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Tiruvalluvar Statue Kanyakumari 140x190.jpgRamanujan 140x190.jpgMIA20072 140x190.jpg
Viswanathan Anand 08 14 2005 140x190.jpgRaraja detail 140x190.jpgAbdulkalam04052007 140x190.jpg
AR Rahman 140x190.jpgAnnadurai and Periyar 140x190.jpgMs subbulakshmi 140x190.jpg
Thiruvalluvar • Srinivasa Ramanujan • M.I.A.
Viswanathan Anand • Rajaraja Chola • Abdul Kalam
A. R. Rahman • C. N. Annadurai • M. S. Subbulakshmi
Total population
77,000,000  [1]
Regions with significant populations
 India 60,793,814 (2001)[2]
 Sri Lanka 3,092,676 (2001)[3]
 Malaysia 2,100,000 (2007)[4]
 Canada 200,000 (2007)[5]
 Singapore 236,550 (2006)



88% Hindu, 6% Muslim, 5.5% Christian.

Related ethnic groups

Dravidians · Telugus  · Kannadigas · Tuluvas  · Malayalis  · Giraavarus[6]  · Sinhalese[7]

Tamil people (Tamilதமிழர், tamiḻar [?]), also called Tamils or Tamilians, are a linguistic group native to Tamil Nadu, a state in India and the north-eastern region of Sri Lanka. They speak Tamil (தமிழ்), with a recorded history going back two millennia.[8] Emigrant communities are found across the world, notably Malaysia, Canada, Singapore, and the UK. The Tamils are mostly Hindus with sizable Christian and Muslim populations.

Tamil was the first Indian language to be given classical status. It has the oldest extant literature amongst other Dravidian languages.[9] The art and architecture of the Tamil people encompass some of the notable contributions of India and South-East Asia to the art world. The famous Nataraja sculpture became a universal symbol of Hinduism. The music, the temple architecture and the stylised sculptures favoured by the Tamil people in their ancient nation are still being learnt and practiced. Thus, Tamils have been referred to as the last surviving classical civilisation on Earth.[10] The Pallava script, a variant of Southern Brahmi used by the Tamil Pallava dynasty, was the basis of several of the writing systems of Southeast Asia, including the Burmese, Khmer, Thai, Lao and Javanese scripts.[11]



It is unknown as to whether the term Tamilar and its equivalents in Prakrit such as Damela, Dameda, Dhamila and Damila was a self designation or a term denoted by outsiders. Epigraphic evidence of an ethnic group termed as such is found in ancient Sri Lanka where a number of inscriptions have come to light datable from third to first century BCE mentioning Damela or Dameda persons. In the well-known Hathigumpha inscription of the Kalinga ruler Kharavela, refers to a Tramira samghata (Confederacy of Tamil rulers) dated to 150 BCE. It also mentions that the league of Tamil kingdoms had been in existence 113 years before then.[12] In Amaravati in present day Andhra Pradesh there is an inscription referring to a Dhamila-vaniya (Tamil trader) datable to the third century CE.[12] Another inscription of about the same time in Nagarjunakonda seems to refer to a Damila. A third inscription in Kanheri Caves refers to a Dhamila-gharini (Tamil house-holder). In the Buddhist Jataka story known as Akiti Jataka there is a mention to Damila-rattha (Tamil country). Hence it is clear that by at least the third century BCE, the ethnic identity of Tamils has been formed as a distinct group.[12] Tamilar is etymologically related to Tamil, the language spoken by Tamil people. Southworth suggests that the name comes from tam-miz > tam-iz 'self-speak', or 'one's own speech'.[13] Zvelebil suggests an etymology of tam-iz, with tam meaning "self" or "one's self", and "-iz" having the connotation of "unfolding sound". Alternately, he suggests a derivation of tamiz < tam-iz < *tav-iz < *tak-iz, meaning in origin "the proper process (of speaking)."[14]



Tamils in India

Pre-historic period

Possible evidence indicating the earliest presence of Tamil people in modern day Tamil Nadu are the megalithic urn burials, dating from around 1500 BC and onwards, which have been discovered at various locations in Tamil Nadu, notably in Adichanallur in Tirunelveli District[15][16][17] which conform to the descriptions of funerals in classical Tamil literature.[18]

Various legends became prevalent after the tenth century CE regarding the antiquity of the Tamil people. According to Iraiyanar Agapporul, a tenth/eleventh-century annotation on the Sangam literature, the Tamil country extended southwards beyond the natural boundaries of the Indian peninsula comprising 49 ancient nadus (divisions). The land was supposed to have been destroyed by a deluge. The Sangam legends also added to the antiquity of the Tamil people by claiming tens of thousands of years of continuous literary activity during three Sangams.[19]

Classical period

Grey pottery with engravings, Arikamedu, 1st century CE.

From around the third century BC onwards, three royal dynasties—the Cholas, the Cheras and the Pandyas—rose to dominate the ancient Tamil country.[17] Each of these dynasties had its own realm within the Tamil-speaking region. Classical literature and inscriptions also describe a number of Velirs, or minor chieftains, who collectively ruled over large parts of central Tamil Nadu.[20] Wars between the kings and the chieftains were frequent, as were conflicts with ancient Sri Lanka.[21][22] These wars appear to have been fought to assert hegemony and demand tribute, rather than to subjugate and annex those territories. The kings and chieftains were patrons of the arts, and a significant volume of literature exists from this period.[20] The literature shows that many of the cultural practices that are considered peculiarly Tamil date back to the classical period.[20]

Agriculture was important during this period, and there is evidence that irrigation networks were built as early as 2nd century AD.[23] Internal and external trade flourished, and evidence exists of significant contact with Ancient Rome.[24] Large quantities of Roman coins and signs of the presence of Roman traders have been discovered at Karur and Arikamedu.[24] There is also evidence that at least two embassies were sent to the Roman Emperor Augustus by Pandya kings.[25] Potsherds with Tamil writing have also been found in excavations on the Red Sea, suggesting the presence of Tamil merchants there.[26] An anonymous first century traveler's account written in Greek, Periplus Maris Erytraei, describes the ports of the Pandya and Chera kingdoms in Damirica and their commercial activity in great detail. Periplus also indicates that the chief exports of the ancient Tamils were pepper, malabathrum, pearls, ivory, silk, spikenard, diamonds, sapphires, and tortoiseshell.[27]

The classical period ended around the fourth century AD with invasions by the Kalabhra, referred to as the kalappirar in Tamil literature and inscriptions.[28] These invaders are described as evil kings and barbarians coming from lands to the north of the Tamil country.[29] This period, commonly referred to as the Dark Age of the Tamil country, ended with the rise of the Pallava dynasty.[28][30][31] According to Clarence Maloney, during the classical period Tamils also settled the Maldive Islands.[6]

Imperial and post-imperial periods

Although the Pallava records can be traced from the second century AD, they did not rise to prominence as an imperial dynasty until the sixth century.[32] The dynasty does not appear to have been Tamil in origin, although they rapidly adopted the local culture and the Tamil language. The Pallavas sought to model themselves after great northern dynasties such as the Mauryas and Guptas.[33] They therefore transformed the institution of the kingship into an imperial one, and sought to bring vast amounts of territory under their direct rule. The Pallavas were followers of the Hinduism, though for a short while one of their kings embraced Jainism and later converted to Hinduism.[34] The Bhakti movement in Hinduism was founded by Tamil saints at this time, and rose along with the growing influence of Jainism and Buddhism.[35] The Pallavas pioneered the building of large, ornate temples in stone which formed the basis of the Dravidian temple architecture.

