One Hundred Tamils
of the 20th Century
Who is a Tamil?
& Criteria for Selection
|"...I am not sure whether there is any such thing as pure
anything. In human evolution, if we are to accept the current theories by anthropologists,
and findings in the field of DNA and human migration, there are no pure human groups in
Sri Lanka, India, or even in the remote areas of Papua New Guinea. Discrimination
should also not be made because a person is born into
the Brahmin or any other caste. If we do, we are then recognising and promoting the
archaic concept of caste. This of course opens the question, "Who is a Pure
Tamil?" More importantly, "What does purity of a group of people
mean in this day and age?" I hope tamilnation.org
and its readers shine some light on the
question of who is a "pure Tamilian," and whether such persons really
exist..." Nagalingam Ethirveerasingham, 14
London, UK 4 July 2006
This is a reply to
of 3rd July. Dr.Wignesan says
"...let us look at his confused and contradictory definition.
'A simplest definition of who is a Tamil, is whoever whose mother-tongue is
Tamil or perhaps whose major life work was communicated in Tamil.'
......................With his definition, at one fell swoop he has managed
to wipe off the slate the vast majority of Tamils who have ever existed or
continue to exist on this earth"
I don't know how anyone can draw a conclusion from the statement
"Tamil is the mother-tongue of X" to "X is not a Tamil". It completely baffles
me. I am a Tamil by virtue of speaking Tamil in my family as the
first language and which I learnt as a child. This by and large applies to most
people. This is what in Tamil is called 'tAy mozhi'. This has nothing to do with
literacy or knowledge of literature. There is no need to complicate this simple
I added the second definition (with a 'perhaps') to include
people like E.V.Ramaswamy Naicker, whose mother tongue
was Kannada, but who communicated in Tamil and made his career in Tamil.
Perhaps, I can add one more qualification: i.e. those whose ancestors once spoke
Tamil and who consider themselves Tamil because of that. With this , I want to
include lot of Tamils in South Africa,
Reunion and other places.
Usually, I would not have bothered with the question 'who is Tamil', since such
a question keeps cropping up in this forum, I responded.
Dr.Wignesan also says:
"I take it, in his confusion over 'Who is a Tamil?” and
'Who merits to be in the list of the Hundred Most Distinguished Tamils'...."
First, I did not take the question of Hundred Most Distinguished Tamils. As to
who is confused, I let the readers to judge for themselves.
"After using the adjective “Dravidan” to designate the
Brahmins living in the south and west of the sub-continent, and then to
extend it to cover those of the northeast, ..".
I did not extend the term to the Brahmins in the north and the
east. I wrote that the traditional classification for Brahmins of north and east
of India was Pancha-Gauda. All that is necessary is to go over what I wrote
instead of making assumptions.
He also asks
"In other words, if all Brahmins are “Dravida” or “Dravidan”,
where is there a need to designate one sub-section of it under the same
I simply wrote what is traditionally understood, i.e. a
subsection of Tamil iyers are called 'Dravida' as well as Pancha-Dravida means
Brahmins of south and west India. I don't see any contradiction here. For that
matter, gauda brahmins means from Bengal, but pancha-gauda means means more than
that. This site lists the pancha-gauda and pancha-dravida brahmins
This site gives the sub-classifications of Tamil Iyers among whom are "Puroor
Dravida" and "Thummagunta dravida"
BTW, I am not Iyer, so there is no assumption of trying to plug in Iyer ideas.
He also quotes Rev.Caldwell and other 19th century works. Classical Tamil
literature was only partly known to him and he is a good example 19th century
linguists who mistook a linguistic classification for a racial one. For example
see Eugene Irschalk "Politics and Social Conflict in South India" Ch 8 .
"Today (i.e. 1968) the term Dravidian usually refers to a
family of languages in south India... In the first and second decades of the
20th - the term - in south India at least- had both a racial and linguistic
This is what I pointed out when Dr.Wignesan mentioned
"Dravidian racial stocks" in the first place. Dr.Wignesan says
"All languages keep adding to their vocabulary through
coining new words or by borrowing from other languages."
True, while it must be kept in mind that due to
cultural imperialism of the English in the
19th/20th centuries, the word 'Dravidian' was taken out of context from Indian
culture by British academics and the Indians slavishly followed the European
meanings of those terms, instead of following the traditional usage of the same
terms. I thank tamilnation.org,
Dr.Wignesan for his replies and other readers for
From: T. Wignesan,
Paris, France, 3 July 2006
Re the “comment” on my use of the phrase “Dravidian racial
stock” by V.C.Vijayaraghavan, June 30, 2006, I should normally be concerned only
with his definition of “Who is a Tamil?”, but the alarmist and presumptuous
nature of his brief explanations merit a réplique.
To begin with, let us look at his confused and contradictory
definition. “A simplest definition of who is a Tamil, is whoever whose
mother-tongue is Tamil or perhaps whose major life work was communicated in
This definition reveals a lot, even if in three short
paragraphs, the “commentator” is unable to enunciate his thoughts in a coherent
manner. I take it, in his confusion over “Who is a
Tamil?” and “Who merits to be in the list of the Hundred Most Distinguished
Tamils”, he commits the very same “logical fallacies” (I won’t go so far as to
add “monumental proportions”) he’s trying vainly to impute to my universally
accepted use of the phrase.
With his definition, at one fell swoop he has managed to wipe
off the slate the vast majority of Tamils who have ever existed or continue to
exist on this earth. Just think of the legions of illiterate Tamils who through
no fault of their own, like the displaced “indentured” victims of colonialism,
have had to cope with, on the one hand, either literary and/or classical Tamil,
or, on the other, other “mother” or first tongues in other lands. I wonder if he
has not in the process erased his very own existence as a Tamil by postulating
that unless a Tamil’s “major life work” was not communicated in Tamil, he didn’t
deserve to be either a Tamil or a nominee on the list.
While bearing in mind that both “Dravidian” and “Dravidan” are
used as epithets in both commentaries – his and mine – it is quite evident that
his objection to the use of the adjective “Dravidian” to designate various
peoples in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Kannada, and Andhra (a term that has perhaps been
mistakenly assigned to Maharashtra and Gujerat as well) arises from his dire
need to arrogate the term exclusively in the name of the Brahmin caste(s).
After using the adjective “Dravidan” to designate the Brahmins
living in the south and west of the sub-continent, and then to extend it to
cover those of the northeast, he falls into the trap of the “logical fallacy” he
unwittingly, no doubt, set for himself by adding that a Tamil Iyer sub-caste
goes under the very same name.
In other words, if all Brahmins are “Dravida” or “Dravidan”,
where is there a need to designate one sub-section of it under the same term?
Or, in the same breath, to invoke its existence in his commentary?
The introduction of the term “Dravidian” by Robert Charles
Caldwell in his A Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian or South Indian Family of
Languages (1856) soon took on the connotations that the major Tamil dictionaries
followed up to our times. Here are some definitions from recognised Tamil
1. Tamil Lexikon, Vol. III, Part One, p. 1887. Published under
the authority of the University of Madras, 1982:
“tiravitam: 1. The Tamil country; 2. South India, south of
Vindhya, including the five provinces, Tiravitam, Antiram, Kannatam,
Makarattiram and Kurccaram; 3. The Tamil language; 4. Vernacular tongues of the
inhabitants of S.India, Tamil Telegu, Kanarese, Malayalam, Tulu, etc.
tiravita-p-piramanar: Brahmans living south of the Vindhya range, distinct from
kauta-p-piramanar” [i.e.; takshnateesattup paarpanar]
2. (M.)Winslow’s A Comprehensive Tamil and English Dictionary,
First pub. 1862; Repr. for Asian Educational Services in 1979, p. 585-B:
“tiravidam/tiraavidam: s. Southern India including in its
largest sense, five provinces, and their respective languages. 1. tiravidam, the
Tamil country or Dravida proper. 2. antiram, Telingu or Telugu. 3. kannadam,
Canarese. 4. makaratiram, Maharatta. 5. kuurcaram, Gujeratta. W. p. 429.
DRAVID’A, - Note. tiravidam is applied to the people and language of each of
these provinces, but especially to the Tamil. Some follow a different
arrangement which includes the Malayalam and Cingalese. In Wilson’s dictionary,
Dravida is defined to be the country from Madras to Cape Comorin, a definition
too limited, according to usage in the Peninsula.”
