தமிழ்த் தேசியம்

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
- Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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CONTENTS
OF THIS SECTION
Last updated
13/11/07

Women in Tamil Society - Ideology, Nation & Gender
Caste & the Tamil Nation
Definition of Culture
Forum - Culture & the Tamil Diaspora 
Two Decades of Tamil Studies - Xavier S. Thani Nayagam, 1969
Tamil Culture - its past, its present and its future with special reference to Ceylon (1)- Xavier S. Thani Nayagam, 1955
Tamil Culture - its past, its present and its future with special reference to Ceylon (2) - Xavier S. Thani Nayagam, 2 August 1955 with front note by Sachi Sri Kantha
The living culture of the Tamils - Tamil Nadu,  S. Ramakrishnan, UNESCO Courier, March, 1984
Ramblings on Culture - C.Kumarabharathy
German Tamilology
ஆங்கிலேயனின் புத்தாண்டை நாம் ஏன் கொண்டாடவேண்டும்? - Suppu, 7 January 2007

Art & Architecture

Tamil Art - தமிழ் ஓவிய கண்காட்சி

Dravidian Temple Architecture
South Indian Bronzes - Chola, Pallava, & Nayak Periods

Tamil Arts Academy
Dr.R.Nagaswamy's

Tamil Arts Academy

Music, Dance & Drama

Bharatha Natyan - Classical Dance of the Tamils
Folk Dances of Tamil Nadu
Tamil Music on the Web
Tamil Drama & Film  - நாடகத் தமிழ்

Tamil Names

தமிழ்ப்பெயர்க் கையேடு 
சின்னக் குழந்தைகளுக்கு வண்ணத் தமிழ்ப் பெயர் சூட்டுங்கள் - A.Thangavelu
Tamil Names - Bala Swaminthan
Tamil Names - Sachi Sri Kantha, August 1992

Cuisine & Dress forms

Cusine "The food traditions of a people express their attitudes to life. They are expressive not only of their geographical psyche but also of their beliefs about health and nutrition. They frequently summarise a people's views on interactive behaviour and etiquette..." more

How to Drape Saris
Photos of  Women & Saris from Tamil Nadu

Festivals & Ceremonials

Festivals of the Tamil People
Bharathidasan on புரட்சித் திருமணத் திட்டம்
Ancient Tamil Marriage Ceremony
Saiva Funeral Rites, N. Mahesan
The Tamil Calendar
E-prarthana Panchangam

Kolam

"'Kolam' refers to decorative artwork drawn on the floor in front of houses and in front of deities in puja rooms. Most often finely ground rice flour is used to make these drawings on wet/moist ground previously sprinkled with water " more

Pudukottai Arts & Culture


Institute of Indology and Tamil Studies - Kolam: A Mirror of Tamil Culture

On the trail of Gods, silks and spices... C.Kumarabharathy
Bharathy(S)'s Ambalam
 
Exploring a Non-Western Culture: The Tamils - Colorado University "My goal is to give  students an intensive ethnographic encounter with one particular non-Western culture, that of the Tamils (pron. Tá-mul), a mainly Hindu ethnic and linguistic group numbering over 60 million found in southern India and in the northeastern region of Sri Lanka, and which is also a growing diasporic community in the USA, Canada, and Europe. As a cultural anthropologist, I have conducted extensive fieldwork in the Tamil-speaking regions of Sri Lanka and south India, so this course will reflect my own experiences and research interests..." Professor Dennis McGilvray
Contribution of Ancient Tamils to the Civilisation and Culture of the World  - K.D. Thgirunavukkarasu, 1997

Buolanger

"Most studies of India concentrate on Northern cultures and relate only to Sanskrit sources. Yet, Indian civilisation was made from the clash of two traditions, the Aryan with the Dravidian. Very little was left of the original Dravidian culture, so too many people completely dismissed its influence. But in Tamil Nadu, it remained unspoiled for a longer time, and is still very much present today, through customs, rituals, and a mostly unexplored literature.
Chantal Boulanger, after studying Indian culture in the usual, Sanskritic way, researched Tamil traditions and Dravidian aspects of Hinduism for more than 10 years, getting in the way a degree in social anthropology with a thesis on priesthood in Shiva temples. She presents lectures about South India in which she opens new horizons for understanding this fascinating culture..."
In the Kingdom of Nataraja
Government Museum, Chennai
Indology - Internet Resources for Indological Scolarship
 
The Blackness of Blackness
Homi Bhaba, "The Location of Culture"- Dr. Mary Klages, 2001
Edward Said, "Orientalism" - Jayson Sae-Saue, 2001
Writings - Alain Danielou

