Portal:Tamil People/Selected article

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Portal:Tamil People/Selected article/1


Tamil is a Dravidian language spoken predominantly by Tamil people of the Indian subcontinent. It has official status in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and in the Indian union territory of Puducherry. Tamil is also an official language of Sri Lanka and Singapore. It is one of the twenty-two scheduled languages of India and the first Indian language to be declared as a classical language by the government of India in 2004. Tamil is also spoken by significant minorities in Malaysia, Mauritius and Réunion as well as emigrant communities around the world.

Tamil literature has existed for over two thousand years. The earliest epigraphic records found date from around the third century BCE. The earliest period of Tamil literature, Sangam literature, is dated from the 300 BCE – 300 CE. More than 55% of the epigraphical inscriptions – about 55,000 – found by the Archaeological Survey of India are in the Tamil language. According to a 2001 survey, there were 1,863 newspapers published in Tamil, of which 353 were dailies. Tamil belongs to southern branch of the Dravidian languages, a family of around twenty-six languages native to the Indian subcontinent. It is also classified as being part of a Tamil language family, which alongside Tamil proper, also includes the languages of about 35 ethno-linguistic groups such as the Irula, and Yerukula languages (see SIL Ethnologue). The closest major relative of Tamil is Malayalam. Until about the ninth century, Malayalam was a dialect of Tamil. Although many of the differences between Tamil and Malayalam evidence a pre-historic split of the western dialect, the process of separation into a distinct language, Malayalam was not completed until sometime in the 13th or 14th century.

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The city of Madras in 1909

Chennai formerly known as Madras, is the capital city of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Chennai is the fourth most populous metropolitan area and the fifth most populous city in India. Located on the Coromandel Coast of the Bay of Bengal, Chennai city had a population of 4.34 million in the 2001 census within the area administered by the Corporation of Chennai. The urban agglomeration of metropolitan Chennai has an estimated population over 8.2 million people. Though the city itself was established only in the 17th century by the British, some parts of the city like Triplicane and its outskirts are almost 2000 years old. The British on settling developed it into a major urban centre and naval base. By the 20th century, it had become an important administrative centre, as the capital of the Madras Presidency.

Chennai's economy has a broad industrial base in the car, technology, hardware manufacturing, and healthcare industries. The city is India's second largest exporter of software, information technology (IT) and information-technology-enabled services (ITES). A major chunk of India's car manufacturing industry is based in and around the city. Chennai Zone contributes 39 per cent of the State's GDP. Chennai accounts for 60 per cent of the country's automotive exports.

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Chola's empire and influence at the height of its power (c. 1050)

The Chola dynasty was a Tamil dynasty which was one of the longest-ruling in some parts of southern India. The earliest datable references to the dynasty are in inscriptions from the 3rd century BC left by Asoka, a northern ruler; the dynasty continued to reign over varying territory until the 12th century AD. The heartland of the Cholas was the fertile valley of the Kaveri River, but they ruled a significantly larger area at the height of their power from the later half of the 9th century till the beginning of the 13th century Under Rajaraja Chola I and his son Rajendra Chola I, the dynasty became a military, economic and cultural power in South Asia and South-east Asia. The power of the new empire was proclaimed to the eastern world by the celebrated expedition to the Ganges which Rajendra Chola I undertook and by the overthrow after an unprecedented naval war of the maritime empire of Sri Vijaya, as well as by the repeated embassies to China. During the period 1010–1200, the Chola territories stretched from the islands of the Maldives in the south to as far north as the banks of the Godavari River in Andhra Pradesh. Rajaraja Chola conquered peninsular South India, annexed parts of what is now Sri Lanka and occupied the islands of the Maldives. Rajendra Chola sent a victorious expedition to North India that touched the river Ganga and defeated the Pala ruler of Pataliputra, Mahipala. He also successfully invaded kingdoms of the Malay Archipelago. The Chola dynasty went into decline at the beginning of the thirteenth century with the rise of the Pandyas, who ultimately caused their downfall.

