Coimbatore's contribution to Tamil history and culture is immense, writes Shankar Vanavarayar
Coimbatore is in the grip of Tamil fervour as it prepares to host the World Classical Tamil Conference. The conference is being held in our city, not just because of its infrastructure, climate and reputation of hospitality, or its courteous Kongu Tamil. It is also because this region holds a place of pride in the annals of ancient Tamil.
The Coimbatore region is relatively younger than the great ancient cities of Madurai or Thanjavur where the earlier conferences were held. Nevertheless, this entrepreneurial land has strong ties with the ancient world. We know that a civilization has thrived and evolved on the banks of the river Noyyal for over a millennium and there have been many excavations to prove this.
Voices from the past
Experts have found a terracotta dish (now in the British Museum Collection) in Sulur, having inscriptions similar to those of the Harappan civilisation . The seals of the trinity of Chola, Chera and the Pandiya have been found in the Boluvampatti excavations. A fragment of terracotta from the 4th century AD found there, carries symbols of the three mighty dynasties. Another excavation in the same area has yielded a pottery fragment dated 6th century AD with the Vatta Ezhuthu version of Tamil.
Coimbatore has an ancient highway or Peruvazhi that was used in the 9th century AD. On the Raja Keshari Peruvazhi in the western end of the city, one can still see inscriptions in the Tamil Vatta Ezhuthu.
Another interesting aspect of the Tamil inscriptions found in Perur, Kolumam, Kalandhai and Anamalai, is its purity of language or conformance to Senthamil. A few splendid examples are the reference to Natarajar as ‘Nitham Nindraduvar' and Samana or Jain goddesses as ‘Eyaki' in place of ‘Yakshi' as found elsewhere. The oft used Swasthi Shri is beautifully replaced by ‘Nanmangalam Siraka' in the Coimbatore inscriptions. These references explain the prevalence of simple and pure Tamil in the region.
This region also abounds in illustrious literary contributions. From the Sangam times till date poets have created hymns, scriptures, epics and works that have influenced the minds and lives of the Tamils. There have been scores of Sangam poets referred to as ‘Kongu nattu pulavar'.
Great men such as Avanashi Kavirayar (Thingalur Nondi Nadagam), Kandhaswami Swamigal (Perur Kovai and Ramananda Swami Pallai Tamil), Chittrambala Kavirayar (Hymns on Perur and Avanashi Temples), Perumpulavar Natesa Gounder (Myil Vidu Thoothu), and so on, have made noteworthy contributions. In the 12th centaury Gunaveera Pandithar from Kalanthai near Kinathukadavu wrote books related to Tamil grammar such as Neminatham and Vecha nanthi malai.
It is important as hosts of this historic event, that has caught the imagination of Tamils worldwide, to be aware of our ancient links to Tamil as a language and also its evolution over the passage of time.
(The writer is a member of the Vanavarayar Foundation established to preserve the history, art and culture of the region. He is co convener of Intach Thanjavur, and the national vice chairman of Young Indians)