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Home > Tamil Culture - the Heart of Tamil National Consciousness > Two Decades of Tamil Studies - Xavier S. Thani Nayagam
Two Decades of Tamil Studies: 1950 -1970
S. Thani Nayagam
Once again the opportunity is presented to introduce to the world of learning and to the Tamil-speaking peoples of the world, a new periodical on Tamil Studies. The opportunity arose earlier when the quarterly journal Tamil Culture was launched in 1952, with the first editorial entitled " This Quarterly Review ".
Between 1952 and 1966, twelve volumes of the periodical were published, the first three volumes as a personal enterprise, and the remaining nine volumes as the organ of the Madras Academy of Tamil Culture. The Editorial Board of Tamil Culture and the scholars who contributed articles, are to be congratulated on the set of twelve magnificent volumes which contain such a wide range of studies on linguistic, literary, historical, philosophical and other themes, as make these volumes indispensable works of reference to scholarship in Tamil Studies as well as in South Asian Studies.
In spite of its excellence and its world-wide distribution, Tamil Culture remained until the last year of publication a compromise between severe academic requirements and academic popularisation, since it sought to satisfy the research worker in Tamil Studies as well as the Tamilophile whose access to the Tamil heritage is only through the medium of English. It popularised two words which express the separate areas in which it aimed at creating interest, namely Tamilology and Tamiliana.
During the years of publication, Tamil Culture functioned as a catalyst for Tamil scholars from all over the world, and created the atmosphere and the academic fellowship and friendships, whereby the formation of the International Association of Tamil Research and the holding of its International Conferences were made possible.
At the First International Conference of Tamil Studies held in Kuala Lumpur (1966), scholars discussed informally the need for a periodical which would meet the growing requirements of the academic world and its growing interest in Dravidian Studies in general and Tamil Studies in particular. As a result of further discussions during the Second International Conference of Tamil Studies held in Madras (1968), and the enthusiastic response to such a proposal from an international Board of Editors, the Journal of Tamil Studies is launched as a half annual review with the hope that it might be published quarterly as soon as circumstances permit.
A Bright Picture
The introductory article of the first volume of Tamil Culture contained the following paragraphs :
Seventeen years after, in 1969, it cannot be said that the place of Tamil Studies has remained static. A great number of circumstances, national and international, have contributed to an awareness, both extensive and deep, of the importance of Tamil Studies in Indological Studies and in South Asian as well as South-East Asian Studies. The post-war development of Asian Studies in non-Asian Universities has been beneficial also to Tamil Studies, and the broadening of the scope of the Humanities and of the Social Sciences and the implementation of recommendations made. by Indianists, has given the occasion for scholarly research in many fields which are new to Tamil Studies.
During the last two decades, Institutes of Indian Studies under foreign initiative have been founded in India, and South Asian institutes have been founded abroad, and these give adequate importance to Dravidian Studies as well as to Tamil Studies. More Universities in South Asian programmes include Tamil language, and Tamil literature either in the original or in translation. The development of Tamil Studies both at home and abroad has been marked by publications of outstanding research and pioneering material, and two International Conferences have gathered together numerous scholars in Tamil from institutions which hitherto were not known to have established interests in Tamil fields. Various Foundations during the last two decades have been liberal in their sponsorship of scholars and scholarship in the Tamil areas.
The development and expansion of Tamil Studies in the last two decades presents a bright picture of planned progress. That picture is made all the more bright by the prospects of an International Institute of Tamil Studies proposed at the Twelfth General Conference of Unesco which invited member states to associate themselves in the creation and membership of an International institute of Tamil Studies.
New Area Centres and Institutes
Sanskritic studies which earlier did not pay adequate attention to Dravidian, have during the last two decades made considerable advance in recognizing the utility and the place of Dravidian languages and culture in a more equitable understanding of both Ancient and Modern India.
