Buddhism Among Tamils in Tamilakam & Ilam, Part 3: Extension & Conclusions

Historia Religionum No. 33

Edited by: Peter Schalk & Astrid van Nahl
December 2013
Uppsala University
Distributed by Coronet Books
ISBN: 9789155484125
272 Pages, Illustrated
$75.00 Paper original


This book is the result of a conference in Bangkok in January 2012 mainly financed by Vetenskapsrådet in Stockholm (426-2011-1299). In Bangkok, not only pre-colonial Buddhism among Tamils was discussed but also Buddhism during the colonial and post-colonial period, like the Buddhism of Pēriyar, of the Ambedkar movement inYālppāṇam (Jaffna) in the 1950s, and the expansion of siṃhala budusamayam (Siṃhala Buddhism) into areas of Tamil speakers. The field of Buddhist Studies—in Europe and the Americas—has largely ignored the traditions, activities, and cultural products of Tamil-speaking Buddhists in southern India, former pre-colonialTamilakam, present Tamilnāṭu, and Īlam (Sri Laṃkā). This conference, building on previous work done by the applicant, sought to expand the range of conversation from South Indian and Īlam specialists to scholars of southern Asian “Buddhisms” in Southeast Asia. So much of Tamil-speaking religious and literary culture—whether in India or Īlam —is linked in as yet little understood ways to the various regions of Southeast Asia, including Thailand (the site of the conference).

Based on prefigurations of Buddhism in Sanskrit and Pāli, representatives of Tamil culture, foremost of Tamil language and religion (Caivam), developed an indigenised form of Tamil Buddhism. In this volume it is called tamilppauttam (or Tamil Pauttam) in accordance with a tradition by scholars using Tamil. The concept of tamilppauttamis part of a rich indigenous Buddhist terminology that presentsan emic aspect of Buddhism among Tamils and is therefore elaborately brought out in this volume. In the history of the European study of South Asian Buddhism—stemming back to the mid-nineteenth century—the Tamil-speaking Buddhist communities of southern India and Īlam have been relatively under-studied, but provide an important link in dialogue and confrontation among the diverse Buddhist landscapes of greater India and the largely Theravāda communities of Īlam. In colonial and postcolonial times, Buddhism has been instrumentalised, as a liberating force from the caste system within the Tamil Dalit movement and also as a creative force of a new Buddhist identity in Īlam as alternative to Siṃhala Budu Samayam. The problem for Buddhists among Tamilsin Īlam today is that that their historical tradition is questioned by both Tamil Caivas (Shaivas) and Siṃhala Buddhists. Each conference paper contributed to a clearer understanding ofthe role of Tamil-speaking Buddhists in textual, literary and political cultures, as emissaries of Buddhism among Tamils in past and present. The goal of the conference was to foster critical inter-regional dialogue on topics concerning the transmission, cultures, and contactsamong various forms of southern Asian “Buddhisms”.