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Tamil  –  Tamils  –  People  –  Language  –  Culture  –  Homeland

Tamil Nadu  –  Tamil Eelam  –  Tamil Diaspora


INFORMATION BELOW:  Part 1 is from TamilNation.org  &  Part 2 from Wikipedia


Part 1

Contents of this section last updated 14/11/2007

A Video Essay on Tamil
M. V. Bhaskar and K. T. Gandhirajan, 19 June 2006

Raja Raja Cholan – Video
Milestones in Tamil History UNESCO Courier, March, 1984

Aryan/Dravidian Question

The Dravidian Problem –M.D.Raghavan
Interrogating India – a Dravidian Viewpoint – V.Geetha and S.V.Rajadurai, 1991
Demise of Aryan Invasion Theory – Dinesh Agrawal

Towards a Re-Appraisal
of the Dravidian/Non-Brahmin Movement
V.Geetha and S.V.Rajadurai

Vedic “Aryans” and the Origins of Civilization: A Literary and Scientific Perspective – Navaratna S. Rajaram and Davis Frawley1995
Aryans & Tamils – Swami Vivekananda
The Origin of the Non-Brahmin Movement, 1905-1920 – K.Nambi Arooran in Tamil Renaissance and Dravidian Nationalism
Demand for Dravida Nadu – K.Nambi Arooran, 1980
Tamil Renaissance and Dravidian Nationalism – K.Nambi Arooran, 1980
Constitution of Self Respect League
Periyar E.V.RamaswamyPeriyar
Dravida Munetra Kalagam
Decaying of the Dravidian Movement – Shan Ranjit, 2000
Sikhs and Tamils: The Indus Connection – Dr.N.Muthu Mohan
Hinduism: Native or Alien to India? – Shan Ranjit, 2000

Early  History

Tamil Coins – Sangam Age, Chola Period…
Ancient rock art dating back to 1500 B.C. found in Tamil Nadu, 27 May 2007 
3,500 Year Old Indus Script Found in Tamil Nadu, May 2006
Rewriting Indian History – Hindu Timeline
Sarasvati-Sindhu civilisation (c. 3000 B.C.) – S.Kalyanaraman
Harappa Civilisation
Harappa: Basic Signs – Clyde Winters

The Scientific Dating of the Mahabharat War by Dr.P.V.Vartak

Writing Tamil History:Post National Perspectives – Ponnampalam Ragupathy, 11 May 2006

Pandya Rule at the Beginning of Ancient Lankan History – Dr.A.Velupillai,  26 July 2006

The Pandyans – J.R.Sinnatamby
Tamil Civilization – the Origins, J.M.Rajaratnam
Pallava Grantha Inscriptions of South East Asia – (c.7th century onwards)
Pallavas of Kanchi  – Jyotsna Kamat
Chola period idols found near Pudukottai , 6 August 2006
Some aspects of South Indian cultural contacts with Thailand – Historical Background. – S.Singaravelu, 1966  
Tamil Language Inscriptions in Thailand
Interactions of the Chola empire in the Chao Phraya delta – G.Deivanayagam
Epigraphy – Tamil inscriptions from the Tambaram area, 1973 – Gift Siromoney
Tamil Language Inscriptions in China – Dr.S.Jayabarathi
Ancient Ports and Maritime  Trade Centres in Tamilnadu and
their Significance

Presentation by
T.S.Sridhar, IAS
Special Commissioner,
Department of Archaeology,
Government of Tamil Nadu – 6 October 2005
Ancient anchors off Tamil Nadu coast and
ship tonnage analysis
N. Athiyaman and P. Jayakumar,
 10 May 2004
Three granite pillars with inscriptions of Pallava and Chola kings
Gingee – the Fort with a 1000 Year History –  N.Nandhivarman, General Secretary Dravida Peravai
Antiquity and Sacred Writing: Tamil Literary Histories in the late 19th – early 20th centuries – Srilata Müller, 1998
Who is a Tamil – C.Sivaratnam, 1968
Literary History in Tamil – Karthigesu Sivathamby, 1986 “Literature… creates the mode of consciousness and this can in a historical perspective become an indicator of national consciousness… In fact consciousness of the literary heritage was a cause and an index of Tamilian nationality consciousness… “
Early Tamil Cultural Influences in South East Asia – S.J.Gunasegaram, 1985
Tiru-p-pavai, Tiruvempavai in South East Asia – T.P.Meenakshisundaram, 1966
Tamil Studies: Research in South East Asia and in the Far East – Jean Filliozat, 1966
Religious Traditions of Tamils – Professor Velupillai, 1995
Feudalism & Chola Rule – V.Annamlai, 1968
Chola Empire –  Columbia Encyclopedia
India’s Parthian Colony – On the origin of the Pallava Empire of Dravidia -Dr. Samar Abbas, 2003 “The Pallava Empire was the largest and most powerful South Asian state in its time, ranking as one of the glorious empires of world history. At its height it covered an area larger than France, England and Germany combined. It encompassed all the present-day Dravidian nations, including the Tamil, Telugu, Malayali and Kannada tracts within its far-flung borders..”
The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea: Travel and Trade in the Indian Ocean by a Merchant of the First Century – W.H. Schoff (tr. & ed.), 1912

Kappal Oddiya Thamilan
– The Overseas Exploits of the Thamils & the Tragedy of Sri Lanka – G.K.Rajasuriyar, 2002

Dynasties of the South

Tamil Renaissance

Veerapandiya Kattabomman
Elite Formation in 19th Century South India – An Interpretative Analysis – Robert Eric Frykenberg
National Movement in Tamil Nadu, 1905-1914 – Agitational Politics and State Coercion, N.Rajendran
Subramaniam Sivam
V.O.Chidambaram Pillai
U.V.Swaminatha Iyer – S.Thangavelu, 1996

Tsunami Disaster & the Tamil People – Catastrophes of the past in Tamil Aham : poetic exaggeration or scientific facts?, 7 January 2005

Caste & the Tamil Nation

Eelam Tamils

History of Tamil Eelam Flag – Video Presentation
Ancestry of the Ceylon Tamil – M.D.Raghavan
History of the Tamils in Ealam and The Jaffna Kingdom – Dr Mathi Chandrakumar
Tamils & the Meaning of History – Dr Hellmann-Rajanayagam, 1996 “..And that leads us to the final question, whether, if this was the case, the Tamils in Ceylon were not really somewhat unique, different from those in India, the close proximity notwithstanding, whether the undoubted fact of their political autonomy had not generated a degree of cultural, religious and linguistic independence as well, but an independence which has become, in the late 20th century, extremely limiting and downright dangerous. There have been attempts to reverse this trend: Followers ofArumuka Nåvalar‘s religious tradition always saw India and Jaffna as one and unseparated and stressed the unity. The dilemma of being torn between South India and Jaffna is most evident in the writings and ideology of the militants for whom India again became the vanishing point when things in Jaffna got too hot, in the good old tradition, but who now have changed their song again and consider themselves as primarily belonging to Sri Lanka. That is the dilemma of the Jaffna Tamils…”
Pandara Vannian
Sri Lankan Tamil Society & Politics – Karthigesu Sivathamby, 1995
Sri Lanka Tamils – Brian Pfaffenberger, 1991

The Tomb of Elara at Anuradhapura – Dr.James Rutnam, 1981

The Vallipuram Buddha Image – Peter Schalk
புராதன இலங்கை சரித்திரம் – ப. கணபதிப்பிள்ளை

Tamil Rulers of the Kandyan Kingdom – G.Amirthalingam, 4 March 2006

Beginnings of Tamil Rule in Eelam (Ceylon, Sri Lanka) – Nallur Swami S. Gnana Prakasar O.M.I.
Arya Chakravarties of Tamil Eelam – M.D.Raghavan
Matrimonial Alliances between Tamilnad and the Sinhalese Royal Family in the 18th Century and the Establishment of a Madurai Dynasty in Kandy – Lorna Srimathie Dewaraja, 1974
The Tamil Kingdom in Jaffna – Early Beginnings to the Court of the Ariya Chakravartis – Dr.H.W.Tambiah, 1968
A Critical Study of Tamil Documents Pertaining to the History of Jaffna – K.S.Nadarajah, 1966
Tamil Consciousness in Eelam – K.Kailasapathy, 1979
The Five Ishwarams in Eelam – Shruthi Laya Shangam, London and Shri S. Arumugam, 1999
Munnicuvaram (Munnesvaram) Kovil: Its History, Ceremonies and Layout – Professor A. Velupillai, 1995
Our Temple: Thirukoneswaram
Welcome to Thirukoneswaram
Trincomalee – Holy Hill of Siva – S.J.Gunasegaram, 1985

