THE TAMIL NATIONALITY.
There is a saying in Tamil குரங்குக்குக்
பொன்குட்டி. Even to a monkey its baby is a golden one. There is a good deal of truth in this saying, and it will greatly profit us if we go into the question and sift it a bit closely. Although this embodies a fact that will be admitted by all human beings, yet very few are aware of the reason why it should be so. There are many truths in our experience which we feel, but which we are not able to express or explain, more or less similar to a certain stage in religion where the truth are to be realized than expressed. Every one knows that his individuality is more sacred to him and of more importance to him than anything else in the world yet very few know the why and wherefore of it. I think it therefore of some value to go into the question minutely, and probe the secret that underlies the truth, especially at a time when some agitation is being made as regards the revival of our nationality.
I may in the first place point out that such a state of things is an order of nature over which we have no control; every living being in the world is, by instinct, under the influence of self. I must, however, warn you not to mistake this for what is generally known as selfishness, which I should say, is entirely different from the interest which every one is reasonably entitled to take on his behalf. Self-preservation is an essential order of nature, and if not for this law of nature, the conservancy of the animal kingdom in this world, would have been almost impossible. So that, it is a duty imposed on us by nature to protect and promote our own interests. Although according to certain religions, the self has to be killed in an advanced state of spiritual growth, such a killing is altogether different from any lack of interest which we should take on our own behalf, so long as we remain in the secular plane. Even these religions could be found to lay out in unmistakable terms that so long as we remain in the secular plane, we should be unflinching in our duty, of which the most important is our own preservation. If we fall in this duty it would be waging a war with nature, which is strongly deprecated by all the religions of the world. Nature wants us to take care of ourselves and to advance our own interests and no religion could be found to say anything against this inviolable law of nature. If we fail in this duty it amounts to a form of suicide which is counted by all religionists and so important that it is engraved in the instincts of all living beings; and the feeling on the subject in the case of human beings could be clearly seen from the very liberal provisions made in the statute books of all civilized nations as regards self-defense. One can take even the life of another if his own life is in danger at the hands of the other man. Such provisions are not confined to one's life alone but may be seen extended to his property as well. So that it becomes an admitted truism that the protection and promotion of one's own interests are sanctioned alike by nature, by religion and by society; and it is, therefore, our sacred duty, as I may call it, to perform this duty to the best of our capacity. This duty, again, is not confined to the individual self alone – it is extended gradually to his family, then to his community, then to the nation to which he belongs, then to the whole human race, and then to all living beings. It is about his duty to the nation to which he belongs. I have taken upon myself to say a few words here.
In the same way as it is important to advance one's own interests, it is equally, if not more, important to advance the interests of the nation to which one belongs. It may be that one's own individual interests are more pressing than his national interests, but the national interests must be said to be more important than individual interests. For, any injury caused to the interests of an individual will only affect him, while the injury caused to a national interest will affect a whole nation.
The question may be asked in this connection, why so many nations and so many national ideas, and why cannot we all belong to the same nation and all work together for the advancement of that nation? The first answer to this question is that we are not so; secondly, under the existing order of things it is in the best interests of humanity at large that there are different nations with different tastes and different views. Just imagine for a moment that the whole human race belongs to one nation, how keen will our competition be for existence under such circumstances? We must understand again that human races on the face of the earth occupy different climes and are instinctively of different tastes and different views. Their standard intelligence is varied, and there should, therefore, necessarily be a corresponding difference in their modes of life. A fusion of these differences would cause considerable chaos and confusion and it is therefore in the interests of humanity at large that here are different races and different nationalists. I may say in this connection that, this difference in nationality being highly essential for human society, it would be the duty of every wise Government to protect and promote these nationalities to the best possible extent. This is a variety in unity that is very essential to be kept up, and I have reasons to believe that it is the necessity of this variety that underlies the Indian caste system, although, as it stands now, it has greatly deteriorated in its details. It would thus be apparent that it is the duty of every human being to advance the cause of the nationality to which he belongs, and, if he has the means and capacity to do so, to help the alien nations as well, to progress in their own lines.
