Of the hundreds of languages spoken around the world, the Dravidian dialect of Tamil stands as the world’s eldest language. The ancient language originates from India’s southern province of Tamil Nadu and the tropical island of Sri Lanka, located south of India. Approximately 100 million people around the world speak Tamil - with the Tamil Diaspora concentrated in more than 50 foreign countries.
Unlike the many cultures that are centred around religion, the Tamil culture is one that is influenced by the language itself. Despite following various religious paths, Tamils stand as a united and distinct nation, because of their ability to preserve ties through their mother tongue.
Evidence has shown that from the birth of [hu]man, Tamils inhabited what was referred to as “Kumari Kandam,” (a lost continent to the Indian Ocean, composed of a joint present-day India and Sri Lanka) before the dismantlement of Pangea during the Paleozoic and early Mesozoic eras.
To further support this theory, archeologists have also drawn close cultural links between the inhabitants of the ancient Indus Valley civilization and cultural values practiced by the Tamil people for generations.
The Tamil language stands as the world’s eldest dialect, not merely by chance, but by its strategic ability to evolve with time. Like its invaluable culture, the Dravidian language is well known for its contribution to literature. Of the many unique compositions that have come from within the language, “Tholkaapiyam,” is without a doubt one of the most ingenious Tamil epics.
Although considered a treasure for its richness and guidance in the grammatical aspects of the language. The 3000-year-old epic has been written in a manner in which it may also be applied to the lifestyle and culture of its followers. Similar to how the saga divides the grammatical parts of the language into “Ezhuthu” (letters) and “Sol” (words). The chronicle also divides life into “Aham” (personal life) and “Puram” (social life). “Tholkaapiyam,” stands an epic that not only depicts the literary greatness of the ancient language, but also its aestheticism.
In a like manner, “Thirukkural” is another master piece to have come from the Tamil language. Written by “Thiruvalluvar” in the second century, the tome has been praised for its ability to withstand the test of time, defying influences such as language, religion and status. It seeks to ensure that an individual lives his or her life in the most righteous way, by instilling values from the Tamil culture within themselves.
The thousands of literature pieces that can be found within the ancient Dravidian language, portray the morals and values which have been passed down by the Tamil society for generations.
Having said that, the ancient language also depicts its rich culture through its various art forms. Dance, music, painting and sculpting are just a few of the many art forms that can be found within the Dravidian culture. The ancient and well known dance form of Bharathanatyam originates from Tamil culture. Even Indian classical Carnatic music takes its roots from ancient Tamil art forms. The rich architecture of temples in India, like the Thanjai Perung Kovil and Mamallapuram are also proof of the sophistication encompassed within the Tamil language.
Tamils were also great cultivators. They were able to reuse sources such as rain water and build cross sectional structures to enhance the yields of their crops with very minimal mechanisms. Tamils also invented river canal irrigation which is now used by thousands of farmers around the world.
During the ancient times, the Dravidian nation was led under the rule of the “Mooventhargal,” which roughly translates to the “three kings or kingdoms.” They were famously known as the “Chera Arasu (kingdom),” “Chola Arasu (kingdom)” and the “Pandiya Arasu (kingdom).” But with colonial rule that came with the 17th century, the Tamil nation lost its privilege as an independent populace and state. Since then, it has yet to regain sovereignty.
But the rule of Tamil kings was nothing short of epic. In the 9th century, the Tamil kingdom had expanded to capture almost all of East Asia. With a strong navy and even more robust army, the Tamil Kingdom held its reign over East Asia until the 13th century.
As a result of the civil war that occurred in Sri Lanka and the genocide against Tamils, many have fled their homeland to protect themselves and their families. Despite living abroad, the Tamil Diaspora continues to indulge in its culture and resumes to pass on its culture to its next generation.
Because of such efforts and its ancient setting, the Canadian government has officially recognized the month of January as Tamil Heritage Month. The month of January holds great significance in the Tamil culture. The results of many months of rigorous farming come home in the month of “Thai” (January). In this month, Tamils also show gratitude to the sun and animals which make it possible for them to farm and sustain their lifestyles.
This is grandly celebrated on the 14th of January and is famously known as “Thai Pongal.” This festival can be considered as the equivalent to the Canadian Thanksgiving. Tamils also celebrates their new year in the month of January. Coincidentally, both “Thai Pongal” and the Tamil New Year fall on the same day. Thus, making it apt to celebrate the month of January as Tamil Heritage Month. During this month, Tamils around Canada conduct several events to showcase their culture to their fellow Canadians.
- Ponniah Vivekanandan