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The Tamil people (Tamil: தமிழர், tamiẓhar (singular) ?[t̪ɐmɪɻɐɾ], or Tamil: தமிழர்கள், tamiẓarkaḷ (plural) ?[t̪ɐmɪɻɐɾxɐɭ]), also known as Tamilar, Tamilans, or simply Tamils, are a Dravidianethnic group who speak Tamil as their mother tongue and trace their ancestry to the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, the Indian Union territory of Puducherry, or the Northern, Eastern Province and Puttalam District of Sri Lanka. Tamil people with a population of approximately 76 million living around the world are one of the largest and the oldest of the existing ethno-linguistic cultural groups of people in the modern world. Tamils comprise 24.87%[note 1] of the population in Sri Lanka, 10.83% in Mauritius, 5.91% in India, 5% in Singapore and approximately 7% in Malaysia.
From the 5th century BCE onwards, urbanisation and mercantile activity along the western and eastern coasts of what is today Kerala and Tamil Nadu led to the development of four large Tamil political states, Chera dynasty, Chola dynasty, Pandyan Dynasty and Pallava dynasty and a number of smaller states warring amongst themselves for dominance. The Jaffna Kingdom, once one of the strongest kingdoms of Sri Lanka, led to the development of a distinct political state of the Sri Lankan Tamils.
Between the 4th century BCE and the 3rd century CE, Tamil people produced native literature that came to be called Sangam literature. Among languages spoken today, the Tamil language is one of the oldest written languages.
Tamils were noted for their martial, religious and mercantile activities beyond their native borders. Pandyas and Cholas were historically active in Sri Lanka. The Chola dynasty successfully invaded parts of Southeast Asia like Malaysia, Southern Thailand and Indonesia. Medieval Tamil guilds and trading organizations like the "Ayyavole and Manigramam" played an important role in the Southeast Asia trade.Pallava traders and religious leaders travelled to Southeast Asia and played an important role in the cultural Indianisation of the region. Locally developed scripts such as Grantha and Pallava script induced the development of many native scripts such as Khmer, JavaneseKawi script, Baybayin and Thai.
Tamil visual art is dominated by stylised Temple architecture in major centres and the productions of images of deities in stone and bronze. Chola bronzes, especially the Nataraja sculpture of the Chola period, have become notable as a symbol of Hinduism. Tamil performing arts are divided into popular and classical. Classical form is Bharatanatyam, whereas the popular forms are known as Koothu and performed in village temples and on street corners. Tamil cinema, known as Kollywood, is an important part of the Indian cinema industry. Music too is divided into classical Carnatic form and many popular genres.
Although most Tamils are Hindus, many practice what is considered to be folk Hinduism, venerating a plethora of village deities. A sizeable number are Muslims and Christians. A small Jain community survives from the classical period as well. Tamil cuisine is informed by varied vegetarian and non-vegetarian items usually spiced with locally available spices. The music, the temple architecture and the stylised sculptures favoured by the Tamil people as in their ancient nation are still being learnt and practised. English historian and broadcaster Michael Wood called the Tamils the last surviving classical civilisation on Earth, because the Tamil mainstream preserved substantial elements of their past regarding belief, culture, music and literature despite the modern globalised world.