3. Dictionary of Contemporary Tamil (Kriyavin Tarkalat Tamil
Akarati), published with financial assistance from the Department of Education
of the Government of India, 1st edn. 1992, p.544-A:
“tiravidam: n. referring to people speaking Tamil, Telegu,
Kannada, Malayalam, etc. but refers mainly to the land which they inhabit.”
To conclude, his main objection remains hardly veiled: he
objects to Westerners or Western academics using an exclusively Brahmin
“self-referent” term to designate “non-Brahmins”. Then follows the punch-line:
“… which has been given up by European academics themsleves; so let us not
wallow in that fallacy.”
Should we slavishly follow – as he exhorts us – Western usage
now that – according to him – the term “Dravidian” has been relinquished by the
very people who in the first place introduced it?
All languages keep adding to their vocabulary through coining
new words or by borrowing from other languages. It’s a dynamic process, for
is a product of collective creative activity going on all the time. The French
language which contributed handsomely to the British tongue in the first fifty
years after the Norman Conquest in 1066, now in turn is hurriedly absorbing
English terms in a spate of re-invigoration which provoked the old Sorbonne’s
Comparative Literature Chair - Professor Etiemble - to protest in a publication:
Parlez-vous franglais? (Français+Anglais) in 1973.
From: V.C.Vijayaraghavan, London
30 June 2006
Dr.Wignesan writes "As this is
not the case, it should appear logical to apply birthright as a means by which
to distinguish a Tamil, say, from a Telegu, both ethnic members, mind you, being
of the same Dravidian racial stock."
Dravidian as a western academic term refers to a linguistic family. To read it a
as a racial group is a logical fallacy of monumental proportions. After all,
none of the classical and pre-British colonial Tamil writers talk of of a
'Dravidian' race; so why should we? It was a 19th century European academic
fallacy to equate a linguistic group with a racial group and which has been
given up by European academics themselves; so let us not wallow in that fallacy.
'Dravidan' as a term in Indian writings to refer to a set of people -
especially as a self-referent - comes from Brahminical writings. Brahmins in
South India , Maharashtra and Gujarat were referred to a Pancha-Dravidas in
contra-distinction to Pancha-Gaudas who were the Brahmins in Northern and
eastern India. One of the Tamil Iyer subsections is also called 'dravida'.
A simplest definition of who is a Tamil, is whoever whose mother-tongue is Tamil
or perhaps whose major life work was communicated in Tamil.
From: Mariam Manuel Pillai, Matottam, Tamil Eelam,
I'm intrigued by browsing the One Hundred Tamils Comments page. I find
T Wignesan's comment most
acceptable, inclusive and convincing.
Who is a Jew? You could be speaking Yiddish, Swahili,
German, English, French, Hindi, Hebrew or even
Gibberish...as long as your mother is a Jewess then you are
a Jew indeed. I have a splendid scholarly friend at John
Hopkins, US; who considers him to be a Tamil. Now his father
is Swedish and his father's mother is Tamil from Madras. His
mother is Danish, his mother's father is a Nadar from
KOLUMBU, Ceylon. My friend IS a TAMIL "every bit" as he puts
it even though he looks a blue-eyed blond hair Scandinavian.
Do we have to be conversant in Tamil to be a
Tamil? I doubt it. I tell diaspora children, don't tell
others that you are Sri Lankan. You don't know Sri Lanka do
you? They reply 'NO, we've just gone there a few times for
holidays'. My advise to these children "Tell them you are
Tamil. It does not matter where you are living currently; it
does not matter whether you are able speak the language; but
you are a Tamil".
My parents were products of Colonialism. They could not read
or write Tamil. My older brother was of similar background.
They spoke the "vernacular" as they put it. But place them
on a public platform - their choice of language was of
course English - owing to fluency. I remember visiting the
late Mr Alagakone FP - MP of Mannar as a little boy at his
residence. My father would sit and chat for hours about
Tamil politics. It was all in English, interspersed by Tamil
remarks. Did that make them less of a Tamil? Ouch, they'll
turn in their grave. They were every inch Tamils and
they were very proud of it. Today I meet some Tamils who are
enviably fluent in "Senthamil" but they have no "Thamil
unarvu". I see the gap...I consider that to be a spiritual
matter....Humans are essentially spiritual beings - as much
as they are rational beings.
I'm not saying for one moment that language and culture are
not important. We must "preserve" our ancient language, some
argue. We can't however preserve language if its living. It
evolves and grows...language and culture are dynamic...I
listen to the Tamil Radio and some times I don't understand
the language. I never said "Ahavai" for "Vayathu". For
bicycle and motor cycle and various other things new words
have been invented. I strain to understand. And the way in
which news is read is too fast for me. Am I not a Tamil?
Don't answer - that is only a rhetorical question...
We ought to mature - out side our constrictions and
confines. Tamils need not be insecure. We know our origins
and we know our destiny. Many centuries ago our forefathers
sang "Yathum uray yavarum kerlir". In 21st century we too
must broaden our horizons and carry that spirit... the
Tamilness -- which is larger than just being Tamil, I
suppose. That is Barathi's VIDUTHALAI...
From: Saravanamuttu Sriranjan
, 17 December 2000
Most of the Tamil nominees are not suitable for your list. Some of the nominators, like
frogs in the well, know nothing beyond their homes. I would like to point out that
most Tamils do not like to speak in Tamil within their own community. They prefer to speak
in English, even though some of them cannot speak that properly. One day, I was invited to
an Arangetam of Bharatha Natyam. About 70% of the audience were Tamils. All of the
songs were in Tamil. But it was unfortunate that there were not a single word spoken
in Tamil by the Chief Guest or the Parents of the Dancer. They feel it is a shame to speak their mother
tongue But we should appreciate MGR.. Even though he was a Malayali, he was
better known in the Tamil nation than in Kerala. He sacrificed his whole life
for the up liftment of the Tamil nation. I remember a
proposition that if two people of the same tongue speak to each other in
English, they must be both English or both Tamils! Finally, it is my humble
request - please speak Tamil with Tamils & English with English.
From: T.Wignesan19 November 2000
I must say I'm somewhat taken aback by the arguments. Please let me explain.
Since Tamils don't have a country of their own, it seems to me that the yardstick by which the notion of a Tamil can be circumscribed would be the
same for a Tamil national or citizen if the opposite was the case, that is, if a Tamil Nation existed within geographical confines. As this is not the
case, it should appear logical to apply birthright as a means by which to distinguish a Tamil, say, from a Telegu, both ethnic members, mind you, being
of the same Dravidian racial stock.
Of course, the argument over purity of racial breeding can have no validity whatsoever almost anywhere in the world, and the Tamils besides have
always been open to miscegenation from the times of the Aryan invasions/migrations into the Indo-Gangetic plains, or the pre-B.C.
arrival of Mlecchas (Greeks) and Arabs as traders and the establishment of
settlements (Romans served Tamil kings as military advisers, engineers, and
bodyguards) in Southern India. Add to this the heady colonial concoction of
Portuguese, Dutch, and British strains in the old Ceylon and the notion of
what constitutes a Sri Lankan Tamil or an Indian Tamil becomes an
anthropological enigma. One should not forget that - in between - the Muslim invaders sacked Madurai in the middle ages, paving the way for other invaders
from the northwest of the sub-continent to impregnate and fertilise
longstanding reigns in such Tamil strongholds as Tricchi and Tanjavur.
So, it would only stand to reason to claim that a Tamil is anyone who
is born of "Tamil" parents (that is, those who claim a Tamil "nationality", even if juridically non-existent, speak or understand the Tamil language, and
generally subscribe to the manners and customs of the traditional Tamil
society). [For this non-essential aspect, see, for example, Simon Casie
Chitty's The Castes, Customs, Manners, and Literature of the Tamils, 1934.]
But then, I stress, such a definition should remain openly flexible to
modification, at least, for the present generation, and, in particular, with regard to the scattered Tamil diaspora
The problem naturally arises as to how we may apply such notions in
each individual case. Quite frankly, I do not think it would serve to insist on "service to the community" - even if this might seem a desirable quality -
as a rule by which to assess the eligibility of a Tamil in being included in the list, for this would unnecessarily invoke standards which might prove to
be thorny, partial, and indecisive. It should be enough that the nominee distinguished himself in his career. You are not going to put Professor
Subramaniam Chandrasekar, the Nobel Prize winning astrophysician, out of the
list simply because he became an American and/or teacher at Chicago University all his adult life. If he didn't, he might perhaps never have
distinguished himself in the same way.