The Varaha cave bas relief at Mahabalipuram built by the Pallava king Narasimhavarman II in 7th century CE

The Pallava dynasty was overthrown in the 9th century by the resurgent Cholas.[32] The Cholas become dominant in the 10th century and established an empire covering most of southern India and Sri Lanka.[32] The empire had strong trading links with China and Southeast Asia.[36][37] The Cholas' navy conquered the South Asian kingdom of Sri Vijaya in Sumatra and continued as far as Thailand and Burma.[32] Chola power declined in the 12th and 13th centuries, and the Pandya dynasty enjoyed a brief period of resurgence thereafter during the rule of Sundara Pandya.[32] However, repeated Muslim invasions from the 15th century onwards placed a huge strain on the empire's resources, and the dynasty came to an end in the 16th century.[38]

The western Tamil lands became increasingly politically distinct from the rest of the Tamil lands after the Chola and Pandya empires lost control over them in the 13th century.[39] They developed their own distinct language and literature, which increasingly grew apart from Tamil, evolving into the modern Malayalam language by the 15th century.[40]

No major empires arose thereafter, and parts of Tamil Nadu were for a while ruled by a number of different local chiefs, such as the Nayaks of the modern Maharashtra (see Serfoji II) and Andhra Pradesh regions. From the 17th century onwards, European powers began establishing settlements and trading outposts in the region. A number of battles were fought between the British, French and Danish in the 18th century, and by the end of the 18th century most of Tamil Nadu was under British rule.

Tamils in Sri Lanka

There is little scholarly consensus over the presence of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka, also known as Eelam in early Tamil literature, prior to the medieval Chola period (circa 10th century AD). One theory states that there was not an organized Tamil presence in Sri Lanka until the invasions from what is now South India in the 10th century AD; another theory contends that Tamil people were the original inhabitants of the island.[41][42]

Pre-historic period

The indigenous Veddhas are physically related to Dravidian language-speaking tribal people in South India and early populations of Southeast Asia, although they no longer speak their native languages.[43] It is believed that cultural diffusion, rather than migration of people, spread the Sinhalese and Tamil languages from peninsular India into an existing Mesolithic population, centuries before the Christian era.[44]

Settlements of people culturally similar to those of present-day Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu in modern India were excavated at megalithic burial sites at Pomparippu on the west coast and in Kathiraveli on the east coast of the island, villages established between the 5th century BC and 2nd century AD.[45][46] Cultural similarities in burial practices in South India and Sri Lanka were dated by archeologists to 10th century BC. However, Indian history and archaeology have pushed the date back to 15th century BC, and in Sri Lanka, there is radiometric evidence from Anuradhapura that the non-Brahmi symbol-bearing black and red ware occur at least around 9th or 10th century BC.[47]

Historic period

Inscription dated to 1100 AD left by Tamil soldiers in Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka

Potsherds with early Tamil writing from the 2nd century BC have been found in excavations in Poonagari, Jaffna, bearing several inscriptions including a clan name - vela, a name related to velir from ancient Tamil country.[48] There is epigraphic evidence of people identifying themselves as Damelas or Damedas (the Prakrit word for Tamil people) in Anuradhapura, the capital city of Rajarata, and other areas of Sri Lanka as early as the 2nd century BC.[49] Historical records establish that Tamil kingdoms in modern India were closely involved in the island's affairs from about the 2nd century BC.[21][22] In Mahavamsa, a historical poem, ethnic Tamil adventurers such as Elara invaded the island around 145 BC.[50] Tamil soldiers from what is now South India were brought to Anuradhapura between the 7th and 11th centuries AD in such large numbers that local chiefs and kings trying to establish legitimacy came to rely on them.[51] By the 8th century AD there were Tamil villages collectively known as Demel-kaballa (Tamil allotment), Demelat-valademin (Tamil villages), and Demel-gam-bim (Tamil villages and lands).[52]

Medieval period

Coylot Wanees Contrey (Coylot Vanni country), Malabar country in the northeast of the island on a 1692 CE Dutch engraving of Robert Knox' 1682 CE map as published in his book.[53]

In the 9th and 10th centuries AD, Pandya and Chola incursions into Sri Lanka culminated in the Chola annexation of the island, which lasted until the latter half of the 11th century CE.[51][54][55][56]

The decline of Chola power in Sri Lanka was followed by the restoration of the Polonnaruwa monarchy in the late 11th century AD.[57] In 1215, following Pandya invasions, the Tamil-dominant Arya Chakaravarthi dynasty established an independent Jaffna kingdom[58] on the Jaffna peninsula and parts of northern Sri Lanka. The Arya Chakaravarthi expansion into the south was halted by Alagakkonara,[59] a man descended from a family of merchants from Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu. He was the chief minister of the Sinhalese king Parakramabahu V (1344–59 AD). Vira Alakeshwara, a descendant of Alagakkonara, later became king of the Sinhalese,[60] but he was overthrown by the Ming admiral Cheng Ho in 1409 AD. The Arya Chakaravarthi dynasty ruled over large parts of northeast Sri Lanka until the Portuguese conquest of the Jaffna Kingdom in 1619 AD. The coastal areas of the island were taken over by the Dutch and then became part of the British Empire in 1796 AD. The English sailor Robert Knox described walking into the island’s Tamil country in the publication An Historical Relation of the Island Ceylon, annotating some kingdoms within it on a map in 1681 CE.[61] Upon arrival of European powers from the 17th century CE, the Tamils' separate nation was described in their areas of habitation in the northeast of the island.[62]

The caste structure of the majority Sinhalese has also accommodated Hindu immigrants from South India since the 13th century AD. This led to the emergence of three new Sinhalese caste groups: the Salagama, the Durava and the Karava.[63][64][65] The Hindu migration and assimilation continued until the 18th century AD.[63]

Modern period

British colonists consolidated the Tamil territory in southern India into the Madras Presidency, which was integrated into British India. Similarly, the Tamil parts of Sri Lanka joined with the other regions of the island in 1802 to form the Ceylon colony. They remained in political union with India and Sri Lanka after their independence, in 1947 and 1948 respectively.

When India became independent in 1947, Madras Presidency became the Madras State, comprising present-day Tamil Nadu, coastal Andhra Pradesh, northern Kerala, and the southwest coast of Karnataka. The state was subsequently split along linguistic lines. In 1953, the northern districts formed Andhra Pradesh. Under the States Reorganization Act in 1956, Madras State lost its western coastal districts. The Bellary and South Kanara districts were ceded to Mysore state, and Kerala was formed from the Malabar district and the former princely states of Travancore and Cochin. In 1968, Madras State was renamed Tamil Nadu.

There was some initial demand for an independent Tamil state following the adoption of the federal system.[66] However, the Indian constitution granted significant autonomy to the states, and protests by Tamils in 1963 led to the government adopting a new policy called the "three language formula". This has led to Tamils in India becoming increasingly satisfied with the federal arrangement, and there is very little support for secession or independence today.

