Tamils - Encyclopedia

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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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