TamBrahms and their curse

August 30, 2016 § 5 Comments

The Tamil language has this distinction of being not only the oldest spoken language in India with a long literary continuity ,but also this uniqueness of not having the aspirated sounds in its phonetic scheme as in all other major Indian idioms.

Tamil has been the only language among the  South Indian  dialects  that  stood against the overwhelming influence of Sanskrit and throughout the long history of literary and cultural interactions between these two languages, Tamil managed to keep its linguistic identity with the help of its own distinctive traditional ,grammar  that had laid down the rules  of dos and don’ts, while assimilating the Sanskrit words.  It was not because of hostility towards Sanskrit, but because of   a desire to maintain the singularity of their mother tongue,  as a distinctive language not overwhelmed by Sanskrit.

Here is the rub. This, what was once a distinction, when the cultural priorities were different,  has now  become an embarrassment.. In a federal political set-up, in which most of the languages have almost common phonetic identity, to exist in splendid linguistic isolation means, a situation of opting out of the cultural and social mainstream, though unwittingly.

In the pre-colonial period, as in the medieval or earlier eras, Sanskrit was the intellectual lingua franca for the whole country. Since language was not an emotional and as such, a political issue during those periods,, there was an  uninhibited, unself-conscious free interaction among the different linguistic sections of the people of this country, Sanskrit/Prakrit providing the common forum..

During the colonial period, in Tamilnadu, many,  of the Tamil brahmins, influenced by the pseudo-ethnic theories as Dravidian and Aryan, projected  by the agenda-driven western missionaries and historians, began to associate themselves with Sanskrit language and its linguistic culture, deserting their mother tongue, which was Tamil. .  And also, since they were on the top of the ladder of social hierarchy,  they had the advantage of opting for the English education to earn their bread.

Nowhere in the other parts of India, a bulk of English-educated, Sanskrit knowing intellectuals ,who were, by and large the brahmins, distanced themselves from the literary heritage of their own mother tongue, as in Tamilnadu .Of course, there were a few rare exceptions .

I remember, when I was reading in what was known  then as II Form (now 7th class), during the colonial rule, the pupils were to opt for Sanskrit or Tamil ,as the vernacular language of their choice. Most of the Brahmin boys chose Sanskrit, following the dictum of their parents.. From this time on, the two images that became the settled political theme of Tamilnadu was, Sanskrit-Aryan- Brahmin –pan-Indian nationalism and in contrast to this was Dravidian- non-brahmin – Tamil –regional nationalism.  This kind of thinking is what that decides the political attitudes of the people of Tamilnadu even today!





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