• kewal sethi

divide and rule

divide and rule

Ever wondered how this controversy about the oldest language started between Sanskrit and Tamil. Here is what Maria Misra has to say about it.

"The fashioning of the Tamil language into the symbol of a separate southern identity originated with the British bishop, missionary and sometime linguist, the Reverend Robert Caldwell, whose Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian language of 1856 was the anvil upon which the modern Tamil culture was hammered. The erudite bishop believed he could Christianize Tamil life by destroying the influence of corrupt priests and Brahmans, and a powerful weapon in this war was to stress upon the autonomy of southern Dravidian languages, especially Tamil, from the Sanskritic traditions of the north.

Caldwell also hinted that underpinning the independent language was a unique and ancient civilization of the south that could rival that of the Aryans. Tamil intellectual swiftly elaborated on this idea. Soon histories of pre Aryan Tamil utopia became wildly popular. There had been, they claimed, an ancient and heroic people of the south who had sailed the high seas, were tolerant and friendly, egalitarians, rational, philosophical, yet also fun loving and creative. Some enthusiast even suggested that Tamil civilization predated the era of tectonic shifts, when Australia, Africa and Southern Asia had been a single continent - Kumrikarikkantam and its mother culture, Tamil. Traces f this lost culture could, apparently, be detected as far a field as Palestine and Scandinavia. Soon Raj authorities were insisting that the southern Dravidavians possessed 'a culture of very great antiquity … speakers of Dravidian languages… were the ancient inhabitants of Mohenjodaro and perhaps the givers of culture to India'. (pp 85)

Excerpts from "Vishnu's Crowded Temple" by Maria Misra. Maria Misra is lecturer in Modern History in Oxford University.

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