Of course, some names stand out in the list and point to anomalies
in our attempts to circumscribe the notion or idea of Tamils. Ananda
K.Coomaraswamy is one. His father, Sir Mutu Coomaraswamy, was perhaps the
most important Tamil political leader in the latter half of the 19th century
in Ceylon, but then his mother was an English aristocrat, a descendant of Queen Victoria's Lady-in-Waiting. Even if AKC was born in Ceylon, he left the
country with his mother when he was only two. [See T.Wignesan's " Ananda
K.Coomaraswamy's Aesthetics: the Rasa theory and the Hindu religious tradition in art - A Critique" in The Journal of the Institute of Asian
Studies, Vol.XIV, 1 (Chennai), September 1996.] His achievement in the realms
of art, religion, and philosophy grounded in South Asia is far too extensive and groundbreaking to be discarded on racial or "communal service" grounds,
even if he had willingly forsaken research in Sri Lanka after 1907. It should
not be forgotten that the British confiscated his passport in 1917 and proscribed him from setting foot in Empire territory from then on. He died an
American citizen in 1947.
From: Arivazhagan Balasubramanian, 9 August 2000
"Who is a Tamil? There is no race in the world which is pure." The above
comment by Nagalingam Ethirveerasingham is thought provoking,
but at the same time one should consider what the Aryan Brahmins have done for Tamil
and the Tamil people. I have no objection to considering Bharathiyar's name. But at the
same time persons like Rajaji - who was for Hindi instead of Tamil while he was the C.M.,
Kanchi Sankarachari - who has recently said that Brahmins are superior, and MGR (it was during his rule only that Brahmins got hold of the
administration they lost to Dravidian movement) should not be considered. They are for the
varna or caste system through which they want to divide and rule the Tamil people (which
they had done for centuries) till leaders like Periyar and Anna helped Tamils to take note
of their identity. So, please consider what a person has done for Tamils and for
Tamil before including his or her name in the one hundred Tamils list.
From: Arul Nathan
28 June 2000
I fully agree with
Abraham Judah of Singapore. Because one speaks Tamil, he is not a Tamilian. We are
Tamil by birth and only such people should be mentioned. Aryans were the one who
suppressed us so much down through the centuries, created the shame called Castes, to
split us who once lived as one people, like brothers. They are the one who misled people
to believe and worship whatever they had created for thier livlihood. The Aryans and
Brahmins have no place in Tamil issues.
From: Nagalingam Ethirveerasingham USA, 14 March 2000
Mr. V. Thangavelu's (31 October 1999) objection to the
names of some nominees to the list of "100 Tamils..." may not be valid. However,
his questioning of the inclusion of my name to the list is a valid one. The criteria given
by TamilNation and later by Messers Thanabalasingam (21 August
1999), Sachi Sri Kantha, Kumarabharathy,
and others are excellent. From those contributions, a selection criteria and method can be
formulated. Using any of those standards I do not qualify to be nominated for the honour.
I like to share with Tamilnation readers, my grandmother's perspective of my athletic
achievement. On the day I returned to Jaffna from competing in the 1952 Olympic Games in
Helsinki, by the early morning train from Colombo after a five months sea journey, many
people were gathered at home and wanted to hear about the Olympics.
My grandmother sat on a bench and listened to my enthusiastic tale of the Helsinki
Olympics from the opening to closing ceremonies. She seemed proud of me and enjoyed
hearing my story. Having lost my mother to tuberculosis when I was 12, she took the place
of my mother. When I had finished my tale and it was time for me to take a bath and get
ready to go to school, she asked me, "what did you do at the Olympic Games?"
Her question seemed like the old question of Rama's relationship to Sita. I told her of
my jumping at the Olympics. She had this perplexed look on her face and asked, "You
went all the way to (Seemai) Europe for so long, missing your GCE OL examination, to jump
over a stick like you do in the backyard?"
My ego that was reaching the sky popped and fell to the ground. The bath at the well
that morning was a time for reflection. It is from that time onwards that I paid attention
to my studies.
To this day, a bath at the well or a shower brings me the image of my grandmother and
her wisdom. My achievements in athletics since that day was tempered by the memory of her
observation. She only went to school for two years. I had never seen her read or write...
....I like to make an observation on what Mr. Kannan from
Chennai " (10 February, 2000) and others wrote on the nominees for 100 Tamils...
Mr. Kannan refers to himself "as a Pure Tamilian," and questions the
nomination of MGR, and Brahmins on the basis of "Pure Tamil."
I am not sure whether there is any such thing as pure anything. In human evolution, if
we are to accept the current theories by anthropologists, and findings in the field of DNA
and human migration, there are no pure human groups in Sri Lanka, India, or even in the
remote areas of Papua New Guinea.
Discrimination should also not be made
person is born into the Brahmin or any other caste. If we do, we are then recognising
and promoting the archaic concept of caste. This of course opens the question, "Who
is a Pure Tamil?"
More importantly, "What does purity of a group of people mean in this day and
age?" I hope "tamilnation" and its readers shine some light on the question
of who is a "pure Tamilian," and whether such persons really exist. I am a Tamil
because I think I am.
|Response by tamilnation.org: Nagalingam
Ethirveerasingham's thoughtful comments will hopefully provoke further thought on a
central issue that he has raised. Who is a Tamil? Definitions will always
create difficulties.Every inside has an outside and the relationship between the two is
not extrinsic but intrinsic - and it is not static but dynamic. It seems that our
identities are formed by a dynamic interaction with the external. The comments in Alice in
Wonderland continue to be relevant.
"'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in a
rather scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less'.
'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things'.
'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master - that's all'." (Lewis
Carrol - Through the Looking Glass, c.vi)
The circumstance that this quote was used by Lord Justice Aitken in a well known
dissenting judgment in a House of Lords case in England, shows perhaps, that even lawyers
have great uncertainty about the meaning of words! Having said that, there may be a need
to discuss the question of who is a Tamil - and an attempt will be made to crystallise
some of the elements in the coming months.
It was kind of Mr.Ethirveerasingham, to have shared his grandmother's response (and her
homespun wisdom) with the visitors to the tamilnation website. Many thousands of Tamils in
Eelam in the1950s, were proud of N.Ethirveerasingham's achievement at the Olympics. It was
an achievement that was a source of inspiration to young Tamils and therein lay his
contribution to Tamil togetherness. The words of Abdul Kalam
come to mind:
"I will not be presumptuous enough to say that my life can be a role model for
anybody; but some poor child living in an obscure place, in an underprivileged social
setting may find a little solace in the way my destiny has been shaped. It could perhaps
help such children liberate themselves from the bondage of their illusory backwardness and
When we, as a people, nominate those who have contributed to our growing togetherness,
we honour not so much our nominees, but ourselves, as a people.
US 13 March 2000
'vanhakkm anput tamizc celvangkaLE'
It pains me to note signs of fundamentalist fanaticism in some of the comments
regarding the list of 100 Tamils of the 20th century. ... the parameters for nominations
to this august list were defined as follows:
"tamilnation invites your nominations to a list of 100 Tamils of the 20th century who
have made significant contributions to the world and to Tamil togetherness - whether such
contributions be in scientific thought, literature, political action, personal sacrifice
and example, spirituality or any other area. Please e-mail a short biography of your
nominee to firstname.lastname@example.org"
I am glad that your webiste is an all
Tamil embracing website. Although I was born in Jaffna, I am a Tamil at large and proud to
be the Tamil American I have become. There is nothing more pre-occupying to me than to
contribute my mite to the survival of Tamils and their progress with dignity and
honor. It is true most Tamils all over the world are faced with humiliations and even
threat to their existence. Racism is the catchword for political expediency in many
states. A divisive Tamil communalism weakens the struggle against racism and other forms
The world has yet to learn more about the uniqueness of the Tamil people. Prof. George
Hart in his introduction to 'puRaNAnURu',
" 'puRaNAnURu' is among the earliest works in Tamil that we possess.
It was written before Aryan influence had penetrated the south as thoroughly as it did
later and is a testament of pre-Aryan South India and, to a significant extent, of
Fortunately, Tamil communalism is confined to only language. Let us
not bring other human issues and make a further mess of an already messed up Tamil life.
If we want some individual or individuals to be included, then according to the terms of
the nomination, anyone could nominate any number .... Tamils, except for EELAVAR in Sri
Lanka and another country where things do not seem what they are, are not persecuted for
being Tamils. Therefore, 'tamiz anparkaLE' let us look for the milk in the half full milk
bottle and not the microorganisms in the empty space...
