Murukan Conference Newsletter No. 12
November 2003 Issue
Special Issue: Kuala Lumpur Murukan Conference 2003
I. Welcome to the Murukan Conference Yahoo
This, the 12th issue of the Newsletter, marks something of a milestone. Not only does this issue highlight the recent 3rd International Murukan Conference in Kuala Lumpur, but it also welcomes at long last the launch of online publishing in Tamil of articles from and about the Murukan Conference Series. Tamil readers will certainly welcome this development. It also means that Tamil Kaumara scholars may now reach a worldwide audience by having their research articles published online in the original Tamil.
If you are new to the Murukan Conference Yahoo Group (and there are more than forty new subscribers since the Conference adjourned), welcome! As a member of this moderated online discussion group, you may submit articles, opinions, news, etc. simply by replying to the Newsletter. When there is adequate material to justify a fresh publication, the editor Patrick Harrigan will compile, edit, and publish a concise new issue (like this one). In this way, your mailbox will never be flooded with group messages, as with some un-moderated Yahoo groups. At any time you may express your opinion freely to the editor, and unsubscribing is just as easy as subscribing. If you enjoy the Murukan Conference Newsletter, share it with others. If you have a problem (if your e-mail application does not recognise HTML-formatted text, etc.), ask the editorfor help.
II. Highlights of Murukan
In particular, the Malaysian Organising Committee and Śrī Subramaniar Swamy Temple Devasthanam, Batu Caves, deserve acclaim for tireless efforts put forth since 2001, staging the Third Murukan Conference successfully despite heavy expense (the nominal registration fee charged to delegates did not even begin to cover the organisers' actual costs per delegate), a SARS epidemic earlier this year that forced postponement of the Conference, and controversies that continue unabated even after the Conference adjourned on 5.11.2003.
Inevitably, comparisons with previous Murukan Conferences will be made, especially by those who have seen more than one Conference. Delegates were dazzled by Kuala Lumpur city and by Batu Caves in particular. But (as generally happens at large conferences) for some delegates the arrangements and/or organisation of the Conference fell short of expectations. Even local Malaysian delegates expressed mixed opinions, some complaining that "too many underprepared scholars spoke" and that much of the work was "propagandist and hagiographic, rather than carefully researched."
And yet, there were plenty of notable exceptions, of well-researched presentations that were well-received and appreciated, both in Tamil and in English. Most will be published online. Unlike at the First Murukan Conference where some foreign delegates were given as little as 10 minutes to make their presentations, this time every presentation was given 30 minutes or more, although this entailed sessions being spread over three venues (actually, three spacious caverns). And there was little of the sense of haste and confusion that had characterised earlier Murukan Conferences, although this time the organisation of the sessions had been left to just one or two people (including the editor) without a single volunteer present to support them, for three days.
Moreover, the Conference organisers succeeded in releasing a handsome souvenir publication and programme materials, and staging gala inauguration and valedictory functions. Vegetarian meals, comfortable (subsidized) hotel accommodations, and luxury bus services all ran smoothly (if sometimes late). Nightly cultural shows by performers from Bharata Kshetra Dance Centre and Kirubakaran's choir group, as well as Bharata Natyam artist Dr. Malati Agneswaran, songs on Lord Muruga by Kalaimamani Kovai Kamala and others kept delegates in a relaxed devotional mood throughout the Conference period. Inevitably, slips occurred in the complex (and short-handed) organisation that left some delegates feeling sore and disappointed, which the organisers (including the editor) acknowledge with regret.
It should not be forgotten that an important purpose of international conferences is for delegates to meet and mingle with one another, forming friendships and professional alliances that endure long after the conferences themselves. The Kuala Lumpur Conference, which will continue to bear fruit for years to come, was no exception.
