The writer T.R.Jawahar is Group Editor of Chennai-based News Today, Maalai Sudar and Talk Media publications.
Let’s begin at the beginning …
‘Thamizh predates sand and stone’
This core dictum is embedded deep in the psyche of the Tamil-speaking population world over. Now, this is not just some kind of flippant lingo jingoistic statement, but an evidence-based expression found in several ancient texts, of the greatness of the language on several counts. The stress is on the deep origins of Tamil, the allusions to sand and stone being a metaphor to amplify the point, a poetic licence.
A civilisation generally includes a specific land, language and literature, the life and times of its people, their culture, tradition, religion, rituals and rules governing the commune. By this definition, Thamizhagam qualifies as a unique civilisation. Its locale is the South Indian sub-continent below the Vindhyas, famously known as Dravida. But the bedrock of this civilisation is Tamil language. Suffice to say the other Dravida tongues were derivatives of Tamil or a mixture of Tamil and other languages.
As we move north, however, we see the cracks and even craters in perspectives. Northerners talk of a unified Bharathiya Civilisation with Sanskrit as the foundation, bringing in its arc the whole of India including the Dravidian, more particularly, Tamil South. Sanskrit is deemed as the all-encompassing umbrella for the entire Indian civilisation and nation, drawing its authority from the sacred Vedas, Upanishads and thousands of ancient literatures, philosophical and religious. To cut a long story short, the RSS and BJP thinkers and leaders have their mindsets rooted in this unflinching conviction. A clear recipe for conflict, indeed.
But in the Tamilian mind, their language not just runs parallel to that of Sanskrit but also predates it. Also, they believe with good reason that Tamil is the mother of all languages and not Sanskrit. Recent researches, not just by ‘interested’ Tamilians out to prove a point, but by various universities abroad, The Hebrew University in Israel to name one, are veering around to the conclusion that Tamil is a primeval language whose birth is buried in the unfathomable seas of time. And under some sands and stones too.
Chairs for Tamil Study are being created in several universities across the world. Harvard is in the bandwagon. As the world wakes up to its, to put it in an oxy-moron, ‘past potential’, Tamil is fast emerging as the wannabe linguistic researchers’ favoured language. The UNESCO selected about 15 ancient languages, including Greek, Latin, Tamil and Sanskrit and rated them on a scale of 11 qualities like antiquity, grammar, uniqueness, lofty ideals, etc. While Sanskrit scored 7, Tamil topped the charts with a clean sweep of 11 of 11.
And we are not talking of 2000 or 3000 years, but upwards of 60000. The much talked about Kumari Kandam (Kumari or Lemuria Continent) inhabited by Tamil-speaking people stretched from close to the African shores in the west to beyond Indonesia in the east. But alas, climate and geology played spoilsport to this cherished geography and history, what with frequent tsunamis swallowing large land masses. Their habitats submerged, the Tamil people scattered. Their homes destroyed, they dispersed.
While many stayed put in what was left, most settled in faraway lands like Australia, East Asia, Africa and even South America and upwards in North India and West Asia and Europe. Traces of Tamil language can be found in several of the dialects of these countries. Tamil verb-roots, adjectives and nouns have morphed and merged with many of those aboriginal local tongues. Much more can be claimed based on some initial indicative studies, but they may seem outrageous till such time they are proven with hard evidence. But they will see light of day for sure, soon enough. After all, Tamil research is very nascent.
Bharatiya-Sanskrit scholars and historians aver that all of India was inhabited by a single human stock, wholly off the local soil. In my view, if that be so, then that human material must have been substantially Dravidian, driven north by rising seas in the south. The Indus Valley civilisation bears tell-tale hallmarks of Dravidian life as seen in the south of India. The Indus script was replete with a primitive form of Tamil alphabet called ‘Vattezhuththu’.
The British, with their devious Divide and Rule policy, sprung the Aryan Invasion theory in the early 20th century and succeeded in planting a mental rift in the minds of their subjects as Aryans and Dravidians. Their malignant motive was to parade that the Sanskritic Aryans were as much foreigners as themselves and hence their right to rule India, Whiteman’s Burden, had historical precedent and therefore justified.
Genetic studies have shaken both theories. People from the Steppes much north of India did come into India, but there were no invasions, much less waves of them. After all, in a nomadic milieu and pastoral lifestyle, the mobility of populations in search of cultivable lands was natural. There is also no proof that they brought in Sanskrit and Vedas and chased down the Dravidians from Indus Valley. That civilisation died a natural death. At best there were migrations and with their mischief exposed, the ‘invasion theorists’ have promptly toned down to this new comfortable verbal compromise.
But the same genetic studies are turning out to be a sore point to Indic scholars tethered to a Bharatiya-Sanskritic common culture grounded in what they call Bharatvarsha. The gene pool is turning up some embarrassing surprises that suggest that North Indians do have a much northern origin thanks to traces of the aforesaid Steppes DNA that has been carried down to their current biological system.
So, while not accepting invasion or migration, there is grudging movement to the term ‘infiltration’. Ultimately, the point is, Aryan, Bharatiya and Sanskrit are all now a matter of semantic jugglery. Sanskrit’s Indianness, if not conclusively rejected, has clearly come under a cloud. The Sanskritwadis’ claim that they had expanded far and beyond is also under question. This is said not to belittle the greatness of Sanskrit or the sanctity of its rich texts, but only to highlight the challenges it and its sponsors face presently owing to advances in scientific tools.
Tamil civilisation has not to contend with such elementary issues, thanks to ratification by the same tools. Tamil and Tamilians are indisputable sons and daughters of this soil, of the land, for the land and by the land. While they migrated all over, there were no, so to say, polluting migrations inwards. Tamil beats Sanskrit hands down in terms of both antiquity and continuity. Tamil’s seniority has been well established and now it is only a matter of determining how much senior it is, not just to Sanskrit but to all world lingos.
As for continuity, while Sanskrit is confined to religious incantations, it is defunct as a spoken language. But Tamil is a living lingo and thrives till today in all vitality and vibrancy in both its classical and colloquial forms. It is at once pristine and pedestrian, depending on the fora, which could be a literary meet or just roadside banter. It is the most flexible and adaptive language, taking into its fold new words and accents and flows through numerous dialects. It has offered a fertile field of play through the annals of time for all forms of human endeavours, from literature to art, be it to Kamban or Kannadasan, or for that matter, Valluvar or Vadivelu!
The Jis must first develop the openness to concede that Thamizhagam is a civilisation by its own right and not a sub-culture of the Sanskritic one. And then they must prepare for the mental leap of faith to the proven fact that Tamil is not a parallel civilisation but a predecessor civilisation. That, in my view, is the starting point, before they can think of even conceiving any political strategy.
Tailpiece: Sanskrit and Tamil were supposed to have emanated from the two sides of Lord Shiva’s drum. If that be so, the good Lord then surely struck the Tamil side first! And then waited a few yugas to hit the other side.
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