See also: Sources of ancient Tamil history
It is unknown as to whether the term Thamizhar and its equivalents in Prakrit such as Damela, Dameda, Dhamila and Damila was a self designation or a term denoted by outsiders. Epigraphic evidence of an ethnic group termed as such is found in ancient Sri Lanka where a number of inscriptions have come to light datable from the 6th to the 5th century BCE mentioning Damela or Dameda persons. The well-known Hathigumpha inscription of the Kalinga ruler Kharavela refers to a T(ra)mira samghata (Confederacy of Tamil rulers) dated to 150 BC. It also mentions that the league of Tamil kingdoms had been in existence 113 years before then. In Amaravati in present-day Andhra Pradesh there is an inscription referring to a Dhamila-vaniya (Tamil trader) datable to the 3rd century AD. Another inscription of about the same time in Nagarjunakonda seems to refer to a Damila. A third inscription in Kanheri Caves refers to a Dhamila-gharini (Tamil house-holder). In the BuddhistJataka story known as Akiti Jataka there is a mention to Damila-rattha (Tamil dynasty). There were trade relationship between the Roman Empire and Pandyan Empire. As recorded by Strabo, Emperor Augustus of Rome received at Antioch an ambassador from a king called Pandyan of Dramira. Hence, it is clear that by at least 300 BC, the ethnic identity of Tamils was formed as a distinct group.Thamizhar is etymologically related to Tamil, the language spoken by Tamil people. Southworth suggests that the name comes from tam-miz > tam-iz 'self-speak', or 'one's own speech'. Zvelebil suggests an etymology of tam-iz, with tam meaning "self" or "one's self", and "-iz" having the connotation of "unfolding sound". Alternatively, he suggests a derivation of tamiz < tam-iz < *tav-iz < *tak-iz, meaning in origin "the proper process (of speaking)."
See also: History of Tamil Nadu
Possible evidence indicating the earliest presence of Tamil people in modern-day Tamil Nadu are the megalithic urn burials, dating from around 1500 BCE and onwards, which have been discovered at various locations in Tamil Nadu, notably in Adichanallur in Tirunelveli District which conform to the descriptions of funerals in classical Tamil literature.
Various legends became prevalent after the 10th century CE regarding the antiquity of the Tamil people. According to Iraiyanar Agapporul, a 10th/11th century annotation on the Sangam literature, the Tamil country extended southwards beyond the natural boundaries of the Indian peninsula comprising 49 ancient nadus (divisions). The land was supposed to have been destroyed by a deluge. The Sangam legends also adproded to the antiquity of the Tamil people by claiming tens of thousands of years of continuous literary activity during three Sangams.
Ancient Tamils had three monarchical states, headed by kings called "Vendhar" and several tribal chieftainships, headed by the chiefs called by the general denomination "Vel" or "Velir". Still lower at the local level there were clan chiefs called "kizhar" or "mannar". The Tamil kings and chiefs were always in conflict with each other mostly over territorial hegemony and property. The royal courts were mostly places of social gathering rather than places of dispensation of authority; they were centres for distribution of resources. Ancient Tamil Sangam literature and grammatical works, Tolkappiyam; the ten anthologies, Pattuppāṭṭu; and the eight anthologies, Eṭṭuttokai also shed light on ancient Tamil people. The kings and chieftains were patrons of the arts, and a significant volume of literature exists from this period. The literature shows that many of the cultural practices that are considered peculiarly Tamil date back to the classical period.
Agriculture was important during this period, and there is evidence that networks of irrigation channels were built as early as the 3rd century BCE. Internal and external trade flourished, and evidence of significant contact with Ancient Rome exists. Large quantities of Roman coins and signs of the presence of Roman traders have been discovered at Karur and Arikamedu. There is evidence that at least two embassies were sent to the Roman EmperorAugustus by Pandya kings.Potsherds with Tamil writing have also been found in excavations on the Red Sea, suggesting the presence of Tamil merchants there. An anonymous 1st century traveller's account written in Greek, Periplus Maris Erytraei, describes the ports of the Pandya and Chera kingdoms in Damirica and their commercial activity in great detail. Periplus also indicates that the chief exports of the ancient Tamils were pepper, malabathrum, pearls, ivory, silk, spikenard, diamonds, sapphires, and tortoiseshell.
The classical period ended around the 4th century AD with invasions by the Kalabhra, referred to as the kalappirar in Tamil literature and inscriptions. These invaders are described as evil kings and barbarians coming from lands to the north of the Tamil country. This period, commonly referred to as the Dark Age of the Tamil country, ended with the rise of the Pallava dynasty. According to Clarence Maloney, during the classical period Tamils also settled the Maldive Islands.
Economy, trade and maritime
Main article: Economy of ancient Tamil country
The Tamil country is strategically located in the Indian Ocean and had access to a sea trade route.
