Erode Venkata Ramasamy was born on 17 September 1879 to a Kannada Balija merchant family in Erode, then a part of the Coimbatore district of the Madras Presidency. E.V. Ramasamy’s father is a,Venkatappa Nayakar (or Venkata), and his mother was Chinnathyee, Muthammal. He had one elder brother named Krishnaswamy and two sisters named Kannamma and Ponnuthoy. He later came to be known as “Periyar” meaning ‘respected one’ or ‘elder’ in the Tamil.
E.V. Ramasamy married when he was 19, and had a daughter who lived for only 5 months. His first wife, Nagammai, died in 1933. E.V. Ramasamy married for a second time in July 1948. His second wife, Maniammai, continued E.V. Ramasamy’s social work after his death in 1973, and his ideas then were advocated by Dravidar Kazhagam.
In 1929, E.V. Ramasamy announced the deletion of his caste title Naicker from his name at the First Provincial Self-Respect Conference of Chengalpattu. He could speak three Dravidian languages: Kannada, Telugu and Tamil. Periyar attended school for five years after which he 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. At a young age, he began questioning the apparent contradictions in the Hindu mythological stories. As Periyar grew, he felt that people used religion only as a mask to deceive innocent people and therefore took it as one of his duties in life to warn people against superstitions and priests.
E.V. Ramasamy’s father arranged for his wedding when he was nineteen. The bride, Nagammai, was only thirteen. Despite having an arranged marriage, Periyar and Nagammai were already in love with each other. Nagammai actively supported her husband in his later public activities and agitation. Two years after their marriage, a daughter was born to them. However, their daughter died when she was five months old. The couple had no more children.
Erode Venkatappa Ramasamy (17 September 1879 – 24 December 1973), commonly known as Periyar, also referred to as Thanthai Periyar, was an Indian social activist and politician who started the Self-Respect Movement and Dravidar Kazhagam. He is known as the ‘Father of the Dravidian Movement’. He did notable work against Brahminical dominance and gender and caste inequality in Tamil Nadu.
E.V. Ramasamy joined the Indian National Congress in 1919, but resigned in 1925 when he felt that the party was only serving the interests of Brahmins. He questioned the subjugation of non-Brahmin Dravidians as Brahmins enjoyed gifts and donations from non-Brahmins but opposed and discriminated against non-Brahmins in cultural and religious matters. In 1924, E.V. Ramasamy participated in non-violent agitation (satyagraha) in Vaikom, Kerala. From 1929 to 1932 Ramasamy made a tour of British Malaya, Europe, and Russia which influenced him. In 1939, E.V. Ramasamy became the head of the Justice Party, and in 1944, he changed its name to Dravidar Kazhagam. The party later split with one group led by C. N. Annadurai forming the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in 1949. While continuing the Self-Respect Movement, he advocated for an independent Dravida Nadu (land of the Dravidians). E.V. Ramasamy promoted the principles of rationalism, self-respect, women’s rights and eradication of caste. He opposed the exploitation and marginalisation of the non-Brahmin Dravidian people of South India and the imposition of what he considered Indo-Aryan India.