If an initiative taken by 2 Indian-born doctors in the US bears fruit, Harvard University could soon house a department dedicated to Tamil. The Ivy League university which has a 100-year-old Sanskrit chair has now shown interest in constituting a Sangam Tamil chair.
Harvard University, located at Cambridge in Massachusetts, has demanded a fund of $6 million (around 40 crore) to form the chair. Physicians in the US, Dr Janakiraman and Dr Thirugnanasambandam, who have together donated $1 million, are in the city to raise rest of the fund from Tamil-speakers. Thirugnanasambandam, born and raised in Kumbakonam, said, "There are more than 2 lakh Tamil speakers in the United States but no formal institution to teach the language. It is only taught in some private institutes within Tamil-speaking communities."
Upon setting up of the chair, Harvard will institute an international search to find a Tamil scholar who would inspire and promote world-class research. A member of Harvard University Tamil Chair Foundation Committee, Dr Arumugam, said, "The chair will be a boon for graduates and research students of Tamil." Research findings will be published in revered journals of the 380-year old institution, he said.
The Celtic languages, spoken by about 15 lakh people, have two chairs at Harvard. "Tamil is more than 2,000 years old and spoken by over eight crore people. We hope to raise the fund within six months," Gnanasambandam said.
Dr A Jahir Husain, who translated the Thirukkural into Arabic on a Tamil Nadu government funding earlier this year, has welcomed the initiative to constitute a chair for Tamil. "The proposition is very significant for the development of the language and its distinct culture in the world stage," he said.
The foundation committee members are also in talks with the state and the Central governments for support.
They have also set up a website, harvardtamilchair.com, to inform donors.