Contribution of some leading Ceylon Tamils to the Constitutional and Political Development of Ceylon during the 19th and 20th centuries -A. Jeyaratnam Wilson, 1966

Boundaries of Tamil Eelam

Ceylon Tamils

Work on ancient history of Batticaloa released, April 2005

“We should write the people’s history of the northeast. It is important to discover and publish old palm leaf manuscripts such as ‘Mattakkalappu Poorva Sariththiram’ (Ancient History of Batticaloa) to bring out the history of the communities that live in this region. We have to search and preserve valuable primary sources of our history”,  Prof. S. Mounaguru, former Dean of Fine Arts, Eastern University, Tamil Eelam

யாழ்பாணப் பாரம்பரியம்
Jaffna Heritage – Traditional Buildings of Jaffna
 – R.Mayuranathan –  “On studying the various civilizations of the world we come to know their architectural heritage their temples, tombs, palaces, and other public buildings which can be considered as the products of high civilizations. Although these buildings reflect the technological developments and the economic and social power of the ruling elite of the respective periods, they rarely have any relevance to the culture and the economic realities of the majority common masses. Domestic houses and other smaller buildings of the ordinary people reflect the soul of the common man’s culture, as these building types had evolved in the respective communities for longer periods through trial and error and generally retain the basic characteristics unchanged for longer time . The above characteristics make these buildings as potential sources for information relevant to longer period back in history…Traditional buildings of Jaffna are potential sources of essential information about the life and history of the community in which these were evolving for several hundreds of years…” 

War & Martial Arts

Thamizhar Martial Arts – Alex Doss
Valari – An Unique Weapon of the Tamils – Dr.S.Jayabharathi
Self-Sacrifice or NavaKantam – Dr.S.Jayabharathi “Self-sacrifice or Navakantam was an ancient practice among the Tamils in which a person sacrifices his own self with his own hands. It is a form of ritualistic suicide. Though outwardly resembling the Japanese Hara-Kiri, it differs in several ways from it. In Hara-Kiri, sometimes, the best friend cuts the head off, while the Samurai warrior slices his abdomen with his dagger. But the Tamils did it absolutely unassisted…The warriors are usually honoured with a Hero-stone called  ‘Viirak Kal..'”
Dolmens, Hero Stones and the Dravidian People – Dr.R.Nagaswamy

Varalaaru – A Monthly Magazine on Tamil History

Tamil Nadu in Word IQ
S..J.Gunasegaram – Selected Writings
Tamil Heritage Centre, Auroville
Itihaas:Chronology Ancient India
Maps of Tamil Nadu
World History Archives Tamil History
The East India Company
History of Madurai
Tamil Iyers of Kerala
The Dravidian Connections of Japanese


‘I Remember…’  I.P.Thurairatnam
Journey Down Memory Lane – R.Shanmugalingam

Mauritius Tamils

Brief History of Tamils in Mauritius


History Section 
of Tamil Nation Library


the Tamils are an ancient people

Indus Civilisation

The Tamils are an ancient people. Their history had its beginnings in the rich alluvial plains near the southern extremity of peninsular India which included the land mass known as the island of Sri Lanka today. The island’s plant and animal life (including the presence of elephants) evidence the earlier land connection with the Indian sub continent. So too do satellite photographs which show the submerged ‘land bridge’ between Dhanuskodi on the south east of the Indian sub-continent and Mannar in the north west of the island.

Some researchers have concluded that it was during the period 6000 B.C. to 3000 B.C. that the island separated from the Indian sub continent and the narrow strip of shallow water known today as the Palk Straits came into existence. Many Tamils trace their origins to the people of Mohenjodaro in the Indus Valley around 6000 years before the birth of Christ.  There is, however, a need for further systematic study of the history of the early Tamils and proto Tamils.

“Dravidians, whose descendents still live in Southern India, established the first city communities, in the Indus valley, introduced irrigation schemes, developed pottery and evolved a well ordered system of government.” (Reader’s Digest Great World Atlas, 1970)

Clyde Ahmad Winters, who has written extensively on Dravidian origins commented:

“Archaeological and linguistic evidence indicates that the Dravidians were the founders of the Harappan culture which extended from the Indus Valley through northeastern Afghanistan, on into Turkestan. The Harappan civilization existed from 2600-1700 BC. The Harappan civilization was twice the size the Old Kingdom of Egypt. In addition to trade relations with Mesopotamia and Iran, the Harappan city states also had active trade relations with the Central Asian peoples.”

He has also explored the question whether the Dravidians were of African origin. (Winters, Clyde Ahmad, “Are Dravidians of African Origin”, P.Second ISAS,1980 – Hong Kong:Asian Research Service, 1981 –  pages 789- 807)

Other useful web pages on the Indus civilisation (suggested by Dr.Jude Sooriyajeevan  of the National Research Council, Canada)  include the Indus Dictionary.

At the same time, the Aryan/Dravidian divide in India and the ‘Aryan Invasion Theory‘ itself has come under  attack by some modern day historians. (see also Sarasvati-Sindhu civilisation; ‘Hinduism: Native or Alien to India‘) 

Professor Klaus Klostermaier in ‘Questioning the Aryan Invasion Theory and Revising Ancient Indian History’ commented: 

“India had a tradition of learning and scholarship much older and vaster than the European countries that, from the sixteenth century onwards, became its political masters. Indian scholars are rewriting the history of India today.One of the major points of revision concerns the so called ‘Aryan invasion theory’, often referred to as ‘colonial-missionary’, implying that it was the brainchild of conquerors of foreign colonies who could not but imagine that all higher culture had to come from outside ‘backward’ India, and who likewise assumed that a religion could only spread through a politically supported missionary effort.

While not buying into the more sinister version of this revision, which accuses the inventors of the Aryan invasion theory of malice and cynicism, there is no doubt that early European attempts to explain the presence of Indians in India had much to with the commonly held Biblical belief that humankind originated from one pair of humans- Adam and Eve to be precise …”

Hinduism Today concluded in Rewriting Indian History – Hindu Timeline:

“Although lacking supporting scientific evidence, this (Aryan Invasion) theory, and the alleged Aryan-Dravidian racial split, was accepted and promulgated as fact for three main reasons. It provided a convenient precedent for Christian British subjugation of India. It reconciled ancient Indian civilisation and religious scripture with the 4000 bce Biblical date of Creation. It created division and conflict between the peoples of India, making them vulnerable to conversion by Christian missionaries.”

“Scholars today of both East and West believe the Rig Veda people who called themselves Aryan were indigenous to India, and there never was an Aryan invasion. The languages of India have been shown to share common ancestry in ancient Sanskrit and Tamil. Even these two apparently unrelated languages, according to current “super-family” research, have a common origin: an ancient language dubbed Nostratic.”


Tamils were a sea faring people

Robert Caldwell wrote in 1875:

“… From the evidence of words in use amongst the early Tamils, we learn the following items of information. They had ‘kings’ who dwelt in ‘strong houses’ and ruled over ‘small districts of country’. They had ‘minstrels’, who recited ‘songs’ at ‘festivals’, and they seem to have had alphabetical ‘characters’ written with a style on palmyra leaves. A bundle of those leaves was called ‘a book’; they acknowledged the existence of God, whom they styled as ko, or King…. They erected to his honour a ‘temple’, which they called Ko-il, God’s-house.

They had ‘laws’ and ‘customs’… Marriage existed among them. They were acquainted with the ordinary metals… They had ‘medicines’, ‘hamlets’ and ‘towns’, ‘canoes’, ‘boats’ and even ‘ships’ (small ‘decked’ coasting vessels), no acquaintance with any people beyond the sea, except in Ceylon, which was then, perhaps, accessible on foot at low water.. They were well acquainted with agriculture…. All the ordinary or necessary arts of life, including ‘spinning’, ‘weaving’ and ‘dyeing’ existed amongst them. They excelled in pottery…” (Robert Caldwell: Comparative Grammar of Dravidian or South Indian Family of Languages   – Second Edition 1875 – Reprinted by the University of Madras, 1961)

The Tamils were a sea faring people. They traded with Rome in the days of Emperor Augustus. They sent ships to many lands bordering the Indian Ocean and with the ships went traders, scholars, and a way of life. Tamil inscriptions in Indonesia go back some two thousand years. The oldest Sanskrit inscriptions belonging to the third century in Indo China bear testimony to Tamil influence and until recent times Tamil texts were used by priests in Thailand and Cambodia. The scattered elements of ruined temples of the time of Marco Polo’s visit to China in the 13th century give evidence of purely Tamil structure and include Tamil inscriptions.

