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Home > Tamil Language & Literature > Status of Tamil as a Classical Language > Tamil the Classical Language Extra Ordinaire
Tamil - the Classical Language Extra Ordinaire
AppuArchie – ‘jAzhan’ R. Shanmugalingam
Persistence and perseverance by Tamil enthusiasts of every
description, for more than one hundred years, have finally made the
current Indian Government recognize Tamil as a Classical Language.
The euphoria over the announcement by the Center to recognize Tamil
as a Classical Language, thanks to the influence of Tamil Nadu
Parliamentary Contingent Leader in the coalition government,
‘mUtaRignar’ – The Triple Scholar or Elder Scholar Kalaignar
Dr. Karunanithi, is
still very high. In fact, there was a mass meeting to felicitate
Kalaignar in Madurai on October 17, 2004. This writer was privileged
to join the many when the title ‘cemmozhic cevvEL’ – Classical
Language Restorer (an equivalent for ‘cevvEL, escapes my memory and
hence Restorer in the context of events connected with getting
Center recognition is used here) was conferred on Kalaignar.
In this mood of political coalition of former inimical southern political parties and the Congress, Kalaignar has become a political force to reckon with. Signs are he is using his influence with the Center to get what the South deserved but denied during the North South Divide.
Although Tamil is recognized as a Classical Language, Parliament has to enact laws to make Tamil and other languages already recognized as Classical Languages without any legal position except as bureaucratic orders. What entails in making Tamil a classical Language by the Center? What criteria determine a language and qualify it as a classical language? Linguists have expounded 11 conditions. They are:
1. Antiquity leadership
It is disheartening to note that a government that bestowed classical language to Sanskrit that meets with only 7 of the 11 conditions according to linguists loathed recognizing Tamil as a classical language. Even today there are disruptive elements that are seeking ways and means to differ or deter the process.
Such disruptive forces during the British rule started the Asiatic Society in the then Madras city. Later the society was headquartered in Kolkotta that led to Sanskrit gaining importance. The Germans had close contact with the Asiatic Society. Max Muller proudly considered the Germans as of Aryan origin, translated the Vedas, and other Sanskrit works. Following Max Muller in the mid-1800s other German Scholars translated Kalidasa’s Shakuntala and other Sanskrit works.
Such writings attracted the German scholars more and more to the
study of Sanskrit, and many of them began to hold Bharatiya culture
in great esteem. Prof. Winternitz has described their reverence and
enthusiasm in the following words:
English and French translations of Sanskrit works added to the worldwide notion that Indian literature was only Sanskrit literature. It is under these circumstances the British Government announced Sanskrit as a classical language.
Although western savants such as FR. Beschi, a great lexicographer, grammarian, and poet also popularly known as Viramamunivar authored
“A Grammar of the High Dialect of the Tamil Language termed Shen-Tamil; to which is added an introduction to Tamil Poetry. By the Reverand Father, C. J. Beschi, Jesuit Missionary in the Kingdom of Madura. Translated from the original Latin by Benjamin Guy Babington. Printed at the College Press Madras. 1822.”
N. Kandaswamy, Honorary Secretary, The Tanjore Maharajah Serfoji’s Saraswathy Mahal Library, in his Preface to the 1971 reprint of the book wrote: “Though much in demand, the work has been out of print for more than a century and quarter.”
Naturally the western world was unaware of the existence of Tamil until Reverend Dr. Caldwell published “A Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian or South Indian Family of Languages. The London Times of 19th October 1891 wrote in part on Dr. Caldwell’s Life and Work as follows:
Reverend Dr. G. U. Pope added a great service in expanding the orbit of international understanding of Tamil. Dr. Pope in the Preface to his book Thirukural wrote in part:
There are copious accolades on Tamil and I give below a few more:
“Tamil is one of the great cultural languages of the world. It is classical language in the true sense of the term and it is at the same time a living language.” (Dr. Kamil Zvelibil)
“Sanskrit, Hebrew, Greek – the three classic languages of the
world contain Tamil words in their vocabulary.” (Rhys Davids)
“Tamil is the oldest of the present languages.” (FR. Heras)
What benefits accrue in the Indian Center recognizing Tamil as a classical language?
There are no Tamil Departments in the Delhi University and other International Indian Universities unlike the universities in Sri Lanka, Singapore and Malaysia. Once Tamil get the seal of approval from the Center, there is every possibility Tamil Departments will be established in Indian universities. This will help Tamils in these places to study Tamil and create an atmosphere conducive to embark on Tamil research.
The Indian University Grant Commission will accept and recognize Tamil in disbursing funds. Similar to the Sanskrit Year celebrated by the Indian Government the Tamil Year will also be celebrated. A similar cost expended by the Center in celebrating the Sanskrit Year will be made available for the various Indian embassies to arrange for Tamils under their provinces to organize celebrations extolling the virtues of Tamil thus apprising the international community the Tamil credentials for renown.
A Tamil museum similar to the London museum will fill a void that will dispel the idea promoted by disruptive elements to ascribe disconnected values such as BRAHMI is the origin of Tamil script.
The Center helped in the translation of many Sanskrit works into many foreign languages and the Tamils can emphasize on the need for such help from the Center to translate Tamil works into foreign languages.
Hitherto archaeological findings, other stone inscriptions and copper artifacts are assessed according to Sanskrit measures. This will change once Tamil as a classical language is made into law and we should insist future study of our past should be measured by the Tamil yardstick and not to suit foreign dimensions.
Tamil could be made to cope with the need to express scientific and technological advances. Researchers could compare Tamil with other languages and establish with proof the uniqueness of Tamil. This will attract foreign scholars to rush to Tamil lands for gaining first hand knowledge. More comprehensive plan for the growth and development of Tamil could be enhanced by Tamil being a classical language in the eyes of the Indian government.
It is my fear that internal disruptive forces will find their way into the classical language fray and slow down the many programs envisaged to give Tamil her exalted position in the world of languages. Let us keep political mileage gain away from establishing Tamil as the foremost classical language that undoubtedly meets the eleven conditions identified by linguists. Thus Tamil could be the beacon this troubled world needs to bring back sanity and harmony with such lofty maxims found in Thirukural
‘innA cejtAry oRuttal avar NAnha
“To punish wrong, with kindly benefits the doers