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4. Laboring for Language

The State of Tamil Devotion

From its inception, Tamil devotion meant that speakers of Tamil had to be at the service of the language, to labor in its name and on its behalf. Glossed in devotional narratives as tamiḻppaṇi, “Tamil work,” or tamiḻttoṇṭu, “Tamil service,” this labor is presented as honorable, virtuous, and meritorious. It is mandatory for all those who claim to be Tamilians for it is an obligation (kaṭamai), even a debt (kaṭaṉ), that they owe, by virtue of being speakers of Tamil, to their language. Sundaram Pillai set the tone for this when he presented his 1891 play, Maṉōṉmaṇīyam, with its invocatory hymn to the goddess Tamil, as “tribute” (kaṭamai) to his tamiḻmātā, “Tamil mother,” and called upon his fellow Tamil speakers to fulfill their debt (kaṭaṉ) to her by rescuing from obscurity ancient Tamil works and creating new literatures (Sundaram Pillai 1922: 9-12). Since then, again and again devotees have represented their work on behalf of the language as aṟappaṇi, “meritorious work,” or tiruttoṇṭu, “auspicious service.” Indeed, in 1959, Bharatidasan even explicitly declared that it was not service to God that was important, but service to Tamil (tamiḻttirutoṇṭu).[1]

While there was general consensus among its devotees that talk about Tamil had to be translated into work, and that tamiḻppaṟṟu in and of itself was incomplete without tamiḻppaṇi, there was much less agreement, as can be expected, on what constitutes appropriate labor, on what kind of Tamil one should serve, and on who ought to be involved in this. In the logic of neo-Shaivism and classicism, laboring for Tamil meant the establishment of learned literary academies, as well as the publication and circulation of ancient religious texts and literature. Indianism and Dravidianism, on the other hand, proposed that it was through seizing political power that Tamil’s fortunes would turn. For devotees like Maraimalai Adigal, the cleansing of Sanskrit from the speech of the elites would by itself lead to the revival of the language, whereas for a Bharati or a Bharatidasan, it was the people’s speech that ought to be the basis for a rejuvenated Tamil. Moreover, there was much disagreement over identifying the putative enemies of Tamil against whom its devotees had to labor. Was it Sanskrit, English, or Hindi? Was it the Brahman or the colonial? Was it the scholastic Tamil pandit or the uneducated Tamil mother? If these were all threatening Tamil, what was the best way to prioritize the tasks ahead? Should the work of Tamil improvement precede the Tamilization of the political apparatus, or should it be the other way around? The questions were many, the problems manifold.

Laboring for Tamil also meant that its devotees had to contend with the state. Should tamiḻppaṇi be conducted by individual devotees and their associations, or should the state be the principal agency? Although they did occasionally interact with some of its institutions in the pursuit of their agendas, both neo-Shaivism and classicism largely steered clear of the state. Indianism and Dravidianism, on the other hand, were directly concerned with changing the nature of power relations and the structure of political authority. They aimed to get rid of the British and Brahmans, respectively, and to place in their stead loyal and pure Tamil speakers in positions of power and authority. The state, in turn, has vacillated in its relationship to tamiḻppaṟṟu. During the late colonial period, prior to the accession of the Justice Party to power in 1920, the state basically stayed aloof from devotional activities or, at most, played a mediating role between various conflicting interest groups and agendas. In the 1920s and 1930s, however, with the Justice Party and the Congress at the helm, the state began to accommodate, although not without resistance, various devotional demands, especially in the domain of education (e.g., demands for the institution of Tamil as medium of instruction and as subject of study in schools and colleges, the establishment of a Tamil University, and other such measures that Nambi Arooran [1980: 70-139] has analyzed). In the years following 1947, when several of Tamil’s devotees were elected to political office and even became chief ministers, not only did this imperative to accommodate accelerate but the state was compelled to progressively “Tamilize” itself, sometimes through conscious involvement in devotional efforts, at other times through actively implementing distinctively pro-Tamil policies in various public, governmental, and educational arenas. And yet, in its Tamilization the state has been reluctant at best, and even recalcitrant at times. Indeed, the state has often assumed the role of a follower rather than a leader, and it frequently appears to be succumbing to pressures from the devotional community, rather than staking out its own autonomous trajectory.

There are obviously many reasons why the state’s work for Tamil has been riddled with reluctance, contradiction, and failure, and why it has rarely met the high expectations of the devotees of the language. The most compelling of these reasons are their very different conceptions about language. The everyday, administrative functioning of the modern state demands the adoption of what we may characterize as a “rationalist-bureaucratic” imagination in which language is treated as an object: as an “instrument” of communication and education, a “tool” for governance, and a “vehicle” for the transmission of ideas, thought, and knowledge. On the other hand, the emotional and cultural life of its devout was underwritten by a passionate attachment to Tamil, imagined as the very life, spirit, and soul of every Tamilian. For its followers, Tamil was not just an inanimate object but a near and dear person whose well-being is likened, again and again, as we have seen, to the well-being of one’s own mother. This is not to say that the state, particularly in its post-colonial manifestation, was unaffected by this symbolic investment in Tamiḻttāy: it makes several gestures in this direction, as we have seen. Nor does it mean that the devotional community did not have its own share of the rationalist, instrumentalist conception of language. Nevertheless, the state’s attitudes and intentions towards Tamil are quite different from its devotees’, and this difference manifested itself repeatedly in the realm of policy making. Certainly, language and cultural policies in Tamilnadu have been highly contested because of the multiple, contrary meanings with which Tamil has been invested over the decades by its devout. But these policies are also riddled with contradictions because of the different conceptions about the language that drove the state, in contrast to those that reigned in the community of its devotees.

Worshipping with Tamil: Language and Liturgy

In the 1950s and 1960s, more than half a century after tamiḻppaṟṟu reared its head, the state took up for legislation an issue that was dear to neo-Shaivism from at least the 1920s on. This issue, glossed as tamiḻ aruccaṉai (Tamil worship), turned around the use of Tamil and its religious texts in temples in Tamilnadu where Sanskrit was still the dominant liturgical language.[2] Neo-Shaivism insisted that in ancient Shaiva religion, it was Tamil, rather than Sanskrit, that was used as language of worship. But then “[Brahmans] introduced the words of their northern language in which one can see very little trace of any kind of divinity, empowered them, and denigrated our great and glorious Tamil scriptures, the Tēvāram and the Tiruvācakam, as ‘songs of the Shudras’ ” (Maraimalai Adigal 1967a: 150).

Moreover, Brahmans were not just content with empowering Sanskrit in this way; they also ensured that it was only after they had chanted the Vedas, had received the deities’ blessings, and were out of earshot that Tamil hymns were even recited. They had thus displaced the divine Tamil from its own temples with the upstart Sanskrit (Kandiah Pillai 1947; K. Subramania Pillai 1940: 97-106; Swaminatha Upatiyayan 1921: 22-24).[3] The language of liturgy therefore emerged within the practice of tamiḻppaṟṟu as a key site on which was waged the battle between Brahmanical Hinduism and Tamil Shaivism, between Sanskrit and Tamil scriptures, and above all, between Brahman and “non-Brahman” as ritual specialists and social elites.

Although the relative importance of Tamil and Sanskrit in temple worship has varied from sect to sect, the two languages have been an integral part of the region’s institutionalized scriptural Hinduism from the late first millennium C.E. (Cutler 1987:187-94; Peterson 1989: 54-56). Over the centuries, periodic doctrinal and sectarian conflict had erupted around the question of language and liturgy (A. Appadurai 1981: 77-82), but beginning in the 1920s, with neo-Shaivism taking on an increasingly radical stance, the call came for completely excising Sanskrit and its scriptures from Tamilnadu temples and replacing these with Tamil and its scriptures. Along with this also came the demand, as was voiced in 1943 by the Tamiḻ Uṇarcci Mānāṭu, the “Tamil Consciousness Conference,” for de-Sanskritizing the names of deities, temples, and temple towns and replacing them with their original or former Tamil names (Ilankumaran 1991: 175).[4] One enthusiast even urged that throughout Tamilnadu, all temples ought to follow only one uniform Tamil liturgical text and priests should be taught to remember that they are Tamilians, should be assured that conducting worship in Tamil would bring in more remuneration, and should be granted honors if they perform good aruccaṉai in Tamil.[5] For the loyal devotee of Tamil, devotion to the (Hindu) gods could not, and should not, be allowed to compromise devotion to Tamil.

By the 1940s and 1950s, populist organizations like K. A. P. Viswanatham’s Tamiḻar Kaḻakam (Society of Tamilians) and Sivagnanam’s Tamil Arasu Kazhagam had extended their support to the neo-Shaiva demand for Tamil aruccaṉai (Sivagnanam 1960: 53-54, 1974: 448).[6] Paradoxically, political parties, like the DK and the DMK, also stepped into this arena of ritual and liturgical politics by the 1950s. As we have seen, the Dravidian movement and the Dravidianist idiom of tamiḻppaṟṟu poured rationalist scorn on Brahmanic Hinduism and neo-Shaivism alike. All the same, by the 1940s Dravidianism began to support the demand for tamiḻ aruccaṉai (Sundara Shanmugan 1948: 12, 30; Velu and Selvaraji 1989: 78).[7] As the poet Bharatidasan eloquently observed in 1945, every day in temples across Tamilnadu, the Tamilian relinquished “Tamil honor” by acquiescing to the use of Sanskrit hymns in worship (1969: 27). For the DK and the DMK in the 1950s, tamiḻ aruccaṉai assumed saliency as another issue with which to contest both Brahmanical power and the Congress government. Thus at a public meeting in 1957, S. Gurusami, the editor of the DK newspaper Viṭutalai, declared that Brahmans had used Tamilian labor to build their huge temples and carve their sculptures, and had then prevented Tamilians from offering worship there. Instead of the richness of Tamil, the “filth” of Sanskrit filled these temples, and E. V. Ramasami, Tamilians were told, would soon lead a protest to help Tamil, the language of aruccaṉai.[8]

The iconoclastic Ramasami himself, as we will see, spared no words in denouncing neo-Shaivism’s divinization of Tamil. Yet, as early as 1926 he demanded, “Why should we worship our deities in an alien language?” and in his usual irrepressible fashion, he asked in 1972, on the eve of his death, “What business has a god in Tamilnadu if he does not want Tamil?” (quoted in Diehl 1977: 71). His atheistic agenda for completely ridding all traces of religiosity from Dravidian consciousness notwithstanding, through the 1950s and 1960s Ramasami promoted the cause of Tamil as liturgical language as a means through which Tamil speakers would regain their self-respect. He argued that it would free them from servitude to Aryan Brahmanism and Sanskrit (Anaimuthu 1974: 1043-44). Indeed, for Ramasami and the DK, tamiḻ aruccaṉai was only one of several fronts on which to conduct their war against Brahmanical Sanskritic Hinduism, which included the breaking of Brahman monopoly on priesthood, the opening of the sanctum sanctorum in temples to all castes, and the public burning of Sanskrit scriptures.

Neo-Shaivism and Dravidianism, contrary ideologies though they may be, thus came together to support tamiḻ aruccaṉai, united by their common cause against Brahmans and Sanskrit. Ironically, however, the neo-Shaiva agenda for instituting Tamil as liturgical language was realized in practice not by insisting upon its divinity, but by invoking its status as “mother tongue” and hence a language intelligible to its speakers.[9] This is the argument that was used, for instance, by Kunrakudi Adigal, one of the key spokesmen on this issue. For him, Tamil aruccaṉai was a weapon with which to counter not just Sanskritic Brahmanism’s hegemony but the Dravidian movement’s atheism as well. In 1953, at a time when Ramasami’s campaigns against religion and Hinduism were gaining momentum, he argued that it was Sanskrit’s “unintelligibility” that rendered it incomprehensible to the Tamil populace and that, not surprisingly, promoted irreligiosity among them. “If the pujaris [priests] were to cast off their superiority complex and to conduct archanais [worship] in a language understandable to the average devotee, there would be no anti-god demonstration in the street” (quoted in Presler 1987: 115-16). As if to prove this point, in 1971, when Karunanidhi was chief minister, he declared that following a nearby temple’s 1953 switch to Tamil aruccaṉai, the number of its patrons as well as the temple’s revenues had dramatically escalated.[10]

Karunanidhi made this statement in Coimbatore, in support of the DMK government’s attempts in 1970 and 1971 to authorize the use of Tamil as primary language of worship, at a time when many temples across Tamilnadu were actually already doing so, under various guises. Although it is his government that is most closely associated with the tamiḻ aruccaṉai issue, this had been a matter of concern for the state for the past couple of decades. At least since the late nineteenth century, its avowed policy of religious neutrality notwithstanding, the colonial state had steadily increased its jurisdiction over temples. But its predominant concern continued to be regulation of temple administration and finances, and the language question did not invite legislation (A. Appadurai 1981; Mudaliar 1974). During the 1950s and 1960s, however, the Congress-led state could no longer ignore demands for Tamil aruccaṉai, and the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department (HRCE) “quietly promoted,” as Franklin Presler notes, the increasing use of Tamil hymns in temples. Yet during these years, there was no attempt to substitute Tamil for Sanskrit, only to “strengthen Tamil’s place alongside Sanskrit rituals” (Presler 1987: 115). This did not save the Congress government from being pressured to do away entirely with Sanskrit, replacing it with worship solely in Tamil.[11] Responding to such demands, M. Bhaktavatsalam, the minister for the HRCE—and not a Brahman—declared in 1959 that when he listened to the aruccaṉai being offered in Tamil, he was not inspired, did not understand it, and found it “boring.”[12] Another Congress member in the Assembly, P. S. Krishnaswami Ayyangar, a Sri Vaishnavite Brahman, insisted that if Tamil were instituted as the liturgical language, non-Tamil devotees who came to temples would find it difficult to comprehend their gods’ worship—the assumption here, of course, being that Sanskrit could be understood by one and all.[13] The government’s position was that since religious “tradition” (campratāyam) should not be interfered with by the state, and since it did not matter which language was used to offer worship, “traditional” (i.e., Sanskritic) forms of worship ought not be abolished. So, Bhaktavatsalam declared in the Legislative Council: “Worship has to be offered according to tradition and custom. It is not proper to change that order. There is no point in raising the issue of Sanskrit or Tamil in worship. The demand for bringing in Tamil to do aruccaṉai is a meaningless agitation. Aruccaṉai means the recitation of names of the deity. What difference does it make [whether the name is in Sanskrit or Tamil]?…This is a meaningless agitation.”[14]

Yet, the government’s position to the contrary, the protest against the use of Sanskrit in temples had been launched in the first place precisely because “tradition” had been radically reinterpreted over the past few decades; because it made all the difference whether something was named in Sanskrit or Tamil; and because religion and language could not be dissociated from each other, as neo-Shaivism had repeatedly insisted from the turn of the century.

