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Updated: June 24, 2010 03:37 IST

President hails role of Tamil ethos in Indian identity and progress

T. Ramakrishnan
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President Pratibha Patil presents the 'Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi Classical Tamil Award' to Asko Parpola at the World Classical Tamil Conference in Coimbatore on Wednesday. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi is also seen. Photo: M. Vedhan
The Hindu President Pratibha Patil presents the 'Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi Classical Tamil Award' to Asko Parpola at the World Classical Tamil Conference in Coimbatore on Wednesday. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi is also seen. Photo: M. Vedhan

The first World Classical Tamil Conference got off to a rousing start here on Wednesday in the presence of a massive gathering. Distinguished speakers, led by President Pratibha Devisingh Patil, hailed Tamil, which has the oldest literature among the living languages of the world.

Inaugurating the five-day event, the President said that many concepts intrinsic to India's society and critical to its polity were found in Tamil discourse over the millennia. The message of peace, universality and the spirit of equality was propounded in a Sangam poem more than 2000 years ago, she said, referring to a poem in Purananooru.

Award

She presented the Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi Classical Tamil Award to Asko Parpola, renowned Indologist, for his work on the Dravidian hypothesis in the interpretation of the Indus script. He said Old Tamil was best preserved in Dravidian linguistic traditions.

Calling Tamil an old living language with an extraordinary volume of literature and grammar, the President said Tirukkural, written by Thiruvalluvar, was a remarkable treatise on ethics. Silapathikaram and Manimekalai were works of excellence, as were the epics of Jeevakachintamani, Kamba Ramayanam, and the soul-stirring hymns of Nayanmars and Alvars. The poems and songs of Subramania Bharati evoked in the minds of the people “deep feelings of patriotism during our freedom struggle.”

Emphasising that “the history of the Tamils is our nation's pride,” she said the Tamil ethos based on pluralism, tolerance and a humanistic approach had contributed in a variety of ways to India's progress and in shaping its identity as a nation that was rich in art, music, architecture and literature.

The next generation of Tamils must anchor as well as equip themselves with knowledge of Tamil culture, literature and values, the President said.

Classical status

Presiding over the inauguration, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi said there was a worldwide consensus that Tamil possessed greater merits than the 11 parameters laid down for declaring a language classical.

“Tamil is not only an international language; it is like a mother for all the languages of the world,” he said.

Noting that the roots of Tamil words were present in many languages of the world, Mr. Karunanidhi said such words differed only in form but retained the meaning. Quoting extensively from works such as the Valmiki Ramayana, Arthasastra and Purananooru, he stressed that the Tamil people had an ancient origin and a hoary past.

Though the demand to classify Tamil as a classical language was made over a hundred years ago, it was the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre that granted the status [in October 2004] to the language. It was after the declaration that such a meet was being organised for the first time, he added.

Parpola's praise

Professor Parpola said the Union government had rightly recognised Tamil as a classical language, the status that it fully deserved in view of “its antiquity and its rich literature that in quality and extent matches many other classical traditions of the world.”

“Old Tamil texts constitute the only source of ancient Dravidian linguistic and cultural heritage, not yet much contaminated by the Indo-Aryan tradition. Without it [Old Tamil texts], it would be much more difficult, if not impossible, to penetrate into the secrets of the Indus script and unravel the beginnings of India's great civilisation,” he said.

Souvenir released

Governor Surjit Singh Barnala, who handed over the first copy of the conference souvenir to Ms. Patil, referred to the influence of the Tamil language in several important language families of the world and said the language had been ever-growing.

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