One more preliminary question has to be dealt with. With regard to most words now belonging to Tamil, the separation of pure Tamil words from those borrowed from Sanskrit is very easy. But most Sanskrit scholars assume that every Tamil word which looks like a Sanskrit one must have been borrowed from Sanskrit by the Tamils. When the speakers of two different languages come in touch with each other, the probabilities are that each language will borrow words from the other. Thus the names of articles produced only in South India, such as pearls, pepper, cardamoms, must certainly have been borrowed by Sanskrit from Tamil. Hence Sanskrit maricha, muktā, ela, are derived from Tamil miriyal or miḷagu, muttu, ēlam; there are other Sanskrit words borrowed from Tamil wantonly which Sanskrit scholars wrongly claim to belong to Sanskrit, e.g., niram, mīnam, evidently derived from Tamil nīr, mīn, for we cannot imagine that the Tamils were drinking water and eating fish for ages without names for these objects and deferred naming them till Sanskrit speakers presented them with names for them. Many such words can be rescued for Tamil from the hands of Sanskrit scholars, but in this enquiry for the purpose of disarming criticism, words which might be legitimately claimed to be Tamil, though they look like corresponding Sanskrit words, have not been much pressed into service.
Even after giving the benefit of the doubt to Sanskrit, it will be found that there is in Tamil a strikingly large variety of names for objects and actions. The wealth of synonyms for names of familiar objects will be found to be enormous as this investigation progresses. It looks as if when man began to invent words, he was in a state of childhood and as a child revels in the use of toys and is never tired of playing with them, primitive man used the power of inventing words as his great toy and invented a number of names for the same thing. Love of certain objects familiar to them may perhaps have been another motive for this multiplication of iḍukuṛi synonyms: but whatever it was, it is of use in this our enquiry into the conditions of life of the ancient Tamils.
Evidence of Literature
The third source of information for this study is early Tamil literature. The age to which this literature belongs has been the occasion for much dispute. The controversy has centred round a statement made at first by the commentator on Iṛaiyanāragapporuḷ and repeated by later commentators. It is to the effect that there were three epochs of ancient Tamil Literature, each marked by the existence of a Sangam, academy of its own, presided over, each by the members of a particular dynasty of Pandya kings, whose capitals were respectively Madurai, swallowed long ago by the sea, Kabāḍapuram and North Madurai, i.e., the present city of that name.