Related Books

Caste in Tamil Culture: The Religious Foundations of Sudra Domination in Tamil Sri Lanka - Bryan Pfaffenberger
Real and Imagined Women: Gender, Culture and Postcolonialism - Rajeswari Sunder Rajan
Fluid Signs: Being a Person the Tamil Way - E. Valentine Daniel

Library
Visit the
Art and Culture Sections of
Library

 

 


TAMIL culture:
the Heart of Tamil National Consciousness


Art

Architecture

Sculpture

Dance

Music

Cuisine

Caste

Women

Nadesan Satyendra

"There is no doubt that the culture of the Tamils belongs to the great and immortal treasures of the world's civilisation..."  Dr. Kamil.V. Zvelebil

".. It is the fight for national existence which sets culture moving and opens to it the doors of creation... It is at the heart of national consciousness that international consciousness lives and grows. And this two-fold emerging is ultimately the source of all culture..." Frantz Fanon at the Congress of Black African Writers, 1959

"..மொழியும் கலையும் கலாசாரமும் வளம் பெற்று வளர்ச்சியும் உயர்ச்சியும் அடையும பொழுதே தேசிய இனக் கட்டமைப்பு இறுக்கம் பெறுகின்றது. பலம் பெறுகின்றது. மனித வாழ்வும் சமூக உறவுகளும் மேன்மை பெறுகின்றது. தேசிய நாகரிகம் உன்னதம் பெறுகின்றது.." Velupillai Pirabakaran

 "I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any of them. Mine is not a religion of the prison house. It has room for the least among God's creatures, but is proof against the insolent pride of race, religion or colour.." Mahatma Gandhi


What is Tamil culture? The attempt to define, often results in sweeping generalisations - and sweeping generalisations end up as meaningless clichés.

In early 1996, in the Tamil Circle, a series of articles written by C.Kumarabharathy of Wellington, New Zealand looked at Tamil culture from the standpoint of an expatriate Tamil in an emerging post modern world. His reflections provided food for thought.

"..We tend to think (implicitly), that culture is embodied in Bharatha Natyam, Film Songs, Films, Dramas and having thus externalised "Culture", we then send our children to 'study' them. This way, parents 'make up' for their supposed lack of culture, by the alleged accomplishments of the children. It is generally, not clear to us, that behaviour, our conflicts and relationships also form the bedrock of culture. The dance and songs are external manifestations of this inwardness..."

The external manifestations of Tamil culture may be found in the songs and dances, in the cuisine and dress forms, in the customs and rituals of the Tamil people. But, as always, the external and the internal go together. The earliest literature that we have in Tamil, the Eight Anthologies, was itself classified into two main groups: 'internal' (aham) and 'external' (puram).

Ernest Gellner remarks:

"Definitions of culture.... in the anthropological rather than the normative sense, are notoriously difficult and unsatisfactory. It is probably best to approach this problem by using this term without attempting too much in the way of formal definition, and looking at what culture does." (Professor Ernest Gellner, Cambridge University - Nations and Nationalism, Basil Blackwell, 1983)

"...culture consists in the way analogies are drawn between things; in the way certain thoughts are used to think others; in figure of speech, in which a term is transferred to something it does not literally apply to... Culture consists in the images that make imagination possible, in the media with which we mediate experience. All the artefacts we make and the relationships we enter into, have in that sense 'cultural' consequences, for they give form and shape to the way we think about other artefacts, other relationships..."

If culture is the distilled essence of the way of life of a people, then, in the case of the Tamil people, the distillation process has covered a time span of more than two thousand years. And, today, the Tamil people, living in many lands and across distant seas acquire strength from the richness of their own cultural heritage - not only because that that culture has something to do with their own roots and their way of life but also because they believe that that culture has a significant contribution to make to the world.

Five decades ago, Czech Professor Dr. Kamil.V. Zvelebil writing in 'Tamil Culture' made an appeal under the heading "The Tamil Contribution to World’s Civilisation". He said:

"There is no doubt that the culture of the Tamils belongs to the great and immortal treasures of the world's civilisation.

From my own experience, however, I can say that even those who claim to have a wide outlook and deep education, both Indians and Europeans, are not aware of this fact. And it is the task of the Tamils themselves, and of those sympathetic mlecchas who try to interpret Tamil culture, to acquaint the world's cultural public with the most important contributions of Tamil culture to the world's civilisation.

As far as literary works are concerned, it is necessary before all to make them accessible to a wide public of readers by means of artistic translations into the worlds great languages; with regard to works of arts and architecture, it is necessary to make them a common treasure of the world with the help of publications giving detailed and perfect reproductions. This may be achieved through the UNESCO as well as through the work of individual scholars and local Institutions; this should also be one of the main tasks of the Academy of Tamil Culture.