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Hathigumpha inscription of Kharavela

The region of Tamil Nadu in modern India has been under continuous human habitation since prehistoric times, and the history of Tamil Nadu and the civilization of the Tamil people are among the oldest in the world. Throughout its history, spanning the early Paleolithic age to modern times, this region has coexisted with various external cultures. Except for relatively short periods in its history, the Tamil region has remained independent of external occupation. The four ancient Tamil empires of Chera, Chola, Pandya and Pallava were of ancient origins. Together they ruled over this land with a unique culture and language, contributing to the growth of some of the oldest extant literature in the world. They had extensive maritime trade contacts with the Roman empire. These three dynasties were in constant struggle with each other vying for hegemony over the land. Invasion by the Kalabhras during the third century disturbed the traditional order of the land by displacing the three ruling kingdoms. These occupiers were overthrown by the resurgence of the Pandyas and the Pallavas, who restored the traditional kingdoms. The Cholas, who re-emerged from obscurity in the ninth century by defeating the Pallavas and the Pandyas, rose to become a great power and extended their empire over the entire southern peninsula. At its height the Chola empire spanned almost 3,600,000 km² (1,389,968 sq mi) straddling the Bay of Bengal. The Chola navy held sway over the Sri Vijaya kingdom in Southeast Asia.

Rapid changes in the political situation of the rest of India due to incursions of Muslim armies from the northwest marked a turning point in the history of Tamil Nadu. With the decline of the three ancient dynasties during the fourteenth century, the Tamil country became part of the Vijayanagara Empire. Under this empire the Telugu speaking Nayak governors ruled the Tamil land. The brief appearance of the Marathas gave way to the European trading companies, who began to appear during the seventeenth century and eventually assumed greater sway over the indigenous rulers of the land. The Madras Presidency, comprising most of southern India, was created in the eighteenth century and was ruled directly by the British East India Company. After the independence of India, the state of Tamil Nadu was created based on linguistic boundaries.The region of Tamil Nadu in modern India has been under continuous human habitation since prehistoric times, and the history of Tamil Nadu and the civilization of the Tamil people are among the oldest in the world. Throughout its history, spanning the early Paleolithic age to modern times, this region has coexisted with various external cultures. Except for relatively short periods in its history, the Tamil region has remained independent of external occupation.

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The Jaffna kingdom, also known as Kingdom of Aryacakravarti, of modern northern Sri Lanka came into existence after the invasion of Magha, who is said to have been from Kalinga, in India. It eventually became a tribute paying feudatory of the Pandyan Empire in modern South India in 1258, gaining independence later with the fragmentation of the Pandyan control. For a brief period, in the early to mid-fourteenth century, it was an ascendant power in the island of Sri Lanka when all regional kingdoms accepted subordination. However, the kingdom was eventually overpowered by the rival Kotte Kingdom, around 1450. It was freed of Kotte control in 1467 its subsequent rulers directed their energies towards consolidating its economic potential by maximising revenue from pearls and elephant exports and land revenue. It was less feudal than most of other regional kingdoms in the island of Sri Lanka of the same period. During this period, important local Tamil literature was produced and Hindu temples were built including an academy for language advancement. The arrival of the Portuguese colonial power to the island of Sri Lanka in 1505, and its strategic location in the Palk Strait connecting all interior Sinhalese kingdoms to South India, created political problems. Many of its kings confronted and ultimately made peace with the Portuguese colonials. In 1617, Cankili II, an usurper to the throne, confronted the Portuguese but was defeated, thus bringing the kingdom’s independent existence to an end in 1619.

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Maximum Portuguese expiation in Ceylon

The Portuguese conquest of the Jaffna kingdom occurred after Portuguese traders arrived at the rival Kotte Kingdom in the southwest of modern Sri Lanka in 1505. Many kings of Jaffna, such as Cankili I, initially confronted the Portuguese in their attempts at converting the locals to Roman Catholicism, but eventually made peace with them.

By 1591, the king of Jaffna Ethirimanna Cinkam was installed by the Portuguese. Although he was nominally a client, he resisted missionary activities and helped the interior Kandyan kingdom in its quest to get military help from South India. Eventually, a usurper named Cankili II, resisted Portuguese overlordship only to find himself ousted and hanged by Phillippe de Oliveira in 1619. The subsequent rule by the Portuguese saw the population convert to Roman Catholicism. The population also decreased due to excessive taxation, as most people fled the core areas of the former kingdom.

