A BRIEF LOOK AT THE TAMIL PEOPLE
The title denotes ‘brief’, which is an understatement concerning a people whose history goes back more than two thousand years. Those communities originated in southern India and Sri Lanka, but the Tamilians, bound by language and culture, have made their marks in the modern world in virtually every major country. The worldwide Tamil population is estimated at nearly eighty million, roughly the same number of Americans living west of the Mississippi River.
The art and architecture of the Tamil people encompass some of the greatest contributions of India to the art world. The music, the temple architecture and the stylised sculptures favoured by the Tamil people are still being learnt and practiced. The classical language of Tamil, one of the oldest languages in India, encompasses the oldest existing literature in southern India.
In today’s India, most Tamils live in the state of Tamil Nadu, forming the majority in Pondicherry, the former French colony. Tamil communities throughout the rest of India have emerged fairly recently, but some—particularly the Hebbar and Mandyam Tamils of southern Karnataka, the Tamils of Palakkad in Kerala, and the Tamils of Pune, Maharashtra—are considerably older. In Sri Lanka, two groups of Tamils are widely recognized—the Sri Lankan Tamils, who either descend from the Tamils of the old Jaffna kingdom or who migrated to the East coast and the Indian, or Hill CountryTamils, who are descendants of bonded labourers sent from Tamil Nadu to Sri Lanka to work in 19th century tea plantations.
The Tamil language forms the tightest bond between Tamils living in South Asia and abroad. Fittingly, it’s often referred to as ‘the Tamil Mother’. Today, as throughout history, it is central to the Tamil identity. Unlike the languages of northern India, to which it is not related, it has not been influenced by Sanskrit to any great degree.
Classical Tamil literature, which ranges from lyric poetry to works on poetics and ethical philosophy, is remarkably different from contemporary and later literature in other Indian languages, and represents the oldest body of secular literature in South Asia. Notable works in classical Tamil literature include the Tirukkural, by Tiruvalluvar, the five great Tamil epics, and the works of Auvaiyar.
In Michigan, the main resource for ‘everything Tamil’ is Tamil Sangam, a non-profit organization without religious or political alignment. Formed in 1975, the Sangam is dedicated to providing for the needs of Tamil speaking community, and to act as the single voice of all Tamil speaking people in Michigan. With a membership of nearly six hundred families, it acts as the single voice of all Tamil speaking people in Michigan. By spreading Tamil culture and values throughout the state, and by promoting American-born Tamil youth to embrace the Tamil language and to use it in all walks of life, the Sangam is as true today to its core objectives as it was thirty-three years ago.
Interestingly, the home state of many local Tamils,Tamil Nadu, is often referred to as ‘the Detroit of India’ since it India’s leader in automobile production.