Posted on February 6th, 2019


REVISED 7.2.19

Jaffna was   colonized by a fresh set of   Tamils during the Dutch occupation. The Dutch brought in landless Tamil laborers from South India, to work on their tobacco and indigo plantations in Jaffna. They settled down in Jaffna.  Jaffna therefore continued to be Tamil speaking.  Over time, descendants of these Tamil laborers rose up the occupational ladder, and spread out over the island, taking with them the Tamil language.

The British who ruled over Sri Lanka from 1815 to 1948, created a new race called the ‘Ceylon Tamil’. The ‘Ceylon Tamil’ was an invention of the British. The ‘Ceylon Tamil’ made its first official appearance in the Legislative Council of 1833, to which the British appointed a separate Tamil member and Sinhala member. Thereafter, the ‘Ceylon Tamil’ was listed as one of the ‘races’ created for the Census of Ceylon in 1867. ‘Race’ is a European invention and the races created such as ‘Ceylon Tamil’ are bogus, artificial creations. The Tamil language however is a genuine entity.

The British then divided the island into nine provinces,   and assigned the valuable coastal territory of the Northern and Eastern Provinces to the ‘Ceylon Tamil’, calling them ‘Tamil speaking’ provinces. (Census of Ceylon, 1911” by E.B. Denham)

The Eastern Province was turned into a Tamil speaking province by the simple process of killing off the Sinhala villagers who lived there. British Government agents administering the east, pleaded with the British government, saying, the Sinhala villagers are dying, all they need is a little assistance to repair their tanks, but the British government ignored the requests. The Sinhala villagers died out and were replaced by Tamils moving in from the north. This was done by the British administration. This colonization of the Eastern province, including Trincomalee by Tamils would have taken place  in the first quarter of the 20 century, or late 19 century.

The Tamil language, when it first arrived in Sri Lanka, during the Dutch occupation would have been simply the language used for communication by a backward, low caste immigrant population.  Sinhala speakers would have ignored it. But Tamil rose in status during British rule. The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Mission, arriving in Jaffna in the early 19 century, elevated the Tamil language to a scholarly one.

The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Mission which started Christian missionary operations in Jaffna in 1816 dominated the missionary scene in Jaffna. It worked in 17 of the 32 Jaffna parishes, while the Church Missionary Society (CMS) was in ten parishes and Wesleyan mission in three parishes. In 1824 the mission had 90 primary schools. In 1822 there were     42 schools with 1800 pupils. This Board was a very powerful influence in Jaffna.

The American mission encouraged Tamil studies  in their schools, with special emphasis on Tamil literature. The missionaries wished to know the main Tamil texts. The missionaries needed these as they were looking for points of contact between Christianity and the native religions. The Tirukkal was highly popular with Christian missionaries, said Shulman. Tirukkal is one of the two oldest works now extant in Tamil literature.  It deals with everyday virtues of an individual. The American Mission had two printing presses at Nellore and Manipay dating from 1820. Ancient Tamil texts were printed for the first time in the Mission press in 1835.

The Mission   wanted also to upgrade the Tamil language used by the inhabitants of Jaffna. The American Mission in Boston therefore wanted all subjects taught in Tamil in the mission schools of Jaffna.  In the American Mission schools, Pupils learnt Christianity, English, Tamil grammar and geography.     They were taught in English and Tamil. Two thirds of the time in English, one third in Tamil. Period of study was six years.  Subjects were Christianity, English language and literature, Tamil language and literature. Sanskrit, mathematics, native arithmetic, European and Hindu    astronomy,  geography, history and chemistry.

The American Mission used the Fabricius translation of the Bible and provided a Bible based on this in simple Tamil. A nascent Tamil Christian literature consisting of lyrics, hymns and books, composed by the Jaffna Tamil Christians started to emerge. Tamil scholar Arnold Sathasivampillai, a student of Batticotta, composed over    500 Christian devotional songs. The missionaries spoke fluent Tamil. This was essential otherwise they could not communicate with the Jaffna people. They   prepared books on Christian theology explained in Tamil.

Batticotta seminary, Vaddukoddai, the flagship school of the American Mission, placed much emphasis on Tamil language and literature. The teachers were American, including G.Dashiel for Sanskrit and P.K.Haselltine for Tamil.   H.R.Hoisington, a graduate of Cambridge University, who arrived in 1836, and became principal in 1845, mastered Tamil and Sanskrit, (presumably after he arrived in Jaffna.)   Schulman suggests that the missionary knowledge of Biblical Hebrew would have helped them pick up Tamil.

Batticotta taught a range of other   Tamil writings,   by 1830, including ‘Thirukural’ (Sangam literature)  and ‘Nanool’ (Tamil grammar).   Ramayana was added later.    Tamil composition was encouraged at Batticotta  and there were exams on Tamil studies. Batticotta set up a Tamil class in 1828 to train Tamil teachers. Batticotta produced good Christians and excellent Tamil scholars,  such as C.M. Thamotharampillai. The Batticotta seminary, it is held, was responsible for the emergence of a Tamil intellectual elite and a Dravidian identity   in Jaffna.

The Mission also emphasized the use of English .The Mission started a newspaper ‘Morning Star’ in 1841. It had four pages, two each in English and Tamil. Many journals were started in Jaffna thereafter.  In 1853 there was the ‘Vithyatharpanam’ with two equal sections in Tamil and English.  A system of Tamil shorthand for the Tamil language was invented by Rev Fr P Dunne, principal of St Patrick’s College (1889-1901). The notes and explanations were in   English and Tamil. Fr Dunne also published a concise Tamil – English Dictionary in 1900. Weslyan missionary Rev Peter Percival’s Anglo-Tamil dictionary (1838) and A Collection of Proverbs in Tamil with their Translation in English, were published by Jaffna Book Society.

