Tamil Language and Culture
Sri Lanka and the region of today’s southern Indian state Tamil Nadu look back on a long and turbulent history. This has created an impressive wealth of cultural resources and knowledge systems.
Tamil is one of the longest surviving classical languages in the world. Countless literary works have been written in Tamil, some of which are world-famous.
Tamil is spoken by 70 million people worldwide, among them 50000 Tamil immigrants living in Switzerland.
As one of the two classical languages of the country, Tamil is the only language of contemporary India which is recognisably continuous with a classical past.
The Sangam poems, about 300 B.C., are the oldest surviving Tamil literature. They lay the foundation for the subsequent development of the Tamil culture. The work of Tolkappiyam deals with fundamental grammatical and substantive conventions, which were established, written down and continued by scholars throughout the epochs. The influence of these conventions is thus clearly visible in many earlier works, as well as in modern literature.
The poetry follows two main themes. While Akam mainly deals with the inner world of emotion with regard to love, Puram, the exterior, tells great epic tales about kings, heroism, and duties. Due to its seamless integration of nature elements, metaphors and allegories, Sangam poetry is still known as ‘nature poetry’.
The Indian poet and literary scholar A.K. Ramanujan wrote about the Sangam poems:
“These poems are ‘classical’, i.e., early, ancient;
they are also ‘classics’, i.e., works that have stood the test of time,
the founding works of a whole tradition.
Not to know them is not to know a unique and major poetic achievement of Indian civilisation.”