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"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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Home  > The Tamil Heritage - History & Geography > Who is a Tamil - C.Sivaratnam

Who is a Tamil?

C.Sivaratnam - (from 'The Tamils in Early Ceylon', 1968)

[see also Tamil National Forum on "Who is a Tamil?"]


To understand who a Tamil is, one has to go back to immemorial times, and study the three component parts of the Dravidian race:

I. Pre-Dravidians (a) Negroids from Africa (b) Proto-Australoids probably from Palestine

II. Proto-Dravidians came from the Eastern Mediterranean region. The above three races migrated into India about five thousand years ago in the above time order, and their amalgam, formed the Dravidian stock. The Proto-Dravidians form the core of this amalgam, while the earlier arrivals became accretions.

Proto Australoids: Although with an aged civilisation, they possessed special high qualities of their owns good enough to be admired. Themselves agriculturists with a colithic culture worshipped the 'digging fork' an agricultural implement as 'Lingam' (phallic-cult), in other words their worshipped this instrument whose constant use gave them food and prosperity. The rice and the variety of vegetable curries and condiments we use today in our cuisine, are their introductions, also turmeric, vermilion and 'tambula' an austric word for betel, used in rituals and social life. As totem worshippers they worshipped Ganesha (Elephant headed god), Naga, (serpent spirits), monkey god, had vague notions of incarnation etc. They practised magic, 'baran" for removal devil eye, The world learnt first from them the enumeration of days, 'Tithis' by the phases of the moon. They voyaged through the sea in outriggers revealing the superiority of their culture over the Negroids who paddled in primitive dugouts.

Proto-Dravidians. (civilised or  Advanced Mediterraneans and Armenoids) There are two theories of their origin:

1. Aotochthoncs, India their original home.

2. Immigration theory, with equal support from scholars for both, They are considered an Eastern Mediterranean or Aegean race with their original home in Crete, the doorstep to Asia and Eutope, with whomm they continued having trade relations

They gained the Asian mainland at Asia Minor where they were called Lycians from where they traversed through High Asia i.e. Anatolia, Armenia, Iran and Baluchistan into India leaving behind in their trail, traces of their blood and civilisation. In Crete they were known by the name which the Greeks wrote as Termilai, in Asia Minor as 'Trimmili'  or Trimalai (Sastri p60), and in India as Dramiza, Dravida, Dramila and finally Tamil. Their deity was "Mother-Earth" who gave them grain, vegetables and food. The 'Mother Goddess' cult belonged exclusively to Crete where it was known as Durgha (compare Trqqas mentioned in Lycian inscriptions in Asia Minor) as Uma or Parvati. (Sastri p61) They probably brought along with them to India this Mediterranean or Aegean Saivaism, Mother Goddess with her consort Siva. The blood, beliefs and culture of the proto-Australoid and proto-Dravidian were incorporated into the general Dravidian stock. The Nagas, Yakkas, Rakshas were sub-Dravidian races with a greater amount of Australoid taint.

[Sources (1) Vedic Age. (1951) and (Vol. I 1965 (pages. 144, 145. 157, 161, 164, and 165). (2) Nilakanta Sastri K. A. - A History of South India 1955-p60.]

The North Dravidians who came into conflict with the Aryans, separated themselves very early as Dasa-Dasyus people and were never Tamils.

The Portuguese and Dutch followed the example of Ceylon chronicles in calling the Tamils of India and Jaffna loosely as Malabars, Malabar proper is known as Kerala or Malala. Of all the Dravidian languages it is Tamil that has exerted the greatest influence on Sinhalese (Concise History of Ceylon, 1961, 40). Sir Grierson, an authority on Indian linguistics mentions 'that Tamil was the oldest, richest and most highly organised of the Dravidian languages, plentiful in vocabulary and cultivated form a remote period". Tamil was the language of the Telugu, Canarese and Malayalee people earlier, Telugu separating from Tamil into a separate literature in 10 A. D. Cannarese in 850 A. D. and Malayalam lastly in 14. A. D. It is held by some that Tamil or some variant of it must have been the language of the prehistoric inhabitants of Ceylon in the 2nd century B. C. (Concise History of Ceylon, 1961, 42).

