Democracy in old India

nanda chandran vpcnk at HOTMAIL.COM
Wed Aug 23 05:48:26 UTC 2000

S Palaniappan writes :

>"it may be inferred that people drawn from different ethnic and
>professional groups were being transformed into land-owning cultivators in
>course of time."

Is this really true? Do Tamil Indologists deny that there existed
a Tamil caste system - VellALar, Maravar, Paraiyar etc. Or do they
attribute even this caste system - so distinct from the varnA
system - to brahmins?

And I find it difficult to believe that VellALars would allow paraiyars
to become land owners.

>"Another noteworthy feature of early Tamil literacy was its popular or
>democratic character, based as it was on the local language of the people.

Was the language of the common Tamil laborer the same as the language
of the elite? Was the common Tamil familiar with the TolkAppiyam or the
intricacies of Tamil grammar? Could he understand the subtler use of
the language by Sangham poets?

Sanskrit is the product of a higher level of linguistic sophistication onan
existing language and even then it is not totally divorced from its parent.
The difficulty of the common man understanding Sanskrit is probably only as
great as the common Tamil understanding the higher levels of sophisticated
Tamil literature. If the difference in the former is greater, it is only
because of a higher level of linguistic sophistication.

>Literacy is not merely the acquisition of reading and writing skills. To be
>meaningful and creative, literacy has to be based on one's own mother

Why is this so? Is Salman Rushdie not creative or meaningful? Shankara's
mother tongue was probably MalayAlam. Did that in anyway hamper his
creativity when writing in Sanskrit? The same could be said for scores
ofauthors who wrote in Sanskrit.

>Tamil remained the language of administration, of learning and instruction,
>and of public discourse throughout the Tamil country...That is, while the
>Brahmi script was borrowed, the Prakrit language was not allowed to be
>imposed along with it from outside.

Am I mistaken in believing that the Pallavas at one point in time, had
Sanskrit as their court language? Am I mistaken in that many of the
bhakti saints themselves were familiar with Sanskrit?

>The universalist ideals of Tamil society were not based on such an
>unrealistic  view of life. They were grounded in a very pragmatic attitude.
>(see puRam 189).

Is it reasonable to gauge the ideals of a culture from a single work of
poetry? For all you know it might reflect only the ideals of the
poet(s), while the society atlarge was oblivious of it. For example, if
somebody say 1000 years from now got a copy of the Communist Manifesto,
would it be right for him to presume that there existed an egalitarian
society in our times? Or does Mahatma Gandhi's works prove that the whole of
India practiced ahimsa during his times. To cite an example in this context
itself - are the ideals of Thiruvalluvar or the Sangham poets reflected in
the world view of the Maravars with their "VeecharuvAl" tendencies? But even
here Marx and Gandhi being social reformers had huge followings which no
poet in human history has ever enjoyed. Poets are by nature, dreamers and
idealists and it would be a big mistake to assume that their views reflect
the views of the society that they lived in.

Why is there this great effort to promote the view that early Tamil society
was "secular", "democratic" etc? The existence of the Tamil caste system,
the fanatic intolerance of the Shaivites and Vaishnavites (brahmins too were
part of this) are themselves proof that dogma and prejudice was as much a
part of the Tamil society, as any other Indian society.

>Thus, Classical Tamil culture was different from the Indian culture as it
>is usually understood.

This remains a mere assertion unless until it can be backed by concrete

All this is only a criticism of "arguments motivated by linguistic and
racial chauvinism" and should not be interpreted as hatred of Tamil or the
Tamil people.
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