From: Vijay Pillai US 26 February 2000
Am I right in pointing out what I read recently to my utter surprise that Periyar was
from Kannada state and not a Tamil? I also was surprised that he was supposed to have said
Tamils in Tamil Nadu at that time had no leadership qualities and it was left for some one
like him from Kannadam to take charge? Well, it is not too late to learn. Please correct
me if I am wrong. He was supposed to have started the Dravidian movement and not Tamilian
movement. Does that make it more broader than Tamil Nadu? It reminds me of a film star who
has won the hearts and minds of Tamils in Tamil Nadu with his famous, unique and often
repeated quote to the Tamils - 'ennai valavaikum theivankale'. He must be a business
genius as well.
|Response by tamilnation.org: *Anita Diehl in
her study of E.V.Ramasamy Naicker (Lund Studies in International History) published by
Esseltetudium, Norway, 1977 has this to say:
"E.V.Ramaswami Naicker (Periyar) was
born on September 17th 1879 in Erode, Tamil Nadu, into a wealthy and orthodox
Kannada Naidu family. His father was a merchant, a business man in the city and the family
belonged to the Naicker caste, the upper stratum of the Sudras. The Naickers were
originally Naidu inhabitants of the Vijayanagar kingdom who migrated to Bellari and
Mysore. Those who migrated to Mysore, now Karnataka state, came to be known as 'Kannadika
Baliyas' and the caste name became corrupted and came to be known as 'Naicker'....
....Tamil was Periyar's main means of communication orally as well as in writing. Apart
from that, Canarese was spoken at his home and Periyar had a working knowledge of it as
well Telegu... The Dravidian Movement and Periyar's propaganda which had a religious
influence as far as opposition to Brahmin domination goes, linked up with the search for
Dravidian, read Tamil, identity. There are signs of a break up of traditional
Brahmin religious domination: through Self-Respect Marriages, less respect for the
traditional socio-religious role of the Brahmins, increased secularisation in urban areas
and the introduction of the Tamil language in temple worship...."
Anita Diehl remarks: "Periyar's grave in Chennai, on the campus of the Dravida
Kazham centre has become a public place, the 'Thanthai Periyar Memorial'. Not everybody's
grave is kept as a public memorial in Tamil Nadu."
There is no record that we have been able to trace as to his alleged statement about
the leadership qualities of the 'Tamils' of his time. It is also useful to remember that
during British rule, the Madras Presidency included not only present day Tamil Nadu but
also parts of what are today, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala. Here, K. Nambi Arooran's analysis in his Tamil Renaissance and Dravidian Nationalism may be
Renaissance took place at the same time as the (Indian) Nationalist Movement. The
outcome of this interaction of the renaissance and the Nationalist Movement was the
genesis of a consciousness of a separate identity resulting in Dravidian Nationalism....
In philology the term 'Dravidian' was used to denote a group a group of languages mainly
spoken in South India, namely, Tamil, Telegu, Kannada and Malayalam. Later when the term
was extended to denote a race, again it denoted the peoples speaking these four languages.
But in South Indian politics, as well as in general usage, since the beginning of this
century, the term 'Dravidian' came to denote the 'Tamils' only and not
the other three language speaking peoples. ... Hence it may be observed that the terms
'Tamil Nationalism' and 'Dravidian Nationalism' were synonymous...."
Again, as for MGR, it may be useful to remind ourselves of the love and affection in
which he was and is held by millions of Tamils and it may be unwise to dismiss that love
and affection as the love and affection of the gullible. The words of C.P.Goliard in MGR - the Man from Marathur and Malai
Nadu bear repetiton here:
"That the admiration Tamil masses had for
MGR was not purely a cinema craze was proved in India, when movie stars of
equal stature such as Sivaji Ganesan, N.T. Rama Rao and Amitabh Bachehan could not
transfer their popularity in movies to the political world.... How could one explain the
extraordinary career of MGR, which began in Kandy and ended in Madras? Though not
considered a native in the place of his birth or in Tamil Nadu where he grew up and
called it home, he became the adored leader, who would be envied by every local
politician... Like other great leaders and revolutionaries, MGR also had his weaknesses.
But these do not detract from the good deeds he did for the down-trodden in Tamil Nadu and
for Eelam Tamils who landed in India as refugees after
1983. MGR was neither an intellectual nor a folk philosopher. But his life-time
teaching was short and simple; 'Fight for your Rights'... We miss you, Vathiyar..."
tamilnation takes the view
that, whatever limitations that each may have had, Periyar, C.N.Annadurai,
M.Karunanithi and MGR, have each made significant
and important contributions to the growth of a Tamil national consciousness - a
togetherness which is rooted in an ancient heritage, a rich language and literature,
vibrant culture and which is given purpose and direction today, by a determined aspiration to live in equality and in freedom, in an emerging post-modern world.
Chennai 10 February 2000
....I've got some reservations over the selection of Tamilians for the
list of 100 Tamils. I support the view of V.Thangavelu, Canada,
31 October 1999 fully. As a pure Tamilian, I could not digest including the names of
Sankarachariar, Rajaji, R.Venkatraman etc..
I have no reservation concerning the selection of any Dravidian. But I have reservations
over the selection of any Brahmin. How can you think of including these Aryans into this
list?. Then please don't say "list of 100 Tamils". Rather you can say
"Members of Tamilnadu Kudyiruppor Sangam".
When the Chief Minister of Tamilnadu said that Tamil archanai should be carried out in
Tamil in temples of Tamilnadu, Sankarachariar was the first person to say "No one
should tell us in what language we should do the archanais. We know that."
R.Venkatraman was the person who dissolved the then Tamil rule in Tamilnadu to
satisfy his community.....Would anyone dissolve the Jayalalitha Government before
completion of 5 Years rule?. But they dissolved the Karunanithi Government. Now they
permit the Karunanithi Government to run, just because he supports BJP Government.
I need not tell you about others, as you know all of them.
Still I feel, that independent Tamil Eelam could not be achieved because these
Brahmins (Subramaniam Swami, Jayalalitha,....) raise the issue of the murder of
Rajiv Gandhi and keep Tamilians in Tamil Nadu from speaking in support of the
Please consider my views. These are all issues burning in the heart of Tamils....
From: Abraham Judah, Singapore, 13 November 1999
....We all know that
Brahmins are of Non Dravidian extract and are of foreign origin.They are a
people of Persian, Turkish origin. Aryans ! Non Indian ethnic.Thus they should all be
excluded. We all know that for a fact that they are against the Dravidian Tamils and
that they had always distanced themselves ... .Thus I don't see how some of the
Brahmins have slipped in.... They have nothing to do with the antiquity of the Dravidian
civilisation and traditional Indian culture.Their association is all with the Aryan
Senthil, USA 8 November 1999
Although you are democratic in listing the leaders nominated to the one
hundred Tamils forum, it is really disheartening to see the names like Sankaracharyas,
Venkataramans and Rajagopaplacharyas who have been acting against the interest of
Tamils.To be frank, all the 'Brahminical' Hindu institutions are historically anti-Tamil.
Even now, one can see, how the Hindu news establishment that is blessed with Sankaracharya
Mutt is acting against the Tamil race, literature, culture, and values.
From: Jayjude, Malaysia, 6 November 1999
Tamils and Orissa people are all originally Tamils. It is only the language that is
different. Do not make this an issue and further divide
Canada, 31 October 1999
...C.Rajagopalachari was the high priest of the twice-born Brahmins who as Chief Minister
of Tamil Nadu (then Madras Presidency) thought fit to introduce compulsory Hindi ( to his
credit he reversed his stand later in life) as a subject of education in schools in the
thirties. He was also the author of the infamous Bill on Kulak Kalvi (traditional caste
based job) meant to make the son of a washerman to learn washing, the son of a hairdresser
to learn hairdressing etc. etc....
(Neither do I agree with the nomination of) Sankarachariar.
Sankarachariar is the one who does not speak Tamil immediately after his silent prayer
(Mavuna Viratham) because he considers same as 'Neeshapashai'! To him only Sanskrit is
'Thevapashai' and he will speak only in that language. He is also the same individual who
wants to perpetuate the Varnachratharmam and the attendant caste system laid down in the
holy Vedas. In the third volume of "Voice Divine" authored by him
this is what he says-
"Therefore, the different duties ordained for each of the four varnas
and Ashramams such as the Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vysya and Sudra should be strictly followed
ad that they should not perform the duty ordained for another. Our shastras are firm in
laying down that law is not the same for all."