In Sri Lanka, however, the unitary arrangement led to a growing belief among some Tamils of discrimination by the Sinhalese majority. This resulted in a demand for federalism, which in the 1970s grew into a movement for an autonomous Tamil country. The situation deteriorated into civil war in the early 1980s. A ceasefire in effect since 2002 broke down in August 2006 amid shelling and bombing from both sides. Today Tamils make up 18% of Sri Lanka's population (3.8 Million).[67]

Geographic distribution

Indian Tamils

A young Tamil girl wearing rich gold ornaments. Source:The National Geographic Magazine, April 1907

Most Indian Tamils live in the state of Tamil Nadu. Tamils are the majority in the union territory of Pondicherry, a former French colony. Pondicherry is a subnational enclave situated within Tamil Nadu. Tamils account for at least one-sixth of the population in Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

There are also Tamil communities in other parts of India. Most of these have emerged fairly recently, dating to the colonial and post-colonial periods, but some—particularly the Hebbar and Mandyam Tamils of southern Karnataka (2.9 million), Pune, Maharashtra (1.4 million), Andhra Pradesh (1.2 million), Palakkad in Kerala (0.6 million), and Delhi (0.1 million) — date back to at least the medieval period.[68]

Sri Lankan Tamils

There are two groups of Tamils in Sri Lanka: the Sri Lankan Tamils and the Indian Tamils. The Sri Lankan Tamils (or Ceylon Tamils) are descendants of the Tamils of the old Jaffna Kingdom and east coast chieftaincies called Vannimais. The Indian Tamils (or Hill Country Tamils) are descendants of bonded laborers sent from Tamil Nadu to Sri Lanka in the 19th century to work on tea plantations.[69] Furthermore, there is a significant Tamil-speaking Muslim population in Sri Lanka; however, unlike Tamil Muslims from India, they are not ethnic Tamils and are therefore listed as a separate ethnic group in official statistics.[70][71]

Most Sri Lankan Tamils live in the Northern and Eastern provinces and in the capital Colombo, whereas most Indian Tamils live in the central highlands.[71] Historically both groups have seen themselves as separate communities, although there is a greater sense of unity since 1980s.[72] In 1949, the United National Party government, which included G. G. Ponnambalam, leader of the Tamil Congress, stripped the Indian Tamils of their citizenship. This was opposed by S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, the leader of Tamil nationalist Federal Party, and most Tamil people.[73]

Under the terms of an agreement reached between the Sri Lankan and Indian governments in the 1960s, about 40 percent of the Indian Tamils were granted Sri Lankan citizenship, and many of the remainder were repatriated to India.[74] By the 1990s, most Indian Tamils had received Sri Lankan citizenship.[74]

Tamil emigrant communities

Kavadi dancers in Hamm, Germany in 2007

Significant Tamil emigration began in the 18th century, when the British colonial government sent many poor Tamils as indentured labourers to far-off parts of the Empire, especially Malaya, South Africa, Fiji, Mauritius and the Caribbean. At about the same time, many Tamil businessmen also immigrated to other parts of the British Empire, particularly to Burma and East Africa.[75]

Batu Caves temple built by Tamil Malaysians in circa 1880s

Many Tamils still live in these countries, and the Tamil communities in Singapore, Reunion Island, Malaysia and South Africa have retained much of their culture and language. Many Malaysian children attend Tamil schools, and a significant portion of Tamil children in Mauritius and Reunion are brought up with Tamil as their first language. In Singapore, Tamil students learn Tamil as their second language in school, with English as the first. To preserve the Tamil language, the Singapore government has made it an official language despite Tamils comprising only about 5% of the population, and has also introduced compulsory instruction of the language for Tamils. Other Tamil communities, such as those in South Africa and Fiji, no longer speak Tamil as a first language, but still retain a strong Tamil identity, and are able to understand the language, while most elders speak it as a first language.[76]

A large emigration also began in the 1980s, as Sri Lankan Tamils sought to escape the ethnic conflict there. These recent emigrants have most often fled to Australia, Europe, North America and Southeast Asia.[77] Today, the largest concentration of Tamils outside southern Asia is in Toronto, Canada.[78]

Many young Tamil professionals from India have also immigrated to Europe and the United States in recent times in search of better opportunities. These new immigrant communities have established cultural associations to protect and promote Tamil culture and language in their adopted homes.


Language and literature

Main articles: Tamil language, Tamil literature
An idol in Madurai representing the Tamil language as a goddess; The caption on the pedestal reads Tamil Annai ("Mother Tamil").

Tamils have strong feelings towards the Tamil language, which is often venerated in literature as "Tamil̲an̲n̲ai", "the Tamil mother".[79] It has historically been, and to large extent still is, central to the Tamil identity.[80] Like the other languages of South India, it is a Dravidian language, unrelated to the Indo-European languages of northern India. The language has been far less influenced by Sanskrit than the other Dravidian languages, and preserves many features of Proto-Dravidian, though modern-day spoken Tamil in Tamil Nadu, freely uses loanwords from Sanskrit and English.[81] Tamil literature is of considerable antiquity, and is recognised as a classical language by the government of India.

Classical Tamil literature, which ranges from lyric poetry to works on poetics and ethical philosophy, is remarkably different from contemporary and later literature in other Indian languages, and represents the oldest body of secular literature in South Asia.[82] Notable works in classical Tamil literature include the Tirukkural, by Tiruvalluvar, the five great Tamil epics, and the works of Auvaiyar.

Modern Tamil literature is diverse. It includes Indian Nationalism, in the works of Subramanya Bharathi; historical romanticism, by Kalki Krishnamurthy; radical and moderate social realism, by Pudhumaipithan and Jayakanthan; and feminism, by Malathi Maithri and Kutti Revathi. Sujatha Rangarajan, an author whose works range from romance novels to science fiction, is one of the most popular modern writers in Tamil. Sri Lankan Tamil literature has produced several works reflecting the civilian tragedy caused by decades of war. There is also an emerging diaspora literature in Tamil.

There are a number of regional dialects in use by the Tamil people. These dialects vary among regions and communities. Tamil dialects are mainly differentiated by the disparate phonological changes and sound shifts that have evolved from Old Tamil. Although most Tamil dialects do not differ significantly in their vocabulary, there are a few exceptions. The dialects spoken in Sri Lanka retain many words that are not in everyday use in India, and use many other words slightly differently. The dialect of the Iyers of Palakkad has a large number of Malayalam loanwords, has been influenced by Malayalam syntax, and has a distinct Malayalam accent. The Sankethi, Hebbar, and Mandyam dialects, the former spoken by groups of Tamil Iyers, and the latter two by Vaishnavites who migrated to Karnataka in the 11th century, retains many Vaishnavite religious and spiritual values. The Tamil spoken in Chennai infuses English words, and is called Madras Bashai (Madras language).[83]

Visual art and architecture

Most traditional Tamil art is religious in some form and usually centres on Hinduism, although the religious element is often only a means to represent universal—and, occasionally, humanist—themes.[84]

Dancing Siva or Nataraja is a typical example of Chola bronze

The most important form of Tamil painting is Tanjore painting, which originated in Thanjavur in the ninth century. The painting's base is made of cloth and coated with zinc oxide, over which the image is painted using dyes; it is then decorated with semi-precious stones, as well as silver or gold thread.[85] A style which is related in origin, but which exhibits significant differences in execution, is used for painting murals on temple walls; the most notable example are the murals on the Kutal Azhakar and Meenakshi temples of Madurai, the Brihadeeswarar temple of Tanjore.[86] Tamil art, in general, is known for its stylistic elegance, rich colours, and attention to small details.

Tamil sculpture ranges from elegant stone sculptures in temples, to bronze icons with exquisite details.[87] The medieval Chola bronzes are considered to be one of India's greatest contributions to the world art.[88][89] Unlike most Western art, the material in Tamil sculpture does not influence the form taken by the sculpture; instead, the artist imposes his/her vision of the form on the material.[90] As a result, one often sees in stone sculptures flowing forms that are usually reserved for metal.[91]

The Brihadeshswara Temple at Thanjavur, also known as the Great Temple, built by Rajaraja Chola I. Tamil dynasties were patrons of Hinduism and the arts.

