Early Tamil culture bears ‘extraordinary’ influence of Vedic traditions, says renowned scholar Dr. R Nagaswamy


 

New Delhi, July 8: The Tamil language attained classical status by adopting Vedic and Sanskrit traditions, even as the Vedic civilization, which flourished in northern India during 1500-500 BC, had an ‘absolute and extraordinary’ influence on the early Tamil Nadu’s literary works, society, polity and culture, a renowned art historian and archaeologist said today.

 

The early Tamil culture (1st-2nd century AD) never grew in isolation; it, in fact, bore extraordinary influence of the Vedic culture that was evident in  all its manifestations: literature, art, music, dance, legal system and social customs, said Dr. R. Nagaswamy, former Founder-Director of Archaeology Department, Government of Tamil Nadu.

 

“The Tamil culture never grew in isolation. In fact, from the Himalayas to Kanyakumari, there was only one country with strong Vedic traditions,’ he said, while delivering a scholarly and riveting lecture on “Some Aspects of Vedic Traditions in Early Tamil Nadu”, organised by Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) here.

 

The whole of India was called “Navalar Theevu,” the Tamil equivalent of Jambudvipa, and it was ruled by different dynasties in different regions. But the outlook of the people was the same and the culture was one.

 

“It is an absolute fallacy to hold that Tamil culture was separate from the Vedic traditions or it was against the Sanskrit language. On the contrary, Tamil kings, from the beginning of the Christian era, followed the Vedic traditions. The Tamil society was not different from any part of India, and the same Vedic system prevailed in the entire South-East Asia,” he contended.

 

“It is also not true that only Brahmins were studying the Vedas. Even Shudras, after attaining a higher status, were allowed to read the Vedas. At that point of time, nearly 80 per cent of the Indian population was studying the Vedas, which commanded a tremendous respect,” said the scholar, whose path-breaking book, Mirror of Tamil and Sanskrit, is an integrated study on the impact of Vedic traditions and Sanskrit language on Tamil life.

 

Dr. Nagaswamy sought to substantiate his premise by citing examples from early Tamil inscriptions, script, coins, historical records, literature, social life and administration. The earliest known written records in Tamil are assigned to 2nd century BC and are in the Brahmi script, introduced by the Maurya king Ashoka.

 

The earliest Tamil grammar, Tolkappiyam (6th-7th century), shows that many of the concepts followed in Tamil Nadu were found in the northern traditions. The legal terminology in Sanskrit legal texts (Dharmashastras) is also employed in early Sangam, Pallava, Chola and Pandya times with their kings adopting them in their administrative systems. Likewise, Bharata Muni’s Natya Shastra was the basis of aesthetics of music, dance and literature.

 

A coin of a Chera ruler (1st-2nd century AD) bears inscription in Brahmi script. Likewise, a copper plate (royal seal) of a Chola ruler carries inscription in both Tamil and Sanskrit. Rajendra Chola, the only king to cross the ocean in the early times, says he learnt all the Vedas and even set up a Vedic college and a Vedic village named after his mother.

 

“We have records of how many students studied which Veda in that college and of 1008 Brahmins being settled in the village. Also, the Chola royal seal, called Mudra, is mentioned in Dharmashastra in Sanskrit.

 

A Chola seal, issued by Rajendra Chola’s son, mentions that all  his uncles set up separate Vedic colleges, where students were given free education. Another Chola seal says that 50,000 Vedic Brahmans settled on the banks of Cauvery.

 

In fact, all the Tamil kings, from the beginning of the historical period, studied the Vedas and performed sacrifices as mentioned in the Dharmashastras. The Pandya rulers got the Mahabharat translated into Tamil. One Chera king used to recite daily Vedic hymns with the help of Vedic Brahmans. 

 

Tolkapiyyam, the famous Tamil grammar book (6th-7th century), was written only after Brahmi script was introduced in Tamil Nadu in 2nd century AD. “The book follows the canons of Natyashastra,” Dr. Nagaswamy pointed out.

 

Sangam Tamil poets (1st to 3rd century AD) have two sets of anthologies called Aham and Puram poems. Aham poems deal with ‘shringar’ (adornment) while Puram poems deal with Dharma (Aram in Tamil), Arth (Porul) and Moksha (Vidu). All these concepts have been derived from the Vedas.

 

The evidences of Vedic influence on Tamil society are manifold — Tamil kings performing sacrifices, faith in ‘Four Varna’ system and Ashram system (Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vanprastha and Sanyas), sacred fire, worship of Vedic gods like Indra and Varun, and death rites. There are pointed references in early Tamil literature that kings went for Vanprashtha (retiring into forest) after abdicating the throne in favour of his son.

 

“Tamil literature also talks about Vedaniri, which means path of the Vedas, which is a definitive proof of the influence of the Vedas on the early Tamil culture,” he said, adding: “Sanskrit scholars should study Tamil culture and find out the impact of Vedic traditions on it.”

 

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