His counter-part Puri Jaganatham Sankarachariar Jagatguru is still worse.
He openly advocates the continuity of the caste system and has said that there is not
enough soap in the world to wash the theeddu out of low caste people. If this
is Hinduism I will have none of it though I am born in it...
Ramanathan 19 October 1999
Vannakam. I would like to make a note on the selection
of list of the 100 Tamils of the Century. The quest has elicited the names of a number of
people and this would have helped you make a complete list of great Tamilians. I would
like to specify one point: people may have been born anywhere, but our concern is how much
of an impact that these people on the growth of Tamil and its popularity. Thanks.
From: Prabu Deva
6 October 1999
I am a concerned Tamil and I have found that you have listed at least 3 people who
are not Tamils. I have no objection if you want to honour Tamils who have contributed to
the well being our society (Tamils). Under the heading Dance, Music and Drama you have
listed Kamal Hassan and K.
Balachander. Both of them are Telegu Brahmins. ... Under Politics and Society, you have
listed M.G.Ramachandran who is a confirmed Malayalee. ...
From: M. Thanapalasingham, Australia, 21 August 1999
Vannakam. The search for 100
Tamils of the century has produced an interesting array of nominations
from varying fields of endeavour, ranging from science to the arts, to freedom fighters
and philanthropists. How does one pick the most "deserving" of the honour?
How does one use objective measures without the intrusion of subjective judgement? What
criteria does one stipulate? Some that come to mind are:
Tamils who have made a positive
* the worth of which transcends
time. Some may question this too.
* that involves personal
sacrifice beyond measure
* towards a Tamil
"Rennaissance"(marumalarchi) in the arts, cultures etc.
* by directing the 'history' of
the Tamils towards freedom and justice for all Tamils?
* by protecting our identities
and preserving it for future generations
It is inevitable that the
relative worth of each of these criteria would vary enormously, depending on the
subjective judgement of the observer. Who is to decide the relative merit of the Tamil
scientist and the Tamil poet? Who are the true "greats" and who are the merely
"distinguished? Is it really necessary to pick and choose? It may be sufficient to
recognise and let it rest...
From: Kumar Rajendran 26 July 1999
Re Mr Manoharan's comment,
Dr MGR was born in Kandy in
Sri Lanka. He is technically a Tamil. Objection to his nomination should be overruled.
From Manoharan Ratnam 8 July 1999
I do not agree with the nomination of the following:
a) M.G Ramachandran , unlike EVR and Vaiko, though non Tamils
but are technically Tamils as they were born in Tamilnadu, MGR does not qualify to be
From Kumar Rajendran, Chennai 2 July 1999
I would nominate Bharat Ratna ,
Puratchi Thalivar , Ponmana Chemmal, Dr.M.G.Ramachandran
who changed the history of Tamil Nadu , who willed all his properties worth crores of
rupees for the disabled poor people of Tamil Nadu, who fought for the rights of the Eelam
Tamils , who was a man of the masses , who was one who came from nothing to something due
to sheer hard work and devotion to be the greatest Tamil of this century! Please see also http://www.aiadmk.org
From: C.Kumarabharathy, New Zealand 19 June 1999
The posting by Mr. V.Thangavelu of Canada dated
9th June 99 brings to my mind the cultural pressures that weighed down on
Sri Lankan Tamils during 1960-1970's. These pressures had the widespread effect of
depersonalising Tamils and robbing them of their self esteem. I was really skirting around
this topic in my last posting. I think I should express what I
personally feel about this, in order to put this all behind us.
Now, the first thing I wish to state clearly is that being a communist
doesn't imply that the individual is an "anti-Tamil" in the sense, we usually
think. In fact some of these "communist" people had made personal sacrifices as
the price for their idealism. Some examples I know are: A Vaithilingam (maths teacher),
communist Karthigesu,(English teacher), Mahesan master (English teacher),
Varatharajaperumal (maths teacher). There could be many others.
They were dedicated teachers par excellence. They could be proudly
quoted by a student as his mentor and that too even after a long experience in life. That,
I am not a communist does not blind me to this fact. In fact, mentor is the word here, not
just a teacher. They were with the people and shared their life. This of course meant that
they had no great ambitions in getting lucrative jobs in government service. This would
have been fairly easy for them considering their qualifications and communication skills.
But they were content to remain as teachers. Anyway in a poor country, some element of
communism may actually do some good. The market forces, brand names and the so called
consumer choice are insubstantial. Which is another issue.
The perception that leftists were undermining the Tamils, came up in a
different way. I will come to this now. This arose as a consequence of the latter-day
leftists usurping the elected representatives of the Tamils (who were not co-operating
with the successive governments) and filling the power vacuum. They had become the power
brokers. The blame does not lie entirely with the leftists. The middle class had
outstanding issues with the government machinery. Transfers, jobs, promotion, increments,
permits and so on - problems which were crying out for a broker to intervene. So that is
1960-70 saga. Not taking a principled stand since 1960 on the question of the Tamil people
has cost the left movement irreparable damage. The compromise with Sinhala parties had in
the end submerged their (left parties) separate identities. This eased them out of the
mainstream. The otherwise potential alternative force had, thus petered out.
Coming to another point. There appears to be a threshold level of
middle class (as practised then) in the composition of a society, beyond which the society
plunges into mediocrity and degeneration. The
"communists" I mentioned earlier were from an 'different stock', which remained
close to the ethos of an earlier era.
Valluvar had to say this
about evaluating greatness. No not greatness but goodness. Because in old Tamil classics
greatness was synonymous with goodness. They are based on moral values.
This comes in the chapter . Fitness or unfitness (in public life) of a person can
be judged by the "remnant" he leaves behind. Remnant could be taken as the
"essence" - sum total of what one leaves behind. A legacy, a heritage. It is for
us to evaluate this in the best sense of that word. That Prof. Kailasapathy (K) had a
following, and left behind a certain tradition in literary criticism cannot be disputed.
His and Sivathamby's advent into the Tamil Nadu literary circles, introduced Eelam
literature to wider readership.
We have to look charitably at K and the camp followers dominating Radio
Ceylon, Sakitya Mandalam etc, as a phenomenon of an era. I have no personal knowledge of
the goings on (from inside) except by what one gathers from the air, so to speak. The
propaganda machinery of Radio Ceylon and Colombo journalism somehow contrived to subject
us to what I felt at that time to be a sort of 'tyranny of left rationalism'. It appeared
to me as an untimely cultural reorientation exercise. You see, this was right in the midst
of a time when Tamils were facing physical insecurity as well. It could be that we felt
that way, by error, then saw scapegoats in leftists or had they really acted unwisely?
Combination of factors is more likely. Who knows !
So we have to stand apart in certain areas but accept the original
contribution of a different way of looking at literature as the result of K's influence.
Of this I am convinced.
This brings me to another point which I mentioned in my earlier posting. Somasundara
Pulavar, Thalayasingham (T) are two names that I had
earlier said could be included in the list of one hundred Tamils. I do not wish to pursue
this any further than stating a few points. Just as K's adherents are teaching literary
criticism in universities, Pulavar's Thinnai students have been teaching in vernacular
schools and Thotta Pallis (estate schools) and had made a quite contribution. A person
does what is appropriate in the circumstances.
A person engaged in a spiritual quest
like T cannot be evaluated in terms of failure or success - the quest may have its
own life, which we may not recognise now. There is no scientific theory to back my last
statement. Call it old fashioned belief, if you like. But I still go along with it. Bear
in mind, all social and political sciences have within them seeds of heavily implied
beliefs, which slip across quietly, masquerading as common sense. We have to be
aware of this as well. This posting defines my framework of viewing, which is also my
From: C.Kumarabharathy, New Zealand 12 June 1999
I had initially participated in this forum in
mid 1998. I did not have 'any second thoughts' about this list at that time. Now I do
have. Let me explain. When people we honour are far away in time to current affairs we
accept them on 'a general acceptance criteria' . This acceptance makes unanimity easy to
reach. But when we come closer to our times, we know more about these people and
the mass media image of them built over years still lingers. Then as I said second
thoughts enter. Particularly when they are alive- you never know what they might do to
upset this acceptance! The dead cannot do further damage is the presumption here! However,
I accept we have to cross this bridge. Without taking issues personally with the sponsors,
I would question a few names. It is not that I mean disrespect to the dead or alive. And
with malice towards none, I make these comments.
Kalki Krishnamoorthy was a colossus
striding in Tamil journalistic field at a time when much was expected from a new India.
