Tamil Nadu, State of the Indian federal Union, matches the linguistic boundaries of a precise community: Tamil people. This thousand-years-old nation with a rich culture is still today proudly connected to its roots; its influences covered the Indian subcontinent and Sri Lanka, even the rest of Asian region.
Tamils are considered as a nation since the 3rd century B.C. Even if the origin of the word "Tamil" cannot be clearly defined as an auto-attribution or given by a foreign people, the ethnic identity is already established during the antique period in South India. Tamils are thus members of the branch of "Dravidians", category constituted by no-Arian and no-Himalayan peoples of the Indian subcontinent.
The origin of Tamil's settlement in Sri Lanka is more subject to debate: some theories fix their arrival near the 10th century A.D., period of invasions from South India, whereas other makes it the first native presence on the island. In any case, very narrow cultural links unite populations of South India and Sri Lanka since the antique period. Tamil is considered as a classic language, a prestigious demarcation for this cultural community. Beside Latin and old-Greek in Europe, beside classical Arabic in the Muslim world or Mandarin in East Asia, Tamil is a living language spoken by more than 80 million people.
The Tamil culture has a considerable importance in South India; in the subcontinent in general way and its contributions to the Asian culture are remarkable. The Tamil artistic contribution can be seen in the architecture and decoration of Hindu temples in South India, considered as one of the most beautiful religious monuments. Large-sized sculptures and majestic entrances are embellished by mythological representations. Although the majority of Tamil population is Hindu, the community also counts Christian and Muslim minorities, heritage of cultural exchanges based on trade then colonization.
Protection of the Tamil culture is an historic characteristic: the successive royal dynasties always sacralised the arts, and today still a lot of Tamil cultural practices have ancient roots. Literature is also an important part of the Tamil cultural definition, considered in poetry and philosophy. Today Tamil literature raises contemporary subjects: Indian nationalism, feminism or the case of Tamils in Sri Lanka. The allegorical representations from the religion are never far: the association between mysticism and universalism always affects the various facets of Tamil art, from the traditional song to the most codified dance.
Tamil culture is also characterized by the multiple links – commercial above all – maintained by the various ruling dynasties with the rest of the world: China and South-East Asia of course, up to the Greek cities and the Roman empire. On Tamil Nadu's coasts, called the Coromandel Coast during the French period, new tracks of antique trade are discovered each year. Roman coins have been found near Pondicherry, whereas potteries with Tamil inscriptions were discovered in the Red Sea, proof of commercial links between those civilizations.
Links with Sri Lanka are deeper: beyond the business via traders' settlements on the island, military relationships always marked the relation between populations of both territories, from the military aid to Ceylon local regents to the island annexation in the 10th century by a Tamil monarchy. The debate always remains open about the first installation of Tamils in Sri Lanka, a real question that overlaps nationalist and political interests since the national independences.
The boundaries between Tamil and Sinhalese communities go back to the British colonial period. Although the Sinhalese and Tamil kingdoms of Sri Lanka were in war several times during the previous centuries, with a more or less strong presence of Tamils of South India on the island, the communities also shared narrow links via trade and weddings. At the very beginning of the 19th century, the British administration gathers all the Indian Tamil territories under the Madras jurisdiction (current Chennai) whereas the Tamil regions of Ceylon are connected with the rest of the island to form a whole colony.
While the Tamil community strengthens in the South of India, in Sri Lanka it mix to the other populations of the island. The Sinhalese blame them for the special favour they benefit from the British administration, this one frequently basing its colonial rule on ethnic minorities to better control the territory. A part of these Tamils come from a recent wave of immigration: the British administration encourages Indian Tamils of lower castes to work in Ceylon's tea plantations – their descendant still works there in very precarious life circumstances. They are considered by Sri Lankan Tamils as a different community: Sinhalese politicians will use this distinction between Tamils "to divide and rule" at the independence.
Such as the former colonies of European nations, the Indian and Ceylon independences saw the assertion of community feelings and divergent claiming. Indian and Ceylon cases are interesting because for very closed Tamil political demands, the situations strongly diverged.