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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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"Who is a Tamil" - C.Sivaratnam from Tamils in Early Ceylon, 1968
Tamil Collective Identity in Caste, Nationalism & Ethnicity - Jacob Pandian


V.C.Vijayaraghavan, 4 July 2006
T.Wignesan, 3 July 2006
V.C.Vijayaraghavan, 30 June 2006
Mariam Manuel Pillai, 24 May 2006
Saravanamuttu Sriranjan, 17 December 2000
T.Wignesan, 19 November 2000
Arivazhagan Balasubramanian, 9 August 2000
Arul Nathan 28 June 2000
Nagalingam Ethirveerasingham US, 14 March 2000 together with response by tamilnation.org
R.Shanmugalingam US 13 March 2000
Vijay Pillai US 26 February 2000, together with response by tamilnation.org
Kannan, Chennai 10 February 2000
Abraham Judah, Singapore, 13 November 1999
Muthu Senthil, US 8 November 1999
Jayjude, Malaysia, 6 November 1999
V.Thangavelu, Canada, 31 October 1999
Ramesh Ramanathan 19 October 1999
Prabu Deva, 6 October 1999
M. Thanabalasingham, Australia, 21 August 1999
Kumar Rajendran, 26 July 1999
Manoharan Ratnam, 8 July 1999
Kumar Rajendran, Chennai 2 July 1999
C.Kumarabharathy, New Zealand 19 June 1999
C.Kumarabharathy, New Zealand 12 June 1999 together with response by tamilnation.org
V.Thangavelu , Canada 9 June 1999
Nagalingam Ethirveerasingham, U.S., 2 April 1999 together with response by tamilnation.org
Nagalingam Ethirveerasingham, U.S., January 1999 together with responseby tamilnation.org
Vamanan Sundar 23 January 1999 together with response by tamilnation.org
An Anonymous Observer, US, December 1998
Sachi Sri Kantha, Japan, 2 December 1998
C.Kumarabharathy, New Zealand, July 1998
C.R.Selvakumar, Canada, 1 July 1998 together with response by tamilnation.org
C.Kumarabharathy , New Zealand, 2 June 1998

One Hundred Tamils of the 20th Century

Who is a Tamil? & Criteria for Selection

"...I am not sure whether there is any such thing as pure anything. In human evolution, if we are to accept the current theories by anthropologists, and findings in the field of DNA and human migration, there are no pure human groups in Sri Lanka, India, or even in the remote areas of Papua New Guinea.  Discrimination should also not be made because a person is born into the Brahmin or any other caste. If we do, we are then recognising and promoting the archaic concept of caste. This of course opens the question, "Who is a Pure Tamil?"  More importantly, "What does purity of a group of people mean in this day and age?" I hope tamilnation.org and its readers shine some light on the question of who is a "pure Tamilian," and whether such persons really exist..."  Nagalingam Ethirveerasingham, 14 March 2000

From: V.C.Vijayaraghavan, London, UK 4 July 2006

This is a reply to Dr.Wignesan's comment of 3rd July. Dr.Wignesan says

"...let us look at his confused and contradictory definition. 'A simplest definition of who is a Tamil, is whoever whose mother-tongue is Tamil or perhaps whose major life work was communicated in Tamil.' ......................With his definition, at one fell swoop he has managed to wipe off the slate the vast majority of Tamils who have ever existed or continue to exist on this earth"

I don't know how anyone can draw a conclusion from the statement "Tamil is the mother-tongue of X" to "X is not a Tamil". It completely baffles me. I am a Tamil by virtue of speaking Tamil in my family as the first language and which I learnt as a child. This by and large applies to most people. This is what in Tamil is called 'tAy mozhi'. This has nothing to do with literacy or knowledge of literature. There is no need to complicate this simple point.

I added the second definition (with a 'perhaps') to include people like E.V.Ramaswamy Naicker, whose mother tongue was Kannada, but who communicated in Tamil and made his career in Tamil. Perhaps, I can add one more qualification: i.e. those whose ancestors once spoke Tamil and who consider themselves Tamil because of that. With this , I want to include lot of Tamils in South Africa, Fiji, Reunion and other places.

Usually, I would not have bothered with the question 'who is Tamil', since such a question keeps cropping up in this forum, I responded.

Dr.Wignesan also says:

"I take it, in his confusion over 'Who is a Tamil?” and 'Who merits to be in the list of the Hundred Most Distinguished Tamils'...."

First, I did not take the question of Hundred Most Distinguished Tamils. As to who is confused, I let the readers to judge for themselves.

Dr.Wignesan says

"After using the adjective “Dravidan” to designate the Brahmins living in the south and west of the sub-continent, and then to extend it to cover those of the northeast, ..".

I did not extend the term to the Brahmins in the north and the east. I wrote that the traditional classification for Brahmins of north and east of India was Pancha-Gauda. All that is necessary is to go over what I wrote instead of  making assumptions.

He also asks

"In other words, if all Brahmins are “Dravida” or “Dravidan”, where is there a need to designate one sub-section of it under the same term? ".

I simply wrote what is traditionally understood, i.e. a subsection of Tamil iyers are called 'Dravida' as well as Pancha-Dravida means Brahmins of south and west India. I don't see any contradiction here. For that matter, gauda brahmins means from Bengal, but pancha-gauda means means more than that. This site lists the pancha-gauda and pancha-dravida brahmins http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brahmin#Pancha-Gauda

This site gives the sub-classifications of Tamil Iyers among whom are "Puroor Dravida" and "Thummagunta dravida" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iyer

BTW, I am not Iyer, so there is no assumption of trying to plug in Iyer ideas.

He also quotes Rev.Caldwell and other 19th century works. Classical Tamil literature was only partly known to him and he is a good example 19th century linguists who mistook a linguistic classification for a racial one. For example see Eugene Irschalk "Politics and Social Conflict in South India" Ch 8 .

"Today (i.e. 1968) the term Dravidian usually refers to a family of languages in south India... In the first and second decades of the 20th - the term - in south India at least- had both a racial and linguistic connonation."

This is what I pointed out when Dr.Wignesan  mentioned "Dravidian racial stocks" in the first place. Dr.Wignesan says

"All languages keep adding to their vocabulary through coining new words or by borrowing from other languages."

True, while it must be kept in mind that due to the cultural imperialism of the English in the 19th/20th centuries, the word 'Dravidian' was taken out of context from Indian culture by British academics and the Indians slavishly followed the European meanings of those terms, instead of following the traditional usage of the same terms. I thank tamilnation.org, Dr.Wignesan for his replies and other readers for their indulgence.

From: T. Wignesan, Paris, France, 3 July 2006

Re the “comment” on my use of the phrase “Dravidian racial stock” by V.C.Vijayaraghavan, June 30, 2006, I should normally be concerned only with his definition of “Who is a Tamil?”, but the alarmist and presumptuous nature of his brief explanations merit a réplique.

To begin with, let us look at his confused and contradictory definition. “A simplest definition of who is a Tamil, is whoever whose mother-tongue is Tamil or perhaps whose major life work was communicated in Tamil.

This definition reveals a lot, even if in three short paragraphs, the “commentator” is unable to enunciate his thoughts in a coherent manner. I take it, in his confusion over “Who is a Tamil?” and “Who merits to be in the list of the Hundred Most Distinguished Tamils”, he commits the very same “logical fallacies” (I won’t go so far as to add “monumental proportions”) he’s trying vainly to impute to my universally accepted use of the phrase.

With his definition, at one fell swoop he has managed to wipe off the slate the vast majority of Tamils who have ever existed or continue to exist on this earth. Just think of the legions of illiterate Tamils who through no fault of their own, like the displaced “indentured” victims of colonialism, have had to cope with, on the one hand, either literary and/or classical Tamil, or, on the other, other “mother” or first tongues in other lands. I wonder if he has not in the process erased his very own existence as a Tamil by postulating that unless a Tamil’s “major life work” was not communicated in Tamil, he didn’t deserve to be either a Tamil or a nominee on the list.

While bearing in mind that both “Dravidian” and “Dravidan” are used as epithets in both commentaries – his and mine – it is quite evident that his objection to the use of the adjective “Dravidian” to designate various peoples in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Kannada, and Andhra (a term that has perhaps been mistakenly assigned to Maharashtra and Gujerat as well) arises from his dire need to arrogate the term exclusively in the name of the Brahmin caste(s).

After using the adjective “Dravidan” to designate the Brahmins living in the south and west of the sub-continent, and then to extend it to cover those of the northeast, he falls into the trap of the “logical fallacy” he unwittingly, no doubt, set for himself by adding that a Tamil Iyer sub-caste goes under the very same name.

