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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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Tamil - the Classical Language Extra Ordinaire

AppuArchie - 'jAzhan' R. Shanmugalingam
20 October 2004

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.

The North South Divide until very recently as August 2003, a Fast unto death organized by Perungkavikko Dr. V. M. Sethuraman to get the Center recognize Tamil as a Classical Language fell on deaf ears of the BJP led government. I was in Tamil Nadu recently and I had the opportunity of meeting several Tamil leaders from poets to politicians. The unspoken word is that Tamil should have a homeland and Tamil Eelam is the closest entity to such need. Even though the method adopted by the Tamil freedom fighters of Sri Lanka is not acceptable to the DMK according to the General Secretary 'pErAcirijar' Anpazhakan in his remarks at the recent 'jAzhan' Book release event in Chennai, he sympathized with our struggle and made a profound statement that Tamil Eelam leader Velupillai Pirabakaran had no other choice in the light of the many sacrifices and sufferings suffered at the hands of the Sri Lankan Governments.

There is an atmosphere of great expectation in Tamil Nadu for better times under the present coalition government with Tamil Nadu taking a positive and cooperative stance towards the Center.

"It is by now accepted wisdom that the diversity of India is best represented by a government that is itself an alliance of divergent political, cultural, and linguistic currents. The advent of coalition governance has done much to bring together elements previously thought to be irreconcilably inimical.India has come a long way from the time the Hindi belt dominated decision-making. The Constitution itself decreed that Hindi would be the official language with English remaining in official usage for the first 15 years as a transitional arrangement. Jawaharlal Nehru was in favour of adopting Hindi but thanks to his broad vision, he foresaw the role of English in building India's future. Xxxx Recently, Chief Minister Mulayam Singh took strong exception to the Uttar Pradesh Governor's advocacy of English. The Samajwadi Party chief must know that today an estimated 100 million Indians (a figure extrapolated from the 1991 Census data) claim some knowledge of the language. Besides, the popular mood has long bridged the North-South gap." (Excerpts from The Hindu editorial, Thursday Oct 14, 2004.)

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
2. Special features or Characteristics tradition
3. Universality of intrinsic quality
4. Impartiality
5. Quality as a mother to other languages.
6. Exhibit qualities of culture, art and knowledge through experience
7. Readiness to dispense with influence of foreign languages
8. Rich literature
9. High thinking
10. Remarkable quality in expressing and participating in the arts and literature
11. A language theory.

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:
"When Indian literature became first known in the West, people were inclined to ascribe a hoary age to every literature work hailing from India. They used to look upon India as something like the cradle of mankind, or at least of human civilisation." (Western Indologists by Dutt)

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:

"His comparative grammar of the Dravidian group originally published in 1856 was a revelation to the Western philologers and it remains, in the form of a second edition in 1875, the standard authority on the subject without a rival or successor."

"Tamil can readily dispense with the greater or whole of Sanskrit and by dispensing with it rises to a purer and more refined style whereas English cannot abandon its Latin without abandoning perspicuity." (Dr. Caldwell)

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:

"That this publication may be useful in promoting the real study of Tamil, and so help those who go to South India as officers of Government, or as missionaries, better to understand the mind of the people among whom they live and work, is my one desire in sending it forth" (G. U. Pope, September 1, 1886.)

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)
"It is not perhaps extravagant to say that in its true poetic form the Tamil is more polished and exact than the Greeks, and in both dialects with its borrowed treasures, more copious than the Latin. In its fullness and power, it more resembles English and German than any other language." (Dr. Winslow)

"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
Nannajam cejtu vidal' KURAL 314

"To punish wrong, with kindly benefits the doers ply;
Thus shame their souls; but pass the ill unheeded by." (Popes Translation )

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