Tamil - A Living Classical Language
Statement on the Status of Tamil as a Living Classical Language
Let me state unequivocally that, by any criteria one may choose, Tamil is one of the great classical literatures and traditions of the world.
The reasons for this are many; let me consider them one by one.
First, Tamil is of considerable antiquity. It predates the literatures of other modern Indian languages by more than a thousand years. Its oldest work, the Tolkappiyam,, contains parts that, judging from the earliest Tamil inscriptions, date back to about 200 BCE. The greatest works of ancient Tamil, the Sangam anthologies and the Pattuppattu, date to the first two centuries of the current era. They are the first great secular body of poetry written in India, predating Kalidasa's works by two hundred years.
Second, Tamil constitutes the only literary tradition indigenous to India that is not derived from Sanskrit. Indeed, its literature arose before the influence of Sanskrit in the South became strong and so is qualitatively different from anything we have in Sanskrit or other Indian languages. It has its own poetic theory, its own grammatical tradition, its own esthetics, and, above all, a large body of literature that is quite unique. It shows a sort of Indian sensibility that is quite different from anything in Sanskrit or other Indian languages, and it contains its own extremely rich and vast intellectual tradition.
Third, the quality of classical Tamil literature is such that it is fit to stand beside the great literatures of Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Chinese, Persian and Arabic. The subtlety and profundity of its works, their varied scope (Tamil is the only premodern Indian literature to treat the subaltern extensively), and their universality qualify Tamil to stand as one of the great classical traditions and literatures of the world. Everyone knows the Tirukkural, one of the world's greatest works on ethics; but this is merely one of a myriad of major and extremely varied works that comprise the Tamil classical tradition. There is not a facet of human existence that is not explored and illuminated by this great literature.
Finally, Tamil is one of the primary independent sources of modern Indian culture and tradition. I have written extensively on the influence of a Southern tradition on the Sanskrit poetic tradition. But equally important, the great sacred works of Tamil Hinduism, beginning with the Sangam Anthologies, have undergirded the development of modern Hinduism. Their ideas were taken into the Bhagavata Purana and other texts (in Telugu and Kannada as well as Sanskrit), whence they spread all over India. Tamil has its own works that are considered to be as sacred as the Vedas and that are recited alongside Vedic mantras in the great Vaisnava temples of South India (such as Tirupati). And just as Sanskrit is the source of the modern Indo-Aryan languages, classical Tamil is the source language of modern Tamil and Malayalam. As Sanskrit is the most conservative and least changed of the Indo-Aryan languages, Tamil is the most conservative of the Dravidian languages, the touchstone that linguists must consult to understand the nature and development of Dravidian.
In trying to discern why Tamil has not been recognized as a classical language, I can see only a political reason: there is a fear that if Tamil is selected as a classical language, other Indian languages may claim similar status. This is an unnecessary worry. I am well aware of the richness of the modern Indian languages -- I know that they are among the most fecund and productive languages on earth, each having begotten a modern (and often medieval) literature that can stand with any of the major literatures of the world. Yet none of them is a classical language. Like English and the other modern languages of Europe (with the exception of Greek), they rose on preexisting traditions rather late and developed in the second millennium. The fact that Greek is universally recognized as a classical language in Europe does not lead the French or the English to claim classical status for their languages.
To qualify as a classical tradition, a language must fit several criteria: it should be ancient, it should be an independent tradition that arose mostly on its own not as an offshoot of another tradition, and it must have a large and extremely rich body of ancient literature. Unlike the other modern languages of India, Tamil meets each of these requirements. It is extremely old (as old as Latin and older than Arabic); it arose as an entirely independent tradition, with almost no influence from Sanskrit or other languages; and its ancient literature is indescribably vast and rich.
It seems strange to me that I should have to write an essay such as this claiming that Tamil is a classical literature -- it is akin to claiming that India is a great country or Hinduism is one of the world's great religions. The status of Tamil as one of the great classical languages of the world is something that is patently obvious to anyone who knows the subject. To deny that Tamil is a classical language is to deny a vital and central part of the greatness and richness of Indian culture.