The following works of art and literature are among the most remarkable contributions of the Tamil creative genius to the world's cultural treasure and should be familiar to the whole world and admired and beloved by all in the same way as the poems of Homer, the dramas of Shakespeare, the pictures of Rembrandt, the cathedrals of France and the sculptures of Greece:

1. The ancient Tamil lyrical poetry compiled in ‘The Eight Anthologies’; this poetry is so unique and vigorous, full of such vivid realism and written so masterfully that it can be compared probably only with some of the pieces of ancient Greek lyrical poetry;

2. The Thirukural, one of the great books of the world, one of those singular emanations of the human heart and spirit which preach positive love and forgiveness and peace;

3. The epical poem Cilappathikaram, which by its "baroque splendour', and by the charm and magic of its lyrical parts belongs to the epic masterpieces of the world;

4. The school of Bhakti both Vaishnava and Saiva, which is one of those most sincere and passionate efforts of man to grasp the Absolute; and its supreme literary expression in the works of Manikkavasagar, Tirugnana Sambandar, Nammalwar and Andal.

5. The philosophical system of Saiva Sidhdhantha, a system, which may be ranked among the most perfect and cleverest systems of human thought;

6. The South Indian bronzes of the Chola period, those splendid and amazing sculptures belonging to the best creations of humanity,

7. The Dravidian temple architecture, of which the chief representatives are perhaps the temples of Tanjore, Chidambaram and Madurai.

These seven different forms of contribution without which the world would be definitely less rich and less happy, should engage the immediate attention of all who are interested in Tamil culture; they should all dedicate their time and efforts to make known (and well and intimately known) to the whole of the world these heights of Tamil creative genius." (Tamil Culture - Vol. V, No. 4. October, 1956)

To those contributions listed by Professor Zvelbil, may be added the Classical Dance of the Ancient Tamils - the Bharatha Natyam and the poetic works of  Maha Kavi Subramaniya Bharathy and Kaviyarasu Kannadhasan, which are being recognised today as ranking with the best in the world. 

Professor Kamil Zvelebil's words in 1956 that "it is the task of the Tamils themselves... to acquaint the world's cultural public with the most important contributions of Tamil culture to the world's civilisation", continue to retain their power to influence and inspire more than forty years later.

And, today, the internet and the world wide web have rendered that task, hopefully, less difficult. The "Pongal-2000" Project of the Institute of Asian Studies (Madras), the Institute for Indology and Tamil Studies of the University of Cologne and the University of California-Berkeley and Project Madurai launched by Dr.Kalyanasundaram, serve as examples of that which can be achieved on the web. 

But culture is not something from top to down.

 "...I don't believe culture can be done top down. You have to have a really energetic, organic and powerful culture and to do that, the only way is bottom up. If you try to encourage creativity through camps, workshops and courses, you will get only technicians because that is how you train technicians, not thinkers..."Cultivating culture from the bottom up, Lung Ying-tai, 2004

Again, Partha Chatterjee has pointed out the dilemma faced by the nationalist:

"Nationalism denied the alleged inferiority of the colonised people; it also asserted that a backward nation could 'modernise' itself while retaining its cultural identity. It thus produced a discourse in which, even as it challenged the colonial claim to political domination, it also accepted the very intellectual premises of 'modernity' on which colonial domination was based. How are we to sort out these contradictory elements in nationalist discourse?.. how does one accept what is valuable in another's culture without losing one's own cultural identity?". (Partha Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought & the Colonial World - A Derivative Discourse - UNU & Zed, 1986)

How does one accept what is valuable in another's culture without losing one's own cultural identity? The cultural identity of a people and their political freedom go hand in hand. Frantz Fannon was right to point out in the Reciprocal Bases of National Culture and the Fight for Freedom ...

"The nation is not only the condition of  culture, its fruitfulness, its continuous renewal, and its deepening. It is also a necessity. It is the fight for national existence which sets culture moving and opens to it the doors of creation. Later on it is the nation which will ensure the conditions and framework necessary to culture. The nation gathers together the various indispensable elements necessary for the creation of a culture, those elements which alone can give it credibility, validity, life and creative power. In the same way it is its national character that will make such a culture open to other cultures and which will enable it to influence and permeate other cultures. A non-existent culture can hardly be expected to have bearing on reality, or to influence reality."

