While Tamils were entitled to “some pride” for having preserved so well the linguistic heritage of the Indus Valley civilisation, Tamil was not alone in India in possessing a rich heritage, Asko Parpola, Professor-Emeritus of Indology, Institute of World Cultures, University of Helsinki, Finland, said on Wednesday. India was an exceptional country with so many languages having “old and remarkable literatures, both written and oral,” he added.
Receiving the Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi Classical Tamil Award from President Pratibha Patil at the inauguration of the World Classical Tamil Conference here, Professor Parpola said Sanskrit, with its 3,000-year-old tradition, had produced an unrivalled number of literary works. It went back to Proto-Indo-Aryan [which was] attested in a few names and words related to the Mitanni kingdom of Syria between 1500 and 1300 BCE, and earlier forms of Indo-Iranian, known only from a few loanwords in Finno-Ugric languages as spoken in central Russia around 2000 BCE.
“But, none of these very earliest few traces is older than the roots of Tamil. Tamil goes back to Proto-Dravidian, which, in my opinion, can be identified as the language of the thousands of short texts in the Indus script, written during 2600-1700 BCE. There are, of course, different opinions, but many critical scholars agree that even the Rigveda, collected in the Indus Valley about 1000 BCE, has at least half a dozen Dravidian loanwords,” he told a large gathering.
The people of north India too, “to a large extent” descended from the Harappan people, and they had also preserved cultural heritage of the same civilisation, Professor Parpola added.
Calling upon Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi to take steps to publish a monogram highlighting the greatness of the Tamil language, culture and society, K. Sivathamby, Sri Lankan Tamil scholar and Chairman of the Academic Committee for the event, said that publication should be brought out in all the UNESCO-recognised languages. This should be done for the benefit of children, the Tamil diaspora and non-Tamils.
Tamil must also be updated so that it became a contemporary language. The Tamil equivalents of scientific terms must be formulated to address contemporary needs.
Terming Tamil as one of the old secular languages of India, he referred to a poem from Sangam literature to underscore his point. Tamil was also spoken in six to seven countries and enjoyed a constitutional position there.
Push for research
George L. Hart, Chair, Tamil Studies, University of California, Berkeley, said the conference would strengthen research in Tamil, which was a part of the Indian heritage. This old language had a great corpus of literature of excellent poetic quality and grandeur from the Tamil Nadu, parts of Kerala and the northern region of Sri Lanka. The literature, around 2,000 years old, portrayed the human experience in a rich fashion, he said and read out a verse each from Purananooru and Ainkurunooru.
V.C. Kulandaiswamy, vice president, International Association of Tamil Research, said the conference had united Tamils across countries as never before. He referred to the role of Professor Hart in the Central government granting classical language status to Tamil.
M. K. Stalin, Deputy Chief Minister, said the Chief Minister had convened the conference in order to promote Tamil vigorously. K. Anbazhagan, Finance Minister, and K.S. Sripathi, Chief Secretary, spoke.
Keywords: World Classical Tamil Conference