Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Tamil !

World Classical Tamil Conference – a perspective
Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu

Although Tamil and a few other languages such as Greek, Latin and Sanskrit enjoy the status of classical language in the academic world thanks to their antiquity and rich literary heritage, Tamil is the first living language to be given the official status of a classical language.

We thought it fit to conduct the first World Classical Tamil Conference. We decided to hold it for five days from the 23rd to the 27th of June 2010 at Coimbatore in a grand manner.

Demand for classical status

For more than 150 years, Tamil scholars and those conscious of their Tamil heritage have been demanding that the classical character of Tamil be recognised. They claimed that Tamil has rich and hoary literary and grammatical traditions, its own script system, and an unbroken lengthy history. In addition, the language has continuously been a spoken language at least for more than 2,000 years in Tamil Nadu. It has essentially kept its age-old character intact, even though it is an effective modern language.

The demand for classical status arose in the context of the British Indian administration treating Sanskrit, Persian, and Arabic as classical languages and making special provisions and support mechanisms for the learning and development of these languages. The demand arose also in the context of the strong Tamil tradition and tendency, even now easily discernible, to maintain its own distinct character through various linguistic, literary, religious, anthropological, sociological, cultural, and architectural means and contributions.

In recent years, George Hart, Professor of Tamil Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, reiterated with sound arguments the demand that Tamil should be declared or recognised as a classical language. He wrote in 2000: "First, Tamil is of considerable antiquity. Second, Tamil constitutes the only literary tradition indigenous to India that is not derived from Sanskrit. Third, the quality of classical Tamil literature is such that it is fit to stand beside the great literatures of Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Chinese, Persian and Arabic."

Dr. Robert Caldwell (1814-1891) established beyond the pale of controversy the reality of the Dravidian family of languages and the high antiquity of Tamil. According to him, it is the most highly cultivated of all Dravidian idioms; it can dispense with its Sanskrit altogether, if need be, and not only stand alone but also flourish without its aid.

Caldwell's study provided the base for the formation of the Pure Tamil Movement, founded by the great Tamil savant, Parithimaal Kalaignar (V.G. Suryanarayana Sastri), a Professor of Tamil at the Madras Christian College. He first gave the clarion call to recognise Tamil as a classical language. His view was further nurtured by the renowned scholars, Maraimalai Adigal (1876-1950) and Devaneya Paavanar, who opined that Tamil was the primary classical language of the world.

The 1970s again saw a champion of the cause in Manavai Mustafa, then Editor of UNESCO Courier (Tamil). But he did not have much organisational backing. Since 1975 he has been writing consistently in newspapers and magazines pressing the demand. Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran asked him to send a petition detailing how Tamil qualified to claim the status.


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