Excerpts from the book Braking India by Rajiv Malhotra and Aravindan Neelakandan. Refer chapter 6 for detailed information.
Hodgson Invents ‘Tamulian’
In 1801, H.T. Colebrooke (1765–1837) published an important article, which claimed that all Indian languages originated from Sanskrit. But by 1816, when Franz Bopp (1791–1867) was establishing the foundations of comparative philology, a critical role was played by Alexander D. Campbell and Francis Whyte Ellis, Collector of Madras, who claimed that the South Indian family of languages was not derived from Sanskrit. Ellis had influential friends at College of Fort St George in Madras, which was an active center for producing colonial knowledge about India and teaching new officers arriving in India. Trautmann refers to this as the ‘Madras School of Orientalism.’[i] There was rivalry between the Calcutta and Madras schools of colonial Orientalists. Ellis explicitly broke ranks with the thesis supported by William Carey, a missionary-scholar in Calcutta’s College of Fort Williams, that Sanskrit unified all the Indian languages. The Campbell-Ellis book, Grammar of the Teloogoo Language, (1816) opened the door for later intervention in India’s internal sociopolitical structures. It argued that Tamil and Telugu had a common, non-Sanskrit ancestor. No Indian thinker had made such a claim before.
Because the assumption of Mosaic ethnology was well established, it was important to secure both families of languages within that framework. Ellis claimed that Tamil is connected with Hebrew and also with ancient Arabic. Their logic was that since William Jones considered Sanskrit to be the language of Ham and other scholars claimed that Sanskrit descended from Noah’s oldest son, Japheth, by the process of elimination the remaining son of Noah, Shem, must be the ancestor of the Dravidian people. This made Dravidians a branch of the Scythians or in the same family as Jews.[ii]
The next major milestone came in the 1840s, when Reverend John Stevenson (1798–1858), who was sent by the Scottish Missionary Society[iii] and Brian Houghton Hodgson (1800–1894), proposed a category of ‘aboriginal’ languages. Into this category they lumped all the languages that are today classified in the Dravidian and Munda families that allegedly predated the arrival of Sanskrit from outside of India. In 1848–49, Hodgson came out with a very clear theory of Tamilians as the aborigines of India whose many languages were spread across India prior to the Aryan invasion.
In 1856 the aboriginal thesis received a major boost among scholars with the publication of Comparative Grammar of Dravidian Languages, by Bishop Caldwell.[iv] This work claimed that Dravidian was one of the major language groups of the world.[v] Caldwell coined the term ‘Dravidian’ from the Sanskrit ‘drāvida,’ which was used in a seventh-century text to refer to the languages of south of India.[vi]
[i] Phillip Wagoner, according to Trautmann, has argued that the Mackenzie project relied upon Telugu Brahmins working under the Nawab of Arcot, and it was their skills at dealing with multiple languages and scripts that made this colonial breakthrough possible. Furthermore, he asserts that many of the epigraphic practices currently used by the Archeological Survey of India may be traced backed to that project. (Trautman 2006, 211)
[ii] The complexities and contradictions of European Race Science are beyond the scope of this study. However, Caldwell’s identification of Dravidian with Scythian is not an offhand speculation. It is a continuation of the colonial ethnographic identification of different Biblical races in the peoples of India. For example, Buddhist images excavated in Western India were considered as of a ‘Hamitic’ type and Buddha himself was speculated to have belonged to ‘Hamitic Scythian’ type, and earliest immigrations into India were traced to ‘Scythian origin’ (Rev.Dr.Wilson 1857, 679)
[iii] Sent by the Scottish Missionary Society, he became a Sanskrit scholar while in India. He waseHe also president of the Royal Asiatic Society, Bombay Branch. He later extended the Dravidian hypothesis to also include Marathi.
[iv] Caldwell questioned ancient Tamil society's exposure to the higher forms of civilization, and doubted the existence of suchmanifestations as art, science or religion, prior to the arrival of Brahmins (118); Dravidian religion, for instance, prior to the advent of Brahmins, had been a sort of demonolatry or primitive Shamanism (579-97). Nevertheless, Caldwell concluded, even though civilization came with the Brahmins, the beneficial effects of that higher system of knowledge was more than negated by the counter-balancing effect of the the fossilizing caste system (119). Subsequently, Caldwell made the comprehensive case that there were two non-Sanskrit families of languages in India: Dravidian, and the languages of Munda and what he called ‘the other rude tribes of Central India and Bengal’(42). (Caldwell 1856:2009)
[v] Trautmann claims that Ellis had made this thesis much earlier, but the work of Caldwell eclipsed it partly because Ellis’ papers were lost due to his untimely death in India. (Trautmann 1997, 150) Another reason not explicitly stated by Trautmann, is that Ellis and Campbell did not share the animosity Protestant missionary scholars had for Brahmins. Trautmann does state that the typical Protestant animosity for Brahmins is missing in Ellis and Campbell: (Trautman 2006, 210). Nevertheless Ellis too worked within the Mosaic ethnological framework and classified Tamil as connected to Hebrew, which was then called Semitic in contrast to Sanskrit, which was Hamitic as per the classification of Jones. (Trautmann 1997, 154)
[vi] (Caldwell 1856:2009, 3-6)