The Congress government no doubt resisted the demand for tamiḻ aruccaṉai, partly because of its reluctance to oppose Sanskritic Hinduism,[15] but also partly because in this, as in other matters concerning Tamil in the 1950s and 1960s, it tried to counter the growth of “linguism” and regionalism (as sponsored by the Dravidian movement) that were perceived as threats to Indian nationalism (the basis for its own power). As the Congress was compelled to take a stand on Tamil in variance with large sectors of the Tamil devotional community, the language of liturgy became one of the key issues on which the party was rendered vulnerable to demonization as an enemy of Tamil.

The “quiet encouragement” of the Congress government in strengthening the place of Tamil alongside Sanskrit in temples gave way to its active promotion with the coming to power of the DMK in 1967. In mid-1971, the government formalized its informal support by issuing a series of orders which declared that “the Tamil Nadu people desire that in all temples archanais should be performed in Tamil” (quoted in Presler 1987: 116). In August 1971, Sanskrit was demoted from its status as the normative liturgical language and was declared optional. Its place was now taken by Tamil.[16] In spite of resistance mounted against such orders by many Brahman priests as well as by organizations such as the Madras Temple Worship Protection Society, there were numerous well-publicized performances of Tamil aruccaṉai in many temples, conducted in the presence of members of the DMK government (Presler 1987: 116).[17] Though the government nowhere overtly banned the use of Sanskrit or compelled the sole use of Tamil, at least one deputy commissioner interpreted its order in such terms. This sparked off a major uproar, resulting in the eventual staying of all Tamil aruccaṉai orders by the Supreme Court in August 1974.[18] The Centamiḻc Celvi, which for decades had been publishing essays promoting the use of Tamil in temples, had the following comment:

In Tamilnadu, there is resistance to Tamil music; there is resistance to Tamil as official language; there is resistance to Tamil as medium of instruction in colleges; there is resistance to reconverting the names of places and towns to pure Tamil; there was resistance to naming Madras state as Tamilnadu; there is resistance to the conduct of domestic rituals in Tamil; there is resistance to pure Tamil. When we have resistance like this everywhere, it is no surprise that there is so much opposition to worship in Tamil.[19]

What are some of the implications of the controversy over Tamil aruccaṉai for the public practice of Tamil devotion? First, neo-Shaivite claims about the illegitimacy of Sanskrit for religious practices in the Tamil-speaking region received the sanction, albeit ambiguously and fruitlessly, of the Tamilnadu state. Chief Minister Karunanidhi defended his actions thus: “If the right to perform the archanai in Tamil is denied, Sanskrit considered as Devabhasha [language of God], and along with that God and religion also, will be driven out from Tamil Nadu to north India.…If the gods in south India cannot tolerate Tamil archanais, let the gods move to north India” (quoted in Presler 1987: 130). Similarly, the minister in charge of implementing the aruccaṉai policy declared, as neo-Shaivism had from the beginning of this century, that “it was wrong to say that God could follow only Sanskrit” (quoted in Presler 1987: 116).

Furthermore, neo-Shaivite assertions of the divinity of Tamil also received the blessings of an ostensibly “secular” state that was in the control of a party, the DMK, which at various times had vociferously declared its opposition to religious beliefs of any kind. In Karunanidhi’s words, “A section of the people claim that Tamil language has no divinity and hence there is nothing sacred about it. It is only to controvert this view, the Tamil Nadu Deviga Peravai and the HRCE Department have introduced Tamil archanais. The Tamil archanai only move is born more out of our love and attachment to Tamil than ill will or hatred towards any other language” (quoted in Presler 1987: 118, emphasis mine). Its detractors claimed that the DMK’s actions followed from the fact that it was a antireligious party “with no faith in God”—God and religion being identified here, of course, with Sanskrit and the Sanskritic tradition. Yet the DMK’s support of tamiḻ aruccaṉai was clearly part of its overall policy of Tamilizing the public sphere. Indeed, contrary to its detractors’ claim, it was also in line with the many accommodations that that party had made since at least the 1960s with various aspects of high Hinduism through a corresponding Tamilization of that religion, as I noted earlier.

Moreover, in many religious systems, including scriptural Hinduism, the magical power of a sacred language is predicated on its unintelligibility to the lay worshipper. Quotidian, “profane” languages that are readily comprehensible are believed to not have the same ritual efficacy (Tambiah 1985: 22-30). Indeed, Dakshinamoorthy Bhattar, a priest who challenged the government’s orders, argued that the efficacy of ritual depended on the particular sounds of Sanskrit and that there would be “disaster” if he “dared to perform the archanai in Tamil” (Presler 1987: 117; see also Harrison 1960: 130). And much to the dismay of many a Tamil devotee, it was not only a Brahman priest who argued thus, but also Gnanaprakasar Tecikar, a respected “non-Brahman” Tamil scholar.[20] But the state’s argument was not couched in the vocabulary of ritual efficacy. For regardless of the doctrinal and metaphysical premises on which neo-Shaivism asserted the divine potency and ritual powers of Tamil, the state’s aruccaṉai orders derived their eventual legitimacy from the democratic logic that the language of worship ought to be understandable and intelligible to the people, that it ought to be the “mother tongue.”[21] Sanskrit’s legitimacy was undermined not by questioning its divine status (as neo-Shaivism did), but by declaring its “unintelligibility” among the people. By the same token, Tamil was ordered in its place not just because it was divine, but because it had the “love and attachment” of the people and was their “mother tongue.” Here, the Tamil aruccaṉai issue appears to provide another illustration of the “demoticization” of liturgical languages—such as Hebrew or Latin or Arabic—that has inevitably accompanied the nationalization and democratization of political and social systems with modernity (Anderson 1983: 68-69). Yet Sanskrit was not threatened by an ordinary “demotic” tongue but by another “sacred” language that had also been recently empowered as “mother tongue.” This is what makes the demand for Tamil liturgy unusual.

Finally, the Tamil aruccaṉai controversy gave the lie to the state’s assertion that “language is not the essence of religion” (quoted in Mudaliar 1974: 223). The Congress government had resisted the demands to replace Sanskrit with Tamil in the 1950s on this basis. It is “meaningless,” Bhaktavatsalam had insisted, to raise the language issue in matters of worship. Interestingly, in 1974 the Madras High Court defended the DMK led state’s legislation by invoking the same principle (Mudaliar 1974: 223): “It cannot be taken that unless religious matters are expressed in a particular language they cease to be religious” (quoted in Presler 1987: 117). Yet, as neo-Shaivism had asserted again and again, was it even possible to contemplate god without divine Tamil? Even the DMK minister in charge of the state’s religious policy declared in the Legislative Assembly in 1971 that it was god himself, filled with “Tamil consciousness,” who had enabled the institution of Tamil aruccaṉai.[22] From the point of view of many a devoted Tamilian, god and Tamil could not be separated at will or through state legislation.

Cleansing Tamil: Language and Purity

One evening, when she was barely thirteen, Nilambikai was taking a stroll in their garden with her famed father, Maraimalai Adigal (who at that time still went by his Sanskritic name, Swami Vedachalam). He began to sing a verse from Ramalinga Adigal’s famous Tiruvaruṭpā but when he came to the second line of the verse, Vedachalam stopped and said to his daughter: “Is it not wonderful that Ramalinga Adigal has sung this song so beautifully in pure Tamil (tūyattamiḻ)? But, instead of using the Sanskrit word tēkam in the second line, would it not have been better if he had used the pure Tamil (taṉittamiḻ) word, yākkai? Because Sanskrit words have been allowed in Tamil, it has lost its beauty and Tamil words have gone out of use.” Father and daughter resolved, from that day on, to speak and write only in taṉittamiḻ (lit., “exclusively Tamil,” but more generally glossed as “pure Tamil”) (Nilambikai 1960: iii).

This incident is cited as the originary moment of what comes to be called taṉittamiḻ iyakkam, the “pure Tamil” movement, and is dated by most scholars to 1916, though the roots of Maraimalai Adigal’s own personal predilections in this regard may be traced back to the late 1890s. The movement has invited considerable criticism and resistance, even within the devotional community. Nonetheless, it still continues to have its share of enthusiasts who publish books and journals advocating its virtues, and who seek, with varying degrees of success, to make taṉittamiḻ into an everyday habit in contemporary Tamilnadu. For the ardent purist, there is no difference between “Tamil” and taṉittamiḻ good Tamil is always already taṉittamiḻ, the only language in the world that is capable of flourishing without the aid of other languages (Nilambikai 1960: 40-51). This has meant that for purists, even their fellow devotees who do not follow the ideals of taṉittamiḻ are, by definition, enemies of Tamil; they are not the true “sons” of their language/mother (Ilankumaran 1991: 130-36, 168-69). “Those who oppose taṉittamiḻ are murderers of Tamil,” the purists declare unequivocally (quoted in M. Tirunavukarasu 1959: 520).

Soon after the incident in the garden, Vedachalam Tamilized his name (and those of his children), and from then on referred to himself, at least in his Tamil publications, as Maraimalai Adigal. Vedachalam was not the first to do this.[23] A few years earlier, in 1899, another Tamil enthusiast, V. G. Suryanarayana Sastri, had published a collection of sonnets in which his name appeared in its Tamil form as “Paritimāl Kalaiņar.” Although this was the only occasion in which Suryanarayana Sastri used his taṉittamiḻ name, his act is much-cited in purist circles, not just because of his fame as a Tamil scholar but also because he was Brahman (Tirumaran 1992: 118-23). Since that time, many of Tamil’s adherents have Tamilized their given Sanskritic names and have bestowed taṉittamiḻ names on their children (Kailasapathy 1986: 30). The pure Tamil movement, however, advocates more than just symbolic acts such as the Tamilizing of personal names and, by extension, the names of towns, streets, deities, temples, and so on. It is equally concerned with transformations in written and spoken Tamil, with the conscious refusal, in both public and domestic contexts, to rely on words that are deemed non-Tamil.[24] As early as 1906, the Tamil scholar and Murugan devotee Pamban Swami (1851-1929) published a book of verses called Cēntaṉ Centamiḻ, in which care was taken not to allow even one Sanskrit word to appear (Tirumaran 1992: 123-26). And with the more concerted efforts of Maraimalai Adigal and his followers, this trend picked up momentum from the 1920s—with varying degrees of success, of course (Maraimalai Adigal 1930a: xxv-xxvi, 1934: 11-12). It has been estimated that even at the height of Maraimalai Adigal’s enthusiasm for taṉittamiḻ in the 1930s, at least 5 percent of the words in his texts continued to be Sanskritic (Nambi Arooran 1976: 345-46). Nevertheless, even impressionistically-speaking, the marked decline in the use of foreign words, especially of Sanskritic origin, in Tamil literary, scholarly, and even bureaucratic circles over the past half century is quite striking. The taṉittamiḻ movement, however, has paid less attention to excising foreign syntactic patterns and Sanskritic rules of compounding and suffixes, Sanskritic phraseology, and so on, all of which have arguably had a more enduring impact on Tamil literary and speech styles (Annamalai 1979: 48; Kailasapathy 1986: 30-31).

Even the most ardent of purists would readily admit that it has been impossible to totally cleanse Tamil, not least because no real criteria have been developed to determine what constitutes a “pure” Tamil word. Purists castigate the continued use of non-Tamil words in short stories, novels, newspapers, and cinema, and they lament that the earlier enslavement to Sanskrit has now been supplemented by dependence on English, especially in popular speech and culture. Such laments remind us that language purification efforts, not just in Tamilnadu but elsewhere in the world, are elite literary enterprises. Typically, they appear as an imposition of a norm from above, rather than as a manifestation of a need or sentiment from below. Purists like Maraimalai Adigal even insisted that it is indolence and lack of discipline among its speakers that was responsible for Tamil’s “corruption,” and that it was the duty of disciplined, alert literati to rectify this “problem.” “Defiling one’s speech by mixing up with it extraneous elements simply indicates laxity of discipline, looseness of character, and lack of serious purpose in life,” he scolded (Maraimalai Adigal 1980: 32). Not surprisingly, when couched in such terms, language purification efforts have certainly not caught the popular or populist political imagination, and they are frequently chastised for going against the flow, for trying to set the clock back, and for reviving archaisms (Jernudd and Shapiro 1989; G. Thomas 1991). As one critic declaimed in the Madras Mail in 1927:

A shortsighted nationalism compels such folk to strive to keep all immigrant words out.…Fortunately such purists do not control the growth of a language. That is the work of the common people. The purists may frown at slang, they may grumble that the language is being debased by slipshod and lazy talkers and writers, but fifty per cent of what they condemn eventually finds its way into the language, to be defended by a later generation of purists as violently as the earlier fought for its exclusion. Language cannot be successfully cribbed, cabined and confined.

All the same, these movements have emerged with such frequency all over the modern world because they are rarely concerned with language alone. Instead, they are crucially intertwined with questions of identity, of definitions of self and other. Maraimalai Adigal, for instance, deplored the habit of “imitation” among his fellow speakers, especially those belonging to urban upper castes. This habit had led them to use Sanskrit words instead of their Tamil equivalents. Such imitation was only a linguistic reflection of the social and religious enslavement of Tamilians to Sanskritic Brahmanism. Carrying this logic further, taṉittamiḻ adherents who follow in Maraimalai Adigal’s footsteps, such as Nilambikai, Devaneyan, Ilakuvan, and Perunchitran, proposed that Brahman power in Tamilnadu would be subverted if Tamilians stopped using Sanskrit words in Tamil writing and speech.