“Tamil Nadu, the home land of the Tamils, occupies the southern most region of India. Traditionally, Thiruvenkatam – the abode of Sri Venkatewara and a range of hills of the Eastern Ghats – formed the northern boundary of the country and the Arabian sea line the western boundary. However as a result of infiltrations, made by peoples from other territories, Tamil lost its ground in the west as well as in the north.  In medieval times, the country west of the mountains, became Kerala and that in the north turned part of Andhra Desa. Bounded by the states of Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Desa, the Tamil Nadu of the present day extends from Kanyakumari in the south to Tiruttani in the North….Chola EmpireIn early times the Pandyas, the Cheras and the Cholas  held their pioneering sway over the country and extended their authority beyond the traditional frontiers. As a result the Tamil Country served as the homeland of extensive empires. It was during this period that the Tamil bards composed the masterpieces in Tamil literature…..

“In the first decade of the 14th century the rising tide of Afghan imperialism swept over South India. The Tughlugs created a new province in the Tamil Country called Mabar, with its capital at Madurai which in 1335 asserted independence as the Sultanate of Madurai. After a short period of stormy existence, it gave way to the Vijayanagar Empire… Since then, the Telegus, the Brahminis, the Marathas and the Kannadins wrested possession of the territory. Between 1798 and 1801, the country passed under the direct administration of the English East India Company.” (History of Tamil Nadu 1565 – 1982:  Professor K.Rajayyan, Head of the School of Historical Studies, M.K.University, Madurai – Raj Publishers, Madurai, 1982)

The East India Company website contains interesting information about the efforts of the early English rulers.

Today an estimated 70 million Tamils live in many lands – more than 50 million Tamils live in Tamil Nadu in South India and around 3 million reside in the island of Sri Lanka.

up British conquest & Tamil renaissance

The response of a people to invasion by aliens from a foreign land is a measure of the depth of their roots and the strength of their identity. It was under British conquest that the Tamil renaissance of the second half of the 19th century gathered momentum.

It was a renaissance which had its cultural beginnings in the discovery and the subsequent editing and printing of the Tamil classics of the Sangam period. These had existed earlier only as palm leaf manuscripts. Arumuga Navalar in Jaffna, in the island of Sri Lanka, published the Thirukural in 1860 and Thirukovaiyar in 1861. Thamotherampillai, who was born in Jaffna but who served in Madras, published the grammatical treatise Tolkapiyam by collating material from several original ola leaf manuscripts.

It was on the foundations laid by Arumuga Navalar and Thamotherampillai that Swaminatha Aiyar, who was born in Tanjore, in South India, put together the classics of Tamil literature of the Sangam period. Swaminatha Aiyar spent a lifetime researching and collecting many of the palm leaf manuscripts of the classical period and it is to him that we owe the publication of Cilapathikaram, Manimekali, Puranuru, Civakachintamani and many other treatises which are a part of the rich literary heritage of the Tamil people.

Another Tamil from Jaffna, Kanagasabaipillai served at Madras University and his book ‘Tamils – Eighteen Hundred Years Ago’ reinforced the historical togetherness of the Tamil people and was a valuable source book for researchers in Tamil studies in the succeeding years. It was a Tamil cultural renaissance in which the contributions of the scholars of Jaffna and those of South India are difficult to separate.

Again, not surprisingly, it was a renaissance which was also linked with a revived interest in Saivaism and a growing recognition that Saivaism was the original religion of the Tamil people. Arumuga Navalar established schools in Jaffna, in Sri Lanka and in Chidambaram, in South India and his work led to the formation of the Saiva Paripalana Sabai in Jaffna in 1888, the publication of the Jaffna Hindu Organ in 1889 and the founding of the Jaffna Hindu College in 1890.

In South India, J.M.Nallaswami Pillai, who was born in Trichinopoly, published Meykandar’s Sivajnana Bodham in English in 1895 and in 1897, he started a monthly called Siddhanta Deepika which was regarded by many as reflecting the 19th century ‘ renaissance of Saivaism’. A Tamil version of the journal was edited by Maraimalai Atikal whose writings gave a new sense of cohesion to the Tamil people – a cohesion which was derived from the rediscovery of their ancient literature and the rediscovery of their ancient religion.

up Bharathy, Periyar E.V. Ramasamy & Tamil nationalism

The cultural renaissance of the 19th century led to an increasing Tamil togetherness and was linked with the thrust for social reform and political power – a thrust which at the same time, sought to marry a rising Tamil togetherness with the immediate and larger struggle for freedom from British rule.

In South India, no one exemplified the marriage of this duality more effectively than Subramania Bharathy whose songs in Tamil stirred the hearts of millions of Tamils, both as Tamils and as Indians. The words of Bharathy’s Senthamil Nadu Enum Pothinale, continue to move the hearts of the Tamil people today. It was his salute to the Tamil nation that was yet unborn. His Viduthalai was the joyous song of Indian freedom and there he reached out beyond the Tamil nation to the day when Bharat would be free.

Bharathy sought to consolidate the togetherness of his own people by his ceaseless campaign against casteism and for women’s rights. The Bharathy birth centenary celebrations of 1982 served to underline the permanent place that Bharathy will always have in the hearts of the Tamil people, whether they be from Tamil Nadu, Tamil Eelam, Malaysia, Singapore or elsewhere.

Two other Tamils will be always associated with the rise of Tamil national consciousness in the first two decades of the 20th century – lawyer, Tamil scholar and revolutionary, V.V.S.Aiyar and the Swadeshi steam ship hero, Kappal Otiya Thamilan, V.O.Chidambram Pillai.

Aiyar was a lawyer who joined Grays Inn in London to become a barrister but became a revolutionary instead. Later, he wrote many books in Tamil and in English and is regarded by many as the father of the modern Tamil short story. He was a pioneer in Tamil literary criticism. His major works included a translation of the Thirukural and ‘Kamba Ramayanam – A Study’.

In the years after the first World War, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi reached out to the underlying unity of India and sought to weld together the many peoples of the Indian subcontinent into a larger whole. But the attempt did not entirely succeed. The assessment of Pramatha Chauduri who wrote in Bengali in 1920 was not without significance:

“…You have accused me of ‘Bengali patriotism’. I feel bound to reply. If its a crime for a Bengali to harbour and encourage Bengali patriotism in his mind, then I am guilty “But I ask you, what other patriotism do you expect from a Bengali writer? The fact that I do not write in English should indicate that non Bengali patriotism does not sway my mind. If I had to make patriotic speeches in a language that is the language of no part of India, then I would have had to justify that patriotism by saying it does not relate to any special part of India as a whole. In a language learnt by rote you can only express ideas learnt by heart.”It is not a bad thing to try and weld many in to one but to jumble them all up is dangerous because the only way we can do that is by force. If you say that this does not apply to India the reply is that if self determination is not suited to us, then it is not suited at all to Europe. No people in Europe are as different, one from another, as our people. There is not that much difference between England and Holland as there is between Madras and Bengal. Even France and Germany are not that far apart…If you ask why this simple truth is not evident to all the answer is: because of circumstances. The whole of India is now under British rule…therefore, the main link between us is the link of bondage and no province can cut through this subjugation by its own efforts and actions…So today we are obliged to tell the people of India, ‘Unite and Organise’…

“People will recognise the value of provincial patriotism the moment they attain independence…Then the various nations of India will not try to merge, they will try to establish a unity amongst themselves… To be united due to outside pressure and to unite through mutual regard are not the same. Just as there is a difference between the getting together of five convicts in a jail and between five free men… Indian patriotism then will be built on the foundation of provincial patriotism, not just in words but in reality…”(Pramatha Chaudhuri: Bengali Patriotism – Sabuj Patra 1920, translated and reprinted in Facets, September 1982)

In Madras Presidency, which was the largest province of British India, and which included parts of that which is Andhra, Karnataka and Kerala today, the Suya Mariyathai Iyakam (Self Respect Movement) of E.V.Ramasamy  (Periyar) started initially, in the early 1920s, as a social reform movement aimed at a casteless society. It later developed into a vehicle for a rising Tamil nationalism.

“The Tamil Renaissance took place at the same time as the Nationalist Movement. The outcome of this interaction of the renaissance and the Nationalist Movement was the genesis of a consciousness of a separate identity resulting in Dravidian Nationalism…. In philology the term ‘Dravidian’ was used to denote a group a group of languages mainly spoken in South India, namely, Tamil Telegu, Kannada and Malayalam. Later when the term was extended to denote a race, again it denoted the peoples speaking these four languages. But in South Indian politics as well as in general usage since the beginning of this century the term ‘Dravidian’ came to denote the ‘Tamils’ only and not the other three language speaking peoples. … Hence it may be observed that the terms ‘Tamil Nationalism’ and ‘Dravidian Nationalism’ were synonymous” (K.Nambi Arooran – Tamil Renaissance and Dravidian Nationalism, Koodal Publishers, Madurai, 1980)

The establishment of Annamalai University in Chidambaram and later the Tamil Isai Sangam in Madras were manifestations of a rising Tamil self consciousness. The students at Annamalai University were to become influential political leaders of the Tamil people in the years to come.

