Tamil Heritage and History

Monday, December 10, 2007

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Thamizh Thaai Vaazhthu -1 (as recited in Tamilnadu functions)

Here are the original verses of Sundaram Pillai from which the current edited versions are drawn from:

The Sixty-four Arts (அறுபத்துநாலு கலைகள்)

The Sixty-four Arts

1. Toilet Make-up, toilet and use of beautifying agents
2. Painting the body, and colouring the nails, hair, etc.
3. Decoration of the forehead.
4. Art of hair dressing. Dressing
5. Art of dressing.
6. Proper matching of decorations and jewellery. Music and Dancing
7. Singing.
8. Playing on musical instruments.
9. Playing on musical glasses filled with water.
10. Acting.
11. Dancing. General Education
12. Good manners and etiquette.
13. Knowledge of diffenrent langguages and dialects.
14. Knowledge of vocabularies.
15. Knowledge of Rhetoric or Figures of Speech.
16. Reading.
17. Reciting poems.
18. Criticism of poems.
19. Criticism of dramas and analysis of stories.
20. Filling up the missing line of a poem.
21.Composing poems to order.
22. Reply in verse (when one person recites a poem, another gives the reply in verse).
23. The art of speaking by changing the forms of words.
24. Art of knowing the character of a man from his features.
25. Art of attracting others (bewitching). Domestic Science
26. Art of cooking.
27. Preparation of different beverages, sweet and acid drinks, chutneys, etc.
28. Sewing and needle work.
29. Making of different beds for different purposes and for different seasons. Physical culture 30. Physical culture.
31. Skill in youthful sports.
32. Swimming and water-sports. Games
33. Games of dice, chess, etc.
34. Games of chance.
35. Puzzles and their solution.
36. Arithmetical games. Art of Entertaining
37. Magic: art of creating illusions.
38. Trick of hand.
39. Mimicry or imitation (of voice or sounds).
40. Art of disguise. Fine Arts
41. Painting in colours.
42. Stringing flowers into garlands and other ornaments for decorating the body, such as crowns, clapnets, etc.
43. Floral decorations of carriages.
44. Making of artificial flowers.
45. Preparation of ear-rings of shell, ivory, etc.
46. Making birds, flowers, etc., of thread or yarn.
47. Clay-modelling: making figures and images.
48. The art of changing the appearance of things such as
making to appear as silk. Pet Animals
49. Training parrots and other birds to talk.
50. Training rams and cocks and other birds for mock fight.
Professional Training
51. Gardening and agriculture.
52. Preparation of perfumery.
53. Making furniture from canes and reeds.
54. Wood-engraving.
55. Carpentry.
56. Knowledge of machinery.
57. Construction of building (Architecture).
58. Floor decoration with coloured stones.
59. Knowledge of metals.
60. Knowledge of gems and jewels.
61. Colouring precious stones.
62. Art of war.
63. Knowledge of code words.
64. Signals for conveying messages.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Statement on the Status of Tamil as a Classical Language- George L. Hart

April 11, 2000

Statement on the Status of Tamil as a Classical Language

Professor Maraimalai has asked me to write regarding the position of Tamil as a classical language, and I am delighted to respond to his request.

I have been a Professor of Tamil at the University of California, Berkeley, since 1975 and am currently holder of the Tamil Chair at that institution. My degree, which I received in 1970, is in Sanskrit, from Harvard, and my first employment was as a Sanskrit professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1969. Besides Tamil and Sanskrit, I know the classical languages of Latin and Greek and have read extensively in their literatures in the original. I am also well-acquainted with comparative linguistics and the literatures of modern Europe (I know Russian, German, and French and have read extensively in those languages) as well as the literatures of modern India, which, with the exception of Tamil and some Malayalam, I have read in translation. I have spent much time discussing Telugu literature and its tradition with V. Narayanarao, one of the greatest living Telugu scholars, and so I know that tradition especially well. As a long-standing member of a South Asian Studies department, I have also been exposed to the richness of both Hindi literature, and I have read in detail about Mahadevi Varma, Tulsi, and Kabir.

