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Pure Tamil Movement

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Pure Tamil Movement

The Thanittamil Iyakkam (Tamil: தனித் தமிழ் இயக்கம்) (Pure Tamil Movement, Independent Tamil Movement) is a movement of linguistic purism in Tamil literature attempting to restore Tamil to its pure state, avoiding Sanskrit loanwords. It was notably initiated by the writings of Maraimalai Adigal and Paventhar Bharathidasan, G. Devaneya Pavanar and Pavalareru Perunchitthiranaar. propagated by the Thenmozhi literary magazine, founded by Pavalareru Perunchithiranar. V. G. Suryanarayana Sastri popularly known as "Parithimar Kalaignar", a Brahmin was also a 20th-century figure of the movement, who demanded, as early as 1902, classical language status for Tamil.

Tamil had been favoured by language policy since Indian independence. It had been used in high schools since 1938, and in university education from 1960. In 1956, the Indian National Congress party government passed a law instituting Tamil as the official language of the state, and in 1959 set up the Tamil Development and Research Council entrusted with producing Tamil school and college textbooks in the natural and human sciences, accounting, mathematics, etc. A series of children's encyclopedias in Tamil, "lucid commentaries" on Cankam poetry, and an "authentic history of the Tamil people" appeared in 1962-63. These measures, however, seemed insufficient to the proponents of "Pure Tamil", as expressed by Mohan Kumaramangalam in 1965, at the peak of the Anti-Hindi agitations,

"In practice, the ordinary man finds that the Tamil language is nowhere in the picture. [...] In Madras city like any other metro, English dominates our life to an extraordinary extent.[...] I think it will be no exaggeration to say that a person who earns very high can live for years in Madras without learning a word of Tamil, except for some servant inconvenience!"

Since the Congress government had also turned down a number of demands, such as the use of "Pure Tamil" rather than "Sanskritised Tamil" in schoolbooks, and resisting the name change from Madras to Tamil Nadu until 1969, concerned not to nurture separatist movements. This engendered resentment among the Tamil purists, expressed by Devaneya Pavanar in 1967:

"None of the Congress Ministers of Tamil Nadu was either a Tamil scholar or a Tamil lover. The Congress leaders of Tamil Nadu as betrayers of Tamil, cannot represent the State any more. Blind cannot lead the blind, much less the keen sighted. Moreover every political meeting, they will say "Jai Hind!". This Means, they are meant to rule only in broader(not specific) India."

In the elections of the same year, Congress suffered a resounding defeat, and was replaced by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) government under C. N. Annadurai.

Time-line of thanithamiļ iyakam

Tamil Purism as a tradition goes back to the days of Tholkapiyam where non-Tamil words were classified as ‘northern’ (vadamoļi) which means Sanskrit; and 'of-other-directions' (thisaimoļi) which means foreign. This is often cited as the earliest evidence of Tamil purism. With the passing of Tamil political and economic dominance from the South, first into the hands of the Deccan Vijayanagar feudatory in the 14th century, then to the Farsi speaking Muslim powers, Tamil clearly went into decline. Nonetheless, Tamil purism and obversely anti-Sanskritism remained among the literati and their local patrons as evidenced by Antao De Proenca’s Tamil-Portuguese Dictionary, compiled in 1679, that makes mention of the acrimonious “anti-Kirantha” and the “pro-Sanskrit” tendency in Tamil phonetics. The coming of the English-speaking British colonialists and American missionaries introduced a spectacular revival in language development among the Tamils despite the European concerns about linguistic utility for administration and religious propagation.