As with painting, these sculptures show a fine eye for detail; great care is taken in sculpting the minute details of jewellery, worn by the subjects of the sculpture. The lines tend to be smooth and flowing, and many pieces skillfully capture movement. The cave sculptures at Mamallapuram are a particularly fine example of the technique, as are the bronzes of the Chola period. A particularly popular motif in the bronzes was the depiction of Shiva as Nataraja, in a dance posture with one leg upraised, and a fiery circular halo surrounding his body.

Tamil temples were often simply treated as sculptures on a grand scale. The temples are most notable for their high spires, known as Gopura, consisting of a number of stepped levels, and the vimanam, which rises above the sanctum sanctorum. During the Chola period, the vimanams had more prominence, as seen in the Brihadīsvara temple of Thanjavur. During the Nayak period, the spires became progressively more elaborate and ornate, as exemplified by the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai, while the vimanam became much smaller. From the 13th century onwards, the entrance gates to the temples, called gopurams in Tamil, also began to grow bigger, and more elaborate. The temples at Chidambaram and Srirangam have particularly impressive gopurams, covered with sculptures and reliefs of various scenes and characters from Hindu mythology.

As with Indian art in general, Tamil art does not traditionally aspire to portraiture or realism. Much more emphasis is placed on the representation of ideal prototypes, and on depicting the symbols with which the theme of the artistic work is associated. This means that small details, such as the direction which a hand faces, the animals or trees portrayed, or the time of day depicted, are often of critical importance to understanding the meaning of a work of art.[92]

Performing arts

Folk artists performing at a funeral

The traditional Tamil performing arts have ancient roots.[93] The royal courts and temples have been centres for the performing arts since the classical period, and possibly earlier. Descriptions of performances in classical Tamil literature and the Natya Shastra, a Sanskrit treatise on the performing arts, indicate a close relationship between the ancient and modern artforms. The aim of a performance in Tamil tradition, is to bring out the rasa, the flavor, mood, or feeling, inherent in the text, and its quality is measured by the extent to which it induces the mood in the audience.[93]

Tamil shares a classical musical tradition, called carnatic music, with the rest of South India. It is primarily oriented towards vocal music, with instruments functioning either as accompaniments, or as imitations of the singer's role. Ancient Tamil works, such as the Cilappatikaram, describe a system of music that includes old Carnatic modes,[94] and a seventh-century Pallava inscription at Kudimiyamalai contains one of the earliest surviving examples of Indian music in notation.[95] Modern Carnatic music is organized around the twin notions of melody types (rāgam), and cyclical rhythm types (thāḷam). Unlike the northern Hindustani music tradition, carnatic music is almost exclusively religious. In sharp contrast with the restrained and intellectual nature of carnatic music, Tamil folk music tends to be much more exuberant. Popular forms of Tamil folk music include the Villuppattu, a form of music performed with a bow, and the Naattupurapaattu, ballads that convey folklore and folk history.

Young Bharatanatyam dancer

The dominant classical dance amongst Tamils is Bharatanatyam. Bharatanatyam is performative, rather than participative. The dance is an exposition of the story contained in a song, and is usually performed by one performer on stage, with an orchestra of drums, a drone, and one or more singers backstage. The story is told through a complicated combination of mudras (hand gestures), facial expressions, and body postures. Dancers used to be exclusively female, but the dance now also has several well-known male practitioners.[93]

The most notable of Tamil folk dances is karakattam. In its religious form, the dance is performed in front of an image of the goddess Mariamma. The dancer bears, on his or her head, a brass pot filled with uncooked rice, decorated with flowers and surrounded by a bamboo frame, and tumbles and leaps to the rhythm of a song without spilling a grain. Karakāṭṭam is usually performed to a special type of song, known as temmanguppattu, a folk song in the mode of a lover speaking to his beloved, to the accompaniment of a nadaswaram and melam. Other Tamil folk dances include mayilattam, where the dancers tie a string of peacock feathers around their waists; oyilattam, danced in a circle while waving small pieces of cloth of various colors; poykkal kuthiraiyaattam, in which the dancers use dummy horses; manaattam, in which the dancers imitate the graceful leaping of deer; paraiyattam, a dance to the sound of rhythmical drumbeats; and thippanthattam, a dance involving playing with burning torches.[96] The kuravanci is a type of dance-drama, performed by four to eight women. The drama is opened by a woman playing the part of a female soothsayer of the kurava tribe(people of hills and mountains), who tells the story of a lady pining for her lover.

The therukoothu, literally meaning "street play", is a form of village theater or folk opera. It is traditionally performed in village squares, with no sets and very simple props. The performances involve songs and dances, and the stories can be either religious or secular.[97] The performances are not formal, and performers often interact with the audience, mocking them, or involving them in the dialogue. Therukkūthu has, in recent times, been very successfully adapted to convey social messages, such as abstinence and anti-caste criticism, as well as information about legal rights, and has spread to other parts of India.[98]

The village of Melattur, in Tamil Nadu, has a special type of performance, called the bhagavata-mela, in honour of the local deity, which is performed once a year, and lasts all night. Tamil Nadu also has a well developed stage theater tradition, which has been heavily influenced by western theatre. A number of theatrical companies exist, with repertoires including absurdist, realist, and humorous plays.[99]

Both classical and folk performing arts survive in modern Tamil society. Tamil people in Tamil Nadu are also passionate about films. The Tamil film industry, commonly dubbed Kollywood, is the second-largest film industry in India.[100] Tamil cinema is appreciated both for its technical accomplishments, and for its artistic and entertainment value. Several actors dominated the early years of the cinema including Sivaji Ganesan, Gemini Ganesan, and several others. As in the past, a small number of actors continue to dominate in Kollywood movies. Several Tamil actresses have made their mark very strong in Bollywood over the years and have often dominated the scene, such as Vyjayanthimala, Rekha Ganesan, the original golden girl Hema Malini,Meenakshi Sheshadri, Vidya Balan, and Sridevi.[101] The overwhelming majority of Tamil films contain song and dance sequences, and Tamil film music is a popular genre in its own right, often liberally fusing elements of carnatic, Tamil folk, North Indian styles, hip-hop, and heavy metal. Famous music directors of the late 20th century included M. S. Viswanathan, Ilayaraaja, and A. R. Rahman.


A village shrine dedicated to Lord Ayyanar, c.a. 1911
Grave of Sulthan Syed Ibrahim Shaheed in Erwadi durgah, Ramanathapuram, who first brought Islam to Tamil Nadu
Velankani Our Lady of Good Health Church, a Marian church popular with adherents across all religions

About 88%[102] of the population of Tamil Nadu are Hindus. Muslims and Christians account for 6% and 5.5% respectively. Most of the Christians are Roman Catholics. The majority of Muslims in Tamil Nadu speak Tamil,[103] with less than 40% reporting Urdu as their mother tongue.[104] Tamil Jains number only a few thousand now.[105] Atheist, rationalist, and humanist philosophies are also adhered by sizable minorities, as a result of Tamil cultural revivalism in the twentieth century, and its antipathy to what it saw as Brahminical Hinduism.[106]

The most popular deity is Murugan, also known as Karthikeya, the son of Siva.[107] The worship of Amman, also called Mariamman, is thought to have been derived from an ancient mother goddess, is also very common.[108] Kan̲n̲agi, the heroine of the Cilappatikār̲am, is worshipped as Pattin̲i by many Tamils, particularly in Sri Lanka.[109] There are also many followers of Ayyavazhi in Tamil Nadu, mainly in the southern districts.[110] In addition, there are many temples and devotees of Vishnu, Siva, Ganapathi, and the other Hindu deities.

