If you are Tamil, I’m sure that at some point you’ve come across someone argue about Tamil antiquity. You may have come across someone saying that it goes back thousands of years. You may have also come across a statement to support their claim.
The statement goes like this: "Kal Thondri Manthondra Kaalathe Vaalodu Mun Thondria Mootha Kudi". They also explained to you that Tamils appeared on the globe with a sword (iron smelting) soon after the rocks emerged, but before sand formation.
Since discovering this, I began studying it carefully to learn the truth behind it. I’ll share with you what I’ve learned.
Foremost, I am a Tamil antiquarian and am reasonably good at it. The above statement is certainly the most intriguing way to express the antiquity of Tamils. Let’s explore:
வையகம் போர்த்த வயங்கொலிநீர் - கையகலக்
கல்தோன்றி மண்தோன்றாக் காலத்தே, வாளோடு
முன் தோன்றி மூத்த குடி.
This is from a 7th century CE Tamil classical poem by Iyanaarithanaar. The implied meaning has scientific, anthropological and geological information. When we quote from literature, it should be considered as the culminated knowledge prevailing among the learned at that time. This knowledge would have been passed on to them through generations of learning.
It also means that there was a continuous process of passing on knowledge in the form of educational institutions. It was taken from the collection of classical Tamil poetry titled Purapporul Venbamaalai, written in classic Tamil on Venba meter. It is governed by metric prosody which gives liberty to the author to spin his Venba with no overemphasis on the set rule (context-free grammar). It is an auxiliary text to Tholkaapiam’s external subject matter (purapporul). This book appeared much later and is considered as one of the 12 books written sometime between 9 AD and 7 AD.
The main text Tholkaapiam is an anthology on ethno-linguistic anthropology. It appeared anywhere between 2000 to 8000 BC. It discusses time, seasons, natural elements, landscapes, their leaders (God) and the people. It contains a record of the flora and fauna of the landscape and their taxonomy. The psychedelic effect of landscape and season on the persona is well-treated and is called agapporul (internal subject matter). Last but not least, there are volumes dedicated to the structural engineering of the language (Tamil), the evolution of syntaxial additions and the derivatives of word roots.
The segment of the book about language architecture is the most important if you are interested in the study of linguistics, whether Tamil or any other classical language of the pre-Christian era (many of which undeniably have an archaic Tamil base). When you study this book carefully, you will conclude that it was not drafted in a single day. You will concur with many scholars that it is a continuous, integrated compendium of multi-millennia of work.
Let us see the implied meaning of this poem. There was a time when the land was completely covered by the sea. Slowly, the sea receded. At first, mountains appeared (kal thondri) and the plains were still submerged (man thondra) underwater. In that mountainous landscape, ancient people lived and they knew about iron smelting (vaalodu munthonria).
The author also emphasizes that it might appear false to say that Tamils were first among the equals. He ends his Venba with an exclamation – believe me it’s the reputation they enjoy. Isn’t it amazing?
Considering the amount of information hidden in this classical poem, three areas of inquiry are necessary to corroborate the antiquity of Tamils. The evidence come in three parts.
First, the geological period explained in this poem can be scientifically calculated by reconstructing the rise and fall of sea levels. Secondly, the mention of iron smelting and its usage. Thirdly, the continuous education the ancient Tamils received.
The author talks about stone. The association of the Stone Age is often linked to the mountainous dwelling period. Kal is stone in Tamil. Things that don’t move are denoted as stone (kal), so kal also denotes mountain. Kal also means antiquity and that’s why dolmen, menhir, stone weapon and stone worship (Nedukal, Nadukal) were associated with the Stone Age. These stone impediments were scattered along the mountain ranges of the Tamils’ land.
It is worthwhile to note that there has been continuous human activity in the Tamil heartland. Robert Foote (1863 AD) of erstwhile British India found a pre-historic stone axe factory in Athirampakkam near Chennai, part of the Kudathalaii river civilizations. Most of the impediments found were made of quartzite and radio carbon dated to approximately 1.5 million years old.
It is universally accepted that iron smelting first appeared in Asia and Africa. Alexander the Great sought Indian steel during his India campaign. Among the various steels available in prehistoric times, seric steel was the oldest steel. Seric steel is nothing but Cheric steel, a type of steel smelted at the Chera kingdom of the ancient Tamil land. This steel was then traded to Europe via Arabs and traded to Chinese via Kalam Puku (Colombo). These kings predominantly ruled the Western Ghats of the ancient Tamil land.
The later version of the same steel is called woortz steel and is also associated with the Tamils’ land. While under the British East India company’s rule, the British perfected the making of steel after meticulously studying the Tamils’ way of smelting steel. Captain Campbell, Assistant Surveyor General of British India, marveled at the steel-making process after visiting South Indian steel-making sites. He detailed in his report that while Europe was languishing the process of steel-making, Indians had perfected it. The perfection of blast furnaces and managing the right amount of carbon content in steel was a gift of Tamils to the global community.
Finally, the long tradition of continuous education privileged by the Tamils was well-documented in the ancient Tamil world. After the invasion of the Vijayanagara kingdom, Tamils were deprived of education. The educational institutions called Phaazhies and Phaazhi veedu were scattered around the hilly areas of the Tamils’ land. The phaazhies were specialist schools often located under a natural caravan of rock cave formation and headed by an ascetic. This is also associated with mountains and rocky dwellings.
The institutionalized education system in the ancient Tamil world was the inspiration for Sir Francis Bacon’s Bensalem, which is Vensaalavam (Land of Teachers wearing long white Fabric) of Tamils as per Dr. Pandian (Tamil Chinthanayalar Peravai). To this day, Tamils were seen wearing this long white fabric as a mark of their civilization.
This evidence of rock dwelling, stone axe factory, rocky mountains, school in the rocky caves and iron smelting goes hand-in-hand with associating Tamil antiquity to the recent Holocene Epoch, otherwise called the end of the recently concluded Ice Age.
Graham Hancock, an underwater excavator, recently identified a man-made structure 20 km into the sea from kaveripukumpattinam, a coastal capital town of the erstwhile Chola’s kingdom on the Coromandal coast of Tamil Nadu, dated around 11500 BCE. With all this evidence, let me conclude that the merits of Tamil civilization doesn’t just exist in antiquity, but in continuity to this date.
- Dr. Prem Shanmugam