Tamil or Sanskrit: Which is Older?


Questions answered by London Swaminathan
Post No. 1176; dated 16th July 2014.

Dear Swamy

It appears that you are not inclined to clear my doubts. However, I started reading your posts regularly and trying to find answers’
Recently I read your following post


Here too I wish for clarification for the following
N K M.
(This is the Second e mail from NKM)

Dear NKM,

I have given my answers below:

Qestion1.What is the difference between Panini grammar and Tolkappiyam Grammar?

Answer: I am not an expert on Paninian Grammar. My Sanskrit knowledge is limited. I have passed five Sanskrit Examinations and Five Bhagavad Gita exams conducted by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai. When I was a school boy I passed all the five Sanskrit exams conducted by Chittoor Samskrutha Bhasa Pracharini Sabha. I can claim some authority on Sangam Tamil literature. I have read the 27,000+ lines four times. It will take 2 years if you devote some time every day to complete one round. I have read Post Sangam books and Valmiki and Kamba Ramayanam and all the Saivite and Vaishnavite scriptures only once. With my limited knowledge I answer your questions:

Paninian grammar was written around 7th century BCE. Tolkappiyam was written around 1st century BCE or CE. My estimate is 5th century CE in the present form. I have given the reasons for it in my five articles in English and Tamil on Tolkappim and the author Tolkappian. If you hold the word index of Sangam Books and Post Sangam works in your hand, you can see lot of Tolkappian words are found only in Post Sangam Tamil literature. That is why no Tamil scholar dares to compare them.

Porulathikaram of Tolkappiyam is a later addition according to many scholars. My opinion is all the three Adikarams belong to fifth century CE. In short there is a 1000 year gap between Tolkappiyam and Panini.

Wikipedia also listed the name of the authors and their dating.

Paninian Grammar is far superior to Tolkappiam in structure and construction. (If I remember correct Kamil Zvelebil mentioned something like that in his book The Smile of Murugan).

Q2. Do Panini’s grammar has all three viz Sollathigaram. Porul adhikaram and Ezhuththu adhikaram?

Answer : Panini’s Ashtadyayi (Eight Chapters) is not divided in that way. In short there is no Porul Adhikaram which is unique to Tolkappiam. Patanjali’s Mahabhasya gives lot of examples in the commentary on Panini. So we come to know more about Panni’s India. Please read the book “India in Panini”. I borrowed it from University of London (SOAS) Library. A very interesting book.

Sol (Syntax) and Ezuthu (Alphabet, formation of Words) are dealt with by Panini, in addition to several other topics.


Q3. What is the difference between Vedic language and classical Sanskrit?

Answer : The difference between the Vedic Sanskrit (1500 BCE) and the classical Sanskrit ( from 3rd Century BCE) is the difference between the Sangam Tamil ( First Century BCE to 3rd Century CE) and Modern Tamil (18th Century CE). Without Tamil commentaries we would not understand the Sangam Tamil literature, particularly the iraichi porul (hidden meaning, implied meaning etc). There was no present, past, future tenses in Sangam Tamil. Vaiyapuri Pillay has given lot of examples about the development in Tamil Grammar when he dated Tirukkural and Tolkappiam. Please read Vaiyapuri Pillay’s works.

The natural law is “CHANGE IS INEVITABLE. EVERYTHING MUST CHANGE. NOTHING CAN REMAIN STATIC in THE UNIVERSE”. Whether it is Nataraja’s dance, or the simplest Hydrogen atom or the Universe or my wife’s blouse or our food habits everything is changing/moving.

A language changes every two hundred miles and every two hundred years. This is the thumb rule used by Max Muller for dating the Vedas.

Q4. While I understand Sanskrit words are in Tamil and Tamil words are in Sanskrit, how Sanskrit was considered as Deva basha and Tamil as common man language

Answer : You don’t need to worry much about this nomenclature. It is very simple. All the ancient Hindu scriptures are in Sanskrit. So people may call it a Divine language. No one said that Tamil is not a divine Bhasa. Kanchi Paramacharya says Tamil has more devotional hymns than Sanskrit, which is correct. The word “divine” is used for the Tamil language by many poets. I have given it in my blog.