Imperial and post-imperial periods
The names of the three dynasties, Cholas, Pandyas, and Cheras, are mentioned in Tamil Sangam literature and grammatical works like Tolkappiyar refers to them as the "Three Glorified by Heaven", (Tamil: வாண்புகழ் மூவர், Vāṉpukaḻ Mūvar ?). Later, they are mentioned in the Mauryan Empire's Pillars of Ashoka (inscribed 273–232 BCE) inscriptions, among the kingdoms, which though not subject to Ashoka, were on friendly and allied terms with him. The king of Kalinga, Kharavela, who ruled around 150 BCE, is mentioned in the famous Hathigumpha inscription of the confederacy of the Tamil kingdoms that had existed for over 100 years. The Cholas, Pandyas, Cheras, and Pallavas were followers of Hinduism, though for a short while some of them seem to have embraced Jainism and later converted to Hinduism. After the fall of the Mauryan Empire, the Tamil kingdoms were allied with the Satavahana Dynasty.
These early kingdoms sponsored the growth of some of the oldest extant literature in Tamil. The classical Tamil literature, referred to as Sangam literature is attributed to the period between 200 BCE and 300 CE. The poems of Sangam literature, which deal with emotional and material topics, were categorised and collected into various anthologies during the medieval period. These Sangam poems paint the picture of a fertile land and of a people who were organised into various occupational groups. The governance of the land was through hereditary monarchies, although the sphere of the state's activities and the extent of the ruler's powers were limited through the adherence to the established order ("dharma"). Although the Pallava records can be traced from the 2nd century AD, they did not rise to prominence as an imperial dynasty until the 6th century. They transformed the institution of the kingship into an imperial one, and sought to bring vast amounts of territory under their direct rule. The Bhakti movement in Hinduism was founded at this time, and rose along with the growing influence of Jainism and Buddhism. The Pallavas pioneered the building of large, ornate temples in stone which formed the basis of the Dravidian temple architecture. They came into conflict with the KannadaChalukyas of Badami. During this period, the great Badami Chalukya King Pulakeshin II extended the Chalukya Empire up to the northern extents of the Pallava kingdom and defeated the Pallavas in several battles. Pallava Narasimhavarman however reversed this victory in 642 by attacking and occupying Badami temporarily. However a later Chalukya King Vikramaditya II took revenge by repeated invasions of the territory of Tondaimandalam and his subsequent victories over Pallava Nandivarman II and the annexation of Kanchipuram. The Pallava dynasty was overthrown in the 9th century by the imperial Kannada Rashtrakutas who ruled from Gulbarga. King Krishna III, the last great Rashtrakuta king consolidated the empire so that it stretched from the Narmada River to the Kaveri River and included the northern Tamil country (Tondaimandalam) while levying tribute on the king of Ceylon.
Under Rajaraja Chola and his son Rajendra Chola, the Cholas became dominant in the 10th century and established an empire covering most of South India and Sri Lanka.The empire had strong trading links with the Chinese Song Dynasty and Southeast Asia. The Cholas defeated the Eastern Chalukya and expanded their empire to the Ganges. They conquered the coastal areas around the Bay of Bengal and turned it into a Chola lake. Rajendra Chola improved his father's fleet and created the first notable marine of the Indian subcontinent. The Chola navy conquered the Sri Vijaya Empire of Indonesia and Malaysia and secured the sea trade route to China. Cholas exacted tribute from Thailand and the Khmer Kingdom of Cambodia. The power of the Cholas declined around the 13th century and the Pandyan Empire enjoyed a brief period of resurgence thereafter during the rule of Sundara Pandya. The Pandyan Dynasty reached its peak in the 13th century during the reign of Sadayavarman Sundara Pandyan I and Maravarman Kulasekara Pandyan I. The Pandyan Empire was threatened by the constant Islamic invasions of South India. In the early 14th century, Madurai, the capital of Pandyans was conquered by Jalaluddin Ahsan Khan and an independent Madurai Sultanate was established. The short-lived Madurai Sultanate was captured in 1378 by the Vijayanagara Empire. During the 15th and 16th century the Vijayanagara Empire became the dominant power of South India. After the decline of the Vijayanagara Empire in 1646, Tamil Nadu was dominated by small states like the Madurai Nayaks.
