The language, cuisine and people: Modi’s message to TN

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI Photo

From wearing the traditional dhoti-shirt to tweeting in Tamil to spreading out the best of authentic Tamil cuisine for the visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping, Prime Minister Narendra Modi “professed” his love for one of the oldest languages in the world and for the state of Tamil Nadu.

Modi, who has a great sartorial taste, likes to wear traditional outfits of the respective states he visits and he did the same on Friday when he chose to appear in trademark Tamil style – white shirt, veshti, and mel thundu – while welcoming Xi to Mamallapuram, the ancient port city that shared civilizational links with China dating back to nearly 2,000 years.

Right from Friday morning, when he landed in Chennai to attend the second India-China informal summit, till the time he left the metropolis for capital New Delhi on Saturday, Modi tweeted about his meetings with Xi in Tamil, Mandarin, and English.

Modi has been quite vocal in praising Tamil of late by acknowledging it as the oldest language of the world and even quoting verses from some of the oldest literature in Tamil believed to have been written at least 3,000 years ago.

Though the summit is part of diplomacy, there is a subtle domestic political message in the visit by an international leader. The message is to the Tamil constituency that is still hostile to him and the BJP at large – by hosting Xi in Mamallapuram and making his love for Tamil known in the public, Modi believes such measures would bring him closer to the people in Tamil Nadu.

That Modi quoting Tamil verses in his speeches made at global forums is also an attempt to assuage the Tamil people who seem to be upset with repeated attempts to introduce Hindi into the curriculum.

“A special Thank You to my sisters and brothers of Tamil Nadu. As always, their warmth and hospitality were outstanding. It’s always a delight to be among the people of this dynamic state. I also thank the Government of TN for their efforts in organising the Summit in Mamallapuram,” Modi tweeted before he left for New Delhi.

And the Prime Minister was lavish in his praise for people of Tamil Nadu by saying their hospitality was the best. In his tweets in Tamil, Modi also dwelled at length the history of the monuments that he took Xi around on Friday evening and the rich cultural heritage Mamallapuram had enjoyed in the ancient times.

Mamallapuram was also chosen as the venue for the informal summit as the town, which was the important port city of the erstwhile Pallava regime, had shared cultural, trade and civilizational links with ancient China. Mamallapuram was an integral part of ancient China’s Silk Route.

The trading links between the Southern part of India particularly between Tamil Nadu under the Pallava and Chola dynasties and the Eastern coast of China particularly Fujian province also came up for discussion between Modi and Xi.

The leaders, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said, referred to the port city called Quanzhou in Fujian where recently Tamil inscriptions and fragments of architecture reflecting a possible temple build by Tamil traders in the 12th century have been discovered.

Also, a reference to Bodhi Dharma of the Pallava Kingdom, who is believed to have taken to Zen Buddhism to China, was made in the meetings, Gokhale said.

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