These were euphoric times, though it all evaporated quickly. I have been and still am his
admirer. His Ponniyin Selvan introduced the grandiose empire of the Cholas - though it
appears somewhat exaggerated when I read it now. Nevertheless it was a need of the time.
However, I consider Puthumai Pithan (PP) as a creative writer who deserves better
recognition than Kalki. If we are looking for a creative writer of that era my endorsement
is for PP.
Another name that deserves serious consideration is Ashokamitran, a very sensitive and (rare writer) not very well
known because he was not in the pop magazine circuit. A list without him would not be
whole. Obviously this is my judgement. He may outlive many others because of the genuine
interest in life that he shares with his readers. He looks at people more compassionately
than others - that is without judgement. This is a rare quality in Tamil fiction.
I have some hesitation about names being proposed mainly by Sri Lankan
sponsors. The reason being that this category of persons have been out of touch with
recent developments. They have been out of main stream events for a period so that they
idolise names known when they were young and impressionable. The perceptions that they
have about socio-political life of Tamil Nadu is antiquated. I say this in all humility.
Anyway we have to allow for this possibility, if due recognition were to be obtained for
this project. If this is a trans national venture we should have this caution. I do not
claim any better qualifications either.
Some times I wonder, whether there is a large gap between the
perception of the Tamilian in Tamil Nadu as to how he identifies as a Tamil or Indian as
against how a Sri Lankan Tamil consider the image of his Tamilian counterpart in
Tamil Nadu. I have seen this too often. Our ideas are fairly frozen in time, commencing
when we started excursions into the magazine and film world. This of course is not a rule,
but it often happens. It is good to know this. Would it be difficult to get the list
checked out by few Tamil Nadu intellectuals, to see if it holds water. The names of La sa
Ramamirtham, Janakiraman and Jeyakanthan come to my mind but let me not digress too much.
I think I have stated my point.
Similar doubts cross my mind re Maramalai Adigal and Bharathidasan.
Kannadasan was more prolific (though given to a bit of sensuality ). He brought life into
otherwise drab Tamil cinema lyrics. Pre Kannadasan lyrics were virtually painful in the
majority. But by itself what upliftment these flamboyant lyrics did other than titillating
may remain a question. But I will pass this as a personal judgement. We could for this
purpose of finding 100 Tamils, say tentatively that there is a creative stream of
excellence and a stream of popular appeal. We should recognise both, I suppose. In which
case we could accept Kannadasan on this account.
Bharathidasan appears to be overrated by his association with Dravidian
movement. But remember, we have already recognised its stalwarts. You see, the Madras
media, builds up names and sustains it for propping itself up, in the process both are in
win win situation. Kalki had his cronies, Vasan his, and Hindu had its pets. This has been
a self erecting crane. Having gone through some much in life, we should use our changed
perceptions in these matters. Many of us have this, but we dont express them. It has
been acquired at a cost and we should not hesitate to trust our intuition.
I have no qualms with MS. She lives for music of a kind that is rare
and her life is an inspiration. Mahakavi Rudramoorthy and Thalayasingham are two names
that come up for scrutiny. The latter lived for what he wrote, he was experimenting boldly
with living a certain kind of life- of practical spiritualism and encountered difficulties
in the process. His social consciousness was good. He needs to be taken up for review. I
am not sure whether Arumuga Navalar was considered in this process. He recognised the
challenges of his time even when English was not widely spoken in peninsula. Navalar had
to be a controversial figure, as he was living in challenging times when the fabric of
Tamil culture was under direct threat. He has to be evaluated in the context of his time.
I was really happy to note the name of Dr
P S Subramaniam, in this list. It assures me that there are people who could see the
greatness in a modest man going quietly in life healing others. He belongs to an era in
Jaffna, when modesty was a norm.
In this period two scholars lived and worked quietly, but making deep
impression on society. I am referring to Pandithamani Kanapathypillai
and Navaliyoor Somasundara Pulavar. The latter was
an icon of mid century Jaffna. He was not known in India. His poems for children had wide
popularity and had attained status of folk songs, in the sense people know nut do not
remember the author kind of situation. What impressed me about PS, Pulavar and
Pandithamani is that they lived close to people and their life was simple. But they had
profound effect on society. But their era faded quietly into forgotten history. Why they
were not taken up later is another question.
Post 1958 saw a crop of western educated (essentially middle class
conditioned) intellectuals filling the Tamil departments and journalism. They wielded much
clout in public life. They were capable and had trans Palk Strait scope. They had left
leanings. They had visions of a society, which did not find a place for old guards like
Pulavar, or a spiritualist like Thalayasingham. But their era too has passed after a brief
sprout. The gap between words and actual life has been growing rapidly in modern times,
and it is for us to re-evaluate history, taking these into account. It is in this context
that the name of Mu Thalayasingham comes to my mind. He was a different person in
difficult times. After saying this I should state that Dr Kailasapathy deserves a place
among 100 Tamils along with Prof Thurairajah. Probably the only
other candidate in this category would be Dr Sivathamby.
I am sure Tamil Nation readers will have something to say about all these. When we are
close to events it is not easy to get an objective agreement. I do not persist in what I
am saying, I am sure Tamils already selected lend credibility to the title but I wanted to
evoke discussion. Also feel that I should bring up what I feel about all this. I feel that
Thalayasingham, Navalar and Ashokamitran would be very likely candidates without which the
list will not be complete.
Response by tamilnation: Many thanks for
your thoughtful, and thought provoking contribution. By examining some of the deeper
layers of a quest for a Hundred Tamils of the 20th Century, you have helped to focus
minds. Incidentally, the reason for excluding Arumuga Navalar was that he passed away
during the 19th century. Mikka Nanri.
From V.Thangavelu , Canada 9 June 1999
I strongly object to your inclusion of K.Kailasapathy and S.Ponnudurai in the above
list. Kailasapathy was a pseudo communist whose writings were mostly translations of
Russian writers like Gorki and others. So is Ponnuthurai though he broke away from
Kailasapathy and Co - but his contribution to Tamil literature is minimal. Both names are
unfamiliar to the Tamil public. On the other hand the name of Kasi Anandan should be
included. So is that of Puthuvai Ratnadurai. There are other scholars like Arumuga
Navalar, Mu.Va. Thiru Vi.Ka; Kalki Krishnamurthy whose names deserve to be included.
From Nagalingam Ethirveerasingham, U.S.A 2 April 1999
I agree that Tamil Entrepreneur's should be very special. Criteria for togetherness can
be philanthropic work in the Tamil
community, pioneer in an enterprise in the Tamil community and other such outstanding
qualities. Dr. P.S. Subramaniam is a philanthropist who
also provided Health service to the community like Albert Shweitzer and was a pioneer in
such service. I like to nominate him in the field of Medicine. Thank you for getting the
Tamils start thinking in terms of individuals who have contributed to the Tamil
community. Right now I am thinking of Fr Weber.His contribution to the Tamil
community in sports and education even in times of tragedy is immeasurable. I knew him
since 1951. Should we not nominate him, though he is an American. It is something the
Panel could consider.
Many thanks for your response. As you have rightly pointed out, non Tamils have also
contributed to the growing togetherness of the Tamil people - names such as Caldwell,
Ellis and Pope come to mind. However, on balance, it may be that we have a large enough
task as it is, and it may therefore be necessary for us confine our efforts, at this
stage, to the quest for 'One Hundred Tamils of the 20th Century'.
On the question of including a section on Tamil Enterprenuers, on further reflection, (and
in the light of the criteria that you have suggested) it may be that those
enterpreneurs who may have made a contribution to Tamil togetherness can be included in
the broad Politics and *Society* category. For the time being Dr.Subramaniam's name has
been included in this latter category. It may be best to wait to hear other views that may
be expressed in this connection. There is ofcourse the further point, and that
is, at the end, after the 100 names are selected, it may *not* be necessary to have them
separated into categories at all - indeed, some names may fall into more than one
category. As you pointed out in your earlier mail, the panel will, no doubt,
have a difficult time!
From Nagalingam Ethirveerasingham, U.S.A January 1999
I like to make some comments on the exercise to select the "One Hundred
Tamils." I do not envy those who will be in the Panel who will decide on the
"One Hundred." I also feel timid to make comments, as my name appears in the
nomination list. I observe that the category of "Entrepreneurs" is not included
yet. It is important for TamilNation Panel to make a comprehensive list of categories of
human activities that takes us from one stage to a higher stage.
In the category of sports, I would like to nominate Mr. Navaratnasamy.
