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Articles - CfP Topic

Vol. 9 No. 2 (2023): Here Be Dragons. East Asian Film and Religion

The Tamil Language as More Central than Even the Gods: The Movie THIRUVILAYADAL (IN 1965) Is an Outlier as a Devotional Film

January 29, 2023


The narrow genre of devotional films in India follows a regular template – a combination of theophanic interventions, bhakti (devotional) worship and didactic narratives. THIRUVILAYADAL (THE DIVINE PLAY, Akkamappettai Paramasivan Nagarajan, IN 1965), a film in Tamil (a language spoken across South and East Asia by a large diaspora), was long considered a devotional movie that celebrated the God Shiva. However, a close analysis shows that the movie subverts the darshan concept (viewing) in a Hindu devotional film. Though it may appear to be a film about Puranic (mythic) Hindu gods, the subtle subtext reduces heavenly entities to supplicatory positions in relation to a cornerstone of identity in the post-independence Dravidianist Tamil State – Tamil language. This understanding of THIRUVILAYADAL is all the more relevant in light of the increasing rigidity of Hindu religious beliefs in contemporary India.