For online versions of local Malaysian press coverage
of the Murukan Conference in English and Tamil, see The
and the Malaysia Nanban articles of
4.11.2003. More articles, photos, and opinion pieces about the Conference will
appear in the Murukan Conference Newsletter and on the Murugan.org web site in
the weeks and months to come. If you wish to publish your review, report, or
opinion about the Conference, submit it as a ‘reply' to this newsletter.
III. Murugan.org commences
publishing in Tamil
Now all that has changed. Around the world, Tamil scholars are becoming more adept at using personal computers and Internet to read, write, and exchange documents in Tamil script. The Murugan Bhakti Network of11 Kaumara websites is proud to inaugurate Tamil language publishing for Tamil scholars, devotees, and public alike, beginning with the main web site, www.Murugan.org, where most Murukan Conference papers appear. There is no charge for this service.
As of release of this Newsletter, the following articles are now available online (Tamil articles require Bamini font to display):
Murukan Conference participants and others who would like their Tamil language papers to be published online should send a soft copy as a Word document in Bamini family of fonts. Simply reply to this newsletter, or mail to the editor. Accompanying graphics (scanned photos, etc.) may also be sent as compressed .JPG files of 100 kb or less each. Note that Tamil papers will be published ‘as is', i.e. authors are responsible for submitting papers in finalized form.
IV. Conference-related articles newly published at www.Murugan.org
The Kuala Lumpur Conference concluded only ten days ago, yet already Conference articles in Tamil and English are already being published on the Murugan.org web site at a brisk rate. If you would like your research paper to be included on the Conference web site, send a soft copy tothe Editor. Photos and other graphics may also be submitted for inclusion in published articles. These should be sent as scanned .JPG files of 100 kb or less each. If you have any questions or doubts, reply to this newsletter to contact the Editor.
The Murukan Conference programme-schedule of paper presentations is now being published at: http://murugan.org/events/2003-program.htm.
As of the time of release of this Murukan Conference Newsletter, the following articles have been freshly published on the www.Murugan.org website since the Conference adjourned (Tamil articles require Bamini font to display):
V. Editorial: Whither the Murukan
For many participants, there was a sense of resignation, of helplessness in the face of the inevitable. For the faithful, however, there was implicit trust in the maxim "Ellam avar ceyal", that behind it all, Lord Murukan the Master Puppeteer was taking full advantage of peoples' individual weaknesses (vanity, pride, ambition, etc.) as part of His own unfathomable Game plan. For most, if not all participants, however, Lord Murukan's ‘plan' is a matter of faith rather than speculation, let alone knowledge (which, after all, is His alone).
More down to earth, at the ground level where conferences are planned and executed, there are other questions that present themselves to discerning observers, viz:
As an illustration of how vulnerable Kaumara studies are to distortion and misuse, the Malaysian press gave prominence to the irresponsible remarks of a few participants who, for the sake of gaining attention, declared that "no research is necessary for Kaumaram."
The result may be seen in the children of ex-patriates, and even in children in India, who have less and less use for Hindu values, and consider religion as a relic from the past. The message is clear: Hindus (read: Tamils) must come up to international standards of excellence in theological scholarship and knowledge, or face extinction at the hands of religious rivals.
In the heady days of its founding, the Murukan Conference Series presented itself as a rallying point around which Kaumara scholars could meet to exchange research findings and set standards so that, some day, Kaumara theology would command respect not only in the southernmost state of India, but across India and around the world. This could only happen by systematically encouraging higher expectations and higher standards for Kaumara researchers, educators, and theologians.
‘Reign of Quantity'
A few figures will illustrate the point. The First International Conference Seminar on Skanda-Murukan in 1998, which was conceived as a closed seminar for at most a few dozen dedicated professional scholars of Kaumaram. Instead, it was thrown open to the very people who recently declared in Malaysia that "no research is necessary for Kaumaram."
