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Tamil People

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Tamil People

Tamil people
Total population
77 million[1]
Regions with significant populations
60,793,814 (2001)[2]
3,113,247 (2012)[3]

1,396,000 (2000)[4]

for others see Tamil diaspora
Predominantly: Minorities:
Related ethnic groups

Tamil people (Tamilதமிழர், tamiḻar (singular) ?, or Tamilதமிழர்கள், tamiḻarkaḷ (plural) ?), are a Dravidian ethnic group who speak Tamil.

Thousands of years ago, urbanisation and mercantile activity along the western and eastern coast of what is today Kerala and Tamil Nadu led to the development of four large Tamil political states (Chera, Chola, Pandya and Pallavas) and a number of smaller states warring amongst themselves for dominance. Between the 3rd century BC and the 3rd century AD, Tamil people also produced native literature that came to be called Sangam literature.

Tamils were noted for their martial, religious and mercantile activities beyond their native borders. Pandyas and Cholas were historically active in Sri Lanka. Pallava traders and religious leaders travelled to South East Asia and played an important role in the cultural Indianisation of the region. Locally developed scripts such as Grantha and Pallava script induced the development of many native scripts such as Khmer, Javanese and Thai.

Tamil visual art is dominated by stylised Temple architecture in major centres and the productions of images of deities in stone and bronze. Chola bronzes, especially the Nataraja sculpture of the Chola period, have become notable as a symbol of Hinduism. Tamil performing arts are divided into popular and classical. Classical form is Bharatanatyam whereas the popular forms are known as Kuthus and performed in village temples and on street corners. Tamil cinema known as Kollywood is an important part of the Indian cinema industry. Music too is divided into classical Carnatic form and many popular genres. Although most Tamils are Hindus, most practice what is considered to be folk Hinduism, venerating a plethora of village deities. A sizeable number are Christians and Muslims. A small Jain community survives from the classical period as well. Tamil cuisine is informed by varied vegetarian and non-vegetarian items usually spiced with locally available spices. The music, the temple architecture and the stylised sculptures favoured by the Tamil people as in their ancient nation are still being learnt and practised. English historian and broadcaster Michael Wood claims the Tamils have been called the last surviving classical civilisation on Earth, without specifying by whom.[7]


The Old Tamil self-designations include:

  • Tamiḻar (singular)
  • Tamiḻarkaḷ (plural)
  • Tamiḻaṉ (male)
  • Tamiḻacci (female)

It is unknown as to whether the term Tamilar and its equivalents in Prakrit such as Damela, Dameda, Dhamila and Damila was a self designation or a term denoted by outsiders. Epigraphic evidence of an ethnic group termed as such is found in ancient Sri Lanka where a number of inscriptions have come to light datable from the 6th to the 5th century BC mentioning Damela or Dameda persons. In the well-known Hathigumpha inscription of the Kalinga ruler Kharavela, refers to a Tramira samghata (Confederacy of Tamil rulers) dated to 150 BC. It also mentions that the league of Tamil kingdoms had been in existence 113 years before then.[8] In Amaravati in present day Andhra Pradesh there is an inscription referring to a Dhamila-vaniya (Tamil trader) datable to the 3rd century AD.[8] Another inscription of about the same time in Nagarjunakonda seems to refer to a Damila. A third inscription in Kanheri Caves refers to a Dhamila-gharini (Tamil house-holder). In the Buddhist Jataka story known as Akiti Jataka there is a mention to Damila-rattha (Tamil dynasty). There were trade relationship between the Roman Empire and Pandyan Empire. As recorded by Strabo, Emperor Augustus of Rome received at Antioch an ambassador from a king called Pandyan of Dramira.[9] Hence, it is clear that by at least the 300 BC, the ethnic identity of Tamils has been formed as a distinct group.[8] Tamilar is etymologically related to Tamil, the language spoken by Tamil people. Southworth suggests that the name comes from tam-miz > tam-iz 'self-speak', or 'one's own speech'.[10] Zvelebil suggests an etymology of tam-iz, with tam meaning "self" or "one's self", and "-iz" having the connotation of "unfolding sound". Alternatively, he suggests a derivation of tamiz < tam-iz < *tav-iz < *tak-iz, meaning in origin "the proper process (of speaking)."[11] Another theory say the term Tamilar was derived from the name of the ancient people Dravida > Dramila > Damila > Tamila > Tamilar[12]