The most important Tamil festivals are Pongal, a harvest festival that occurs in mid-January, and Varudapirappu, the Tamil New Year, which occurs around mid-April. Both are celebrated by almost all Tamils, regardless of religion. The Hindu festival Deepavali is celebrated with fanfare; other local Hindu festivals include Thaipusam, Panguni Uttiram, and Adiperukku. While Adiperukku is celebrated with more pomp in the Cauvery region than in others, the Ayyavazhi Festival, Ayya Vaikunda Avataram, is predominantly celebrated in the southern districts of Kanyakumari, Tirunelveli, and Thoothukudi.[111]

In rural Tamil Nadu, many local deities, called aiyyan̲ārs, are thought to be the spirits of local heroes who protect the village from harm. Their worship often centers around nadukkal, stones erected in memory of heroes who died in battle. This form of worship is mentioned frequently in classical literature and appears to be the surviving remnants of an ancient Tamil tradition.[112]

The Saivist sect of Hinduism is significantly represented amongst Tamils, more so among Sri Lankan Tamils, although most of the Saivist places of religious significance are in northern India. The Alvars and Nayanars, who were predominantly Tamils, played a key role in the renaissance of Bhakti tradition in India. In the 10th century, the philosopher Ramanuja, who propagated the theory of Visishtadvaitam, brought many changes to worshiping practices, creating new regulations on temple worship, and accepted lower-caste Hindus as his prime disciples.[113]

Christianity is believed to have come to Tamil Nadu with the arrival of St. Thomas the apostle, and the number of Tamil Christians grew during the colonial period. Most Tamil Christians are Catholic and Protestant. Islam started flourishing in Tamilnadu after the arrival of Sulthan Syed Ibrahim Shaheed, descendant of Prophet Muhammmad who came from Madinah, Saudi Arabia during 12th century. His grave is found in Erwadi dargah in Ramanathapuram district. Tamil Muslims are mostly either mainstream Sunni or Sufi.


Each geographical area where Tamils live has developed its own distinct variant of the common dishes plus a few dishes distinctly native to itself. The Chettinad region, comprising of Karaikudi and adjoining areas, is known for both traditional vegetarian dishes, like appam, uthappam, paal paniyaram, and non-vegetarian dishes, made primarily using chicken.

Virundhu ‘Sappadu’ (literally 'Feast') served on a Banana leaf

Rice, the major staple food in most of Tamil, is usually steamed and served with about two to six accompanying items, which typically include sambar, dry curry, rasam, kootu, and thayir (curd) or moru (whey or buttermilk).

Tiffin or Light meals usually include one or more of Pongal, Dosai, idli, Vadai along with sambar and Chutney is often served as either breakfast or as an evening snack. Ghee Clarified butter called neyyi in Tamil, is used to flavor the rice when eaten with dhal or sambar, but not with curds or buttermilk. Morkulambu, a dish which can be spiced with moru, is also popular with steamed rice.

Martial arts

Various martial arts including Kuttu Varisai, Varma Kalai, Silambam Nillaikalakki, Maankombukkalai (Madhu) and Kalarippayattu, are practised in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.[114] The weapons used include Silambam, Maankombukkalai, Yeratthai Mulangkol (double stick), Surul Pattai (spring sword), Val Vitchi (single sword), and Yeretthai Val (double sword).[115]

The ancient Tamil art of unarmed bullfighting, popular amongst warriors in the classical period,[116][117] has also survived in parts of Tamil Nadu, notably Alanganallur near Madurai, where it is known as Jallikaṭṭu or mañcuviraṭṭu and is held once a year around the time of the Pongal festival.


The Tamil flag adopted by the World Tamil Confederation to represent Tamil people everywhere.

The global spread of the Tamil diaspora has hindered the formation of formal pan-Tamil institutions. The most important national institutions for Tamils have been the governments of the states where they live, particularly the government of Tamil Nadu and the government of Sri Lanka[citation needed], which have collaborated in developing technical and scientific terminology in Tamil and promoting its use since the 1950s.

Politics in Tamil Nadu is dominated by the Self-respect movement (also called the Dravidian movement), founded by E.V. Ramasami, popularly known as Periyar, to promote self-respect and rationalism, and to fight casteism and the oppression of the lowest castes. Every major political party in Tamil Nadu bases its ideology on the Self-respect Movement, and the national political parties play a very small role in Tamil politics. (see Dravidian parties)

In Sri Lanka, Tamil politics was dominated by the federalist movements, led by the Federal Party (later the Tamil United Liberation Front), until the early 1980s. In the 1980s, the political movement for self determination in an autonomous Tamil Eelam was largely succeeded by a violent military campaign conducted by several militant groups. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which emerged as the most important force amongst these groups in the 1990s, controlled a third of Sri Lanka, and had attempted to establish its own government there.

In the 1960s, the government of Tamil Nadu held a World Tamil Conference, which has continued to meet periodically since then. In 1999, a World Tamil Confederation was established to protect and foster Tamil culture and further a sense of togetherness amongst Tamils in different countries. The Confederation has since adopted a Tamil flag and Tamil song[118] to act as trans-national symbols for the Tamil people; the words on the flag quote the opening line of a poem by the classical poet Kanian Poongundranaar, and means "Everyone is our kin; Everyplace is our home".

See also


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Population data

All population data has been taken from Ethnologue, with the exception of the data for Sri Lanka, which was taken from the CIA World Factbook's Sri Lanka page.

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

TAMILS. The word Tamil (properly Tamil) has been identified with Dravida, the Sanskrit generic appellation for the south Indian peoples and their languages; and the various stages. through which the word has passed - Dramida, Dramila, Damila - have been finally discussed by Bishop Caldwell in his Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian Languages (2d ed., 1875, p. io seq.). The identification was first suggested by Dr Graul (Reise nach Ostindien, vol. iii., 1854, p. 349), and then adverted to by Dr G. U. Pope (Tamil Handbook, 1859, Introduction) and Dr Gundert (Malaycilma Dictionary, 1872, s.v.). Dr Pope, however, believed Tamil to be a corruption of tenmoli, southern speech, in contradistinction to vadugu, the northern, i.e., Telugu language. As in the case of the Kafir, Turkish, Tagala and other typical languages, the term Tamulic or Tamulian has occasionally been employed as the designation of the whole class of Dravidian peoples and languages, of which it is only the most prominent member. The present article deals with Tamil in its restricted sense only. The Tamils proper are smaller and of weaker build than Europeans, though graceful in shape. Their physical appearance is described as follows: - a pointed and frequently hooked pyramidal nose, with conspicuous nares, more long than round; a marked sinking in of the orbital line, producing a strongly defined orbital ridge; hair and eyes black; the latter, varying from small to middle-sized, have a peculiar sparkle and a look of calculation; mouth large, lips thick, lower jaw not heavy; forehead well-formed, but receding, inclining to flattish, and seldom high; beard considerable, and often strong; colour of skin very dark, frequently approaching to black (Manual of the Administration of the Madras Presidency, Madras, 1885, vol. i., Introd., p. 36; see also Caldwell, Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian Languages, 18 75, pp. 558-79). The Tamils have many good qualities - frugality, patience, endurance, politeness - and they are credited with astounding memories; their worst vices are said to be lying and lasciviousness. Of all the South-Indian tribes they are the least sedentary and the most enterprising. Wherever money is to be earned, there will Tamils be found, either as merchants or in the lower capacity of domestic servants and labourers. The tea and coffee districts of Ceylon are peopled by about 950,000; Tamils serve as coolies in the Mauritius and the West Indies; in Burma, the Straits, and Siam the so-called Klings are all Tamils (Graul, Reise nach Ostindien, Leipzig, 1855, vol. iv. pp. 113-212).


