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Sunday, December 31, 2017

Harvard Tamil Chair

Statement by Prof. David Shulman
Dr. David Shulman – Indologist. Professor of Humanistic Studies– The Hebrew University of Jerusalem Author of 'Tamil – A Biography'
The initiative to found a Chair for Tamil studies at Harvard is a very welcome one, long overdue. Tamil is one of the world's major languages, and the only South Asian language to have evolved continuously from a very ancient past (some 2000 years of astonishing cultural activity) while remaining a living contemporary language spoken by tens of millions of people.

Its literary tradition is among the finest in human civilization, encompassing marvelous love poetry, epic, philosophical texts, the reflexive sciences of grammar, logic, and poetics, historiography, and an enormous religious literature. An infrastructure for Tamil already exists at Harvard; a chair in Tamil will formalize this humanistic field there and impact upon the study of South Asian civilization in other major academic centers throughout the world.

A great university that offers deep study of Chinese, Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, Persian, and many other critically important languages should find a place for Tamil, which belongs in this prestigious series. In a period when chairs in Tamil studies are endangered in several important universities, for the usual reasons, the creation of a Chair for Tamil at Harvard would be a signal to the academic world that south Indian civilization matters, and that Tamil itself merits the depth of scholarly interest that Harvard, perhaps more than any other institution, can provide.
Tamil is one of the very few languages of the world with a classical past and a robust literary tradition that has continued to this day. Despite many foreign occupations of the Tamil country and other outside influences, this noble language has always shined, producing vibrant literature for over 2 thousand years. In addition to the literature, there have been numerous grammar books, commentaries, religious works, didactic books, secular literature and works from many other genres.
A.K. Ramanujan in his book ‘The Interior Landscape’ wrote, “Tamil, one of the two classical languages of India, is the only language of contemporary India which is recognizably continuous with a classical past.”

He also wrote about the Sangam poems, the earliest surviving Tamil literature, "These poems are 'classical,' i.e., early, ancient; they are also 'classics,' i.e., works that have stood the test of time, the founding works of a whole tradition. Not to know them is not to know a unique and major poetic achievement of Indian civilization".
Starting with a long oral tradition nurtured by bards, the Tamil language attained grandeur in its classical Sangam poetry around 300 B.C.
The language is very polished, crisp and elegant.This bardic poetry is highly conventionalized, its conventions set by ancient scholars as stated in the Tholkappiyam, the ancient text of grammar and subject matter of literature, labeled by Kamil Zvelebil as “one of the finest monuments of human intelligence and intellect”.

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