Tamils in India

Pre-historic period

Possible evidence indicating the earliest presence of Tamil people in modern day Tamil Nadu are the megalithic urn burials, dating from around 1500 BC and onwards, which have been discovered at various locations in Tamil Nadu, notably in Adichanallur in Tirunelveli District[13][14][15] which conform to the descriptions of funerals in classical Tamil literature.[16]

Various legends became prevalent after the 10th century AD regarding the antiquity of the Tamil people. According to Iraiyanar Agapporul, a 10th/11th century annotation on the Sangam literature, the Tamil country extended southwards beyond the natural boundaries of the Indian peninsula comprising 49 ancient nadus (divisions). The land was supposed to have been destroyed by a deluge. The Sangam legends also added to the antiquity of the Tamil people by claiming tens of thousands of years of continuous literary activity during three Sangams.[17]

Classical period

From around the 3rd century BC onwards, three local royal dynasties—the Cholas, the Cheras and the Pandyas—rose to dominate the ancient Tamil country.[15] Each of these dynasties had its own realm within the Tamil-speaking region. Classical literature and inscriptions also describe a number of Velirs, or minor chieftains, who collectively ruled over large parts of central Tamil Nadu.[18] Wars between the kings and the chieftains were frequent, as were conflicts with ancient Sri Lanka.[19][20] These wars appear to have been fought to assert hegemony and demand tribute, rather than to subjugate and annexe those territories. The kings and chieftains were patrons of the arts, and a significant volume of literature exists from this period.[18] The literature shows that many of the cultural practices that are considered peculiarly Tamil date back to the classical period.[18]

Agriculture was important during this period, and there is evidence that networks of irrigation channels were built as early as 2nd century AD.[21] Internal and external trade flourished, and evidence of significant contact with Ancient Rome exists.[22] Large quantities of Roman coins and signs of the presence of Roman traders have been discovered at Karur and Arikamedu.[22] There is evidence that at least two embassies were sent to the Roman Emperor Augustus by Pandya kings.[23] Potsherds with Tamil writing have also been found in excavations on the Red Sea, suggesting the presence of Tamil merchants there.[24] An anonymous 1st century traveller's account written in Greek, Periplus Maris Erytraei, describes the ports of the Pandya and Chera kingdoms in Damirica and their commercial activity in great detail. Periplus also indicates that the chief exports of the ancient Tamils were pepper, malabathrum, pearls, ivory, silk, spikenard, diamonds, sapphires, and tortoiseshell.[25]

The classical period ended around the 4th century AD with invasions by the Kalabhra, referred to as the kalappirar in Tamil literature and inscriptions.[26] These invaders are described as evil kings and barbarians coming from lands to the north of the Tamil country.[27] This period, commonly referred to as the Dark Age of the Tamil country, ended with the rise of the Pallava dynasty.[26][28][29] According to Clarence Maloney, during the classical period Tamils also settled the Maldive Islands.[5]

Imperial and post-imperial periods

Although the Pallava records can be traced from the 2nd century AD, they did not rise to prominence as an imperial dynasty until the 6th century.[30] They transformed the institution of the kingship into an imperial one, and sought to bring vast amounts of territory under their direct rule. The Pallavas were followers of Hinduism, though for a short while one of their kings embraced Jainism and later converted to Hinduism.[31] The Bhakti movement in Hinduism was founded at this time, and rose along with the growing influence of Jainism and Buddhism.[32] The Pallavas pioneered the building of large, ornate temples in stone which formed the basis of the Dravidian temple architecture. They came into conflict with the Kannada Chalukyas of Badami. During this period, The great Badami Chalukya King Pulakesi II extended the Chalukya Empire up to the northern extents of the Pallava kingdom and defeated the Pallavas in several battles.[33] Pallava Narasimhavarman however reversed this victory in 642 by attacking and occupying Badami temporarily.[34] However a later Chalukya King Vikramaditya II took revenge by repeated invasions of the territory of Tondaimandalam and his subsequent victories over Pallava Nandivarman II and the annexation of Kanchipuram.[35] The Pallava dynasty was overthrown in the 9th century by the imperial Kannada Rashtrakutas who ruled from Gulbarga. King Krishna III, the last great Rashtrakuta king consolidated the empire so that it stretched from the Narmada River to Kaveri River and included the northern Tamil country (Tondaimandalam) while levying tribute on the king of Ceylon.[36]