The area over which Tamil is spoken extends from a few miles north of the city of Madras to the extreme south of the eastern side of the peninsula, throughout the country below the Eastern Ghats, from Pulicat to Cape Comorin, and from the Ghats to the Bay of Bengal, including also the southern portion of Travancore on the western side of the Ghats and the northern part of Ceylon. According to the census of 1901, the total number of Tamil-speaking people in all India was 16,525,500. To these should be added about 160,000 in the French possessions. But as of all the Dravidian languages the Tamil shows the greatest tendency to spread, its area becomes ever larger, encroaching on that of the contiguous languages. Tamil is a sister of Malayalam, Telugu, Kanarese, Tulu; and, as it is the oldest, richest, and most highly organized of the Dravidian languages, it may be looked upon as typical of the family to which it belongs. The, one nearest akin to it is Malayalam, which originally appears to have been simply a dialect of Tamil, but differs from it now both in pronunciation and in idiom, in the retention of old Tamil forms obsolete in the modern language, and in having discarded all personal terminations in the verb, the person being always indicated by the pronoun (F. W. Ellis, Dissertation on the Malayalam Language, p. 2; Gundert, Malay- (lima Dictionary, Introd.; Caldwell, Comparative Gr., Introd., p. 23; Burnell, Specimens of South Indian Dialects, No. 2, p. 13). Also, the proportion of Sanskrit words in Malayalam is greater, while in Tamil it is less, than in any other Dravidian tongue. This divergence between the two languages cannot be traced farther back than about the 10th century; for, as it appears from the Cochin and Travancore inscriptions, previous to that period both languages were still substantially identical; whereas in the Rdmacharitam, the oldest poem in Malayalam, composed probably in the 13th century, at any rate long before the arrival of the Portuguese and the introduction of the modern character, we see that language already formed. The modern Tamil characters originated " in a Brahmanical adaptation of the old Grantha letters corresponding to the so-called Vatteluttu," or round-hand, an alphabet once in vogue throughout the whole of the Pandyan kingdom, as well as in the South Malabar and Coimbatore districts, and still sparsely used for drawing up conveyances and other legal instruments (F. W. Ellis, Dissertation, p. 3). It is also used by the Moplahs in Tellicherry. The origin of the Vatteluttu itself is still a controverted question. Dr Burnell, the greatest authority on the subject, stated his reasons for tracing that character through the Pahlavi to ?. Semitic source (Elements of South Indian Palaeography, 2nd ed., 1878, pp. 47-5 2, and plates xvii. and xxxii.). In the 8th century the Vatteluttu existed side by side and together with the Grantha, an ancient alphabet still used throughout the Tamil country in writing Sanskrit. During the four or five centuries after the conquest of Madura by the Cholas in the 11th it was gradually superseded in the Tamil country by the modern Tamil, while in Malabar it continued in general use down to the end of the 17th century. But the earliest works of Tamil literature, such as the Tolkdppiyam and the Kural, were still written in it. The modern Tamil characters, which have but little changed for the last Soo years, differ from all 'the other modern Dravidian alphabets both in shape and in their phonetic value. Their angular form is said to be due to the widespread practice of writing with the style resting on the end of the left thumb-nail, while the other alphabets are written with the style resting on the left side of the thumb.

The Tamil alphabet is sufficiently well adapted for the expression of the twelve vowels of the language (a, d, i, i, u, u, e, i, o, o, ei, au), - the occasional sounds of ö and ii, both short and long, being covered by the signs for e, e, i, i; but it is utterly inadequate for the proper expression of the consonants, inasmuch as the one character k has to do duty also for kh, g, gh, and similarly each of the other surd consonants ch, t, t, p represents also the remaining three letters of its respective class. The letter k has, besides, occasionally the sound of h, and ch that of s. Each of the five consonants k, ch, t, t, p has its own nasal. In addition to the four semivowels, the Tamil possesses a cerebral r and 1, and has, in common with the Malayalam, retained a liquid ,, once peculiar to all the Dravidian languages, the sound of which is so difficult to fix graphically, and varies so much in different districts, that it has been rendered in a dozen different ways (Manual of the Administration of the Madras Presidency, vol. ii. pp. 20 seq.). Fr. Muller is probably correct in approximating it to that of the Bohemian Y. There is, lastly, a peculiar n, differing in function but not in pronunciation from the dental n. The three sibilants and It of Sanskrit have no place in the Tamil alphabet; but ch often does duty as a sibilant in writing foreign words, and the four corresponding letters as well as j and ksh of the Grantha alphabet are now frequently called to aid. It is obvious that many of the Sanskrit words imported into Tamil at various periods (Caldwell, loc. cit., Introd., pp. 86 seq.) have, in consequence of the incongruity of the Sanskrit and Tamil notation of their respective phonetic systems, assumed disguises under which the original is scarcely recognizable: examples are ulagu (loka), uruvam (riipa), arukken (arka), arputam (adbhutam), natchattiram (nakshatram), irudi (rishi), tirkam (dirgha), arasen (rajan). Besides the Sanskrit ingredients, which appear but sparsely in the old poetry, Tamil has borrowed from Hindustani, Arabic, and Persian a large number of revenue, political, and judicial terms, and more recently a good many English words have crept in, such as tiratli, treaty, patlar, butler, dkt, act, kulab, club, kavarnar, governor, pinnalkodu, penal code, sikku, sick, mejastirattu, magistrate. But, as compared with its literary sister languages, it has preserved its Dravidian character singularly free from foreign influence. Of Tamil words which have found a permanent home in English may be mentioned curry, (kari), mulligatawny (ntilagu, pepper, and tannir, cool water), cheroot (suruttu), pariah (pareiyan). The laws of euphony (avoiding of hiatus, softening of initial consonants, contact of final with initial consonants) are far more complicated in Tamil than in Sanskrit. But, while they were rigidly adhered to in the old poetical language (Sen-Tamil, or " Perfect " Tamil), there is a growing tendency to neglect them in the language of the present day (Koelun-Tamil). It is true the Tamil rules totally differ from the prevailing Sanskrit; still the probability is in favour of a Sanskrit influence, inasmuch as they appear to follow Sanskrit models. Thus, irul nikkindn becomes irunikkindn; pon pdttiram, porpdttiram; viittil kanden, vuttir kznden; vdlsi umei, vdtsirumei; palan tandein, palanrdndan. Nouns are divided into high-caste or personal and low-caste or impersonal, - the former comprising words for rational beings, the latter all the rest. Only in high-caste nouns a distinction between masculine and feminine is observed in the singular; both have a common plural, which is indicated by change of a final n (feminine t) into r; but the neuter plural termination kal (gal) may be superadded in every case. Certain nouns change their base termination before receiving the case affixes, the latter being the same both for singular and plural. They are for the acc. ei, instr. dl, social odu (odu, udan), dat. ku, loc. it (idattil, in), abl. ilirundu (ininru), gen. udeiya (adu). There is, besides, a general oblique affix in, which is not only frequently used for the genitive, but may be inserted before any of the above affixes, to some of which the emphatic particle e may also be superadded. In the old poetry there is a still greater variety of affixes, while there is an option of dispensing with all. Adjectives, when attributive, precede the noun and are unchangeable; when predicative they follow it and receive verbal affixes. The pronouns of the 1st person are sing. ndn (ydn), inflexional base en, plural ndm (yam), infl. nam, including, ndngal, infl. engal, excluding the person addressed; of the 2nd person ni, infl. un (nin, nun), plural nir (niyir, nivir), ningal, infl. urn, ungal (num). To each of those forms, inclusive also of the reflexive pronouns tan, tam, tdngal, a place is assigned in the scale of honorific pronouns. As in the demonstrative pronouns the forms beginning with i indicate nearness, those with a distance, and (in the old poetry) those with u what is between the two, so the same forms beginning with e (or yd, as in ydr, dr, who?) express the interrogative. The verb consists of three elements - the root (generally reducible to one syllable), the tense characteristic, and the personal affix. There are three original moods, the indicative, imperative, and infinitive (the 2nd singular imperative is generally identical with the root), as well as three original tenses, the present, past, and future. The personal affixes are - sing. (1) -en; (2) -dy, honorific -ir; (3) masc. -dn, fern. -dl, honor. -dr, neuter -adu; plural (i) -Om (-am, -em); (2) -irkal; (3) masc. fern. -arkal, neut. -ana. These affixes serve for all verbs and for each of the three tenses, except that, in the future, -adu and -ana are replaced by -urn (kkum). It is only in the formation of the tenses that verbs differ, intransitive verbs generally indicating the present by -kit- (-kin ? '-), the past by -d-, -nd-, or -in-, and the future by -v- (-b-), and transitive verbs by the corresponding infixes, -kkir- (-kkinr-), -tt- (-nd-), and -pp-; but there are numerous exceptions and seemingly anomalous formations. Other tenses and moods are expressed with the aid of special affixes or auxiliary verbs. Causal verbs are formed by various infixes (-ppi-, -vi-, -ttu-), and the passive by the auxiliary padu, to fall, or by itin, to eat, with a noun. The following four peculiarities are characteristic of Tamil: - first, the tenseless negative form of the verb, expressed by the infix a, which is elided before dissimilar vowels; second, the predicative employment of two negative particles illei and alla, the one denying the existence or presence, the other denying the quality or essence; third, the use of two sets of participles, - one, called adjective or relative participle, which supplies the place of a relative clause, the language possessing no relative pronouns, and an ordinary adverbial participle or gerund; and, fourth, the practice of giving adjectives a verbal form by means of personal affixes, which form may again be treated as a noun by attaching to it the declensional terminations, thus: periya, great; periyom, we are great; periyomukku, to us who are great. The old poetry abounds in verbal forms now obsolete. Adjectives, adverbs and abstract nouns are derived from verbs by certain affixes. All post-positions were originally either nouns or verbal forms. Oratio indirecta is unknown in Tamil, as it is in all the other Indian languages, the gerund emu being used, like iti in Sanskrit, to indicate quotation. The structure of sentences is an exact counterpart of the structure of words, inasmuch as that which qualifies always precedes that which is qualified. Thus the attributive precedes the substantive, the substantive precedes the preposition, the adverb precedes the verb, the secondary clause the primary one, and the verb closes the sentence. The sentence, Having called the woman who had killed the child, he asked why she had committed such infanticide," runs in Tamil as follows :- Kulandeiyei kkonrupottavalei aleippittu n4 en ippacli The child her who had killed having caused to be called, "Thou why thus ppatta sisu-v-atti seyday enru kettan.

