Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Read in Tamil - The Easier Way?

Scripts are basically symbols or characters used to convey a message in written format. What you are reading now is in the English language. But it is written using the Roman Script. The Roman Script is also known as the Latin Script.


The Tamil language is not written in the Roman Script. It is written in the Vatteluttu Script. The letters are rounded. Vatteluttu Script contains syllabic letters unlike the alphabetic letters of the Roman Script.

The Roman Script contains only 26 letters. 5 vowels and 21 consonants. It is alphabetic, so there is no separate letters for syllables.

Vatteluttu Script used for Tamil contains 12 vowels and 18 consonants. Since it is a syllabic script, each syllable will have a letter to represent it. Which means, it has 12 + 18 + (12 X 18) = 246 letters plus a special letter called Aytam, a total of 247 letters.

This does not include the 5 loan Sanskrit consonants. If those were to be included. the total number of letters will be higher.

The evolution of the script used for Tamil language
If you want to read in Tamil language, you have to first learn the Vatteluttu Script. Without learning this script, you will not be able to read anything published in Tamil. Imagine trying to read my blog post without knowing the Roman Script.

Which means, to know Tamil, you will need to learn the over 200 letters of the script. Memorize it, identify it, know how to use it else forget about reading a simple sentence in Tamil.

Many youngsters today do not know how to read Tamil passages. Even I was lost at one point of time as I am not from Tamil school. I actually learned the Vatteluttu Script on my own, without a teacher.

I told myself that there should be an easier way to learn Tamil. Not many will afford to spend time to learn the Vatteluttu script. That is when I stumbled upon a project by the International Organization for Standardization or more commonly known as ISO.

The team at ISO came up with a format known as ISO 15919. This format can be used to write the various languages of India using one script. Which means, you can use it for Malayalam, Sanskrit, Hindi, Telugu and even Tamil. A country like India with a population of over 1 billion and dozens of languages will surely find it very helpful to use a common script.

One writing script for all!

The ISO 15919 format uses only 35 letters as it is alphabetic

Such format can be used along the native script on every signboard. It also has other benefits.

Firstly, the ISO 15919 format is alphabetic, not syllabic. As such, you no longer need to know over 200 letters for Tamil. With the ISO 15919 format, you only need about 35 letters to write.

The letters are also easier to remember as it is the modified version of the existing Roman Script.

Since it has minimal letters and easy to remember, the learning process is definitely going to be faster. It only took me an hour to memorize the ISO format. Because, I am already familiar with Roman Script since I was a kid. I only had to know the sound produced by the letters.

I then tested my reading skills. It was easier to read Tamil using the ISO format compared with the Vatteluttu Script. There were no errors in the construction of sentence too.

Take a look at the following example:

Vatteluttu Script
அலை பாயுதே கண்ணா
என் மனம் மிக அலை பாயுதே
உன் ஆனந்த மோஹன வேணுகானமதில்
அலை பாயுதே கண்ணா
உன் ஆனந்த மோஹன வேணுகானமதில்
அலை பாயுதே கண்ணா

நிலை பெயராது சிலை போலவே நின்று
நிலை பெயராது சிலை போலவே நின்று
மிக விநோதமான முரளிதரா
என் மனம் அலை பாயுதே

தெளிந்த நிலவு பட்டப் பகல் போல் எரியுதே
திக்கு நோக்கி என்னிரு புருவம் நெரியுதே
கனிந்த உன் வேணுகானம் காற்றில் வருகுதே
கண்கள் சொருகி ஒரு விதமாய் வருகுதே!

தனித்த மனத்தில் உருக்கி பதத்தை
எனக்கு அளித்து மகிழ்த்த வா
ஒரு தனித்த வனத்தில் அணைத்து எனக்கு
உணர்ச்சி கொடுத்து முகிழ்த்தவா!
கணைகடல் அலையினில் கதிரவன் ஒளியென
இணையிரு கழல் எனக்களித்தவா!
கதறி மனமுருகி நான் அழைக்கவா
இதர மாதருடன் நீ களிக்கவோ
இது தகுமோ? இது முறையோ?
இது தருமம் தானோ?