As early as 1926, Sankaran Nair, a nominated member of the Council of State in Delhi, pleaded for self government to the ten Tamil districts of the Madras Presidency, with its own army, navy and airforce.

Scholar politician V. Kaliyanasundarar writing in 1929 urged that Tamil Nadu constituted a nation within the Indian state. He declared that the correct English translation of the word Nadu was nation and not land and pointed out that the early Tamils had their own government, language, culture and historical traditions. (V.Kaliyanasundarar, Tamil Cholai, Volume 1, Madras 1954)

In 1937, Periyar E.V. Ramasamy took over the leadership of the South Indian Liberal Federation, commonly called the Justice Party. At the Justice Party confederation held in Madras in 1938, Periyar Ramasamy put forward his demand for Dravidanad. This was two years before Mohamed Ali Jinnah set out the formal demand for Pakistan at the Lahore conference. In 1944, the Justice party changed its name to Dravida Kalagam and C.N.Annadurai functioned as its first General Secretary.

These early manifestations of a Tamil national consciousness influenced Tamils outside India as well. Periyar visited Malaysia in 1929, and his visit led to a proliferation of Tamil associations, dedicated to religious and social reform – associations which were often led by journalists and teachers. The writings of Annadurai and other leaders of the Dravida Kalagam were avidly read by ordinary Tamils and marked a watershed in the literary heritage of the Tamil people .

But, in the end, Periyar E.V.Ramasamy, the undoubted father of the Dravidian movement failed to deliver on the promise of Dravida Nadu. E.V.R. failed where Mohamed Ali Jinnah succeeded. It is true that the strategic considerations of the ruling colonial power were different in each case – and this had something to do with Jinnah’s success. But, nevertheless, if ideology is concerned with moving a people to action, the question may well be asked: why did E.V.R’s ideology fail to deliver Dravida Nadu?

Two aspects may be usefully considered. One was the attempt of the Dravida movement to encompass Tamils, Malayalees, Kannadigas and all Dravidians and mobilise them behind the demand for Dravida Nadu. Unsurprisingly, the attempt to mobilise across what were in fact separate national formations failed to take off.

It was one thing to found a movement which rejected casteism. It was quite another thing, to mobilise peoples, speaking different languages with different historical memories, into an integrated political force in support of the demand for Dravida Nadu.

At the same time, the Aryan/Dravidian divide propagated by German scholars such as Max Weber, encouraged by the British, and espoused by E.V.R. paid insufficient attention to the underlying unity of India and the enduring links that the Tamil people had with the other peoples of the Indian sub continent.

That was not all. E.V.R extended his attack on casteism to an attack on Hinduism – and indeed to all religions as well. Periyar E.V.R threw out the Hindu child with the Brahmin bath water.

E.V.R was right to extol the virtues of pahuth arivu, common sense. He was right to attack mooda nambikai, foolish faith. His rationalism was often a refreshing response to religious dogma and superstition. His attack on casteism, his social reform movement and his Self Respect Movement in the 1920s infused a new dignity, thanmaanam, amongst the Tamil people and laid the foundations on which Tamil nationalism has grown. The Iyer Heritage Site serves to show that even today, the self perception of at least some Brahmins is that they are   “Aryans”.

It was the pioneering work of EVR that led to the growth of the Dravida Munetra Kalagam (DMK) led by C.N.Annadurai and later by M.Karunanidhi,  to the All India Dravida Munetra Kalagam led by M.G.Ramachandran and theMarumalarchi Dravida Munetra Kalagam (MDMK) led by V.Gopalasamy.

But, having said that, the refusal of EVR to recognise that casteism was one thing, Hinduism another and spiritualism, perhaps, yet another, proved fatal. His belligerent atheism failed to move the Tamil people. In the result even within Tamil Nadu, EVR’s Dravida Kalagam became marginalised, and the DMK which was an offshoot of the Dravida Kalagam and the ADMK which was an offshoot of the DMK, both found it necessary to play down the anti religious line and adopt instead a ‘secular’ face. One consequence of EVR’s atheism was that spirituality in Tamil Nadu came to be exploited as the special preserve of those who were opposed to the growth of Tamil nationalism.

Furthermore, the anti-Brahmin movement tended to ignore the many caste differences that existed among the non-Brahmin Tamils and failed to address the oppression practised by one non-Brahmin caste on another non-Brahmin caste. It is a failure that continues to haunt the Tamil national movement even today. Caste divides and fragments the  togetherness of the Tamil people.

Support for the positive contributions that E.V.R. made in the area of social reform and to rational thought, should not prevent an examination of where it was that he went wrong. Again, it may well be that E.V.R. represented a necessary phase in the struggle of the Tamil people and given the objective conditions of the 1920s and 1930s, E.V.R was right to focus sharply on the immediate contradiction posed by ‘upper’ caste dominance and mooda nambikai. But in the 21st century, there may be a need to learn from E.V.R. – and not simply repeat that which he said or did.

up Growth of Tamil national consciousness  in Sri Lanka

In the island of Sri Lanka, the separate national identity of the Tamil people grew through a process of opposition to and differentiation from the Buddhist Sinhala people. The Sinhala people trace their origins in the island to the arrival of Prince Vijaya from India, around 500 B.C. and the Mahavamsa, the Sinhala chronicle of a later period (6th Century A.D.) records that Prince Vijaya arrived on the island on the same day that the Buddha attained Enlightenment in India. However, the words of the Sinhala historian and Cambridge scholar, Paul Peiris represent an influential and common sense point of view:

“..it stands to reason that a country which was only thirty miles from India and which would have been seen by Indian fisherman every morning as they sailed out to catch their fish, would have been occupied as soon as the continent was peopled by men who understood how to sail… Long before the arrival of Prince Vijaya, there were in Sri Lanka five recognised isvarams of Siva which claimed and received the adoration of all India. These were Tiruketeeswaram near Mahatitha; Munneswaram dominating Salawatte and the pearl fishery; Tondeswaram near Mantota; Tirkoneswaram near the great bay of Kottiyar and Nakuleswaram near Kankesanturai. ” (Paul E. Pieris: Nagadipa and Buddhist Remains in Jaffna : Journal of Royal Asiatic Society, Ceylon Branch Vol.28)

The Pancha Ishwarams of Eelam   were important landmarks of the country and S.J.Gunasegaram’s ‘Trincomalee – Holy Hill of Siva ‘ reveals the antiquity of Trincomalee as an ancient Hindu shrine.

The Tamil people and the Sinhala people were brought within the confines of a single state by the British. The struggle for freedom from British colonial rule, did lead Tamil leaders such as Ponnambalam Ramanathan and Ponnambalam Arunachalam to work together with their Sinhala counterparts in the Ceylon National Congress. But it was largely a dialogue between the English speaking Tamil middle class and its English speaking Sinhala counterpart.

Professor Kailasapathy in a paper presented at a Social Scientists Association Seminar in Colombo, traced the growth of  Tamil consciousness in Eelam from the time of British rule, through independence and upto 1979. The paper affords many insights into the continuing growth of Tamil Consciousness today, not only in Eelam but in the Tamil diaspora as well:

“Both the reformers and the revivalists came from the Hindu upper castes, but while the former were not only English educated but also used that language for their livelihood and for acquiring social status, the latter were primarily traditional in their education and used their mother tongue for their livelihood and social communication.. .most of them wrote in English… In doing so they probably had a particular audience in mind, an audience to whom they wanted to prove the antiquity and greatness of their tradition…In contrast the revivalists were mainly highly erudite in their mother tongue and wrote in it…”

The Pan Sinhala Executive Committee of the Ceylon State Council in 1936 and the formation of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress led by G.G.Ponnambalam were some of  the early manifestations of the growth of a separate Sinhala nationalism and a separate Tamil nationalism  in the political arena of the island of Ceylon (as it then was known).

It was a Tamil nationalism which eventually found expression in the formation of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi led by S.J.V.Chelvanayakam in 1949 and later in the 1970s in the Tamil armed resistance movement, led today by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and Velupillai Pirabaharan.

The ‘thiyagam‘ of  the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, gave poignant expression to the cultural values of the Tamil people, rooted in the Purananuru and Cilapathikaram. At the same time, the armed resistance movement in Tamil Eelam, also brought about a fundamental cultural transformation in Tamil society. It helped to break down casteism among the Tamil people. It  helped to liberate Tamil women from the structures of oppression that had been deeply embedded in sections of Tamil society – and help create the Puthumai Penn that Bharathy had sung about.

