President Patil, Governor Surjit Barnala, Kalainar Karunanidhi, Ministers Anbazhagan and
Stalin, Honorable Kanimozhi, Professors Avvai Natarajan, Kothandaraman, Kulandaiswamy,
Mahadevan, Parpola, Rajendran, Ramaswamy, Rangan and Sivathamby and Thiru Allaudin ,
Gnanadesigan and Sripathi, I should like to begin my remarks by thanking the Honorable Chief
Minister, Kalainar Karunanidhi, for conceiving and arranging this wonderful conference that
brings together Tamil scholars from all over the world. I should also like to thank Dr. Rajendran
and others who have labored tirelessly to make it possible. I take great pleasure in
acknowledging the presence of the President of India, whose attendance at this seminal event is
testimony that the great works of classical Tamil are a vital part of the heritage of all Indians.
Many years ago the great poet Bharathiyar wrote,
நாமமது தமிழரெனக் கொண்டிங்கு
வாழ்ந்திடுதல் நன்றோ? சொல்வீர்!
தேமதுரத் தமிழோசை உலகமெலாம்
பரவும்வகை செய்தல் வேண்டும்
In this spirit, let us all hope that this Classical Tamil Conference helps to spread the knowledge
of and research in classical Tamil throughout the world.
Let me say a few words about why Tamil is a classical language. Over 2000 years ago, two
historical processes converged in what is today Tamil Nadu, Kerala and northern Sri Lanka. The
first was the development of a rich and highly refined oral literature, and the second was the
common adoption of writing in the Brahmi alphabet. As a result of these two events, a written
literature in Tamil arose in imitation of the rich folk sources in the countryside, and over the next
few hundred years this body of writing became a wonder, including thousands of poems that are
still among the finest ever written. Today, we call the works that were produced in that explosion
of creativity Sangam literature.
Until A. K. Ramanujan began to translate some of the great Sangam poems into English,
classical Tamil literature was almost unknown outside of Tamil Nadu. The excellence and
profundity of Sangam literature was a secret kept from the world and few suspected that Tamil
was a classical language that could rival Latin or Sanskrit. This situation is only now beginning
to change, and the recent recognition of Tamil as a classical language by the Government of
India attests to that fact. It is strange to me that I still hear voices questioning whether Tamil is a
classical language, as its stature and status are obvious to anyone who has read any of the great
It is important to keep in mind that Tamil arose independently, indebted to no source other
than itself and the people who created it. Unlike other Indian languages, it did not base itself on
a pre-existing tradition in Sanskrit or Persian-Arabic but used its own conventions and styles.
The vocabulary it used was almost exclusively its own, not words borrowed from any other
language. This means that it has its own excellence, its own traditions, its own .KL.NO.
will speak of this at length in the paper I present and suggest how Tamil, from the beginning, is
different from Sanskrit and other traditions.
The poetic quality and grandeur of Sangam literature is extraordinary. The poems written
2000 years ago show an awareness of the human condition, of human experience, of suffering and joy that is the equal of anything in Sanskrit or Greek. Let me read a poem, puṟanāṉūṟu புறநானூறு 182, by கடலுண் மாய்ந்த இளம்பெருவழுதி kaṭaluṇ Māynta Iḷamperuvaḻuti that demonstrates the extraordinary quality of this literature.
உண்டா லம்மவிவ் வுலக மிந்திரர்
அமிழ்த மியைவ தாயினு மினிதெனத்
தமிய ருண்டலு மிலரே முனிவிலர்
துஞ்சலுமிலர் பிறர் அஞ்சுவ தஞ்சிப்
புகழெனி னுயிருங் கொடுக்குவர் பழியெனின்
உலகுடன் பெறினுங் கொள்ளல ரயர்விலர்
அன்ன மாட்சி அனைய ராகித்
தமக்கென முயலா நோன்றாட்
பிறர்க்கென முயலுன ருண்மையானே
This world exists because men exist who even if they
were to win the divine drink of the gods would not drink it
by themselves only thinking of its sweetness, men without
hate, without slackness in action though they may have fears
like the fears of other men, who would even give their lives 5
for fame but would not accept fame with dishonor were it
to gain them all the world, men who have no regrets, and with virtues
so exalted, never exert their powerful energies
for themselves but only for others. It is because they exist that we do!
Finally, I would like to conclude this வாழ்த்துரை with some lines taken from the வேட்கைப்பத்து of the ஐங்குறுநூறு:
வாழி ஆதன்! வாழி அவினி!
நெற்பல பொலிக! பொன் பெரிது சிறக்க!
விளைக வயலே! வருகவிரவலர்!
பால்பல ஊறுக! பகடுபல சிறக்க!
அறம்நனி சிறக்க! அல்லவை கெடுக!
அரசுமுறை செய்க! களவில்லாகுக!
நன்று பெரிது சிறக்க! தீதில் ஆகுக!
மாரிவாய்க்க! வளம் நனி சிறக்க!