In the understanding of the Dravidian element in Indo-Aryan and the Aryan element in Dravidian, eminent Sanskritists have led the field during the last two centuries. Various publications of Professor Jean Filliozat, Professor F. B. J. Kuiper, Prof. M. Mayrhofer, the articles and the Dravidian Etymological Dictionary and its supplement published in collaboration by Professor Thomas Burrow and Professor Murray B. Emeneau (1960 and 1968), and the work of other Indianists in the U.S.A. and in Western and Eastern Europe, have rectified to some extent the earlier imbalance which marked Indological programmes of study. The rectification of that imbalance and new incentives to development have been provided institutionally through the new centres for South Asian Studies and the Institutes of Indian Studies.
The French Institute of Indology in Pondicherry which was inaugurated in 1954 has a programme of far reaching research in Tamilology of both geographical and historical dimensions. By its location, and the prospects of Auroville in its vicinity, and by its orientation towards studies in the area of the historical and cultural relations between South East Asia and South India, the Institute promises to continue giving a new impetus to Tamil Studies. The programme of the Ecole francaise d'Extreme Orient has been linked through the initiative of Professor Jean Filliozat with the programme of the French Institute of Indology in Pondicherry and with the courses in Indology at the College de France.
Among the Institute's present plans of research are the illustration and the comparison of Tamil iconography with puranic literature,and enquiry into popular and rural cults. The Institute's publication of translations of the Sivagamas and of other religious classics, provides primary source material for scholars since the publications illustrate and explain sculptural and epigraphical data in South East Asia and even in China. The Institute's programme of compiling a series of dictionaries based on historical meanings is another branch of enquiry which is new to Tamil Studies.
While concentrating on a programme of historical studies in religion and literature, the French Institute has had authoritative scholars' working in South India in the fields of sociology, anthropology, and geography the published results of whose findings are authoritative works on their subjects.2
The French contribution to the development of Tamil Studies is the happy outcome of a long period of political patronage and cultural interest fostered by the colonial power and French missionaries, but the development of Tamil Studies in the United States of America is almost entirely a development occasioned by World War II and the expansion of American commitment in the non-Western world. Tamil Studies is one of the many fields of studies which have received notice after the Report of the Committee on Indic and Iranian Studies was issued in 1951 by a joint committee of the American Council of Learned Societies and the Social Science Research Council.3 The report under the title " Southern Asia Studies in the United States : A Survey and Plan " called for development in eight categories :
Professor W. Norman Brown says that this report was given a good deal of circulation and had much influence in quarters that counted, and that within ten years after its issuance every item in the plan had been put in execution.4
For about a hundred years earlier eight American universities had Chairs which were filled by Sanskritists who taught the ancient and classical languages of India, (Sanskrit, Pali and Prakrit) but among which they did not include Tamil. The major change from pre-war South Asia studies lay in emphasis upon modern languages and social science subjects.
Both as a geographically widespread Indian language, and as the language of groups of ethnic and sociological interest, Tamil came to be studied in the U.S.A. essentially as a tool for field work. It also shared the grants for the study of modern languages made by the National Defence Education Act of 1958. The first South Asian language and Area Programme was established at the University of Pennsylvania in 1947.
By 1964 there were South Asia programmes at the Universities of Arizona, California (Berkeley), Chicago, Cornell, Duke, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin, as well as at Claremont, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, Rochester and Syracuse. Today Kansas State University, Colgate University and Wesleyan University should be added to the list.
This list does not include the many Universities which include some aspects of Tamil Literature and Culture in their Asian literature programmes, and the many undergraduate colleges like Oberlin, Sweet Briar, Manhattan, Wake Forest, Elmira College, and several others which have introduced some syllabus or other on India. The American universities have distributed the languages of India among themselves. Tamil language finds a place in the teaching programmes especially of the universities of Pennsylvania, Chicago, and Kansas State, and in the rotating summer school.
The federal government was very liberal during and after the war in its grants for the study of the non-Western world. In 1949 Under Public Law 79-584 (Fulbright Act) Faculty members and students were able to visit the Tamil districts for study and research. In 1960, the Library of Congress was authorized under Public Law 83-480 to use counterpart United States funds lying in India to purchase all publications in India. In 1962, under authorization of Congress and administration by the Library of Congress, Public Law 83-480 funds lying in India were also made available to provide thirteen University libraries in the U.S.A. with all publications appearing in Tamil.