Yet efforts to cleanse Tamil have not always been directed just against Sanskrit; nor have attempts to use pure Tamil necessarily been motivated by hostility towards other languages (Varadarajan 1966: 99-130). Indeed, the range of opinions offered by Tamil’s devotees about the feasibility, the desirability, and the necessity of taṉittamiḻ captures quite effectively the multiple imaginations about the language that prevailed among them. The taṉittamiḻ movement associated with Maraimalai Adigal and his followers was largely an expression of contestatory classicism and radical neo-Shaivism. Their efforts to cleanse Tamil were propelled by hostility towards Brahmanism and its literary and ritual vehicle, Sanskrit. Even among them, however, numerous differences prevailed (Ilankumaran 1991: 129-37, 189-90; Tirumaran 1992: 153-208). For instance, the neo-Shaiva support for pure Tamil was linked to a religious project of Tamilizing Shaivism and of a return to pre-Sanskritic rituals and worship (Nilambikai 1960; Swaminatha Upatiyayan 1921). On the other hand, contestatory classicism’s secular concern with purifying Tamil emerged from its agenda of restoring literary Tamil to its imagined state of pure classicality. Indeed, for contestatory classicism, the medieval religious texts which are the foundational scriptures for neo-Shaiva revivalism were themselves responsible for the flood of Sanskrit words that inundated Tamil literature after the pristine Tamil of the Canḳam poems (Devaneyan 1972; Tirumaran 1992: 189-204).

Dravidianism, too, lent its support to the contestatory classicist project, motivated principally by the political imperative of countering (Sanskritic) Indian nationalism. However, given its own populist agenda, it was cautious about unilaterally embracing purification efforts with their inherently classicizing, archaizing, and prescriptive consequences. Thus Dravidianist prose eliminates Sanskrit words wherever possible, but not at the cost of distancing Tamil from the everyday language of the people. Indeed, among many in the Dravidian movement, like Ramasami and Annadurai, there was even hostility to pure Tamil advocates and their attempts to impose scholastic, high caste linguistic norms on the populace (Sivathamby 1979: 71-73).

But this is the not only reason that Maraimalai Adigal’s taṉittamiḻ movement has not been greeted with cheering enthusiasm by many Tamil scholars and adherents. For some proponents of compensatory classicism, attempts to cleanse Tamil of Sanskrit words was not just unnecessary but even undesirable (Swaminatha Aiyar 1991d: 52-53; Vaiyapuri Pillai 1989: 4-6; see also Tirumaran 1992: 274-77). And here, one may recall an interesting 1941 essay in which U. V. Swaminatha Aiyar defended the use of Sanskritic terms for food, such as pōjaṉam and nivētaṉam, instead of their Tamil equivalent, cōṟu, on the grounds that the former constituted the true “Tamil tradition” (tamiḻ marapu). Swaminatha Aiyar’s argument certainly betrays an overtly classist and paternalistic stance, for he proposed that while it was all right to use the Tamil word, cōṟu, with a poor servant, it was not appropriate to do so with a notable (Swaminatha Aiyar 1991a). Not surprisingly, this essay elicited an angry response from at least one fellow devotee, K. A. P. Viswanatham, who was clearly anguished that the venerable Tamil scholar appeared to be more devoted to Sanskrit than to Tamil (Viswanatham 1941: 360). At one level, Swaminatha Aiyar’s essay is clearly in line with compensatory classicism’s agenda of presenting Tamil and Sanskrit as twin contributors to an Indic literary civilization. At another level, this exchange also shows that purists had to struggle against both upper-caste (Brahman and high “non-Brahman”) and upper and middle-class linguistic dependence on Sanskritized Tamil.

Absence of explicit hostility towards Sanskrit also marked Indianism’s efforts to cleanse Tamil (Ramalinga Pillai 1953; Sivagnanam 1960). Between July and November 1915, a little prior to Maraimalai Adigal’s explicit “conversion” to the pure Tamil cause, Subramania Sivam, Chidambaram Pillai, and others whose tamiḻppaṟṟu found its expression in imagining an Indianized Tamil advocated the need for a taṉittamiḻ style that would be free of foreign words, including Sanskrit and English; they even announced a prize (of five rupees) for anyone who would submit essays in pure Tamil. One of their statements specifically targeted Sanskrit as the “first enemy” of Tamil. Ironically—and showing the Sanskritic inflection of Indianist prose—their appeals continued to use the Sanskrit word for language, pāṣā, rather than the pure Tamil moḻi and were replete with other Sanskritic words.[25] These appeals by Sivam (and other Brahmans) have been interpreted by some apologists as proof that devotees who were nominally Brahman were not necessarily enamored with Sanskrit to the detriment of Tamil (Sivagnanam 1970: 91-93). All the same, Indianism’s attempts to overcome the marked dependence on Sanskrit words was motivated less by religious, antiquarian, or political imperatives, as was the case with neo-Shaivism, contestatory classicism, and Dravidianism, than by its populist concern with supporting the “language of the people” (Sivathamby 1979: 48-67). But the Tamil of most Tamil speakers for much of this century has been shot through with Sanskrit (and words from other languages). So, since Indianism also sought to ensure, like Dravidianism, that the “natural,” “living” language of the people prevailed, it did not fetishize the elimination of Sanskritic words, confining itself instead to the discontinuation of arcane literary terms, both Sanskrit and Tamil, favored by orthodox pandits and scholars.

Further, in contrast to Maraimalai Adigal’s taṉittamiḻ movement, Indianism’s call for cleansing Tamil was clearly anticolonial rather than anti-Brahman. Its predominant concern was with ridding English words from Tamil, and the expunging of Sanskrit was put on hold, for the time being at least. Indeed, responding to a criticism by a “Son of India” published in the nationalist daily Cutēcamittiraṉ, and realizing that essays submitted to his prize competition were unable to disentangle themselves from Sanskrit, in November 1915 Subramania Sivam went back on his earlier declaration of July 1915:

We have only insisted that we should write in a Tamil that is free of English. We have never said that we should have a taṉittamiḻ that is free of Sanskrit.…There is little doubt however that Tamil is a unique language (taṉipāṣai). Nevertheless, because of the interactions between Tamilians and Aryans for a long time, Tamilians have become habituated to innumerable Sanskrit words. If we thought it was possible to easily write essays these days in a taṉittamiḻ that is free of Sanskrit, would we announce that we would reward someone for this?[26]

Thus, for Indianism the elimination of colonialism and its language, English, took precedence over the task of de-Sanskritizing Tamil. In direct contrast, Maraimalai Adigal explicitly declared in 1927 at a presentation to the Karanthai Tamil Sangam that liberation from Aryanism and its language, Sanskrit, constituted the first “cuyarājyam” (“independence”) for Tamilians (M. Tirunavukarasu 1959: 528). Years later, Devaneyan Pavanar also insisted that Tamilnadu did not win its freedom with the withdrawal of the British. Only the withdrawal of Sanskrit would constitute true independence for Tamilians (Devaneyan 1972: 339). Contrary to what their critics may claim, however, these purists did not support the intrusion of English words into Tamil. Nonetheless, for them, unlike the Indianists, Sanskrit was the more enduring foe.

All these conflicting agendas for cleansing Tamil of “foreign” words came to a head in the 1930s, when its devout started to seek state patronage for the creation of appropriate vocabularies and glossaries for pedagogical purposes, and especially for instruction in the sciences (Nambi Arooran 1976: 339-40). As early as 1916, several devotees in Salem town had organized themselves into a Tamil Scientific Terms Society, and the first issue of its journal, edited by C. Rajagopalachari, confessed: “The greatest difficulty that confronts those who wish to produce books in the languages of the country…is, we believe, the absence of adequate and precise terms for scientific ideas and the chaotic state in which attempts to build up such terms are left to remain” (quoted in Irschick 1969: 303-4). Faced with this “difficulty” and “chaos,” many turned, to the dismay of purists, to Sanskrit as the source for new scientific vocabularies. So, in 1932, the state sponsored glossary of scientific terms (kalaiccol) for pedagogical use was highly derivative from Sanskrit and also relied heavily on English. This only confirmed the purists’ suspicion that the state was in the clutches of Brahmanical elements who were enemies of Tamil (Ilankumaran 1991: 191-93; Tirumaran 1992: 244-46).

The release of this glossary galvanized many purists to organize, and in 1934, under the auspices of the Ceṉṉai Mākāṇat Tamiḻc Canḳam (Madras Presidency Tamil Sangam), based in Tirunelveli, they formed a collective called the Kalaiccolākkak Kaḻakam (the Committee for Scientific Terms). They organized several conferences, ran a short lived journal called Tamiḻttāy, and in 1938 published a glossary with around ten thousand technical terms in physics, chemistry, mathematics, geography, and other subjects. Along with coining taṉittamiḻ terms, the glossary also eliminated the special grantha letters that had been incorporated into the premodern Tamil script to register Sanskritic phonology. Although the 1938 text was a real triumph for the taṉittamiḻ cause, the state’s glossaries and vocabularies for the next two decades continued to be dependent on Sanskrit and English (Ilankumaran 1991: 194-97, 202-6; E. M. Subramania Pillai 1951-52).[27] Not surprisingly, into the 1950s purists lamented that “even though taṉittamiḻ has the approval of the common people, it has not secured a place in government” (Tirumaran 1992: 167). Some DMK legislators even suggested that under cover of creating new administrative terms, the (Congress) government had given a new lease to Sanskrit words and erased authentic Tamil words from the people’s life.[28] Struggling under the sheer weight of centuries of administrative routines, the state’s lukewarm response to taṉittamiḻ efforts was undoubtedly motivated by its primary concern with ensuring bureaucratic efficiency and convenience of usage. At the same time, the party in power, the Congress, favored an Indianized Tamil and was especially hostile towards any anti-Sanskrit purification attempts.

This became particularly clear during the debates in the later half of the 1950s and the early 1960s over the Tamilization of the language of administration. Allapichai, a Congress legislator in the council, warned the government to keep out of state committees on administrative and pedagogical terminology “linguistic fanatics,” who would only create vocabularies which might please ancient grammarians and purists, but would be incomprehensible to “the people.”[29] C. Subramaniam, the Congress minister for education, indeed put the ball back into the court of the purists by declaring in 1956: “The Tamil language has power (cakti). Those who allege that exposure to the words of other languages will lead to its destruction, will block its development, and will tarnish its excellence must have no faith in the power of our Tamil language.”[30] Devotee cum legislator Muthukannappan responded, “We cannot forcibly bring in words from another language.…[I]f we do so, Tamiḻttāy is powerful. She will destroy these words, or she will subdue those other words. Everybody should recognize her power.”[31] Nonetheless, through the 1950s the Congress-led state put up a good deal of resistance to demands for ushering in the reign of (taṉi)Tamil. These included the replacement of the Sanskritic term ākāśvāṇi for radio by the pure Tamil term, vāṉoli, and the Tamilizing of personal honorific terms, śrī and śrīmati, as tiru and tirumati.[32]

It was not until the DMK came to power in 1967 that such demands were fulfilled, and the pure Tamil cause received a boost, although purification efforts are not particularly high on the agenda of either the Dravidian movement or the Dravidianist idiom of tamiḻppaṟṟu. Among the DMK government’s first actions was to put up a giant sign, appropriately illuminated with neon lights, on the ramparts of the secretariat building in Madras, which read, in pure Tamil, tamiḻaka aracu talaimaic ceyalakam, “head offices of the government of the Tamil land.” The state motto in Sanskrit, satyemeva jayate, was translated—although not replaced—as the (taṉi) Tamil vāymaiyē vellum, “truth always triumphs” (Ramanujam 1971: 26). Sanskritic designations for various government officials, members of the state legislature, state departments, and so on were all replaced with pure Tamil equivalents, and today, in public functions conducted by the government as well as in official publications of all kinds, it is rare to encounter obviously Sanskritic or English words (although they are not entirely absent). Since 1967, the Tamil that one hears on the radio, as well as on television, is comparatively free of non-Tamil words. State committees appointed by the DMK government for creating pedagogical and administrative terminologies, as well as for producing textbooks, have been dominated by purists, thus ensuring that pedagogical Tamil and bureaucratic Tamil are as pure as they can be (Annamalai 1979: 50). And indeed, the 1971 glossary of administrative terms released by the state seemed at last to be taking the right step in the direction of fulfilling the purist’s dream that in the streets of Tamilnadu, it is (taṉi)Tamil that ought to reign.

What are some of the implications of the taṉittamiḻ movement for the pursuit of tamiḻppaṟṟu? Most immediately, it offers another striking example of how discourse about Tamil in the devotional community has translated itself into practice, and how this process has been plagued by so many problems, not least because of the multiple notions about the language that concurrently prevail. Tamil’s devotees who have participated in the movement attempt to cleanse their own speech and writing styles; they use Tamil instead of Arabic numerals, and they follow a putative Tamil dating system that commences with the birth date of Tiruvalluvar, fixed by Maraimalai Adigal at 31 B.C.E. Over the past few decades, many have conducted public campaigns among merchants and shopkeepers in cities like Madurai and Coimbatore to Tamilize the names of commercial establishments (Tirumaran 1992: 255-56). In 1987, the state joined in this campaign by issuing similar orders (see Tamilkudimagan 1990 for the public response to this). Critics wonder if such efforts to Tamilize life and culture in Tamilnadu is akin to fighting a battle that has already been lost—first to Sanskritization, but these days more enduringly to Anglicization and westernization. They parody the neologisms of taṉittamiḻ and criticize them for getting in the way of the “real” tasks of modernizing education, restructuring the economy, erasing social inequities, and so on. And they question its tyrannical and homogenizing tendencies that spell death for the creative and “natural” flow of language and literary culture (Tirumaran 1992: 273-320).