In the historical past Proto-Dravidian was spoken throughout India. When the Turanians
and the Aryans came to India through the Khyber and the Bolan Passes respectively,
and mingled with the local population of the North, the North Indian languages of
Proto-Dravidian origin changed to a great extent. As a consequence Praakrit and
Paali emerged as the languages of the masses in the northern part of India. Despite
the commingling of local and foreign ethnic elements, a section of Proto-Dravidians
maintained their ethnic and cultural identity in some isolated areas, spoke corrupt
forms of Proto-Dravidian languages and these have survived, to this day, as living
examples of ancient Dravidian languages. Languages such as Kolami, Parji, Naiki, Gondi,
Ku, Kuvi, Konda, Malta, Oroan, Gadba, Khurukh, and Brahui are examples of Dravidian
languages prevalent in the North. Today Proto-Dravidian speakers are increasingly
mingling with other linguistic groups and learning their languages. Therefore, their
numerical strength is on the decline. People living in the Rajmahal mountains in
Bengal and in the areas adjacent to Chota Nagpur are good examples of the intermingling.
A section of people living in Baluchistan speak Brahui, which has many linguistic
features similar to the Dravidian languages spoken in South India. Scholars are
surprised today to note many linguistic similarities between Tamil and Brahui,
especially in numerals, personal pronouns, syntax and in other linguistic
features. The Indian Census report of 1911 classified Brahui as a language
belonging to the Dravidian family. It was then spoken by about 170, 000 people,
although this number over the years dwindled to a couple of thousands. Whatever
be their numerical strength now, they are proof of the fact that the Dravidians
in some age of the historical past were spread in the region between Baluchistan
and Bengal and spoke the Proto-Dravidian idiom.
North Indian Languages
Since the Dravidians lived throughout the Indian subcontinent at some historical past,
certain syntactical affinities are noticeable even today between the South and a
large number of North Indian languages.
When Praakrit and Paali became popular in the North, the Proto-Dravidian language
lost its ground there, and confined itself entirely to the South. Even in South
India it did not remain as one single language for a long time. Dialectical
differences arose partly due to the political division of the Tamil country into
three distinct Tamil kingdoms and partly due to the natural barriers created by
rivers and mountains. The absence of proper land communication among the three
Tamil kingdoms also accentuated this process of dialectal differences. As a result
the Dravidian language spoken by the people. who lived in the regions north and
south of the Tirupati mountains, varied to such an extent as to become two
independent languages, Tamil and Telugu. The language spoken in the region of
Mysore came to be known as Kannada. Malayalam emerged as yet another distinct
language in Kerala. All these far-reaching changes occurred at different periods
of time in the history of the Dravidian languages. Among these four languages,
it is only the Tamil language which has a long literary tradition.
The term Dravidian, which refers to the language of South India, is of a later
origin. Originally it was derived from the word tamil /tamiz> . This word in course of
time changed into dravida after undergoing a series of changes like tamiza,
tramiza, tramiTa, trapida and travida. At one time the
languages spoken in the regions of Karnataka, Kongu and Malabar were respectively
known as Karunaattut-tamil, Tulunattut-tamil and Malainattut-tamil.
Today however, these regional languages are classified under the blanket term
"Dravidian family of languages".
South Indian Languages
Many common linguistic features are still discernible among these Dravidian languages.
Some five thousand words are common to these languages. Many grammatical forms are
common. The overwhelming influence of Sanskrit scholars and the indiscriminate
borrowing of Sanskrit words resulted in the emergence of Kannada and Telugu as
distinct languages from Tamil some fifteen hundred years ago. The influence of
Sanskrit on Malayalam language came to be felt only about eight centuries ago,
and therefore, the areas of difference between Tamil and Malayalam are not many.
Tamil was the language of bureaucracy, of literati and of culture for several
centuries in Kerala. In fact, fifteen centuries ago the rulers of Kerala were all
Tamils. Up to the tenth century the Pandya kings ruled Kerala with royal titles
such as 'Perumaankal and 'Perumaankanar'. It was a Tamil poet from Trivandrum who
in fact presided over the academy of Tamil scholars, when they met to evaluate the
famous Tamil grammatical work Tolkappiyam. From the third century 13.C. to the first
century A.D., many poets from Kerala composed poems in Tamil and their compositions
are included in Tamil anthologies such as Akananaru and Purananaru.
