With the revered title of being one of the world’s oldest languages, Tamil has a rich history of economic, political, cultural, and social significance. A member of the Dravidian languages, Tamil appears to be spoken by over 3 million people, just in India. The earliest evidence of the Tamil script is recorded in the form of inscriptions and potsherds that date back to over 2000 years ago. The written script of Tamil draws inspiration from the Brahmi script. According to history, the evolution of Tamil is split into three eras: Old Tamil, Middle Tamil, and Modern Tamil. Over the years, the evolution of Tamil as a classical language has witnessed great change, particularly with respect to the spoken word, which has created a phenomenon known as diglossia which draws a distinct comparison between the vernacular form of the language and the nature of the language seen in the written form as well in formal settings. Furthermore, there are disparities in the enunciation of Tamil in different parts of Tamil Nadu.
Hinduism in Tamil Nadu
Traditional Hinduism finds its roots in the state of Tamil Nadu. One of the most important movements in Hinduism, the Bhakti movement originated in these coastal plains. Accounts of this revolutionary Hindu concept are found in ancient Tamil literature that dates back many thousand years ago. Buddhism and Jainism were also popular religious practices in this region. In South India, the Bhakti movement was introduced by the 12 Azhwars (religious poets of the Vaishnavite tradition) and the 63 Nayanars (the religious poets of Shaivism) in Hinduism.
The earliest mention of Hinduism in Tamil Nadu is found in Sangam literature. These literary works defied Murugan, an important deity in Tamil culture. During the medieval period, temples were extensively built and the emergence of religious literary texts reached an all-time high. Then came the Vijayanagar and Nayak rule. During this period, many of the oldest temples in Hindu tradition were built in the state. The most remembered of these is the Meenakshi Temple. For a brief period after this, the region of Tamil Nadu was ruled by the Nawabs and Nizams. Consequently followed by the British.
Hindu Deities worshiped in Tamil Nadu
While most of the Hindu deities worshiped in Tamil Nadu were consistent with the names present in other parts of the country, many religious concepts were unique to only the Tamil tradition.
Lingam - A reminiscent of the Chola Empire, the Lingam is a popular representation of Lord Shiva in South India. The presence of Lingam is quite often witnessed in South Indian temples, particularly in the state of Tamil Nadu.
Pillayar - Pillayar is a South-Indian representation of Lord Ganesha with separate temples dedicated only to this deity. This was most common during the reign of the Chalukyas.
Murugan - Murugan, synonymous with the names Kartikeya, Skanda, and Subrahmanya, is more popular among the people of South India, especially among Tamilians. Known across the state as Thamizh Kadavul (God of Tamils), Lord Murugan is considered the patron deity of Tamil Nadu.
Lingothbhavar - Lingothbhavar, or the advent of a linga, which appears as an icon of Shiva in multiple Puranas, adds to the formation of the ancient cults of the pillar and phallic reverence. The concept arose from a deity residing in a pillar and was later envisioned as Shiva emanating out from the lingam.
Nataraja - Otherwise known as The Lord of Dance, Nataraja is a portrayal of Lord Shiva as a celestial dancer who goes by the name Koothan. The earliest depictions of Shiva as Nataraja were seen in Chola sculptures and Tamil ideologies.
These were among the most important Tamil representations of Hindu deities.
Q1. Is there any relation between Tamil and Sanskrit?
While the two are commonly the main topics of debate when it comes to their emergence and significance, there is no notable similarity between these two languages. Both of these languages are considered among the oldest languages worldwide. Tamil is said to have Dravidian roots, while Sanskrit finds its origin in Indo-Aryan traditions.
Q2. Owing to the Tamil literary scriptures, was Shiva a South Indian deity?
There’s no doubt that Lord Shiva was a prominent deity in the Southern parts of the country. This was seen in the building of temples in his name as well as bronze figurines of him being patronized by the Cholas.
Q3. Why was Murugan popularly revered as the ‘God of the Tamils’ ?
The reason behind the deification of Lord Murugan as the ‘God of the Tamils’, is due to the practice of an ancient form of worship known as Seyon that was prevalent in the Tamil region. This form of worship was also another name for Lord Murugan. Due to this similarity, Lord Murugan was worshiped as the ‘God of the Tamils.’
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