“The historical storm of the liberation struggle is uprooting age old traditions that took root over a long period of time in our society… The ideology of women liberation is a child born out of the womb of our liberation struggle… Our women are seeking liberation from the structures of oppression deeply embedded in our society. This oppressive cultural system and practices have emanated from age old ideologies and superstitions. Tamil women are subjected to intolerable suffering as a consequence of male chauvinistic oppression, violence and from the social evils of casteism and dowry.” (Velupillai Pirabaharan, 1992, 1993)

That the armed resistance movement of the Tamil people should have originated in Tamil Eelam and not in Tamil Nadu is not altogether surprising. It is the nature of the discrimination and oppression which often determines the nature of the response.

“Liberty is the life breath of a nation; and when life is attacked, when it is sought to suppress all chance of breathing by violent pressure, then any and every means of self preservation becomes right and justifiable…It is the nature of the pressure which determines the nature of the resistance.” (Aurobindo in Bande Mataram, 1907)

Suffering unites a people and the suffering of the Tamil people in the island of Sri Lanka, in their struggle for freedom and justice, has also served to bring together Tamils living not only in Tamil Eelam and Tamil Nadu but also those living in many other lands. At the same time, in Tamil Nadu poverty and corruption have weakened confidence in existing political structures.

“As programmes and reforms failed… repression appeared as the direct method of dealing with peasant unrest. Between 1975 and 1982, the police forces launched a series of operations against the Naxals. Either in what was called encounters or under police custody nineteen young men died and about 250 people were jailed. The green turbanned peasants led by Narayanaswamy Naidu launched agitations in 1972 and 1980. In Coimbatore, Dharmapuri, South Arcot and Madurai there were serious disturbances.. Between 1972 and 1982 fifty four peasants were killed in police firings and more than 25,000 were taken into custody.” (History of Tamil Nadu 1565 – 1982:  Professor K.Rajayyan, Head of the School of Historical Studies, M.K.University, Madurai – Raj Publishers, Madurai, 1982)

up Indian Union & the Tamil nation

The Tamil cultural renaissance of the second half of the 19th century, the rise of the Dravida Tamil national movement of the first half of the 20th century, and the armed struggle for Tamil Eelam are but tributories flowing into one river – the river of the growing togetherness of the Tamil people – and it is unlikely that this is a river that will  flow backwards.

Here, not many will question that the future of the Tamil people lies with the peoples of India. In 1973, Kamil Zvebil, Professor in Tamil Studies at Charles University, Prague wrote in ‘The Poets and the Powers’, of the Tamil contribution in shaping and moulding the great Indian synthesis :

“…Many and variegated are the contributions of the Tamils of South India to the treasures of human civilisation, the early classical love and war poetry, the architecture of the Pallavas, the deservedly famous South Indian bronzes of the Chola period, the well known Bharata Natyam dance, the philosophy of Saiva Siddhanta, the magnificent temples of the South – for more than two thousand years have the Tamils been contributing to Indian culture and taking part in shaping and moulding the great Indian synthesis.”

Sylvain Levi George Coedes and La Valee Poissin wrote in the ‘The Indianisation of South East Asia’ in 1975:

“Without being aware of it, India determined the history of a good portion of mankind. She gave three quarters of Asia a God, a religion, a doctrine, a art. She gave them her sacred language, literature and her institutions… All the regions contributed to this expansion and civilisation, but it was the South that played the greatest role.”

The Indian union in an emerging post modern world, will be a free and equal association of states, that will be rooted in the heritage that the Tamil people, (whether they be from Tamil Nadu or Tamil Eelam or elsewhere) share with their brothers and sisters of India – a shared heritage that the Tamil people freely acknowledge. It is a shared heritage to which the Tamil people have contributed and will continue to contribute – and from which the Tamil people also derive strength.

 Milestones in Tamil History UNESCO Courier, March, 1984
 “The Tamil Language is the official language of the State of Tamil Nadu (population over 48 million) in southeast India and is also spoken by some 4 million people living in Sri LankaBurmaMalaysiaIndonesia, as well as parts of east and south Africa and islands in the Indian Ocean, the South Pacific and the Caribbean.There is a scholarly literature in Tamil dating back to the early centuries of the Christian era. The language is of Dravidian origin. The Dravidians were the founders of one of the world’s most ancient civilizations, which already existed in India sometime before 1000 BC when the Aryans  invaded the sub-continent from the north.The Aryans, who spoke the Sanskrit language, pushed the Dravidians down into south India. Today 8 of the languages of northern and western India (including Hindi) are of Sanskrit origin, but Sanskrit itself is only spoken by Hindu Brahman priests in temple worship and by scholars. In southern India, 4 languages of Dravidian origin are spoken today. Tamil is the oldest of these.The History of Tamil Nadu begins with the 3 kingdoms, CHERA, CHOLA and PANDYA, which are referred to in documents of the 3rd century BC. Some of the kings of these dynasties are mentioned in Sangam Literature and the age between the 3rd century BC and the 2nd century AD is called the Sangam Age. At the beginning of the 4th century AD the Pallavas established their rule with Kanchipuram as their capital. Their dynasty, which ruled continously for over 500 years, left a permanent impact on the history of Tamil Nadu, which was during this period virtually controlled by the Pallavas  in the north and the Pandyas in the south.In the middle of the 9th century a Chola ruler established what was to become one of India’s most outstanding empires on account of its administrative achievements (irrigation, village development) and its contributions to art and literature. The Age of the Cholas is considered the golden age of Tamil history.

Towards the end of the 13th century the Cholas were overthrown by the later Pandyas who ruled for about a century an d were followed by the Vijayanagara Dynasty, whose greatest ruler was Krishnadeva Raya (1509-1529), and the Nayaks of Madurai and *tanjore. The Colonial Age opened in the 17th century. In 1639 the British East India Company opened a trading post at the fishing village of Madraspatnam, today Madras, the capital of Tamil Nadu. In 1947, India achieved Independence. The overwhelming majority of the population of Tamil Nadu is Hindu, with active Christian and Muslim  minorities.

Source:  TamilNation.org
Last updated in 2007

Part 2



Please Note:  The following info is from Wikipedia. So, the information may not be accurate. (Since anyone can edit/update these articles on Wikipedia.)


Tamil language

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
தமிழ் tamiḻ
Pronunciation [t̪ɐmɨɻ]
Spoken in IndiaSri LankaMalaysiaSingapore,Mauritius, and emigrant communities around the world.[1]
Native speakers 66 million  (1997)[1]
8 million L2 speakers
Language family
Writing system Tamil script
Official status
Official language in  India (Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry),[2][3]
 Sri Lanka,[4] and
Regulated by No official regulation
Language codes
ISO 639-1 ta
ISO 639-2 tam
ISO 639-3 tam

Distribution of Tamil speakers around the World
Indic script
This page contains Indic text. Without rendering support you may see irregular vowel positioning and a lack of conjuncts. More…
This page contains IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.
Tamil A.svg Tamil is written in a non-Latin script. Tamil text used in this article is transliterated into the Latin script according to the ISO 15919 standard.

Tamil (தமிழ், tamil[t̪ɐmɨɻ] ?) is a Dravidian language spoken predominantly by Tamil people of the Indian subcontinent. It has official status in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and in the Indian union territory of Pondicherry. Tamil is also an official language of Sri Lanka and Singapore. It is one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and the first Indian language to be declared as a classical language by the government of India in 2004. Tamil is also spoken by significant minorities in Malaysia and Mauritius as well as emigrant communities around the world.[1]

Tamil is one of the longest surviving classical languages in the world.[6][7] It has been described as “the only language of contemporary India which is recognizably continuous with a classical past”[8] and having “one of the richest literatures in the world”.[9] Tamil literature has existed for over 2000 years.[10] The earliest epigraphic records found on rock edicts and hero stones date from around the 3rd century BCE.[11] The earliest period of Tamil literature, Sangam literature, is dated from the 300 BCE – 300 CE.[12][13] Tamil language inscriptions written c. 1st century BCE and 2nd century CE have been discovered in Egypt, Sri Lanka and Thailand.[14] The two earliest manuscripts from India,[15][16] to be acknowledged and registered by UNESCO Memory of the World register in 1997 and 2005 were in Tamil.[17] More than 55% of the epigraphical inscriptions (about 55,000) found by the Archaeological Survey of India are in the Tamil language.[18] According to a 2001 survey, there were 1,863 newspapers published in Tamil, of which 353 were dailies.[19] It has the oldest extant literature amongst other Dravidian languages.[6] The variety and quality of classical Tamil literature has led to its being described as “one of the great classical traditions and literatures of the world”.[20]




Main article: Dravidian languages

Tamil belongs to the southern branch of the Dravidian languages, a family of around 26 languages native to the Indian subcontinent.[21] It is also classified as being part of a Tamil language family, which alongside Tamil proper, also includes the languages of about 35 ethno-linguistic groups[22] such as the Irula, and Yerukula languages (see SIL Ethnologue).