All the one hundred poems in the anthology PatiRRuppattuextol the greatness of
the kings of the Kerala region. The author of the famous Tamil epic Cilappatikaram
was a poet from Kerala. The shrine in honor of KaNNaki, the heroine of Cilappatikaram,
was built at Tiruvancikkulam in Kerala. Among the Saiva and Vaisnava composers,
CEramAn PerumAl Nayanaar and KulacEkara Alvaar respectively, belong to the
Kerala region. AiyanEritanaar, the author of the tenth century grammatical work
PuRapporul VeNpaamaalai, hailed from Kerala. Many scholars and pundits from Kerala
contributed much to the Tamil language and literature and the historical evidence
shows that the region now known as the State of Kerala was once an integral
part of Tamil Nadu at some period of time. Because of these reasons there is
greater affinity between Tamil and Malayalam than between Tamil and Kannada or
Contact with Foreign Countries
Tamil occupies a distinctive position among the Dravidian languages owing to its
geographical expansion, for it has spread beyond the frontiers of India. Apart
from being the language of forty million people in Tamil Nadu it is the spoken
and written language of several millions of Tamils living in Ceylon, Burma, Singapore,
Malaysia, Indonesia, South Africa, Fiji Islands and Mauritius.
That the Tamils were well advanced in sea-borne and inland trade is evident both
from Tamil literary sources as also from the accounts of foreign travellers.*
Even as early as the tenth century B.C., articles of trade such as peacock feathers,
elephant tusks and spices intended for King Solomon were sent in ships belonging to
the Tamil country. Some words in Hebrew, Greek and English point to the existence of
trade between Tamil Nadu and the countries around the Mediterranean region. Classical
Hebrew terms like tuki and ahalat are close to the Tamil words tokai and akil
respectively. Although English words like 'sandalwood' and 'rice' are borrowed
from the Greek language, their origin is in fact Tamil. Likewise the Greek words for
ginger and pepper also owe their origin to Tamil. Sea-borne trade flourished between
the Tamil country and the Roman Empire during the period of Emperor Augustus.
This fact is borne out by numerous coins issued during his reign, which were
unearthed by archaeologists in the Tamil country. Iron age finds in Philippines
also point to the existence of trade between Tamil Nadu and the Philippine Islands
during the ninth and tenth centuries B.C. This apart, Tamil traders frequented the
shores of Burma, Malaya and China with their wares and bartered them for Chinese
silk and sugar. The Tamil word ciini for sugar indicates its origin. In Tamil
classical works, Chinese silk is referred to as ciinattupattu.
* For an interesting account of the ancient Tamils refer, P.T. Srinivasa Iyengar,
History of the Tamil from the Earliest Times to 600 A.D., Madras, 1929, pp. 36-43.;
and A.L. Basham, The Wonder that was India, London, 1954, p. 62.
Foreigners who toured India gave an account of the flourishing trade between the Tamil
regions of India and other countries. Periplus and Pliny mention that since articles
from Tamil Nadu such as pearls, elephant tusks and muslin were bartered for gold,
and that the trade balance was more in favour of the Tamils, the Emperor Vespasian
viewed especially the drain of gold as a serious threat to his country's economy
and took the extreme step of terminating the two-way trade between Rome and the
Tamil country. References to the ports of trade in the Tamil country such as ToNTi,
MuciRi, KoRkai and Kaavirippumpattinam are also found in the writings of Periplus.
Ptolemy writing in A.D. 150 speaks about Ceraas, Cholaas and Paandyas as the rulers
of Tamil Nadu. He also mentions the important trading centres like Karur, NagappaTTinam
and Pondicherry in his travel notes. Ali these references to the trading activities
of the Tamils in foreign writings correlate to those found in the early Tamil classics.
