Periyar was born as Erode Venkata Naicker Ramaswamy in Erode in Madras Presidency. He was from a prominent Kannada-speaking Balija Naicker caste, a community that descended from the Nayak chiefs of the Vijayanagar Empire having Telugu ancestry. Hence he is called E. V. Ramaswami Naicker. “Periyar” means ‘respected one’ or an ‘elder’ in Tamil.Hence he is sometimes called Periyar E. V. Ramaswami Naicker. “Ramaswami” was his given name and “Periyar” means ‘respected one’ or an ‘elder’ in Tamil.A University was named after him by the Tamil Nadu Government.Periyar could speak three Dravidian languages: Kannada, Tamil and Telugu. Though Kannada was his mother tongue, he mostly used Tamil.
EVR was an atheist, noted for his antitheistic statement, “He who created god was a fool, he who spreads his name is a scoundrel, and he who worships him is a barbarian.” He said “Bane of tamilans is brahmins, muslims and christians consider themselves to be tamilians.
Periyar identified the women to reserve a cook at home, a maid in the house, a nurse during sickness, a breeding farm of a family, a decorated doll in bed and what not. In every aspect she was nothing but slave for man. The sad state of women was what Periyar decried. As the Courageous fighter for the cause of exploited weaker sections of society no wonder he took up the uplift of suffering women. Periyar emphasized women’s education. He had no private life. His self sacrifice was unparalleled. He saved every paisa and his entire property was given to the Public.
Periyar was the son of a merchant Venkata, who was a devout Hindu of the Vaishnavite school of thought. His mother was Chinna Thayammal alais Muthammal; he had one elder brother named Krishnaswamy and two sisters named Kannamma and Ponnuthoy. Periyar studied for 5 years and joined his father’s trade at the age of 12. He used to listen to Tamil Vaishnavite gurus who gave discourses in his house enjoying his father’s hospitality. Periyar was married to Nagammal a girl of just 13 in 1898. He became the father of a female child which soon died and he had no more children. After being reprimanded by his father, Periyar left his house for Kasi
Pilgrimage to Kashi
He went on a pilgrimage to Varanasi (Kashi) to worship in the famous Siva temple Kashi Vishwanath in 1904. He wanted to enter a free-lunch place but finding that it was meant only for Brahmins he disguised himself as a one. But it was discovered that he was not a Brahmin and he was removed from the place.Later he learnt that the Free-lunch place was built with the donation of a Dravidian merchant.He saw the discrimination against non-brahmins. He had pictured Kasi as a place where all Hindus would be treated equally. This humiliation was the turning point in Periyar’s life and it inflamed intense hatred towards the caste system. Ramaswamy was a believer till his visit in Kashi, after which his views changed and he became an rationalist. On returning to Erode – his father delegated all his trade rights to this second son and renamed his major commercial concern under the title: “E.V. Ramasamy Mandi”.
Ramasami as a Freedom Fighter and Congress Party member 1919 – 1925
Periyar Ramaswamy joined the Indian National Congress in 1919 after quiting his business and resigning public posts including the chairmanship of Erode Municipality he held and wholeheartedly undertook the constructive programme – spreading the use of Khadi, picketing toddy shops, boycotting the shops selling foreign cloth and eradication of untouchability. He courted imprisonment for picketing toddy shops in Erode in 1921. When his wife as well as his sister joined the agitation, it gained momentum, and the administration was forced to come to a compromise.He was arrested during the Non-Cooperation movement and the Temperance Movement and was jailed. He was elected the President of the Madras Presidency (Tamil Nadu) Congress Committee in the 1922 Tirupur session and after his attempts for supporting reservation in government jobs and education was defeated in the Congress party .He quit the party in 1925.
Vaikom struggle – 1924-1925
Periyar Ramaswamy was involved in securing rights to entry into temples and access to temple roads for people of all castes in Vaikom in Kerala, which was part of the princely state of Travancore during 1924. Periyar was the President of the Madras Presidency (Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh) Congress Committee at that time led the agitation after many other leaders had been arrested. Periyar agreed and came to Vaikom in April 1924 and he was arrested but he was unrelenting and refused to leave to Vaikom and the satyagraha gained strength and Mahatma Gandhi, on an invitation from Rajaji, went to Vaikom and began talks with the Queen of Travancore where it was agreed that the police pickets would be removed and that the State police would do nothing to prevent the lower castes using the roads. Periyar refused to participate in the negotiations but he had to agree, reluctantly, to Gandhi’s idea that the demand for all Hindus entering the temple be put off at least for the time being He played a role along with other great statesmen and national leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, C. Rajagopalachari, and Acharya Vinoba Bhave. Madras Presidency(Tamil Nadu) Congress passed a resolution umanimously praising Periyar’s significant contribution to the Vaikom Satyagarha and hailing him as Vaikom Veerar(Vaikom Hero) in 1925 in the Kanchipuram Session .
Self-Respect Movement: 1925-39
Periyar and his followers campaigned constantly to influence and pressurise the government to take measures to remove social inequality even while other nationalist leaders focussed on the struggle for political independence.
On 27 June 1970, the UNESCO conferred on Periyar the title of “the prophet of New Age, Socrates of South East Asia, Father of the social Reform Movement, and Arch enemy of ignorance, superstitions, meaningless customs and base manners”. The award was presented by the Union Education Minister of Education, Dr. Triguna Sen under the presidentship of Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi.