Tamil Nadu ('Land of the Tamils') is a state in South India.

Website: tn.gov.in

[Source: Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopaedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tamil_Nadu]

Capital - Coordinates Chennai - 13.09° N 80.27° E
Largest city Chennai
Population (2001) - Density 62,110,839 (6)-478/km²
Area - Districts 130,058 km² (11)-30
Time zone IST (UTC +5:30)
Official language(s) Tamil
Kanchipuram
Kanchipuram is a city in Tamil Nadu, about 75 kilometres to the Southwest of Chennai. It is famous for its temples and silk. Indian tourists visit Kanchipuram to see the temples and to buy silk saris. Many families in Kanchipuram and the surrounding villages are engaged in silk weaving. And many children work as child labourers in the weaving industry.

Kanchipuram is surrounded by villages.
Almost every village in South India grows rice. Rice is the staple food of the common people. Some villagers keep cows and buffaloes. Not only for their milk. The cow dung is collected and rolled into flat cakes, which are put on walls or other flat surfaces to dry in the sun. Thereafter they can be used as fuel for a cooking stove.

In Punjarasantankal, a small village close to Kanchipuram, there is a theatre school for children, the Kattaikkuttu Youth Theatre School.
Language
India knows 18 official languages. The official language of Tamil Nadu is Tamil. People in other Indian States speak different languages: Telugu (in the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh), Kannada (in Karnataka) and Malayalam (in Kerala). Many people in South India also know English in addition to their mother tongue. English is the common language, which people use to communicate if they do not share the same mother tongue. In North India many people use Hindi as the common language.

Tamil is a very old language. Its oldest literature goes back more than two thousand years.

Would you like to learn some Tamil words?
Vanakkam means "hello", "welcome" and "good morning".
Nanri means "thank you".
Rupee is the name of the Indian currency.

You know the meaning of these Tamil words now. But can you also write them?

Oh... that's a different story! Tamil has its own script. It does not use our English letters.

A Tamil symbol often represents two English letters: ka (k + a), ki (k+ i), co (c + o), cu (c + u)

Food
South India is famous for its food. The big lunch looks and tastes fantastic: Rice served on a green banana-leaf accompanied by a number of different dishes, such a sauce made of lentils (sambar), spicy tamarind water (rasam) and a variety of vegetables and payasam (a sweet dish).
On official occasions most people eat pure vegetarian food. This does not mean that everybody is a vegetarian. Many people like to eat meat, but they cannot always afford it.

Tamils don't use a fork and knife. They eat with their hands. And they will tell you that when you do so, too, the food will taste much better. After the meal the banana leaves are thrown away. No washing up in India!

For breakfast people eat leftover rice of the previous day soaked in water, or itlis or dosai. Itlis are steamed rice cakes and dosai is a sort of pancake made of rice dough mixed with lentils.

Metropolis and village
Chennai is the capital of Tamil Nadu. Until 1996 it was called Madras. It is the fourth largest city in India. Like in other big cities in India, Chennai knows very rich people who own cars and big houses, and very poor people who live in huts in slum areas.

Roads in India are very busy and not always very smooth. All kinds of transport criss-cross around each other. There are fast cars and motorbikes, but also slow bullock-carts, cycles and auto-rickshaws. Most people take the bus when they have to travel from one place to another. Buses in India are overloaded and don't take only people, but also luggage, including chickens and goats.

The people of India live in "different worlds". There is a huge gap between people from Chennai and people from the village. Village people dress differently from people in the city. They have a different accent and other habits; they worship in a different manner and celebrate other festivals. Office goers look different from people working with their hands. And then there are of course differences caused by the caste system: perhaps these are less visible, but they can affect your life deeply!
Caste
Many people wonder whether caste in India still exists. It does. And it has not lost its relevance, in spite of the many different ways in which individuals and the Indian government have tried to eliminate caste, or at least the worst excesses of the caste system. People are born into a certain caste. Nothing can change that. If you belong to a high caste it is considered more prestigious (it does not always mean that you are rich(er)). In the past the caste system was closely linked to a person's job: dhobis or washermen were responsible for washing clothes. People from the barber caste cut peoples hair and gave them a shave. Brahmins worked as priests in high caste temples.

Nowadays that has changed: many of the traditional professions have opened up to members of other castes. In addition, there are many new occupations, such as rickshaw driver or IT worker, which do not fit into the traditional caste system.

Some of the old caste rules are still valid in some places and on some occasions: For instance, in the countryside, former untouchables, who are now called Scheduled Castes or Dalits, often live in separate hamlets some distance away from the caste village proper. In some villages the Dalits are not allowed to draw water from the well in the caste village when the well in their own hamlet has dried up in the hot season. The caste system is also kept in tact because people from one caste normally do not marry people from another caste. In rural Tamil Nadu the preferred marriage relationship is between 'cross cousins'. That means that a girl marries the son of her mother's brother or that a son marries the daughter of his father's sister. Marriages are usually arranged by the parents of the bride and groom. But the number of 'love marriages', where the boy and girl chose each other, with or without the consent of the parents, appears to be on the increase. In the case of love marriages the partners do not always belong to the same caste.