He is the first person to swim the Palk Strait from Jaffna to India at the age of 40, in
1955 I think. He was also the first to swim both ways non-stop. He was an agriculture
instructor. I do not know any other information about him. He was our hero whom we looked
up to then and now. May be your readers could provide more information about him. The news
papers of that time carried pictures and information about the swim. When your Panel has
picked the final one hundred, I hope you could print small biographical and inspirational
booklets for the primary and secondary level students to read. We lack such texts in
It is disappointing to note that Muthiah Muralitharan's name was taken off the list of
the One Hundred after the protest by one of your readers. It
appears that the reason was that Muralitharan's achievement did not bring about
cohesiveness of the Tamils. I have never met Muralee. I have seen him play on Television
when I was living in Kilinochchi from 1994 to 1996. The students and others who were with
me and watched him play admired Muralee for his bowling and his personality. To them, and
to me, he was the ideal of a sportsman even under duress because of the controversy of his
He, with his performance, brought into focus the attention of Tamils and the cricketing
community the world over. He and his performance have given a togetherness in spirit. The
Sri Lanka cricket team is the only stage available to him when no other stage exists for
him to perform. The black American Arthur Ashe had the Wimbledon and the U.S. Open
championships to show what a black man can do. He went to South Africa to defy the
apartheid by playing there and showed the black people in South Africa what they can
aspire to. Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu admired Arthur Ashe for going to South Africa
I find it difficult to understand the comparison of Foreign Minister Kadirgamar with
Muralitharan. I have yet to meet a Tamil who has anything good to say about Kadirgamar's
actions and for being part of actions of the SLG that is causing death and destruction of
the Tamils. Muralitharan has not consciously done or said anything to hurt or divide the
Tamils or anyone else. He had not let himself to be used by the SLG for propaganda. He is
making his statement as a Tamil in the cricket field by action for the whole world to see.
Words are not the only means of communication. I do hope that TamilNation would let the
original nomination stand for the Panel to make the final decision. Just because
Muralitharan does not do what some Tamils want him to do, it does not make his achievement
any less nor his person less admirable. It is the value of a person's action that defines
the person, not his/her non-action or what others thought of the person. At a time the
Western Cricket world is out to crucify him for his deformity, we Tamils should not add to
Yes, the panel will have difficulty - and that is to be expected. The point you make
about the absence of an 'Entrepreneur' category is an important one and will need to be
rectified. Here, a difficulty that will have to be addressed is the extent to which a
successful entrepreneur has contributed to Tamil togetherness. Rajah Sir Annamalai
Chettiar was a successful businessman and at the same time furthered Tamil togetherness by
founding the Annamalai University and promoting the Tamil Isai Sangam. Or is it
enough simply to be a succesful enterpreneur? As for Muralitharan, in all
fairness, (as you suggest) it is perhaps best, that his name remains on the 'nomination'
list for eventual consideration by the Panel.
From Vamanan Sundar 23
"One hundred Tamils of the 20th century" is one of the items I really enjoy. I
certainly disagree with your selection of Muttiah Muralitharan as one of them. I am still
trying to determine in what way he has contributed to the growth of the Tamil
togetherness. I think, actually, he is insulting the Tamils' struggle by being a member in
the chauvinistic Sri Lankan cricket team at this crucial time of our independent struggle.
I have no doubt he is a super star in cricket. I am also a cricket fan since I was young.
I have seen so many talented cricket players in Jaffna and they have become only a local
cricket players in history only because they are Tamils by birth.
Some people might argue his position in sports and the Tamils' struggle for independence
are two different things. I disagree with that. What the world did to the South African
cricket team when the apparthied were in power is a good example. At this point in time
Sri Lanka is using their national team to build up its image in the world and to entertain
the high class Sinhalese people while soldiers from the poor families are loosing their
precious lives in the battle field for no reason.
The Tamils and others should boycott Sri Lanka in all the possible way. A good example is
the action of the Tamils in Australia showed to the Tamils in the rest of the world it is
time to boycott Sri Lanka. They created the slogan, "Sri Lanka, Stop Killing the
Tamils" in the air during the cricket match between Sri Lanka and Australia. The
has reached thousands of Australians and a few Tamils in the stadium.
My strong opinion is that all the Tamils have to boycott the Sri Lankan cricket team. Some
people might say that Muralitharan is an Indian Origin Tamil, and thus his actions does
not affect the Tamils' struggle. In reality, Indian origin Tamils are also subject to
similar actions experienced by the Tamils. We have nothing to be proud of Muralitharan
unless he quits from the Sri Lankan cricket team to show the world that he is an
"unarchi ulla Tamilan."
Muraltitharan may want to play for his own personal reasons but I don't think we have to
honour him. It may also be argued that we can honour, along the same lines, the Sri Lankan
Foreign Minister Kadirgamar since he is a Tamil and he is achieving his goals even though
his activities affect the Tamils in a negative way.
The point that you make that Muralitharan 'is insulting the Tamils' struggle by
being a member in the chauvinistic Sri Lankan cricket team at this crucial time of our independent
struggle' is a compelling one. The names included in the list were for
'consideration' and to prompt 'discussion' - and perhaps, this should have been made more clear.
The criteria for eventual selection are the broad ones that appear in the Hundred
Tamils webpage: Tamils who have made significant contributions to the world and to Tamil
togetherness - whether such contributions be in scientific thought, literature, political
action, personal sacrifice and example, spirituality or any other area.
Your view that personal excellence alone is not enough, and that a Tamil should
be included only if he has also made an important contribution to 'Tamil togetherness' is
a persuasive one. Any attempt to name a 'Hundred Tamils' will of course meet with
difficulties even where appropriate criteria are set - but that is not to say that
discussions about criteria will not help to clarify the issues involved and suggestions
about possible criteria will always be very welcome. As I have mentioned in an earlier posting:
"In the end there may be a need to have a panel which may actually discuss names
with a view to achieving a broad consensus.... All this ofcourse will take time and much
effort. What I have tried to do is to make a small beginning."
From U.S.A.: - An
Anonymous Observer December 1998
I looked at the proposals, suggestions and responses... After some deliberations in my
mind, I decided to write this note... I only have some observations on the project
1) The broad definition refers to contributions "to the world and Tamil
togetherness". I feel that the definition should include "the Tamils" and
therefore read " to the world, to the Tamils and Tamil togetherness". I think
the... contribution to the economic, social, cultural, political aspirations of the Tamils
should receive proper consideration in the selection.
2) To me, whether they are described as "great" or "prominent" is
not as material as the kind of people who are in the list. There are people who have
been/are very "prominent", "influential" etc but have been disruptive,
made lives and livelihood of their community a misery. As Sachi Sri Kantha points out,
suggestions for the list may also be conditioned by people's "tastes". I feel
that whatever final list emerges, it should be one that does not attract ridicule,
controversy etc, because it would be a slur on the other revered persons given a rightful
place in the list.
3) People may have their reasons for not remembering Chellappa
Swamy of Nallur, Dr. (P.S.) Subramaniam, Senator Nadesan or Prof Eliezer either because they fall out of
the broader definition or they do not meet the criteria that the various respondents are
focussing on. Whatever that may be, it would be very sad indeed to have Pirabaharan's name
included in a list with Thondaman, Karunanithy and other lesser known persons in the list
4) I also notice mention of names in the Guinness Book of Records and an attraction to
modern and popular sports. Caution may be called for before getting carried away by the
fascination of affluent Tamils, living in the industrialised world, who in their day to
day work are bombarded with the "Best Film", "Best Actor", "Most
Valuable Player" polls and million dollar names in film and the sports world
broadcast all the time. It is important to settle on the vital parameters for the
selection so that the list itself would be considered a valuable reference document in the
5) I have noticed "Role Model" being mentioned as a criteria. I am not
certain that this characteristic would be a practical one. I respect Kuttimuni
and Thileepan for their ultimate sacrifice for a great cause - their nation. .. (But) They
are not my role models, because what they wanted and what they sacrificed is beyond my
comprehension. I cannot aspire to be either of them or Ramasamy Naicker. The most I can
aspire is to accept their leadership and guidance. If that is what is meant by "role
model", I have no qualms.
6) The venerable names that finally get posted in the Hundred list should be of persons
who have made noteworthy contributions in the context of their times, the gift they gave
to the world, and to the Tamils in the 20th century and the impact their dedication will
have in the coming century. I may be an odd ball but great cinema and cricket figures
would be the last ones I can think of in this connection.