Yet, such criticisms notwithstanding, the pure Tamil movement has succeeded in disabling all those who had claimed that Tamil was incapable of expressing thoughts that could only be expressed in Sanskrit or English, and who maintained that Tamil cannot flourish without the aid of other languages; conversely, it has enabled those who wanted to use Tamil words but had been unable to do so because of the domination of words of other languages. From the 1930s on, taṉittamiḻ adherents have published dictionaries and glossaries of “pure” Tamil words (including both neologisms as well as rehabilitated ancient ones) for use in public as well as domestic contexts. They have also provided Tamil speakers with lists of pure Tamil personal names as well as names for their houses, suggestions on how to write letters and publish invitations for special occasions without resorting to non-Tamil words, and so on (Nilambikai 1952).[33]

All this does not minimize the reality that Tamil speakers of all class, caste, and professional backgrounds by and large continue to depend on words borrowed from other languages—Sanskrit, Telugu, Persian, Arabic, Hindustani, and English—for the myriad tasks of modernity. This only foregrounds the tragedy of not just the pure Tamil movement but of language purification efforts everywhere in the world. In seeking to cleanse languages, such movements attempt to resist and undo the reality of hybridity that characterize the societies in which they emerge (Vaiyapuri Pillai 1989: 4-12). Not surprisingly, it is this attempt to homogenize and singularize the language to conform to some imaginary pure originary moment that has invited the displeasure of critics. So, V. Ramaswamy, the well-known essayist and founder-editor of the literary journal Maṇikkoṭi, asked: “What is Tamil? paccaittamiḻ is Tamil, so too is vulgar (koccai) Tamil. Marketplace Tamil is Tamil as well. A child’s youthful prattle, too, is Tamil. Even the mixed maṇipravāḷa [Sanskritized] Tamil is Tamil” (quoted in Tirumaran 1992: 280).

But for the taṉittamiḻ devotee, such a suggestion would be sacrilegious, as would be the corollary to this statement: the speakers of all these various forms of the language have the right to call themselves “Tamilians.” Indeed, the taṉittamiḻ movement attempts to transform Tamil speakers not just into subjects of Tamil but into subjects of a particular kind of Tamil—taṉittamiḻ—that is deemed to be its only right and possible form. If Tamil devotionalism aims to ineluctably connect the subjectivity of Tamil speakers to the language, taṉittamiḻ goes further and links this subjectivity to a particularly narrow and rigid definition of Tamil. The taṉittamiḻ project is thus concerned not merely with cleansing the language but also with singularizing and homogenizing the subjectivity of its speakers, for ultimately, it is only the speaker of pure Tamil who is worthy of being called a Tamilian.

“What’s in a Name?”: Rechristening Madras State

From the earliest days of tamiḻppaṟṟu, the territorial space in which Tamil was spoken was referred to as either tamiḻakam, “home of Tamil,” or tamiḻnāṭu, “land/nation of Tamil,” an area that in the colonial period was named “Madras.” Since neither had an overtly political agenda, neo-Shaivism and classicism were not particularly concerned about conducting their devotional activities in a territorial space which both was ruled by a foreign power and was signified by a foreign word. But for Indianism and Dravidianism, with their obvious interest in ensuring the rule of Tamil in all spheres, it was sacrilegious that the very land in which the language was spoken did not officially bear its true Tamil name. Quoting from a primary school textbook, S. B. Adithan (1905-81) wrote indignantly in 1958: “ ‘The nation we inhabit is called India. In it, we inhabit the southern portion that is South India, called Madras State.…’ Here, we do not even see the term ‘Tamil Nadu.’ What is wrong in teaching that the land we inhabit is called ‘Tamil Nadu’? Do they fear that if they use the term ‘Tamil Nadu,’ our impressionable Tamil children will develop attachment to Tamil Nadu?” (Adithanar 1965: 5).

To many a devotee of Tamil, this incongruity became especially inexcusable after 1956 when the multilingual Madras Presidency was dismantled, leaving only the Tamil-speaking region to continue on as Madras state. Prior to this date, adherents of Indianist inclination had been willing to wait till the Indian state had honored the demand for linguistic states, which were created only after a protracted struggle from the late 1930s through the mid-1950s. In turn, in 1938 the Dravidian movement had launched its battle cry, “Tamilnadu for Tamilians,” a cry that by the early 1940s transmuted itself into “Dravidanadu [Dravidian nation] for Dravidians.” For the next decade or so, until they had sorted out the many differences over whether they were fighting for the autonomy of Dravidians of the putative Dravidanadu, or just for the Dravidians of Tamilnadu, the DK and the DMK used both terms, Dravidanadu and Tamilnadu, interchangeably. After the States Reorganization Act of 1956, the dream of a multilingual Dravidanadu was abandoned, and followers of the Dravidian movement joined proponents of Indianism in their demand for renaming the state—with one major difference, of course (Karunanidhi 1989: 316-17, 519-21). For Dravidianism, at least until the early 1960s, the state renaming was linked to a separatist project for creating an independent Tamil nation. The Indianist regime, on the other hand, always steadfastly maintained that the renaming of the state as Tamilnadu was not contrary to the spirit of Indian nationalism. Indeed, it was a celebration of India’s multilingual plurality.

These differences did not deter devotees of rival factions from coming together, with the common cause of ensuring that the state be renamed. In the late 1950s, the two political parties most enthusiastically concerned with this issue were the Nām Tamiḻar (We Tamils) and Sivagnanam’s Tamil Arasu Kazhagam. The We Tamils party was founded in 1958 by a wealthy London trained barrister, S. B. Adithan, the publisher of the popular Tamil daily Tiṉatanti. The party’s principal agenda was the founding of a sovereign Tamilnadu.[34] The many ideological differences he had with Adithan and his own ambivalences over tamiḻppaṟṟu notwithstanding, Ramasami lent his considerable influence to the We Tamils, his vision of a sovereign Dravidanadu having been rendered unfeasible (Anaimuthu 1974: 1878-79; E. V. Ramasami 1961). In 1960, the We Tamils conducted statewide protests for the secession of Madras and the establishment of a sovereign Tamilnadu. The protests were marked by the burning of maps of India (with Tamilnadu left out), and they led to the arrests of Adithan, Ramasami, and numerous others (Sundararajan 1986: 32-35).[35] Soon after, in early 1961, Sivagnanam, an Indianist devotee of Tamil who was ideologically opposed to men like Adithan and Ramasami on many fronts, spearheaded the protests launched by his party, Tamil Arasu Kazhagam, outside government offices and the legislature in Madras, as well as in several other cities all over the state, leading to the arrest of hundreds (Sivagnanam 1974: 851-65).[36]

These protests and arrests themselves followed the tragic death in Virudhunagar of a sixty-year-old Gandhian and lifelong social reformer, Shankaralinga Nadar (1895-1956), on 13 October 1956, after a prolonged fast of seventy-seven days. Foremost among his list of demands was the renaming of Madras state (Sundararajan 1986: 68-76). The Congress government ignored Shankaralingam’s demands, and even the DMK later formally distanced itself from his act.[37] But his sacrifice did not go unnoticed among Tamil’s devout (Karunanidhi 1989: 282, 711; Pancanathan n.d.: 29-31; Sivagnanam 1974: 809-10).[38] Indeed, a decade later when Madras was formally renamed Tamilnadu, Annadurai reminded his fellow members in the Legislative Assembly of Shankaralingam’s martyrdom for the Tamil cause, and in 1970, when Karunanidhi became chief minister, a monthly pension was granted to the dead man’s wife (Karunanidhi 1987b: 225).[39]

Shankaralingam’s death, prior to the 1957 general elections, did not visibly alarm the Congress party, but the protests of 1960-61 led by the We Tamils and the Tamil Arasu Kazhagam did elicit a response, highlighting as they did the growing threat of the Dravidian movement on the very eve of the 1962 elections.[40] In early 1961, the government partially relented and, after a lengthy debate in the legislature, agreed that within Tamilnadu, when communications were conducted in Tamil, the name “Tamil Nad” would henceforth designate Madras state. For communications with other states, the central government, and the rest of the world, especially as these were conducted in English, the state would continue to be referred to as Madras.[41] In consigning the English name, “Madras,” to use in the world outside the Tamil-speaking region, which would henceforth be designated by the Tamil name, “Tamilnadu” (albeit misspelled “Tamil Nad”), the state’s legislation at least conceded the devotional community’s demand that in the intimate sphere of the home and the family, it is Tamil that should reign.

But the respite purchased with this gesture was only temporary, for many of the devout and the rival political parties that backed them continued to keep the pressure on the government. In 1963, the matter was debated at length in the Indian Parliament where, following the submission of a nonofficial bill, Annadurai offered an impassioned defense for unilaterally adopting the name “Tamilnadu” on all fronts.[42] The bill was turned down, on the grounds that the request had to be made officially by the state government. However, in 1964 the Congress government of M. Bhaktavatsalam, already pushed to the wall by the rising wave of anti-Hindi sentiment in the state, once again rejected renewed demands.[43] It was not until the DMK came to power that things changed. One of its very first acts was to pass a resolution in July 1967 confirming the change of name, and on 14 January 1969, Madras state was officially rechristened Tamilnadu.[44] So, after more than a decade of petitioning and debating, and after many centuries of having been a literary and cultural reality, “Tamilnadu” became a political reality as well. When Annadurai “raised his voice to say ‘Hail, Tamil Nadu,’ every member, including Congressmen followed suit. How could any Tamilian remain unmoved?” (Ramanujam 1971: 26)

Through the maze of petitions and protests, it is clear that the Congress—the “nationalist” party that under colonial rule took pride in contesting English, and that fostered linguistic consciousness in the Madras Presidency as a counter to British power—increasingly pushed itself, and was in turn thrust, into a corner from which it vigorously defended the legitimacy of the colonial inheritance. Its spokesmen insisted that they were in favor of retaining the old colonial name as a matter of expediency; in no way should this be mistaken as an absence of “love” for Tamil on the Congress’s part. “We have foreign monuments and roads and streets named after foreign persons.…We have indeed so much else of the hangover of the past that we cannot take a big broom and sweep them away.”[45] There were several grounds on which this paradoxical defense of the colonial “hangover” was mounted. First, the Congress insisted that in contrast to “Madras,” the name under which “we have lived for centuries,” the name “Tamil Nadu” had no foundation in the literature and history of the region.[46] The Congress persisted in this argument over the years. So, in May 1963, T. S. Pattabhiraman declared in the Rayja Sabha:

There has been Bengal and there must be Kerala historically. But there has been no Tamil Nad historically. It is only the creation of politicians, of political parties of a recent date. There was nothing in existence as a unified Tamil Nad till about five hundred years ago. It was “Pandya Nad” or “Chera Nad” or “Chola Nad.” There has never been historically a “Tamil Nad.” And why do you want to create a new one, when historically it is not justified? It is not justified politically. It is not justified democratically.[47]

Not surprisingly, this argument about the alleged illegitimacy of “Tamil Nadu” and the implicit historical legitimacy of “Madras” provoked angry responses. The most notable of these were Annadurai’s documentation of the deep historicity and antiquity of the term during the parliamentary debate in 1963 and Sivagnanam’s similar effort in the Madras legislature in 1967. “The name Tamilnadu did not appear yesterday or today. We hear of the name from the time of Tolkappiyar 2,500 years ago,” skeptics were told.[48] As its detractors did not fail to point out, the absurdity of the government’s position was apparent from the fact that the ruling party’s regional wing had renamed itself Tamilnadu Congress in the 1920s. Indeed, throughout the debates in both Madras and New Delhi, all parties concerned, including the Congress, liberally used the term “Tamilnadu” when they referred to Madras state. As one critic of the government remarked astutely, “Their very speeches nail down this point. What [we] seek to do is to give de jure recognition to a de facto fact that is there.”[49]

Second, the Congress insisted that the word nāṭu in the compound “Tamilnadu” was inherently dangerous, for it suggested that Tamil speakers might want a separate nation (nāṭu) of their own and did not want to be a part of pārata nāṭu, “India.” Bharati may have referred to the Tamil space as centamiḻnāṭu, “glorious Tamilnadu.” But “that might have been appropriate in song, and for arousing devotion towards one’s nāṭu. Today, however, we are independent and rule ourselves under a parliamentary system.…Is Tamilnadu our nāṭu or is it India that is our nāṭu? How can we say that this is our nāṭu and that too is our nāṭu?[50]

Here, Chief Minister Bhaktavatsalam was deliberately playing upon the multiple meanings that have historically coalesced around the word nāṭu, the most recent of which, of course, was the modern sense of “nation” that Bharati, Kalyanasundaram, and others had popularized from the turn of the century. This was a strategic move on Bhaktavatsalam’s part, for it was bound to remind everyone that the parties demanding the renaming had been only a few years ago also demanding secession from India in the name of a sovereign Tamilnadu. Given that Madras was in the throes, in the early 1960s, of the most violent of anti-Hindi protests, renaming the state Tamilnadu would be tantamount to surrendering to “antinationalist” forces, in the view of the government. Further, such a renaming would also alienate the many non-Tamil-speaking peoples who still lived in the state and considered it their home. Would this mean that they would have to leave the state? “The ‘We Tamil’ Party will say that only Tamilians should reside in Tamil Nad and all others should get out. This will be opening the Pandora’s box.”[51]

Third, and most consistently and steadfastly, the government repeatedly asserted that much was invested in the name “Madras,” for it was the name by which everybody in the world knew the state. “When our eminent people go to America, to Germany, and to France, they are recognized only if they say they are from Madras.” What would happen to the reputation and fame of the state if Tamilians gave up its familiar name and adopted a new name such as “Tamilnadu”? supporters of “Madras” asked repeatedly.[52] Another Congress member pointed out—most injudiciously, under the circumstances—“Just because 42 per cent of the people in India speak Hindi, we do not call it Hindi Nad.”[53] More astutely, in 1964 Bhaktavatsalam reminded everyone that by retaining the colonial word, the government was not declaring its devotion to the English language; instead, it was staking a claim on the very name “Madras,” at a time when there was such danger of losing the city that bore that name to neighboring Andhra Pradesh. It is our way of saying to the Andhras that Madras is “ours,” not “yours,” he declared.[54] Indeed, it is telling that until the very end, even when the renaming resolution was submitted by the DMK in 1967 and every other party supported it unanimously, the Congress representative, Karuthiruman, suggested that perhaps members should consider the hyphenated term “Tamilnadu-Madras state,” which in his view conveyed a desirable union of the English and Tamil names.[55] In effect, the Congress, this most “anticolonial” of political parties in the state, was implicitly declaring that modern Tamil speakers as a political and territorial community could only have a presence in the world by allowing themselves to be mediated through a colonial category.