Patanjali called Panini ‘Bhagavan Panini’ (divine Panini). Kamban called Valmiki ‘Divine Valmiki ( Deiva Maa Kavi)’. Valluvar is called ‘Deiva Pulavar’ in Tiruvalluva Malai. Homer is called ‘Divine Homer’ in Greek. I will call Subramanya Bharati a ‘Divine Poet’.

Patamala-1 000

Regarding Tamil words in Sanskrit:

No language is pure in the world. Our forefathers were NOT language fanatics. They freely used Sanskrit words in Sangam literature and later Tirukkural. In the same way Tamil words are in later classical Sanskrit. But I doubt about it in Vedic Sanskrit. I have shown that even great linguists like Suneet Kumar Chatterji are wrong to claim that ‘Neer’ (water) in Rig Veda is Tamil. I have shown that it is in the oldest Greek mythology (Nereids=Water Nymphs). When a word is found in other Indo European languages it is not counted as Dravidian even in etymological dictionaries. But old linguists misled many others and so ‘Neer’ is shown as Dravidian. I have also shown that Kapi, Tuki in the Bible are Sanskrit words. Please read my article “Sanskrit in The Bible”.

In this context, my pet theory is Tamil and Sanskrit originated from a common source on the Indian soil. This is what saints like Paranjothy Munivar and others believed 300 years ago. If we believe our Puranas and Tamil commentators, we accept that Agastya from the north came to South India and codified grammar for Tamil. He was sent by Shiva to balance the population (Please read my article “Population Explosion: Oldest Reference is in Hindu Scriptures”; posted on 2nd February 2013). Naturally Agastya would have done it on the basis of Sanskrit grammar. But even Shiva accepted Tamil as a separate language and entrusted the grammar work to great Agastya. Even Lord Shiva recognised the greatness and uniqueness of Tamil. Do we need any other certificate?

Q.5. Yet the literature in Sanskrit or other classical languages are equally comparable with Tamil literatures in richness and depth of literacy.

Answer : Tamil is one of the richest languages in the world. My opinion is that it will come next to Sanskrit and Greek in the quantity and quality of the literature. Then only Hebrew, Chinese and Latin will come. But among these languages Tamil is the junior most language except Latin. But Sanskrit literature is enormous like an ocean. No one has listed all the books in Sanskrit. In Tamil we have listed all the lost and available books. It will come in a handy book. But if you just compile the names of the Sanskrit books only, it will come in several volumes. In Tamil we have not got anything before 1st century BCE. But Sanskrit had a huge, very huge literature even before Homer started writing his first book in Greek language. Around that time, we had great women philosophers Maitreyi and Gargi attending World Philosophers Conference in Mithila. Even before Moses issued Ten Commandments all those Ten Commandments were in the Vedas.


Q.6. Even though Kalidasa is controversial, why you are not providing constructive arguments for the Tamil poets antiquity?

Answer : Date of Kalidasa is not controversial. Though it is debatable, great art historians like Sivaramamurthy and several foreign and Indian scholars have dated him in the Pre Christian Era. Reverend G.U. Pope dated him Pre Kabila as soon as he read Kurinjipattu.

Though we date the Tamil poets around first century CE references in Mahavamsa, Mahabharata, Ramayana, Kalidasa and Asoka’s epigraph show that the Tamils existed long before the Sangam Period. I have written the following articles about Tamil antiquity in this blog:

Dravidian Queen (1320 BC) in North India (Posted April 14, 2012).

Valmiki in Tamil Sangam Literature (posted on 27 June 2013).

To Master the Tamil Language ……Keep a Calculator Handy! (12 Sept. 2011)

20000 Tamil Proverbs (1 June 2012)

Pandya King who Ruled Vietnam

How old is Indian Civilization? (Posted 25 September 2011).