To quote Sir P Arunachalam from page 80 of his admirable Census Report of 1901, Tamil is so old that its words have passed into the Old Testament of the Hebrews (refer 1 Kings X-P 22). The Hebrew words for peacock, apes and ivory are Tamil. From a very early period they have cultivated their language with such earnestness and assiduity that in the opinion of Bishop Caldwell (the grammarian of Dravidian languages) 'it is impossible for any European who has acquired a competent knowledge of Tamil to regard otherwise than with respect the intellectual capacity of a people among whom so wonderful an organ of thought has been developed. Its literature in its best period is characterised by enthusiasm for Tamilic purity and literary independence'.

In the same census report, 'Mannar and Puttalam were Tamil districts and that, there is a large admixture of Tamil blood and speech in the Sinhalese districts of Chilaw and Negombo."'

"Numerous Tamil place names which have displaced the earlier Sinhalese names are met with in the present Anuradhapura and Kurunegala districts. But most of these with Tamil names are at present inhabited by Sinhalese who had migrated about 300 years ago from the Vanni Hatpattu, the Tamils who occupied them in 13 C. or so having abandoned them. (Concise History of Ceylon, 1961 714). Many Tamil words occur in the Sinhalese inscriptions from the ninth century onwards, particularly words connected with administrative functions and land tenure (Concise History of Ceylon, 1961 433).

There was a register of Tamil clerks in the reign of Vijayabahu I which shows that in his reign certain amount of official business was conducted in Tamil...  Vickramabahu I and Gajabahu II preferred Tamil in their documents (Concise History of Ceylon, 1961 543).

Inscription No. 12 of the second century B. C. found in Periya-Puliyankulam mentions a corporation of Tamil merchants in Anuradhapura of which the captain of a ship "navika" was the head. Tamil inscriptions have been found in different parts of Ceylon, although only a few have been published. Some Tamil inscriptions of the period ranging from the eighth to the eleventh centuries have been discovered at Anuradhapura and other places in the North Central province. Lankatilaka vihara in the Kandyan district has a Tamil inscription of the fourteenth century side by side with Sinhalese inscriptions. This shows that the later Sinhalese kings made use of Tamil also in respect of these inscriptions in some places. The majority of the records left by the Sinhalese rulers between the death of Vijayabahu I and accession of Parakramabahu I (1153) are in Tamil (Concise History of Ceylon, 1961,  45).

'Tamil influence is most clearly discernible in Sinhalese works on astrology and medicine.' Sarajotimalai, a Tamil work on astrology written by a Brahmin, Posa-Raja was placed before Parakramabahu IV of Kurunegala for approval (1310).

A Tamil poet from Ceylon, Ilattu Putan Tevanar contributed his poems to the Madura Sangam in the 1st century B. C. Navaratnam (p 43) states that Putan Tevanar was a Naga poet and comments that this was an indication that the Nagas were ancient Tamils.

Titles such as 'Illangakkon", 'Tennakon" and "Perumal, as well as official designations such as 'Mudaliyar' and 'Aracci' are pure Tamil words. (Concise History of Ceylon, 1961 p 44.).

Tamil influence was strong in the courts of Polonnaruva, Rayigama, Kotte and in the final stages in the court of the last four kings of Kandy as shown in the sequel.

"We find that the study of Tamil formed a feature of Pirivena education from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries. (Chief source- Concise History of Ceylon, 1961 p. 41-45).

The prevalence of the Tamil language was such in early times as to dominate the language of the Sinhalese. Mudaliar W. F. Gunawardhana (to quote from K. Navaratnam Tamil element in Ceylon Culture, 1959 p52- 53) states '1t must be said that Sinhalese is essentially a Dravidian language, its evolution too seems to have been on a Tamil basis .....The structural foundations of the Sinhalese language are Dravidian, while its superstructure, i.e. the vocabulary is Aryan'.

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