There are good political reasons why the Congress doggedly refused to accede to the demand for renaming, even though prior to 1947, it had just as vigorously sponsored the cultivation of linguistic consciousness and regional pride to neutralize colonial power. “I do not see any reason why, when we [Indians] are in power, we should not give effect to what had been done when we were not in power,” one of its critics wondered.[56] But the reasons would have been apparent to everyone, as the demand for renaming was most enthusiastically voiced by parties which were clearly in opposition to the Congress, and whose strength was on the rise in the various regions of the nation. That itself was a sign that linguistic and regional pride (as sponsored by these oppositional parties) would challenge the nation (and the Congress party). The establishment of linguistic states, the internecine struggles between them over borders and resources, the switch to regional languages for their administration, and the resistance from various quarters to Hindi all pointed towards the fragmentation that threatened the union of India, as well as Congress power. As one Congress member put it, “It will be opening the Pandora’s Box, once you begin to give recognition for a language as the basis for renaming a state.”[57] Pushed against the wall by the upsurge of linguistic sentiments, the Congress was repeatedly forced to take a stand that went against its own reputation as a defender of linguistic consciousness in the colonial period. So the same party that had vigorously upheld de-Anglicization and vernacularization, and that had renamed the Parliament “Lok Sabha” and India “Bharat,” now held out against the demand for renaming Madras: “they want the names to be changed after the language; just because it was named by the British people, they want to change it.”[58] The (mock) incredulity in this member’s tone betrays the Congress’s realization that the “Pandora’s box” of linguistic pride that it had helped open, as an anticolonial strategy, had to be now tightly reclosed if the union (and Congress power) were to be maintained, even if this led it to mount a defense of English and the colonial inheritance.

Thus the Congress was compelled to make its case on pragmatic grounds: everybody in the world knows us as Madras; why should we risk losing our reputation by changing our name? When there were “so many problems of importance concerning the daily life of the people with which we are trying to grapple,” the demand for renaming was not just inconsequential but even distracting:

It is perhaps necessary to remind ourselves that in this House we are trying to tackle fundamentals. Once we find proper solutions to basic questions affecting our life, the life of the society, its economics, its goals, political and social, the rest will take care of themselves. When we solve our economic problems, when we solve our cultural problems, these changes in names of places and of roads and of persons will adjust themselves to the changing conditions.[59]

The Congress’s materialist pragmatism sharply contrasts with the devotees’ “sentimental” attachment to the name “Tamilnadu.” The government may well have asked, “What is in a name?” but for Tamil’s devotees, and various other supporters of the renaming, this particular name was everything, for it was the one “named after our language.” When asked “What do you gain by renaming [Madras] as Tamil Nadu?” Annadurai replied: “We gain satisfaction sentimentally; we gain the satisfaction that an ancient name is inculcated in the hearts of millions and scores of millions of people. Is that not enough compensation for the small trouble of changing the name?” By renaming Madras as Tamilnadu, “something is changed in our thinking, in our soul, in our fiber,” he concluded.[60] Similarly, a few years later, Sivagnanam declared, “Nobody has a right to refer to me by someone else’s name.…I should be referred to by the name of my language, my ethnicity, and my land.”[61] For its devotees, the very “fundamentals” of life and livelihood were invested in Tamil. The honor shown their language by renaming their state after it was far from an incidental matter that would follow after the “basic questions affecting life” had been tended to. For Tamil, as they had repeatedly asserted, was life itself.

Enthronement of Tamil: Dilemmas of Rule

In December 1956, on the very eve of the 1957 general elections, the Madras legislature passed a bill instituting Tamil as the official language of the state (āṭci moḻi; lit., “language of rule”). The implications of the bill were potentially momentous for the course of tamiḻppaṟṟu, for it was declared that progressively over the next few years, all the official proceedings of the Madras government, so far dominated by English, would be entirely conducted in Tamil. Certain important caveats notwithstanding (such as the continued use of English in courts, especially at the higher levels), the bill seemed to fulfill a long cherished dream of the entire devotional community: namely, Tamil ought to reign, once again, in its own land. As one member, R. Krishnaswami Naidu, enthusiastically declared in the Legislative Assembly, “All our troubles have now ceased as Tamiḻttāy reclines in royal style on her auspicious throne.” Another member echoed this sentiment, proclaiming that “from now on, we will progress and advance.”[62]

Embedded in these as well as in many other declarations made in the legislature in the 1950s and 1960s was the implicit recognition that until the state intervened in Tamil improvement activities that had hitherto been conducted largely by the devotional community, the language and its speakers would not really prosper. As Gajapathy Nayakar, a Tamil scholar who was also a member of the Legislative Council, declared, resorting to the logic of gender endemic to tamiḻppaṟṟu: “It is only when a man marries a woman that family life can be conducted. In the same manner, we should think of the state as man, and the language as woman. It is only out of their union that proper rule will ensue.”[63]

And yet, over the next few years the state itself repeatedly admitted its inability to ensure the rule of Tamil in its own land and in the community of its speakers. Only a few years after he presented the Tamil as Official Language Bill with such enthusiasm in 1956, C. Subramaniam was compelled to confess: “As a first task, we restored her rightful throne back to Tamiḻttāy. We did this believing that if our Tamiḻttāy were enthroned, we would be filled with happiness, and that happiness would give us the enthusiasm to attend to our other tasks. However, even though we have now installed Tamil as our lofty language of rule, we have been unable to implement it” (C. Subramaniam 1962: 24). What accounts for the state’s helplessness in Tamilizing itself, and what does this state of helplessness imply about the cause of tamiḻppaṟṟu?

Here, it is instructive to consider the debate on the bill in the legislature in December 1956, for this itself anticipated many of the problems the state faced over the next few decades in implementing its provisions. First, this was one of the rare occasions in which the figure of Tamiḻttāy entered arenas of government and found a presence in official discourse.[64] It is telling that Subramaniam, the education minister, offered the bill as a ritual tribute to Tamiḻttāy, declaring that members should set aside their political differences and join in her “enthronement ceremony” (muṭicūṭṭuviḻā).[65] He was not alone in invoking her name, and the speeches made by other members were liberally sprinkled with references to the “liberation” of Tamiḻttāy and her “enthronement.” Both metaphors clearly suggested that Tamiḻttāy, the former queen of the Tamil kingdom who had been displaced from her throne by rival languages and had been reduced to the status of a lowly maid (paṇippeṇ), had now been restored to her rightful place in the hierarchy of power and command. In enabling her reinstatement, not only did the legislators fulfill their own “debt” (kaṭaṉ) as her subjects/children, but they also signaled their intention to ensure that despite the continued presence of other languages (English and Hindi, most notably) in the Tamil home/kingdom, Tamil would reign supreme. It would rule as the language of power, while the others would merely be languages of communication with the rest of India and the world.

The Official Language Act might well be the fruit of the decades of hard work put in towards Tamil’s liberation by its devotees, as Subramaniam graciously acknowledged in his opening remarks.[66] All the same, the act would be the instrument with which the importance of Tamil would be impressed upon recalcitrant sections of the society, through the agency of the state. Ironically, therefore, at what ought to have been a moment of great triumph for its devotees, the act clearly represented the realization that love or passion for Tamil would not ensure that it prosper as much as would material and pragmatic considerations. Jobs and the exercise of power were now dependent on knowing and using the language: “If Tamil comes in as language of rule, and if we insist that it is the language everyone has to learn in colleges, how many will want to read Shakespeare and Milton?…Desire for the Canḳam poems will bloom. Tamil, too, will flourish.”[67] Political power and material needs perhaps would secure for Tamil what love and passion had so far not accomplished.

Second, from the start, the state openly acknowledged that for the time being, the enthronement of Tamil was more symbolic than real. It was all well and good to “love” Tamil, but logistically, the rule of Tamil would take time, enthusiasm, and resources to implement. “If we decide suddenly that everything has to be in Tamil, that will only give rise to confusion,” Subramaniam informed legislators in December 1956.[68] L. Raghava Mudaliar warned his fellow legislators that devotion to the language (moḻippaṟṟu) should not lead them to a hasty implementation of an āṭci moḻi, “official language,” that would be incomprehensible to the very people for whose benefit it was being created.[69] It was therefore decided that the official language policy would at first be implemented, starting in 1958-59, in eight departments of government. By 1962, this was abandoned in favor of implementation in four phases (Kumaramangalam 1965: 68-73). It was acknowledged that it would be easiest to switch to Tamil as āṭci moḻi at the lowest rungs of the district administration where English had hardly penetrated. It would be most difficult to ensure the use of Tamil at the highest levels of government, in the state secretariat at Madras, and this was scheduled for only the fourth phase. It is telling that no time limit was explicitly stipulated for the unilateral use of Tamil in all spheres.[70]

Indeed, the state’s troubles over the next few years show clearly that it took the plunge before it was ready. Subramaniam himself compared his government’s dilemma to that of someone who did not know how to swim but realized that he could only learn by throwing himself into the water.[71] This analogy is quite revealing, for the list of tasks to be accomplished before Tamil could actually become āṭci moḻi was formidable, ranging from the technological to the ideological. For instance, Tamil could not really be used for bureaucratic communication until government offices were stocked with Tamil typewriters.[72] This in turn depended on the standardization of the keyboard, on which there was much disagreement from the start. Further, typists had to learn to use these Tamil keyboards, and a network of training institutes, as well as economic incentives for those who underwent the training, had to be set up. The absence of skills in Tamil shorthand was also a glaring problem.

Another key requirement, of course, was the creation of a glossary of Tamil administrative terms. Here, in addition to the ongoing debate between purists and nonpurists on the relative “Tamilness” of these terms, there was the more demanding task of overcoming years of bureaucratic dependence on English, especially in higher circles of the government, and instilling in its place the new habit of using Tamil. Further, once the glossary was created, various laws and statutes had to be translated into Tamil. In certain areas, such as legal procedures, there was doubt from the very beginning whether Tamil was even capable of expressing “with precision” the language of the courts.[73] Finally, all these measures depended on the existence of a pool of government officers and clerical staff who were equipped to use Tamil in administrative contexts. Many legislators pointed out the obvious paradox of bringing in Tamil as language of rule, even before institutionalizing its use in school and college education.[74] But here, as late as 1963, Chief Minister Bhaktavatsalam dismissed demands for Tamil as principal medium of instruction in colleges as “not a practical proposition,…not…in the interests of national integration, not in the interests of higher education, and not in the interests of the students themselves” (quoted in Kumaramangalam 1965: 62-63). Even a casual survey of government records in the 1950s and 1960s shows that this brief treatment only touches upon the surface of the numerous dilemmas faced by the state in implementing the bill that was passed so confidently in December 1956.

So, why did the state take the plunge well-before it was remotely ready to govern in Tamil? One obvious reason is that it gave in to the continual demand for bringing in such legislation, voiced since at least the 1920s not just by Tamil’s devotees but also by Congress nationalists. In 1948, two districts had been selected for a trial run; the relative lack of success of this experiment did not deter supporters of Tamil from continuing to push their cause.[75] Up until 1956, the reality of Madras’s multilinguality prevented any easy abandonment of English. Indeed, over the years from the 1920s, there had been repeated demands from various legislators that the “regional language” (which invariably meant Tamil) ought to be the language of the legislature, since a growing number of members of that august body did not know English (Sundaresan 1986). A. Ramalingam declared in March 1939, “I do not understand [anything] if English is spoken in this Assembly. I only understand Tamil. Our land is Tamilnadu. We ought to speak in Tamil.”[76] Such a demand, not to mention the continual overwriting of “Madras Presidency” as “Tamilnadu,” only caused anxiety and hostility among non-Tamil-speaking legislators, which in turn mirrored the confusion that would prevail if Tamil indeed became the language of rule in a multilingual province.[77] By late 1956, however, after the linguistic states became a political reality, the Congress government in Madras was hard pressed to defend itself successfully from the criticisms increasingly leveled against it by opposition parties for being soft on Tamil issues. Although the government resisted this accusation, there were many who pointed out that the Congress rushed through the legislation on Tamil as official language as a preelection gesture. I would also suggest that whenever the state had passed such a bill, it would have faced similar problems. For there was growing consensus that mandating the use of Tamil through legislation was the only way to ensure the Tamilization of the administration and bureaucracy. The limits of tamiḻppaṟṟu as well as of community-spurred improvement activities are clearly revealed in this realization.