In other words, if all Brahmins are “Dravida” or “Dravidan”, where is there a need to designate one sub-section of it under the same term? Or, in the same breath, to invoke its existence in his commentary?

The introduction of the term “Dravidian” by Robert Charles Caldwell in his A Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian or South Indian Family of Languages (1856) soon took on the connotations that the major Tamil dictionaries followed up to our times. Here are some definitions from recognised Tamil dictionaries:

1. Tamil Lexikon, Vol. III, Part One, p. 1887. Published under the authority of the University of Madras, 1982:

tiravitam: 1. The Tamil country; 2. South India, south of Vindhya, including the five provinces, Tiravitam, Antiram, Kannatam, Makarattiram and Kurccaram; 3. The Tamil language; 4. Vernacular tongues of the inhabitants of S.India, Tamil Telegu, Kanarese, Malayalam, Tulu, etc.

tiravita-p-piramanar: Brahmans living south of the Vindhya range, distinct from kauta-p-piramanar” [i.e.; takshnateesattup paarpanar]

2. (M.)Winslow’s A Comprehensive Tamil and English Dictionary, First pub. 1862; Repr. for Asian Educational Services in 1979, p. 585-B:

“tiravidam/tiraavidam: s. Southern India including in its largest sense, five provinces, and their respective languages. 1. tiravidam, the Tamil country or Dravida proper. 2. antiram, Telingu or Telugu. 3. kannadam, Canarese. 4. makaratiram, Maharatta. 5. kuurcaram, Gujeratta. W. p. 429. DRAVID’A, - Note. tiravidam is applied to the people and language of each of these provinces, but especially to the Tamil. Some follow a different arrangement which includes the Malayalam and Cingalese. In Wilson’s dictionary, Dravida is defined to be the country from Madras to Cape Comorin, a definition too limited, according to usage in the Peninsula.”

3. Dictionary of Contemporary Tamil (Kriyavin Tarkalat Tamil Akarati), published with financial assistance from the Department of Education of the Government of India, 1st edn. 1992, p.544-A:

tiravidam: n. referring to people speaking Tamil, Telegu, Kannada, Malayalam, etc. but refers mainly to the land which they inhabit.”

To conclude, his main objection remains hardly veiled: he objects to Westerners or Western academics using an exclusively Brahmin “self-referent” term to designate “non-Brahmins”. Then follows the punch-line: “… which has been given up by European academics themsleves; so let us not wallow in that fallacy.”

Should we slavishly follow – as he exhorts us – Western usage now that – according to him – the term “Dravidian” has been relinquished by the very people who in the first place introduced it?

All languages keep adding to their vocabulary through coining new words or by borrowing from other languages. It’s a dynamic process, for language is a product of collective creative activity going on all the time. The French language which contributed handsomely to the British tongue in the first fifty years after the Norman Conquest in 1066, now in turn is hurriedly absorbing English terms in a spate of re-invigoration which provoked the old Sorbonne’s Comparative Literature Chair - Professor Etiemble - to protest in a publication: Parlez-vous franglais? (Français+Anglais) in 1973.

From: V.C.Vijayaraghavan, London 30 June 2006

Dr.Wignesan writes "As this is not the case, it should appear logical to apply birthright as a means by which to distinguish a Tamil, say, from a Telegu, both ethnic members, mind you, being of the same Dravidian racial stock."

Dravidian as a western academic term refers to a linguistic family. To read it a as a racial group is a logical fallacy of monumental proportions. After all, none of the classical and pre-British colonial Tamil writers talk of of a 'Dravidian' race; so why should we? It was a 19th century European academic fallacy to equate a linguistic group with a racial group and which has been given up by European academics themselves; so let us not wallow in that fallacy.

'Dravidan' as a term in Indian writings to refer to a set of people - especially as a self-referent - comes from Brahminical writings. Brahmins in South India , Maharashtra and Gujarat were referred to a Pancha-Dravidas in contra-distinction to Pancha-Gaudas who were the Brahmins in Northern and eastern India. One of the Tamil Iyer subsections is also called 'dravida'.

A simplest definition of who is a Tamil, is whoever whose mother-tongue is Tamil or perhaps whose major life work was communicated in Tamil.

From: Mariam Manuel Pillai, Matottam, Tamil Eelam, 24 May 2006

I'm intrigued by browsing the One Hundred  Tamils Comments page. I find T Wignesan's comment most acceptable, inclusive and convincing.

Who is a Jew? You could be speaking Yiddish, Swahili, German, English, French, Hindi, Hebrew or even Gibberish...as long as your mother is a Jewess then you are a Jew indeed. I have a splendid scholarly friend at John Hopkins, US; who considers him to be a Tamil. Now his father is Swedish and his father's mother is Tamil from Madras. His mother is Danish, his mother's father is a Nadar from KOLUMBU, Ceylon. My friend IS a TAMIL "every bit" as he puts it even though he looks a blue-eyed blond hair Scandinavian.

Do we have to be conversant in Tamil to be a Tamil? I doubt it. I tell diaspora children, don't tell others that you are Sri Lankan. You don't know Sri Lanka do you? They reply 'NO, we've just gone there a few times for holidays'. My advise to these children "Tell them you are Tamil. It does not matter where you are living currently; it does not matter whether you are able speak the language; but you are a Tamil".

My parents were products of Colonialism. They could not read or write Tamil. My older brother was of similar background. They spoke the "vernacular" as they put it. But place them on a public platform - their choice of language was of course English - owing to fluency. I remember visiting the late Mr Alagakone FP - MP of Mannar as a little boy at his residence. My father would sit and chat for hours about Tamil politics. It was all in English, interspersed by Tamil remarks. Did that make them less of a Tamil? Ouch, they'll turn in their grave. They were every inch  Tamils and they were very proud of it. Today I meet some Tamils who are enviably fluent in "Senthamil" but they have no "Thamil unarvu". I see the gap...I consider that to be a spiritual matter....Humans are essentially spiritual beings - as much as they are rational beings.

I'm not saying for one moment that language and culture are not important. We must "preserve" our ancient language, some argue. We can't however preserve language if its living. It evolves and grows...language and culture are dynamic...I listen to the Tamil Radio and some times I don't understand the language. I never said "Ahavai" for "Vayathu". For bicycle and motor cycle and various other things new words have been invented. I strain to understand. And the way in which news is read is too fast for me. Am I not a Tamil? Don't answer - that is only a rhetorical question...

We ought to mature - out side our constrictions and confines. Tamils need not be insecure. We know our origins and we know our destiny. Many centuries ago our forefathers sang "Yathum uray yavarum kerlir". In 21st century we too must broaden our horizons and carry that spirit... the Tamilness -- which is larger than just being Tamil, I suppose. That is Barathi's VIDUTHALAI...

From:  Saravanamuttu Sriranjan , 17 December 2000

Most of the Tamil nominees are not suitable for your list. Some of the nominators, like frogs in the well, know nothing beyond their homes. I would like to point out that most  Tamils do not like to speak in Tamil within their own community. They prefer to speak in English, even though some of them cannot speak that properly. One day, I was invited to an Arangetam of Bharatha Natyam. About 70% of the audience were Tamils. All of the songs were in Tamil. But it was unfortunate that there were not a single word spoken in Tamil by the Chief Guest or the Parents of the Dancer. They feel it is a shame to speak their mother tongue But we should appreciate MGR.. Even though he was a Malayali, he was better known in the Tamil nation than in Kerala. He sacrificed his whole life for the up liftment of the Tamil nation. I remember a proposition that if two people of the same tongue speak to each other in English, they must be both English or both Tamils!  Finally, it is my humble request - please speak Tamil with Tamils & English with English.

From: T.Wignesan19 November 2000

I must say I'm somewhat taken aback by the arguments. Please let me explain.

Since Tamils don't have a country of their own, it seems to me that the yardstick by which the notion of a Tamil can be circumscribed would be the same for a Tamil national or citizen if the opposite was the case, that is, if a Tamil Nation existed within geographical confines. As this is not the case, it should appear logical to apply birthright as a means by which to distinguish a Tamil, say, from a Telegu, both ethnic members, mind you, being of the same Dravidian racial stock.