குழல் ஊதிடும் பொழுது ஆடிடிடும்
குழைகள் போலவே
மனது வேதனை மிகவோடு

அலை பாயுதே கண்ணா
என் மனம் மிக அலை பாயுதே
உன் ஆனந்த மோஹன வேணுகானமதில்
அலை பாயுதே கண்ணா 

Those of you who can write in Tamil, please take a piece of paper and try the ISO 15919 format and test it for yourself if it works.

Tamil is a very beautiful language. It needs to be preserved. Many modern Tamils are able to converse in Tamil but they do not know how to read in Tamil. This is because they did not learn the Vatteluttu Script.

It is good to learn Vatteluttu Script but if there is a easier solution, why not use it?

Publishing Tamil books in the ISO 15919 format will not just increase the number of readers, it will also attract more people to learn Tamil. This includes people of other races who are already familiar with Roman Script.

This is already being done for Mandarin language. A Romanised script called Pinyin is used to teach Mandarin. Making it easier to learn the language. It also adds to the growth of the language itself.

We need to look into changing our ways for the benefit of Tamil language and Tamil people. If adopting the ISO format helps, then we should look into it.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

The Vellalar Community

The 150 clans which makes the present Vellalar community.
The Tamils are a collection of many communities. Each of this community is made of several clans. You can even call it tribes.

Among the many prominent Tamil communities, the Vellalar community is perhaps the largest. It is also the most diverse. The Vellalar community is made of 150 endogamous clans. Endogamous clans do not marry outside their clan. However, modernization and migrations to foreign countries is changing this. Many modern day Vellalars marry Vellalars of other clans and sometimes, even non-Vellalars.

There are many theories on the origins of the Vellalars. One of it is that they are the descendants of ancient Velir rulers. The Velirs were chieftains of the sangam age. According to legend, Velirs were brought from the north by Sage Agastya when the city Dwarka went under the sea.

The Velirs chieftains had their own domains. Although they were vassals to the superior Pandya, Chola and Chera kings, some of the Velirs became more powerful than their lords. 

The other theory is more commonly accepted. It is said that the word Vellalar means 'He who controls Vellam (flood)". Some of these community members are also known as Karalar which means 'He who controls the clouds'.

This indicates that the Vellalars were generally agriculturist. They were also the landlords of agricultural land. Some believe that the word can even be used to refer to cultivators.

Although it is generally accepted as an agriculturist community, there were also warrior, musician, priest and accountant Vellalar clans. This is due to its different origins and also the hereditary professions they took up.

Vellalars are not necessarily a community with a single origin. People of various tribes would have became Vellalars due to social evolution process during ancient times. Many people who claim to be Vellalars today may have not been Vellalars during ancient times. Many Jains and Christians who were converted back into Hinduism, are said to be included into the Vellalar fold by those who converted them. I am not sure if this is accepted by the Vellalar majority.

There is also a long forgotten proverb in Tamil.

Kallar, Maravar, ganathor Agamudayar mella mella Vellalar anaare
(The tribes of Kallar, Maravar and Agamudayar slowly became Vellalars.)

The three tribes I mentioned above is what makes the present day Mukkulathor community. It is believed that during ancient times, some of the Mukkulathors eventually became Vellalars. They became less warlike and adopted agriculture as their main duty. They split from their original community and formed a new one. We can also say that they split and joined a new one.

How exactly this happened is unclear. The Agamudayars of the north are identified separately from the Agamudayars of the south. The former as part of Vellalar community and the later as part of Mukkulathor community. For this reason, the Agamudayars are considered as the bridge that links the Mukkulathors and Vellalars.