Third, the state’s 1956 legislation also showed up the category of “mother tongue” for what it was: a metaphorical construct. The demand for Tamil as the language of rule drew its power from Indianist and Dravidianist assertions that the language of the people—of their homes and their mothers—ought to be the language of government. Yet there was dawning awareness that just because a language had been imbibed through one’s mother’s milk, or learned at her knee, one did not necessarily “know” the language sufficiently to administer a modern state with it. Indeed, the technologies and complexities of modern government inevitably inserted a gap between the āṭci moḻi, “official language,” and the tāymoḻi, “the mother tongue,” although they might both be named “Tamil.” So, for much of the decade following 1956, legislators and planners argued the pros and cons of ensuring that the āṭci moḻi stay as close as possible to the tāymoḻi. There were purists among the legislators (many of whom, like V. V. Ramasami and Muthukannappan, were Tamil scholars and devotees) who demanded the complete erasure of all Sanskritic and English words from the language of rule, insisting that there was little reason to ponder at length over the creation of new administrative terms, for these had existed from time immemorial since the days of the Tirukkuṟaḷ and the Cilappatikāram.[78] Those who countered this demand maintained that an āṭci moḻi based on old Tamil would be totally incomprehensible to the people. An insistence on “pure” Tamil words was not an expression of tamiḻppaṟṟu but of tamiḻveṟi, “Tamil fanaticism,” one legislator insisted.[79]

The Congress government itself adopted an anti-English and pro-Sanskrit stance. Only the elimination of English words was set up as part of the government’s strategy for creating the āṭci moḻi, on the grounds that Sanskritic words were comprehensible to the people, and hence were “Tamil,” after all. And even in this respect, the government was quite flexible, appropriating as “Tamil” all those English words (such as “revenue” or “police”) that had become naturalized in popular parlance.[80] Here, the government’s position was similar to that of liberals who maintained that English words like “collector” or “radio” were so much part of the vocabulary of the Tamil speaker that these, too, were Tamil, and ought not to be eliminated in favor of some unfamiliar and panditic neologism. One cannot legislate into existence a totally new language, it was asserted.[81] In contrast to Tamil’s devotees, who insisted that their language was their life and soul, some legislators like Allapichai declared (in English): “Language is only a vehicle of expression that we speak in.…[I]t is only a vehicle of thought to express oneself better. Such being the case, there is no meaning whatsoever in insisting upon people to speak only in Tamil.”[82] Insisting that it was unfair to dismiss those who wished to speak English or Sanskritized Tamil or English-inflected Tamil as disloyal Tamilians, some legislators reiterated that the institution of Tamil as official language did not necessarily mean the elimination of other tongues from Tamilnadu. On the contrary, Tamil would benefit by drawing upon all languages to enrich itself (C. Subramaniam 1962: 19-20).

Thus in the debate on the āṭcimoḻi, there was an important reversal of the relationship between the language and its speaker. The devotional community had defined a Tamilian as one whose “mother tongue” was Tamil. Language defined the speaker, as the latter was rendered a subject of Tamil through tamiḻppaṟṟu. In contrast, when the state stepped in to institute the “mother tongue” as language of rule, it became clear that the speaker defined the language: “Tamil” was whatever the Tamilian spoke, be it shot through with English, Sanskrit, or any other language. Language was thus defined by the speaker: “The Tamil that the people understand is good Tamil,” in Subramaniam’s words.[83] The subjection of the speaker to the language in the discourses of Tamil devotion was thus unsettled by the work of the state.

Finally, the debate on the institution of Tamil as official language and the subsequent attempts to implement it show that in spite of having been grandly (re)installed as “queen” of the Tamil state in 1956, Tamiḻttāy was not really sovereign in her own kingdom. As late as 1970, the government was compelled to confess that “in no department is business conducted 100 percent in Tamil,”[84] and its devotees insist that this is true even today. Most immediately, it is the continued dependence by the state on English that limits Tamil’s sovereignty. The devotional community, including adherents of Indianism, the most anti-English of its regimes, conceded that English was necessary for the development of the sciences, for keeping up with the rest of India, and for the continued participation of the Tamilian in an international world. For its devotees, however, Tamil ought to reign supreme within the Tamil home and homeland. But the government repeatedly confessed in the 1950s and 1960s that even within the Tamil homeland, the “use of English will be unavoidable” and “that we are not able to give up English.”[85] Ironically, the speeches made by numerous legislators in December 1956, when the “Tamil as Official Language Bill” was offered as a “ritual tribute” to Tamiḻttāy, were replete with Sanskritized Tamil and English words. Over the next few years as well, Tamil speeches delivered in the legislature continued to be dominated by Sanskrit and English, and several Tamil scholars-cum-legislators periodically submitted resolutions calling attention to the fact that in the state’s highest governing body, Tamil still did not reign. As one of them lamented, expressing his dismay in gendered terms, “Tamil is the mother, English is the companion (tōḻi). The mother needs the help of the companion. But the companion has displaced the mother and even become the lover [of the Tamilian], with whom she romps around, hand in hand.”[86] And in the years following 1956, English continued to rule the roost, drawing strength from arguments that Tamil was not precise enough, that it was not neat and clear enough to be used for writing government notes, that complicated scientific and technical terminology could just not possibly be expressed through it, and so on.

But it is not English alone that troubles Tamil. As long as Tamilnadu is part of the Indian union, Hindi also continues to erode Tamil’s absolute sovereignty. As the official language of the nation, Hindi vies with Tamil even within its own homeland on money order and telegraph forms, on postage stamps and currency notes, as well as in military, railway, and other central government institutions that are based in the land of Tamil. Hindi has continued to be taught in schools affiliated to the central government’s education board and in schools run by minorities even after 1968 when the state government legislated out the language from its schools; and it has taken up the lion’s share of nationalized television broadcasts until recently. Further, it is knowledge of Hindi (and/or English), rather than of Tamil, that provides access to lucrative central government employment. Indeed, critics like Mohan Kumaramangalam argued in 1965 that “instead of the regional language becoming more and more dominant, the tendency in the non-Hindi areas [like Tamilnadu] was already beginning to slip back towards English, almost as if it were in defence against the advance of Hindi” (Kumaramangalam 1965: 51). In Kumaramangalam’s reckoning, a fundamental inequity had been written into the constitutional position of Indian languages through the privileging of Hindi. In the triangular battle between Hindi, English, and Tamil, it is the latter that has suffered the gravest injuries and is facing a slow death.

Kumaramangalam’s critique did not raise the possibility that Tamil might never be sovereign as long as Tamil speakers participated in the Indian union. But other critics did openly make this argument. Adithan, the founder of the We Tamils movement, wrote in his Tamiḻp Pēraracu (The Tamil empire) that not until Tamilnadu overthrew the “imperialism” of Delhi and Hindi could Tamil truly become a sovereign language of rule (Adithanar 1965: 26-30). And the parties of the Dravidian movement used such an argument through much of the 1950s and 1960s both to empower themselves and eventually to rise to power in 1967 by battling the “demoness Hindi.”

Battling the Demoness Hindi

On 23 January 1968, the Madras government decreed that the central government’s three-language formula would no longer be in effect in schools under its jurisdiction; henceforth, students were not required to study Hindi. As of that date, Hindi, the putative official language of India, was deprived of pedagogical and political privilege in the state. This legislation followed the resumption of anti-Hindi protests in December 1967 that involved considerable loss of lives and property. These protests were launched in response to the Official Languages Amendment Bill passed by the Indian Parliament on 16 December, which strengthened the position of Hindi relative to English and overturned an earlier resolution specifically stating that a compulsory knowledge of Hindi was not mandatory for central government employment. Perceiving a direct threat to their fortunes and futures, college students in Tamilnadu mounted fierce anti-Hindi demonstrations all over the state, the more radical among them demanding immediate secession from the nation. These protests were not just directed at the central government but also threatened the very stability of the newly elected DMK government in the state. The DMK may have promised to protect Tamil from Hindi and risen to power on the strength of its anti-Hindi leadership. Nonetheless, if the protests had not been so ferocious, it might not have been compelled to legislate against Hindi in Tamilnadu (Barnett 1976: 240-49; Ramanujam 1971: 28-40).

In successfully passing the anti-Hindi legislation, the DMK did reinforce its image as Tamil’s guardian. All the same, the circumstances under which Hindi was legislated against suggest that the state had, once again, succumbed reluctantly to Tamilizing itself. Indeed, even earlier, from the 1930s through the 1950s, the Congress-led state government had often been compelled by local pressures to take a position in opposition to the dictates of the party’s high command in New Delhi. Soon after independence, when the central government urged all states to promote the compulsory study of Hindi in preparation for its installation as the sole official language of the union in 1965, a vigorous series of protests in 1948-49 led the Madras government to make it an optional subject. Through the 1950s, the Madras government kept the pressure on the central government to retain English alongside Hindi as official language, its education minister P. Subbarayan even appending a lengthy dissenting note to the report of the Official Language Commission in 1956 (Subbarayan 1956). Caught between the central government’s demands and pressures at home, the Madras state’s Hindi policy from the 1930s through 1968 was dogged by contradictions, retractions, and ultimately failure.

The 1968 anti-Hindi legislation followed a half century of intense opposition to the language. The specific occasion which sparked off the first wave of protests was an April 1938 order by the Congress government of C. Rajagopalachari ordering the compulsory study of Hindi in 125 secondary schools in the Madras Presidency.[87] The government justified its action thus:

The attainment by our Province of its rightful place in the national life of India requires that our educated youth should possess a working knowledge of the most widely spoken language in India. Government have therefore decided upon the introduction of Hindustani in the secondary school curriculum of our province. Government desire to make it clear that Hindi is not to be introduced in any elementary school whatsoever, the mother tongue being the only language taught in such schools. Hindi is to be introduced only in secondary schools and there too only in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd forms, that is to say in the 6th, 7th and 8th years of school life. It will not therefore interfere in any way with the teaching of the mother tongue in the secondary schools.…Hindi will be compulsory only in the sense that attendance in such classes will be compulsory and pupils cannot take Hindi as a substitute for Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam or Kannada, but must learn Hindi only in addition to one of these languages.[88]

Despite the government’s insistence that the “mother tongue” was in no way endangered by the Hindi policy, this is exactly how it was interpreted by many devotees of Tamil. Between late 1937 and early 1940, they spearheaded numerous anti-Hindi demonstrations which led to the incarceration of close to 1,200 and to the death of two young men. Although this particular order was withdrawn in February 1940, the Congress continued to promote Hindi in Madras schools into the 1950s, even in the face of mounting resistance. Throughout this period, the anti-Hindi cause was clearly linked to the DK and DMK’s separatist demand for a sovereign Dravidian or Tamil nation. No longer content with protest marches and making speeches, protesters tarred Hindi names on official name boards, picketed stores run by North Indians, burned facsimiles of the Indian map and the Constitution (itself characterized as the material manifestation of Hindi imperialism), obstructed train services, and so on. Following the 1963 constitutional amendment that banned political parties with separatist agendas, overt demands for secession were muted in Madras, although not entirely absent. Instead, the focus was on reversing the provisions of the Constitution which decreed that on 26 January 1965, English would be replaced by Hindi as the sole official language of India. In the most dramatic phase of the anti-Hindi movement, launched in 1963, hundreds were arrested; schools and colleges were closed as thousands of students all over the state took to protest marches; several hundred students went on hunger fasts; and the effigy of the “demoness” Hindi, as well as Hindi books, was burned. There was extensive damage to government and private property; and many lives were lost.[89] Not least, it was at this time that tamiḻppaṟṟu acquired its most celebrated martyrs with the self-immolation of Chinnasami and others.

In numerous respects, these waves of anti-Hindi protests have critically shaped the contours of party politics in modern Tamilnadu, arguably more so than the anticolonial agitations against the British. A steady stream of anti-Hindi demonology from the 1930s clearly identified and vilified the putative enemies of Tamil. These included Hindi-speaking North Indians/Aryans, Tamil Brahmans, and the state government in the clutches of these Brahmans. But above all, this demonology discredited the Tamilnadu Congress party, despite numerous differences within its own ranks on the Hindi issue. Over the decades, the party found it difficult to shake loose the reputation it acquired as the “enemy” and “slayer” of Tamiḻttāy, as a front for Brahman and Bania (North Indian merchant) interests, and as a stooge in the hands of “Hindi imperialists” of the North. Caught between coping with the dictates of its high command in New Delhi and stemming the growing popularity of the Dravidian movement in Madras, the Tamilnadu Congress became a victim of its attempts to broker Tamil interests in the national arena. By the same token, all of the party’s rivals—the Justice Party, the DK, the DMK, the Tamil Arasu Kazhagam, the We Tamils, and others—were able to promote themselves as protectors of Tamil and as true representatives of Tamil interests, precisely by opposing the Congress’s Hindi policy. These parties spearheaded the Hindi protests in the state, providing popular and organizational ballast to tamiḻppaṟṟu’s arguments against the language even as they reaped rich political rewards in the process. To this day, one of the surest ways to gain political and electoral support in Tamilnadu is to raise the anti-Hindi standard, and it is telling that since 1967, the Congress has never returned to power in the state.

All the same, growing numbers of Tamil speakers have in recent years taken to studying the language, and Hindi propagation societies are doing a thriving business in Tamilnadu today.[90] Indeed, except for a brief few months when the angry sentiments against the language spilled over into antagonism towards Hindi movies and songs, the latter have a popularity in Tamilnadu quite incommensurate with Hindi’s pedagogical and political status in the state. It would be a mistake, therefore, to assume there has been no popular support for Hindi in Tamilnadu. Well before the state took up its cause in the late 1930s, various civic organizations began promoting Hindi in the Presidency. While the need for a common language other than English was voiced in Madras newspapers by the turn of this century, with both Hindi/Hindustani and Sanskrit being proffered as early candidates, concerted efforts to spread Hindi date to the founding of the Dakshin Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha (Institution for the Propagation of Hindi in South India) in 1918 by Gandhi. The Sabha ran schools, trained teachers, conducted examinations, and awarded numerous diplomas of proficiency, though well into the 1930s the Tamil-speaking area lagged behind others in the Presidency in its enthusiasm for Hindi (Nambi Arooran 1980: 186-91). The Sabha’s endeavors received a boost when the Indian National Congress decreed in 1925 that all its proceedings, hitherto carried out in English, “shall be conducted as far as possible in Hindustani” and provided funds for the promotion of the language (Nayar 1969: 59-60). Through the 1920s and 1930s, the Sabha, as well as other organizations such as the Hindustani Seva Dal and the Hindustani Hitashi Mandal, petitioned the state to join in the promotion of Hindi in the Presidency and succeeded in convincing many Congress-led local governments to introduce the compulsory study of Hindi in schools in the 1930s (Irschick 1986: 212-14; Nambi Arooran 1980: 188-94). So Rajagopalachari’s decision to make the study of Hindi mandatory was not a total innovation. Nevertheless, the extension of state patronage to what had hitherto largely been a civic and Congress party activity completely changed the stakes in the Hindi game, especially in the face of complaints of Tamil’s devotees that the state was not doing much to promote the study of Tamil.