Of course, the argument over purity of racial breeding can have no validity whatsoever almost anywhere in the world, and the Tamils besides have always been open to miscegenation from the times of the Aryan invasions/migrations into the Indo-Gangetic plains, or the pre-B.C. arrival of  Mlecchas (Greeks) and Arabs as traders and the establishment of Roman  settlements (Romans served Tamil kings as military advisers, engineers, and bodyguards) in Southern India. Add to this the heady colonial concoction of Portuguese, Dutch, and British strains in the old Ceylon and the notion of what constitutes a Sri Lankan Tamil or an Indian Tamil becomes an  anthropological enigma. One should not forget that - in between - the Muslim invaders sacked Madurai in the middle ages, paving the way for other invaders from the northwest of the sub-continent to impregnate and fertilise  longstanding reigns in such Tamil strongholds as Tricchi and Tanjavur.

So, it would only stand to reason to claim that a Tamil is anyone who is born of "Tamil" parents (that is, those who claim a Tamil "nationality", even if juridically non-existent, speak or understand the Tamil language, and generally subscribe to the manners and customs of the traditional Tamil society). [For this non-essential aspect, see, for example, Simon Casie  Chitty's The Castes, Customs, Manners, and Literature of the Tamils, 1934.]

But then, I stress, such a definition should remain openly flexible to modification, at least, for the present generation, and, in particular, with regard to the scattered Tamil diaspora population. 

The problem naturally arises as to how we may apply such notions in each individual case. Quite frankly, I do not think it would serve to insist on "service to the community" - even if this might seem a desirable quality - as a rule by which to assess the eligibility of a Tamil in being included in the list, for this would unnecessarily invoke standards which might prove to be thorny, partial, and indecisive. It should be enough that the nominee  distinguished himself in his career. You are not going to put Professor Subramaniam Chandrasekar, the Nobel Prize winning astrophysician, out of the  list simply because he became an American and/or teacher at Chicago University all his adult life. If he didn't, he might perhaps never have distinguished himself in the same way.

Of course, some names stand out in the list and point to anomalies  in our attempts to circumscribe the notion or idea of Tamils. Ananda K.Coomaraswamy is one. His father, Sir Mutu Coomaraswamy, was perhaps the most important Tamil political leader in the latter half of the 19th century in Ceylon, but then his mother was an English aristocrat, a descendant of  Queen Victoria's Lady-in-Waiting. Even if AKC was born in Ceylon, he left the country with his mother when he was only two. [See T.Wignesan's " Ananda K.Coomaraswamy's Aesthetics: the Rasa theory and the Hindu religious tradition in art - A Critique" in The Journal of the Institute of Asian Studies, Vol.XIV, 1 (Chennai), September 1996.] His achievement in the realms of art, religion, and philosophy grounded in South Asia is far too extensive and groundbreaking to be discarded on racial or "communal service" grounds, even if he had willingly forsaken research in Sri Lanka after 1907. It should not be forgotten that the British confiscated his passport in 1917 and  proscribed him from setting foot in Empire territory from then on. He died an American citizen in 1947. 

From: Arivazhagan Balasubramanian, 9 August 2000

"Who is a Tamil? There is no race in the world which is pure."  The above comment by Nagalingam Ethirveerasingham is thought provoking, but at  the same time one should consider what the Aryan Brahmins have done for Tamil and the Tamil people. I have no objection to considering Bharathiyar's name. But at the same time persons like Rajaji - who was for Hindi instead of Tamil while he was the C.M., Kanchi Sankarachari - who  has recently said that Brahmins are superior, and MGR (it was during his rule only that Brahmins got hold of the administration they lost to Dravidian movement) should not be considered. They are for the varna or caste system through which they want to divide and rule the Tamil people (which they had done for centuries) till leaders like Periyar and Anna helped Tamils to take note of  their identity. So, please consider what a person has done for Tamils and for Tamil before including his or her name in the one hundred Tamils list.


From: Arul Nathan 28 June 2000

I fully agree with Abraham Judah of Singapore. Because one speaks Tamil, he is not a Tamilian. We are Tamil by birth and only such people should be mentioned. Aryans were the one who suppressed us so much down through the centuries, created the shame called Castes, to split us who once lived as one people, like brothers. They are the one who misled people to believe and worship whatever they had created for thier livlihood. The Aryans and Brahmins have no place in Tamil issues.


From: Nagalingam Ethirveerasingham USA, 14 March 2000

Mr. V. Thangavelu's (31 October 1999) objection to the names of some nominees to the list of "100 Tamils..." may not be valid. However, his questioning of the inclusion of my name to the list is a valid one. The criteria given by TamilNation and later by Messers Thanabalasingam (21 August 1999), Sachi Sri Kantha, Kumarabharathy, and others are excellent. From those contributions, a selection criteria and method can be formulated. Using any of those standards I do not qualify to be nominated for the honour.

I like to share with Tamilnation readers, my grandmother's perspective of my athletic achievement. On the day I returned to Jaffna from competing in the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, by the early morning train from Colombo after a five months sea journey, many people were gathered at home and wanted to hear about the Olympics.

My grandmother sat on a bench and listened to my enthusiastic tale of the Helsinki Olympics from the opening to closing ceremonies. She seemed proud of me and enjoyed hearing my story. Having lost my mother to tuberculosis when I was 12, she took the place of my mother. When I had finished my tale and it was time for me to take a bath and get ready to go to school, she asked me, "what did you do at the Olympic Games?"

Her question seemed like the old question of Rama's relationship to Sita. I told her of my jumping at the Olympics. She had this perplexed look on her face and asked, "You went all the way to (Seemai) Europe for so long, missing your GCE OL examination, to jump over a stick like you do in the backyard?"

My ego that was reaching the sky popped and fell to the ground. The bath at the well that morning was a time for reflection. It is from that time onwards that I paid attention to my studies.

To this day, a bath at the well or a shower brings me the image of my grandmother and her wisdom. My achievements in athletics since that day was tempered by the memory of her observation. She only went to school for two years. I had never seen her read or write...

....I like to make an observation on what Mr. Kannan from Chennai " (10 February, 2000) and others wrote on the nominees for 100 Tamils... Mr. Kannan refers to himself  "as a Pure Tamilian," and questions the nomination of MGR, and Brahmins on the basis of "Pure Tamil."

I am not sure whether there is any such thing as pure anything. In human evolution, if we are to accept the current theories by anthropologists, and findings in the field of DNA and human migration, there are no pure human groups in Sri Lanka, India, or even in the remote areas of Papua New Guinea.

Discrimination should also not be made because a person is born into the Brahmin or any other caste. If we do, we are then recognising and promoting the archaic concept of caste. This of course opens the question, "Who is a Pure Tamil?"

More importantly, "What does purity of a group of people mean in this day and age?" I hope "tamilnation" and its readers shine some light on the question of who is a "pure Tamilian," and whether such persons really exist. I am a Tamil because I think I am.

Response by tamilnation.org: Nagalingam Ethirveerasingham's thoughtful comments will hopefully provoke further thought on a central issue that he has raised.  Who is a Tamil? Definitions will always create difficulties.Every inside has an outside and the relationship between the two is not extrinsic but intrinsic - and it is not static but dynamic. It seems that our identities are formed by a dynamic interaction with the external. The comments in Alice in Wonderland continue to be relevant.

"'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less'. 'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things'. 'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master - that's all'." (Lewis Carrol - Through the Looking Glass, c.vi)

The circumstance that this quote was used by Lord Justice Aitken in a well known dissenting judgment in a House of Lords case in England, shows perhaps, that even lawyers have great uncertainty about the meaning of words! Having said that, there may be a need to discuss the question of who is a Tamil - and an attempt will be made to crystallise some of the elements in the coming months.

It was kind of Mr.Ethirveerasingham, to have shared his grandmother's response (and her homespun wisdom) with the visitors to the tamilnation website. Many thousands of Tamils in Eelam in the1950s, were proud of N.Ethirveerasingham's achievement at the Olympics. It was an achievement that was a source of inspiration to young Tamils and therein lay his contribution to Tamil togetherness. The words of Abdul Kalam come to mind:

"I will not be presumptuous enough to say that my life can be a role model for anybody; but some poor child living in an obscure place, in an underprivileged social setting may find a little solace in the way my destiny has been shaped. It could perhaps help such children liberate themselves from the bondage of their illusory backwardness and hopelessness?.."

When we, as a people, nominate those who have contributed to our growing togetherness, we honour not so much our nominees, but ourselves, as a people.