Contact swami_48@yahoo.com

Leave a comment


  1. I completely disagree with your conclusions on Tamil and Sanskrit based more on existing theories rather than independent analysis. Paninian grammar was more suited to integrate with Middle East languages where Datu or root is MRE important than word and meaning. However before Panini Katayana based on word and meaning was used by Katyana and Aindra The beginning of Tolkappiyam itself stresses Sol and Porul . However Vedic language is understood only by Siksha/Chanda’s/Vyakarana as well as Niruktha. Even Katyayana doubt’s the effecacy of his own grammar via a via understanding Vedas. The Mimamsakaras went one step further and declared what is essential is only sound and meaning. Thus Panini’ s grammar was used only for literary purpose and theology was based only on Katayana system.. The Western analysts on its this important aspect. Tolkappiyam was written only for purpose of music and it corroborates with Bharata’ s Natya sastra and not for literature. The classification as Thinai /Thurai is only for audience. For example when a person comes with Vetchi flower for audience it denotes he is going to capture cattle. Tamil grammar evolved purely for dramatic presentation accompanied by music. As per your theory if you fix Kalidasa as per Sangam then will you fix Bhasa who was the father of Sanskrit Drama. Up to the arrival of Asoka the entire country was Jain only but for Tamilakam which was the region of western India up to Sholapur and the area between South of Krishna and Tondi was unknown. Those persons who wanted to propiate performed sacrifices and those who don’t remained Sramanas. Further Buddhistic literature considered South India as Karma Rashtra I.e., who wanted to experiment with Yagyas came downwards. That is why we don’t find North Indian kings performing sacrifices. It is further seen that up to Info Bactrian kings there were only Janapadad and not kingdoms People themselves never adopt foreign influences unless promoted by merchant class or ruling class. Thus Apabrahmsa ruling the country Tamil was evolved through first immigration for kings and nobles from middle east and Sanskrit evolved through interaction of Kadambas with Middle east Nobody has never explained why in Sanskrit alone even highly literate Royal ladies should speak only in Prakrit and why Prakrit was linqua franca throughout sub continent up to Srilanka and not an iota of Sanskrit literature up to Bhasa. For whom Panini wrote grammar without any literature? I seek further clarification from you

  2. I wanted to say one thing categorically.


    If there is no literature, there cant be any grammar (Grammar can come only after considerable writing)
    It is common sense as well.

    So there was huge literature before Panini.

    May be Ramyayana and Mahabharata were all pre Paninian or its sources.
    We lost most of them due to foreign, particularly,Muslim invasions.
    They burnt down several valuable libraries.
    Nalanda library was burning for several weeks.

    By the way, the most interesting thing is both Ilakkanam and Ilakkiyam are not Tamil words. They are Tamilized sanskrit words!!

  3. Hi,

    I understand fully well that Sanskrit literature is voluminous which cannot be compared to any other language in India. It was almost like today’s English where every scholar from various parts of the country published in. However I am personally interested in linguistic science as a field of exploration and I will add from that point of view. I am writing this to you because you have almost conclusively believed about ‘nIr, ilakkaNam, ilakkiyam’ being etymologically derived from Sanskrit ‘nIraH, lakshaNam, lakshyam’ and you might be interested to explore unsolved historical linguistic problems from alternative theoretical perspectives. I am a computer science student interested in languages, literature, linguistics and natural language processing. From my understanding and exploration of Dravidian languages for the past three years, I am getting an impression that the richness of Dravidian languages has been poorly understood and under-appreciated because of the popular frameworks and their limitations – generative grammar which studies syntax formally, and the reconstruction method in historical linguistics which tries to understand the genetic relationship between languages and language evolution. Both the methods are well-established, have been studied well, explain a lot of facts about their domain of enquiry (namely grammar and language evolution respectively). But they suffer from serious limitations (generative grammar suffers from assumptions of universal syntactic categories etc.; comparative reconstruction pays no attention to sound symbolism etc.)which raises the need to work on alternative theoretical frameworks and methodologies. For instance I am fascinated about the Cognitive Grammar as an alternative to the popular generative grammar tradition. In fact, the grammar of these Dravdidian languages can be very well explained in this Cognitive Grammar framework rather than generative grammar. It is almost as if Dravidian syntax directly encodes the ideas that the speaker wants to build in a discourse through its agglutinative morphology.