All the same, it would also be a mistake to argue, as the Congress did, that popular hostility towards Hindi was an illusion. For example, Rajagopalachari declared in 1938 that the opposition to Hindi did not stem from devotion to Tamil but was mounted by those “cursed with the prejudices of anti-Aryanism” and “with the hatred of Congress” (Nambi Arooran 1980: 195). Through the 1950s and early 1960s, other Congress leaders continued to insist that the DK and the DMK had duped the hapless Tamil masses by stirring up anti-Hindi sentiments in order to garner power for themselves. Yet, ironically, if there is one effort that succeeded—more so than any other undertaken by Tamil’s devotees and pro-Tamil politicians—in making tamiḻppaṟṟu visible among a general populace, it was the Hindi policy of the central and state governments. As I have already noted, the anti-Hindi movement took Tamil devotional ideas out of the narrow elite and literary circles in which they had hitherto circulated. For the first time in the 1930s, the idea that Tamil might be endangered caught on among those who were not necessarily its ardent devotees; consequently, the hitherto scholarly, elite male ranks of Tamil’s devotees swelled over the years with the addition of the street poet, the petty shopkeeper, the small time pamphleteer, the college going student, and the woman. By the 1960s, even the English-speaking middle class, which had hitherto stayed out of both Tamil devotional activities and the anti-Hindi movement, was galvanized (Barnett 1976; Rocher 1963).

Equally ironically, it is the battle against Hindi, rather than any sustained activity on behalf of Tamil, which spurred the devotional community to unite in harmony, setting aside differences and dissensions. Regardless of their disagreements over the meaning of Tamil, proponents of neo-Shaivism, contestatory classicism, and Dravidianism came together in response to the threat posed by Hindi by the late 1930s. Devotees of Indianist persuasion still kept their distance from this emerging consensus, but this was to change by the late 1940s, as is apparent from the attendance at a large anti-Hindi conference held in Madras city in July 1948. Convened under the aegis of the Dravidian movement, the conference featured devotees like Bharatidasan, Annadurai, Maraimalai Adigal, Kalyanasundaram, and Sivagnanam, all-speaking on the same platform against Hindi.[91] The presence of Bharatidasan, Annadurai, and Maraimalai Adigal was not unusual, since they had been writing and-speaking passionately against the government’s Hindi policy for more than a decade. But Kalyanasundaram and Sivagnanam had built their literary and political reputations as Congress nationalists in the 1920s and 1930s, during which time they had both supported the cause of Hindi. Sivagnanam (1974: 268) recalls attending Hindi classes when he was in prison in the 1940s, although he confesses that he never did become proficient in the language. Similarly, in 1925 so concerned was Kalyanasundaram with the slow progress of Hindi in the Presidency that he called upon Tamil youth to join the Hindustani Seva Dal and help in its dissemination (Nambi Arooran 1980: 189). A native of Tiruvarur, Kalyanasundaram grew up in a poor family in Madras city where, after finishing the tenth grade, he clerked for a while and taught Tamil in local schools from 1910. At great cost to his own material welfare, he became involved in nationalist politics beginning in 1917, and he was a member of the Tamilnadu Congress as well as the Madras Presidency Association, the party formed by “non-Brahman” nationalists to counter the Justice Party. A devout Gandhian and reformed Shaivite, Kalyanasundaram was the editor of key nationalist newspapers like Tēcapaktaṉ (1917-20) and Navacakti (1920-40) through which he popularized a style of writing Tamil, especially for use in politics, that was simple but refined; it was free of foreign words, both English and Sanskrit. Kalyanasundaram’s tamiḻppaṟṟu in those early decades was clearly Indianist; although he was a close friend of both Maraimalai Adigal and E. V. Ramasami, his devotion to Tamil did not lead him into antagonism towards Sanskrit or Hindi. Neither was he anti-Brahman nor a supporter of the Dravidianist separatist agenda. Yet by the 1940s, Kalyanasundaram was certainly marching to a different tune. To the delight of many a Dravidianist, he came out publicly in support of the Dravidian movement and its demand for a separate Tamilnadu, declaring that in this lay the hope for a truly socialist community (Kalyanasundaranar 1949).[92] By the 1930s, Kalyanasundaram had already become disillusioned with the Congress and its promotion of upper-caste, upper-class interests. This led him to increasing involvement in the labor movement, a cause he had adopted as early as 1918 (Kalyanasundaranar 1982). The Congress’s aggressive pursuit of the Hindi policy only convinced him that not only was that party inimical to Tamil interests but so too was the language that it promoted with such enthusiasm. Thus in 1948, the same Kalyanasundaram who had worked to popularize Hindi in the 1920s dismissed it now as a language that was impoverished and that promoted the subservience of women and “Shudras.” “Tamil,” he declared, “has the capacity to change a monkey into a man; Hindi, on the other hand, can make monkeys out of men.”[93]

While the battle against Hindi diluted the Indianist passions of devotees like Kalyanasundaram, Sivagnanam, Suddhananda Bharati, and others, it also drew into the fray Tamil schoolteachers and scholars who, for the first time, took to the streets, courted arrest, and served prison sentences. Prior to the 1930s, few Tamil scholars had been driven to political activism by their passion for Tamil. The anti-Hindi movement changed this, however. Although Maraimalai Adigal himself did not go to prison, two of his daughters-in-law and his son, Tirunavukarasu, joined the picket lines in Madras and served prison sentences in 1938-39.[94] Not surprisingly, when scholars and teachers like Somasundara Bharati, K. Appadurai, Mudiyarasan, and Ilakuvan took part in protest meetings, or courted arrest or were sent off to prison, they received much publicity in the opposition press, for this clearly disproved the government’s claim that the anti-Hindi movement was the mischief wrought by politicians and their uneducated “rabble” followers.

The anti-Hindi movement also made Muslim participation in Tamil devotional activities more visible (Abdul Karim 1982: 250-61; More 1993). From the turn of this century, devotees who were Muslims by faith wrote eulogistic essays and verses on Tamil, an early example being Abdul Kadir Rowther’s long poem in praise of the various Tamil academies of Madurai (Rowther 1907). Rowther himself was one of three Muslim poets who were members of the Madurai Tamil Sangam in its first years, and he won the admiration of his fellow devout for “his deep devotion to Tamil, his unbounded sympathy for every thing Tamil” (Rowther 1907: 1). P. Dawood Sha, another Tamil enthusiast, who received a gold medal from the Madurai Tamil Sangam, was editor in the 1920s of the journal Dar ul Islam, which promoted pure Tamil and criticized Muslim theologians for their poor command of the language (More 1993: 88). Also of particular interest is an essay published in the nationalist journal Āṉantapōtiṉi by A. Mohamed Ibrahim of Papanasam, in which the author praised Tamil and Tamiḻttāy by invoking the various premodern Shaiva hymns on the language (Ibrahim 1920). Later in the century, the poet K. M. Sharif (1914-94) received much praise for many of his verses on Tamil, and for his passionate editorials in the 1940s and 1950s in journals like Tamiḻ Muḻakkam and Cāṭṭai. In these editorials, Sharif, a member for a while of Sivagnanam’s Tamil Arasu Kazhagam, promoted many of the latter’s causes: the use of Tamil in schools and government, the creation of a Tamilnadu whose borders conformed to those described in the ancient Canḳam poems, the glories of ancient Tamil culture, and so on (Sharif 1990, 1992).

In a recent essay, J. B. P. More traces the growing collaboration during the 1920s and 1930s between the Tamil-speaking Muslim leadership of the Madras Presidency and Ramasami’s Self-Respect movement. This collaboration was based on the latter’s rejection of Hinduism and Brahmanism, its support of lower caste conversion to Islam, and its vision of a Dravidian society which would honor Muslims. In turn, the Tamil Muslim leadership drew upon the support of the Dravidian movement in its own efforts to counter the domination of a Urdu-speaking Muslim elite in the Presidency. Whereas many among the latter supported Hindustani on the grounds that “the language is one [although] the scripts are two,” Tamil-speaking Muslim leaders joined forces with the Dravidian movement in opposing Hindi. So one of them, Khalifullah, declared in the Legislative Assembly: “I may at once say that I am a Rowther myself; my mother tongue is Tamil and not Urdu. I am not ashamed of it; I am proud of it” (quoted in More 1993: 98). More documents the extensive participation of Tamil-speaking Muslims in various anti-Hindi protests and rallies in different cities and towns of the Presidency, and he rightly notes that it was “the language agitation which finally led Tamil Muslims to affirm their distinct Tamil identity,” even at the cost of parting ways with their putative coreligionists who nonetheless spoke a different tongue, Urdu (1993: 102). Instead, they chose to join forces with Tamil-speaking “non-Brahmans” and “fellow” Dravidians. Clearly, in this case language bonds and ethnic ties triumphed over religious affinity.

Further, it was in the context of these anti-Hindi protests that various new technologies for demonstrating and disseminating tamiḻppaṟṟu were deployed, beyond the elite literary journal and the scholarly publication. These included subversive acts, such as writing on Hindi exams slogans like “Down with Hindi” and “Long Live Tamil” (Nayar 1969: 199); the public and dramatic burning of facsimiles of the Constitution or the map of India; the tarring over of Hindi names and the Devanagari script on official billboards; and the self-immolations and suicides of young men. In the early years, as the Congress itself took delight in reminding everyone, the protesters appropriated many of the strategies that Indian nationalists had developed in their anticolonial struggles against the British: the peaceful picketing of schools where Hindi was taught and of government buildings and official residences, black flag demonstrations, and public processions and meetings. The Gandhian strategy of fasting was also appropriated, although with not much success or support, as we will see. In big cities and small towns alike, hundreds of anti-Hindi protest meetings were held, frequently attracting thousands. Such meetings often opened and closed with the singing of a pro-Tamil song or hymn and concluded with the staging of plays that propagated the message(s) of Tamil devotion and the Dravidian movement.

As popular as public meetings were protest marches, sometimes drawing thousands, marked by the reciting of slogans and the singing of pro-Tamil and anti-Hindi songs and ditties. Protesters walked through city streets carrying the Tamil banner (which bore the symbols of the fish, the bow, and the tiger for the ancient Tamil dynasties of the Chera, the Pandya, and the Chola); they would also carry colorful placards emblazoned with anti-Hindi and pro-Tamil slogans; and they distributed handbills publicizing the evils of Hindi and the wonders of Tamil. The most spectacular of these protest marches was the one undertaken by the tamiḻar paṭai, the “Tamilian Brigade,” in August-September 1938. Jointly organized by the Self-Respect movement and the Muslim League, the brigade of a hundred or so young men set out from Tiruchirapalli on 1 August, under the stewardship of Kumaraswami Pillai and Ramamirtham Ammal. During the next forty-two days, members of the brigade walked through 234 villages and 60 towns; and they addressed eighty-seven public meetings attended by at least half a million. Opposition newspapers carried daily news of the brigade’s progress and noted the “rousing reception” it received in various towns and villages of the Presidency on its six-hundred-mile trek. In September 1938 it finally reached Madras, where many of its members joined the picketing activities in the city and were arrested. Not the least of the consequences of the march of the anti-Hindi brigade (which, contemporaries did not fail to note, resembled Gandhi’s famous march to Dandi, and Rajagopalachari’s to Vedaranyam in 1930) was the formation in smaller towns and villages of similar brigades, which took up the cause of spreading the anti-Hindi and pro-Tamil message (Ilanceliyan 1986: 114-23; Visswanathan 1983: 211-13).

The battle against Hindi also spurred the proliferation of numerous populist organizations devoted to protect Tamil from the new threat. So, at the organizational level as well, tamiḻppaṟṟu came to be transformed during these years, as populist associations such as Tamiḻ Vaḷar Nilayam (Academy for Tamil Development), Tamiḻar Kaḻakam (Society of Tamilians), and Tamiḻar Nalvāḻvu Kaḻakam (Society for Tamilian Welfare) joined the ranks of more elite literary societies such as the Madurai Tamil Sangam, Karanthai Tamil Sangam, and the like. The founding charters of many of these organizations declared the need to cherish Tamiḻttāy and the mother tongue, to protect the Tamil people, and to oppose Hindi. The Tamiḻp Pātukāppuk Kaḻakam (Society for the Protection of Tamil), founded in Tirunelveli in 1937 by devotees associated with both the Shaiva Siddhanta Kazhagam and the Karanthai Tamil Sangam, issued a circular asking Tamil speakers to Tamilize their personal names and the names of their homes and workplaces, of streets and towns, of eating places, and so on. The circular ended with the words, “Do service to Tamil and secure freedom” (Visswanathan 1983: 197-99).[95] Furthermore, in many towns and even in the occasional village, anti-Hindi leagues and Tamil societies and student associations sprung up. Although such organizations were invariably short lived, their very existence reminds us that the anti-Hindi movement promoted the percolation of Tamil devotional ideas down to the grassroots level. Because Tamil’s devotees had made clear that it was the Tamilian who was going to save their language from Hindi, the Everyman began to be integrated into the devotional community and its activities in a manner not done before. The Tamilian—the ordinary Tamil speaker—became the heart and soul of Tamil devotion at last, in the context of the movement against Hindi. Indeed, opposition to Hindi came to ultimately define the loyal Tamilian, for the Tamil subject is not just anyone who is devoted to Tamil but is one who is convinced that Hindi threatens the mother/language and is prepared to take to the streets to demonstrate this conviction.