Under Rajaraja Chola and his son Rajendra Chola, the Cholas became dominant in the 10th century and established an empire covering most of South India and Sri Lanka.[30] The empire had strong trading links with Chinese Song Dynasty and Southeast Asia.[37][38] The Cholas defeated the Eastern Chalukya and expanded their empire to the Ganges. They conquered the coastal areas around the Bay of Bengal and turned it to Chola lake. Rajendra Chola improved his father's fleet and created the first notable marine of the Indian subcontinent. The Chola navy conquered the Sri Vijaya Empire of Indonesia and the Philippines and secured the sea trade route to China.[30] Cholas exacted tribute from Thailand and the Khmer Kingdom of Cambodia.[39] The power of the Cholas declined around the 13th century and the Pandyan Empire enjoyed a brief period of resurgence thereafter during the rule of Sundara Pandya.[30] The Pandyan Empire was threatened by the constant Islamic invasions of South India. In the early 14th Century, Madurai, the capital of Pandyans was conquered by Jalaluddin Ahsan Khan and an independent Madurai Sultanate was established. The short-lived Madurai Sultanate was captured in 1378 by the Vijayanagara Empire. During the 15th century became the Vijayanagara Empire a dominant power of South India. After the decline of the Vijayanagara Empire in 1646, was Tamil Nadu dominated by small states like the Madurai Nayaks.

The western Tamil lands became increasingly politically distinct from the rest of the Tamil lands after the Chola and Pandya empires lost control over them in the 13th century.[40] They developed their own distinct language and literature, which increasingly grew apart from Tamil, evolving into the modern Malayalam language by the 15th century.[41]

Tamils in Sri Lanka

Main article: Sri Lankan Tamils

There is little scholarly consensus over the presence of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka, prior to the medieval Chola period (c. 10th century AD). One theory states that there was not an organised Tamil presence in Sri Lanka until the invasions from what is now South India in the 10th century AD; another theory contends that Tamil people were the original inhabitants of the island.[43][44] Yet according to another theory cultural diffusion, rather than migration of people, spread the Tamil language from peninsular India into an existing Mesolithic population, centuries before the Christian era.[45]

However according to Tamil tradition in Sri Lanka, they believe that they are lineal descendants of the aboriginal Naga and Yaksha people of Sri Lanka. The "Nakar" used the cobra totem known as "Nakam" in the Tamil language, which is still part of the Hindu Tamil tradition in Sri Lanka today as a subordinate deity.[46]

Pre-historic period

The indigenous Veddhas of Sri Lanka are ethinically related to tribal people of South India.[47] Settlements of people culturally similar to those of present-day Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu in modern India were excavated at megalithic burial sites at Pomparippu on the west coast and in Kathiraveli on the east coast of the island, villages established between the 5th century BC and 2nd century AD.[48][49] Cultural similarities in burial practices in South India and Sri Lanka were dated by archeologists to 10th century BC. However, Indian history and archaeology have pushed the date back to 15th century BC, and in Sri Lanka, there is radiometric evidence from Anuradhapura that the non-Brahmi symbol-bearing black and red ware occur at least around 9th or 10th century BC.[50]

Historic period

Potsherds with early Tamil writing from the 2nd century BC have been found in excavations in north of the island in Poonagari, bearing several inscriptions including a clan name – vela, a name related to velir from ancient Tamil country.[51] Tamil Brahmi inscribed potsherds have also been excavated in the south of the island in Tissamaharama. There is epigraphic evidence of people identifying themselves as Damelas or Damedas (the Prakrit word for Tamil people) in Anuradhapura, the capital city of Rajarata, and other areas of Sri Lanka as early as the 2nd century BC.[52] Historical records establish that Tamil kingdoms in modern India were closely involved in the island's affairs from about the 2nd century BC.[19][20] In Mahavamsa, a historical poem, ethnic Tamil adventurers such as Elara invaded the island around 145 BC.[53] Tamil soldiers from what is now South India were brought to Anuradhapura between the 7th and 11th centuries AD in such large numbers that local chiefs and kings trying to establish legitimacy came to rely on them.[54] By the 8th century AD there were Tamil villages collectively known as Demel-kaballa (Tamil allotment), Demelat-valademin (Tamil villages), and Demel-gam-bim (Tamil villages and lands).[55]