The closest major relative of Tamil is Malayalam. Until about the 9th century, Malayalam was a dialect of Tamil.[23] Although many of the differences between Tamil and Malayalam demonstrate a pre-historic split of the western dialect,[24] the process of separation into a distinct language, Malayalam, was not completed until sometime in the 13th or 14th century.[25]


Silver coin of king Vashishtiputra Sātakarni (c. 160 CE).
Obv: Bust of king. Prakrit legend in the Brahmi script: “Siri Satakanisa Rano … Vasithiputasa”: “King Vasishtiputra Sri Satakarni”
Rev: Ujjain/Sātavāhana symbol left. Crescented six-arch chaitya hill right. River below. Early Tamil legend in the Tamil Brahmi script: “Arah(s)anaku Vah(s)itti makanaku Tiru H(S)atakani ko” – which means “The ruler, Vasitti’s son, Highness Satakani” – -ko being the royal name suffix.[26][27][28][29]

As a Dravidian language, Tamil descends from Proto-Dravidian. Linguistic reconstruction suggests that Proto-Dravidian was spoken around the third millennium BC, possibly in the region around the lower Godavari river basin in peninsular India. The material evidence suggests that the speakers of Proto-Dravidian were the culture associated with the Neolithic complexes of South India.[30] The next phase in the reconstructed proto-history of Tamil is Proto-South Dravidian. The linguistic evidence suggests that Proto-South Dravidian was spoken around the middle of the second millennium BC, and that proto-Tamil emerged around the 3rd century BC. The earliest epigraphic attestations of Tamil are generally taken to have been written shortly thereafter.[31] Among Indian languages, Tamil has the most ancient non-Sanskritised Indian literature.[32]

Scholars categorise the attested history of the language into three periods, Old Tamil (300 BCE – 700 CE), Middle Tamil (700–1600) and Modern Tamil (1600–present).[33]


The exact period when the name “Tamil” came to be applied to the language is unclear, as is the precise etymology of the name. The earliest attested use of the name is in a text that is perhaps as early as the 1st century BCE.[34]Southworth suggests that the name comes from tam-miḻ > tam-iḻ ‘self-speak’, or ‘one’s own speech’.[35] Kamil Zvelebil suggests an etymology of tam-iḻ, with tam meaning “self” or “one’s self”, and “-iḻ” having the connotation of “unfolding sound”. Alternatively, he suggests a derivation of tamiḻ < tam-iḻ < *tav-iḻ < *tak-iḻ, meaning in origin “the proper process (of speaking)”.[36] (see Southworth’s derivation of Sanskrit term for “others” or Mleccha)

Old Tamil

The earliest records in Old Tamil are short inscriptions from around the 2nd century BCE in caves and on pottery. These inscriptions are written in a variant of the Brahmi script called Tamil Brahmi.[37] The earliest long text in Old Tamil is the Tolkāppiyam, an early work on Tamil grammar and poetics, whose oldest layers could be as old as the 1st century BC.[33] A large number of literary works in Old Tamil have also survived. These include a corpus of 2,381 poems collectively known as Sangam literature. These poems are usually dated to between the 1st and 5th centuries AD,[38] which makes them the oldest extant body of secular literature in India.[39] Other literary works in Old Tamil include two long epics, Cilappatikāram and Maṇimēkalai, and a number of ethical and didactic texts, written between the 5th and 8th centuries.[40]

Old Tamil preserved many features of Proto-Dravidian, including the inventory of consonants,[41] the syllable structure,[42] and various grammatical features.[43] Amongst these was the absence of a distinct present tense – like Proto-Dravidian, Old Tamil only had two tenses, the past and the “non-past”. Old Tamil verbs also had a distinct negative conjugation (e.g. kāṇēṉ (காணேன்) “I do not see”, kāṇōm (காணோம்) “we do not see”)[44] Nouns could take pronominal suffixes like verbs to express ideas: e.g. peṇṭirēm(பெண்டிரேம்) “we are women” formed from peṇṭir (பெண்டிர்) “women” and the first person plural marker -ēm (ஏம்).[45]

Despite the significant amount of grammatical and syntactical change between Old, Middle and Modern Tamil, Tamil demonstrates grammatical continuity across these stages: many characteristics of the later stages of the language have their roots in features of Old Tamil.[33]

Middle Tamil

The evolution of Old Tamil into Middle Tamil, which is generally taken to have been completed by the 8th century,[33] was characterised by a number of phonological and grammatical changes. In phonological terms, the most important shifts were the virtual disappearance of the aytam (ஃ), an old phoneme,[46] the coalescence of the alveolar and dental nasals,[47] and the transformation of the alveolar plosive into a rhotic.[48] In grammar, the most important change was the emergence of the present tense. The present tense evolved out of the verb kil (கில்), meaning “to be possible” or “to befall”. In Old Tamil, this verb was used as an aspect marker to indicate that an action was micro-durative, non-sustained or non-lasting, usually in combination with a time marker such as  (ன்). In Middle Tamil, this usage evolved into a present tense marker – kiṉṟ (கின்ற) – which combined the old aspect and time markers.[49]

Middle Tamil also saw a significant increase in the Sanskritisation of Tamil. From the period of the Pallava dynasty onwards, a number of Sanskrit loan-words entered Tamil, particularly in relation to political, religious and philosophical concepts.[50] Sanskrit also influenced Tamil grammar, in the increased use of cases and in declined nouns becoming adjuncts of verbs,[51] and phonology.[52] The Tamil script also changed in the period of Middle Tamil. Tamil Brahmi and Vaṭṭeḻuttu, into which it evolved, were the main scripts used in Old Tamil inscriptions. From the 8th century onwards, however, the Pallavas began using a new script, derived from the Pallava Grantha script which was used to write Sanskrit, which eventually replaced Vaṭṭeḻuttu.[53]

Middle Tamil is attested in a large number of inscriptions, and in a significant body of secular and religious literature.[54] These include the religious poems and songs of the Bhakthi poets, such as the Tēvāram verses on Saivism and Nālāyira Tivya Pirapantam on Vaishnavism,[55] and adaptations of religious legends such as the 12th century Tamil Ramayana composed by Kamban and the story of 63 shaivite devotees known as Periyapurāṇam.[56] Iraiyaṉār Akapporuḷ, an early treatise on love poetics, and Naṉṉūl, a 12th century grammar that became the standard grammar of literary Tamil, are also from the Middle Tamil period.[57]

Modern Tamil

The Nannul remains the standard normative grammar for modern literary Tamil, which therefore continues to be based on Middle Tamil of the 13th century rather than on Modern Tamil.[58] Colloquial spoken Tamil, in contrast, shows a number of changes. The negative conjugation of verbs, for example, has fallen out of use in Modern Tamil[59] – negation is, instead, expressed either morphologically or syntactically.[60] Modern spoken Tamil also shows a number of sound changes, in particular, a tendency to lower high vowels in initial and medial positions,[61] and the disappearance of vowels between plosives and between a plosive and rhotic.[62]

Contact with European languages also affected both written and spoken Tamil. Changes in written Tamil include the use of European-style punctuation and the use of consonant clusters that were not permitted in Middle Tamil. The syntax of written Tamil has also changed, with the introduction of new aspectual auxiliaries and more complex sentence structures, and with the emergence of a more rigid word order that resembles the syntactic argument structure of English.[63] Simultaneously, a strong strain of linguistic purism emerged in the early 20th century, culminating in the Pure Tamil Movement which called for removal of all Sanskritic and other foreign elements from Tamil.[64] It received some support from Dravidian parties and nationalists who supported Tamil independence.[65] This led to the replacement of a significant number of Sanskrit loanwords by Tamil equivalents, though many others remain.[66]

Geographic distribution

Distribution of Tamil speakers in South India and Sri Lanka (1961).

Tamil is the first language of the majority in Tamil NaduIndia and Northern ProvinceEastern ProvinceSri Lanka. The language is spoken by small groups of minorities in other parts of these two countries including KarnatakaAndhra PradeshKerala,Maharashtra and others in case of India and Colombothe hill country, in case of Sri Lanka. Previously Tamil had a wider distribution in India than what it is currently. Tamil or dialects of it were used widely in the state of Kerala as the language of administration, literature and common usage until the 12th century CE. Tamil was also used widely in inscriptions found in southern Andhra Pradesh districts of Chittoor and Nellore until the 12th centure CE.

There are currently sizable Tamil-speaking populations descended from colonial-era migrants in MalaysiaSingaporeMauritiusSouth AfricaIndonesia,[67] Thailand,[68] Burma, and Vietnam. Many in RéunionGuyanaFijiSuriname, and Trinidad and Tobago have Tamil origins,[69] but only a small number speak the language. In Reunion where Tamil language was forbidden to be learnt and used in public space is now being relearnt by students and adults.[70] It is also used by groups of migrants from Sri Lanka and India in Canada (especially Toronto), USA (especially New Jersey and New York City), Australia, many Middle Eastern countries, and most of the western European countries.