The western Tamil lands became increasingly politically distinct from the rest of the Tamil lands after the Chola and Pandya empires lost control over them in the 13th century. They developed their own distinct language and literature, which increasingly grew apart from Tamil, evolving into the modern Malayalam language by the 15th century.
In Sri Lanka
Main article: Sri Lankan Tamils
There is little scholarly consensus over the presence of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka, prior to the medieval Chola period (c. 10th century AD). One theory states that there was not an organised Tamil presence in Sri Lanka until the invasions from what is now South India in the 10th century AD; another theory contends that Tamil people were the original inhabitants of the island. Yet according to another theory cultural diffusion, rather than migration of people, spread the Tamil language from peninsular India into an existing Mesolithic population, centuries before the Christian era.
However, according to Tamil tradition in Sri Lanka, they believe that they are lineal descendants of the aboriginal Naga and Yaksha people of Sri Lanka. The "Nakar" used the cobra totem known as "Nakam" in the Tamil language, which is still part of the HinduTamil tradition in Sri Lanka today as a subordinate deity.
The indigenousVeddhas of Sri Lanka are ethnically related to tribal people of South India. Settlements of people culturally similar to those of present-day Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu in modern India were excavated at megalithic burial sites at Pomparippu on the west coast and in Kathiraveli on the east coast of the island, villages established between the 5th century BCE and 2nd century AD. Cultural similarities in burial practices in South India and Sri Lanka were dated by archeologists to the 10th century BC. However, Indian history and archaeology have pushed the date back to the 15th century BC, and in Sri Lanka, there is radiometric evidence from Anuradhapura that the non-Brahmi symbol-bearing black and red ware occur at least around the 9th or 10th century BC.
South Indian type Black and Red ware potsherds found in Sri Lanka and dated 1st to 2nd century AD. Displayed at the National Museum of Colombo, Sri Lanka. Potsherds with early Tamil writing from the 2nd century BCE have been found in excavations in north of the island in Poonagari, bearing several inscriptions including a clan name – vela, a name related to velir from ancient Tamil country. Tamil Brahmi inscribed potsherds have also been excavated in the south of the island in Tissamaharama. There is epigraphic evidence of people identifying themselves as Damelas or Damedas (the Prakrit word for Tamil people) in Anuradhapura, the capital city of Rajarata, and other areas of Sri Lanka as early as the 2nd century BC. Historical records establish that Tamil kingdoms in modern India were closely involved in the island's affairs from about the 2nd century BC. In Mahavamsa, a historical poem, ethnic Tamil adventurers such as Elara invaded the island around 145 BC. Tamil soldiers from what is now South India were brought to Anuradhapura between the 7th and 11th centuries CE in such large numbers that local chiefs and kings trying to establish legitimacy came to rely on them. By the 8th century CE there were Tamil villages collectively known as Demel-kaballa (Tamil allotment), Demelat-valademin (Tamil villages), and Demel-gam-bim (Tamil villages and lands).
In the 9th and 10th centuries AD, Pandya and Chola incursions into Sri Lanka culminated in the Chola annexation of the island, which lasted until the latter half of the 11th century AD.