The business acumen of the Tamils is shown in the special terms used by them to refer
even to the minutest fractions in calculation. To cite some examples, the term immi
referred to the fraction of 1/320 x 1/7. And one-seventh of this fraction was termed
as anu. One-eleventh of an anu was known as mummi and one
ninth of a mummi was termed kuNam.
The renowned Sanskrit epics the Raamayanaa and the Mahaabhaarata also speak about the
Tamil country and in particular the importance of Madurai as the capital of the
Paandyaa kings. Megasthenes, who came to India during the period of Chandragupta
Maurya, refers to the Paandya country and its polity. The edicts of the famous Indian
Emperor Asoka also mention that during his rule the Tamil kings in the far south
of India enjoyed political independence.
Antiquity of Tamil Grammatical Works
Among the ancient grammatical works available, the Tolkappiyam was the earliest and
it was written around the third century B.C. There are over two hundred and fifty
references in Tolkaappiyam which, provide substantial evidence of the existence
of many classical and grammatical works in Tamil prior to Tolkaappiyam itself.
It classifies Tamil words into four categories, iyarcol, tiricol, ticaiccol, and
vatacol. Iyarcol refers to the words in common use, while tiricol refers to the
words used specifically in poetry. Regional words are known as ticaiccol. Words
borrowed from Sanskrit are called vatacol. Certain specific rules were stipulated
in borrowing words from Sanskrit. The borrowed words were to strictly conform to
the Tamil phonetic system and to be written in the Tamil script. All these indicate
the sound grammatical basis on which the Tamil language has evolved over the years.
Besides, Tolkaappiyam also classifies the Tamil language into centamil and
kotuntamil. The former refers to the classical Tamil used exclusively by literati in their works
and the latter refers to the colloquial Tamil, spoken by the people. This shows that
even in those distant days differences had grown to such an extent as
to enable the Tamil grammarians to classify the language into written and spoken.
The earlier Tamil inscriptions were written in braahmi, grantha and vaTTezuttu scripts.*
Inscriptions after the seventh century A.D. contain Tamil characters similar to the
one now in vogue. This prompted some scholars to argue that vatteluttu and Tamil
scripts originated from braahmi scripts. This view has no solid base, for one can
see a copious description of Tamil scripts in Tolkaappiyam, which belongs to third
century B.C. It is obvious therefore, that Tamil language had a distinct script of
its own even at that early period. In fact vaTTezuttu is none other than the old
Tamil script. Even the southern braahmi was a corrupt form of vaTTezuttu . Distinct
differences exist between the southern and the northern braahmi script, for the
southern one had its genesis in vaTTezuttu . Much before brahmi scripts could
become popular the Tamils possessed a script of their own which they put to use
in their commercial transactions and in their writings.
* According to Professor M. Varadarajan, vaTTezuttu was nothing but the scripts
inscribed on stones. They had been known as veTTezuttu or letters inscribed on stones.
But in course of time and by usage it was transformed into vaTTezuttu . For an in-depth
study of Tamil scripts refer, M. Varadarajan. Moli Varalaaru (The History of Tamil
Language), Madras, 1954, pp. 425~37. The view of a historian on the same subject
is as follows: "What the vaTTezuttu is and how it came into being and how it was
practiced we cannot say definitely. But we can say almost with some definiteness
that it represents a very ancient cursive alphabet, perhaps the primitive South
Indian alphabet which existed long, long before the inscriptions of Asoka."
V.R.R. Dikshitar, Pre-Historic South India, Madras, 1951, p. 218. Yet for another
view of the origins of Tamil scripts refer, John R. Marr, "The Early Dravidians"
in A.L. Basham (ed.), A Cultural History of India, London. 1975, pp. 32-34.