I have spent many years -- most of my life (since 1963) -- studying Sanskrit. I have read in the original all of Kalidasa, Magha, and parts of Bharavi and Sri Harsa. I have also read in the original the fifth book of the Rig Veda as well as many other sections, many of the Upanisads, most of the Mahabharata, the Kathasaritsagara, Adi Sankara’s works, and many other works in Sanskrit.

I say this not because I wish to show my erudition, but rather to establish my fitness for judging whether a literature is classical. Let me state unequivocally that, by any criteria one may choose, Tamil is one of the great classical literatures and traditions of the world.

The reasons for this are many; let me consider them one by one.

First, Tamil is of considerable antiquity. It predates the literatures of other modern Indian languages by more than a thousand years. Its oldest work, the Tolkappiyam,, contains parts that, judging from the earliest Tamil inscriptions, date back to about 200 BCE. The greatest works of ancient Tamil, the Sangam anthologies and the Pattuppattu, date to the first two centuries of the current era. They are the first great secular body of poetry written in India, predating Kalidasa's works by two hundred years.

Second, Tamil constitutes the only literary tradition indigenous to India that is not derived from Sanskrit. Indeed, its literature arose before the influence of Sanskrit in the South became strong and so is qualitatively different from anything we have in Sanskrit or other Indian languages. It has its own poetic theory, its own grammatical tradition, its own esthetics, and, above all, a large body of literature that is quite unique. It shows a sort of Indian sensibility that is quite different from anything in Sanskrit or other Indian languages, and it contains its own extremely rich and vast intellectual tradition.

Third, the quality of classical Tamil literature is such that it is fit to stand beside the great literatures of Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Chinese, Persian and Arabic. The subtlety and profundity of its works, their varied scope (Tamil is the only premodern Indian literature to treat the subaltern extensively), and their universality qualify Tamil to stand as one of the great classical traditions and literatures of the world. Everyone knows the Tirukkural, one of the world's greatest works on ethics; but this is merely one of a myriad of major and extremely varied works that comprise the Tamil classical tradition. There is not a facet of human existence that is not explored and illuminated by this great literature.

Finally, Tamil is one of the primary independent sources of modern Indian culture and tradition. I have written extensively on the influence of a Southern tradition on the Sanskrit poetic tradition. But equally important, the great sacred works of Tamil Hinduism, beginning with the Sangam Anthologies, have undergirded the development of modern Hinduism. Their ideas were taken into the Bhagavata Purana and other texts (in Telugu and Kannada as well as Sanskrit), whence they spread all over India. Tamil has its own works that are considered to be as sacred as the Vedas and that are recited alongside Vedic mantras in the great Vaisnava temples of South India (such as Tirupati). And just as Sanskrit is the source of the modern Indo-Aryan languages, classical Tamil is the source language of modern Tamil and Malayalam. As Sanskrit is the most conservative and least changed of the Indo-Aryan languages, Tamil is the most conservative of the Dravidian languages, the touchstone that linguists must consult to understand the nature and development of Dravidian.

In trying to discern why Tamil has not been recognized as a classical language, I can see only a political reason: there is a fear that if Tamil is selected as a classical language, other Indian languages may claim similar status. This is an unnecessary worry. I am well aware of the richness of the modern Indian languages -- I know that they are among the most fecund and productive languages on earth, each having begotten a modern (and often medieval) literature that can stand with any of the major literatures of the world. Yet none of them is a classical language. Like English and the other modern languages of Europe (with the exception of Greek), they rose on preexisting traditions rather late and developed in the second millennium. The fact that Greek is universally recognized as a classical language in Europe does not lead the French or the English to claim classical status for their languages.

To qualify as a classical tradition, a language must fit several criteria: it should be ancient, it should be an independent tradition that arose mostly on its own not as an offshoot of another tradition, and it must have a large and extremely rich body of ancient literature. Unlike the other modern languages of India, Tamil meets each of these requirements. It is extremely old (as old as Latin and older than Arabic); it arose as an entirely independent tradition, with almost no influence from Sanskrit or other languages; and its ancient literature is indescribably vast and rich.

It seems strange to me that I should have to write an essay such as this claiming that Tamil is a classical literature -- it is akin to claiming that India is a great country or Hinduism is one of the world's great religions. The status of Tamil as one of the great classical languages of the world is something that is patently obvious to anyone who knows the subject. To deny that Tamil is a classical language is to deny a vital and central part of the greatness and richness of Indian culture.

George L. Hart
Professor of Tamil
Chair in Tamil Studies

Thursday, December 6, 2007

A Note on the Muruku Sign of the Indus Script in light of the Mayiladuthurai Stone Axe Discovery - by Iravatham Mahadevan, May 6 2006

Unicorn Seal, Harappa, found 1998There are two near-identical signs in the Indus Script (Nos. 47 & 48, I. Mahadevan 1977) depicting a seated god identified as muruku for reasons summarised in this Note. (For background details, see my 1999 paper Murukan In The Indus Script).

A deity in the Indus script is likely to be an ideogram with a recognizable anthropomorphic form. The sign will also be of frequent occurrence and occur in repetitive passages suggesting some religious formula. Signs 47 and 48 representing a seated human-like figure meet the requirements and are identified as prima facie representing a popular Harappan deity.

The deity is represented as a skeletal body with a prominent row of ribs (in sign 48 only) and is shown seated on his haunches, body bent and contracted, with lower limbs folded and knees drawn up.

The two related but distinct signs of the Indus script seem to have later coalesced into one symbol (resembling sign 47) outside the Harappan region. (For pictorial parallels from later times, see illustrations in I. Mahadevan 1999).

According to the interpretation proposed here, the seated posture is suggestive of divinity and the skeletal body gives the linguistic clue to the name of the deity. The basic Dravidian word mur (Ta. muri, Ka. muruhu, Pa. & Ga. murg, Go. moorga etc., DEDR. 4977) means 'to bend, contract, fold' etc. Applying the technique of rebus, we get mur (Ta. murunku, murukku; Ma.murukka, Kol., Nk. murk, Malt. murke etc., DEDR 4975) meaning 'to destroy, kill, cut'. etc. Thus the name of the deity muruku and his characteristics 'destroyer, killer' are derived.

The skeletal forms in the pictograms suggest that the god was conceived as a disembodied spirit.

Turning to the oldest layer of Tamil Sangam literature, We find that muruku/ murukan was a spirit who manifested himself only by possessing his priest (velan) or young maidens. The priest performed the veri dance to pacify the spirit. The earliest references to muruku in Old Tamil portray him as a 'wrathful killer' indicating his prowess as a war god and hunter (P.L. Samy 1990). Another important clue is the frequent association of the muruku and the load-bearer signs in the Indus Texts, paralleled by the association of murukan with kavadi in the Tamil society. Outside the Indus valley, the muruku symbol has been found on a seal from Vaisali, Bihar, dating probably from ca. 1100 BCE. (for details and previous references, see. I. Mahadevan 1999).

In Tamil Nadu, the muruku symbol was first identified from the pottery graffiti at Sanur, a megalithic site. B.B. Lal (1960) correctly identified this symbol with sign 47 of the Indus script. In recent years the muruku symbol has turned up among pottery graffiti found at Mangudi (TN Dept. of Archaeology, 2003) and at Muciri, Kerala (V. Selvakumar et al, in press).

All these occurrences on pottery belong to the Late Megalithic-Iron Age period overlapping with Early Historic Period (broadly, ca. 3cent. BCE-3 cent. CE). It is likely that the symbol retained the same meaning and sound value as at Harappa, though it occurs only as an isolated symbol on Megalithic pottery and not part of a script. 2

However, the latest discovery of an Indus Text with four signs engraved on a Neolithic polished stone celt (ca. 2000-1000 BCE) from Tamil Nadu is a revolutionary advance with far-reaching implications. Unlike the megalithic graffiti, the text on the Neolithic tool is in the classical Indus script characters. The first and the second signs (signs 48 and signs 342), namely muruku and the 'jar' (to be read as -an) also form a well-known and very frequent combination on the Indus seals and sealings especially from Harappa. The third and fourth signs also occur in the Indus script (signs 367 & signs301), but their value is not yet known.

We can therefore conclude that the Harappans and the Neolithic people of Tamil country spoke the same language, namely Dravidian. It is recorded that the Neolithic people of South India were in contact with the Late Harappan or post -Harappan people of the Deccan. It is known that gold for the ornaments found at Mohenjodaro came from the Kolar gold fields in Karnataka. Finally, reference can be made to the traditional accounts in old Tamil literature tracing the origin of the Velir cheiftains to migration from the Saurashtra region of Gujarat which was at that time part of the Harappan civilization.

It is emphasised that the occurrence of the Indus text on the Neolithic tool and the consequences flowing therefrom are independent of the tentative phonetic values and meanings proposed by me.

Photograph of stone celt courtesy The Hindu.

Rajaraja the Great.

Rajaraja’s great reign is commemorated by the magnificent Siva temple in Thanjavur, the finest monument of this period of South Indian history. The temple is remarkable both for its massive proportions and for its simplicity of design. It is now recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, forming part of the Great Living Chola Temples site.

The construction of the temple is said to have been completed on the 275th day of the 25th year of his reign.After its commemoration the great temple and the capital had close business relations with the rest of the country and acted as a centre of both religious and economic activity. Year after year villages from all over the country had to supply men and material for the temple maintenance.


The Grand Anicut, also known as the Kallanai, is an ancient dam built on the Kaveri River in the state of Tamil Nadu in southern India.

Kallanai Built By Karikalan, A Chola King. (This image also shows 19th century additions to the ancient dam)
Kallanai Built By Karikalan, A Chola King. (This image also shows 19th century additions to the ancient dam)

It was built by the Chola king Karikalan around the 1st Century AD[1] and is considered one of the oldest water-diversion or water-regulator structure in the world, still in use.[2][3] The Kaveri River forms the boundary between the Erode and Salem districts. The Bhavani River joins the Kaveri at the town of Bhavani, where the Sangameswarar Temple, an important pilgrimage spot in southern India, was built at the confluence of the two rivers. Sweeping past the historic rock of Tiruchirapalli, it breaks into two channels at the island of Srirangam, which enclose between them the delta of Thanjavur (Tanjore), the garden of South India.

The northern channel is called the Kollidam (Kolidam); the other preserves the name of Cauvery, and empties into the Bay of Bengal at Poompuhar, a few hundred miles south of Chennai (Madras). On the seaward face of its delta are the seaports of Nagapattinam and Karikal. Irrigation works have been constructed in the delta for over 2,000 years.

The Kallanai is a massive dam of unhewn stone, 329 metres (1,080 feet) long and 20 metres (60 feet) wide, across the main stream of the Cauvery. The purpose of the dam was to divert the waters of the Cauvery across the fertile Delta region for irrigation via canals. The dam is still in excellent repair, and supplied a model to later engineers, including the Sir Arthur Cotton's 19th-century dam across the Kollidam, the major tributary of the Cauvery. The area irrigated by the ancient irrigation network of which the dam was the centrepiece was 69,000 acres (280 square kilometres). By the early 20th century the irrigated area had been increased to about 1,000,000 acres (4,000 square kilometres).