An appeal to Indologists (Was Re: Indo-Aryan invasion)

Palaniappa Palaniappa at AOL.COM
Wed Mar 4 06:34:52 UTC 1998

The on-going discussion on Indo-Aryan invasion , retroflexion, etc., reveal
one basic weakness prevailing in the field of Indology. While the discussion
is about the interactions of speakers of Indo-Aryan, Dravidian and other
languages, the participation in the discussion shows almost no representation
from professional scholars specializing in Dravidian languages except for Dr.
Bh. Krishnamurti and Dr. Robert Zydenbos.  The Indo-Aryan side, however, has
many professional scholars. Since the quality and quantity of the work done on
the Dravidian side is as important as those on the Indo-Aryan side for
arriving at correct conclusions, I decided to post this appeal. I acknowledge
with gratitude Dr. Aklujkar�s comments on an earlier draft. But I alone am
responsible for whatever problems one may find in this.

My association with Indology started about 20 years ago when I joined
University of Pennsylvania as a graduate student. Since that time, I have
tried to enhance my knowledge of Indology mainly through self-education.  Over
the years, I have come to the realization that in the pursuit of Indological
inquiry, the Dravidian side has been ignored in comparison with the Indo-Aryan
side. As Dr. Aklujkar once pointed out to me, it may be just due to the sheer
volume and variety of material available in IA. It may be due to IA being part
of IE family making it easy for Westerners to study. In any case, in addition
to these factors, the number of American university programs teaching
Dravidian languages have dwindled between 1977 and 1997. For instance,  as far
as I know, currently only University of California, Berkeley, and University
of Chicago have tenured positions in Tamil producing PhDs in Tamil literature.
Madison offers summer courses in Tamil. Michigan does not have a tenured
position and Penn mainly serves as a center for computer-based instruction for
Tamil. Wisconsin has a Telugu position. I believe Kannada is offered in one
university. (I am willing to be corrected on these.) I do not know about the
situation in other Western countries.

I joined the Indology list about one year ago. My experience with the list has
confirmed my earlier impression even more. In an objective pursuit of
Indological truth, if the study of Dravidian is very important, the study of
Classical Tamil is absolutely indispensable. Many Indologists in the past, by
confining themselves to Indo-Aryan or Indo-European databases of facts,  have
failed to grasp the truth which they could have done easily by extending their
inquiry into the Dravidian side. Whatever be the outcome of the specific
discussions we recently had on Indology involving materials in  Indo-Aryan and
Dravidian languages, there can be no doubt that a collaborative effort of
Indo-Iranian/Indo-Aryan/Sanskrit and Dravidian/Classical Tamil scholars can go
a long way towards answering many questions related to the roots of Indian
culture and raising some previously unrealized  possibilities.

As far as general Indian population is concerned, Classical Tamil is seen as
"Tamil", and hence associated with Tamils. They do not realize that in having
preserved some important information regarding one component of their
heritage, which their present languages have lost, Classical Tamil is really
important to get a correct understanding of their cultural history also. At
present, not even an average Malayalee would know/concede that they would gain
anything by a study of Classical Tamil, let alone a Kannadiga or Maharashtrian
or  Gujarati. (A recent announcement from  International Center For Studies Of
Classical Languages, Pune,  did not seem to consider Classical Tamil as a
classical language.) Why go outside Tamilnadu?  In today�s Tamilnadu, serious
Tamil scholarship is being neglected. (According to Sanskritists who know the
Indian scene, Sanskrit scholarship in various parts of India is on the decline
too.) Those being rewarded are stand-up comedian-like entertainers who go by
the name of Tamil professors. With the last of the serious scholars retiring
or passing away, there has been a vacuum created in Classical Tamil studies.
Add to this the fact that,  by and large, scholars in different languages in
India live mutually exclusive compartmentalized lives. There is little hope
for someone like Burrow or Emeneau or Kuiper to be produced. All in all, I do
not see much future for an unbiased pursuit of Indological knowledge in India.
This is where the West and especially the American universities can play an
important role.

With the economy in very good shape after many years, and many state budgets
in surplus, the Indological faculty and people of South Asian origin in the
Western world should seek to endow as many positions as possible in Classical
Tamil, and other Dravidian languages and positions requiring knowledge of both
an Indo-Aryan language and a Dravidian language. They can recognize Classical
Tamil as a classical language and include it as an important course of study.
As important contributions of the Dravidian component of Indian culture get
established with the help of Classical Tamil, more interest may develop in
other Dravidian languages. As more resources get allocated to the study of
Dravidian, important tasks related to preservation of non-literary tribal
languages, collection, preservation, and study of manuscripts, compilation of
lexicons, literary studies and comparative studies can proceed. (As the study
of Dravidian languages in the West becomes known, it may bring more prestige
to the field in India, which may then attract the best and brightest
students.) After the study of Dravidian languages get established,
establishment of positions in Munda group can be established. (One should note
that but for the recognition of the role of Dravidian languages by some
eminent Sanskritists and their efforts on behalf of Dravidian, many academic
positions specializing in Dravidian might not have been established in the

Today, in the archives of the RISA list, I saw the announcement of a
lecturership in Tamil at University of Texas at Austin. While something is
better than nothing, it is still inadequate. Currently, many of the academic
specialists in religion, sociology, history, etc., (here I include people of
Tamil origin) have no language or literary expertise. They often depend on
others to interpret the texts for them. When the pool of good language and
literature specialists dries up what will the Indologists do? It takes many
years to produce an expert in a language/literature. I hope and wish that the
South Asia faculty at Austin and other places get the funds to get tenure-
track positions at least in Classical Tamil as  a start towards getting more
positions in all Dravidian languages.

Hopes and dreams, these may be. But they are important for real progress. Are
they not?


S. Palaniappan

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