Medieval period

In the 9th and 10th centuries AD, Pandya and Chola incursions into Sri Lanka culminated in the Chola annexation of the island, which lasted until the latter half of the 11th century AD.[54][56][57][58]

During the rule of the great Chalukya King Vikramaditya VI, in the late eleventh to early twelfth century, the Western Chalukyas convincingly defeated the Cholas on several occasions, weakening their empire.[59][60] The eventual decline of Chola power in South India in the 12th century was also due to the rise of Hoysala power in the region.[61][62][63] The Hoysalas extended their foothold in Tamil Nadu around 1225, making the city of Kannanur Kuppam near Srirangam a provincial capital that give them control over South Indian politics and began a period of Hoysala hegemony in the southern Deccan.[64][65] Hoysala Vira Narasimha II's son Vira Someshwara earned the honorific "uncle" (Mamadi) from the Pandyas and Cholas. The Hoysala influence spread over Pandya kingdom from who they gained tribute.[66] The Chola decline in Sri Lanka was followed by the restoration of the Polonnaruwa monarchy in the late 11th century AD.[67] In 1215, following Pandya invasions, the Tamil-dominant Arya Chakaravarthi dynasty established an independent Jaffna kingdom[68] on the Jaffna peninsula and parts of northern Sri Lanka. The Arya Chakaravarthi expansion into the south was halted by Alagakkonara,[69] a man descended from a family of merchants from Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu. He was the chief minister of the Sinhalese king Parakramabahu V (AD 1344–59). Vira Alakeshwara, a descendant of Alagakkonara, later became king of the Sinhalese,[70] but he was overthrown by the Ming admiral Cheng Ho in 1409. The Arya Chakaravarthi dynasty ruled over large parts of northeast Sri Lanka until the Portuguese conquest of the Jaffna Kingdom in 1619. The coastal areas of the island were taken over by the Dutch and then became part of the British Empire in 1796. The English sailor Robert Knox described walking into the island's Tamil country in the publication An Historical Relation of the Island Ceylon, annotating some kingdoms within it on a map in 1681.[71] Upon arrival of European powers from the 17th century, the Tamils' separate nation was described in their areas of habitation in the northeast of the island.[72]

The caste structure of the majority Sinhalese has also accommodated Hindu immigrants from South India since the 13th century AD. This led to the emergence of three new Sinhalese caste groups: the Salagama, the Durava and the Karava.[73][74][75] The Hindu migration and assimilation continued until the 18th century.[73]

Modern period

British colonists consolidated the Tamil territory in southern India into the Madras Presidency, which was integrated into British India. Similarly, the Tamil speaking parts of Sri Lanka joined with the other regions of the island in 1802 to form the Ceylon colony. They remained in political union with India and Sri Lanka after their independence, in 1947 and 1948 respectively.

When India became independent in 1947, Madras Presidency became the Madras State, comprising present-day Tamil Nadu, coastal Andhra Pradesh, northern Kerala, and the southwest coast of Karnataka. The state was subsequently split along linguistic lines. In 1953, the northern districts formed Andhra Pradesh. Under the States Reorganization Act in 1956, Madras State lost its western coastal districts. The Bellary and South Kanara districts were ceded to Mysore state, and Kerala was formed from the Malabar district and the former princely states of Travancore and Cochin. In 1968, Madras State was renamed Tamil Nadu.

There was some initial demand for an independent Tamil state following the adoption of the federal system.[76] In Sri Lanka, however, the unitary arrangement led to legislative discrimination of Tamils by the Sinhalese majority. This resulted in a demand for federalism, which in the 1970s grew into a movement for an autonomous Tamil country. The situation deteriorated into civil war in the early 1980s. A ceasefire in effect since 2002 broke down in August 2006 amid shelling and bombing from both sides; in 2009 the Tamil Tigers were defeated amid accusations of war crimes committed against the Tamil populace by the Sri Lankan state. Today Tamils make up 18% of Sri Lanka's population (3.8 Million).[77]