Legal status

Tamil is the official language of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and one of the 22 languages under schedule 8 of the constitution of India. It is also one of the official languages of the union territories of Pondicherry and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands.[71][72]Tamil is also one of the official languages of Sri Lanka and Singapore. In Malaysia, 543 primary education government schools are available fully in Tamil medium.[73]

In addition, with the creation in 2004 of a legal status for classical languages by the Government of India and following a political campaign supported by several Tamil associations,[74][75] Tamil became the first legally recognised Classical language of India. The recognition was announced by the then President of IndiaAbdul Kalam, who himself is a native Tamil speaker, in a joint sitting of both houses of the Indian Parliament on June 6, 2004.[76][77][78]


Region specific variations

The socio-linguistic situation of Tamil is characterised by diglossia: there are two separate registers varying by social status, a high register and a low one.[79][80] Tamil dialects are primarily differentiated from each other by the fact that they have undergone different phonological changes and sound shifts in evolving from Old Tamil. For example, the word for “here”—iṅku in Centamil (the classic variety)—has evolved into iṅkū in the Kongu dialect of Coimbatoreinga in the dialect of Thanjavur, and iṅkai in some dialects of Sri Lanka. Old Tamil’s iṅkaṇ (where kaṇ means place) is the source of iṅkane in the dialect of Tirunelveli, Old Tamil iṅkaṭṭu is the source of iṅkuṭṭu in the dialect of Madurai, and iṅkaṭe in various northern dialects. Even now, in the Coimbatore area, it is common to hear “akkaṭṭa” meaning “that place”. Although Tamil dialects do not differ significantly in their vocabulary, there are a few exceptions. The dialects spoken in Sri Lanka retain many words and grammatical forms that are not in everyday use in India,[81] and use many other words slightly differently.[82] According to Kamil Zvelebil, the Tamil dialects can be segregated on the following ‘Centers of Prestige’: Madras TamilMadurai TamilKongu TamilNellai Tamil, Kanyakumari Tamil, Thanjavur, Tiruchirappalli Tamil, Jaffna or Yazhpanam Tamil, Trincomalee or Tiriconamalai Tamil, Batticaloa or mattakkalappu Tamil.[83]

Loanword variations

The dialect of the district of Palakkad in Kerala has a large number of Malayalam loanwords, has also been influenced by Malayalam syntax and also has a distinct Malayalam accent. Similarly, Tamil spoken in Kanyakumari District has unique words and phonetic style than Tamil spoken at other parts of Tamil Nadu. The uniqueness of words and phonetics is such that someone from Kanyakumari district is easily identified by the spoken Tamil. Hebbar and Mandyam dialects, spoken by groups of Tamil Vaishnavites who migrated to Karnataka in the 11th century, retain many features of theVaishnava paribasai, a special form of Tamil developed in the 9th and 10th centuries that reflect Vaishnavite religious and spiritual values.[84] Several castes have their own sociolects which most members of that caste traditionally used regardless of where they come from. It is often possible to identify a person’s caste by their speech.[85] Tamil in Sri Lanka incorporates loan words from PortugueseDutch and English also.

Spoken and literary variants

In addition to its various dialects, Tamil exhibits different forms: a classical literary style modelled on the ancient language (sankattamiḻ), a modern literary and formal style (centamiḻ), and a modern colloquial form (koṭuntamiḻ). These styles shade into each other, forming a stylistic continuum. For example, it is possible to write centamiḻ with a vocabulary drawn from caṅkattamiḻ, or to use forms associated with one of the other variants while speaking koṭuntamiḻ.[86]

In modern times, centamiḻ is generally used in formal writing and speech. For instance, it is the language of textbooks, of much of Tamil literature and of public speaking and debate. In recent times, however, koṭuntamiḻ has been making inroads into areas that have traditionally been considered the province of centamiḻ. Most contemporary cinematheatre and popular entertainment on television and radio, for example, is in koṭuntamiḻ, and many politicians use it to bring themselves closer to their audience. The increasing use of koṭuntamiḻ in modern times has led to the emergence of unofficial ‘standard’ spoken dialects. In India, the ‘standard’ koṭuntamiḻ is based on ‘educated non-Brahmin speech’, rather than on any one dialect,[87] but has been significantly influenced by the dialects of Thanjavur and Madurai. In Sri Lanka the standard is based on the dialect of Jaffna.

Writing system

Main article: Tamil script
See also: Vatteluttu and Grantha script

An 11th century Tamil inscription, from the Brihadisvara temple in Thanjavur

After Tamil Brahmi fell out of use, Tamil was written using a script called the vaṭṭeḻuttu amongst others such as Grantha and Pallava script. The current Tamil script consists of 12 vowels, 18 consonants and one special character, the āytam. The vowels and consonants combine to form 216 compound characters, giving a total of 247 characters (12 + 18 + 1 + 12 x 18). All consonants have an inherent vowel a, as with other Indic scripts. This inherency is removed by adding a tittle called a puḷḷi, to the consonantal sign. For example, ன is ṉa (with the inherent a) and ன் is  (without a vowel). Many Indic scripts have a similar sign, generically called virama, but the Tamil script is somewhat different in that it nearly always uses a visible puḷḷi to indicate adead consonant (a consonant without a vowel). In other Indic scripts, it is generally preferred to use a ligature or a half form to write a syllable or a cluster containing a dead consonant, although writing it with a visible virama is also possible. The Tamil script does not differentiate voiced and unvoiced plosives. Instead, plosives are articulated with voice depending on their position in a word, in accordance with the rules of Tamil phonology.

In addition to the standard characters, six characters taken from the Grantha script, which was used in the Tamil region to write Sanskrit, are sometimes used to represent sounds not native to Tamil, that is, words adopted from Sanskrit, Prakrit and other languages. The traditional system prescribed by classical grammars for writing loan-words, which involves respelling them in accordance with Tamil phonology, remains, but is not always consistently applied.[88]


Main article: Tamil phonology

Tamil phonology is characterised by the presence of retroflex consonants and multiple rhotics. Tamil does not distinguish phonologically between voiced and unvoiced consonants; phonetically, voice is assigned depending on a consonant’s position in a word.[89] Tamil phonology permits few consonant clusters, which can never be word initial. Native grammarians classify Tamil phonemes into vowels, consonants, and a “secondary character”, the āytam.


Tamil vowels are called uyireḻuttu (uyir – life, eḻuttu – letter). The vowels are classified into short (kuṟil) and long (neṭil) (with five of each type) and two diphthongs, /ai/ and /au/, and three “shortened” (kuṟṟiyl) vowels.

The long vowels are about twice as long as the short vowels. The diphthongs are usually pronounced about 1.5 times as long as the short vowels, though most grammatical texts place them with the long vowels.

Short Long
Front Central Back Front Central Back
Close i u
Mid e o
Open a (ai) (aw)


Tamil consonants are known as meyyeḻuttu (mey—body, eḻuttu—letters). The consonants are classified into three categories with six in each category: valliṉam—hard, melliṉam—soft or Nasal, and iṭayiṉam—medium.

Unlike most Indian languages, Tamil does not distinguish aspirated and unaspirated consonants. In addition, the voicing of plosives is governed by strict rules in centamiḻ. Plosives are unvoiced if they occur word-initially or doubled. Elsewhere they are voiced, with a few becoming fricativesintervocalicallyNasals and approximants are always voiced.[90]

As commonplace in languages of India, Tamil is characterised by its use of more than one type of coronal consonantsRetroflex consonants include the retroflex approximant /ɻ/ (ழ) (example Tamil), which among the Dravidian languages is also found in Malayalam (example Kozhikode), disappeared from Kannada in pronunciation at around 1000 CE (the dedicated letter is still found in Unicode), and was never present in Telugu.[91] Dental and alveolar consonants also contrast with each other, a typically Dravidian trait not found in the neighboring Indo-Aryan languages. In spoken Tamil, however, this contrast has been largely lost, and even in literary Tamil, ந and ன may be seen as allophonic.[92]

A chart of the Tamil consonant phonemes in the International Phonetic Alphabet follows:[93]

Labial Dental Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar
Plosives p (b) t̪ (d̪) ʈ (ɖ) tʃ (dʒ) k (ɡ)
Nasals m n ɳ ɲ ŋ
ன, ந
Tap ɾ̪
Trill r
Central approximants ʋ ɻ j
Lateral approximants ɭ

Phonemes in brackets are voiced equivalents. Both voiceless and voiced forms are represented by the same character in Tamil, and voicing is determined by context. The sounds /f/ and /ʂ/ are peripheral to the phonology of Tamil, being found only in loanwords and frequently replaced by native sounds. There are well-defined rules for elision in Tamil categorised into different classes based on the phoneme which undergoes elision.