Those who became Vellalars also migrated to various parts of Tamilakam. This gave birth to new clans within the Vellalar community. Such clans are generally identified by the name of the region they occupy. For example, Kongu Vellalar, Choliya Vellalar, Pandiya Vellalar and Thondaimandala Vellalar.

Migration of Vellalars to different regions not only created new Vellalar clans, it also created new tradition and culture. They also use different surnames depending on the region they live in.

The Vellalars of the Thondaimandalam region (north) are known as Mudaliar. Those who live in the Kongu region (west) are known as Kavundar. Vellalars of the Chola and Pandiya region (east & south) are called  Pillai.

Vellalars from Tamil Nadu also migrated into the neighboring state of Kerala. This is why you also see Malayalees with Pillai surname. Kerala has its own Vellalar association known as Kerala Vellala Maha Sabha (KVMS). There are also Vellalars in Sri Lanka, especially in the northern Jaffna region.

There is a Telugu community in Andhra Pradesh known as Velama. It is assumed that these people could have been Vellalars who migrated there during Chola period. However, there is no evidence to support this theory.

I will write about two particular Vellalar community in future posts. One about the Kongu Vellalar and another one on the Kottai Vellalar.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Bali Trip 2011 - Part 3

OKA Agriculture Bali
Bali is also famous for its coffee. Besides the ordinary coffee, there is a special coffee known as the Luwak coffee. The Balinese feed the civet cats a.k.a musang with coffee beans. These cats eat the bean and excrete it. On other words, they shit the beans out. It is then collected, cleaned and dried. The dried beans are then made into Luwak coffee drink.

The OKA Agriculture Bali also produce cocoas and other products. Take a look at the pictures.

Vasuge at the entrance
Wayan checking the coffee beans


Luwak coffee beans

Coffee beans

Coffee beans

Cocoa beans

Cinnamon, Vannila and Ginger

Roasting the coffee beans

Luwak coffee beans
A note on Luwak coffee

A worker preparing the drinks for us to taste

Different types of drinks. Bali coffee, Luwak, Cocoa, Ginger Tea, Lemon Grass Tea

Products for sale

Lemon Grass

Ginseng Plant


Bali Coffee

Bali Cigars made from Bali Tobacco

Tock Ginger


We had our lunch at Kintamani. The view was fantastic. Take a look at the pictures and see it for yourself.
Gunung Batur (Mount Batur) is actually an active volcano. The inner caldera is about 7.5 kilometer wide. It is dated to be about 23,670 to 28,500 years old.

There is also a lake. It is known as Danau Batur. It is Bali's largest lake and has an area of approximately 18 sq km. There is a village across the lake. It is known as Trunyan. This is where the Bali Aga people live. It is said that they bury their dead under the trees.

Mount Batur

Our lunch

The Pura Besakih is the main temple in Bali. It is located on the slopes of Mount Agung, a volcano. This is also where the Eka Dasa Rudra festival is held once every 100 years.

Mount Agung erupted in 1963, killing about 1,700 people. The high priestess at that time, Ida Pedanda Istri Mas who was also an offering maker, did her offering in Pura Besakih. She was adamant not to leave the temple leaving her fate to God. The lava flow missed the temple by few metres. Both the temple and Ida Pedanda were safe.

Due to the volcanic eruption, the festival of Eka Dasa Rudra was postponed to 1979. It was a grand festival which was attended by the then President of Indonesia, Suharto.

Ida Pedanda died peacefully at the age of 111 on 9 February 2012.

Pura Besakih consist of several temples. Here is the map.

The entrance

The inner shrine. Tourist are not allowed but with some money, you can make it in.

The statues on one side represents Ramayana and the other Mahabaratha. Not sure which is which.

Pictures of the Eka Dasa Rudra festival held in 1979.

Pictures of the Eka Dasa Rudra festival held in 1979.
One of the clan temples where only clan members are allowed to go in.

Surrounding villages

Surrounding villages

Surrounding villages
Click to read the final part, Part 4