The American mission then moved onto another level, Tamils scholars trained at Batticotta, , were sent to South India, to help upgrade Tamil literature in Madras. The very early texts had gone out of circulation by the middle of the 19 century and were in need of ‘recovery. Manuscripts of Manimekalai, Cilapattikaranam for instance  were missing.

The Jaffna Tamil who was most acitive in this was C.M. Thamotharampillai(1833-1901). Thamotharampillai had first learnt Tamil under his father, a first generation Christian, who had briefly attended Batticotta. Thamotharampillai graduated from Batticotta in 1852. Thamotharampillai had made a Tamil translation of the Book of Genesis from the Bible when he was studying at Batticotta.

After leaving Batticotta, Thamotharampillai did a stint at ‘Morning Star’ then moved to Madras to become the editor of the Tamil daily ‘Thinavarthamani’  started by the Wesleyan Mission. He also taught at Presidency College, Madras and gave Tamil tuition to high officials. Thamotharampillai was a High court judge for Puthukkodai, Tamilnadu, from 1887 to 1890.  But his main interest was in the Tamil literature available in Madras area.

Thamotharampillai advertised for Tamil manuscripts, obtained them, edited and published them,  in Madras, using his earnings to do so.  He collated manuscripts, noting variant readings. His approach was philological and historical not       devotional. He published around 13 Tamil manuscripts  including ‘Veerasoliyan’. He published several works which has been considered lost, where only parts of the manuscripts   were found in olas here and there.  These included ‘Ilakkana vilakkam’   and the third part of Tholkayam, the ‘Porulathikaram.’ Thamotharampillai ‘searched high and low’ and brought this manuscript to light in 1885. He handed over manuscripts that he was not using to others to process. Thamotharampillai’s contribution to the Tamil language in discovering and publishing lost manuscripts is well recognized in Tamilnadu. Thamotharampillai had to give up Christianity and become a Hindu to do this work. If Thamotharampillai had continued as Christian he could not have worked in Tamil, observed Hoole.

The linguistic and religious awakening among the Tamil Hindus in Jaffna was largely due to the pioneering efforts of Jaffna’s Arumuka Navalar (1822-1879). His interest was in reforming the Saivite religion, not Tamil studies but he contributed to the revival of Tamil by making Tamil the language of the Saivite revival. This was an important contribution to the development of modern Tamil studies both in Ceylon and South India, said K.M. de Silva.

Arumuga Navalar had a profound knowledge of Tamil classical texts and published critical editions of these. He was one of the early adaptors of modern Tamil prose, introducing Western editing techniques. He adopted a simple and lucid style of Tamil prose writing, said K.M. de Silva.  His school, only for Vellala, promoted literacy and Tamil studies.

Navalar had two printing presses, one in Madras and the other in Jaffna. He bought his first press in 1849.He was one of the first to use the modern printing press to preserve the Tamil literary tradition.  His Madras press issued two texts prepared by Navalar, a teacher’s guide and a poem. These were the first efforts at editing and printing Tamil works for Saiva students and devotees. These were followed by graded readers, such as Bala Potam (Lessons for Children) in 1850 and 1851. They were simple in style, similar to those used in the Christian schools.

According to information held on the internet, Arumuga Navalar produced approximately ninety-seven Tamil publications of which twenty three were original writings. There were also forty   edited versions of works on grammar, literature, liturgy, and theology that were not previously available in print, as well as eleven commentaries. Commentaries on grammars included Kandihai Urai on the Nanool.  With this ‘recovery, editing, and publishing’ of ancient works, Navalar laid the foundations for the recovery of lost Tamil classics.

Madras also had it own researchers, notably Caminat aiyar, who spent a good part of his life scouring the Tamil country for more manuscripts and editing them. Caminat aiyar brought to light  ancient largely forgotten master works of Tamil literature, The first section of Tolkapiyam was published in 1847 in Madras. The first section of Cilapattikaranam was printed by Bower and Muttiah Pillay in 1868 and was part of the curriculum for students of Tamil in government colleges. But most of the manuscripts found  could not be dated; some would have been recent..

The British administration in Madras also helped in the recovery of Tamil. From 1820 onwards they supported the campaign to foster and reform Tamil language and literature. Publications of lost classics was a valued colonial period activity, observed Shulman. Language teachers were given secure jobs.  Further, the rediscovery of Sangam literature and their publication inspired a new identity for Tamils. The Tamil language became a focus for collective identity. Tamil was not longer a term of a language, but also a civilization.

There is huge difference between the history of the Tamil language and that of Sinhala. Unlike the Tamil kingdom which ended in the 14th, never to rise again, the Sinhala kingdom continued until in 1815, when the British conquered the Udarata kingdom. The Sinhala language also   functioned as a sovereign language up to 1815.

Unlike Tamil, Sinhala did not collapse under foreign rule. Sinhala literature and Sinhala grammar were carefully preserved and looked after by generation after generation of bhikkus and laymen during British rule. Complete manuscripts of major Sinhala writings, such as Mahavamsa and Jataka pota were available in plenty in personal and temple collections in the 1930s. Sinhala literature, unlike Tamil literature, was not in bits and pieces and no outside intervention was needed to ‘put it together again’. The Christian missionaries only had to prepare Sinhala-English dictionaries for their own use.  ( continued)

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