The First Conference attracted the participation of 135 scholars from 23 nations on six continents. Many came in the sincere belief that Kaumaram was on the verge of becoming a field of reputable scholars. Hundreds more attended crowded session as observers. The ‘Conference' looked and sounded more like a bazaar or mela than an assembly of scholars. As mentioned, delegates who had come from distant countries were shocked when told that they would be given only ten minutes to make their presentations. At one stroke, the ‘Reign of Quantity' had seized control of Kaumara studies.
Not surprisingly, the First Murukan Conference was the biggest Murukan Conference in terms of numbers. It also drove many serious scholars away from the Series. Despite bigger budgets, long campaigns, and loud proclamations about the numbers of delegates who will attend, Conferences have so far failed to attract top-notch scholars, who keep away from melas.
According to the organisers' own press release of 20.10.03, the Third Murukan Conference "expects to pull a crowd of 10,000 devotes" (sic). Even at that late date they declared, and the press dutifully reported, that "More than 200 delegates from over 20 countries and about 250 local delegates have registered with us to attend this spiritual and academic conference. A total of 96 papers will be presented by leading scholars who have international reputation."
The reality, of course, was quite different, as anyone who attended can testify. Instead of "over 20 countries", only eight were represented (Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Singapore, Australia, South Africa, and Germany in numerical order). Few registered Malaysian observers even bothered to attend. At the inaugural function for "10,000 devotes", the organisers put out only around 800 chairs—far more than were needed.
Why the inflated attendance figures? Why the need to quote large figures, at the expense of truth? If only two or three outstanding scholars or devotees had agreed to attend and address the Conference, that alone would provide ample justification for such an event. But when a conference gives the podium to a hundred or more speakers, naturally the standard drops as informed speakers are crowded out and lost in the din of bombastic harangues by under-qualified and under-prepared speakers. Even the vital minutes for questions and answers had to be cut to the barest minimum.
Fourth Murukan Conference
Behind the scenes, it transpires, Indian organisers for months had been desperately searching for a foreign country to host the 4th Murukan Conference. Any foreign country, that is, except Sri Lanka. First, in April 2003 they announced in Chennai at a fund-raising function that the 4th Conference would be hosted by South Africa. But the South Africans could not be easily persuaded, and declined. At the last minute, the tiny island-nation Seychelles with its small Tamil community was pressed to accept the task. They, too, declined citing the heavy expenditure required, and endorsed Śrī Lanka's bid instead.
What did the Indian organisers decide? To relent, accept the will of the international community, and honor their pledge to let Sri Lanka host the Conference? Instead, they maintained a wall of stoney silence, followed by an abrupt announcement that the Fourth Murukan Conference would be held in Pudukkottai.
Why in Pudukkottai? Is it a renowned centre for Kaumara scholarship? Or is it an ancient centre of Murukan devotion? Hardly. Rather, the organisers hope that, by holding the next conference in a small town away from urban centres like Chennai or Madurai that are home to large populations of educated Hindus, they can control the next conference proceedings to their full satisfaction.
This was despite the fact that the administration of Palani Dandayudhapani Swami Devasthanam had twice extended an invitation to host the next Murukan Conference that is held in India. Given a choice between Pudukkottai and Palani, most delegates by far would choose world-famous Palani Devasthanam with all its temples and conference facilities.
Is there is another, brighter, way to understand the course of events that has put the Murukan Conference Series on a descending path that is making the conferences more and more parochial and provincial, and less dedicated to the ideals that served as its original inspiration? If so, the Editor would like to hear from anyone who can enlighten him.
your opinion, write to the Editor by replying to this newsletter.
VI. Arupadaiveedu Multimedia
This multimedia CD-ROM is
meant for all personal computers with Windows operating systems. The video
contents in the CD are also compatible with most VCD / DVD players in the
market. The CD is in Tamil, but an English language edition will also be
released soon. The cost of CDROM is US $10/= (Including postal charges
- across the globe).
VII. Murukan Conference Newsletter: Features in coming issues
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