So far as regards the theoretical side of the question. I will now go into its practical side, and in doing so, I will confine my remarks to the nationality to which I belong – I mean the Tamil nationality. The Tamils as a distinct race were at one time one of the foremost nations of the world. They were enjoying a high state of civilization in the various departments of material progress, such as arts and science, agriculture and commerce, literature and religion etc., etc. In the matter of literature and religion they may be said to have been second to very few nations of the world. Without reverting to the theoretical side again, I may say that a nation should exhaust its material desire and aptitude, or rather it should work out its material progress, before it may be said to be fit for spiritual achievements. And this we did and this could be amply borne out by the number of spiritual giants our nation produced at one time. In our material progress we never lost sight of the importance of spirituality, and we had it always prominent in our view as may be apparent from the large number of huge temples and other religious institutions that are found in large numbers, all over South India – our original home – and from the vast amount of religious literature that we possess even now. We had a form of Government in which there was a combination of the present day democratic and aristocratic principles of administration. Our kings were helped and advised by a council of advisers known in our literature as ஐம்பெருங்குழு. The three Tamil dynasties of our Tamil Kings known as Chera, Chola and Pandiya could be traced to a hoary antique origin – an origin even much earlier than the incidents mentioned in the Maha-Bharata or Ramayana. They were highly talented in the art of warfare, and it is said that they invaded on various occasions the Aryan Kingdoms of the North and engraved their insignia on the Himalaya Mountains. Their kingdoms were in a very flourishing condition, and there was free trade between our Tamilagam and several Western countries. We had a superfine literature of which any nation can rightly be proud, and although a large proportion of them has now been lost to us owing to various causes, the little that remains would strongly impress any one who could understand them, of their lofty character and graceful diction. What nation in the world can boast of an existing grammar like our தொல்காப்பியம்
which at any rate is not less than 5000 years old? This is a treatise which is not confined to the principles of the language, but it devotes a full section – a voluminous section as it is, to the social habits and manners of the Tamil race at that antique period. The பொருளதிகாரம்
of this elaborate treatise would give any one a fair idea of the high sate of civilization which the Tamils enjoyed at that time. The various departments of secular knowledge were classified into 64 sections called கலைஞானம், and there were several elaborate treatises on each department. The progress that we had made in the departments of medicine and astronomy including astrology was simply astounding, if we can judge from the few remnants of those sciences that are now left to us. Our skill in architecture and engineering would be quite apparent from the thousands of gigantic temples all over South India, and from the various irrigation works that could be seen even now. Our agriculture and handicraft attained such a degree of eminence that we are able to stand out as a nation even now on our own legs.
Our advancement in the moral plane needs no other evidence than that immortal work of திருவள்ளுவர்
[Tiruvalluvar]. But alas! Where is all our greatness now? It is of no use that we brag of our past greatness and sit quiet with folded hands, looking aghast at the rapid strides the foreign nations are making. We must rise as a body and think for a moment about the cause of our decline, and endeavor to regain our past greatness. What is it in the first place that led to our decline? This is a problem that deserves the serious consideration of all thinking men of our race.
It is true that we were once enjoying a high position in society, and what was the secret of that position? I must say that it was our strong sense of human imperfection and of the importance of our duty to our country, and our great desire therefore to rise up in the level of the society, - such a sense and desire having been always engendered in us by the ideas of spiritual truths which were prominent in our view and which we never dissociated from our mind, but took particular care to cultivate side by side along with our temporal progress. It must be understood that our temporal progress has invariably to be guided by a religious spirit, otherwise any advancement that we may make in the material plane cannot be permanent, such an advancement having no vitality to sustain it. It appears that in our over-anxiety to promote our temporal advancement, we slowly dropped our of our consideration and neglected our religious duty and spiritual ideas, which seem to have been almost forgotten and forsaken by us ultimately except, perhaps, so much of them as helped us in our worldly pleasures. It will not be wrong to say that we went even so far, as to make use of our religion for our worldly pleasures, and the rules, laid down to promote our spiritual growth and to safeguard us from the evils of the world, were twisted and made to serve a purpose entirely opposed to the one for which they were intended. As an instance, I may refer to the highly objectionable nautch-dance introduced into our temples in the place of the dance of ecstasy performed by real devotees. The idea of spirituality having thus been swept away from our minds in the tumult for secular advancement and secular pleasures, there is no doubt but that our sense of our human weakness and the love to our country gradually declined and disappeared and in their place sprang up a spirit of conceit and selfishness, and clouded our intellect. This spirit, no doubt, drifted us in course of time, to the shoal of blank materialism and its attendant evils, and created in our minds a strong aversion to spiritual truths and to the religious duty of doing good. With no sense of spirituality in us, we became slaves to worldly pleasures and worldly evils, we forgot our duty to our country and nation, we were taken a strong hold of by selfishness and conceit, with what result, it is easy to understand. Our progress was retarded, the progress that we had made declined and we began to grow like a cow's tail, until at last we are brought to our present condition. Divested of the spirituality that existed in us, and that give us the impetus to rise in the scale of social development we were blinded by the evils of the world and we are in this deplorable state.
It may be urged that there are nations in the world that enjoy an immense material prosperity without much of spirituality in them. But I can only say that such prosperity, if prosperity it can be called, cannot be supposed to possess in itself the vitality of stability which cannot possibly be expected in the absence of the guidance of spirituality. If we study the history of ancient nations, we could clearly see that their fall was mainly, if not wholly, attributable to their indifference to religion, which I should say is the foundation upon which any structure – either material or spiritual – has to be raised. I lay some stress on this point, because I know that at certain quarters in India, there is a prevailing opinion that if India is to rise in its progress, it has to divest itself of its spiritual ideas and devote its undivided attention to material progress. I do not think that we can make a more serious blunder than by attaching any importance to this absurd opinion. I do not mean to preach religion here, but what I mean to say is that religion is an indispensable guide to material progress, and without religion no material progress can be effective or permanent. Material progress has invariably to be guided by a religious spirit and governed by its unswerving hands. Our progress must invariably be accompanied by our love and fear of God, by our love to our fellow-beings, by our love of truth and love of moral principles, and by a sense of our own imperfection and weakness.