made child-murder didst?" having said ha asked.

Much as the similarity of the structure of the Tamil and its sister languages to that of the Ugro-Tartar class may have proved suggestive of the assumption of a family affinity between the two classes, such an affinity, if it exist, must be held to be at least very distant, inasmuch as the assumption receives but the faintest shade of support from an intercomparison of the radical, a nd least variable portion of the respective languages.


The early existence, in southern India, of peoples, localities, animals and products the names of which, as mentioned in the Old Testament and in Greek and Roman writers, have been identified with corresponding Dravidian terms, goes far to prove the high antiquity, if not of the Tamil language, at least of some form of Dravidian speech (Caldwell, loc. cit., Introd., pp. 81 - 106; Madras District Manual, i., Introd., pp. 134 seq.). But practically the earliest extant records of the Tamil language do not ascend higher than the middle of the 8th century of the Christian era, the grant in possession of the Israelites at Cochin being assigned by the late Dr Burnell to about 750 A.D., a period when Malayalam did not exist yet as a separate language. There is every probability that about the same time a number of Tamil works sprung up, which are mentioned by a writer in the i ith century as representing the old literature (Burnell, loc. cit., p. 127, note). The earlier of these may have been Saiva books; the more prominent of the others were decidedly Jain. Though traces of a north Indian influence are palpable in all of them that have come down to us (see, e.g., F. W. Ellis's notes to the Kuyal), we can at the same time perceive, as we must certainly appreciate, the desire of the authors to oppose the influence of Brahmanical writings, and create a literature that should rival Sanskrit books and appeal to the sentiments of the people at large. But the refinement of the poetical language, as adapted to the genius of Tamil, has been carried to greater excess than in Sanskrit; and this artificial character of the so-called Sen.-Tamil is evident from a comparison with the old inscriptions, which are a reflex of the language of the people, and clearly show that Tamil has not undergone any essential change (Burnell, loc, cit., p. 142).

The rules of Sen-Tamil appear to have been fixed at a very early date. The Tolkdppiyam, the oldest extant Tamil grammar, is assigned by Dr Burnell (On the Aindra School of Sanskrit Grammarians, pp. 8, 55) to the 8th century (best edition by C. Y. Tamodaram Pillei, Madras, 1885). The Viraseiliyam, another grammar, is of the 11th century. Both have been superseded by the Nannill, of the 15th century, which has exercised the skill of numerous commentators, and continues to be the leading native authority (English editions in Pope's Third Tamil Grammar, and an abridgment by Lazarus, 1884). The period of the prevalence of the Jains in the Pandya kingdom, from the 9th or 10th to the 13th century, is justly termed the Augustan age of Tamil literature. To its earlier days is assigned the Ndladiydr, an ethical poem on the three objects of existence, which is supposed to have preceded the Kui:al of Tiruvalluvan, the finest poetical production in the whole range of Tamil composition. Tradition, in keeping with the spirit of antagonism to Brahmanical influence, says that its author was a pariah. It consists of 1330 stanzas on virtue, wealth and pleasure. It has often been edited, translated and commented upon; see the introduction to the excellent edition published by the Rev. Dr Pope, in which also a comprehensive account of the peculiarities of Sen-Tamil will be found. To the Avvei, or Matron, a reputed sister of Tiruvalluvan, but probably of a later date, two shorter moral poems, called Attisudi and Konreiveyndan, are ascribed, which are still read in all Tamil schools. Chintdmani, an epic of upwards of 3000 stanzas, which celebrates the exploits of a king Jivakan, also belongs to that early Jain period, and so does the Divdkaram, the oldest dictionary of classical Tamil. The former is one of the finest poems in the language; but no more than the first and part of the third of its thirteen books have been edited and translated. Kamban's Rdmdyanam (about 1100 A.D.) is the only other Tamil epic which comes up to the Chintdmani in poetical beauty. The most brilliant of the poetical productions which appeared in the period of the Saiva revival (13th and 14th centuries) are two collections of hymns addressed to Siva, the one called Tiruvdsakam, by Manikka-Vasakan, and a later and larger one called Tivdram, by Sambandhan and two other devotees, Sundaran and Appan. Both these collections have been printed, the former in one, the latter in five volumes. They are rivalled both in religious fervour and in poetical merit by a contemporaneous collection of Vaishnava hymns, the Ndldyira-prabandham (also printed at Madras). The third section of it, called Tiruvdymoli, or " Words of the Sacred Mouth," has been published in Telugu characters, with ample commentaries, in ten quartos (Madras, 18 75-7 6). After a period of literary torpor, which lasted nearly two centuries, King Vallabha Deva, better known by his assumed name Ativirarama Pandyan (second half of the 16th century), endeavoured to revive the love of poetry by compositions of his own, the most celebrated of which are the Neidadam, a somewhat extravagant imitation of Sri Harsha's Sanskrit Naishadham, and the Verriverkei, a collection of sententious maxims. Though he had numerous followers, who made this revival the most prolific in the whole history of Tamil literature, none of the compositions of any kind, mainly translations and bombastic imitations of Sanskrit models, have attained to any fame. An exceptional place, however, is occupied by certain Tamil sectarians called sittar (i.e. siddhas or sages), whose mystical poems, especially those contained in the Sivavdkyam, are said to be of singular beauty. Two poems of high merit, composed at the end of the 17th century, also deserve favourable notice----the Nitinerivilakkam, an ethical treatise by Kumaragurupara Desikan, and the Prabhulingalilei, a translation from the Kanarese of a famous text-book of the Vira-Saiva sect. See the analysis in W. Taylor's Catalogue, vol. ii. pp. 837-47.