Like many an oppositional practice, the anti-Hindi movement of Tamil’s devotees has had many consequences—some paradoxical, some tragic. How may we assess its success? from whose viewpoint? Their protests may have allowed Tamil’s devotees to set aside various crucial differences, if only temporarily, and heal the fissures among them; they may have aroused the interest of even the disinterested in tamiḻppaṟṟu, compelled the state to take a more sustained interest in the promotion of Tamil, and put a brake on Hindi domination. But all this has not come without its costs, the most obvious of which, of course, is that speakers of Tamil who grow up in Tamilnadu, and depend on state sponsored education, do not have the ready opportunity to learn the putative official language of India and avail themselves of the potential benefits this brings. Just as crucially, the anti-Hindi movement has re-signified the very meaning of tamiḻppaṟṟu. Increasingly in the discourse(s) of many devotees, resistance to Hindi (inti etirppu) has received more emphasis than laboring for Tamil (tamiḻppaṇi). Correspondingly, the paradigmatic Tamil devotee is not necessarily the one who has worked all her life to improve Tamil but rather the one who gave up his life in the battle against Hindi. Indeed, even those who disavow tamiḻppaṟṟu are admitted into the ranks of Tamil’s devotees because of their opposition to Hindi. Paradoxically, therefore, like all identities that are defined in opposition, the Tamilian self is (re)cast in terms of resistance to Hindi: “true” Tamilians are those who may or may not speak good Tamil or even care for it; but they are certainly those who gave up their bodies, lives, and souls in the battle against Hindi.


1. Kuyil, 8 December 1959, 1; see also Tamiḻppaṇi 1950. [BACK]

2. The term aruccaṉai refers to a particular, personalized form of worship in which the (Brahman) priest recites, generally in Sanskrit, the traditional names of the deity in the presence of the devotee, who then receives its blessings. Many of Tamil’s devout demanded, however, that not just the aruccaṉai but the entire ritual of vaḻipāṭu (worship) be performed in Tamil. [BACK]

3. See also Centamiḻc Celvi 29 (1954-55): 437-44, 501-16; 44 (1969-70): 237. [BACK]

4. It is not surprising that Shaiva rather than Vaishnava reformers spearheaded the demand for tamiḻ aruccaṉai, for it is in Shaiva temples, rituals of worship, and festival processions that the doctrinal and ritual subordination of Tamil to Sanskrit, and of the social subordination of “non-Brahman” functionaries to Brahman priests, is more marked (Cutler 1987: 187-93). [BACK]

5. Centamiḻc Celvi 46 (1971-72): 159-60. [BACK]

6. See also Tamiḻaṉ Kural 1, no. 11 (1955): 12-15. [BACK]

7. Kuyil, 15 August 1948, 3-5; 9 August 1960, 10. [BACK]

8. Quoted in Government of Madras Order No. 2128 (Public Secret), 11 July 1957. See also Order No. 4330 (Public Confidential), 28 December 1956. [BACK]

9. Centamiḻc Celvi 29 (1954-55): 437-39; 43 (1968-69): 31-32. [BACK]

10. Centamiḻc Celvi 46 (1971-72): 113. [BACK]

11. MLCD 17 (1956): 407. [BACK]

12. MLCD 33 (1959): 179-81. In his memoirs, Bhaktavatsalam, who went on to be chief minister of the state from 1963 until the DMK takeover in 1967, writes, “In the worship of god, there ought to be no language hatred. If we go to Tirupati or Simhachalam in Andhra, or to Brindavan in the north, we can hear the Tiruvāymoḻi being recited there. Just because it is in Tamil, it is not hated. They do not start an agitation saying that they do not want to worship in a language they do not understand.” He went on to note, in a manner reminiscent of orthodox Indianism, that both Hindu and Indian culture show the intertwining of Sanskrit and Tamil, Aryan and Dravidian, to an extent that makes it impossible to pry them apart. The Vedas, he declared, are a fount of great wisdom, and much appreciated by everybody all over the world. “Why should we demean their greatness?” he asked (Bhaktavatsalam 1971: 246-48). [BACK]

13. MLCD 33 (1959): 181; see also Harrison 1960: 130. [BACK]

14. MLCD 33 (1959): 180. [BACK]

15. Bhaktavatsalam indeed later wrote in his memoirs that the demand for Tamil aruccaṉai was motivated less by love for Tamil than by hatred for Sanskrit. Just as there ought to be no opposition to worship being offered through Tamil if desired, by the same token there ought to be no opposition to Sanskrit as language of worship when desired. Language hatred, bad enough in any area, was especially dangerous in the domain of religion and worship, he insisted (Bhaktavatsalam 1971: 245-48). [BACK]

16. TNLAD 7 (1971): 21-22. [BACK]

17. Centamiḻc Celvi 44 (1969-70): 239; 46 (1971-72): 63. I am also indebted to Franklin Presler’s field notes here. [BACK]

18. Subsequent to the Supreme Court stay order, the government moderated its stand, declaring that the “Tamil aruccaṉai only” order had been an overzealous interpretation and that the government had only tried to establish Tamil’s legitimate place in acts of worship, with no intention of excluding Sanskrit (Presler 1987: 117-18). [BACK]

19. Centamiḻc Celvi 46 (1971-72): 112. See also Maṟavaṉ Maṭal, 7 November 1971, 9; 14 November 1971, 11; 2 January 1972, 1. [BACK]

20. Centamiḻc Celvi 46 (1971-72): 112. [BACK]

21. See also Centamiḻc Celvi 29 (1954-55): 437-39. [BACK]

22. TNLAD 7 (1971): 22. [BACK]

23. Nor was it the first time he did this. In 1897, he published a series of articles under the pure Tamil pseudonym “Murukavēḷ” (Tirumaran 1992: 139). [BACK]

24. Maraimalai Adigal’s son Tirunavukarasu remembers that if he and his brother uttered any Sanskrit words at home, they agreed to pay a penalty (M. Tirunavukarasu 1959: 324). [BACK]

25. Ņāṉapānu 3 (1915): 102, 181-84, 190-91, 197-198. See also Chidambaram Pillai 1989. [BACK]

26. Ņāṉapānu 3 (1915): 200. [BACK]

27. See also Centamiḻc Celvi 12 (1934-35): 337-39, 563-80; 15 (1937-38): 92-102, 149-55; Government of Madras Order No. 773 (Public), 27 February 1956; Order No. 2207 (Public), 22 February 1956. [BACK]

28. MLAD 5 (1957): 164. [BACK]

29. MLCD 17 (1956): 415; see also Kumaramangalam 1965: 96-97. [BACK]

30. MLAD 37 (1956): 651. [BACK]

31. MLCD 30 (1959): 34. [BACK]

32. MLAD 2 (1957): 48; 15 (1958): 606; 35 (1960): 111-13. See also Sambasivanar and Ilankumaran 1960: 104; Visswanathan 1983: 239. [BACK]

33. See also Tamiḻp Pātukāppu Nūṟṟiraṭṭu 1967. [BACK]

34. The We Tamils claimed, pace the Dravidian movement, that even within a “Dravidian” nation, Tamil speakers would remain a minority. The only solution was therefore the creation of a linguistically homogeneous Tamil-speaking nation. So enthusiastic was Adithan in his vision of Tamilizing everything that he named his party’s headquarters Tamiḻaṉ Illam, “The Home of the Tamilian” the publications unit of the party was named after Tamiḻttāy; party workers wore clothes made of cotton grown in Tamilnadu, spun by Tamil-speaking workers on looms manufactured in Tamilnadu; and so on (Kuppusami 1969: 33-34). The party eventually merged in 1967 with the DMK. For Adithan’s views on Tamil and nationalism, see his Tamiḻp Pēraracu (The Tamil empire). Published originally in 1942, it was updated and reprinted several times over the next two decades. It made a vigorous case against “North Indian” economic and political imperialism, and it called for the creation of an independent Tamilnadu comprising the Tamil-speaking areas of India and Sri Lanka (Adithanar 1965). In the Rajya Sabha, T. S. Pattabhiraman, a Congress member, declared the We Tamils to be “a virulent type of Tamilians [sic]. They say that Tamil Nad must be only for people who speak Tamil and all that” (RSD 43 [1963]: 1970). [BACK]

35. Government of Madras Order No. 2551 (Public), 15 September 1959; Order No. 1327 (Public Confidential), 19 August 1960. [BACK]

36. See also MLAD 38 (1961): 33; 5 (1967): 658. [BACK]

37. “The DMK has got nothing to do with fasting [sic]. The fasting was undertaken by a non-party man, in fact a relative of the Chief Minister of Madras, Mr. Shankaralinga Nadar” (RSD 43 [1963]: 2012). Despite this declaration by Annadurai in 1963 in the Parliament, in 1968 he reminded his colleagues in the Madras Legislative Assembly that he had visited Shankaralingam and had requested that he give up his fast (MLAD 14 [1968]: 211). Earlier, in 1956, the DMK also celebrated “Shankaralinganar Day” and invoked him as a Tamil hero in its publications (N. Subramanian 1993: 205). [BACK]

38. See also the obituary in Tīcuṭar 1, no. 24 (1956): 3-4. [BACK]

39. MLAD 14 (1968): 211. [BACK]

40. Indeed, in 1960 the Madras Corporation, now under DMK control, was Tamilized as “Ceṉṉai Mānakarāṭci,” a gesture which confirmed that party’s tamiḻppaṟṟu even as it showed up the Congress’s deficiency in this regard (Karunanidhi 1989: 369). [BACK]

41. MLAD 38 (1961): 122-27; MLCD 41 (1961): 559-60. [BACK]

42. RSD 43 (1963): 1921-2053. [BACK]

43. MLCD 55 (1964): 383-89. [BACK]

44. LSD 21 (1968): 232-61. [BACK]

45. RSD 43 (1963): 2045; MLAD 36 (1956): 170. [BACK]

46. MLAD 36 (1956): 169. [BACK]

47. RSD 43 (1963): 1972. [BACK]

48. MLCD 55 (1964): 384; MLAD 5 (1967): 656-58; RSD 43 (1963): 2005-6. [BACK]

49. RSD 43 (1963): 1979-80. [BACK]

50. MLCD 55 (1964): 388. [BACK]

51. RSD 43 (1963): 1973. [BACK]

52. MLCD 55 (1964): 388. [BACK]

53. RSD 43 (1963): 2025. [BACK]

54. MLCD 55 (1964): 387; see also RSD 43 (1963): 1975. [BACK]

55. MLAD 5 (1967): 650. [BACK]

56. RSD 43 (1963): 1936. [BACK]

57. RSD 43 (1963): 1969. [BACK]

58. RSD 43 (1963): 2023, emphasis mine. [BACK]

59. RSD 43 (1963): 2043. [BACK]

60. RSD 43 (1963): 2011-7. [BACK]

61. MLAD 5 (1967): 656. [BACK]

62. MLAD 37 (1956): 633, 636-38. [BACK]

63. MLCD 10 (1955): 757. [BACK]

64. References to Tamiḻttāy may be found in MLAD 37 (1956): 619, 622, 638, 639-41, 643-44, 647, 651, 656; MLCD 17 (1956): 393-94, 397, 402, 407, 422. [BACK]

65. MLAD 37 (1956): 619-20, 656-57. [BACK]

66. MLAD 37 (1956): 618; MLCD 17 (1956): 394. [BACK]

67. MLAD 37 (1956): 631-32. [BACK]

68. MLAD 37 (1956): 619. [BACK]

69. MLAD 37 (1956): 639. [BACK]

70. MLCD 10 (1955): 757; 22 (1957): 336-7; It was not until January 1968 that a time limit of five years was set for the complete Tamilization of government. [BACK]

71. MLAD 5 (1957): 162. [BACK]

72. In November 1957, one government report claimed that there were only forty Tamil typewriters available for official use, as opposed to more than four thousand English typewriters (Government of Madras Order No. 1027 [Public], 31 March 1958). [BACK]

73. MLCD 22 (1957): 336-37; MLAD 28 (1960): 608-12. [BACK]

74. MLAD 37 (1956): 620-22. [BACK]

75. The collector of Tiruchirapalli district wrote to the government in 1952, “Regarding the experiment of conducting the official proceeding and correspondence in the regional language in this district, I submit that on the whole the system cannot be said to be working satisfactorily. Much difficulty is experienced in writing drafts in Tamil in the absence of appropriate terms in Tamil. Further, a draft in Tamil does not always convey the spirit of the expressions correctly and in full, which may involve even legal complications in the long run” (Government of Madras Order No. 2225 [Public], 12 September 1952). See also MLAD 31 (1956): 460-61. [BACK]

76. MLAD 11 (1939): 609. [BACK]

77. MLAD 11 (1939): 542, 597-617, 804-8; 23 (1955): 633-35. [BACK]

78. MLAD 37 (1956): 625, 647; MLCD 33 (1959): 12-13. [BACK]

79. MLAD 37 (1956): 629, 631, 656; 5 (1957): 163; MLCD 17 (1956): 394; 30 (1959): 30. [BACK]

80. MLAD 16 (1958): 396. [BACK]

81. MLAD 37 (1956): 622-23; see also MLCD 30 (1959): 23-27. [BACK]

82. MLCD 30 (1959): 27. [BACK]

83. MLCD 33 (1959): 13. [BACK]

84. TNLAD 30 (1970): 561-63. [BACK]

85. MLCD 49 (1963): 217. [BACK]

86. MLCD 49 (1963): 199. [BACK]

87. Government of Madras Order No. 911 (Education), 21 April 1938. [BACK]

88. Government of Madras Order No. 1343 (Education and Public Health), 14 June 1938. [BACK]

89. Government sources conceded that on 26 January alone, more than two thousand were taken into custody, of whom thirty-two were DMK legislators; police opened fire in at least thirty-six places and 50 were killed, 130 wounded (MLAD 28 [1965] 90-92; MLCD 63 [1965] 87-89). DMK sources give larger numbers for the dead and the wounded. [BACK]

90. India Today, 31 March 1992, 92; Aside, 15 May 1993, 23-25; The Week, 25 July 1993, 25-26. [BACK]

91. Intippōr Muracu 1985. [BACK]

92. See also the interview in Poṉṉi (Ponḳal Malar) 1951: 36-41. [BACK]

93. Intippōr Muracu 1985: 34-36. [BACK]

94. Maraimalai Adigal thus noted in his diary: “My son Tirunavukarasu has been sent to prison for six months for-speaking out against Hindi in order to protect Tamiḻttāy. May Shiva punish all those who harm Tamil” (M. Tirunavukarasu and Venkatachalapathy 1988: 83). [BACK]

95. Centamiḻc Celvi 17 (1939-40): 55; see also 16 (1938-39): 407-16; 18 (1940-41): 191-92. [BACK]

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