The Tamii characters which are in use today also can be deemed to have originated from
vatteluttu. There are twelve vowels in Tamil consisting of five short vowels,
a, i, u, e, and o («, –, ¯, ±, ´); their corresponding five long vowels, aa, ii, uu,
ee and oo (¬, ®, °, 2, µ) and two letters ai and au (3, ´Ç) for the prevention of
hiatus. There are eighteen consonants made up of six surds k. c, T, t, p, and R
(ì, î, ð, ò, ô, ü) and their corresponding six sonants g, j, N, n, m, n2 (í, ï, ñ, ó, õ, ý)
and six medials y, r, l, v, z and L ( ö, ÷, ø, ù, ú, û) . The two short vowels e and o
(±, ´) which are not in Devanagari are essential to Tamil and other languages of
the Dravidian family. There is a world of difference in meaning between the words
eTu and ETu (±Î, 2Î); koTu and kOTu (|¸¡Î, §¸¡Î), teL and tEL (|*û, §*û );
as well as koL and kOl (|¸¡û, §¸¡ø). It is therefore, needless to emphasise the importance
of short and long vowels like e and ee/E (±, 2); as well as o and O (´, µ ) in
Tamil. There are no aspirated consonants like gha or cha in Tamil. Likewise the letter
h ( Ý ) is also absent in Tamil. But a corresponding leter k (· ), known as aytam
is used to soften the surds in Tamil. The trilled consonant R (ü) is quite different
from r (÷).The consonant n (ý ) has a nasal sound and it is different from other
dentals. The consonant l ( ø ) is equally essential like that of the consonant L ( û ).
These two different l's exist both in Telugu and in Kannada. The consonant z (ú)
is found only in Tamil and Malayalam. It had existed in old Kannada but not now.
The two vowels ru ( Õ ) and lu ( Ö), which are there in Devanagari, are not
there in Tarr.ih The short-nature u (¯) and i ( – ) sounds are in Tamil, but
there are no letters to indicate them.
If the letters ka, ca, Ta, ta, pa (¸, º, *, *, À) appear at the beginning of a word,
after hard vowel consonants. and after doubling they will be pronounced like surds.
In other places they will be pronounced like sonants. Although there are no distinct
letters for surds and sonants in Tamil, the vowel consonants themselves are pronounced
like surds and sonants depending on the place in which they appear. Therefore the one
Tamil consonant ka (k) is pronounced like gha depending upon its placement in a word.
Likewise other hard vowel consonants ta (* ), ca (º), Ta (*) and pa (À)
are pronounced differently like ( dha, cha, tha, bha) respectively according to the place
where they appear in a word. There are no sibilants like sa, sha, Sa in Tamil.
There are distinct letters in Tamil to indicate numerals and fractions. There are
evidences to show that the present roman numerals 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 originated
Classification and Formation of Words
There are four kinds of words in Tamil. Among them the root words or uriccol which
were used in ancient poems are not popular now. If we exclude them then there exist
only three types of words namely nouns, verbs and itaiccol or particles. The nouns
indicate animate and inanimate categories of things, gender, number and person.
tiNai is classified into uyartiNai (nouns denoting personal class of beings, including
men, gods and demons) and akRiNai (inferior class of beings whether animate, inanimate,
or neuter). Higher categories of animate beings like human beings fall under uyortiNai.
Others, both animate and inanimate come under the category of akriNai. There are three
genders in uyartiNai: masculine, feminine and neuter. Palar paal or neuter plural gender
indicates many in number. Masculine and feminine genders in Tamil indicate only
singular number. AkRiNai is classified into onRan paal (singular of the impersonal class)
and palvin pal (plural of the impersonal class).
Again, number is classified into one and many. Unlike Sanskrit there is no dual number
in Tamil. There are three 'persons' in Tamil, namely, first person, second person and third
person. Case inflexions are many in Tamil and their indicators form as suffixes in words.
Distinction between animate and inanimate things, and masculine and feminine genders
are usually made according to the meaning of words.
Verbs are classified into finite and infinite verbs. Most of the finite verbs are formed
with suffixes which indicates this animate or inanimate quality, as also gender. The gender
is not distinguished both in abstract nouns and in relative participles. Both verbs and
nouns are formed from verbal roots. But very few verbs are formed from noun roots.
Particles have no meaning of their own but acquire meaning when added to other words
and help to differentiate their meanings too. Even meaningless words are regarded as particles.
Most of the words in Tamil are agglutinative in character, i.e. case indicators, time and
gender markers are affixed to root words. As a result, the formation of words become clear.