During the rule of the great Chalukya King Vikramaditya VI, in the late eleventh to early twelfth century, the Western Chalukyas convincingly defeated the Cholas on several occasions, weakening their empire. The eventual decline of Chola power in South India in the 12th century was also due to the rise of Hoysala power in the region. The Hoysalas extended their foothold in Tamil Nadu around 1225, making the city of Kannanur Kuppam near Srirangam a provincial capital that give them control over South Indian politics and began a period of Hoysala hegemony in the southern Deccan. Hoysala Vira Narasimha II's son Vira Someshwara earned the honorific "uncle" (Mamadi) from the Pandyas and Cholas. The Hoysala influence spread over the Pandya kingdom from whom they gained tribute. The Chola decline in Sri Lanka was followed by the restoration of the Polonnaruwa monarchy in the late 11th century AD. In 1215, following Pandya invasions, the Tamil-dominant Arya Chakaravarthi dynasty established an independent Jaffna kingdom on the Jaffna peninsula and parts of northern Sri Lanka. The Arya Chakaravarthi expansion into the south was halted by Alagakkonara, a man descended from a family of merchants from Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu. He was the chief minister of the Sinhalese king Parakramabahu V (AD 1344–59). Vira Alakeshwara, a descendant of Alagakkonara, later became king of the Sinhalese, but he was overthrown by the Ming admiral Cheng Ho in 1409. The Arya Chakaravarthi dynasty ruled over large parts of northeast Sri Lanka until the Portuguese conquest of the Jaffna Kingdom in 1619. The coastal areas of the island were taken over by the Dutch and then became part of the British Empire in 1796. The English sailor Robert Knox described walking into the island's Tamil country in the publication An Historical Relation of the Island Ceylon, annotating some kingdoms within it on a map in 1681. Upon arrival of European powers from the 17th century, the Tamils' separate nation was described in their areas of habitation in the northeast of the island.
The caste structure of the majority Sinhalese has also accommodated Hindu immigrants from South India since the 13th century AD. This led to the emergence of three new Sinhalese caste groups: the Salagama, the Durava and the Karava. The Hindu migration and assimilation continued until the 18th century.
British colonists consolidated the Tamil territory in southern India into the Madras Presidency, which was integrated into British India. Similarly, the Tamil speaking parts of Sri Lanka joined with the other regions of the island in 1802 to form the Ceylon colony. They remained in political union with India and Sri Lanka after their independence, in 1947 and 1948 respectively.
When India became independent in 1947, Madras Presidency became the Madras State, comprising present-day Tamil Nadu, coastal Andhra Pradesh, northern Kerala, and the southwest coast of Karnataka. The state was subsequently split along linguistic lines. In 1953, the northern districts formed Andhra Pradesh. Under the States Reorganisation Act in 1956, Madras State lost its western coastal districts. The Bellary and South Kanara districts were ceded to Mysore state, and Kerala was formed from the Malabar district and the former princely states of Travancore and Cochin. In 1968, Madras State was renamed Tamil Nadu. Today the Tamils make up 25% of the population of Sri Lanka.
An independent Tamil state
See also: Sri Lankan Civil War
Tamil Eelam is a proposed independent state that Tamils in Sri Lanka and the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora aspire to create in the north and east of Sri Lanka. Irrespective of the ethnic differences, the British imposed a unitary state structure in British Ceylon for better administration. During the British colonial rule, there many Tamils held higher position than the Sinhalese in the government, because they were favored by the British for their qualification in English education. In the Sri Lankan highlands the lands of the Sinhalese were seized by the British and Indian Tamils were settled there as plantation workers. After the British colonial rule in Sri Lanka left, a ethnic tension between the Sinhalese and the Sri Lankan Tamils rose. The Sinhalese, constituting majority of the country, misliked the minority Tamils having huge power in the island. In 1948, about 700,000 Indian Tamils from Sri Lanka were made stateless and deported to India. In 1956, the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka passed the Sinhala Only Act, an act where Sinhalese replaced English as the only official language of Sri Lanka. Due to this, many Tamils were forced to resign as civil servants/public servants because they were not fluent in Sinhalese. The Sri Lankan Tamils saw this act as a linguistic, cultural and economic discrimination against them.
After anti-Tamil pogroms in 1956, 1958 and 1977 and police brutality against the Tamils protesting against these acts, guerilla groups like Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were created. Their goal was to create an independent Tamil state, Tamil Eelam. The burning of Jaffna library in 1981 and Black July in 1983 finally led to over 25 years of war between the Sri Lankan army and the Tamil Tigers. The Sri Lankan civil war led to death of over 100,000 people according to the United Nations. The Sri Lankan Government are alleged to have committed war crimes against the civilian Sri Lankan Tamil people during the final months of the Eelam War IV