Script

The Tamil script, like the other Brahmic scripts, is thought to have evolved from the original Brahmi script. The earliest inscriptions which are accepted examples of Tamil writing date to a time just after the Ashokan period. The script used by these inscriptions is commonly known as the Tamil-Brahmi or “Tamili script”, and differs in many ways from standard Ashokan Brahmi. For example, early Tamil-Brahmi, unlike Ashokan Brahmi, had a system to distinguish between pure consonants (m in this example) and consonants with an inherent vowel (ma in this example). In addition, according to Iravatham Mahadevan, early Tamil Brahmi used slightly different vowel markers, had extra characters to represent letters not found in Sanskrit, and omitted letters for sounds not present in Tamil, such as voiced consonants and aspirates. Inscriptions from the second century use a later form of Tamil-Brahmi, which is substantially similar to the writing system described in the Tolkāppiyam, an ancient Tamil grammar. Most notably, they use the puḷḷi to suppress the inherent vowel. The Tamil letters thereafter evolved towards a more rounded form, and by the fifth or sixth century had reached a form called the early vaṭṭeḻuttu.

 Tampiran Vanakkam (Doctrina Christum) was the first book in Tamil, printed on 20 October 1578

The modern Tamil script does not, however, descend from this script. In the seventh century, the Pallava dynasty created a new script for Tamil, which was formed by simplifying the Grantha alphabet (which in turn derived from Southern Brahmi), and adding to it the Vaṭṭeḻuttu alphabet for sounds not found in Sanskrit. By the 8th century, this new script supplanted Vaṭṭeḻuttu in the Chola and Pallava kingdoms which lay in the north portion of the Tamil-speaking region. Vaṭṭeḻuttu continued to be used in the southern portion of the Tamil-speaking region, in the Chera and Pandyan kingdoms until the 11th century, when the Pandyan kingdom was conquered by the Cholas.

A Tamil book printed in 1781

Over the next few centuries, the Chola-Pallava script evolved into the modern Tamil script. The use of palm leaves as the primary medium for writing led to changes in the script. The scribe had to be careful not to pierce the leaves with the stylus while writing, because a leaf with a hole was more likely to tear and decay faster. As a result, the use of the puḷḷi to distinguish pure consonants became rare, with pure consonants usually being written as if the inherent vowel were present. Similarly, the vowel marker for the kuṟṟiyal ukaram, a half-rounded u which occurs at the end of some words and in the medial position in certain compound words, also fell out of use and was replaced by the marker for the simple u. The puḷḷi did not fully reappear until the introduction of printing, but the marker kuṟṟiyal ukaram never came back into use, although the sound itself still exists and plays an important role in Tamil prosody.

The forms of some of the letters were simplified in the nineteenth century to make the script easier to typeset. In the twentieth century, the script was simplified even further in a series of reforms, which regularised the vowel markers used with consonants by eliminating special markers and most irregular forms.

 

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Instrumental Music

In South Indian or Carnatic music, the vina, a long- necked and fretted plucked lute with seven strings is most commonly heard. The vina takes the place of the bansuri, and the nagaswaram, an oboe-like, double-reed instrument with finger holes, takes the place of the shehnai. The principal secondary instrument has been the violin, though now the violin has been raised to new heights at the hands of some practitioners. Several percussion instruments are used to provide rhythmic accompaniment, most notably the mridangam, a double-conical, two-headed drum.

 

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Bharatha Natyam Dance

An ancient traditional art form with its origins steeped in divinity, Bharatha Natyam reflects the culture of India at its best.

The performer (male or female) is usually a soloist accompanied by a minimum of two musicians and usually four for a full-scale concert. The dancer uses the space as her own sacred temple and brings the audience into her magical circle as she performs and acts out stories with Gods and Goddesses from Indian mythology, folk tales and stories with emotional content. Being a living art form it has continued to enrichen itself changing with the times yet keeping its pristine beauty and nature intact. Linear geometrical patterns, a perfect balance of the body, eloquents of expression, and precision of footwork to intricate mathematical rhythms are the hallmarks of this dance.

The dance originated 5000 years ago and comprises of several arts like sculpture, painting, theatre, literature, music, dramaturgy, and poetry. Young girls were dedicated to the temples at the early age of eight years where they underwent a strict discipline in the above related arts to fully understand, comprehend and evoke the sentiments required of them as dancers. Their tutelage was conducted under eminent performers of the arts who were either the established temple dancers known as “Devadasis” (Servants of the Gods) or ‘Rajadasis’ those who were the courtesans of the state and kingdom. The art form originated in the southern part of India in the state of Tamil Nadu and flourished greatly under the patronage of several kings some of whom were composers of the poetry and musical compositions that the dancers performed to and have handed down this rich tradition by word of mouth.

