Sunday, 4 November 2012

TAMIL: Surviving  trials and tribulations
             by Dr.G.Johnson

          Tamil is now a classical language, meaning it has a rich literary heritage and antiquity.Tamil is unique because it has survived the trials and tribulations under the different rulers of India.The four ancient Tamil Empires Chera, Chozha, Pandiya and Pallavas were of ancient origin. Together they ruled Tamil Nadu with an unique culture and cultivated the growth of the oldest literature in the world.
          They had well organised trade with the Roman Empire.But these four dynasties were in constant conflict with one another which paved the way for the invasion by the Kalabra during the 3rd century.
          They were overthrown by the Pandiyas  and Pallavas and the traditional kingdoms were restored.
          The Chozhas re-emerged in the 9th centurydefeating the Pallavas and Pandiyas, and extended their empire over the entire Southern Penninsula. the Chozha navy controlled the Sri Vijaya Kingdom in South East Asia.
          The incursion of the Muslim armies from the northwest of India had an impact on the history of Tamil Nadu.
          Malik Kafur, a general of the Delhi Sultan Alauddin Khilji, sacked Madurai in 1311.
          The 14th century saw the retalitation from the Hindus against the invading Delhi Sultan.Tamil Nadu fell under the rule of the Vijayanagara Empire from Karnataka.
          After its defeat by the Deccan Sultan, local Nayaks ruled differrent parts of Tamil Nadu. Then Tamil Nadu was conquered by Sivaji, the great Maratha ruler from Maharastra. European settlements appeared in Tamuil Nadu during the Vijayanagara Empire in 1605.
          With the death of the Mughal Emperor  Aurangzeb in 1707, his empire dissolved. Tamil Nadu was fragmented into hundreds of Palayams consisting of a few villages. They were ruled by Poligars or Palaiyakarars. They often fought among themselves for territory.
          The prevailing chaos enabled the European traders to exploit the situation to their own advantage.
          In 1858,the British Crown assumed total control of India and ruled till 1947.
          Hence this is a short background of the dark period in which Tamil had to survive. Literary contribution was at its lowest ebb during this period.
          The Tamil works by Tholkaapiyar, Tiruvalluvar and the Sangam poets written more than 2000 years ago somehow survived the foreign invasions, as they were kept hidden in temples. If not they would have been totally destroyed.
          The beauty of Tamil Literature is that it remains the same without much alteration in the written language. Hence what was read 2000 years ago could be read today without any difficulty. Tamil remains the same then and now. This has been possible mainly through the poets who cherished their language and were careful in not allowing the influence of other languages especially Sanskrit and Urdu. Hence Tamil is glorified as KanniThamizh meaning virgin Tamil.
          Tamil is a sweet language.
          " Yaam arinta mozhigalil Thamizh mozhipol inithavathengum kanom" is a famous quote from Barathi, the great Tamil poet. Literally it means " Of all the languages known to me, none is as sweet as Tamil. " Barathi knew Tamil, Hindi, Sanscrit, English and French. So there is an element of truth in this quote.
          What is so sweet about Tamil? Could it be merely an exaggeration? Is it biased? The sweetness of Tamil could be tasted in the Sangam Literature.
          But before we proceed to the beauty of Tamil Literature, we should know more about the Sangam Period. It is the oldest period of the Tamils when literature flourished in ancient Tamil Nadu. The poets formed a " sangam " meaning a gathering of of poets resembling an academy. Their works were scrutinised, selected and compiled into accepted literature of that period. It was done in a very systematic manner.
          The sangam period lasted from BC 500 to AD 100. Ettu Thagai, Pathuppaattu, Thirukural, Silappathikaaram and Maninegalai are now considered as Sangam literature. By learning Sangam literature, we can have a glimpse of the landscape, the people, their ways of life including art, culture,farming and trading. Even in war and peace, in prosperity and famine, Tamils lived upholding good virtues. This exemplary way of the Tamils are depicted in the pages of Sangam literature without exaggeration.
          It has now become a fashion for the scholars to do research on them. Though we cannot be well-versed in the Sangam literature, as Tamilians we should at least know they existed the test of time and are still available in the printed form.
          When I say the test of time, it implies how they were preserved in their original palmyra leaves through centuries, not being destroyed by termites, and the foreign powers which ruled Tamil Nadu.
          It was during the British period that Tamizh Thaatha U.V. Swaminatha Iyer took great pains in collecting these palmyra writings ( olai chuvadi ) from the temples. It was the work of the Christian missionaries who showed further interest in translating these manuscripts and also printing them in book form, after the first printing press was installed in Tranquebar by Bartholomeus Ziegenbalg, the first Protestant missionary to India.
          Before we go into the details of Tamil literature, we should be familiar with " agam " and " puram ". Our ancient poets confined their writings into these categories. Hence their writings were broadly classified under these two headings. Agam means inside, dwelling, household, heart and love. Puram means outside, external,country, government and war.
          But most of the agam writings were on love and puram on kings, government and war. Hence Tamils were known for love and courage ( kathalum veeramum ).
          ( This article appeared under HERITAGE in NESAN4U, an English supplementary of TAMIL NESAN, MALAYSIA , on November 10, 2012 )


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