The modern revival of the Tamil Purist Movement (sometimes Pure Tamil Movement) is often attributed to Maraimalai Adigal who in 1916 committed himself publicly to defend pure Tamil. Advocates of purism not only popularized Tamil literature but crusaded for it - they went to villages and towns to run public rallies for literary figures, and resurrected the ancient linguistic Tamil purism and made it into a vital political issue. The logical extension of this effort was to purge Tamil of its Sanskrit influence (including all its negative social perception that were thought to keep the Tamils in a state of economic, cultural and political servitude) which was seen as polluting and rendering Tamil susceptible to northern political domination. Tamil Nadu policies that arose as a result tended to be anti-Sanskrit (and by association, anti-Hindi) but it also tended towards the alienation of Brahmins who were seen as supporting Hindi or Sanskrit measures. Sanskrit was reverenced as ancient but perceived as a tool for Brahmin cultural and class domination; and Hindi the "cow belt creole of India" which shares many similarities with Sanskrit was seen as a recent artifice of Sanskrit.

The highest honour for the Tamil Purist Movement was the successful lobby for Tamil to be declared “classical language” (vuyarthanichemai) of India, a status accorded to Sanskrit in the Indian Constitution. This was achieved in 2006 and resulted in the opening of the Centre for the Study of Tamil as a Classical Language in Chennai. Curiously, it took another year of political wrangling for bureaucrats to grant official Tamil translations in the judicial courts of Tamil Nadu. While Tamil Purism do not enjoy universal support, the political resilience of Tamils to fight for their language and their exploitation of symbols and politics towards this end is remarkable.

The Tamil Purist Movement has its martyrs, sages, saints, countless heroes and heroines, demons and anti-heroes at the local, national and international level. This spirit of devotion to a language drew upon diverse sources: (a) the seminal work of traditional scholars of the 18th century whose literary lineage goes back into a misty past, and the missionary scholars who patronized their work; (b) the acquisition and complete mastery of the printing press by the 19th century; (c) the widespread establishment of village schools by the Americans that increased popular literacy at the grassroot, that made the emergence of newspapers and commercial distributors viable; (d) the groundswell of disaffection towards British rule and their policies which made it clear to the populace that changes to traditional society was possible and radically so; (e) the appearance of Periyar EV Ramasami whose anti-Brahmanism coalesced the linguistically diverse urban Tamil Nadu residents into a social movement called the Self-Respect Movement; (f) the emergence of traditional scholarship spearheaded by multilingual literary geniuses like Maraimalai Adigal who developed a deeply passionate Tamil Saivism alongside Tamil that is clearly rooted in the indigenous cultural and historical resources; (g) who then lent themselves to the political genius of CN Annadurai and M Karunanidhi who welded high literature to populist nationalistic ideology.

First Phase

UV Swaminatha Aiyar (1855-1942), began his tutelage under the Tamil savant Meenakshisundaram Pillai (1815-1876). In 1880 Swaminatha Aiyar was introduced to Sangam poetry Sivaga Chinthamani which began his career as a manuscript hunter and scholar commentator. He finished printing this text in 1887 and immediately began working on the Patthu-patu. Always teetering in poverty some of his work was sponsored by Pandithurai Thevar. His detailed autobiography “Yen Kadhai” reveals the state of Tamil scholarship at the turn of the century.

Sababathy Navalar (1844-1903) published his Thiravida Piragasigai Yenum Thamiļ Varalaru, a survey of Tamil literature based on indigenous traditions.

Ugrapandyan Pandithurai Thevar (1867-1911), the zamindar of Palavanatham in Ramana-thapuram district prevailed upon his influential cousin Bhaskara Setupati (1868-1903) the zamindar of Ramanathapuram district itself and established court for Tamil scholars and poets like the Old Kings. Madhurai Thamiļ Changam was thus founded as the Fourth Tamil Sangam. This also fulfilled the wishes of Pandithurai's father Ponnusami Thevar (1837-1870). Setupathi's and Pandithurai's substantial private library was donated to the Sangam. They established a printing press, a research centre, and a school that conducted examin-ations and offered degrees. In 1902 the journal Senthamiļ began publication.