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Vocal

Carnatic music is considered one of the oldest systems of music in the world. Carnatic music is a very complex system of music that requires much thought, both artistically and technically. The basis of Carnatic music is the system of ragas (melodic scales) and talas (rhythmic cycles). There are seven rhythmic cycles and 72 fundamental ragas. All other ragas are considered to have originated from these. An elaborate pattern exists for identifying these scales, known as the 72 Melakarta Raagas. Tyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Shyama Shastri, the three saint composers of the 19th century, have composed thousands of krithis that remain fresh among musicians and rasikas. The most important specialty of Karnatic music is its highly devotional element. The concept of the compositions are set entirely against a devotional outline. The notes of Carnatic music is “sa-ri-gaa-ma-pa-da-ni”. These are abbreviations of the real names of swaras which are Shadjam, Rishabham, Gandharam, Madhyamam, Panchamam, Dhaivatam and Nishaadam.

 

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Jallikattu

Jallikattu (Tamil: சல்லிகட்டு, challikaṭṭtu) also known as Eruthazhuvuthal (Tamil: ஏறுதழுவல், ērutazhuval) or Manju virattu (Tamil: மஞ்சு விரட்டு), is an event held in Tamil Nadu as a part of Pongal celebrations on Mattu Pongal day. Bulls are bred specifically by people of the village for the event and attended mainly by many villages’ temple bulls (koil kaalai). A temple bull is like the head of all cattle in a village; special rituals will be performed for this temple bull during important days. During the event, prizes are announced to encourage the youth to participate. After the event, tamed weak bulls are used for domestic activities and agriculture, meanwhile the untamable strong bulls are used for breeding the cows. It is said to be ingenious where both sport and preservation of Ecosystem works well together.

Jallikattu has been known to be practised during the Tamil classical period. It was common among the ancient people aayars who lived in the ‘Mullai’ geographical division of the ancient Tamil country. In May 2014, the Supreme Court of India banned the practice, citing animal welfare issues.

 

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Traditional

Sri Lankan Curry

Tickle your palate with spicy Sri Lankan taste in chicken curry blended with coconut milk, coriander and red chilies.

Ingredients:
30 gms ghee
1 Onion (Pyaj), chopped
2 clove(laung)s garlic (lasan), crushed
3 to 4 fresh green or red chilies, cut lengthways into thin strips and seeds removed
1 tsp ground turmeric (haldi)
1 tblsp ground coriander
1 1/2 kg chicken pieces
2 1/2 cups (625ml) coconut (narial) milk
2 tblsp coconut (narial) cream (malai)
2 tblsp fresh lemon juice

How to make sri lankan chicken curry:

  • Melt ghee in a frying pan, add onion, garlic, chillies, turmeric and coriander. Saute for 2 minutes.
  • Add chicken pieces and coconut milk. Bring to boil, reduce heat to low, cover, simmer for about 45 minutes or until the chicken is tender.
  • Add coconut cream and lemon juice, simmer uncovered for 5 minutes.

Silambattam

Silambam or Silambattam (Tamil: சிலம்பம் அல்லது சிலம்பாட்டம்) is a weapon-based Indian martial art from Tamil Nadu, but also traditionally practised by the Tamil community of Sri Lanka and Malaysia. It is closely related to Keralan kalaripayat and Sri Lankan angampora. It derives from the Tamil word silam meaning “hill” and the word perambu from which the English “bamboo” originates. Silambam referred to the sound derive from swinging of the perambu a particular type of bamboo from the Kurinji hills in southern Indian sub continent. Thus silambam was named after its primary weapon, the perambu(stick). The related term silambattam often refers specifically to stick-fighting.

Oral folklore traces silambam back several thousand years to the siddhar (enlightened sage) Agastya. While on his way to Vellimalai, Agastya discussed Hindu philosophy with an old man he met, said to be the god Murugan in disguise. The old man taught him of kundalini yoga and how to focus prana through the body’s nadi (channels). Agastya practiced this method of meditation and eventually compiled three texts on palm leaves based on the god’s teachings. One of these texts was the Kampu Sutra (Staff Classic) which was said to record advanced fighting theories in verse. These poems and the art they described were allegedly passed on to other siddha of the Agastmuni akhara (Agastya school) and eventually formed the basis of silambam, siddha medicine, and the southern style of kalaripayat.

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Canadian Tamils