Geographic distribution

Indian Tamils

Most Tamils in India live in the state of Tamil Nadu. Tamils are the majority in the union territory of Puducherry, a former French colony. Puducherry is a subnational enclave situated within Tamil Nadu. Tamils account for at least one-sixth of the population in Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

There are significant Tamil communities in other parts of India. Most of these have emerged fairly recently, dating to the colonial and post-colonial periods, but some—particularly the Hebbar and Mandyam Tamils of southern Karnataka (2.9 million), Pune, Maharashtra (1.4 million), Andhra Pradesh (1.2 million), Palakkad in Kerala (0.6 million), and Delhi (0.1 million) — date back to at least the medieval period.[78]

Sri Lankan Tamils

There are two groups of Tamils in Sri Lanka: the Sri Lankan Tamils and the Indian Tamils. The Sri Lankan Tamils (or Ceylon Tamils) are descendants of the Tamils of the old Jaffna Kingdom and east coast chieftaincies called Vannimais. The Indian Tamils (or Hill Country Tamils) are descendants of bonded labourers sent from Tamil Nadu to Sri Lanka in the 19th century to work on tea plantations.[79] Furthermore, there is a significant Tamil-speaking Muslim population in Sri Lanka; however, unlike Tamil Muslims from India, they are not ethnic Tamils and are therefore listed as a separate ethnic group in official statistics.[80][81]

Most Sri Lankan Tamils live in the Northern and Eastern provinces and in the capital Colombo, whereas most Indian Tamils live in the central highlands.[81] Historically both groups have seen themselves as separate communities, although there is a greater sense of unity since 1980s.[82]

Under the terms of an agreement reached between the Sri Lankan and Indian governments in the 1960s, about 40 percent of the Indian Tamils were granted Sri Lankan citizenship, and many of the remainder were repatriated to India.[83] By the 1990s, most Indian Tamils had received Sri Lankan citizenship.[83]

Tamil diaspora

Significant Tamil emigration began in the 18th century, when the British colonial government sent many poor Tamils as indentured labourers to far-off parts of the Empire, especially Malaya, South Africa, Fiji, Mauritius and the Caribbean. At about the same time, many Tamil businessmen also immigrated to other parts of the British Empire, particularly to Burma and East Africa.[84]

Many Tamils still live in these countries, and the Tamil communities in Singapore, Reunion Island, Malaysia and South Africa have retained much of their original culture and language. Many Malaysian children attend Tamil schools, and a significant portion of Tamil children in Mauritius and Reunion are brought up with Tamil as their first language. In Singapore, Tamil students learn Tamil as their second language in school, with English as the first. To preserve the Tamil language, the Singapore government has made it an official language despite Tamils comprising only about 5% of the population, and has also introduced compulsory instruction of the language for Tamils. Other Tamil communities, such as those in South Africa and Fiji, no longer speak Tamil as a first language, but still retain a strong Tamil identity, and are able to understand the language, while most elders speak it as a first language.[85]

A large emigration also began in the 1980s, as Sri Lankan Tamils sought to escape the ethnic conflict there. These recent emigrants have most often fled to Australia, Europe, North America and Southeast Asia.[86] Today, the largest concentration of Tamils outside southern Asia is in Toronto, Canada.[87]


Further information: South Indian culture and Tamil culture

Language and literature

Tamils have strong attachment to the Tamil language, which is often venerated in literature as "Tamil̲an̲n̲ai", "the Tamil mother".[88] It has historically been, and to large extent still is, central to the Tamil identity.[89] Like the other languages of South India, it is a Dravidian language, unrelated to the Indo-European languages of northern India. The language has been far less influenced by Sanskrit than the other Dravidian languages, and preserves many features of Proto-Dravidian, though modern-day spoken Tamil in Tamil Nadu, freely uses loanwords from Sanskrit and English.[90] Tamil literature is of considerable antiquity, and is recognised as a classical language by the government of India. Classical Tamil literature, which ranges from lyric poetry to works on poetics and ethical philosophy, is remarkably different from contemporary and later literature in other Indian languages, and represents the oldest body of secular literature in South Asia.[91]


About 88%[92] of the population of Tamil Nadu are Hindus. Muslims and Christians account for 5.5% and 6% respectively.[92] Most of the Christians are Roman Catholics. The majority of Muslims in Tamil Nadu speak Tamil,[93] with less than 15% of them reporting Urdu as their mother tongue.[94] Tamil Jains number only a few thousand now.[95] Atheist, rationalist, and humanist philosophies are also adhered by sizeable minorities, as a result of Tamil cultural revivalism in the 20th century, and its antipathy to what it saw as Brahminical Hinduism.[96]