    I am getting more and more familiar everyday with the peculiar morphological properties of Tamil, Telugu etc. where I see sound symbolism playing a very pervasive role in every word and stem. This is unlike the completely formal, synthetic processes happening on dhatus in Sanskrit to create variations of the same root to formally derive or inflect a root. ‘shila’ – stone; ‘shailam’ – ‘of the stone i.e. mountain’, ‘bhU’ – to be; ‘bhAva’ – ‘create something to come to be i.e.expression’ are examples of derivation. ‘gam’ – to go; ‘gatvA’ – having gone; ‘gantum’ – ‘in order to go’ are examples of inflections. However as you can see the roots undergo formal operations to create some surface form which has certain formal grammatical properties. Sanskrit has a rich set of formal synthetic operations on root with full range of prefixes and suffixes to produce virtually a very large number of vocabulary. Since the established paradigms of language analysis are extremely formal in nature, Sanskrit is well understood and rightly appreciated in such paradigms. On the other hand, Dravidian languages derive their vocabulary, not through formal operations, but through sound symbolisms and repeated application of similar symbols in similar functional environments (not proven, but just hypothesizing based on my observations). My basic discussion about this and its relevance for historical evolution of languages can be found in this post: ”https://languageismagic.wordpress.com/2016/09/26/concept-radicals-and-historical-evolution-of-languages/ ”

    When you come to syntax, grammatically the inflections in Dravidian syntax are a morphological reflection of how the entire discourse unfolds – not a mere grammatical marker (I discuss this in detail in my thesis). In other words, Dravidian etymology and grammar are both functional rather than formal. In that context if I try to understand words like ‘nIr’, I think it is more likely to be a Dravidian root word. The sound ‘nir/ner’ occurs in various etymologically unrelated stems showing an imagery of ‘movement w.r.to a focal point’.

    nira – to spread, to fill, to mix, to become thick, to give equally etc.
    nirai – to swarm, to crowd, to come in order, to arrange,
    niral – arrangement, order
    niravu – to equivalize, to make something as proportionate, muscles coming together for healing, debt is liquidated, demolish
    niraval – average, an orderly movement (of swaras in music)
    niravaladithal – to make the ploughed soil flat again
    nIr – to be movable, to become thin, liquidate

    Similar words are found in other languages as well: nere, nerayu, nera, neri, nerumulu(in gunturu telugu)… all centred out similar meanings such as spread, approach, fill, become full, mix, move too much; ‘nIr/nIrugu’ itself is a fully productive verb in Tamil and Telugu meaning ‘to melt, to become thin’. ‘nir/ner’ symbolism connected to ‘nIr’ seems to me as natural as ‘por – to confront, clash’ related to ‘pOr – battle’, ‘koL – to get/hold’ related to ‘kOL – possession’, ‘teri, teruL – to know’ related to ‘tEr – to choose, to investigate, to analyze’ etc. I must haste to add that I have not shown any principled way to see these connections. Because not everywhere do such por/pOr relations hold good. Again that is because it is not a mere formal operation where making a vowel long is going to give you the same result. Understanding the mechanisms behind these connections is a big goal. For now recognizing sound symbolism and metaphorical extension of fundamental conceptual imageries is at least required to solve mysteries of language evolution. Not a mere phonological reconstruction is sufficient to truly understand language changes. To understand the implications, look at Sanskrit roots: ‘bhr’ – to bear occurring in many words like ‘bhAram – load’, ‘bartA – one who bears i.e husband’, ‘bhAryA – she who is borne i.e. wife’; The root ‘br’ in ‘brihadaranyaka upanishad, brihadeeshwara, brahma’ etc. with the meaning ‘to grow,expand, big’ etc. These roots bear uncanny resemblance to Dravidian roots ‘poR’ – to bear/hold/carry in words such as ‘poRu – to hold on, wait’, ‘poRumai – quality of holding on i.e. tolerance’, ‘poRuppu – the act of holding/bearing something i.e. responsibility’, ‘poRAmai’ – ‘the quality of not able to hold on i.e. jealousy’; Similarly ‘per – to grow/to become large/to expand’ and its variations are found in all Dravidian languages. e.g. periya, pedda, perutta, persa, pemba, pekku’ and so on all related to ‘growing or expanding’ and their metaphorical extensions.

