What makes Tamil unique is its hoary past, coupled with the vitality of the middle ages and a vibrant modernity, writes Dr. B.K. Krishnaraj Vanavarayar
The antiquity of Tamil cannot be spoken about without a sense of wonder.
Mother Tamil, in one of Subramania Bharati's poems, proudly declares that she is the daughter of Lord Shiva.
In other words Bharati wants us to understand that Tamil Language is as old as Nature itself.
Tamil language can claim a history of at least 2,500 years and this ancient language preserves a rich heritage in its Sangam Poetry and Thirukkural.
What makes Tamil unique is its hoary past, coupled with the vitality of the middle ages and a vibrant modernity. No other classical language can boast of such a living tradition.
The antiquity, clarity of expression, sublime thought and universality of outlook are the hallmarks of Classical Tamil.
The greatness and richness of Tamil Literature were respected by reputed foreign scholars like Fr. Beschi, G.U. Pope and others.
No doubt its classical merit too was very much understood and appreciated by academicians like George L. Hart.
But this prestigious status was not given its due recognition by the Government of India for a long time.
Strangely the Central Government maintained a list of classical languages in which Sanskrit, Pali, Prakrit, Arabic and Persian found a place.
The omission of Tamil was conspicuous and made lovers of Tamil feel sad.
Manonmaniyam Sundaram Pillai and many other scholars have paid glowing tributes to the Tamil language.
But it was V.G. Suryanarayana Sastriar (who out of love for his mother tongue changed his name as Paritimal Kalignar in Chaste Tamil) who gave the clarion call to give Tamil the classical language status along with Greek, Latin, Hebrew and Sanskrit in 1887. He addressed his request to the University of Madras.
It was he who gave the nomenclature of ‘Uyar Tani Chemmozhi' to the classical language.
From that time onwards, there was a continuous movement demanding classical status to Tamil.
Organisations like Karantai Tamil Sangam and personalities like Dr. V.C. Kulandaiswamy and Manavai Mustafa carried on this onerous task.
The struggle gained momentum when Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi decided to press the Government of India to enlist Tamil in the classical languages list.
Twelfth October, 2004, will remain a red letter day in the annals of the History of Tamil Literature as the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India proclaimed that henceforth Tamil Language be classified as a classical language.
In another order, The Ministry of Human Resources Development approved the following steps for promotion of Classical Tamil.
(1) Creation of a Tamil Language Promotion Board to advise the Government of India on the development of Tamil Language.
(2) Creation of a Centre of Excellence in Classical Tamil and Dravidian Languages.
(3) Announcement of Two Inter-National Awards and one National Award for scholars in Classical Tamil.
(4) Certificate of Honour to eight distinguished scholars of classical Tamil and five cash awards to young scholars of Tamil.
This announcement was received with joy by the Tamil-speaking world and there was a sense of fulfilment in the minds of Tamil people. The empowerment of classical status to Tamil is expected to go a long way in the development of Tamil Studies throughout the world and enhances the chances of Tamil being recognized as an alternative medium in the field of Education and Administration.
This will also give a fillip to the study of Tamil in the renowned universities of the world.
Tamil people have now come to realize that they are the proud inheritors of a rich heritage and naturally they have a right to savour the moment of glory.
But this is a time for reflection to all of us. This is the time for long term planning for the development of Tamil to suit to the needs of the challenges of the new world.
Unless fruitful projects are chalked out at this juncture, our language may not be able to fit itself in the multi pronged high-tech society.
At this historic time, when the Tamil-speaking world is celebrating the International Classical Tamil Conference, at Coimbatore, in our heart of hearts we remember with gratitude and affection the grand old statesman our Chief Minister who is responsible for the award of classical status to Tamil Language.
In his long and chequered career, this achievement will remain the most glorious of all.
(The author is Chairman, Bharathiya Vidya Bhavan, Coimbatore)