Sunday, May 17, 2009

Origin of the word "Tamil"

The English word Dravidian was first employed by Robert Caldwell in his book of comparative Dravidian grammar based on the usage of the Sanskrit word "IAST|drāviḍa" in the work "Tantravārttika" by IAST|Kumārila Bhaṭṭa (Zvelebil 1990:xx). As for the origin of the Sanskrit word "IAST|drāviḍa" itself there have been various theories proposed. Basically the theories are about the direction of derivation between "IAST|tamiẓ" and "IAST|drāviḍa".

There is no definite philological and linguistic basis for asserting unilaterally that the name "Dravida" also forms the origin of the word "Tamil" (Dravida -> Dramila -> Tamizha or Tamil). Zvelebil cites the forms such as "dramila" (in IAST|Daṇḍin's Sanskrit work "Avanisundarīkathā") "IAST|damiḷa" (found in Ceylonese chronicle Mahavamsa) and then goes on to say (ibid. page xxi): "The forms "damiḷa"/"damila" almost certainly provide a connection of "IAST|dr(a/ā)viḍa" " and "... "IAST|tamiḷ" < "IAST|tamiẓ" ...whereby the further development might have been *"IAST|tamiẓ" > *"IAST|damiḷ" > "IAST|damiḷa"- / "damila"- and further, with the intrusive, 'hypercorrect' (or perhaps analogical) -"r"-, into "IAST|dr(a/ā)viḍa". The -"m"-/-"v"- alternation is a common enough phenomenon in Dravidian phonology" (Zvelebil 1990:xxi)Zvelebil in his earlier treatise (Zvelebil 1975: p53) states: "It is obvious that the Sanskrit "IAST|dr(a/ā)viḍa", Pali "damila", "IAST|damiḷo" and Prakrit "IAST|d(a/ā)viḍa" are all etymologically connected with "IAST|tamiẓ" and further remarks "The "r" in "IAST|tamiẓ" > "IAST|dr(a/ā)viḍa" is a hypercorrect insertion, cf. an analogical case of DED 1033 Ta. "kamuku", Tu."kangu" "areca nut": Skt. "kramu(ka)".".

Further, another eminent Dravidian linguist Bhadriraju Krishnamurti in his book "Dravidian Languages" (Krishnamurti 2003: p. 2, footnote 2) states:"Joseph (1989: IJDL 18.2:134-42) gives extensive references to the use of the term "IAST|draviḍa", "dramila" first as the name of a people, then of a country. Sinhala inscriptions of BCE [Before Christian Era] cite "IAST|dameḍa"-, "damela"- denoting Tamil merchants. Early Buddhist and Jaina sources used "IAST|damiḷa"- to refer to a people of south India (presumably Tamil); "IAST|damilaraṭṭha"- was a southern non-Aryan country; "IAST|dramiḷa"-, "IAST|dramiḍa", and "IAST|draviḍa"- were used as variants to designate a country in the south ("IAST|Bṛhatsamhita-", "Kādambarī", "Daśakumāracarita-", fourth to seventh centuries CE) (1989: 134-8). It appears that "IAST|damiḷa"- was older than "IAST|draviḍa"- which could be its Sanskritization."

Based on what Krishnamurti states referring to a scholarly paper published in the International Journal of Dravidian Linguistics, the Sanskrit word "IAST|draviḍa" itself is later than "IAST|damiḷa" since the dates for the forms with -r- are centuries later than the dates for the forms without -r- ("IAST|damiḷa", "IAST|dameḍa"-, "damela"- etc.). So it is clear that it is difficult to maintain Dravida -> Dramila -> Tamizha or Tamil.

The Monier-Williams Sanskrit Dictionary [ [ Sanskrit, Tamil and Pahlavi Dictionaries ] ] lists for the Sanskrit word "draviUnicode|ḍa" a meaning of "collective Name for 5 peoples, viz. the Āndhras, KarUnicode|ṇāUnicode|ṭakas, Gurjaras, TailaUnicode|ṅgas, and MahārāUnicode|ṣṭras".


  1. Interesting.. I was not able to read IAST|damila.. Is there a specific way to read or interpret it?

  2. i'm respecting your work. keep going.. all the best

  3. Hi Segar,

    Nice ! Thanks for the encouraging words !

  4. Hi Nepo,

    IAST - International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration. The crux is 'It appears that "IAST|damiḷa"- was older than "IAST|draviḍa"- which could be its Sanskritization'. Instead of saying Dravidians (which is the Sanskritization), we should say we are 'Damilans' instead of Dravidians which is the original one !

  5. hi,

    Yes, Its false that tamil came from dravida.
    "dravida" is the sanskritisation of "tamil".

  6. Its a continuous propaganda. hmm you know what, even today most of the people of India thinks Hindi is the one and the only official/National language of India. I pitty all those poor Indians who thinks so. All the spoken languages of the states in India (you see them in our currency) are the national language of India. Be proud of being a Tamilian, Since Tamil is also a National language of several other countries like Singapore, Malasia, etc.