From: R.Shanmugalingam US 13 March 2000

'vanhakkm anput tamizc celvangkaLE'

It pains me to note signs of fundamentalist fanaticism in some of the comments regarding the list of 100 Tamils of the 20th century. ... the parameters for nominations to this august list were defined as follows:

"tamilnation invites your nominations to a list of 100 Tamils of the 20th century who have made significant contributions to the world and to Tamil togetherness - whether such contributions be in scientific thought, literature, political action, personal sacrifice and example, spirituality or any other area. Please e-mail a short biography of your nominee to hundredtamils@sathyam.demon.co.uk"

I am glad that your webiste is an all Tamil embracing website. Although I was born in Jaffna, I am a Tamil at large and proud to be the Tamil American I have become. There is nothing more pre-occupying to me than to contribute my  mite to the survival of Tamils and their progress with dignity and honor. It is true most Tamils all over the world are faced with humiliations and even threat to their existence. Racism is the catchword for political expediency in many states. A divisive Tamil communalism weakens the struggle against racism and other forms of oppression.

The world has yet to learn more about the uniqueness of the Tamil people. Prof. George Hart in his introduction to 'puRaNAnURu', wrote,

" 'puRaNAnURu' is among the earliest works in Tamil that we possess. It was written before Aryan influence had penetrated the south as thoroughly as it did later and is a testament of pre-Aryan South India and, to a significant extent, of pre_Aryan India."

Fortunately, Tamil communalism is confined to only  language. Let us not bring other human issues and make a further mess of an already messed up Tamil life.

If we want some individual or individuals to be included, then according to the terms of the nomination, anyone could nominate any number .... Tamils, except for EELAVAR in Sri Lanka and another country where things do not seem what they are, are not persecuted for being Tamils. Therefore, 'tamiz anparkaLE' let us look for the milk in the half full milk bottle and not the microorganisms in the empty space...


From: Vijay Pillai US 26 February 2000

Am I right in pointing out what I read recently to my utter surprise that Periyar was from Kannada state and not a Tamil? I also was surprised that he was supposed to have said Tamils in Tamil Nadu at that time had no leadership qualities and it was left for some one like him from Kannadam to take charge? Well, it is not too late to learn. Please correct me if I am wrong. He was supposed to have started the Dravidian movement and not Tamilian movement. Does that make it more broader than Tamil Nadu? It reminds me of a film star who has won the hearts and minds of Tamils in Tamil Nadu with his famous, unique and often repeated quote to the Tamils - 'ennai valavaikum theivankale'. He must be a business genius as well.

Response by tamilnation.org: *Anita Diehl in her study of E.V.Ramasamy Naicker (Lund Studies in International History) published by Esseltetudium, Norway, 1977 has this to say:

"E.V.Ramaswami Naicker (Periyar) was born on September 17th 1879 in Erode, Tamil Nadu, into a wealthy and orthodox Kannada Naidu family. His father was a merchant, a business man in the city and the family belonged to the Naicker caste, the upper stratum of the Sudras. The Naickers were originally Naidu inhabitants of the Vijayanagar kingdom who migrated to Bellari and Mysore. Those who migrated to Mysore, now Karnataka state, came to be known as 'Kannadika Baliyas' and the caste name became corrupted and came to be known as 'Naicker'....

....Tamil was Periyar's main means of communication orally as well as in writing. Apart from that, Canarese was spoken at his home and Periyar had a working knowledge of it as well Telegu... The Dravidian Movement and Periyar's propaganda which had a religious influence as far as opposition to Brahmin domination goes, linked up with the search for Dravidian, read Tamil, identity. There are signs of a break up of traditional Brahmin religious domination: through Self-Respect Marriages, less respect for the traditional socio-religious role of the Brahmins, increased secularisation in urban areas and the introduction of the Tamil language in temple worship...."

Anita Diehl remarks: "Periyar's grave in Chennai, on the campus of the Dravida Kazham centre has become a public place, the 'Thanthai Periyar Memorial'. Not everybody's grave is kept as a public memorial in Tamil Nadu."

There is no record that we have been able to trace as to his alleged statement about the leadership qualities of the 'Tamils' of his time. It is also useful to remember that during British rule, the Madras Presidency included not only present day Tamil Nadu but also parts of what are today, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala.  Here, K. Nambi Arooran's analysis in his Tamil Renaissance and Dravidian Nationalism may be of interest:

"...The Tamil Renaissance took place at the same time as the (Indian) 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...."

Again, as for MGR, it may be useful to remind ourselves of the love and affection in which he was and is held by millions of Tamils and it may be unwise to dismiss that love and affection as the love and affection of the gullible. The words of C.P.Goliard in MGR - the Man from Marathur and Malai Nadu bear repetiton here:

"That the admiration Tamil masses had for MGR was not purely a ‘cinema craze’ was proved in India, when movie stars of equal stature such as Sivaji Ganesan, N.T. Rama Rao and Amitabh Bachehan could not transfer their popularity in movies to the political world.... How could one explain the extraordinary career of MGR, which began in Kandy and ended in Madras? Though not considered  a native in the place of his birth or in Tamil Nadu where he grew up and called it home, he became the adored leader, who would be envied by every local politician... Like other great leaders and revolutionaries, MGR also had his weaknesses. But these do not detract from the good deeds he did for the down-trodden in Tamil Nadu and for  Eelam Tamils who landed in India as refugees after 1983. MGR was neither an intellectual nor a folk philosopher. But his life-time teaching was short and simple; 'Fight for your Rights'... We miss you, Vathiyar..."

tamilnation takes the view that, whatever limitations that each may have had, Periyar, C.N.Annadurai, M.Karunanithi and MGR, have each made significant and important contributions to the growth of a Tamil national consciousness - a togetherness which is rooted in an ancient heritage, a rich language and literature, a vibrant culture and which is given purpose and direction today, by a determined aspiration to live in equality and in freedom, in an emerging post-modern world.


From: Kannan, Chennai 10 February 2000

....I've got some reservations over the selection of Tamilians for the list of 100 Tamils. I support the view of V.Thangavelu, Canada, 31 October 1999 fully. As a pure Tamilian, I could not digest including the names of Sankarachariar, Rajaji, R.Venkatraman etc..

I have no reservation concerning the selection of any Dravidian. But I have reservations over the selection of any Brahmin. How can you think of including these Aryans into this list?. Then please don't say "list of 100 Tamils". Rather you can say "Members of Tamilnadu Kudyiruppor Sangam".

When the Chief Minister of Tamilnadu said that Tamil archanai should be carried out in Tamil in temples of Tamilnadu, Sankarachariar was the first person to say "No one should tell us in what language we should do the archanais. We know that."

R.Venkatraman was the person who dissolved the then Tamil rule in Tamilnadu  to satisfy his community.....Would anyone dissolve the Jayalalitha Government before completion of 5 Years rule?. But they dissolved the Karunanithi Government. Now they permit the Karunanithi Government to run, just because he supports BJP Government.

I need not tell you about others, as you know all of them.

Still I feel, that independent  Tamil Eelam could not be achieved because these Brahmins (Subramaniam Swami, Jayalalitha,....)  raise the issue of the murder of Rajiv Gandhi   and keep Tamilians in Tamil Nadu from speaking in support of  the Eelam Struggle...

Please consider my views. These are all issues burning in the heart of Tamils....


From: Abraham Judah, Singapore, 13 November 1999

....We all know that Brahmins are of  Non Dravidian extract and are of foreign origin.They are a people of Persian, Turkish origin. Aryans ! Non Indian ethnic.Thus they should all be excluded. We all know that for a fact that they are against the Dravidian Tamils and that  they had always distanced themselves ... .Thus I don't see how some of the Brahmins have slipped in.... They have nothing to do with the antiquity of the Dravidian civilisation and  traditional Indian culture.Their association is all with the Aryan north...

From: Muthu Senthil, USA 8 November 1999

Although you are democratic in listing the leaders nominated to the one hundred Tamils forum, it is really disheartening to see the names like Sankaracharyas, Venkataramans  and Rajagopaplacharyas who have been acting against the interest of Tamils.To be frank, all the 'Brahminical' Hindu institutions are historically anti-Tamil. Even now, one can see, how the Hindu news establishment that is blessed with Sankaracharya Mutt is acting against the Tamil race, literature, culture, and values.


From: Jayjude, Malaysia, 6 November 1999

Malayalees,Telugus, Karnataka, Tamils and Orissa people are all originally Tamils. It is only the language that is different. Do not make this an issue and further divide us....

From: V.Thangavelu, Canada, 31 October 1999

...C.Rajagopalachari was the high priest of the twice-born Brahmins who as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu (then Madras Presidency) thought fit to introduce compulsory Hindi ( to his credit he reversed his stand later in life) as a subject of education in schools in the thirties. He was also the author of the infamous Bill on Kulak Kalvi (traditional caste based job) meant to make the son of a washerman to learn washing, the son of a hairdresser to learn hairdressing etc. etc....