Even the words in the classical literature are agglutinative in character. There is no distinction
between the roots that were. used in ancient classics and those which are now in vogue.
The root word which was used to mean 'food' in ancient classics was una. The one used
in medieval period was either uN or uNTi. Whereas the modern word for
food is uNavu. In all these words whether ancient, mediaeval or modern, the root word un is clear.
Only the suffixes differ. Therefore, the Tamil of ancient poetry too begins to seem
familiar after a while if one reads the ancient classical poetry for a time. This is the
reason why the Tamils of this century find little difficulty in understanding the
Cankam classics. It also accounts for the continuity that exists in Tamil literary growth.
One finds it used in the poems of the hymnodists and Kampan, composed in the
seventh century and the twelfth century respectively.
There is little difference in syntax between ancient and modern Tamil. Although over
a period of time word forms have changed the formation of syntax remains intact in
all the Dravidian languages. In this respect there exist similarity between the languages
of the South and the North, though they fall under a different category known as
Indo-European languages. The fact that syntax changes very little, while other aspects
of a language do, is brought out in the similarity one finds in the formation of syntax
between the Dravidian languages of the South and the languages of the North of India.
This explains why syntactical differences exist between the languages of North India
on the one hand and Sanskrit, Greek and Latin on the other; and why there exists
similarity between north and south Indian languages. This unity in syntactical formation
becomes obvious if one analyses all the four major Dravidian languages of South India.
If one analyses the continuos growth of Tamil language the perceivable truth is that
there is little change in the formation of syntax both in the classical Tamil and the
Tamil used in modern short stories.
Among the spoken languages of India, Tamil achieved perfection even during the
pre-historic period. Literary growth in Tamil took place at the same time when there was
similar growth in Sanskrit. Literary works came to be written only at a later period in
all other Indian languages. Therefore there was considerable antiquity for Tamil language
and literature. Besides, the ancient classical Tamil literature originated and blossomed
from the folk song and poetry of the Tamil country. The forms of such poetry were
also not borrowed from any other language, but were culled from the folk poetry and
songs that was in vogue among the people of Tamil Nadu. The existence of such
combination of antiquity and individuality in Tamil literature, was forgotten by
later day Sanskrit scholars. As such they not merely denied the greatness due to
the Tamil language but began to look upon it on the assumption that it borrowed
immensely from Sanskrit from its very inception. Therefore, Sanskritists indulged
in unwanted polemics by arguing that Tamil had no intrinsic merit of its own because
it borrowed heavily from Sanskrit. To establish this assumption, Caminata Desikar,
a Sanskrit scholar and author of a grammatical work entitled ilakkaNakkottu compared
the alphabets of Sanskrit and Tamil and found that all, expect five alphabets, the
two short vowels e (±) and o (´) and three consonants Ra, na and za (È, É, Æ )
are common to both the languages. Therefore he argued that all the characters common
to the two languages essentially belonged to Sanskrit and the five rare symbols which
are absent in Sanskrit belonged specifically to Tamil. Based on his findings he
wrote an unusual verse in which he posed insolently a question whether Tamil with
only five letters of its own could ever be called a language.
Intelligent persons will be ashamed
To call it a language
That possesses only five letters.*
* Arumuka Navalar (ed.), llakkanakkottu (Madras). p. 9, lines 27-28.
This scurrilous verse only indicates the irrational attitude of the Sanskrit scholars of
the seventeenth century.
Such unreasonable attitude became obvious in analysing the origin of words that were
common to Sanskrit and Tamil. Basic words like niir (water) and miin (fish) which
had been in use from time immemorial in Tamil language was interpreted by Sanskrit
scholars as having originated from Sanskrit roots. They refused to consider the possibility
that Sanskrit would have borrowed these common words from Tamil, the most ancient
language of the region, and even propagated that most of the words in Tamil had been
borrowed from Sanskrit. The Tamil scholars were perplexed by such unfounded claims.
