An introduction to Tamil Heritage Foundation

Sunday, August 10, 2003

Tamil Heritage Foundation

A Multi-media based Heritage Park in the Virtual World



Tamils have a long rich history spanning well over two thousand years. During this period Tamil culture evolved and manifested itself in different forms in literature, religion, dance, drama, music and so on. A notable feature of Tamils is that a significant portion of their population (ca. 20%) is of ‘Diaspora’ type – segment of the society those migrated to nearby and far-off countries several generations back, adopted these new locations as their homeland but continued to contribute to the Tamil cultural heritage in novel ways. Europe, Americas and Australia have seen a new wave of Tamil immigrants from Sri Lanka. This population has its second generation already in a foreign soil.

Preservation and popularization of this rich Tamil cultural heritage is important for healthy survival of this community. Advances in personal computing and introduction of Internet during the last two decades have opened up new and novel opportunities for this task. During the last five years there has been some progress in Tamil computing efforts worldwide. Digital Tamil efforts such as Project Madurai and Pongal 2000 devoted to electronic texts of Tamil literary works in particular are notable, since they are aimed at preserving literary works, one key component of Tamil cultural heritage

Origin and Development

Tamil Heritage Foundation was formed as a non-profit, non-political, non-governmental organization to serve Tamils around the world on 29th August 2001 during the Tamil Internet 2001 conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This monumental effort was entrusted to Dr.N.Kannan of Boeblingen, Germany by the President, Malaysian Indian Congress Dato Seri Sami Vellu. An electronic forum in the name of “e-suvadi” was formed on Sep.4, 2001 to gather international momentum for this internet based initiative. International Forum for Information Technology in Tamil (INFITT) an International body based in Singapore offered to host the website of Tamil Heritage Foundation initially. In addition to this Tamil Heritage Foundation owns on its own two domains namely, and A fully functional website with regular updates is The average hits per month on this site are 10,000. The statistics show that our site receives an average of 500 enquiries per day and an equal number of side enquiries as well.

Efforts are underway to register Tamil Heritage Foundation as a Charitable Institution in London. THF is registered as a Non-profit Society (tax excepted) in Chennai, Tamilnadu, India


THF is engaged in the digital preservation of Indian Heritage Materials. We evolved over the years the technical know-how for preserving heritage materials such as ancient palm leaf manuscripts and old books in electronic forms that are easily readable in CD ROM and in the web. This provides not only the freedom of information but assures democracy as well. By web enabling our ancient scripts that were mostly read and understood by particular section of Tamil Society, we make it available to all sections of Tamil society, International students of Tamil language and culture and to scholars in general.

We aim to digitize millions of palm leaf manuscripts still unpublished from various Governmental and private libraries, museums and private collections. This includes manuscripts dealing with indigenous medicine, mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, engineering (ship building etc.,) architecture, literature, music and arts. We plan to bring forth the forgotten scientific, medical traditions, evaluate them in the light of modern science and encourage new discoveries and patents. In the long run we plan to bring in a paradigm shift in the Indian (Tamil) psyche from a heavily conditioned colonial mindset to a self confident, vibrant Indian mindset.

We plan to undertake several projects in the coming years. Among them are:

1) Digital cataloguing of various manuscript catalogues that are currently available in print form and bring-in new entries as well,
2) Acquisition of the manuscripts for digitization, digital preservation, critical reading and editing; publishing (electronic and print versions)
3) Developing methods of electronic discussion across borders and generate worldwide interest that stimulate new discoveries, inventions, patents, patent protection.
4) Audio-video documentation of traditional practices in the preparation and treatment of disease
5) Pharmaceutical evaluation of Indian herbs for drugs
6) Developing R&D support for traditional healers
7) Abstraction of scientific concepts from ancient manuscripts for experimentation and evaluation
8) Developing curriculum for Tamil children based on their own traditions and culture that compliments the Anglo-American system that is being followed currently.

