Magazine article UNESCO Courier

The Living Culture of the Tamils

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

The Living Culture of the Tamils

Article excerpt

The words "Tamil culture" immediately evoke the image of the towering gopuram (entrance gateways) of the Hindu temple, at once a commanding grandeur and solemnity; of a beautiful dancing girl, decked out in all her finery, graceful and lovely; to the literary minded, of the squatting sage Tiruvalluvar with his palm-leaf and stylus; to the gastronomically inclined, of idli (a rice and lentil batter) and sambar (lentils, vegetable and tamarind).

When we attempt to understand what constitutes Tamil culture in terms of an average man's life, particularly in the context of the present day, we encounter elements which cannot be isolated and defined, yet are deep rooted ina society which has always been instinctively aware of its strengths and weaknesses.

Over the centuries Tamils have spread outside their territory and in this process have planted signs of their presence many of which can be found even today. The Tamil community thus represents a population outside Tamil Nadu also. In their own land Tamils have been subject to significant foreign influences and, today, the admixture of these influences is so complex that it is difficult to talk about "typical" or "native" Tamil culture. Today's fashions, food habits, life-styles, values are all products of this long history of interaction.

For the first time in the known history of two thousand years the land of the Tamils has definite boundaries and this has brought about a greater cohesion among Tamils. Particularly since Independence and the creation of States based on linguistic regions, Tamils have had a land with which to identify their language and culture. With the introduction of Tamil as a medium of education at all levels, an attempt has been made to update the language after it lay submerged and subjugated for nearly three hundred years under the impact of the English language.

The recent establishment of a university at Thanjavur--Tamil University--crystallizes the aspirations of their society. The objective of this university is to strengthen the various applications of the language in a modern context and to enquire systematically into its past so that a relationship can be stablished between tradition and modern life.

The emotional togetherness that has come about has been aided by the planned economic activities in the State. The most striking result of the economic programmes is the high degree of mobility seen among the people. Tamil Nadu is among the very few States in India in which almost every village is connected by road or rail. This mobility has affected the personal, economic and social life of average Tamils. The facility of communication has began to narrow down regional differences in life styles.

A mobile population is an infromed population. Tamil Nadu is one of the States in the country with a high rate of literacy. It must be remembered that one of the first three universities to be established during the colonial era (1857) was at Madras, the present capital of Tamil Nadu. Educational facilities are growing so rapidly that between 1979 and 1981 the number of boys at higher secondary schools increased by 45.1 per cent and that of girls by 66.5 per cent. Education is no longer confined to traditional general education. It has diversified and new branches of training are constantly evolving. While the number of universities offering general education has risen, separate universities for technical subjects have also been established. Tamil Nadu now has one Agricultural University, one engineering and technological University, as well as a National Institute of Technology. Significantly too, women are entering professional colleges in increasing numbers.

In Tamil Nadu, the reading habit is widespread. Every week 1.73 million copies of eight popular magazines are sold and read by approximately 8.5 million people. In one segment of the reading public--the urban Tamils--42 per cent of those above fifteen years of age read a daily newspaper and 46 per cent read a weekly publication. …

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