However with the arrival of linguists like Caldwell from Europe, and with the
publication of books in English refuting the claims of Sanskritists, Tamil scholars
gained confidence in the intrinsic value of Tamil language. Despite this, the biased
views held by Sanskritists held sway ir the world of letters even up to this century
until linguists in England like Burrow falsified these erroneous claims by their researches.
This controversy persisted even in analysing the names of places in the Tamil region.
After translating certain names of places from Tamil to Sanskrit, the Sanskrit scholars
argued that they were borrowed from Sanskrit. One classic example was Vriddhachalam
which is a literal translation of the Tamil place called MutukunRam. Likewise, several
names of deities were translated into Sanskrit. The devotional hymns of the Nayanmars
in fact mentioned these names in their pure Tamil form. Instances are not wanting that
while translating names of places from Tamil into Sanskrit, the Sanskrit scholars failed
to comprehend the real meaning of the criginal Tamil words and translated them erroneously.
Without knowing the actuai meaning of the name of a town ArkkaTu (Arcot), the Sanskrit
scholars translated it Sataranyam, which literally means six forests, whereas the Tamil
word arkkaTu literally means a forest of fig trees. To perpetuate these Sanskritised names,
they wrote stories as well. Despite their efforts Sanskritised names failed to gain currency
among the people. The Sanskrit scholars, for example, tried to Sanskritise the name of
the river Paalaaru as Ksra Nati. It could not be perpetuated. Thus the Sanskrit scholars
unnecessarily sowed the seeds of dissension in the Tamii country.
Tanit-Tamil Iyakkam (Pure Tamil Movement)
Sanskrit scholars attempted to Sanskritise Tamil several centuries ago by the liberal use
of Sanskrit words. They argued that such a liberal mixture enhanced the beauty of the
Tamil language and compared the hybrid language to an ornament made out of equal
number of pearls and corals. They called the hybrid style as manippravala style and
attempted to popularize it in the country. Some of the Jain and Vaisnava Sanskrit
scholars employed that style using grantha scripts Their attempts, however, failed
because of the naturally rich vocabulary and literary wealth of the Tamil language.
Sanskrit scholars, however, refused to acknowledge the real merit of Tamil literary
works. Although they were born in the Tamil country, spoke the Tamil language,
and lived as Tamilians, they seldom read such important works as the TEvaram and
the Tiruvaacakam. They treated lighty those who attained scholarship only in Tamil.
Even the hymns of Nayanmars, which found a pride of place in remple rituals during
the Chola period, lost their importance at a later stage. They went to the extent of
denigrating Tamil as the language of the mortal and extolling Sanskrit as the language
of gods. If the Sanskritists found laudable ideas in Tamil works, they tried to belittle
their merit saying that those were borrowed ideas from Sanskrit works. They tried
even to underrate the importance of Tiruvalluvar's Tirukkural by running it down
as a compendium of ideas translated from Sanskrit works. Likewise they considered
that Tolkaappiyam, the first grammatical work by Tolkappiyar was based on Sanskrit.
To substantiate their view, they assigned the work of Tolkappiyar to Tiranatumakkini
who was a scholar in Sanskrit. The RaamayaNaa, Mahaabhaarata, PuraaNas and other
philosophical works were no doubt borrowed from Sanskrit but the Sanskrit scholars
tried to camouflage the very existence of great literary works in Tamil like the
Cankam classics, didactic and devotional literature. But their efforts were halted
only when scholars like V.K. Curiyanaraayana Sastriar and Maraimalaiyatikal
focussed the attention of the people on the literary treasures of the Tamil language.
Two Different Types of Tamil Style
Though the efforts to Sanskritise Tamil no longer exist, the repercussions of
those earlier efforts are still felt in society. One effect, of course, was the virulent
opposition to the use of Sanskrit words in Tamil, and this opposition has not subsided
even today. At a time when all merit and greatness were attributed to Sanskrit alone,
Tamil scholars like cUriyanarayana Sastriar and CuvAmi Vetaacalam preferred to
use only the Tamil equivalents of their Sanskrit names, Paritimarkalainjar and
MaRaimalaiyaTikal respectively. Despite their stance, their earlier Tamil prose works
contained many words of Sanskrit origin. When the Sanskritists claimed that Tamil
could not exist without Sanskrit, the two Tamil scholars addressed themselves to
the task of writing Tamil without borrowing from Sanskrit. Curiyanarayana Sastriyar,
the pioneer of this style of writing died at a very young age. His contemporary,
MaTaimalaiyaTikal lived longer and crystallized this attitude into a movement in 1916.