    It might be tempting to say ‘Oh. Then Sanskrit must have borrowed from Dravidian or vice versa. Or even on the lines of Tamil and Sanskrit coming from the same source’. But the implications are larger; if sound symbolisms and metaphorical extensions of basic ideas are the way of natural languages, it raises serious questions about language changes and their historical relationships. It might even be the case that many other languages could be related to each other through the sound symbolisms conceived by ancient humans than usually assumed. That should be explored; Not a convenient nationalistic interpretation.

  4. सच है –नीर तथा उसके तमाम समानार्थक या अन्यार्थक फैलाव–प्रत्येक शब्द की भांति इसलिए हैं की भाषा मूलतः — चित्र-लिपि से ही विक्सित हुई है जब एक ही चित्र के उससे सम्बन्धित सभी अर्थ हुआ करते थे —
    —-यह तमिल व संस्कृत भाषा की गुत्थी सुलझाने हेतु हमें मानव की उत्पत्ति के तथ्य तक जाना होगा—–जब भारत अफ्रीका से अलग हुआ तो आदि मानव भारतीय दक्षिण पठारी टुकडे पर आया—यही विक्सित होते हुए समस्त दक्षिण भारत( नर्मदा घाटी ) से सारे भारत में फ़ैल गया एवं उत्तर की ओर कैलाश, सुमेरु तक पहुंचा( हिमालय के उत्पति से पहले ) –जहां तत्कालीन समृद्ध जलवायु के कारण कैलाश-मानसरोवर -क्षेत्र में अधिक विक्सित हुआ एवं वहां से सभी दक्षिणी व और उत्तरी भागों में आता जाता रहा |
    (–जो मानव अफ्रीकी भूखंड में रह गए थे वे उत्तर की ओर चलते गए परन्तु यूरोप के वर्फ से ढंके निर्जन व प्राणी के जीवन के लिए अक्षम स्थान के कारण नष्ट होते रहे| )
    — भारत से समस्त शेष विश्व सुमेरु, कैलाश आदि श्रेणियों व स्थानों , जो उस समय मनुष्य के लिए गम्य थे मानव विक्सित होता रहा —–उसकी स्थानीय भाषाएँ सुदूर दक्षिण भारतीय अंतरीप से उत्तर कैलाश-सुमेरु तक विभिन्न प्रकार से विक्सित होती रहीं |
    –दक्षिण के देवता शंभू-सेक –शिव एक महान ज्ञानी, वैज्ञानिक, एवं समन्वयक देव थे जिन्होंने उत्तर के ब्रह्मा, विष्णु, इंद्र आदि के समर्थक जनों को एक करके एक महान संस्कृति को जन्म दिया जो देव संस्कृति कहलाई | इसी काल में तत्कालीन विश्व की समस्त स्थानीय विक्सित -जन भाषाओं -बोलियों को, जिनमें आदि-तमिल भी शामिल थी, समन्वित करके उनका संस्कारण किया गया और एक नई शुद्ध संस्कारित भाषा संस्कृत का जन्म हुआ | इसीलिये संस्कृति में विश्व की अभी भाषाओं के शब्द मिलते हैं| तमिल भाषी इसीलिये तमिल को संस्कृत से प्राचीन भाषा बतलाते हैं, क्योंकि दक्षिन की सभी भाषाओं में तमिल सबसे प्राचीन है |

    पढ़ें —मेरे आलेख — मेरे ब्लॉग—विजानाति-विजानाति-विज्ञान, ….तथा इ-पत्रिका –रचनाकार पर
    आर्य भारत के मूल निवासी थे… जलप्रलय – गोंडवाना लेंड एवं भरत-खंड…. सुर-असुर व देवासुर संग्राम

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: