The idea of forming the International Association of Tamil Research (IATR) took shape when most of the Tamil scholars attended the South Asian Linguistic Conference held in New Delhi.
Ka. Po. Rathinam, former MP belonging to the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) in Sri Lanka, proposed this and was welcomed by Dr. M. Varadarajan, Fr. Thani Nayagam of the University of Malaya, Salai Elanthirayan of Delhi University and various other Tamil scholars.
The main condition of the IATR to hold a World Tamil Conference was that it should be supported by the Government of the host country and sponsored by its university. It was then possible to hold the first World Tamil Conference at Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, in 1966. Tunku Abdul Rahman was the Prime Minister at that time and Thani Nayagam of Sri Lanka was the head of the Tamil Department of University of Malaysia.
The then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, M. Baktavatsalam, led a delegation from Chennai with Tamil scholars such as T.P. Meenakshi Sundaram, Ki. Va. Jeganathan, Sanjeevi, V.R. Nedunchezhian and Sa.Ganesan .
From Sri Lanka, TULF leader A. Amirthalingam and Rajadurai, MP from Batticaloa, and a small group participated.
Mr. Bakthavatsalam announced that Tamil Nadu would host the second IATR World Tamil Conference in Chennai. His successor C.N. Annadurai fulfilled the promise in 1968.
M. Karunanidhi, then the Public Works Minister, played an important role in making the conference a grand success. It was held with the involvement of all the people. Various functions were arranged at Island Grounds in Chennai, which was named ‘Theevu Thidal.'
“I was a student leader of Tamil Nadu and stopped the agitation for a separate State that was announced by the students of Coimbatore Agricultural College. The third Tamil Conference was held in Paris in 1970. Pilliazo was the head of the Department of Linguistic Studies in the College De France there.
The responsibility of organising the conference was undertaken by Fr. Thani Nayagam. Malcolm S. Adiseshiah donated a huge amount in his capacity as the Secretary General of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.
For the fourth Tamil Conference in Jaffna (Sri Lanka) in 1974, I entered the country without the knowledge of Sri Lankan Government although the then Prime Minister, Srimavo Bandaranaike, gave instructions to cancel all visas issued to the Tamil scholars from Tamil Nadu.
The fifth Tamil conference was held in the University of Malaya in a grand manner in 1977. V. David, MP of Malaysia, was the president of World Tamil Movement and I was the vice-president. Dato Samy Vellu, the then Minister from Malasyia, extended full support. I led a delegation of 300 people to the conference from Chennai.
Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran came forward to conduct the next conference in Madurai in 1981 and gave a facelift to the town.
In 1989, Parasuram Arumugham, a Minister in Mauritius, took special interest in conducting the conference. Actor Kamal Hassan stole the show when thousands of Mauritius Tamils attended the conference. The public meeting was held in the sports ground of Mauritius. The irony was that although there were Tamil names they could not utter a single word in Tamil.
At least South Africans were able to say “Vanakkam”, taught by Govindaswamy, a Tamil teacher who studied in Annamalai University. In 1995, the then Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa, conducted the Tamil Conference at Thanjavur and that town got a facelift in terms of infrastructure and accommodation.
An unpleasant incident took place when the Central Bureau of Investigation stopped Dr. Sivathambi and a few Tamil scholars who came on a tourist visa to Tamil Nadu to attend the conference.
Thereafter the IATR did not evince any interest in holding World Tamil Conferences in India.
Now, Mr. Karunanidhi has put and end to IATR's hesitation, by taking the wise decision of conducting a “ Classical Tamil Conference”. It paves way to conduct a Tamil conference elsewhere including Singapore, the United Kingdom, Europe and Canada where lakhs of Tamils are living.