Since then the movement has been popularly known as the Tanit-Tamil lyakkam or
the Pure Tamil Movement among the Tamil scholars. Its impact still persists among
the Tamils. Those who have interest in m ai n tai n ing the purity of Tamil language
even now prefer to substitute a Tamil equivalent for Sanskrit names given by their
parents. With vengeance they totally reject borrowines from Sanskrit. Instead they
prefer to borrow from English. The Tamil scholars consider it their duty to write in
chaste Tamil free from Sanskrit and have been writing like this since the inception
of the Pure Tamil Movement. The virulence of the movement was due to the past
pride of the Sanskritists in their knowledge of Sanskrit language. The blunders
committed by them have given rise to two different views as well as controversies
in the use of Tamil. One group preferred to use as far as possible a pure Tamil
without the admixture of Sanskrit words; others preferred to write in a hybrid language.
Even now many writers to daily newspapers, weeklies and monthlies write in a
hybrid language. Therefore the Tamil scholars denounce their writing as faulty.
The writings of the Tamil scholars are criticised as too difficult to read, lifeless
and artificial. Thus the effect of the old controversy still exists, although in a
In the historic past, Sanskrit played the role of a communication language among
the scholars, who lived in different parts of the Indian sub-continent. Therefore
it was learnt avidly by scholars at Kanchipuram as well as at Banaras. The
sum-total of human knowledge available from Kaveri to the Gangetic plains
was written in the Sanskrit language. Ideas relating to literature, religion and
theories of art were found elaborately set forth in Sanskrit. Many forget that
quite a lot of authors of these Sanskrit works were scholars from South India.
For example Dandin the author of the Kavyadarga in Sanskrit, was a scholar
from Kanchipuram in the Tamil country. Sankara the exponent of Advaita
philosophy, was again a South Indian. He mentioned in his works Saint
Njanacampantar, the crusader against Jainism in South India. Raamanujar, the
originator of Visishtaadvaita philosophy was a Tamillian and he lived every close
to Kanchipuram. Scholars who analysed the life-style and arts of the people
of the Tamil country, wrote many works on the Bharata Naatyasastra, the
Carnatic music and on astrology. Therefore, if one considers these facts
dispassionately, it was unrealistic on the part of later day Sanskrit scholars
to denigrate Tamil language and literature. It is equally true in the case of
Tamil scholars to think that theories and ideas found in Sanskrit were alien
The Tamil scholars took the cue from the old commentators for writing prose.
The commentators including Parimelazakar and others, who were known for
their scholarship in Sanskrit, wrote in pure Tamil with the least borrowing
from Sanskrit. Their style of writing was similar to the one now in vogue,
for the present-day Tamil scholars adopted only their style.
The journalists' style has been based on the spoken language of the Tarnils.
In spoken language, foreign loan words are mixed freely and syntax corresponds
to emotional situations. Poet Paaratiyaar composed pooms largely in pure Tamil.
He followed the same method while writing essays too.
Tiru. Vi. Kaliyanacuntaraar moved very closely with Tamil scholars and journalists.
He was himself a distinguished scholar and a seasoned journalist. He wrore many
literary works and also edited a number of daily newspapers and weeklies. He was
a link between the Tamil schoiars and the journalist of his day. His earlier writings
abound in Sanskrit words. With the advent of the Pure Tamil Movement, he
began to write without the admixture of Sanskrit words. He used foreign words
only when there were no suitable Tamil words to express a particular idea.
He gave up long and stilted sentences and largely used emotionally charged
short sentences common to spokon language. Thus his writings and speeches,
tried to bridge the chasm that existed between the scholars and journalists.
Even now two different types of styles exist: one adoptod by the scholars
and the other followed by the journalists.