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The sound of Parai against racism unites Black Lives Matter protestors in Sydney

As protests across the globe continued in response to George Floyd's murder, a viral video of "Parai" drummer, Thirumeni Balamurugan, captured an act of solidarity as the sound of the Parai resonated among protestors in Sydney, Australia. 

The "Parai" instrument was played throughout a section of the demonstration on Saturday which drew crowds of protestors. A young woman protestor, followed by many others stepped in union with Balamurugan, expressing their solidarity through incredible perfomances of drumming and "Parai Attam" (dancing).

Protestors gathered in a circle clapping while many swayed captivated by the moment. Placards at the demonstration reading, “Justice for David Dungy", "No justice, no peace," and "Your silence is the oppressor's greatest ally" were paraded. 

Balamurugan, originally from Chennai, India is a member of the Australia Tamil Arts Group, that prides itself on being "passionate about engaging, educating and restoring Tamil culture". 

Origins and history

Parai is a traditional art form native to Tamils and an instrument that is considered to be the "mother of all percussion instruments".

The word "Parai" means "to speak" or "to tell" and the message urging justice for Black lives, resonated loudly and clearly at the demonstration through this iconic art form.

The "Parai" is regarded as a symbol of Tamil resilience and is seen commonly within crowds in India and North-East Sri Lanka to send bold messages of perserverance and solidarity. 

Despite being a symbolic Tamil "national" instrument, the Parai has a caste-aligned history. It has been regarded as a low-caste instrument played by lower-caste "Paraiyar" people and  it was not long ago that it had been exclusively played at funeral events and carried the label of "untouchabilty".

While the instrument is still seen as inferior in many areas, there have been groups such as Australia Tamil Arts Group and the Buddhar Kalai Kuzhu (operating in Tamil Nadu), that have been set up with the goal to dismantle these caste restraints and make it open to all eager individuals, slowly allowing the reconstruction of the "Paraiyars" identity to happen.  

Solidarity for the movement

This latest display of solidarity comes as Tamils across the world stand in alliance to the cause of the "Black Lives Matter" movement, police brutality and racism. 

As Balamurugan's drumming drew to a close, protestors stopped and clapped to show their appreciation. 

"We are all brothers and sisters," exclaimed one protestor. 

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