The development of the South Asian programmes in universities assumed new proportions and co-ordinated the research of several scholars in different branches of Tamilology by the incorporation of the American Institute of Indian Studies with its headquarters in Poona and a sub-office in Madras. This Institute created in 1961 by fifteen American Universities has now about twentyfour member Institutions. The Institute not only promotes and assists research on India, but also encourages the further spread of Indian Studies in American education. A number of Fellows who are specialists in the branches of Humanities and Social sciences related to Tamilology, and other younger scholars working on doctoral dissertations, have been enabled to spend a period of field work in Tamil districts. Research workers in the Tamil area have included such names as R. E. Frykenberg, Burton Stein and Eugene F. Irschick.
The American foundations have had their share in promoting study and scholarship in the Tamil districts. The Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Rockefeller Foundation since 1947, the Ford Foundation especially in 1960 and 1961, and the Asia Foundation in India, Ceylon, and Malaya, have been liberal in their grants both in the U.S.A. and in the Tamil-speaking areas to develop Tamil and foreign scholars and scholarship, especially in the social sciences and on contemporary subjects.
The last two decades has also witnessed institutional importance given in Western Europe to modern developments in Tamil speaking-areas. Apart from the traditional seats of learning where Tamil studies in some branch or other have had a place (London, Oxford, Cambridge, Leyden, Uppsala), the Sï¿½dasien Institut in Heidelberg has a multidisciplinary programme which includes various aspects of Tamil Studies and the teaching of Tamil at different levels. The University of Bonn, and the University of Stockholm are among the European institutions which have recently introduced Tamil.
In Eastern Europe too, a. number of Tamilologists have appeared during the last two decades and have acquired an international reputation in one or other aspect of Tamil Studies. The efforts of Prof. Kamil Zvelebil in creating both scholarly and popular interest in Czechoslovakia and in other countries in Dravidology and Tamil literature have won for him international recognition in the field. The work of the Leningrad and Moscow scholars, together with the pupils of Dr. Arno Lehmann make Eastern Europe conspicuous among areas which contribute to Tamil Studies. There are other countries like Australia, Canada, South America, Israel, Italy, Japan and the Philippines where the interest is just in its first and incipient stages.
While reviewing the advance during the last two decades of Tamilology abroad, one is also encouraged by the advance made in the countries in which Tamil is a regional language or is spoken as the language of a large group.
Within Tamil Nadu itself, the universities and institutions have had new incentives to research and teaching with Tamil becoming the official language of the State and its use increasingly as the medium of instruction at university stage. A new university has been founded in the historic centre of Tamil learning, Maturai ; and a Department of Tamil at the University of Kerala. New Departments or quasi-departments of Tamil have been created at the several new colleges founded in Tamil Nadu and at the Universities of Karnataka, Bangalore, Mysore, Osmania, Tirupathi and Delhi, and posts for instruction in aspects of Tamil Studies have been instituted elsewhere.
The research programmes developed by Professor M. Varadharasan, and Professor K. K. Pillai at Madras, by Professor T. P. Meenakshisundaram at Annamalai and by Professor V. I. Subramoniam at Kerala, and the comparative literature research initiated in Delhi under Professor K. Arumugam call for especial notice.
The Sahitya Akademi has provided for the exchange of literary information between the linguistic groups of India, and the Government Bureau of Publications, Madras, has published in Tamil translation several books of international importance in various branches of University studies. Ceylon has now three University Departments of Tamil (Peradeniya, Colombo, Vidhyodhaya), two of which have been created recently, and instruction in Tamil at the University is to be made available in Tamil even in Science, Engineering and Medicine. To this period also belongs the creation of the University of Malaya's Department of Indian Studies with its south east Asian orientation, its emphasis on Tamil Studies, and its schedule of publications.
The major development in Tamil Studies has not merely consisted in the creation of new institutes and university departments and language and area centres and thus brought more men and material into the field, but the studies themselves have been broadened in their scope and new dimensions have been added as a result of multidisciplinary and inter-disciplinary involvement.
There was a time when Tamil courses were confined to the study of language and literature, but during the last two decades as a result of the development and expansion of the social sciences, Tamil social history, Tamil culture and civilization, cultural anthropology, folk literature, Dravidian linguistics, the Tamil fine arts, religion and philosophy have been so integrated into syllabuses as to revitalise and expand Tamil Studies and bring them in line with developments in university curricula, and give the opportunity to the undergraduate for a more liberal education.
While on the one hand specialization in various disciplines has advanced the frontiers of the discipline and illuminated the forgotten periods and neglected areas, the dynamic relation between research and teaching is bringing about genuine integration between disciplines and is moving away from conventional and compartmentalized presentation.
Thus literature programmes are illustrated by anthropology and history, and even by music and art and other ancillary subjects. Tamil Studies in any branch concerned with the past and the present continue to develop by programmes which achieve integration in the minds of the students, even if integration is not achieved in the minds of the teachers themselves. This integration helps students to respond intelligently to a world of political and cultural pluralism.
Developments have been especially noticed in language study and in the preparation of teaching material for Tamil. Nearly every university which has some involvement in Tamil, embarks on Dravidian and Tamil linguistics, structural, historical and comparative, and it is in this field more than in any other, the majority of foreign scholars have been involved.
Foundations and University Grants Commissions have been most responsive to this field, and have provided for basic research within India itself. The Centre for Advanced Linguistics at the Annamalai University, and the Department of Linguistics at the University of Kerala, have provided the impetus for far flung research and for the creation of local scholars. It is in Linguistics and in the teaching of the spoken language for practical purposes that the American and the Russian scholars have also been noticeably engaged.
Another trend in Tamil Studies during the last two decades has been the importance and emphasis given to modern history and contemporary aspects of society. This trend towards modernity in Tamil studies is the result of the postwar interest in contemporary history, in political science and in cultural anthropology originating in the U.S.A.
The Tamil-speaking groups have been involved in political movements which have attracted the attention of students of Indian and Ceylonese politics, and in the face of social change the forces of conservatism in the Tamil districts provide engaging material for the social scientist. The modern man is not so preoccupied with the distant past ; he seeks his roots in the near economic past, and for present problems he seeks an explanation from the last two or three centuries and not from the classical age.
This attitude is specifically an attitude introduced by changing patterns of scholarship, and hence in history as in sociology, the near past of the Tamil country and of the Tamil speaking people, and the contemporary scenes have become matter for exploration in archives, in newspaper offices, in modern literature, as well as in surveys and interviews. Tamil migrants groups in Malaya, Mauritius, Fiji, and the Carribean are becoming increasingly subjects of study by sociologists and anthropologists.'
Modernisation has also pleasantly affected the teaching of literature in the Tamil medium. Twenty years ago, the thought of introducing twentieth century literature into University Honours courses would have been abhorred in traditionalist circles in the Tamil country. Even Bharati was then not considered a fit subject for study or topic of lectures in Academe. The idea of lecturing on a contemporary novelist like Kalki would have been anathema. But today even twentieth century literature is included in courses of study and if literary criticism has not developed, it is not because the will to entertain it is lacking.
The study of Carnatic music by Western musicologists and instruction in this discipline made available at Colgate University and Wesleyan University are again recent introductions in the U. S. A. Yehudi Menuhin's visit to Madras, and the sponsorship of the musical arts by Unesco, have initiated a series of exchange visits by Carnatic musicians to the western hemisphere, and by western musicologists to the home of Carnatic music. It has been estimated that in the U. S. A. alone, there are about thirty scholars actively involved in the study of Carnatic music at research level.
The permanent record of the development of research in Tamil Studies are to be had in the unpublished theses available in University libraries, and in the published works and articles which have been made available to a larger section of scholars. The results of research unless published and circulated as widely as possible can benefit at the most the institution where it is carried out, and the few scholars who may be able to obtain them in microfilm where such facilities exist. The volume of research has appreciably increased during the last two decades particularly in the Universities of Tamil Nad and Kerala, as a result of the postgraduate fellowships granted by the University Grants Commission and enlightened guidance and leadership, but several of these dissertations remain unpublished for want of funds (Singaravelu, Progress in Tamilology)