Sunday, September 23, 2012


    AT the adjourned meeting of the Senate of the University of Madras held on the 26th of the last month, while Dr. Bourne was pleading for the institution of a system of researches in the South Indian tongues, and to begin with Tamil and Telugu taking Sanskrit as an auxiliary in order to arrest the deterioration of those languages, the Hon. Mr. Justice Sundaram Iyer appears to have been stung to the quick at the secondary place offered to Sanskrit and in consequence is reported to have made the following observations:-

    (i)    that Tamil and Telugu had independent literatures only in a restricted sense;

    (ii)    that it is simply futile to attempt to develop any idea of Oriental civilization, so as to make it harmonize with Western culture if Sanskrit was not taken as a main basis.

    2.    In reply I would quote from the History of India by Mr. K.V. Rangasvamy Aiyangar M.A; F.R.H.S., Professor of History in the Maha-Rajah's College, Trivandrum and comment:-

    (i)    that the Dravidians* [* 'Tamilian' is now the brief term used to denote the word Dravidian which does not so well indicate the group of languages of which Tamil is the chief representative – Ed. L.T.] were once dominant all over India (p.9);

    (ii)    that long before authentic History was begun, they occupied the Deccan and have left unmistakable marks on the features and languages of its inhabitants; (p. 126);

    (iii)    that they occupied Southern India hundreds of years before the Aryans entered India (p. 137)

    (iv)    that they had early advanced in civilization and were not behind hand the Aryan culture (p. 138)

    (v)    that from the beginning they were able to maintain their languages, customs and manners unmodified to any extent by Aryan influence, (p. 138)

    (vi)    that they not only enriched the Hebrew language, but also bestowed on most of the Indian languages alphabets, borrowed from the Semetic tongues of Mesopotamia (p. 139)

    (vii)    that they had a polished literature about the first century of the Christian Era (p. 140)

    3.    From (i) to (vi) it is evident that the Dravidians were a powerful race, that they carried their civilization wherever they went, and their culture was independent of the Sanskrit influence. It was their high culture that impelled them to sympathize with the Indian languages that had not the power of script ion and bestow on them alphabets which they had mastered in the course of their trade beyond the seas in order to render them literary.

    4.    It is a matter of history that the speech of the Vedic Aryans had no script of its own and that the language found at present in standard Sanskrit works differs materially from it. This language was one of the numerous dialects that grew round the script less Vedic tongue, and as it was spoken by the vast majority of the people inhabiting the Doab formed by the Ganges and the Yamuna, it was adopted as the literary tongue of the Brahmans about the 5th or the 4th century B.C; as will be seen from the same work I have already quoted. It is therefore likely, that the characters knows at present as the Devanagari were borrowed through the aid of the Dravidians and the great resemblance between them and the Semetic alphabets goes to confirm the view. This statement is further accentuated by the fact, that the edicts of Asoka are in characters different from the Devanagiri and no kind of inscription in these characters were engrossed in Northern India before the year 150 A.D., whereas the oldest known inscription in Southern India is in Vatteluttu (வட்டெழுத்து); Tamil and Sanskrit began to play its part in the epigraphy of that region only at a later stage. It is generally presumed that every language in India has borrowed from Sanskrit without conceding that that language must have had its turn of indebtedness. If it ever was a spoken language, it must necessarily have borrowed from its powerful neighbors and no amount of sanctity would have saved it from mingling with the profane. The researches proposed by Dr. Bourne in a disinterested and impartial spirit, would demonstrate to the world this fact, and it is trusted that a chance would be given for doing so.

    5.    The Indian languages are generally divided into three groups, viz., the Aryan, the Dravidian, and the Indo Chinese. The whole of India excepting the Madras Presidency and Burma, represents the region of the Aryan family. The population speaking those languages is over 275 million and the number of distinct dialects into which it is divided including the Urdu or Hindustani is about 140. They are all of distinct Sanskrit origin and the necessary steps have been taken both by the Government and the people for the scientific study and investigation of that classic in that part of India. The proposal to establish a chair therefore for Sanskrit assisted by two Pandits is rather superfluous in Madras; but as a comparative study of all the ancient languages is necessary to serve the object in view, nobody ought to grudge the money. The case of the Dravidian languages however is on a different footing. They were born and fostered in Southern India and it is therefore essential that any researches in connection with them should be made at the spot and any opposition towards the accomplishment of that object would be unreasonable not to say ungenerous. The Hon. Justice Sir C. Sankara Nair in advocating the cause of Canarese and Malayalam omitted Tulu perhaps through inadvertence. It is one of the five Dravidian tongues – the others being Tamil, Telugu, Canarese and Malayalam. It is a pity that funds are not available for the investigation and comparative study of all these languages. The history of Southern India has yet to be written and it depends entirely on the critical study and examination of its ancient languages. Again their origin itself is shrouded in mystery. It is the opinion of some that Tamil is the mother of the remaining four, while some others think that all of them as well as the language of the Mundas and other aboriginal tribes throughout India had a common ancestor but it disappeared from the scene as in the case of the Vedic speech. In order to solve this problem a philological study of all the Dravidian languages would be of immense use. But as such an end cannot be attained all at once, we should be satisfied with half a loaf in the place of no loaf. The Dravidians would therefore welcome the proposed system of researches in Tamil and Telugu to start with – fully believing that the authorities would find their way to initiate enquiries into the other Dravidian languages when funds are available.

    6.    With regard to my quotation No (vii) the time ought to be much earlier than the first century A.D. and it should be advanced at least by ten centuries. The earliest complete work extant in Tamil is Tolkappyam – the science of grammar – and it was the second of the series and it belonged to the period of the second Academy of the ancient city of Madura which is supposed to have been engulfed by sea. The first scientific grammar in that language was by Agastiya – a noted Dravidian during the days of the first academy but it has been lost.

A. D.



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