Golden armour of Muthuramalinga Thevar and why AIADMK leaders are fighting over it

On Sunday, 30 October, neither EPS nor OPS will handle Muthuramalinga Thevar's golden armour, but District Revenue Officers will.

ByShilpa Nair

Published Oct 29, 2022 | 9:45 PMUpdatedDec 31, 2022 | 6:22 PM

The golden armour, which weighs around 13 kg, was presented by late Chief Minister and AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa in 2014 as a tribute to Muthuramalinga Thevar.

When Muthuramalinga Thevar’s golden armour is used during Thevar Jayanti on Sunday, October 30, it won’t be leaders of the AIADMK who will be handling it — despite owning it.

For the second time since J Jayalalithaa’s death, the famous golden armour of Thevar icon Muthuramalinga Thevar will be handled by state government officials.

In a battle of wits, estranged AIADMK leaders O Panneerselvam (OPS) and Edappadi Palaniswami (EPS) had both staked claim to the armour and approached the courts.

The Madurai bench of the Madras High Court, on Wednesday, 26 October, directed that the armour be handled by the District Revenue Officers (DROs) of Madurai and Ramanathapuram.

While neither EPS nor OPS will handle the armour this time, the fight to claim it will continue — because, attached to the golden armour is the key to retain what is left of the Thevar community’s support to the AIADMK.

Who was Muthuramalinga Thevar?

Muthuramalinga Thevar was a freedom fighter and continues to be an icon of the socially dominant and politically influential Thevar community.


The statue of Muthuramalinga Thevar. (Creative Commons)

Sunday, 30 October, marks both the birth and death anniversaries of Muthuramalinga Thevar and is observed as Thevar Jayanti. The dominant OBC community with three sub-castes — namely, the Maravars, Kallars and Agamudiyars — is a key vote bank of the AIADMK.

Muthuramalinga Thevar rose to prominence in the pre-independence period after he led agitations against the colonial Criminal Tribes Act, which criminalised communities by designating them as habitual offenders.

He also worked actively in trade unions. After quitting the Congress, he joined the All India Forward Bloc. He was elected to Parliament thrice.

The Thevars, with a significant population in the central and southern districts of Tamil Nadu such as Pudukottai, Thanjavur, Tiruvarur, Madurai, Theni, Dindigul, Sivagangai, Tirunelveli, and Ramanathapuram, among others, have traditionally voted for the AIADMK.

Related: Will OPS’ ouster affect AIADMK’s Thevar vote bank?

The golden armour

The golden armour in question, which weighs around 13 kg, was presented by late Chief Minister and AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa as a tribute to Muthuramalinga Thevar, the patriarch of the community.

According to reports, in October 2010, when Jayalalithaa visited the Thevar memorial, the pontiff had requested her to gift a golden armour for the statue. The former Chief Minister readily agreed, and the armour was presented during her first pre-general election outing in February 2014.


Thevar Jayanthi celebrations in Madurai. (Creative Commons)

AIADMK founder, iconic film star and late chief minister MG Ramachandran (MGR) was seen as a leader who greatly respected the community.

His protege Jayalalithaa, when she became the party chief, further built on the trust the Thevars had in the AIADMK by undertaking several measures, including giving key posts to persons belonging to the community, both in the government and in the party.

Most importantly, her close confidante VK Sasikala was also a Thevar, which, according to political observers, has helped the AIADMK significantly in garnering support from the community.

The golden armour gifted by Jayalalithaa mostly remains in the Anna Nagar branch of the Bank of India in Madurai, and is taken out only on special occasions such as Thevar Jayanti, which is a grand affair in southern Tamil Nadu.

The usual practice, before the fallout between OPS and EPS, was that the AIADMK treasurer would take out the golden armour from the bank ahead of Thevar Jayanti and hand it over to the Pooja Committee, tasked with conducting the Guru Pooja, to adorn it on the Thevar statue located in his native village of Pasumpon in Ramanathapuram district.

Once the celebrations are over, it is given back to the treasurer, who then deposits it in the bank once again.

Armour’s symbolism

In a sense, whoever handles the golden armour will come off as enjoying the support of the politically influential community. As someone who hails from the Thevar community, OPS, who is on a downward slide, is fighting to establish his purported hold over the community, and is now trying building bridges with VK Sasikala, her nephew TTV Dinakaran.

At the helm of party affairs now, EPS, a Gounder, too, is fighting to retain control of the armour to prevent the party’s support base within the community from eroding.

This is the second time since the death of J Jayalalithaa that the AIADMK has not been able to get the custody of the armour. In 2017, the armour was handed over to the Ramanathapuram collector following the leadership tussle between EPS-OPS and TTV Dhinakaran factions.

Legal battle for the armour

This year, amid the legal tussle over the AIADMK leadership between EPS and OPS, Dindigul Sreenivasan, the newly appointed treasurer of AIADMK, moved the Madras High Court seeking permission to operate the bank account and take custody of the armour.

OPS on the left with EPS

The ongoing leadership tussle between EPS and OPS peaked during the General Council meeting in July, where EPS expelled OPS from the AIADMK’s primary membership and assumed charge as interim general secretary. (Supplied)

Immediately, OPS, who held the post of AIADMK treasurer before he was expelled from the party, also filed an impleading petition.

During the hearing of the case, both factions tried to convince the trustees of the Thevar memorial to recognise them as the rightful authority to manage the golden armour. However, the trustees left it to the wisdom of the court.

Hearing both the pleas, and in order to prevent any law-and-order issues, Justice V Bhavani Subbarayan ordered the Madurai DRO and caretaker of the Thevar memorial to collect the golden armour from the bank and hand it over to the Ramanathapuram DRO for the celebrations from October 28-30.

Accordingly, Madurai DRO R Shaktivel and Gandhi Meenal, caretaker of the Thevar memorial, received the armour from the bank on Wednesday evening under heavy police protection, and handed it over to the Ramanathapuram DRO.

EPS to miss Thevar Jayanti

Meanwhile, for the second consecutive year, EPS would not take part in the Thevar Jayanti celebrations in Pasumpon and, instead, will pay floral tributes to the statue of Muthuramalinga Thevar located in Nandanam, Chennai.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, senior leader D Jayakumar said that there was no need to attribute motives to EPS for skipping the celebrations at Pasumpon, and stated that the party will pay respects to Muthuramalinga Thevar, irrespective of whether it’s done in Ramanathapuram or Chennai.

In the previous years, after their factions merged, EPS and OPS attended the celebrations together at Pasumpon. Jayakumar also submitted a representation to the Chennai police commissioner on Wednesday, seeking adequate security measures for the Thevar Jayanti celebrations in the capital city on Sunday.

For the AIADMK, it is extremely important to retain the Thevar vote bank, which is now facing a serious threat of division with EPS, a leader from the Gounder community, expelling Sasikala, Dinakaran and OPS from the party. All three of them belong to the Thevar community.

One of the reasons why EPS appointed RB Udayakumar as the deputy opposition leader and Dindigul Sreenivasan as AIADMK treasurer was to balance the caste equations of the party as the two leaders are from the Thevar community. These were posts held by OPS before he was expelled from the party.

Political observers point out that one of the reasons why EPS is avoiding going to Pasumpon is because he does not want to get involved in a discussion with members of the Thevar community on the topic of a merger between all factions.

EPS has been been very firm on his stand that he does not want Sasikala, Dhinakaran or OPS back in the AIADMK.