VG Suryanarayana Sastri (1870-1903), novelist and essayist, vehemently demanded recognition for Tamil “classical” status. In 1903 he published the Thamiļmoļiyin Varalaru defending Tamil's autonomy. He used a pen name “Parithimal Kalainyar” Tamilising his Sanskrit name - a first. Because of his seminal nature of his contribution, he was called “thiravida sasthiri” by Damodaram Pillai.

Maraimalai Adigal (1876-1950) spearheads the formation of Saiva Sithandha Maha Samajam, a reaction to Brahmin arrogance and a step towards Tamil pre-eminence at once.

Compulsory study of Sanskrit and elimination of “vernaculars” in Madras University comes under bitter public debate. Tamil was made optional. Maraimalai Adigal resigns from his job in the University in protest.

Karandhai Thamiļ Changam founded. Journal Thamiļ Poļil began publication in 1925

'Tamil Scientific Terms Society' was formed in Salem, with a journal edited by C Rajagopalachari. Its glossary published in 1932 was criticised for its heavy dependence upon Sanskrit.

British promises India self-government by stages, intensifying suspicion and fear of Brahmin domination in the guise of language policies.

The largest publishing house devoted to Tamil literary and religious works, the Thirunelveli Thenindhiya Saivachithandha Nurpadhipu Kaļagam (popularly known as Saiva Sithandha Kaļagam or just simply Kaļagam) founded by V Thiruvarangan Pillai (1890-? ). Thiruvarangan of humble origins used his considerable fortunes to back Maraimalai Adigal. In 1921 Thiruvarangan opened the Madras office of the Kalagam; and in 1923 he began publication of the journal Chenthamiļ Chelvi. To date every major Tamil and Saiva literature and numerous lesser works has been published.

Maraimalai Adigal at a meeting at Pachaiyappa College declared the birth of Thiruvalluvar to be 31 BC, to be used as a reference thereafter Tamil year called the “Valluvar Andu.”

Bharathi Chinnasami Subramania Aiyar dies in tragic poverty in Madras. Posthumously, he was acclaimed the greatest Tamil poet of modern times. His famous devout disciple Bharatidasan (1891-1964) steps into his shoes as an essayist and poetic voice of the Tamil purist movement and its politics.

Second Phase

EV Ramasami (1879-1973) leaves India Congress Party and launches the Self-Respect Movement.

Tamilists welcome the Census of India report which removed all bigotry and denigration of pre-Aryan India that appeared in the 1891 Census.

Chenai Magana Tamiļ Changam (Madras Presidency Tamil Sangam) forms the Kalaicholaka Kaļagam (Committee for Scientific Terms) resulting in the publication of a glossary of 10,000 technical terms in 1938.

Nilambikai Ammai (1903-1945) activist and daughter of Maraimalai Adigal, publishes a dictionary of Tamil equivalents of 7,000 Sanskrit words.

April, Tamil was allowed as medium of instruction in high schools but not in the universities. However, Hindi was made compulsory in the Madras Presidency by the Chief Minister C Rajagopalachari (1878-1972) (a much-maligned Brahmin who late in his career in the 1960s decisively lent his considerable support for the anti-Hindi movement). Protests all over the state led to over 1,200 arrests and the death of 2 young men.

1 August–September, Thamiļar Padai (Tamil Brigade) jointly organized by the Self-Respect movement and the Muslim League, and led by Kumaraswami Pillai and Ramamirtham Ammal (1883-1962), conducted a 42-day march across 234 villages and 60 towns, beginning in Thiruchirapalli and ending in Madras. They addressed 87 public meetings attended by about half million people. Media coverage and rousing picket reception spread the pro-Tamil anti-Hindi message. Numerous arrests in the city did not dampen the fervour but the march galvanised Muslim Tamils who were themselves struggling under the Urdu-speaking upper-castes. At the conclusion of the march the Hindu Theological School was picketed. Among those imprisoned were the women activists Dharmambal (1890-1959) founder of the Manavar Mandram. Ramamirtham Ammal was the untiring activist who under the aegis of DMK fought to abolish the devadasi system.

