Tamizh Philosophy Research Project
Satya Nilayam Institute of Philosophy & Culture is a University recognized research institute in Chennai, established in 1986 to promote and foster scholarly research in various fields, but particularly in the fields of philosophy and culture. This institute was started in 1986 with the idea of. Among its many activities, exchange of ideas, ideals, values etc. are given priority through the medium of conferences, seminars, Symposiums, Workshops, and Lectures.
The institute also offers a doctoral program in Pure philosophy or applied philosophy. Through its publication unit, Satya Nilayam produces books and brings out Semi-annual journal – Satya Nilayam Chennai journal of intercultural philosophy.
In keeping with the spirit of the institute to keep seeking truth, SNRI ventures into serious research projects. This research project on Tamizh Philosophy is yet another venture of the institute.
In an era of globalization, the place of indigenous philosophies has been relegated to the background by certain philosophical traditions. Stereotyped frames of perceiving the world have been absolutized, while ignoring perspectives of local cultures and systems. In some cases, their ideas have been usurped or coopted by dominant world-views and religions. Basking often in sophistications and complexities, certain academic minds and their philosophical systems choose to disagree with what appears to them as too simplistic or less intricate. However, in reality, it is Indigenous knowledge systems and encapsulated ordinary yet extraordinary philosophical perspectives that have sustained cultures and societies.
There are a few inspirations behind this:
- We draw our inspiration from Italian Jesuit Constantine Beschi, commonly known as Veeramamunivar, who not only fell in love with Tamizh language and culture, but also promoted it through his translations. For instance, he translated and explained in Latin the Thirukkual. He also translated several other important literary works into European languages. Some of them were: Devaaram (Njthuk;)> Thiruppugazh (jpUg;Gfo;)> nannool (ed;D}y;)> and Aathichoodi (Mj;jpR+b)
- We are inspired by German born philologist and orientalist Friedrich Max Mueller (1823-1900) who, through the 50 volume Sacred Books of the East, a set of English translations, popularized Sanskrit, though he never visited India, but through his links with Brahmo Samaj, became a leading commentator on the ‘culture of India’.
- Equal inspiration comes from Lord Cunningham (1814-1893), the founder and organizer of what is known today as the Archaeological Survey of India. His various explorations and excavations and surveys in in the later part of the 19th century, gave a keen interest in the hidden or lost traditions of India, through geography. Today, ASI’s latest excavations since 2013, now commonly known as Keezhadi excavations. Though Keezhadi is only one of the 293 sites that have been excavated along the banks of the Vaigai river from Theni to Ramanathapuram, its 8 acre excavations are bringing to light new perspectives on the entire Sangam period, and Tamizh civilization.
- One another inspiration comes from the scholarship of Monier Williams (1819-1899), a contemporary of Max Mueller, but born in India to British parents. Later he became a professor of Sanskrit at Oxford University. Along with his other publications, his famous contribution is a Sanskrit-English Dictionary in 1872.
- The scholarship of Henrique Henriques (1520-1600), a Portuguese Jesuit priest and missionary, has also been another factor to begin searching on our own Tamil heritage. Considered to be the first European Tamil scholar, he strongly proposed the idea that religious doctrines should be in local languages. He was instrumental in the printing of the first book in Tamil in India. The 16 page booklet "Thambiran Vanakkam" (jk;gpuhd; tzf;fk;) (20 Oct, 1578, at Quilon, Venad) was a translation of "Doctrina Christam en Lingua Malauar Tamul “ ", a Portuguese version of the Roman Catholic Catechism, and according to Pulavar S.Raju, the author of this version was Francis Xavier.
- “That was the age when Vijayanagar Empire King Sriranga Rayar the first (1578-1586), Mysore ruler Raja Woodayar (1578-1617), Madurai ruler Veerappa Nayakar (1572-1595) and Thanjavur's Achuthappa Nayakar (1572-1614) were still using copper plates and stones for disseminating information” (internet: the Hindu).
- We are equally taken up by the many other scholars who came to India, chiefly for missionary purposes, but in the process, they got much interested in Tamizh or the Dravidian languages. Such scholars would be Bartholomaeus Ziegenbaig (1682-1719), Italian Jesuit Roberto de Nobili (1577-1656) and others.
Though these are scholarly inspirations, a few personal questions have also intrigued us, and these are also motivators for us to launch into this research project. Why is Indian philosophy not completely Indian? We were never taught Tamizh philosophy in our graduation days. At the most Saiva Siddhanta and Vaisnavism were considered to be tamizh philosophy. Tamizh was considered as a language and as a culture, but that the Tamizhs could have an indigenous philosophy, was not given a serious thought at that time. Secondly, while we have many scholars in Tamizh, their abilities to express and explain was chiefly found in Tamizh language, and so non-Tamils wouldn’t be able to understand the culture or the ethos of the Tamizhs. Third, have we developed through discovery of the language and culture, hidden philosophies of this community called the Tamizh community? These being the initial inspirations behind the search for a Tamizh philosophy, an idea of a research project emerged in the last few months.
Renewed interests in such a philosophy, though not new, are now drawing more attention than in the past, due to archeological discoveries. Recent excavations at Keeladi, a small village in the state of Tamilnadu, suggest that there existed a settlement at a time, commonly known as Sangakālam, spanning from 3rd Century BC to 3rd Century AD.
Though already rich in its language, literature, medicine, architecture, art, etc. there is a feeling that its philosophy has not received sufficient recognition. Hence this research Thamizh Mei thedal i.e In search of Tamil Philosophy.
To explore Tamizh philosophy and make it known to the wider intellectual world.
- Identify Tamizh sources and collect these for research
- Revisit the available sources on the Tamizhs
- Explore the philosophical ideas, frames, and standpoints of the Tamizh ethos
- Initiate researches to construct or deconstruct these philosophies.
- Share the knowledge gained with the wider international community
Through direct research: With the help of research scholars and fellows, specific smaller areas would be undertaken, such as epistemology, metaphysics, religion, aesthetics, etc.
Jul 2018 to May 2019 : Identifying specific areas, forming frames of research
Jun 2019 to May 2020 : Research done in smaller units
Jun 2020 to May 2021 : Research findings shared for feedback
May 2021 to Jun 2022 : Preparation of final drafts and submission, production of books
NOTE : There would be a public lecture each month (10 lectures each year) and one or two seminars each year on smaller topics.
French philosopher Michel de Montaigne, in his ‘The Complete Essays’ remarked: “Learned we may be with another man's learning: we can only be wise with wisdom of our own.” It is this exploration of this native wisdom that is the spark behind this entire project titled, ‘Exploring Tamizh philosophy’.