Certain events after Independence have made such a phenomenal impact on both communities of Sinhalese and Tamils psychologically that it has become almost impossible for them to live together as free and equal citizens of a modem nation. In a climate of conflict and confrontation between the Sinhalese and the Tamils, Jaffna has come to symbolize struggle, liberation and Tamil nationalism. Proclamation of Sinhala as the Official Language of Sri Lanka, the planned colonization with Sinhalese settlers of areas considered part of the Tamil “Homeland”, the introduction of a quota system for University admission, riots and pogroms against the Tamils living in Sinhalese areas, and the militarization of the East and the North by successive Sinhalese governments, among others, have contributed, so the Tamils argue, to the present tragedy. In the words of a writer, the above-mentioned events have led the “young Tamils in Jaffna, who, feeling the brunt of discrimination, deprivation of language rights and the indignity of living as aliens in their own country, have taken up arms in the struggle for liberation and for a separate Tamil state of Eelam in the North and East of Sri Lanka”.
If the measures adopted by successive Sri Lankan governments had contributed negatively to the alienation of the Tamils, there were other factors, which positively kindled the emergence of a cultural and linguistic consciousness among them.
The Hindu religious revival, social renewal and regional politics based on language and culture in India which produced movements such as the Arya Samaj, Swadeshi Movement and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam had their share in the awakening of a distinct Tamil consciousness in Sri Lanka.
Scholars maintain that this awakening started as a religious revival during the time of Arumuga Navalar (1822-1879), which in course of time began to take the shape more of a literary renaissance. It is significant that eminent Jaffna Tamils such as C.W. Tamotarampillai and Visvanrrthapillai not only contributed to the revival of Tamil awareness in South India, but also dominated the literary scene of the time.
Scholars, both Indian and Jaffnese, underlined the excellence of Tamil language, its self-sufficiency and the need to be proud of being heirs to the glorious heritage of the culture of the Tamils. Tamil Classics were critically edited and original works such as Manonmaniam by Professor P. Sundarampillai were published. Journals such as Sindhanta Deepika- The Light of Truth (1897-1913) and the Tamilian Antiquary (1907-1914) commanded the day in their fields.
In Jaffna, a Tamil Academy was established in 1898 and conferences on Tamil Language and Literature were held in many places. At one such conference held in 1922, many Tamil scholars from India were invited to take part. In the same year, the Arya Dravida Basha Development Society was inaugurated.
In the field of Fine Arts, Cantatic Music and Bharata Naryam proclaimed divine arts and measures were taken to foster them.
In this process of self-assertion, three significant features may be observed:
Firstly, although an aspect of the Tamil Renaissance was the accep tance of Saivism in the form of Saiva Siddhanta as the ancient and the indigenous religion of the Tamils, there were quite a number of Christian scholars who were involved in this movement. Indeed, one may maintain that the process of Tamil Renaissance was originated by, among others, De Nobili. Constantine: Beschi and Robert Caldwell – all foreign Christian missionaries and scholars. In course of time, eminent Christians took leading roles: Savariroya Pillai, L. D. Swami Kannupillai, T. Isaac Tambyah, Swami S. Gnana Prakasar and in our days X.S. Taninayagam Adikal. Hence the “Tamil ethnic identity remains linguistic and cultural”, in sharp contrast to the “all inclusive ethno religious identity of the Sinhalese Buddhists”.
The second striking feature is the fact that those who were involved in this process belonged initially to the higher echelons of Tamil society. The traditionally oppressed classes were left out. In course of time, however, the lower castes “ushered in new experiences and visions into fiction, poetry and drama using hitherto unheard of dialects, idioms and expressions”. s3 The final feature is the importance the past and present history of the Tamils in Sri Lanka assumed in the middle of the present century. Works such as Sankili (1956) a historical play by K. Kanapathipillai, Tamils and Ceylon (l958) by C. S. Navaratnam, Tamil Culture in Ceylon (1962) by M.D. Raghavan, The Tamils in Early Ceylon (1964) by C. Sivaratnam, were pointers to the growing self- consciousness of the Tamils of Sri Lanka. Tamil Culture, a journal edited by X. S. Thaninayagam Adikal, also played a momentous role in this process.
In conclusion, it may not be out of place to document the depth of the awareness of Tamil identity in the North (and East) in the first half of the nineties: the quantity and quality of output in the fields of literature, performing and fine arts were experiential, impressive and perhaps superior in certain resects to those that came from South India during this period.