November, Tamil Nadu Women's Conference was held in Madras. Nilambikai Ammai and VP Thamaraikanni (1911-1971) @ Jalajatchi (author, activist) spoke passionately and began a campaign to draw women into their movement. Their effect was immediate.

14-year old M Karunanidhi (b. 1924) of Tirukuvalai near Tiruvarur in Tanjavur disctrict, inspired by the Tamil Brigade passing through his village conducts his own anti-Hindi student march. He creates the decidedly militant slogan “Indhi voļiga! Thamiļ vaļga!”

February, anti-Hindi protests intensify and 27 women and 6 mothers with their infants were arrested and sentenced to prison terms.

March, Madras State Legislative Assembly Speaker tabooed “vernacular” as a description for Tamil, favouring “mother-tongue.”

Maraimalai Adigal paraphrases Sir John Marshall's assertion that the pre-Aryan Indus Civilization was “Dravidic” to mean “Tamil,” echoing such speculations in the 1920s by R Sesha Iyengar and MS Purnalingam Pillai.

M Karunanidhi founds his own newspaper Murasoļi. He gained national fame when in 1953 he led DK activists in a bid to change the town name of Dalmiapuram to its original Kallakudi. Several men died, many were injured and Karunanidhi was imprisoned.

SB Aditan a successful lawyer in Singapore and a leader of the Singapore Tamil Reform Association, and publisher of the popular Thinadhandhi, returned to India to found the Nam Thamiļar (We Tamils) Party whose avowed goal was a sovereign Tamil Nadu.

Thamiļ Vunarchi Manadu (Tamil Consciousness Conference) demands the changing of city and place names in Madras State to Tamil proper. The conference also urged the compulsory replacement of Sanskrit liturgies in temples with Tamil archanai.

South India Liberal Federation @ “Justice Party” founded in 1916 is renamed the Thiravida Kaļagam (Dravida Kazhagam or DK).

M Sivagnanam (1906-1995) left Congress and founded the Thamil Arasu Kaļagam (Association for Tamil Autonomy). He led the border campaign for Tamilagam, using Sangam literature to mark the borders of Tamil land. He was arrested in 1953 for his campaign to save Madras city as the capital from being appropriated by Andhra Pradesh. He was imprisoned again in 1956 for his politics. In the 1960s he fought alongside DMK in the anti-Hindi campaign.

July, a large anti-Hindi conference was held in Madras organised by a various groups. Leaders hitherto known to have supported Hindi education TV Kalyanasundram and M Sivagnanam took their stand with the Dravidian movement.

CN Annadurai (1906-1969) breaks rank with DK over the issue of Tamil purism and refusal to concede Tamil to pan-Dravida struggle. Forms the Thiravida Munetra Kaļagam (Dravida Munetra Kaļagam or DMK). Forged high literature into a populist ideology. Supported secessionism if Tamil (thaninadu) was refused official status in Madras State. All anti-Hindi protest were dealt with severely by the Government as a result.

States Reorganization Act recognized the State of Madras in contrast to Dravidanadu which would encompass its neighbouring states. Linguistic Tamil Nadu formed.

13 October, Shankaralinga Nadar (1895-1956) of Virudhunagar martyrs himself after a 77-day fast demanding Madras renamed Chennai among other demands. He was honoured when his demand was finally met in 1969.

December, Official Language Act instituted Tamil as the official language (atchimoļi) of Madras State, but all official correspondence remain English.

SB Adithan of Nam Thamiļar (We Tamils) Party begin agitation for secession. Supported by EV Ramasami and his movement, he was joined by a rival party the Thamil Arasu Kaļagam in 1961. Their “Thamiļnadu Thamiļaraku” protests led to hundreds of arrests.

Tamil was allowed as medium of instruction in universities.

Personal honorific “Sri” and “Srimadhi” was formally replaced by “Thiru” and “Thirumadhi” in all official usage.

