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Anu's Diatribes

For heaven's sake, do we have to make this forum a platform for hating one
particular group.

For your information, Anu, here are some facts:

1. Brahmins are only 2% of the population, yet they have contributed much
more to Tamil literature than their number would indicate.
2. The purest (i.e. least Sanskritized) Tamil was written by the medieval
Saiva Brahmin commentators on Tamil.  For example, Parimelazakar translates
the yoga asanas into Tamil, and the only way anyone can figure out what he
is saying is to read the subcommentary (by Gopalakrishnamachari), who gives
the original Sanskrit terms.  You will find no Tamil any purer than that of
Naccinarkkiniyar et al.
3. Brahmins have contributed to Tamil from Sangam times.  Kapilar is one of
the greatest Tamil poets.
4. Yes, of course Brahmins have had their own political agenda to push.
They have been responsible for many things that I feel are entirely
unconscionable.  But is this any different from the other high castes?  I
have heard many many stories of high non-Brahmin castes killing and abusing
Dalits.  You can't blame the Brahmins for this.  In fact, the most
pernicious example of the caste system was in the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka,
where there are virtually no Brahmins and never have been.
5. You cannot blame the Brahmins for Sanskritizing Tamil.  Tenkalai
Aiyengars often use Tamil words where most non-Brahmins use Sanskrit ones.
The Sanskrtization of Tamil is a very old process and cannot be understood
except in an all-South-Asian context.  The Bengali used in Bangladesh is
highly Sanskritized, and the Muslims are quite proud of their language.
The fact is, Sanskrit was the lingua franca of South Asia for intellectual
purposes, much as Latin was in Europe.  Buddhists used it, Jains used it,
much as Spinoza, a Jew, wrote his philosophical treatises in Latin.  The
Tamil of Ramalinga Swamigal, a non-Brahmin, is highly Sanskritized.
6. Sanskrit and Tamil are part of the same intellectual and literary
tradition.  The fact is, Sanskrit literature owes an enormous amount to
Dravidian -- much of its syntax, its literary conventions, vocabulary.
When we come to the great kavya of Sanskrit (e.g. Kalidasa), it is
definitely part of the same stream as Tamil literature, just as French,
English and German belong to a Western European literary tradition.  This
is even true of Sangam literature -- it is clearly of the same cultural
tradition as, say, the Sanskrit Mahabharata.
7. Tamil is richer because it has many styles.  It is the only Indian
language that has a pure, unsanskritized style (well, there is a pure
Telugu, called accu telugu, which was cultivated mainly by Brahmins).  This
style is very rich, no doubt.  But Tamil has innumerable other styles --
many dialects, a highly Sanskritized style, a style with many English
words, etc. etc.  All of these add to the richness and expressiveness of
the language -- why impoverish the language by removing its resources?
8. Anu, a personal note from an outsider.  Tamil culture has not suffered
because of one group.  It has suffered because of the caste system and
because of its treatment of women.  If you want to do some good, campaign
for these two issues.  Let's promote intercaste marriage, let's get rid of
dowry and give women independence and self-respect, and above all, let's
avoid a victimization complex which only plays into the hands of those who
have a vested interest in continuing the inequities that exist in Tamilnad.
If every Brahmin were to disappear from Tamilnad, the Dalits and others who
are exploited would benefited not one iota.
9. Please note that I am not pro- or anti-Brahmin.  I am acutely aware of
the negative role Sanskrit has played in the development of the Indian
regional languages.  Indeed, A. K. Ramanujan, a Brahmin, once told me that
the worst things that ever happened to South India were Sanskrit and
English.  A slavish devotion to Sanskrit has had a negative effect on Tamil
and, even more so, on other South Indian languages.  But we cannot change
the past.  There is nothing inherently good or bad in a word, whatever its
origin, so long as it has been adopted for general use in a language.  What
is bad -- and what I deplore -- is the mindless assumption that Sanskrit is
somehow superior.  It is not.  Indeed, Sanskrit is a very limited language,
because it has no spoken substratum.  But where Sanskrit words have come
into common usage in South India, they have acquired broad connotative
powers that enhance the spoken languages that have borrowed them (much like
Latin and French words in English).  It is insulting to Tamil to claim that
the language cannot borrow words without being corrupted.  Tamil has a
long, powerful tradition, and it is a very rich language.  Judicious
borrowing can only enhance, not spoil it.

This is the last I am going to treat this issue.  Anu, good luck -- I'm not
responding any further.  But please, take some time and think: is it not
possible that, with all your emotionalism, you are doing more harm than
good to Tamil.

George Hart

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