Classical Tamil also had a phoneme called the Āytam, written as ‘ஃ’. Tamil grammarians of the time classified it as a dependent phoneme (or restricted phoneme[94]) (cārpeḻuttu), but it is very rare in modern Tamil. The rules of pronunciation given in the Tolkāppiyam, a text on the grammar of Classical Tamil, suggest that the āytam could have glottalised the sounds it was combined with. It has also been suggested that the āytam was used to represent the voiced implosive (or closing part or the first half) of geminated voiced plosives inside a word.[95] The Āytam, in modern Tamil, is also used to convert pa to fa (not the retroflex zha [ɻ]) when writing English words using the Tamil script.

Numerals and symbols

Main article: Tamil numerals

Apart from the usual numerals, Tamil also has numerals for 10, 100 and 1000. Symbols for day, month, year, debit, credit, as above, rupee, and numeral are present as well.

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 100 1000
day month year debit credit as above rupee numeral


Main article: Tamil grammar

Tamil employs agglutinative grammar, where suffixes are used to mark noun classnumber, and case, verb tense and other grammatical categories. Tamil’s standard metalinguistic terminology and scholarly vocabularly is itself Tamil, as opposed to the Sanskrit that is standard for most otherDravidian languages.[96][97]

Much of Tamil grammar is extensively described in the oldest known grammar book for Tamil, the Tolkāppiyam. Modern Tamil writing is largely based on the 13th century grammar Naṉṉūl which restated and clarified the rules of the Tolkāppiyam, with some modifications. Traditional Tamil grammar consists of five parts, namely eḻuttucolporuḷyāppuaṇi. Of these, the last two are mostly applied in poetry.[98]

Tamil words consist of a lexical root to which one or more affixes are attached. Most Tamil affixes are suffixes. Tamil suffixes can be derivational suffixes, which either change the part of speech of the word or its meaning, or inflectional suffixes, which mark categories such as personnumber,moodtense, etc. There is no absolute limit on the length and extent of agglutination, which can lead to long words with a large number of suffixes.


Tamil nouns (and pronouns) are classified into two super-classes (tiṇai)—the “rational” (uyartiṇai), and the “irrational” (akṟiṇai)—which include a total of five classes (pāl, which literally means ‘gender’). Humans and deities are classified as “rational”, and all other nouns (animals, objects, abstract nouns) are classified as irrational. The “rational” nouns and pronouns belong to one of three classes (pāl)—masculine singular, feminine singular, and rational plural. The “irrational” nouns and pronouns belong to one of two classes: irrational singular and irrational plural. The pāl is often indicated through suffixes. The plural form for rational nouns may be used as an honorific, gender-neutral, singular form.[99]

Suffixes are used to perform the functions of cases or postpositions. Traditional grammarians tried to group the various suffixes into eight cases corresponding to the cases used in Sanskrit. These were the nominativeaccusativedativesociativegenitiveinstrumentallocative, and ablative. Modern grammarians argue that this classification is artificial,[100] and that Tamil usage is best understood if each suffix or combination of suffixes is seen as marking a separate case.[87] Tamil nouns can take one of four prefixesiau, and e which are functionally equivalent to thedemonstratives in English.

Tamil verbs are also inflected through the use of suffixes. A typical Tamil verb form will have a number of suffixes, which show person, number, mood, tense, and voice.

  • Person and number are indicated by suffixing the oblique case of the relevant pronoun. The suffixes to indicate tenses and voice are formed from grammatical particles, which are added to the stem.
  • Tamil has two voices. The first indicates that the subject of the sentence undergoes or is the object of the action named by the verb stem, and the second indicates that the subject of the sentence directs the action referred to by the verb stem.
  • Tamil has three simple tenses—past, present, and future—indicated by the suffixes, as well as a series of perfects indicated by compound suffixes. Mood is implicit in Tamil, and is normally reflected by the same morphemes which mark tense categories. Tamil verbs also mark evidentiality, through the addition of the hearsay clitic ām.[101]

Traditional grammars of Tamil do not distinguish between adjectives and adverbs, including both of them under the category uriccol, although modern grammarians tend to distinguish between them on morphological and syntactical grounds.[102] Tamil has a large number of ideophones that act as adverbs indicating the way the object in a given state “says” or “sounds”.[103]

Tamil does not have articles. Definiteness and indefiniteness are either indicated by special grammatical devices, such as using the number “one” as an indefinite article, or by the context.[104] In the first person plural, Tamil makes a distinction between inclusive pronouns நாம் nām (we), நமதுnamatu (our) that include the addressee and exclusive pronouns நாங்கள் nāṅkaḷ (we), எமது ematu (our) that do not.[104]


Tamil is a consistently head-final language. The verb comes at the end of the clause, with a typical word order of subject–object–verb (SOV).[105][106] However, word order in Tamil is also flexible, so that surface permutations of the SOV order are possible with different pragmatic effects. Tamil haspostpositions rather than prepositions. Demonstratives and modifiers precede the noun within the noun phrase. Subordinate clauses precede the verb of the matrix clause.

Tamil is a null subject language. Not all Tamil sentences have subjects, verbs, and objects. It is possible to construct grammatically valid and meaningful sentences which lack one or more of the three. For example, a sentence may only have a verb—such as muṭintuviṭṭatu (“completed”)—or only a subject and object, without a verb such as atu eṉ vīṭu (“That [is] my house”). Tamil does not have a copula (a linking verb equivalent to the word is). The word is included in the translations only to convey the meaning more easily.


The vocabulary of Tamil is mainly Dravidian. A strong sense of linguistic purism is found in Modern Tamil,[107] which opposes the use of foreign loanwords.[108] Nonetheless, a number of words used in classical and modern Tamil are loanwords from the languages of neighbouring groups, or with whom the Tamils had trading links, including Munda (for example, tavaḷai “frog” from Munda tabeg), Malay (e.g. cavvarici “sago” from Malay sāgu), Chinese (for example, campān “skiff” from Chinese san-pan) and Greek (for example, ora from Greek ὥρα). In more modern times, Tamil has imported words from ArabicPersianUrdu and Marathi, reflecting groups that have influenced the Tamil area at various points of time, and from neighbouring languages such as TeluguKannada, and Sinhala. During the modern period, words have also been adapted from European languages, such as PortugueseFrench, and English.[109]

The strongest impact of purism in Tamil has been on words taken from Sanskrit. During its history, Tamil, along with other Dravidian languages like TeluguKannadaMalayalam etc., was influenced by Sanskrit in terms of vocabulary, grammar and literary styles,[110][111][112][113] reflecting the increased trend of Sanskritisation in the Tamil country.[114] Tamil vocabulary never became quite as heavily Sanskritised as that of the other Dravidian languages, and unlike in those languages, it was and remains possible to express complex ideas (including in science, art, religion and law) without the use of Sanskrit loan words.[115][116][117] In addition, Sanskritisation was actively resisted by a number of authors of the late medieval period,[118] culminating in the 20th century in a movement called taṉit tamiḻ iyakkam (meaning “pure Tamil movement”), led by Parithimaar Kalaignarand Maraimalai Adigal, which sought to remove the accumulated influence of Sanskrit on Tamil.[119] As a result of this, Tamil in formal documents, literature and public speeches has seen a marked decline in the use Sanskrit loan words in the past few decades,[120] under some estimates having fallen from 40–50% to about 20%.[66] As a result, the Prakrit and Sanskrit loan words used in modern Tamil are, unlike in some other Dravidian languages, restricted mainly to some spiritual terminology and abstract nouns.[121]

In the 20th century, institutions and learned bodies have, with government support, generated technical dictionaries for Tamil containing neologisms and words derived from Tamil roots to replace loan words from English and other languages.[64]


Main article: Words of Tamil origin

A notable example of a word in worldwide use with Dravidian (not specifically Tamil) etymology is orange, via Sanskrit nāraṅga from a Dravidian predecessor of Tamil nartankāy “fragnant fruit”.

Words of Tamil origin occur in other languages. Popular examples in English are cheroot (curuttu meaning “rolled up”),[122] mango (from mangai),[122] mulligatawny (from milaku taṉṉir meaning pepper water), pariah (from paraiyan), curry (from kari),[123] catamaran (from kattu maram, கட்டு மரம், meaning “bundled logs”),[122] pandal (shed, shelter, booth),[122] tyer (curd),[122] anicut (from anaikattu, அணைக்கட்டு, meaning dam),[122] and coir (rope).[124] Tamil words are also found in Sinhala and Malay.

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