Please go through once again,
my blog in December 2008 on the Indian languages question
and please look at some more clues/ideas that I give here that can help us deduce more answers or at least ask some more intelligent questions. Pleaase permit me to lay them out before you. Inevitably they will overlap to a small extent with ideas I have used in the earlier blog I have referred to above.
If some of you want to look at the clues and are able to get more sense into the presence of our language sets, all indigenous productions till about four or five centuries, please share your deductions seriously on the medha table.
My lay out is necessarly incomplete too, thanks obviously tomy having my origins in one part of this great varsha.
But please fill in, bring more clues. We will all have more data to work with.
Here we go:
Some ‘clues’ about development of languages in India.
- Tamil has a special soft consonant, which is the third letter in its Tamil name and the fifth letter in its English name, l, pronounced differently from ‘l’ in Roman or the two kinds of ‘l’ in Devanagari. A very large number of native Tamils, tracing their origin to their motherland for several generations, cannot pronounce it in the intended way.
- Malayalam also has this consonant. All Malayalis of southern and central Kerala, irrespective of the varna to which they or their ancestors belong/belonged, seem to be able/to have been able to pronounce it with ease.
- Both Tamil and Malayalam also have a hard r sound which is usually used doubled, as rr. The pronunciation of this rr is unique in Tamil and somewhat variable in Malayalam.
- The southern and central Malayali landmass seems to have had people speaking only Tamil when the Cheras ruled and perhaps even a few centuries later. In fact, this part of Kerala was known as Chera nadu, one of the three main kingdoms of old Tamil country.
- Modern Malayalam has all the letters present in the Tamil and Sanskrit alphabets, while modern Telugu and Kannada alphabets, which match Sanskrit in all respects, do not have the special l of Tamil. However, all Malayalis soften their hard consonants while speaking and pronounce them as if these do not have 4 variations apiece as in Devanagari. In fact their pronunciation of Sanskrit words comes close to the way those Tamils, who have not learnt Sanskrit, might pronounce them.
- The language of Sangam Tamil literature is somewhat unintelligible to lay modern Tamils and Malayalis alike. Several words in it continue in both the modern language versions. Interestingly, a small number of them which are still being used in Malayalam, are no longer in use in Tamil. Some ancient Tamil practices mentioned in sangam literature are preserved in Kerala till today and some others in Tamilnadu.
- The grantha script, developed by Tamil scholars who wanted to write both Sanskrit and Tamil in the same texts (Manipravaala), is very close to the modern Malayalam script.
- There are many more Sanskrit loan words in Malayalam, than in modern Tamil. There are some Tamil loan words in classical Sanskrit, whereas north Indian Prakrits/ Pali seem to have supplied many more base words/loanwords to Sanskrit.
- Number names sound similar in Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada and Telugu. The names in Pali and Prakrit resemble the ones in Sanskrit.
- The Maheshvara sutra of Panini, which gives rules of Sanskrit grammar and the Nannool sutra of Tolkaappiar (reputed to be a disciple of Sage Agastya) providing rukes forTamil grammar are both connected to the same legend, as having been heard when the Cosmic Dancer Nataraja sounded his huduka/udukkai. For the faithful devotee, the sankalpa of Nataraja who is the same as the Jagadguru Dakshinamurti could have so willed it. After all, literary Tamil, which gave rise to a great volume of devotional literature and classic Sanskrit which enabled the wisdom of the great sages to relay Vedic knowledge to Bharatiyas could both have been blessed this way.
- We need not worry about the ‘date’ of the legend of Cosmic Dance conveying the Sutras. It should have been well before the Mahabharata period. Mahabharata was written in Sanskrit after all. And several references occur in Tamil literature to Udiyan the Chera King, who provided food for both the warring sides during the Kurukshetra war!
- The Himalayan mountain slopes, the Ganga riverbanks at different locations in modern UP, Bihar and Bengal, banks of the Narmada, Godavari, Kaveri and Tamraparni, Sindhu snd Saraswati, the Vindhya and Sahya mountain slopes, and the cool Podigai hill in tropical South India, would all have invited scholars in the satisfying job of bringing the accumulated wisdom of India’s dialects (principally of two streams) and the revealed wisdom from sessions of penance and contemplation and any one of these sites could have seen the birth of the two language grammar treatises. Did Panini travel south, did Agastya travel north? Or did the cosmic sounds reach them wherever they were? Perhaps there were several who heard, got together and finalized the sutras.
- There is no doubt at all that natural geographic boundaries kept some dialects favoured in such enclosed regions to evolve into full fledged languages in the course of centuries. The Bharatiya people traveled all over the country as pilgrims and the languages got enriched with loan words from one another. The vedic language Sanskrit became a medium for scholarly debates on vedic revelations and debates on smrities, kavyas and subjects of social and political interest and stayed as educational medium in Gurukulas and court language among the ruling class till it was displaced from the seats of power by foreign invasions. Its resilience left it among the scholars, and the priestly community continued to use it in temple rites and other religious ceremonies, especially in south India where the Muslim invasion effects were felt less, and the Christians could not displace scholarly pursuits in Sanskrit effectively. Of the foreign invasions, the Muslim ones via Himalayan passes started from the north and affected the south relatively less. It had the effect of creating the Hindi/Urdu language belt in the Ganga plains and the Sindhi/Urdu belt in the Sindhu plains The Christian invasion came all around the peninsular coast and penetrated inwards, providing maximal Europeanisation/primarily anglicisation through loan words to the local languages such as Konkan, Tulu, Kannada of the coast, Mlayalam, coastal Tamil and Telugu, Oriya, Bangla, Assamese and also through a side effect countering the spread of urduisation of the same regional languages. Urdu in the south had to be preserved by packets of the Muslim religious groups with considerable effort.
- Tamil flourished as the language of scholars and saints for centuries in Tamil courts and also for religious music and coexisted with Sanskrit which had its separate role for homas and temple worship rites . Ubhayavedanti became a favoured title for learned people who used both languages in their daily routines.
- A favoured pilgrim route from the north skipped the eastern side of the Vindhyas and most of the Deccan plateau for a long time.The route through Andhra Pradesh, when it developed, gave its own religious flavour. The worship of Narasimha murti and Mallikarjunasvami in several famous shrines of Andhra Pradesh has really added a new dimension to he existing modes of archavatara wordhip in south India. The people of the region tended to travel southwards less than they did northwards for quite a few centuries. Thus their language , essentially southern in character, still picked up more Sanskrit idiom and became very suitable later as a medium for classical music that was to find origin and sustenance south in Tamil land well away from Andhra borders.. Tamil and Kannada religious music flourished too in this genre, but the corresponding kritis stayed regionally home till very recently.
More posts by this author:
- On Stones and Shells
- The Indian Languages Question
- Classical Language Studies
- On the antiquity of Dravidian scripts.
- Dr Kalyanaraman’s Eureka Moment
After R & D and technical management experience of over three decades in petroleum and organic chemical industry, have been devoting the past fifteen years to the study of Tamil and Sanskrit classics, including dharmic works and doing some serious translation work. Have been a significant contributor to the medha journal almost since its inception upto 2013 and expect to continue my association with it.