It is the absence of these conditions at one time in our ancestors, their utter indifference to the importance of these conditions, and ultimately their callous spirit in ignoring their value that made them to fall headlong into the mire of the evils of the world and bequeath to us our present state. It is therefore very essential that if we have any desire to regain our former state of grandeur, we should wake up and work vigorously and hopefully keeping always in our view the importance of religion and spirituality. It is this religious spirit that will always kindle in our heart a true love for our fellow-beings and our country, for our nation and all that belongs to our nation. We should understand that our national habits and manners – at least a vast majority of them – are the best suited to us, and it should be our duty to protect and promote them. We should cultivate a preferential love to our national belongings, not forgetting at the same time the importance, of improving them, whenever we are rightly convinced of the necessity of such improvement. Indeed, and we should not grudge to learn from whatever source it may be, anything that may tend to our national advancement. But we should take particular care that we are not tempted and deceived by empty shows and dazzling fashions without looking to the intrinsic value of any change that we may adopt in our national life. … … It may be shown quite convincingly, that our own habits and manners are most suited to us in many respects. I mean they are (so) in point of cleanliness, in point of simplicity, in point of sanitation in point of economy, and I may say even in point of breeding a moral culture among us. I do not know how far the enlightened portion of our community has realized the serious extent to which our nation has wrecked itself by taking to the habits of drink and meat-eating. Apart from an enormous amount of their hard earned cash being wasted away in these vices, they have ruined their national health and vigor to very serious extent, and this is nothing short of purchasing their own ruin with their own hard earned money. We lose in this way all our interests in our national industries, and in the occupation followed by our fore-fathers, because we do not care for the products turned out by such occupations. In fact we are ashamed of following the vocations followed by our ancestors and try to betake ourselves to such occupations as will suit the European methods to which we have become attached. We do not realize the fact that in Europe itself agriculture manufacture are the mainstay of the country; but we form quite erroneous ideas of European life from the stay cases that we meet in Ceylon. This mistake itself goes a long way to work against the interest of our nationality, and I say all these evils could be easily prevented if only we have in ourselves that zeal of national feeling.
It would not be out of place in this connection to point out that we commit a serious blunder in adopting foreign religions when we have a national religion which is full of spirituality and which is admittedly far more developed than any Western religions. It is not my object to introduce religious controversy here, but I want you to realize the important bearing that religion has on our nationality, and I want you to realize the important bearing that religion has on our nationality, and I want you to consider that in that light alone. Religion is an important factor in the building of nationality and it is highly essential that our national religion should not be discarded if we have any idea of raising our nationality.
Another important factor in our nationality is our language. It is admitted even by Oriental scholars of the West, that our language is one of the finest and most refined languages of the world, and that we should be proud of such a language, still it is a thousand pities to find that our language is neglected by our own people, who now hanker after English and English education. I know of cases where Tamil gentlemen are ashamed to speak Tamil even in their homes, and if at all they speak it they think it will add to their greatness, if they speak it in that affected style in which it is spoken by European and Burgers. In their great admiration for everything foreign and European, they have forgotten the plain fact that unless they are grounded in their mother tongue they will not be able to grasp foreign tongues effectively, and it will be much easier for them and for their young ones especially, to be impressed of any instruction imparted to them through the medium of their mother tongue. Language is a medium to express our thoughts and to understand things explained by us, and we have an instinct endowed by nature to perform these functions readily and effectively through our mother tongue. But the fashion of the day has so much blinded many of our countrymen that they have overlooked the importance of this order of nature, and you know what a hue and cry is just at present made in connection with what is known as the education reform, and how some of our people are trying to set at naught what nature has intended to do.
I have a good deal to add to this feeble discourse of mine, but I am afraid I have kept you long. It gives me a great pleasure to find that our Jaffna Tamils have not lost sight of the importance of their nationality, and wherever they go, they seek measures to revive the spirit of nationality which I think is a sure sign that they will at not a far distinct date come to the forefront.
Before closing, I must refer to a great failing in us which is mainly responsible for our lagging behind. We are sadly wanting in the spirit of union which is essentially necessary for the rise of a nation. It is true that we see the importance of this union and make several attempts at forming public bodies for the purpose of promoting our common cause. But I am sorry to ding that these collapse suddenly on account of trivial consideration which, it is a great pity to find, outweigh the importance of the great common object for which they were started. Hoping that you will take a lesson from this hint and wishing your Association all prosperity and long life, I now resume my seat.