(Neither do I agree with the nomination of) Sankarachariar. Sankarachariar is the one who does not speak Tamil immediately after his silent prayer (Mavuna Viratham) because he considers same as 'Neeshapashai'! To him only Sanskrit is 'Thevapashai' and he will speak only in that language. He is also the same individual who wants to perpetuate the Varnachratharmam and the attendant caste system laid down in the ‘holy’ Vedas. In the third volume of "Voice Divine" authored by him this is what he says-

"Therefore, the different duties ordained for each of the four varnas and Ashramams such as the Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vysya and Sudra should be strictly followed ad that they should not perform the duty ordained for another. Our shastras are firm in laying down that law is not the same for all."

His counter-part Puri Jaganatham Sankarachariar Jagatguru is still worse. He openly advocates the continuity of the caste system and has said that there is not enough soap in the world to wash the ‘theeddu’ out of low caste people. If this is Hinduism I will have none of it though I am born in it...


From: Ramesh Ramanathan 19 October 1999

Vannakam. I would like to make a note on the selection of list of the 100 Tamils of the Century. The quest has elicited the names of a number of people and this would have helped you make a complete list of great Tamilians. I would like to specify one point: people may have been born anywhere, but our concern is how much of an impact that these people on the growth of Tamil and its popularity. Thanks.

From: Prabu Deva 6 October 1999

I am a concerned Tamil and I  have found that you have listed at least 3 people who are not Tamils. I have no objection if you want to honour Tamils who have contributed to the well being our society (Tamils). Under the heading Dance, Music and Drama you have listed Kamal Hassan and K. Balachander. Both of them are Telegu Brahmins. ... Under Politics and Society, you have listed M.G.Ramachandran who is a confirmed Malayalee. ...


From: M. Thanapalasingham, Australia, 21 August 1999

Vannakam. The search for 100 Tamils of the century has produced an interesting array of nominations from varying fields of endeavour, ranging from science to the arts, to freedom fighters and  philanthropists. How does one pick the most "deserving" of the honour? How does one use objective measures without the intrusion of subjective judgement? What criteria does one stipulate? Some that come to mind are:

Tamils who have made a positive contribution:

* the worth of which transcends time. Some may question this too.

* that involves personal sacrifice beyond measure

* towards a Tamil "Rennaissance"(marumalarchi) in the arts, cultures etc.

* by directing the 'history' of the Tamils towards freedom and justice for all Tamils?

* by protecting our identities and preserving it for future generations

It is inevitable that the relative worth of each of these criteria would vary enormously, depending on the subjective judgement of the observer. Who is to decide the relative merit of the Tamil scientist and the Tamil poet? Who are the true "greats" and who are the merely "distinguished? Is it really necessary to pick and choose? It may be sufficient to recognise and let it rest...


From: Kumar Rajendran 26 July 1999

Re Mr Manoharan's comment, Dr MGR was born in Kandy in Sri Lanka. He is technically a Tamil. Objection to his nomination should be overruled.

From Manoharan Ratnam  8 July 1999

I do not agree with the nomination of the following:

a) M.G Ramachandran , unlike EVR and Vaiko, though non Tamils but are technically Tamils as they were born in Tamilnadu, MGR does not qualify to be Tamil...

From Kumar Rajendran, Chennai 2 July 1999

I would nominate Bharat Ratna , Puratchi Thalivar , Ponmana Chemmal, Dr.M.G.Ramachandran who changed the history of Tamil Nadu , who willed all his properties worth crores of rupees for the disabled poor people of Tamil Nadu, who fought for the rights of the Eelam Tamils , who was a man of the masses , who was one who came from nothing to something due to sheer hard work and devotion to be the greatest Tamil of this century! Please see also http://www.aiadmk.org


From: C.Kumarabharathy, New Zealand 19 June 1999

The posting by Mr. V.Thangavelu of Canada dated 9th June 99  brings to my mind the cultural pressures that weighed down on  Sri Lankan Tamils during 1960-1970's. These pressures had the widespread effect of depersonalising Tamils and robbing them of their self esteem. I was really skirting around this topic in my last posting. I think I should express what I personally feel about this, in order to put this all behind us.

Now, the first thing I wish to state clearly is that being a communist doesn't imply that the individual is an "anti-Tamil" in the sense, we usually think. In fact some of these "communist" people had made personal sacrifices as the price for their idealism. Some examples I know are: A Vaithilingam (maths teacher), communist Karthigesu,(English teacher), Mahesan master (English teacher), Varatharajaperumal (maths teacher). There could be many others.

They were dedicated teachers par excellence. They could be proudly quoted by a student as his mentor and that too even after a long experience in life. That, I am not a communist does not blind me to this fact. In fact, mentor is the word here, not just a teacher. They were with the people and shared their life. This of course meant that they had no great ambitions in getting lucrative jobs in government service. This would have been fairly easy for them considering their qualifications and communication skills. But they were content to remain as teachers. Anyway in a poor country, some element of communism may actually do some good. The market forces, brand names and the so called consumer choice are insubstantial. Which is another issue.

The perception that leftists were undermining the Tamils, came up in a different way. I will come to this now. This arose as a consequence of the latter-day leftists usurping the elected representatives of the Tamils (who were not co-operating with the successive governments) and filling the power vacuum. They had become the power brokers. The blame does not lie entirely with the leftists. The middle class had outstanding issues with the government machinery. Transfers, jobs, promotion, increments, permits and so on - problems which were crying out for a broker to intervene. So that is 1960-70 saga. Not taking a principled stand since 1960 on the question of the Tamil people has cost the left movement irreparable damage. The compromise with Sinhala parties had in the end submerged their (left parties) separate identities. This eased them out of the mainstream. The otherwise potential alternative force had, thus petered out.

Coming to another point. There appears to be a threshold level of middle class (as practised then) in the composition of a society, beyond which the society plunges into mediocrity and degeneration. The "communists" I mentioned earlier were from an 'different stock', which remained close to the ethos of an earlier era.

Valluvar had to say this about evaluating greatness. No not greatness but goodness. Because in old Tamil classics greatness was synonymous with goodness. They are based on moral values.

thakavar.gif (2378 bytes)

This comes in the chapter naduvu nilai . Fitness or unfitness (in public life) of a person can be judged by the "remnant" he leaves behind. Remnant could be taken as the "essence" - sum total of what one leaves behind. A legacy, a heritage. It is for us to evaluate this in the best sense of that word. That Prof. Kailasapathy (K) had a following, and left behind a certain tradition in literary criticism cannot be disputed. His and Sivathamby's advent into the Tamil Nadu literary circles, introduced Eelam literature to wider readership.

We have to look charitably at K and the camp followers dominating Radio Ceylon, Sakitya Mandalam etc, as a phenomenon of an era. I have no personal knowledge of the goings on (from inside) except by what one gathers from the air, so to speak. The propaganda machinery of Radio Ceylon and Colombo journalism somehow contrived to subject us to what I felt at that time to be a sort of 'tyranny of left rationalism'. It appeared to me as an untimely cultural reorientation exercise. You see, this was right in the midst of a time when Tamils were facing physical insecurity as well. It could be that we felt that way, by error, then saw scapegoats in leftists or had they really acted unwisely? Combination of factors is more likely. Who knows !

So we have to stand apart in certain areas but accept the original contribution of a different way of looking at literature as the result of K's influence. Of this I am convinced.

This brings me to another point which I mentioned in my earlier posting. Somasundara Pulavar, Thalayasingham (T) are two names that I had earlier said could be included in the list of one hundred Tamils. I do not wish to pursue this any further than stating a few points. Just as K's adherents are teaching literary criticism in universities, Pulavar's Thinnai students have been teaching in vernacular schools and Thotta Pallis (estate schools) and had made a quite contribution. A person does what is appropriate in the circumstances.

A person engaged in a spiritual quest like T cannot be evaluated in terms of failure or success -  the quest may have its own life, which we may not recognise now. There is no scientific theory to back my last statement. Call it old fashioned belief, if you like. But I still go along with it. Bear in mind, all social and political sciences have within them seeds of heavily implied beliefs, which slip across quietly,  masquerading as common sense. We have to be aware of this as well. This posting defines my framework of viewing, which is also my prejudice.