The most popular deity is Murugan, also known as Karthikeya, the son of Siva.[97] The worship of Amman, also called Mariamman, is thought to have been derived from an ancient mother goddess, is also very common.[98] Kan̲n̲agi, the heroine of the Cilappatikār̲am, is worshipped as Pattin̲i by many Tamils, particularly in Sri Lanka.[99] There are also many followers of Ayyavazhi in Tamil Nadu, mainly in the southern districts.[100] In addition, there are many temples and devotees of Vishnu, Siva, Ganapathi, and the other Hindu deities. Muslims across Tamil Nadu follow Hanafi and Shafi'i schools. Most Tamil Muslims are Shadhilis. Erwadi in Ramanathapuram district and Nagore in Nagapattinam district[101] are the major pilgrimage centres for Muslims in Tamil Nadu.

The most important Tamil festivals are Pongal, a harvest festival that occurs in mid-January, and Varudapirappu, the Tamil New Year, which occurs on 14 April. Both are celebrated by almost all Tamils, regardless of religion. The Hindu festival Deepavali is celebrated with fanfare; other local Hindu festivals include Thaipusam, Panguni Uttiram, and Adiperukku. While Adiperukku is celebrated with more pomp in the Cauvery region than in others, the Ayyavazhi Festival, Ayya Vaikunda Avataram, is predominantly celebrated in the southern districts of Kanyakumari District, Tirunelveli, and Thoothukudi.[102]

In rural Tamil Nadu, many local deities, called aiyyan̲ārs, are thought to be the spirits of local heroes who protect the village from harm.[103] Their worship often centres around nadukkal, stones erected in memory of heroes who died in battle. This form of worship is mentioned frequently in classical literature and appears to be the surviving remnants of an ancient Tamil tradition.[104]

The Saivist sect of Hinduism is significantly represented amongst Tamils, more so among Sri Lankan Tamils, although most of the Saivist places of religious significance are in northern India. The Alvars and Nayanars, who were predominantly Tamils, played a key role in the renaissance of Bhakti tradition in India. In the 10th century, the philosopher Ramanuja, who propagated the theory of Visishtadvaitam, brought many changes to worshiping practices, creating new regulations on temple worship, and accepted lower-caste Hindus as his prime disciples.[105]

Tamil Jains constitute around 0.13% of the population of Tamil Nadu.[92] Tamil Jains are mostly scattered in Northern Tamil Nadu, mostly in the districts of Chennai, Viluppuram, Kanchipuram, Vellore, Thiruvannamalai, Cuddalore and Thanjavur. Many of the rich Tamil literature works were written by Jains.[106] According to George L. Hart, the legend of the Tamil Sangams or "literary assemblies: was based on the Jain sangham at Madurai.[107]

Visual art and architecture


Most traditional art are religious in some form and usually centres on Hinduism, although the religious element is often only a means to represent universal—and, occasionally, humanist—themes.[108]

The most important form of Tamil painting is Tanjore painting, which originated in Thanjavur in the 9th century. The painting's base is made of cloth and coated with zinc oxide, over which the image is painted using dyes; it is then decorated with semi-precious stones, as well as silver or gold thread.[109] A style which is related in origin, but which exhibits significant differences in execution, is used for painting murals on temple walls; the most notable example are the murals on the Kutal Azhakar and Meenakshi temples of Madurai, the Brihadeeswarar temple of Tanjore.[110]

Tamil sculpture ranges from elegant stone sculptures in temples, to bronze icons with exquisite details.[111] The medieval Chola bronzes are considered to be one of India's greatest contributions to the world art.[112][113] Unlike most Western art, the material in Tamil sculpture does not influence the form taken by the sculpture; instead, the artist imposes his/her vision of the form on the material.[114] As a result, one often sees in stone sculptures flowing forms that are usually reserved for metal.[115]



Ancient Tamil works, such as the Cilappatikaram, describe a system of music,[116] and a 7th-century Pallava inscription at Kudimiyamalai contains one of the earliest surviving examples of Indian music in notation.[117] Contemporary dance forms such as Bharatanatyam have recent origins but are based older temple dance forms known as Catir Kacceri as practised by courtesans and a class of women known as Devadasis[118]

