Many Tamils. And a great Ramayana.

In August 2006, a conference "Dialects in Tamil" was held at the French Institute of Pondicherry. The book Streams of Language: Dialects in Tamil, published by the IFP, Pondichery, is record of that meeting. How do dialects emerge? In any language, or in any tradition. The premise of the editor, M Kannan, is that they arise "from a configuration of the following elements shared by people: caste, region, landscape and the material culture which sustains them."

The book reflects the multidisciplinary nature of the meeting. The problematic of dialects in Tamil has been addressed in different contexts by scholars, linguists, and Tamil creative writers as well. In a very unusual arrangement, papers in Tamil contain English abstracts and vice versa, so that both Tamil and English readers can benefit from the volume.

Another book of related interest is Norman Cutler and Paula Richman's A Gift of Tamil from the American Institute of Indian Studies, published by Manohar quite some years ago, an anthology wherein the translators have tried to convey more than just the meanings of the originals - after all what is Tamil poetry without the rhetoric and and poetic effects.

And given the events this week in Delhi University, it is probably worth
noting that of the many many Ramayanas that are part of our great literary, religious and philosophical heritage, one has frequently been singled out for its use of poetic and lyrical language. Writing in the Hindu, Arshia Sattar had this to say of the 2002 Penguin edition of The Kamba Ramayana, translated by P S Sundaram and edited by N S Jagannathan, "this magnificent Tamil text stands on its own, albeit within the larger Ramayana tradition. It also makes abundantly clear who Rama is. In Kamban's story, Rama-as-god is not simply a declaration, it is a leitmotif that runs through the text. Many raksasas and even Vali himself, are happy to die at Rama's hands because they are assured of salvation. In a sense, Kamban's story fits between the two major northern versions, Valmiki's and Tulsidas'. It does not carry the ambiguity of Valmiki's epic with regard to Rama's divinity, nor is it drenched in bhakti like Tulsidas'.

And thats just three of the many.  Take that, Delhi University!