by Prof.M.Naganathan, Vice-Chairman, Tamil Nadu State Planning Commission
Stage is all set for the first World Classical Tamil Conference in Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu. The five day literary-cultural event starting from 23rd of June2010 is the biggest such gathering in the history of modern Tamil Nadu. President Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil will inaugurate the literary-cultural extravaganza in the presence of the world torch bearers of Tamil language and the Tamil Culture that include Dr.M. Karunanidhi, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.
Tamil language that has an enviable history of more than 2000 years got its due recognition at national level when the Government declared it a Classical Language in 2004. This recognition paved way for reassessing the growth of Tamil language, prose and literature in the context of knowledge explosion of 21st century.
In this backdrop, it won’t be out of place to look back to how the Tamil language and culture was embraced by missionaries and academicians from across the seas. Many interpretations have been given to the variety and richness of Tamil literature, Tamil grammar and prose by identifying its unique antiquity and legacy. Among them were many notable Christian missionaries and host of scholars who visited the southern parts of India at different periods of time in the history.
Roberto De Nobili, an Italian Jesuit missionary arrived in Madurai, the southern part of Tamil Nadu, in 1605. He studied Sanskrit and Tamil literature and made considerable contribution towards promoting Tamil prose. While expounding Christianity in Tamil soil, he brought several Tamil words to Christian Tamil literature. The words ‘Kovil’ (Temple), ‘Arul’ (Grace), ‘Poosai’ (Mass or Worship) were coined by him. Therefore, he was considered to be a pioneer in Tamil prose writing.
Ziegenbalg, a German Lutheran and first protestant missionary to India had arrived at ‘Thrangampadi’ (Tranqueber) in Tamil Nadu in 1709. He had first opened up Tamil language to the printing technology. The Tamil translation of New Testament done by Ziegenbalg was published in 1715. It is claimed that he only had brought the first book in English in Asia in 1716. He had also composed a Tamil Dictionary and Grammar book.
Succeeding Zieganbalg, Rev.Fr.Beschi also from Italy came to Madurai in 1711. He had studied deeply Tamil and wrote a literary piece and Tamil Grammar. Further he had composed quadruple lexicon popularly known as ‘Chaturakarati’. This eminent work attracted the attention of many western and eastern scholars towards classical Tamil. His everlasting contribution to Tamil can be found in his extraordinary epic poem called ‘Thembavani’ having 3615 stanzas on the life of Saint Joseph.
Francis Whyte Ellis a civil servant of East India Company settled in erstwhile Madras in 1810 and remained there till his death in 1819. He pursued research in Dravidian languages - Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Kannada besides Sanskrit. He was considered the first scholar in the field of Comparative Dravidian Linguistics.
Bishop Robert Caldwell (1814–1891) had served in Tirunelveli as a Christian missionary. After studying and analyzing all Dravidian languages, he wrote his magnum opus ‘Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian Languages’. This work provoked a lot of intellectual debates and ignited the minds of scholars to go deep into the origin of Tamil, Dravidian and Indian languages.
Rev.Fr.George Uglow Pope (1820–1908) popularly known as G.U. Pope, was a Christian monk who came to South India to propagate his religion and became a savant of Tamil and interpreter of Thirukkural. Attracted by the erudite scholarship of Valluvar, Pope had said that “Kural owes much of its popularity to its exquisite poetic form. A kural is a couplet containing a complete and striking idea expressed in a refined and intricate metre. He tried to convey the universal message of Valluvar in his own way in the English language for the first time. He brought fame and name for Valluvar’s immortal contribution to world literature.
Among the several European Tamil scholars, Professor Gilbert Slater was the first Economist from England who was given the position of Professor and Head of the Department of Economics, University of Madras in 1915. He had first introduced field studies in Economics and taken students to Iruveli Pattinam village in the then South Arcot district and Selaiyur village in the then Chengulput district of Tamil Nadu. As a multi-lingual scholar, he wrote the famous research book on “The Dravidian Elements in India’s Culture”. He was the first scholar to state categorically that the antiquity of Tamil language and civilization belong to more than 3500 years. His interpretation to the word ‘Dravidian’ itself is noble and novel. Dr.Gilbert Slater had given modern interpretation to the economics of Tamils.
He had also compared Tamil with Latin and Greek, the classical languages of Europe and stated that “Tamil versification is based on quantity, like Greek and Latin; it also employs rime, but at the beginnings, not the endings of verses; and alliteration, but within the verse and not as a link between verses. Tamil music is based upon quarter-tones, i.e. there are twenty eight divisions of the octave instead of seven. Indian culture, with its special characteristic of systematic and subtle philosophical thought, must have come from people capable of originating and developing it. That capacity would naturally be exhibited also in the evolution of language, and the purest Dravidian language does exhibit it in the highest degree – in a higher degree than any other Indian language.”
The contributions of European scholars led to the resurgence of research in Tamil language, literature, prose and poetry not only in Tamil Nadu but also other parts of the world. Tamil is having more than four lakh words. The Tamil lexicon composed by great scholar Vaiyapuri Pillai and published by the University of Madras had more than 1.25 lakh words with explanations. Tamil lexicon prepared by the great scholar Pavaanar published by the Government of Tamil Nadu traces the etymological origin of each and every Tamil word. In its continuation, the Department of Tamil Development, Government of Tamil Nadu has so far published 20 volumes of etymology of Tamil words. It is a work of monumental proportions reflecting the diction of Tamil words in every detail possible. Tamil University, Thanjavur published ‘Dictionary of Technical Terms from English to Tamil’ edited by Dr.Aruli, a scholastic researcher. The Tamil language is the rich repository of more than three lakh technical words to the surprise of many linguists and scholars as elaborated by Dr.Aruli. Many private publications have also brought out Tamil to Tamil, English to Tamil, Tamil to English dictionaries and lexicons by a group of eminent scholars. These are the standing testimonies to the Tamil’s eminence, modernity of expression and its classical character.
In this context, the First World Classical Tamil Conference in Coimbatore will be a milestone in the development and promotion of Tamil language in the 21st century. Great scholars, poets, novelists, religious savants and linguists of international repute will present research papers and deliver lectures during the five day conclave.
No doubt, the outcome of the conference will blossom and carry the fragrance of uniqueness, richness and legacy of the Tamil language all over the world and add a new dimension to India’s inclusive growth process. Disclaimer : The views expressed by the author in this feature are entirely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of PIB