The modern period, which may be said to date from the beginning of the last century, is ushered in by two great poets, one native and the other foreign. Tayumanavan, a philosopher of the pantheistic school, composed 1453 stanzas (pddal) which have a high reputation for sublimity both of sentiment and style; and the Italian Jesuit Joseph Beschi (d. 1742), under the name Viramamuni, elaborated, on the model of the Chintdmani, a religious epic Tembdvani, which.

though marred by blemishes of taste, is classed by native critics among the best productions of their literature. It treats of the history of St Joseph, and has been printed at Pondicherry in three volumes, with a full analysis. English influence has here, as in Bengal and elsewhere in India, greatly tended to create a healthier tone in literature both as to style and sentiment. As one of the best Tamil translations of English books in respect of diction and idiom may be mentioned the Balavydp¢rikal, or " Little Merchants," published by the Vernacular Text Society, Madras. P. Percival's collection of Tamil Proverbs (3rd ed., 1875) should also be mentioned. The copper-plate grants, commonly called sdsanams, and stone inscriptions in Tamil, many of which have been copied and translated (Archaeological Survey of Southern India, vol. iv.; R. Sewell, Lists of the Antiquarian Remains in the Presidency of Madras, vols. i., ii.), are the only authentic historical records. (See also Sir Walter Elliot's contribution to the International Numismata Orientalia, vol. iii. pt. 2.) As early as the time of the Chinese traveller Hsuan Tsang, books were written in southern India on talipot leaves, and Albiruni mentions this custom as quite prevalent in his time (1031). It has not died out even at the present day, though paper imported from Portugal has, during the last three centuries, occasionally been used. Madras is now the largest depository of Tamil palm-leaf MSS., which have been described in Wilson's Catalogue of the Mackenzie Collection (Calcutta, 1828, 2 vols.), W. Taylor's Catalogue (Madras, 1857, 3 vols.), and Condaswamy Iyer's Catalogue (vol. i., Madras, 1861). The art of printing, however, which was introduced in southern India at an early date, while it has tended to the preservation of many valuable productions of the ancient literature, has also been the means of perpetuating and circulating a deal of literary rubbish and lasciviousness which would much better have remained in the obscurity of manuscript. Dr Burnell has a note in his Elements of South Indian Paleography (2nd ed., p. 44), from which it appears that in 1578 Tamil types were cut by Father Joao de Faria, and that a hundred years later a Tamil and Portuguese dictionary was published at Ambalakkaelu. At present the number of Tamil books (inclusive of newspapers) printed annually far exceeds that of all the other Dravidian vernaculars put together. The earliest Tamil version of the New Testament was commenced by the Dutch in Ceylon in 1688; Fabricius's translation appeared at Tranquebar in 1715. Since then many new translations of the whole Bible have been printed, and some of them have passed through several editions. The German missionary B. Ziegenbalg was the first to make the study of Tamil possible in Europe by the publication of his Grammatica Damulica, which appeared at Halle in 1716. Some time later the Jesuit father Beschi devoted much time and labour to the composition of grammars both of the vulgar and the poetical dialect. The former is treated in his Grammatica Latino-Tamulica, which was written in 1728, but was not printed till eleven years later (Tranquebar, 1739). It was twice reprinted, and two English translations have been published (1831, 1848). His Sen-Tamil Grammar, accessible since 1822 in an English translation by Dr Babington, was printed from his own MS. (Clavis humaniorum literarum sublimioris Tamulici idiomatis) at Tranquebar in 1876. This work is especially valuable, as the greater portion of it consists of a learned and exhaustive treatise on Tamil prosody and rhetoric. (See, on his other works, Graul's Reise, vol. iv. p. 327.) There are also grammars by Anderson, Rhenius, Graul (in vol. ii. of his Bibliotheca Tamulica, Leipzig, 1855), Lazarus (Madras, 1878), Pope (4th edition in three parts, London, 1883-85), and Grammaire Francaise-Tamoule, by the Abbe Dupuis (Pondicherry, 1863). The last two are by far the best. The India Office library possesses a MS. dictionary and grammar " par le Rev. Pere Dominique " (Pondicherr y, 1843), and a copy of a MS. Tamil-Latin dictionary by the celebrated missionary Schwarz, in which 9000 words are explained. About the like number of words are given in the dictionary of Fabricius and Breithaupt (Madras, 1779 and 1809). Rottler's dictionary, the publication of which was commenced in 1834, is a far more ambitious work. But neither it nor Winslow's (1862) come up to the standard of Tamil scholarship; the Dictionnaire Tamoul-Francais, which appeared at Pondicherry in 2 vols. (1855-62), is superior to both, just as the Dictionarium Latino-Gallico-Tamulicum (ibid., 1846) excels the various English-Tamil dictionaries which have been published at Madras.

See A. T. Mondiere and J. Vinson in Dictionnaire des Sciences Anthropologiques, s.v. " Dravidiens "; S. C. Chitty, The Tamil Plutarch, Jaffna, 1859; J. Murdoch, Classified Catalogue of Tamil Printed Books, Madras, 1865; C. E. Gover, Folk-Songs of Southern India, Madras, 1871; Bishop Caldwell's Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian Languages, 2nd ed., London, 1875; Graul's Reise nach Ostindien, vols. iv. and v.; the quarterly Lists of Books registered in the Madras Presidency; [Dr. Maclean's] Manual of the Administration of the Madras Presidency, vols. i. and ii., Madras, 1885, folio; F. Muller, Grundriss der Sprachwissenschaft, Vienna, 1884, 162-246; G. U. Pope, First Lessons in Tamil, 7th ed., Oxford, 1904,1904, and The Naladiyar, Oxford, 1893; and J. Vinson, Manuel de la Langue Tamoule, Paris, 1903. (R. R.)

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Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary


Proper noun


  1. Plural form of Tamil.



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