eelam Tamil struggle. We understand that an elite Black Tiger calculates the combat only with his death.  His/her act is understood as a supremely devotional sacrifice. A “laying down of life” in the Gospel sense perhaps, for the “emancipation of many.” We ought to fully understand the genocidal context in which these resistance techniques are employed and only then we must proceed to interpret accordingly. I am not passing any moral or ethical judgments. The world, nonetheless, cannot turn a blind eye to a slow-genocide. I would urge you to enquire, what really pushes these people to the edge of self-offering [Thatkodai].

We note here an important distinction - the difference between a Black Tiger (Thiyagi) and that of a Hamas Shahid (martyr):

  • The claim of the Tamil Tigers is that they attacks only military targets and NOT civilian targets.
  • The Black Tiger’s Thiyagam, sacrifice is made in a secular setting.

The Hamas Shahid is propelled by religious rationale and with the belief that he will be compensated in a life hereafter.  ‘An ideal Black Tiger on the normative level is not religiously motivated.’ The critical difference, however, is that the Black Tiger is not made to believe that he/she will be compensated in the next life. Each Black Tiger who has given his life as uyir areyutham is considered to be a living flame of sacrifice and their burial tomb (normal Hindu practice of cremation is not followed) is a naddukal (apotheosis of a hero) to Ellai kavalgal, protection of the territorial borders of Tamil Eelam.  According to Schalk, naddukal is a “territorial seal.” Tiger Thiyagi are held in high honor as a cornerstone to Tamil Eelam. [Schalk, The Revival of Martyr Cults among Ilavar, Temenos 33, 1997, pp151 - 190]

[Sinnathurai however, abstained from offering a critique on these writings. YR]

Sprinkle 4:


Oru narl
Uyir theluntheer...


Uyir thelu kiran…
Mann nun.

We shall end with the poem entitled: The Cross.

One day
only for a day
YOU arose from the dead.


he is resurrecting
every day.

This is unadulterated liberation theology.  All of us long for the day when there will be no war. As a result, the Arms industry will be made redundant.  Conflicts would be solved solely by dialogue. That is our vision. Conflicts ought to be solved ideally by talks rather than by arms; by conviction of the truth rather than duplicitous coercion. However, there is historical evidence that indicate engaging in the processes of dialogue with the Hero’s of this world is a universal illusion, perhaps even an oxymoronical slang. The Herods of this world [the institutionalized oppressive systems] are bent on prevaricating. Resurrection, therefore, is a dynamic vision and a weapon of hope; which breaks the shackles; setting the human spirit free. It is no coincidence that the hermeneutics of Siluvai – the Cross; interprets the “long-walk through the Red Sea of the Hebrew slaves” as a baptism, a profound spiritual experience of dying and being brought back to life.  You find yourself sandwiched between the onslaught of Herod’s “institutionalized revenge” and the deep blue sea. You are trapped by death; expelled to extinction. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil [10].  The prose of the psalmist is echoed here. Death is but a shadow, a farcical procedure, which binds communities with the paralysis of fear.  The cross, however, gives all victims a decisive victory.

[Sinnthurai proposed that the cross is put forward here not as a parochial religious icon/designer brand/celebrity symbol, on the contrary purely as a spiritual principle. YR]

Siluvai for the poet is the moral paradigm within the vicissitudes of frustrated groans. That is perfect peace, in the eye of the hurricane; even in the face of aggression, turmoil, victimization and conflict.  René Girard in his seminal work on anthropological foundational violence makes a piercing observation that communities are often “indebted to violence for the degree of peace that they enjoy.”  It’s a bit like the war to end all wars or the war against terrorism or war for peace, as someone interpreted all [this rhetoric] to be just a tiny coracle of good intentions borne away on an incorrigible tide of mediocrity.

In his analysis, Girard points out that if ‘all offered the other cheek, no cheek would be struck… if all men loved their enemies, and there would be no enemies.  But if they drop away at the decisive moment, what is going to happen to the one person who does not drop away?’ [Girard, Non Sacrificial Death of Christ, 1996, Crossroad, NY]

The logic of non-violence is undoubtedly superior.  The non-violence mode of thinking, however, might be in the grip of illusions, if it simply fails to differentiate the warped logic of genocidal threat, which is, of course, an appalling reality faced by many indigenous communities and cultures.  State terror in Sri Lanka is a “legitimate” weapon that has been unleashed to annihilate the Tamils. The idea of the sanctity of the state requires an urgent revision. Perpetrators of state terror have to be held accountable by the International bodies, especially the UN [see below the deteriorating human rights record. YR] However, a deep unease has been raised among third-world thinkers, including some Western political analysts and social commentators, that the UN is one of the greatest inventions of mankind only to tragically evolve lately as a universal illusion! The contemporary state of affairs glaringly reveals an asymmetrical international system that is in operation.  The permanent membership and the power of veto within the structure of the UN Security Council are reserved only to China, UK, France, Russia and the United States.  The frightening reality nonetheless is that there is only ONE superpower.  France’s Chirac thinks that India should have a permanent seat in the Security Council. Does it really matter? How about Germany, Brazil and Japan?  As we ponder on non-violence and the prospect of world peace, one must genuinely ask, quite rightly whether there is a future for a single international system.  Only time would tell.    

Now to conclude. The ‘threat’ of resurrection, uyirtheluthal or in Kasi Annan’s word: Savukku vantha Uyir [death overcome with life] will keep the flame of liberty burning.  The power of the “indestructible life” is revealed. Where there is life, there is hope. So it is with such hope that we will render powerless the evil [11]

And we shall overcome.