Pavanar Gnanamuthu Devaneyan (1902-1981) resigns his job at Annamalai University where he was hired to produce a Tamil etymological dictionary, and returns to poverty in protestation to the fact that he had to report to a committee headed by Suniti Kumar Chatterjee, a Bengali linguist with no knowledge of Tamil.

25 January, Chinnasami, 27 native of Kilpaluvur near Thiruchirapalli immolated himself at the Thiruchirapalli railway station. Died shouting Karunanidhi's slogan “Indhi oļiga! Thamiļ vaļga!” This day is commemorated by DMK as the Language Martyrs' Day; and a plaque was raised at the railway station in 1967.

26 January, anniversary of Chinnasami's martyrdom. English was replaced by Hindi as the sole official language of India. Protests erupted leading to extensive damage of Government and private buildings. On the first day more than 2,000 men and women were arrested of whom 32 were DMK legislators, riot police had to shoot in 36 places wounding 130. 50 were killed. The legislation also galvanised the English-speaking middle class to the cause of Tamil.

9 men martyr themselves: 26 January, Sivalingam, 22 of Kodambakkam immolated himself.

27 January, 2:00 a.m., Aranganathan, 33 of Chingelput immolated himself at Virugambakkam.

11 February, Veerappan, 27 of Udaiyampatti in Thiruchi district, school teacher immolated himself at Aiyyampalaiyam.

11 February, Muthu, 40 of Satyamangalam in Coimbatore district, immolated himself.

February, Muthu, 22 of Cinnasanayakadu in Pudukottai district, consumed poison and died at Keeranur near Pudukottai.

25 February, Shanmugam of Nartamalai in Pudukottai district, consumed poison and died two days later in Viralimalai. His brother founded the Society for the Language Martyrs of 1965.

28 February, Dandapani, of Kulathupalaiyam in Coimbatore district, student of Coimbatore Institute of Technology, consumed poison and died in Peelamedu.

15 March, Sarangapani, college student, 20 of Marutavamcheri in Tanjavur district, immolated himself on his college grounds at Mayiladuthurai.

Rajendran, killed by police fire during a huge anti-Hindi march at Annamalai University in Chidambaram.

Tamils from every village and town of Tamil Nadu wakes up to the coming election.

Third Phase

DMK led by CN Annadurai (1906-1969) captures Madras State in a landslide victory in the general election.

Commemorative statues of Thiruvalluvar (author of the Kural), Kannagi (heroine character in Chilapadhigaram), Auvaiyar (seer, poetess), Kamban (author and translator of Ramayanam), Subramania Bharathi (nationalist, poet), Bharadidasan (activist, writer, poet), VO Chidambaram (nationalist), Veeramamunivar (Italian Jesuit scholar, language reformer), Robert Caldwell (Irish scholar, linguist) and George Uglow Pope (Nova Scotia English scholar, linguist) along the Marina beachfront of Chennai was unveiled on the occasion of the 2nd International Tamil Research Conference.

16 December, the enactment of the Official Language Amendment Act repudiated the earlier provision that knowledge of Hindi was not compulsory for civil service. Ferocious anti-Hindi protests erupted all over Madras State that led to several deaths.

28 January, Madras State issued Order removing Hindi from all state sponsored schools.

M Karunanidhi becomes Chief Minister of Madras State and proceeds on 14 January to officially rename the state “Tamilnadu.” He held office until 1976, again 1989 to 1991.

17 June, six lines of a poem in Manonmaniyam “Thamiļ theiva vanakam” is chosen as Tamil Nadu state anthem or “prayer song” to Thamiļtheivam (Goddess of Tamil). Government of Tamil Nadu Order No.1393 (Public) Manonmaniyam was a play written in 1891 by M Sundram Pillai (1855-1897), a Tamil resident in Kerala and a history and philosophy lecturer at the Maharaj College in Trivandrum. Explicit feminisation (as mother, goddess and maiden) and objectification of language rendered Tamil a matter of communal honour, devotion and romantic attachment. Although these themes were not created by Sundram Pillai, it was lionised by later scholars and writers. (Sundram Pillai's gained membership of the Royal Asiatic Society and was awarded the title “Rao Bahadur” for his contribution to Tamil research.)