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There are literary, archaeological, epigraphic and numismatic sources of ancient Tamil history. The foremost among these sources is the Sangam literature, generally dated to the last centuries BCE to early centuries CE. The poems in Sangam literature contain vivid descriptions of the different aspects of life and society in Tamilakam during this age; scholars agree that, for the most part, these are reliable accounts. Greek and Roman literature, around the dawn of the Christian era, give details of the maritime trade between Tamilakam and the Roman empire, including the names and locations of many ports on both coasts of the Tamil country. Archaeological excavations of several sites in Tamil Nadu have yielded remnants from the Sangam era, such as different kinds of pottery, pottery with inscriptions, imported ceramic ware, industrial objects, brick structures and spinning whorls. Techniques such as stratigraphy and paleography have helped establish the date of these items to the Sangam era. The excavated artifacts have provided evidence for existence of different economic activities mentioned in Sangam literature such as agriculture, weaving, smithy, gem cutting, building construction, pearl fishing and painting. Inscriptions found on caves and pottery are another source for studying the history of Tamilakam. Writings in Tamil-Brahmi script have been found in many locations in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, mostly recording grants made by the kings and chieftains. References are also made to other aspects of the Sangam society. Coins issued by the Tamil kings of this age have been recovered from river beds and urban centers of their kingdoms. Most of the coins carry the emblem of the corresponding dynasty on their reverse, such as the bow and arrow of the Cheras; some of them contain portraits and written legends helping numismatists assign them to a certain period.

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Roman trade with India according to the Periplus Maris Erythraei, 1st century CE

Roman trade with India through the overland caravan routes via Anatolia and Persia, though at a relative trickle comparative to later times, antedated the southern trade route via the Red Sea and Monsoons which started around the beginning of the Common Era (CE) following the reign of Augustus and his conquest of Egypt. Having extended the Empire's reach to the upper Nile, the Romans naturally encountered the great warrior trading nation of Axum (on the Red Sea, in today's Ethiopia) which had been trading with India and Egypt for several centuries.

Roman trade diaspora frequented the ancient Tamil country (present day Southern India) and Sri Lanka, securing trade with the seafaring Tamil kingdoms of the Chola, Pandyan and Chera dynasties and establishing trading settlements which remained long after the fall of the Western Roman empire. They also outlasted Byzantium's loss of the Egypt and the Red Sea ports (ca. 639-645 CE) under the pressure of Jihad and Islam, which had been used to secure trade with India by the Greco-Roman world since the time of the Ptolemaic dynasty a few decades before the start of the Common Era. Sometime after the sundering of communications between the Axum and Eastern Roman Empire in the seventh century, the Christian kingdom of Axum fell onto a slow decline and faded into obscurity in western culture, though it survived despite pressure from Islamic forces until the eleventh century, when it was reconfigured in a dynastic squabble.

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The advance of the 57 Division and Task Force 1 on Kilinochchi

The Battle of Kilinochchi was a land battle fought between the Sri Lankan Military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for the control of the town of Kilinochchi in the Northern Theater of Eelam War IV during the Sri Lankan civil war between November 2008 and January 2009. The town of Kilinochchi was the administrative center and de facto capital of the LTTE's proposed state of Tamil Eelam.

The Sri Lankan Army (SLA) conducted an offensive through the months of November and December 2008 during which three attempts were made to capture the town during the month of December. These were thwarted by the LTTE, and both sides claimed that they suffered minimal casualties while inflicting maximum damage on the other during these assaults. The Sri Lanka Air Force launched air strikes against LTTE positions in Kilinochchi throughout this period. On 2 January 2009, divisions of the Sri Lanka Army advanced into Kilinochchi from the northern, southern and western directions of the town, and the LTTE fighters withdrew into positions in nearby jungles. Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president of Sri Lanka, later announced that the military had taken control of the town and urged the LTTE to lay down arms and surrender. However, the LTTE stated that the SLA captured a "ghost town" after they withdrew, and described it as an insignificant loss. After Kilinochchi was captured, several foreign governments urged both parties to seek a political solution. The Colombo Stock Exchange recorded a rise and the rupee stabilized, while celebrators lit firecrackers on the streets soon after the capture was declared. Amidst the celebrations, a suicide bomb attack occurred in the evening in front of the air force headquarters in Colombo, killing 3 and wounding about 30 people. The SLA continued to advance into LTTE held territory, capturing some more strategically important locations, including Elephant Pass and the entire A9 Highway soon after the fall of Kilinochchi.

