Tamil as a Classical Language
  • It couldnt be any better Thamizh finally gets what it is worth being
    declared as the first classical langauge by the Govt of india
  • Dear Freinds

    Just stumbled into this letter I dont know who prof Maraimalai is but
    This letter sure was interesting from 2000


    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

    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

    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

    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

    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
  • News is Karnataka Govt. is also urging the Govt. to declare Kannada as a
    classical language.

    I didn't intend to start a debate whether Kannada is a classical
    language or not. This is just a news.
    Please don't draw any inferences from this.

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