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Thani Tamil Iyakkam (Tamil: தனித் தமிழ் இயக்கம்) (Pure or Independent Tamil Movement) is a linguistic-purity movement in Tamil literature which attempts to avoid loanwords from Sanskrit. The movement began in the writings of Maraimalai Adigal, Paventhar Bharathidasan, Devaneya Pavanar, and Pavalareru Perunchitthiranaar, and was propagated in the Thenmozhi literary magazine founded by Pavalareru Perunchithiranar. V G Suryanarayana Sastri (popularly known as Parithimar Kalaignar), a Brahmin, was a 20th-century figure in the movement; in 1902 he demanded classical-language status for Tamil, which it received in 2004.
Thani Tamiļ Iyakkam dates back to the Tholkapiyam era, when non-Tamil words were classified as "northern" (vadamoļi, meaning Sanskrit) or "from elsewhere" (thisaimoļi, foreign) which means foreign. With the passing of Tamil political and economic dominance from the south, first to the 14th-century Deccan Vijayanagara Empire and then to the Farsi-speaking Muslim powers, Tamil declined. Tamil purism and anti-Sanskritism nevertheless remained among the literati and their local patrons, evidenced by Antao De Proenca’s 1679 Tamil-Portuguese dictionary which mentions acrimonious "anti-Kirantha" and "pro-Sanskrit" tendencies in Tamil phonetics. The arrival of British colonialists and American missionaries introduced a linguistic revival among the Tamils, despite European concerns about its usefulness for administration and evangelisation.
The modern revival of the Tamil Purist Movement (also known as the Pure Tamil Movement) is attributed to Maraimalai Adigal, who publicly pledged to defend pure Tamil in 1916. Advocates of purism popularised Tamil literature and crusaded for it, organising rallies in villages and towns and making Tamil purism a political issue. The logical extension of this effort was to purge Tamil of the Sanskrit influence (including its negative social perceptions, which were thought to keep the Tamils in a state of economic, cultural, and political servitude) seen as making Tamil susceptible to northern political domination. Anti-Sanskrit and anti-Hindi Tamil Nadu policies alienated the Brahmins, who were seen as supporting both languages.
Tamil was favoured by language policy after Indian independence and had been used in high schools since 1938 (and in universities from 1960). In 1956, the Indian National Congress government passed a law making Tamil the official language of Tamil Nadu, and in 1959 set up the Tamil Development and Research Council to produce Tamil textbooks in the natural and human sciences, accounting, mathematics, and other subjects. A series of children's encyclopaedias, commentaries on Sangam poetry, and a history of the Tamil people were published in 1962-63. However, these measures seemed insufficient to the proponents of "Pure Tamil", as expressed by Mohan Kumaramangalam in 1965 at the peak of the anti-Hindi agitation:
In practice, the ordinary man finds that the Tamil language is nowhere in the picture ... In Madras city like any other metro, English dominates our life to an extraordinary extent ... I think it will be no exaggeration to say that a person who earns very high can live for years in Madras without learning a word of Tamil, except for some servant inconvenience![this quote needs a citation]
Since the Congress government had turned down a number of demands, such as the use of "pure" rather than "Sanskritised Tamil" in schoolbooks and resisting the name change from Madras to Tamil Nadu until 1969, it seemed unconcerned about separatism. This bred resentment among Tamil purists, as expressed by Devaneya Pavanar in 1967:
None of the Congress Ministers of Tamil Nadu was either a Tamil scholar or a Tamil lover. The Congress leaders of Tamil Nadu as betrayers of Tamil, cannot represent the State any more. Blind cannot lead the blind, much less the keen sighted. Moreover every political meeting, they will say "Jai Hind!". This Means, they are meant to rule only in broader (not specific) India.[this quote needs a citation]
The Tamil purism movement successfully lobbied for Tamil to be declared a "classical language" (vuyarthanichemai) of India in 2006, a status also accorded to Sanskrit in the Indian constitution. This gave rise to the Centre for the Study of Tamil as a Classical Language in Chennai, but it took another year to obtain official Tamil translations in Tamil Nadu courts.
- Anti-Hindi agitations
- Bengali Language Movement
- Tamil nationalism
- Devaneya Pavanar
- Tamil language
- The Primary Classical Language of the World
- Sumathi Ramaswamy, Passions of the Tongue: Language Devotion in Tamil India, 1891-1970, Studies on the History of Society and Culture, No 29, University of California Press (1997), ISBN 978-0-520-20805-6.
- Christians and Missionaries in India: Cross-Cultural Communication Since 1500 : With Special Reference to Caste, Conversion, and Colonialism, Studies in the History of Christian Missions, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company (2003), ISBN 978-0-8028-3956-5, p. 381.