Performing arts

Famous Tamil dance styles are

Contemporary dance forms such as Bharatanatyam have recent origins but are based older temple dance forms known as Catir Kacceri as practised by courtesans and a class of women known as Devadasis[118] One of the Tamil folk dances is karakattam. In its religious form, the dance is performed in front of an image of the goddess Mariamma.[119] The kuravanci is a type of dance-drama, performed by four to eight women. The drama is opened by a woman playing the part of a female soothsayer of the kurava tribe(people of hills and mountains), who tells the story of a lady pining for her lover. The therukoothu, literally meaning "street play", is a form of village theater or folk opera. It is traditionally performed in village squares, with no sets and very simple props.[120] The performances involve songs and dances, and the stories can be either religious or secular.[121] The performances are not formal, and performers often interact with the audience, mocking them, or involving them in the dialogue. Therukkūthu has, in recent times, been very successfully adapted to convey social messages, such as abstinence and anti-caste criticism, as well as information about legal rights, and has spread to other parts of India.[122] Tamil Nadu also has a well developed stage theatre tradition, which has been influenced by western theatre. A number of theatrical companies exist, with repertoires including absurdist, realist, and humorous plays.[123]

Film and theater arts

Main article: Tamil cinema

The theatrical culture that flourished Tamil culture during the classical age. Tamil theatre has a long and varied history whose origins can be traced back almost two millennia to dance-theatre forms like Kotukotti and Pandarangam, which are mentioned in an ancient anthology of poems entitled the Kalingathu Parani.[124] The modern Tamil film industry originated during the 20th century. Tamil film industry has its headquarters in Chennai and is known under the name Kollywood, it is the second largest film industry in India after Bollywood.[125] Films from Kollywood entertain audiences not only in India but also overseas Tamil diaspora. Tamil films from Chennai have been distributed to various overseas theatres in Singapore, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Malaysia, Japan, Oceania, the Middle East, Western Europe, and North America.[126] Inspired by Kollywood originated outside India Independent Tamil film production in Sri Lanka, Singapore, Canada, and western Europe. Several Tamil actresses such as Anuisa Ranjan Vyjayanthimala, Hema Malini, Rekha Ganesan, Sridevi, Meenakshi Sheshadri, and Vidya Balan have acted in Bollywood and dominated the cinema over the years. Some Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu like MG Ramachandran, Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa have their background in Tamil film industry.

Martial arts

Various martial arts including Kuttu Varisai, Varma Kalai, Silambam Nillaikalakki, Maankombukkalai (Madhu) and Kalarippayattu, are practised in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.[127] The weapons used include Silambam, Maankombukkalai, Yeratthai Mulangkol (double stick), Surul Pattai (spring sword), Val Vitchi (single sword), and Yeretthai Val (double sword).[128] Shaolin Kung Fu, Ch'an and Siddha medicine were brought to China from Tamil Nadu by Tamil Pallava Prince Bodhidharma .

The ancient Tamil art of unarmed bullfighting, popular amongst warriors in the classical period,[129][130] has also survived in parts of Tamil Nadu, notably Alanganallur near Madurai, where it is known as Jallikaṭṭu or mañcuviraṭṭu and is held once a year around the time of the Pongal festival.


Main article: Tamil cuisine

See also



  • Bowers, F. (1956). Theatre in the East – A Survey of Asian Dance and Drama. New York: Grove Press.
  • Casson, L. (1989). The Periplus Maris Erythraei: Text with Introduction, Translation and Commentary. Princeton, Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-04060-5.
  • Chaitanya, Krishna (1971). A history of Malayalam literature. New Delhi: Orient Longman. ISBN 81-250-0488-2.
  • Coomaraswamy, A.K. (1946). Figures of Speech or Figures of Thought. London: Luzac & Co.
  • Gadgil, M. & Joshi, N.V. & Shambu Prasad, U.V. & Manoharan, S. & Patil, S. (1997). "ISBN 81-7371-128-3.
  • Hart, G.L. (1975). The Poems of Ancient Tamil: Their Milieu and their Sanskrit Counterparts. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-02672-1.
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Population data

All population data has been taken from page.

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