April, Pondicherry institutes an anthem in praise of Thamiļthai based on a 1939 poem of Barathidasan.

DMK led State Legislation Assembly Order issued for (a) compulsory use of Tamil liturgy in temples covered by the Hindu Religions and Charitable Endowment; (b) official use of Thiruvalluvar Year.

Glossary of Tamil administrative terms was published as a prelude to change colonial names of streets and towns to Tamil, that acquired legal sanction in 1987.

Valluvar Kottam in Chennai opened. Replica of temple chariot of Thiruvarur made by Master Sculptor V Ganapathi Sthapati.

January, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MG Ramachandran (of AIADMK, a rival party to DMK) unveils the statute fof Thamiļthai in Madurai on the occasion of the 5th International Tamil Conference.

April, M Karunanidhi opens to public the triangular “temple” dedicated to a 4-armed Thamiļthai in Karraikudi (foundation laid in April 1975). Three subsidiary sanctums were built to Ilangovadigal, Thiruvalluvar, and Kamban.

May, M Karunanidhi returns to office as Chief Minister.

7,000 tonne, 95 feet statue of Valluvar (133 feet from the base) by Mastor Sculptor V Ganapathi Sthapati unvelied in Kanyakumari.

September, Lok Sabha amended the Constitution to declare Tamil as one of India's Classical Language. The other being Sanskrit. The Ministry depended on the recommendation of the Linguistic Expert Committee of the Sahitya Akademi who determined the final criteria among which includes (a) that the language should have a recorded history of at least 1,000 years; (b) a body of ancient literature or texts, considered a valuable heritage by a generation of speakers; and (c) a literary tradition that is original and not borrowed from another speech community.

The call to recognize Tamil as India's “heritage and legacy” goes back to Parithimal Kalainyar VG Suryanarayana Sastri (1870-1903) who in 1902 vehemently demanded recognition for Tamil an official “classical” status (vuyarthanichemai) when the Government favoured Sanskrit as a “Second Language” rather than Tamil in Madras State. Curiously a decision was made to allow Tamil as second language in the universities but not in primary or high schools. In 1918 the Saiva Siddhanta Samajam passed a resolution at the initiative of Maraimalai Adigal (1876-1950) demanding that Madras University grant classical language status to Tamil. And in 1920, Karanthai Tamil Sangam too petitioned the University to raise the status issue with the State Legislative. And the issue remained there until the 1970s when the editor of UNESCO's Indian edition of Courier, Manavai Mustaffa (b. 1937) took up the issue. In 1981 he addressed the 5th International Conference of Tamil Research in Madurai following which in 1982 he submitted a petition outlining the criteria of a classical language to the Tamil Nadu State Government. Although, the petition died a bureaucratic death, DMK took up the issue and public agitation ensued from 1996 until 2004 when the matter was raised in the Indian Parliament.

DMK led State Legislation Assembly Order issued for (a) compulsory Tamil Language subject in all Tamil Nadu primary and lower secondary schools; (b) that the Tamil New Year henceforth will coincide with the starting on the month of Thai, on Pongal Festival.

See also


  • Sumathi Ramaswamy, Passions of the Tongue: Language Devotion in Tamil India, 1891-1970, Studies on the History of Society and Culture, No 29, University of California Press (1997), [1]
  • Christians and Missionaries in India: Cross-Cultural Communication Since 1500 : With Special Reference to Caste, Conversion, and Colonialism, Studies in the History of Christian Missions, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company (2003), ISBN 978-0-8028-3956-5, p. 381.

External links

  • Movement for Linguistic Purism: The case of Tamil
  • - The Tamil Social Network
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