[A complete version of this live Spoken Word’ Event would appear as a chapter in the forthcoming hardback entitled Broken Palanquin edited by Yakov Rubin, US publishing date - fall 2007. YR]

Revd Chandi Sinnathurai is a theologian currently “doing” contextual theology based in Thamil Eelam. _________________________________________________


1] In the East coast of Tamil Eelam.  Anglicized version Batticaloa.

2] An endearing term of respect for an older brother/senior person. Sinnathurai switches from Poet’s last name Ananthan to Annan (endearing term) almost similar sounding words in this inspiring “event”.

3] Dravidians are one of the aboriginal races in South and central India and Sri Lanka. Tamil being the mother/root language, it includes Malayalam, Telugu, Kannada and Gondi.

 4] Since the late 1970’s poet Kasi has been living in exile in Madras/Chennai, South India.    Refer:

5] Sinnathurai thanked Nakkeeran, a writer based in Toronto for presenting him this book in 2005.

6] Poet Kasi also calls it “Kirrukal Ilakkiyam” – a relatively recent literary format known as Puthu kavithaigal/prose scribbles.

7] Pauline epistle – 1 Corinthians 15: 50ff “The Mystery of Resurrection”. Sinnathurai also questioned whether this particular prose Maveeran could have an interpretative-persuasive in the model of Christ < “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat (Kothumai mani) falls into the earth and die; it remains alone; but if it die; it bears much fruit” St. John 12: 24 [New American Standard Version]  

8] Schalk. “Concepts of Martyrdom and Resistance of the LTTE". Martyrdom and Political Resistance. Ed. Joyce Pettigrew. Centre of Asian Studies Amsterdam. Amsterdam: VU Press, 1997, pp. 61-82.


10] Psalm 23 Hebraic Psalms of King David.

11] See - The Epistle to the Hebrews 2: 14ff; and Hebrews 7:16. [The Greek text]

    * Below we quote some peace talks and the deteriorating human rights of the Tamils in the NorthEast :                

Peace Initiative






Peace pacts signed






Thimpu Talks – 1985






J R Jeyawardene- 1986






R Premadasa – 1989






C Kumaratunga – 1994






R Wickremasinghe – 2002






M Rajapaksha – 2006








List of Kasi Ananthan’s published works [Courtesy of -]


  • Kasi Ananthan narukkukal. Chennai: Naa. Arunasalam, 1999.
  • Kasi Ananthan kavitaikal. Chennai : Naa. Arunasalam – Manavar Puttakappannai, 1998, 221 p.
  • TamilanA taminkilanA. Chennai : Manavar Puttakap Pannai, 1995, 126 p.
  • Kasi Ananthan kataikal. Illustr. by VIra SantAnam. Chennai: Kantalakam, 1992, 93 p.
  • Kasi Ananthan kavitaikal. ?: Ramanathapuram-Koyampathur, 1990, xx-164 p.
  • Tampi jeyattukku… ?: Cholan Patippakam, n.d., 116 p.

A reference to “resistance literature”

V.Geetha in her article: « Cultural Guerilla Warfare in Tamil Eelam: Aspects of Tamil Resistance Literature » [Geetha, 1989: 5-27] finds ground for theorising on Tamil poems emanating from the civil-war period in Sri Lanka, including poems written by the participants in the guerrilla struggle against domination by the Sinhala forces in Colombo. Seeking her parameters in Barbara Harlow’s Resistance Literature and Franz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, she quotes and bases her characterisation of Eelam Tamil poems on the findings of Elias Khouri, a Palestinian critic and writer, to affirm:

The culture of resistance in Sri Lanka that grew out of the Tamil People’s struggles for their traditional homeland of Eelam sought to respond to the genocidal assault on Tamil language and culture through various strategies of defiance and subversion. The cultural realm was thoroughly transformed in the process and soon, literary and aesthetic guerilla warfare’ came to be, whose instances of protest and resistance may be regarded as the articulations of a Resistance Literature. [Geetha, 1989: 6]

As with the literatures of struggling nationalities all over the world, Tamil literature, including Tamil poetry, soon acquired a double edge: on the one hand, it drew inspiration from the traditions and cultures of its origin, while on the other hand it turned visibly ‘modern’ and set about its adventurous search for forms of expression adequate to its historical moment of chauvinism and violence. [...] Tamil poetry necessarily dwells and broods on the phenomenon of death, destruction, the shattering of familial bonds, the pain of separation but most of all on the insidious politics of race. But it has its liberative moments as well, its moments of celebration of community and a brave new world to come, its moments of surprise when silenced voices, especially women’s voices begin to emerge. [ Geetha, 1989:9]


1. Barbara Harlow. Resistance Literature. New York & London: Methuen, 1987.
2. V. Geetha, « Cultural Guerilla Warfare in Tamil Eelam: Aspects of Tamil Resistance Literature », Journal of Eelam Studies, n°3 (London), Fall 1989, pp. 5-27.
3. Jesurasa Cheran & Padmanaba Iyer, Eds. Maranuthul Vazhvum (We Live in Death) [An Anthology of Tamil Eelam Resistance Poetry].
4. Solaikili. Ettavathu Naragam . (Eighth Hell). Batticaloa, Sri Lanka: Vyugam, 1988. Intro. by Nuhman.
5. Patmasothi Shanmuganathapillai. Vanatiyin Kavitaikal. Linnich, Germany: Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam - German Branch, 1st. ed. 1991, repr. 1993, 55p. Preface by Jaya, responsible for the Youth section of the LTTE.

  • Publication date: