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Social Transformation in Tamil Nadu - Tamil Renaissance | 10th Social Science : History : Chapter 10 : Social Transformation in Tamil Nadu

Chapter: 10th Social Science : History : Chapter 10 : Social Transformation in Tamil Nadu

Tamil Renaissance

The cultural hegemony of colonialism and the rise of humanism brought several changes in the socio-cultural life of the Indian subcontinent.

Tamil Renaissance

The cultural hegemony of colonialism and the rise of humanism brought several changes in the socio-cultural life of the Indian subcontinent. Modern Tamil Nadu too experienced such a historical transition. Tamil language and culture played a significant role in their identity construction. The introduction of printing press, linguistic research on Dravidian languages, etc... underpinned the process of Tamil renaissance. Although religious literature was taken up predominantly for publication in the early years after the advent of printing technology, things began to change gradually. Works that can be described as secular were taken up for publishing.

Advent of the Printing Technology

Tamil was the first non-European language that went into print. As early as in 1578, Tamil book, ThambiranVanakkam, was published from Goa. In 1709, a full-fledged printing press had been established Ziegenbalg thanks to Ziegenbalg in Tranquebar. Thirukkural was one of the earliest Tamil literary texts to be published in 1812. This led the resurgence of interest among Tamil scholars in publishing the more ancient Tamil classics around that period.

In the nineteenth century, Tamil scholars like C.W. Damotharanar (1832–1901), and U.V. Swaminathar (1855–1942) spent their lifetime in the rediscovery of the Tamil classics. C. W. Damotharanar collected and edited different palm-leaf manuscripts of the Tamil grammar and literature. His editions included such texts as Tolkappiyam, Viracholiyam, Iraiyanar-Akapporul, IlakkanaVilakkam, Kaliththokai and Chulamani. U.V. Swaminathar, a student of Meenakshisundaranar, took efforts to publish the classical texts such as Civakachinthamani (1887), Paththupattu (1889), Chilapathikaram (1892), Purananuru (1894), Purapporul-Venpa-Malai (1895), Manimekalai (1898), Ainkurunuru (1903) and Pathitrupathu(1904).

The publication of these ancient literary texts created an awareness among the Tamil people about their historical tradition, language, literature and religion. Modern Tamils founded their social and cultural identity on the ancient Tamil classics, collectively called the Sangam literature.

In 1816, F.W. Ellis (1777–1819) who founded the College of Fort St George, formulated the theory that the south Indian languages belonged to a separate family which was unrelated to the Indo-Aryan family of languages. Robert Caldwell (1814–1891) expanded this argument in a book titled, A Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian or South Indian Family of Languages, in 1856. He established the close affinity between the Dravidian languages in contrast with Sanskrit and also established the antiquity of Tamil.

Tamil intellectuals of this period identified the fundamental differences between Tamil/Dravidian/ Egalitarian and Sanskrit/ Aryan/Brahmanism. They argued that Tamil was a language of Dravidian people, who are non-Brahmin and their social life was casteless, gender-sensitised and egalitarian. Tamil renaissance contributed to the origin and growth of Dravidian consciousness in the Tamil country. These ideas are exemplified in the Tamil invocation song in the play, Manonmaniam written by P. Sundaranar (1855–1897).

Ramalinga Adigal (1823–1874), popularly known as Vallalar, questioned the existing Hindu religious orthodoxy. Abraham Pandithar (1859–1919) gave prominence to Tamil music and published books on the history of Tamil music. C.W. Damotharanar, U.V. Swaminathar, Thiru Vi. Kaliyanasundaram (1883–1953), Parithimar Kalaignar (1870-1903), Maraimalai Adigal (1876–1950), Subramania Bharathi (1882–1921), S. Vaiyapuri (1891–1956), and the poet Bharatidasan (1891–1964), in their own ways and through their writings, contributed to the revival of Tamil literature. Meanwhile, M. Singaravelar (1860–1946) an early pioneer in Buddhist revival, promoted communism and socialism to counter the colonial power. Pandithar Iyotheethassar (1845–1914) and Periyar E.V. Ramasamy (1879–1973) held high the radical philosophy to defend the rights of the socially underprivileged and marginalised section of the people.


V.G. Suryanarayana Sastri (Parithimar Kalaignar)

V.G. Suryanarayana Sastri (1870-1903), born near Madurai, was professor of Tamil at the Madras Christian College. He was one of the earliest scholars to identify the influence of Sanskrit on Tamil, and adopted a pure Tamil name for himself: Parithimar Kalaignar. He was the first to argue that Tamil is a classical language, and demanded that the University of Madras should not call Tamil a vernacular language. Influenced by Western literary models, he introduced the sonnet form in Tamil. He also wrote novels and plays, and a number of essays on science. Tragically, he died at the young age of 33.


Maraimalai Adigal

Maraimalai Adigal (1876–1950) is considered the father of Tamil linguistic purism and the founder of Tani Tamil Iyakkam (Pure Tamil Movement). He wrote commentaries on the Sangam texts, Pattinappalai and Mullaipattu.

As a young man, he worked in a journal, Siddhanta Deepika. Later he served as a Tamil teacher in the Madras Christian College for many years. He was inclined towards non-Brahmin movement. His teachers such as P. Sundaranar and Somasundara Nayagar were key influences in his life.


Tani Tamil Iyakkam (Pure Tamil Movement)

Maraimalai Adigal promoted the use of pure Tamil words and removal of the Sanskrit influence from the Tamil language. The movement made a great impact on Tamil culture especially in language and literature. His daughter Neelambikai, played an important role in its foundation. He changed his own name Vedachalam and took on the pure Tamil name of Maraimalai Adigal. His journal Jnanasagaram was renamed Arivukkadal and his institution, Samarasa Sanmarga Sangam, was re-christened as Pothu Nilai Kalakam. Neelambikai compiled a dictionary that provided pure Tamil equivalents to Sanskrit words that had crept into Tamil vocabulary.

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