Sunday, June 27, 2010

Is Tamil a Classical Language: The Politics of Caste and Identity

In a few days time the World Classical Tamil Conference will begin in Coimbatore and everyone particularly the people of Tamil Nadu seem to be very exited about the whole tamasha. So far no one has even dared to ask the question: Does Tail, the medai tamizh popularised by the two Dravidian parties has actually impoverished the Tamil language and has made the native speakers of Tamil adhere to a very a narrowly defined ethnic and linguistic identity. The politicised linguistic identity popularised by the Dravidian movement has led to a situation that even so-called pulavars of Tamil cannot read a book printed in the Tamil language before the advent of the pure-Tamil movement launched by Professor Sunadaram Pillai and others. If you pick up any book printed in the nineteenth century you will encounter a completely language and none of the scholars of Tamil who willfully valorise only the so-callled Samgam Tamil are even in a position to read it. How can one be called a scholar in Tamil language and literature if he/she is unable to read Nalaira Divya Prabandam and other works which include the Bhakti hymns and the compositions of the Alvars. My point is that politicians cannot define the language and use a politicised linguistic consciousness to propel themselves and their families to power. The present fixation with Sanga Kala Ilakkiyam is akin to the Englishmen saying that the only English they will speak is the English of Chaucer and that all French words will be excised from the language. It does not take too much imagination to sat that English as we know will just fade away. Tamil is now in the danger of becoming a language whose utility as a vehicle of communication is now under severe stress.
A classical language is essentially a historical construct. After the collapse of the Roman Empire in the fourth century AD there was what Sheldon Pollock in his Language of the Gods in the World of Men has called the vernacularisation of Europe. Around the same time In India too the regional languages, grammars and literature came to be developed. As the vernaculars looked back from the stand point of the humanist Renaissance of the 14ht or 15th century they saw in Latin the roots of their own language, particularly the written form which the vernaculars took in the 8th or 9yth century precisely the time from when regional cultures developed in India. It make sense to speak of classical in the context of Europe as Latin was indeed the basis of the scripts and grammars of all the vernaculars particularly, French and German. Did such a situation exist in India. The answer is NO.
The antiquity of a language cannot determine its so called classical status. If the antiquity of a language should be allowed to determine the classical status then all the tribal languages of India and the world must be declared as classical languages. Even the criteria of written script is being politicised. The introduction of writing began with Ashoka when he inscribed his edicts all over India in order to propagator Buddhism. Literacy may have been introduced in pockets of NW India after the conquest of Alexander. In fact all the Tamil Brahmi inscriptions are dated after Ashoka and even Iravatham Mahadevan who of late has started singing a different tune has admitted as such in several of his earlier works. The Harappan script has not been deciphered and therefore any reading of the symbols as representing Tamil is sheer fraud. It is not [possible to Trace the antiquity of Tamil as a script before Asoka. The shadow boxing that high caste Tamil scholars who were fanatical saiva siddantists had with Sanskrit with its alleges Brahmani-cal bias is responsible for the constant refrain about the antiquity of Tamil. And even then Sanskrit words as George Hart himself has shown in his Poems of Ancient Tamil occupy more than 40% of the Tamil Texts collected in the sangam anthologies. I must say that the close similarity between the Bhakti poems belonging to the Palalva Age and the hymns of the alvars and nayanmars suggest close proximity in age, a point brought out by Herman Tieken. It appears that Tamil scholarship has degenerated into medai Tamil (Platform Tamil).
The construction of a Tamil identity based on language is part of the process of mobilisation of the backward non brahmin castes such as the mudaliars and the saiva pillais to achieve political power. I do not see why they continue to indulge in such gimmicks even now that they a re in power.

In a recent newspaper article Shri Iravatan Mahadevan published 4 pieces of evidence to show the antiquity of the Tamil language atleast in its written form. The signet ring bearing the name of a sangam chief is obviously suspect as it has not been found in an excavated context. Furtehr, the Amaravathi River basin near Karur has generated a small scale industry for the manafacture of "sangam" age coins which are duly authenticated by a set of "epigraphists" and "historians" whose ideological motive is to push back the antiquity of writing and literacy. There is also the impulse to give credence to the Sangam poetry whose date cannot be determined.

1 comment:

kennady said...

Tamil language is one of the classical language evolved from the common script called Brahmi and its easy to teach Tamil language letters Nice information about classical language is Tamil...I agree this...By this many people used to know the culture and the language history about tamil. The earliest long text in Old Tamil is the Tolkāppiyam, an early work on Tamil grammar and poetics, whose oldest layers could be as old as the 1st century BC. These include a corpus of 2,381 poems collectively known as Sangam literature.