Social Scientist. v 6, no. 68 (March 1978) p. 16.


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KARTHIGESU SIVATHAMBY

The Politics of a Literary Style

THE Tanittamil movement was a purist literary movement started by Maraimalai Atikal (1875-1950) to rid Tamil writing of the various non-Tamil especially Sanskrit words, which have gained currency in ordinary usage. The term ^Tanittamil9 means ^pure Tamil9; a literal translation of this compound form would be ^only or exclusively Tamil9. Maraimalai AtlkaPs obsession with the use of f exclusively Tamil words9 was such that he translated his own name, Vedachalam, as Maraimalai. The prefix ^Swami9 which he took on when he renounced lay life was translated as f Atikal9 and was added on as a suffix to the word Maraimalai. Thus his name bore a similarity with the names of ascetics mentioned in early Tamil literature, such as Kavunti Atikal, Illaftko Atikal and so on.

Without going into the problems of historical linguistics and of etymology we could, as readers, characterise this as ^a style of writing'. Indeed Maraimalai Atikal himself calls it the ^scrupulously pure Tamily style.991

The story of how this movement began is retold in the two biographies on him and in a book written by his daughter.2

In the year 1916, when his daughter Neelambikai was 13, one day the father (Atikal) while strolling in the garden, sang one of the famous



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