From: C.Kumarabharathy, New Zealand 12 June 1999

I had initially participated in this forum in mid 1998. I did not have 'any second thoughts' about this list at that time. Now I do have. Let me explain. When people we honour are far away in time to current affairs we accept them on 'a general acceptance criteria' . This acceptance makes unanimity easy to reach. But when we come closer to our times, we know more about these people and the mass media image of them built over years still lingers. Then as I said second thoughts enter. Particularly when they are alive- you never know what they might do to upset this acceptance! The dead cannot do further damage is the presumption here! However, I accept we have to cross this bridge. Without taking issues personally with the sponsors, I would question a few names. It is not that I mean disrespect to the dead or alive. And with malice towards none, I make these comments.

Kalki Krishnamoorthy was a colossus striding in Tamil journalistic field at a time when much was expected from a new India. These were euphoric times, though it all evaporated quickly. I have been and still am his admirer. His Ponniyin Selvan introduced the grandiose empire of the Cholas - though it appears somewhat exaggerated when I read it now. Nevertheless it was a need of the time. However, I consider Puthumai Pithan (PP) as a creative writer who deserves better recognition than Kalki. If we are looking for a creative writer of that era my endorsement is for PP.

Another name that deserves  serious consideration is Ashokamitran, a very sensitive and (rare writer) not very well known because he was not in the pop magazine circuit. A list without him would not be whole. Obviously this is my judgement. He may outlive many others because of the genuine interest in life that he shares with his readers. He looks at people more compassionately than others - that is without judgement. This is a rare quality in Tamil fiction.

I have some hesitation about names being proposed mainly by Sri Lankan sponsors. The reason being that this category of persons have been out of touch with recent developments. They have been out of main stream events for a period so that they idolise names known when they were young and impressionable. The perceptions that they have about socio-political life of Tamil Nadu is antiquated. I say this in all humility. Anyway we have to allow for this possibility, if due recognition were to be obtained for this project. If this is a trans national venture we should have this caution. I do not claim any better qualifications either.

Some times I wonder, whether there is a large gap between the perception of the Tamilian in Tamil Nadu as to how he identifies as a Tamil or Indian as against how a Sri Lankan Tamil consider the image of  his Tamilian counterpart in Tamil Nadu. I have seen this too often. Our ideas are fairly frozen in time, commencing when we started excursions into the magazine and film world. This of course is not a rule, but it often happens. It is good to know this. Would it be difficult to get the list checked out by few Tamil Nadu intellectuals, to see if it holds water. The names of La sa Ramamirtham, Janakiraman and Jeyakanthan come to my mind but let me not digress too much. I think I have stated my point.

Similar doubts cross my mind re Maramalai Adigal and Bharathidasan. Kannadasan was more prolific (though given to a bit of sensuality ). He brought life into otherwise drab Tamil cinema lyrics. Pre Kannadasan lyrics were virtually painful in the majority. But by itself what upliftment these flamboyant lyrics did other than titillating may remain a question. But I will pass this as a personal judgement. We could for this purpose of finding 100 Tamils, say tentatively that there is a creative stream of excellence and a stream of popular appeal. We should recognise both, I suppose. In which case we could accept Kannadasan on this account.

Bharathidasan appears to be overrated by his association with Dravidian movement. But remember, we have already recognised its stalwarts. You see, the Madras media, builds up names and sustains it for propping itself up, in the process both are in win win situation. Kalki had his cronies, Vasan his, and Hindu had its pets. This has been a self erecting crane. Having gone through some much in life, we should use our changed perceptions in these matters. Many of us have this, but we don’t express them. It has been acquired at a cost and we should not hesitate to trust our intuition.

I have no qualms with MS. She lives for music of a kind that is rare and her life is an inspiration. Mahakavi Rudramoorthy and Thalayasingham are two names that come up for scrutiny. The latter lived for what he wrote, he was experimenting boldly with living a certain kind of life- of practical spiritualism and encountered difficulties in the process. His social consciousness was good. He needs to be taken up for review. I am not sure whether Arumuga Navalar was considered in this process. He recognised the challenges of his time even when English was not widely spoken in peninsula. Navalar had to be a controversial figure, as he was living in challenging times when the fabric of Tamil culture was under direct threat. He has to be evaluated in the context of his time.

I was really happy to note the name of Dr P S Subramaniam, in this list. It assures me that there are people who could see the greatness in a modest man going quietly in life healing others. He belongs to an era in Jaffna, when modesty was a norm.

In this period two scholars lived and worked quietly, but making deep impression on society. I am referring to Pandithamani Kanapathypillai and Navaliyoor Somasundara Pulavar. The latter was an icon of mid century Jaffna. He was not known in India. His poems for children had wide popularity and had attained status of folk songs, in the sense people know nut do not remember the author kind of situation. What impressed me about PS, Pulavar and Pandithamani is that they lived close to people and their life was simple. But they had profound effect on society. But their era faded quietly into forgotten history. Why they were not taken up later is another question.

Post 1958 saw a crop of western educated (essentially middle class conditioned) intellectuals filling the Tamil departments and journalism. They wielded much clout in public life. They were capable and had trans Palk Strait scope. They had left leanings. They had visions of a society, which did not find a place for old guards like Pulavar, or a spiritualist like Thalayasingham. But their era too has passed after a brief sprout. The gap between words and actual life has been growing rapidly in modern times, and it is for us to re-evaluate history, taking these into account. It is in this context that the name of Mu Thalayasingham comes to my mind. He was a different person in difficult times. After saying this I should state that Dr Kailasapathy deserves a place among 100 Tamils along with Prof Thurairajah. Probably the only other candidate in this category would be Dr Sivathamby.

I am sure Tamil Nation readers will have something to say about all these. When we are close to events it is not easy to get an objective agreement. I do not persist in what I am saying, I am sure Tamils already selected lend credibility to the title but I wanted to evoke discussion. Also feel that I should bring up what I feel about all this. I feel that Thalayasingham, Navalar and Ashokamitran would be very likely candidates without which the list will not be complete.

Response by tamilnation: Many thanks for your thoughtful, and thought provoking contribution. By examining some of the deeper layers of a quest for a Hundred Tamils of the 20th Century, you have helped to focus minds. Incidentally, the reason for excluding Arumuga Navalar was that he passed away during the 19th century.  Mikka Nanri.


From V.Thangavelu , Canada 9 June 1999

I strongly object to your inclusion of K.Kailasapathy and S.Ponnudurai in the above list. Kailasapathy was a pseudo communist whose writings were mostly translations of Russian writers like Gorki and others. So is Ponnuthurai though he broke away from Kailasapathy and Co - but his contribution to Tamil literature is minimal. Both names are unfamiliar to the Tamil public. On the other hand the name of Kasi Anandan should be included. So is that of Puthuvai Ratnadurai. There are other scholars like Arumuga Navalar, Mu.Va. Thiru Vi.Ka; Kalki Krishnamurthy whose names deserve to be included.

From Nagalingam Ethirveerasingham, U.S.A 2 April 1999

I agree that Tamil Entrepreneur's should be very special. Criteria for togetherness can be philanthropic work in the Tamil
community, pioneer in an enterprise in the Tamil community and other such outstanding qualities. Dr. P.S. Subramaniam is a philanthropist who also provided Health service to the community like Albert Shweitzer and was a pioneer in such service. I like to nominate him in the field of Medicine. Thank you for getting the Tamils start thinking in terms of individuals who have contributed to the Tamil community.  Right now I am thinking of Fr Weber.His contribution to the Tamil community in sports and education even in times of tragedy is immeasurable. I knew him since 1951. Should we not nominate him, though he is an American. It is something the Panel could consider.

Response bytamilnation:

Many thanks for your response. As you have rightly pointed out, non Tamils have also contributed to the growing togetherness of the Tamil people - names such as Caldwell, Ellis and Pope come to mind. However, on balance, it may be that we have a large enough task as it is, and it may therefore be necessary for us confine our efforts, at this stage, to the quest for 'One Hundred Tamils of the 20th Century'.

On the question of including a section on Tamil Enterprenuers, on further reflection, (and in the light of the criteria that you have suggested)  it may be that those enterpreneurs who may have made a contribution to Tamil togetherness can be included in the broad Politics and *Society* category. For the time being Dr.Subramaniam's name has been included in this latter category. It may be best to wait to hear other views that may be expressed in this connection.   There is ofcourse the further point, and that is, at the end, after the 100 names are selected, it may *not* be necessary to have them separated into categories at all - indeed, some names may fall into more than one category. As you pointed out  in your earlier mail, the panel will, no doubt,  have a difficult time!


From Nagalingam Ethirveerasingham, U.S.A January 1999

I like to make some comments on the exercise to select the "One Hundred Tamils." I do not envy those who will be in the Panel who will decide on the "One Hundred." I also feel timid to make comments, as my name appears in the nomination list. I observe that the category of "Entrepreneurs" is not included yet. It is important for TamilNation Panel to make a comprehensive list of categories of human activities that takes us from one stage to a higher stage.

In the category of sports, I would like to nominate Mr. Navaratnasamy. He is the first person to swim the Palk Strait from Jaffna to India at the age of 40, in 1955 I think. He was also the first to swim both ways non-stop. He was an agriculture instructor. I do not know any other information about him. He was our hero whom we looked up to then and now. May be your readers could provide more information about him. The news papers of that time carried pictures and information about the swim. When your Panel has picked the final one hundred, I hope you could print small biographical and inspirational booklets for the primary and secondary level students to read. We lack such texts in schools.

It is disappointing to note that Muthiah Muralitharan's name was taken off the list of the One Hundred after the protest by one of your readers. It appears that the reason was that Muralitharan's achievement did not bring about cohesiveness of the Tamils. I have never met Muralee. I have seen him play on Television when I was living in Kilinochchi from 1994 to 1996. The students and others who were with me and watched him play admired Muralee for his bowling and his personality. To them, and to me, he was the ideal of a sportsman even under duress because of the controversy of his bowling.

He, with his performance, brought into focus the attention of Tamils and the cricketing community the world over. He and his performance have given a togetherness in spirit. The Sri Lanka cricket team is the only stage available to him when no other stage exists for him to perform. The black American Arthur Ashe had the Wimbledon and the U.S. Open championships to show what a black man can do. He went to South Africa to defy the apartheid by playing there and showed the black people in South Africa what they can aspire to. Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu admired Arthur Ashe for going to South Africa to play.

I find it difficult to understand the comparison of Foreign Minister Kadirgamar with Muralitharan. I have yet to meet a Tamil who has anything good to say about Kadirgamar's actions and for being part of actions of the SLG that is causing death and destruction of the Tamils. Muralitharan has not consciously done or said anything to hurt or divide the Tamils or anyone else. He had not let himself to be used by the SLG for propaganda. He is making his statement as a Tamil in the cricket field by action for the whole world to see.

Words are not the only means of communication. I do hope that TamilNation would let the original nomination stand for the Panel to make the final decision. Just because Muralitharan does not do what some Tamils want him to do, it does not make his achievement any less nor his person less admirable. It is the value of a person's action that defines the person, not his/her non-action or what others thought of the person. At a time the Western Cricket world is out to crucify him for his deformity, we Tamils should not add to Muralee's misery.

Response bytamilnation:

Yes, the panel will have difficulty - and that is to be expected. The point you make about the absence of an 'Entrepreneur' category is an important one and will need to be rectified. Here, a difficulty that will have to be addressed is the extent to which a successful entrepreneur has contributed to Tamil togetherness. Rajah Sir Annamalai Chettiar was a successful businessman and at the same time furthered Tamil togetherness by founding the Annamalai University and  promoting the Tamil Isai Sangam. Or is it enough simply to be a succesful enterpreneur?   As for Muralitharan, in all fairness, (as you suggest) it is perhaps best, that his name remains on the 'nomination' list for eventual consideration by the Panel.


From Vamanan Sundar 23 January 1999.

"One hundred Tamils of the 20th century" is one of the items I really enjoy. I certainly disagree with your selection of Muttiah Muralitharan as one of them. I am still trying to determine in what way he has contributed to the growth of the Tamil togetherness. I think, actually, he is insulting the Tamils' struggle by being a member in the chauvinistic Sri Lankan cricket team at this crucial time of our independent struggle.

I have no doubt he is a super star in cricket. I am also a cricket fan since I was young. I have seen so many talented cricket players in Jaffna and they have become only a local cricket players in history only because they are Tamils by birth.

Some people might argue his position in sports and the Tamils' struggle for independence are two different things. I disagree with that. What the world did to the South African cricket team when the apparthied were in power is a good example. At this point in time Sri Lanka is using their national team to build up its image in the world and to entertain
the high class Sinhalese people while soldiers from the poor families are loosing their precious lives in the battle field for no reason.

The Tamils and others should boycott Sri Lanka in all the possible way. A good example is the action of the Tamils in Australia showed to the Tamils in the rest of the world it is time to boycott Sri Lanka. They created the slogan, "Sri Lanka, Stop Killing the Tamils" in the air during the cricket match between Sri Lanka and Australia. The message
has reached thousands of Australians and a few Tamils in the stadium.

My strong opinion is that all the Tamils have to boycott the Sri Lankan cricket team. Some people might say that Muralitharan is an Indian Origin Tamil, and thus his actions does not affect the Tamils' struggle. In reality, Indian origin Tamils are also subject to similar actions experienced by the Tamils. We have nothing to be proud of Muralitharan
unless he quits from the Sri Lankan cricket team to show the world that he is an "unarchi ulla Tamilan."

Muraltitharan may want to play for his own personal reasons but I don't think we have to honour him. It may also be argued that we can honour, along the same lines, the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Kadirgamar since he is a Tamil and he is achieving his goals even though his activities affect the Tamils in a negative way.

Response bytamilnation:

The point that you  make that Muralitharan 'is insulting the Tamils' struggle by being a member in the chauvinistic Sri Lankan cricket team at this crucial time of our independent struggle' is a compelling one. The names included in the list  were for 'consideration' and to prompt 'discussion' - and perhaps, this should have been made more clear.

The criteria for eventual selection are the broad ones that appear in the Hundred Tamils webpage: Tamils who have made significant contributions to the world and to Tamil togetherness - whether such contributions be in scientific thought, literature, political action, personal sacrifice and example, spirituality or any other area.

Your view  that personal excellence alone is not enough, and that a Tamil should be included only if he has also made an important contribution to 'Tamil togetherness' is a persuasive one. Any attempt to name a 'Hundred Tamils' will of course meet with difficulties even where appropriate criteria are set - but that is not to say that discussions about criteria will not help to clarify the issues involved and suggestions about possible criteria will always be very welcome.  As I have mentioned in an earlier posting:

"In the end there may be a need to have a panel which may actually discuss names with a view to achieving a broad consensus.... All this ofcourse will take time and much effort. What I have tried to do is to make a small beginning."


From U.S.A.: - An Anonymous Observer December 1998

I looked at the proposals, suggestions and responses... After some deliberations in my mind, I decided to write this note... I only have some observations on the project parameters...

1) The broad definition refers to contributions "to the world and Tamil togetherness". I feel that the definition should include "the Tamils" and therefore read " to the world, to the Tamils and Tamil togetherness". I think the... contribution to the economic, social, cultural, political aspirations of the Tamils should receive proper consideration in the selection.

2) To me, whether they are described as "great" or "prominent" is not as material as the kind of people who are in the list. There are people who have been/are very "prominent", "influential" etc but have been disruptive, made lives and livelihood of their community a misery. As Sachi Sri Kantha points out, suggestions for the list may also be conditioned by people's "tastes". I feel that whatever final list emerges, it should be one that does not attract ridicule, controversy etc, because it would be a slur on the other revered persons given a rightful place in the list.

3) People may have their reasons for not remembering Chellappa Swamy of Nallur, Dr. (P.S.) Subramaniam, Senator Nadesan or Prof Eliezer either because they fall out of the broader definition or they do not meet the criteria that the various respondents are focussing on. Whatever that may be, it would be very sad indeed to have Pirabaharan's name included in a list with Thondaman, Karunanithy and other lesser known persons in the list as suggested.

4) I also notice mention of names in the Guinness Book of Records and an attraction to modern and popular sports. Caution may be called for before getting carried away by the fascination of affluent Tamils, living in the industrialised world, who in their day to day work are bombarded with the "Best Film", "Best Actor", "Most Valuable Player" polls and million dollar names in film and the sports world broadcast all the time. It is important to settle on the vital parameters for the selection so that the list itself would be considered a valuable reference document in the Tamil archives.

5) I have noticed "Role Model" being mentioned as a criteria. I am not certain that this characteristic would be a practical one. I respect Kuttimuni and Thileepan for their ultimate sacrifice for a great cause - their nation. .. (But) They are not my role models, because what they wanted and what they sacrificed is beyond my comprehension. I cannot aspire to be either of them or Ramasamy Naicker. The most I can aspire is to accept their leadership and guidance. If that is what is meant by "role model", I have no qualms.

6) The venerable names that finally get posted in the Hundred list should be of persons who have made noteworthy contributions in the context of their times, the gift they gave to the world, and to the Tamils in the 20th century and the impact their dedication will have in the coming century. I may be an odd ball but great cinema and cricket figures would be the last ones I can think of in this connection.


From Japan: Sachi Sri Kantha, Japan 2 December 1998

I did read the contributions to the 100 Tamils of the 20th Century page. Then I compiled my selections - this is just a first draft. I have defined my criteria of selection and chosen 70 individuals in ten categories (legislators, social activists, literati, artists/entertainers, entrepreneurs, commentators/critics, natural scientists, social scientists, religious dignitaries and sportsmen). Ofcourse some have stamped their influence in more than one category (like Annadurai and MGR).

I hope my criteria for selections will give some food for thought, so that only worthy nominees are brought to the front, and list is not diluted with names nominated for self serving, PR-seeking purposes.

'100 Influential Tamils of the 20th Century' - The word 'influential' is the appropriate one I think, because the use of other terms such as ‘great' or ‘important' or 'notable’, may make it difficult to make an assessment. Selections of individuals also can be influenced by time (the period they lived) and taste (political, regional and cultural) of different Tamilians. What I mean by the word 'influential' is really about 'contributions influential in the international arena, across the prevailing national borders.

Criteria of selection:-

The persons should have influenced the minds of Tamils and/or non-Tamils by their thoughts and deeds. For example, the influence of Tamil legislators, writers and artists (with a few exceptions) is largely felt by the fellow Tamils only. But the influence of Tamil scientists and sportsmen is largely experienced by non-Tamils.

Ideally, the influential Tamils of the 20th century should qualify for selection by virtue of satisfying one of the following criteria:-

(1) They were recipients of coveted international prizes (such as the Nobel prize, World Food Prize).

(2) They have received critical recognition in international mass media (for example, featured in cover stories of news magazines).

(3) Their achievements noted in international reference sources (encyclopaedias, dictionaries, text books, academic journals).

(4) They made eponymous discoveries (such as Raman effect, Ramanujan numbers, Chandrasekhar limit).

(5) Their creations were critically acclaimed by international standards (such as the fictional Malgudi village of R.K.Narayan)

(6) Their records in their chosen field of expertise, accepted as exemplary and trend setting among the non-Tamil peers of their times (such as musical talent of M. S. Subbhulakshmi, the fielding skill of cricketer Venkatraghavan, the military brilliance of Prabhakaran, the spin bowling of Muralitharan, the chess wizardry of Vishwanathan Anand).


From: C.Kumarabharathy, New Zealand, July 1998

The initial list can be considered as an exercise in consolidating opinion on the nominees and arriving at a consensus. Thereafter a finalisation could be made on a representative basis. But the list upto now I see will gain very wide acceptance. This is really an exercise in getting to the roots. If the process is articulated/elaborated it could have educational value for future. We must bear in mind that this is being carried out at a time when Tamil society is in a state of search on many fronts, perhaps the most appropriate time for evaluating history. The lack of well set ways and security spurs earnestness.

What the future generations will need in time are role models. Being in some sort of contact with people who could appeal to them as behavioural role models is probably the only way a " middle class" can shed its self centeredness in stages. The bottom line really is this and then culture can look after itself. In fact then 're culturing' will happen as a matter of course. This is not likely to happen in any dramatic fashion but a certain movement away from the main stream of consumerism etc is the most crucial for expats. As it is it is difficult to have objective discussions on issues simply because we are not used to it. Being honestly aware of the fact that we are materialistic will help to great extent.


From: C.R.Selvakumar, Canada, 1 July 1998

I would like to suggest that you please collect names of Tamils who are to be considered for the inclusion in the list of 100 Tamils, rather than accepting them based on a few write-ups and mere popularity of the names (I'm not
implying this is how you select!).

I've genuine trouble in visualising a few in the already published names as 'one of the 100'. I don't want to single out the names at this point in time, but I can when it is appropriate.

Of course all lists are in some way 'subjective', but considering TamilNation's mission and goals, I think it would be nice if only those who *really*contributed to Tamil, Tamil culture, Tamil awareness and Tamils' life are included.Most certainly there were and are many who affect us in many ways, influence us in many ways, but I would like to know the criteria based on which the names are proposed. May be you had articulated it already somewhere which I had missed.

Among those who contributed to Tamil language and Tamil awareness I would recommend considering PaavaaNar DevanEyan and MaRaimalai AdikaL and Perunchitranaar. I don't know approximately how many from each field (how many fields?) is to be selected. When we have Dr. S. Chandrasekar, we should also have Dr. C.V Raman.

Response from tamilnation:

Many thanks for your thoughtful comments. Yes,  it would be better to 'collect names of Tamils who are to be considered for the inclusion in the list of 100 Tamils, rather than accepting them based on a few write-ups and mere popularity of the names'. The selection can eventually be made from the names included in the Hundred Tamils page - this will be made clear at the next update.

The criteria suggested are the broad ones that appear in the 100 Tamils webpage: Tamils who have made significant contributions to the world and to Tamil togetherness - whether such contributions be in scientific thought, literature, political action, personal sacrifice and example, spirituality or any other area.

A friend from New Zealand put one criteria rather well   - those who "by their commitment and personal example ... have imparted a sense of confidence and a shift ...in consciousness of the people. Such a shift should be an upward movement. In doing this they should have put themselves to the test as well."

Any attempt to name a 'hundred Tamils' will of course meet with difficulties even where appropriate criteria are set - but that is not to say that discussions about criteria will not help to clarify the issues involved and suggestions about possible criteria would be very welcome.

I have not attempted at this stage to set a fixed number of fields or for that matter the numbers of persons for each field. As the names are suggested, the fields or categories may become clearer and eventually it will be possible to make a balanced selection.

In the end there may be a need to have a panel which may actually discuss names with a view to achieving a broad consensus - and reduce the subjective element ( though, ofcourse, subjectivity will always remain). All this ofcourse will take time and much effort. What I have tried to do is to make a small beginning.


From: C.Kumarabharathy, New Zealand, 2 June 1998

"My response to the quest (for hundred Tamils)  is as follows. In such a quest it is easy to be swept off the ground according to the immediate environment and the current consciousness in vogue. The nominees have to stand the test of time in our assessment of their work and a vision that surpasses current pressures. The hundred, by their commitment and personal example should have imparted a sense of confidence and a shift in paradigm or consciousness of the people. Such a shift should be an upward movement. In doing this, they should have put themselves to the test as well. This leads me to people who have cleared the way for better understanding of human nature and will be and are releasing untapped potential....

The other problem is "how much of a Tamil, these gentle persons should be?" and then if we go back to texts that form the fountain of Tamil culture, we may be surprised to find that most of the sources have deep origins beyond an identity that we have now formed and call Tamil. What will be Tamil togetherness over the next 10 years?

May I suggest that a criteria be drawn up if this list is to be widely respected over a period of time.?...  The history of a bigger Tamil nation in the late last century and present century and how the historical challenges were met by the community may be the underlying theme here. In the context of these issues, how these individuals grappled to resolve them with integrity and commitment may be a good common factor to introducing their work. This way, the readers can be walked through  the history at many levels.

From this point of view, EVR Periyar for social justice is a valid candidate. The movement was a historical necessity. Similarly the name of a staunch Tamilian Congressman would be in order. This could be C.Rajagopalachariar. EVR & Rajaji  were complimentary really. S.J.V Chelvanayakam  for Sri Lankan Tamil political awakening. The leader of the estate Tamils who stood for their emancipation is required .... I think Thondaman may be suggested here. Rudramoorthy (Mahakavi)  is the representative voice of middle class, who had known its short comings but could only voice it....

We live on many levels and should acknowledge this. I accept that a change of perception of Tamil politics took place with the armed movement. They stood for something for which they were prepared to die. This is a definite turning point in attitude. No history will be complete without the foremost leaders of  this calibre.

In dealing with Indian names we have to be and we can be more objective. That is understanding the necessity of the DMK movement and also realising its shortcomings. It has reached a philosophical cul-de sac after 35 years in power. It would be a good thing to steer away from the classic Brahmin-non Brahmin divide. Just as much as EVR was a tireless atheist, Kanchi Sankarachariyar was a versatile and revered figure on the other side so to speak. His writ was running independently and unhampered throughout Tamil Nadu at all levels... 

Among literary figures, T. Jayakanthan deserves mention. There are other stalwarts (some of them better creative artistes) but he stood for something in the conscience of the middle class....  Other names  are  Ramana Maharishi, Yogaswamy, U V Swaminatha Iyer, Maha Kavi Bharathiyar, Sir CV Raman, Ramanujan, C. S. Chandrasehkar"




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