The list above gives a sample of projects that could be evolved from Heritage Materials that are in the form of text. Projects based on Tamil literature, painting, performing arts and others have been thought of. In essence Tamil Heritage Foundation will eventually over years develop Virtual Heritage Park that will inform, educate Tamils around the world in an interactive way. The electronic library maintained by THF will pass the test of time and Tamil will never face again situations where libraries are burnt due to ethnic indifferences (e.g., Jaffna Sri Lanka).

THF acquires state-of-the-art technologies from Germany and India and engage Tamil IT professionals, Technical College/University students for developing the IT skills that are needed for this task.

Tamil Heritage Foundation is a global initiative to preserve and understand Tamil heritage in a proper scientific way so that our history, our science, our technology is understood correctly. THF will try to bring back the much needed Tamil pride for a sustainable future for Tamils living around the world.


Tamil heritage materials are archived electronically under three major categories viz. Text, Sound and Visual. As text material we have preserved several old Tamil books that belong to 19th or early 20th century. They range from Poetry, Novel, History, Biography, Tradition, Technique (e.g. ship building) etc. Several palm leaf manuscripts are archived so far. They reveal Tamil scholarship in Mathematics, Medicine, Cosmology and other subjects. An audio division is opened recently linking several websites that have archived classical and semi classical music. A small collection of mini-films portraying temples, tradition and history is available in our site as well. A good collection of photographs revealing the Tamil country side over the years, Tamil literary personalities and monuments is available. As our major achievement we shall present the following:

· Digitization of ancient clay tablets that belong to pre Christian Tamil world discovered in 1998 near Coimbatore. Decipherment of the old Tamil script is underway.
· Digitization of Tamil Literary work of a forgotten women writer of early 20th century. Sithi Junetha Begam (1906-1998) belong to Muslim minority in Tamilnadu, India.
· Technique of Optical Character Recognition is new to Tamil. The first machine read Tamil book is displayed in our website (Anandarangapillai 1942).
· Modern painting among Sri Lankan Tamils is a very rare phenomenon. Such painting of a contemporary master Mr. Mark is e-preserved.
· Four multi-media CDs have been produced viz. 1. Discovery of pre-Christian clay tablets in Tamilnadu, 2. An interview with Dr.S.Prema on Tamil medical systems, 3. Tamil medical practice in rural India, 4. Sithi Junetha Begam, a legend revealed.

Following subjects are under preparation for future release of THF

Abithana kosam – 1902 - A glossary on Hindu Religion
A Progressive Grammar of Common Tamil by A. H. Arden, in 1910
Bookola, Pakola Vishyam – a book on Hindu Cosmology with Charts. 1883
Purusha Samutrika Latkshanam – a book on Physiognomy- 1890
Kambaramayanam (The Epic) – Alwarthirunageri Edition 1928
Nammalvar Thiruthalatu – A.D. 13
Predictive pictures in palm leaves (Arodam)
Bhuvanakosam – Cosmology as revealed in Saiva sastra
Kanitha sastram - Mathematics
Kappal sastram – Shipbuilding in ancient Tamilnadu, 1950
Malainattu Mannan – a novel by Sithi Junetha Begam, 1950
Travel diary of Dr.N.Kannan – as published in e-suvadi forum in the yester years

The London Project:
A pilot project – Feasibility Study

A project has been envisaged in collaboration with local Tamil community of London and British Library of London for the e-preservation of old Tamil books that are available in the British Library as part of their India Office collection. Among their collection of over 4000 Tamil books chosen 6000 pages will be preserved in the first phase as Microfilms. This can be achieved through ordering those pages from British library using local funding. These pages of Tamil text that contains works of early 20th century and earlier period will be used for a feasibility study. This study will explore the possibility of web enabling those texts through ‘optical character recognition’ which in Tamil is in its infancy.

See our India Office Tamil collections

Links of THF activities

Tamil Heritage Foundation main portal:
Tamil Heritage Foundation in Digital Library of India (mirror site)
Tamil Heritage Foundation - London
Tamil Heritage Foundation - Malaysia
Tamil Heritage Foundation for Children
Unicode Tamil e-forum (mainly in Tamil
Tamil Heritage Foundation journal (Muthusom)

A cyber home for Tamils