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A 1910 postcard image of a Sri Lankan Tamil girl

Sri Lankan Tamil people or Ceylon Tamils, are an ethnic group native to the South Asian island state of Sri Lanka who predominantly speak Tamil. According to anthropological evidence, Sri Lankan Tamils have lived on the island since the 2nd century BCE. Most modern Sri Lankan Tamils descend from the Jaffna Kingdom, a former kingdom in the north of the island and Vannimai chieftaincies from the east. They constitute a majority in the Northern Province, live in significant numbers in the Eastern Province, and are in the minority throughout the rest of the country. Sri Lankan Tamils are culturally and linguistically distinct from the other two Tamil-speaking minorities in Sri Lanka, the Indian Tamils and the Moors. Genetic studies indicate that they are most closely related to the Sinhalese than any other Asian group. With the Tamil and Sinhalese population sharing a common gene pool of 55%. The Sri Lankan Tamils are mostly Hindus with a significant Christian population. Sri Lankan Tamil literature on topics including religion and the sciences flourished during the medieval period in the court of the Jaffna Kingdom. Since the 1980s, it is distinguished by an emphasis on themes relating to the Sri Lankan Civil War. Sri Lankan Tamil dialects are noted for their archaism and retention of words not in everyday use in the Tamil Nadu state in India.

Since Sri Lanka gained independence from Britain in 1948, relations between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamil communities have been strained. Rising ethnic and political tensions, along with ethnic riots and pogroms in 1956, 1958, 1977, 1981 and 1983, led to the formation and strengthening of militant groups advocating independence for Tamils. The ensuing Sri Lankan Civil War has resulted in the deaths of more than 70,000 people and the forced disappearance of thousands of others. Sri Lankan Tamils have historically migrated to find work, notably during the British colonial period. Since the beginning of the civil war in 1983, more than 800,000 Tamils have been displaced within Sri Lanka, and many have left the country for destinations such as India, Canada, and Europe. Since the end of the civil war in 2009, number of Sri Lankan Tamils have sought refuge in countries like Canada and Australia.

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Percentage of Sri Lankan Tamils per district based on 2001 or 1981 (cursive) census

Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism is the conviction of the Sri Lankan Tamil people, a minority ethnic group in the South Asian island country of Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon), that they have the right to constitute an independent or autonomous political community. This idea has not always existed. Sri Lankan Tamil national awareness began during the era of British rule during the 18th century, as Tamil Hindu revivalists tried to counter Protestant missionary activity. The revivalists, led by Arumuga Navalar, used literacy as a tool to spread Hinduism and its principles. The reformed legislative council, introduced in 1921 by the British, was based on principles of communal representation, which led the Tamils to realize that they were the minority ethnic group and that they should be represented by a member of their own community. It was under this communal representation that Tamil national awareness changed to national consciousness—a less passive state. They formed a Tamil political party called the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC). In the years leading to Sri Lankan independence, political tension began to develop between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamil communities as the ACTC, citing the possibility of the majority Sinhalese adopting a dominant posture, pushed for “fifty-fifty” representation in parliament. This policy would allot half the seats in parliament to the Sinhalese majority and half to the minority communities: the Muslims, the Tamils and the Indian Tamils.

After Sri Lanka achieved independence in 1948, the ACTC decided to merge with the ruling United National Party (UNP). This move was not supported by half of the ACTC members and resulted in a split—one half of the party decided to merge with the UNP and the other half decided to leave the party altogether, forming a new Tamil party in 1949, the Federal party. Policies adopted by successive Sinhalese governments, and the 1956 success of the Sinhala Nationalist government under Solomon Bandaranaike, made the Federal Party the main voice of Tamil politics. Increased racial and political tension between the two communities led to the merger of all Tamil political parties into the Tamil United Liberation Front. This was followed by the emergence of a militant, armed form of Tamil nationalism.