Ways of dressing
Grown-up women wear a sari. The sari is a five and a half metre long piece of cloth draped around the body. Girls wear long skirts and blouses or a salwar kameez consisting of loose pants and a kind of shirt or dress and a shawl (dupatta) elegantly arranged on top of both shoulders. Girls who have reached puberty wear skirts, short blouses and 'half saris'. A half sari is half the length of a normal sari.

Men wear a shorter piece of cloth, which they wrap around their waists as a skirt. When it is white, this cloth is called dhoti or vesthi. When it is coloured, it is called a lungi. Nowadays young boys wear jeans or other types of trousers and shirts.

Decorations
Hindus often wear forehead markers. Three white horizontal stripes and a red dot in the middle painted on the forehead of men means that they are followers of the God Shiva. A V-shaped sign with a vertical, often orange coloured vertical band means that a person is a devotee of the God Vishnu. Married women wear a dot of red powder on their forehead. Some of them add also a dash or red powder in the parting of the hair. Instead of powder, also 'stickers' are used: small decorations in different shapes that you can buy and glue onto your forehead. Girls and women love to wear strings of fresh flowers in their hair: jasmine, roses or the violet 'December flower', which you get only in the month of December.
In the morning women draw beautiful patterns of rice flour or white sand in the street in front of their doors. These drawings are called 'kolam'.
Dance and theatre
Bharata Natyam is the classical dance of Tamil Nadu. Middle class girls in Chennai and in other larger towns often follow Bharata Natyam classes. Only very few of them become professional dancers.

In contrast, village people are not familiar with Bharata Natyam. They have never seen a live performance. Perhaps they have seen a 'flashy' performance on television or in a Tamil film. In the villages of North Tamil Nadu, the Kattaikkuttu theatre is the most popular form of live entertainment. It is performed by and for people who belong to the lower castes and the poorer sections of society. Kattaikkuttu performances are not only entertainment. They are also closely linked to the rituals of the Hindu village religion.

Religion

Hinduism is the biggest religion in India. Other important religions are Islam, Christianity, Jainism, Buddhism and the religion of the Parsees.

Would you like to know more about the Hindu Gods? Be prepared: Hinduism has many gods. Most of these gods have several different names. In the South they might have a different name from the North. Very complicated. It is not so easy to understand this religion.

The most well known deities are Shiva, his wife Parvathi and their sons Ganesha and Murugan, Vishnu and his wife Lakshmi, the Goddess Kali, Brahma and his wife Sarasvathi. You can recognize these Gods on the basis of their different attributes and colours. All the deities fulfill different functions. Ganesha, the god with the elephant head, removes all barriers. People worship him before embarking on any kind of job and also before they pray to the other Gods. Sarasvathi is the Goddess of wisdom and the arts. People pray to her prior to exams and theatre performances.

You don't find these Gods in temples only. Most families have a small corner in their house with statues or pictures of their favourite gods. They worship them with pujas (special ceremonies) and decorate them with flowers every day.

You will find many different kinds of temples in Tamil Nadu, big ones and small ones. Some temples have their own elephant. Sometimes the elephant goes out beautifully decorated and walks majestically through the streets.

The Hindu religion practised by non-Brahmin castes in Tamil villages is different from the Hindu religion practiced by Brahmin families who serve also as priests in the big temples. In the Hindu village religion, the Goddess is the most important deity. Each village has its own, local and very specific Goddess: she is known by many different names, such as Ponniyamma, Tulakanattamma, Mariyamma or Draupadi. The Goddess has a lot of power. She represents the Earth and Water and she is like a mother to all people. The Goddess is responsible for the well-being of people and animals. In earlier days people believed that a small pox epidemic was the result of the anger of the Goddess Mariyamma.

Some Goddesses have small temples. But she does not always have a temple. Sometimes a simple stone on the border of a village suffices to represent the presence of the Goddess. During a festival the statue of the Goddess is taken in procession through the village. Instead of a statue, the Goddess is sometimes symbolically represented by a jar decorated with flowers. A Kattaikkuttu performance is an offer to the Goddess. At night a statue or decorated jar is placed in front of the stage so that the Goddess can watch and enjoy the performance.

When she is not worshipped suitably, she can become very angry and bring disaster to a village. But when she feels happy and well-attended the monsoon rains will be plenty. Rain is essential for a good harvest and for the economy of the village. When the monsoon fails and the fields lay barren, a Kattaikkuttu performance may help to put the Goddess in a better mood. Many people believe that a Kattaikkuttu performance will bring rain.