From Japan: Sachi Sri Kantha, Japan 2 December 1998
I did read the contributions to the 100 Tamils of the 20th Century page.
Then I compiled my selections - this is just a first draft. I
have defined my criteria of selection and chosen 70
individuals in ten categories (legislators, social activists, literati,
artists/entertainers, entrepreneurs, commentators/critics, natural scientists, social
scientists, religious dignitaries and sportsmen). Ofcourse some have stamped their
influence in more than one category (like Annadurai and MGR).
I hope my criteria for selections will give some food for thought, so that only worthy
nominees are brought to the front, and list is not diluted with names nominated for self
serving, PR-seeking purposes.
'100 Influential Tamils of the 20th Century' - The word 'influential' is the
appropriate one I think, because the use of other terms such as great' or
important' or 'notable, may make it difficult to make an assessment.
Selections of individuals also can be influenced by time (the period they lived) and taste
(political, regional and cultural) of different Tamilians. What I mean by the word
'influential' is really about 'contributions influential in the international arena,
across the prevailing national borders.
Criteria of selection:-
The persons should have influenced the minds of Tamils and/or non-Tamils by their
thoughts and deeds. For example, the influence of Tamil legislators, writers and artists
(with a few exceptions) is largely felt by the fellow Tamils only. But the influence of
Tamil scientists and sportsmen is largely experienced by non-Tamils.
Ideally, the influential Tamils of the 20th century should qualify for selection by
virtue of satisfying one of the following criteria:-
(1) They were recipients of coveted international prizes (such as the Nobel prize,
World Food Prize).
(2) They have received critical recognition in international mass media (for example,
featured in cover stories of news magazines).
(3) Their achievements noted in international reference sources (encyclopaedias,
dictionaries, text books, academic journals).
(4) They made eponymous discoveries (such as Raman effect, Ramanujan numbers,
(5) Their creations were critically acclaimed by international standards (such as the
fictional Malgudi village of R.K.Narayan)
(6) Their records in their chosen field of expertise, accepted as exemplary and trend
setting among the non-Tamil peers of their times (such as musical talent of M. S.
Subbhulakshmi, the fielding skill of cricketer Venkatraghavan, the military brilliance of
Prabhakaran, the spin bowling of Muralitharan, the chess wizardry of Vishwanathan Anand).
From: C.Kumarabharathy, New Zealand, July 1998
The initial list can be considered as an exercise in consolidating opinion on the
nominees and arriving at a consensus. Thereafter a finalisation could be made on a
representative basis. But the list upto now I see will gain very wide acceptance. This is
really an exercise in getting to the roots. If the process is articulated/elaborated it
could have educational value for future. We must bear in mind that this is being carried
out at a time when Tamil society is in a state of search on many fronts, perhaps the most
appropriate time for evaluating history. The lack of well set ways and security spurs
What the future generations will need in time are role models. Being in some sort of
contact with people who could appeal to them as behavioural role models is probably the
only way a " middle class" can shed its self centeredness in stages. The bottom
line really is this and then culture can look after itself. In fact then 're culturing'
will happen as a matter of course. This is not likely to happen in any dramatic fashion
but a certain movement away from the main stream of consumerism etc is the most crucial
for expats. As it is it is difficult to have objective discussions on issues simply
because we are not used to it. Being honestly aware of the fact that we are materialistic
will help to great extent.
From: C.R.Selvakumar, Canada, 1 July 1998
I would like to suggest that you please collect names of Tamils who are to be
considered for the inclusion in the list of 100 Tamils, rather than accepting them based
on a few write-ups and mere popularity of the names (I'm not
implying this is how you select!).
I've genuine trouble in visualising a few in the already published names as 'one of the
100'. I don't want to single out the names at this point in time, but I can when it is
Of course all lists are in some way 'subjective', but considering TamilNation's mission
and goals, I think it would be nice if only those who *really*contributed to Tamil, Tamil
culture, Tamil awareness and Tamils' life are included.Most certainly there were and are
many who affect us in many ways, influence us in many ways, but I would like to know the
criteria based on which the names are proposed. May be you had articulated it already
somewhere which I had missed.
Among those who contributed to Tamil language and Tamil awareness I would recommend
considering PaavaaNar DevanEyan and MaRaimalai AdikaL and Perunchitranaar.
I don't know approximately how many from each field (how many fields?) is to be selected.
When we have Dr. S. Chandrasekar, we should also have Dr. C.V Raman.
|Response from tamilnation:
Many thanks for your thoughtful
comments. Yes, it would be better to 'collect names of Tamils who are to be
considered for the inclusion in the list of 100 Tamils, rather than accepting them based
on a few write-ups and mere popularity of the names'. The selection can eventually be made
from the names included in the Hundred Tamils page - this will be made clear at the next
The criteria suggested are the broad ones that appear in the 100 Tamils webpage: Tamils
who have made significant contributions to the world and to Tamil togetherness - whether
such contributions be in scientific thought, literature, political action, personal
sacrifice and example, spirituality or any other area.
A friend from New Zealand put one criteria rather well
- those who "by their commitment and personal example ... have imparted a
sense of confidence and a shift ...in consciousness of the people. Such a shift should be
an upward movement. In doing this they should have put themselves to the test as
Any attempt to name a 'hundred Tamils' will of course meet with difficulties even where
appropriate criteria are set - but that is not to say that discussions about criteria will
not help to clarify the issues involved and suggestions about possible criteria would be
I have not attempted at this stage to set a fixed number of fields or for that matter the
numbers of persons for each field. As the names are suggested, the fields or categories
may become clearer and eventually it will be possible to make a balanced selection.
In the end there may be a need to have a panel which
may actually discuss names with a view to achieving a broad consensus - and reduce the
subjective element ( though, ofcourse, subjectivity will always remain). All this ofcourse
will take time and much effort. What I have tried to do is to make a small beginning.
From: C.Kumarabharathy, New Zealand, 2 June 1998
"My response to the quest (for hundred
Tamils) is as follows. In such a quest it is easy to be swept off the ground
according to the immediate environment and the current consciousness in vogue. The
nominees have to stand the test of time in our assessment of their work and a vision that
surpasses current pressures. The hundred, by their commitment and personal example should
have imparted a sense of confidence and a shift in paradigm or consciousness of the
people. Such a shift should be an upward movement. In doing this, they should have put
themselves to the test as well. This leads me to people who have cleared the way for
better understanding of human nature and will be and are releasing untapped potential....
The other problem is "how much of a Tamil,
these gentle persons should be?" and then if we go back to texts that form the
fountain of Tamil culture, we may be surprised to find that most of the sources have deep
origins beyond an identity that we have now formed and call Tamil. What will be Tamil
togetherness over the next 10 years?
May I suggest that a criteria be drawn up if this
list is to be widely respected over a period of time.?... The history of a bigger
Tamil nation in the late last century and present century and how the historical
challenges were met by the community may be the underlying theme here. In the context of
these issues, how these individuals grappled to resolve them with integrity and commitment
may be a good common factor to introducing their work. This way, the readers can be walked
through the history at many levels.
From this point of view,
Periyar for social justice is a valid candidate. The movement was a historical
necessity. Similarly the name of a staunch Tamilian Congressman would be in order. This
could be C.Rajagopalachariar. EVR & Rajaji
were complimentary really.
S.J.V Chelvanayakam for
Sri Lankan Tamil political awakening. The leader of the estate Tamils who stood for their
emancipation is required .... I think Thondaman may be suggested here. Rudramoorthy (Mahakavi) is the representative voice of
middle class, who had known its short comings but could only voice it....
We live on many levels and should acknowledge
this. I accept that a change of perception of Tamil politics took place with the armed
movement. They stood for something for which they were prepared to die. This is a definite
turning point in attitude. No history will be complete without the foremost leaders
of this calibre.
In dealing with Indian names we have to be and we
can be more objective. That is understanding the necessity of the DMK movement and also
realising its shortcomings. It has reached a philosophical cul-de sac after 35 years in
power. It would be a good thing to steer away from the classic Brahmin-non Brahmin divide.
Just as much as EVR was a tireless atheist, Kanchi Sankarachariyar
was a versatile and revered figure on the other side so to speak. His writ was running
independently and unhampered throughout Tamil Nadu at all levels...
Among literary figures,
Jayakanthan deserves mention. There are other stalwarts (some of them better creative
artistes) but he stood for something in the conscience of the middle class.... Other
U V Swaminatha Iyer,
Sir CV Raman,
C. S. Chandrasehkar"