It is only in freedom that the exchange between different cultures will remain voluntary and not enforced. In the longer term, it is true that the growth of nationalism will lead to a voluntary pooling of sovereignties, in a regional, and ultimately in a world context - but the crucial element must remain the voluntariness of the process.

"Nationalism is first and foremost a state of mind, an act of consciousness .. the mental life of man is as much dominated by an ego-consciousness as it is by a group consciousness. Both are complex states of mind at which we arrive through experiences of differentiation and opposition, of the ego and the surrounding world, of the we group and those outside the group .

It is a fact often commented upon that this growth of nationalism and of national sectionalisms happened at the very same time when international relations, trade, and communications were developing as never before; that local languages were raised to the dignity of literary and cultural languages just at the time when it seemed most desirable to efface all differences of language by the spread of world languages.

This view overlooks the fact that that very growth of nationalism all over the earth, with its awakening of the masses to participation in political and cultural life, prepared the way for the closer cultural contacts of all the civilisations of mankind, at the same time separating and uniting them." (Hans Kohn: The Idea of Nationalism , A Study of its Origins and Background. New York. 1944)

The effort to acquaint the world of the important contributions of Tamil culture, is not the expression of an exaggerated nationalism. At the same time, we are not unmindful of Thomas Macaulay and his notorious efforts at cultural imperialism.

"The languages of Western Europe civilised Russia. I cannot doubt that they will do for the Hindoo what they have done for the Tartar ... We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect." Thomas Macaulay - Minute on Indian Education, 1835

Frantz Fannon's words in Racism and Culture are apposite

 "...nations that undertake a colonial war have no concern for the confrontation of cultures. War is a gigantic business and every approach must be governed by this datum. The enslavement, in the strictest sense, of the native population is the prime necessity...It is not possible to enslave men without logically making them inferior through and through. And racism is only the emotional, affective, sometimes intellectual explanation of this inferiorization..."

Tamil culture is a culture of great antiquity and it has made, and will continue to make, a rich contribution to world civilisation. That is not to say that Tamils do not need to address the evils of the caste system that has divided them as a people. They do. And it is not to say that Tamils do not need to address the evils perpetuated on women in their society. They do. Professor Hart was right to point out in the Forum on Brahminism & the Tamil Nation

"..Yes, of course Brahmins have had their own political agenda to push. They have been responsible for many things that I feel are entirely unconscionable. But is this any different from the other high castes? I have heard many many stories of high non-Brahmin castes killing and abusing Dalits. You can't blame the Brahmins for this. In fact, the most pernicious example of the caste system was in the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka, where there are virtually no Brahmins and never have been....Tamil culture has not suffered because of one group. It has suffered because of the caste system and because of its treatment of women... Let's promote inter caste marriage, let's get rid of dowry and give women independence and self-respect, and above all, let's avoid a victimization complex which only plays into the hands of those who have a vested interest in continuing the inequities that exist in Tamilnad. If every Brahmin were to disappear from Tamilnad, the Dalits and others who are exploited would benefited not one iota..."  

Tamils have gained, and continue to gain, by their interaction with other peoples and other cultures - particularly those of the Indian sub continent. No people are an island unto themselves. Chauvinism does not advance the culture of a people. The words of the Tamil poet Kanniyan Poongundran in Purananuru (Poem 196), written two thousand years, serve as a useful reminder of the truth of that which Frantz Fannon wrote - "..It is at the heart of national consciousness that international consciousness lives and grows. And this two-fold emerging is ultimately the source of all culture...".

To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not form others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.   
Death's no new thing; nor do our bosoms thrill
When Joyous life seems like a luscious draught.   
When grieved, we patient suffer; for, we deem
This much - praised life of ours a fragile raft   
Borne down the waters of some mountain stream
That o'er huge boulders roaring seeks the plain   
Tho' storms with lightnings' flash from darken'd skies
Descend, the raft goes on as fates ordain.   
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise ! -
We marvel not at greatness of the great;
Still less despise we men of low estate.

- English Translation by Rev. G.U.Pope in Tamil Heroic Poems:


Definitions of Culture - John H. Bodley
Topical: Culture consists of everything on a list of topics, or categories, such as social organization, religion, or economy
Historical: Culture is social heritage, or tradition, that is passed on to future generations
Behavioral: Culture is shared, learned human behavior, a way of life
Normative: Culture is ideals, values, or rules for living
Functional: Culture is the way humans solve problems of adapting to the environment or living together
Mental: Culture is a complex of ideas, or learned habits, that inhibit impulses and distinguish people from animals
Structural: Culture consists of patterned and interrelated ideas, symbols, or behaviors
Symbolic: Culture is based on arbitrarily assigned meanings that are shared by a society
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