How to write the Basmala in Tamil?

Among the paratexts of Tamil manuscripts are prose benedictions or blessings, connected to the copyists rather than to the contents of the manuscripts. Some look more like credos than prose invocation to god(s).1

As it happens, there were also Tamil Muslim copyists, as attested by three manuscripts kept at the BnF, which show Muslim blessings.

In Indien 987 (which appears to be a copy of the Maturaivīraṉ Ammāṉai), we find two such blessings:

Al=lā Utavi ceyya-vēṇum (Indien 987, U1, f[1]r, lm)

“God (Allah) should provide help”

This is an example of Muslim blessing in Tamil language.

BnF Indien 987, U1, f[1]r, lm. Courtesy of BnF.

vicumi l=lāku ṟakimāṉi ṟakīm (Indien 987, U2, f[1]r, lm)

This is not in Tamil language, but in fact classical Arabic transcribed into Tamil, as one recognizes here the Basmala — bi-smi llāhi r-raḥmāni r-raḥīmi — ubiquitous in the Muslim culture.2

BnF Indien 987, U2, f[1]r, lm. Courtesy of BnF.

Note that in both blessings the peculiar character l=l, which is a conjunct letter, looking like the Grantha character s.

We have at least two more examples of the Basmala transcribed into Tamil in the BnF collection, in two manuscripts that appear to be Muslim catechisms in Tamil.

vicumi llāyi rakumāni rrakim (Indien 465, U1, f1r, lm)

BnF 465, U1, f1r, lm. Courtesy of BnF.

vicumi llāki ṟṟakumāṇi ṟṟakīm (Indien 529, U2, f1r, lm)

BnF Indien 529, U2, f1r, lm. Courtesy of BnF.

These three examples are three different attempts of transcribing of the Basmala in Tamil script, the only term of consensus being vicumi for Arabic bi-smi.

vicumi l=lāku ṟakimāṉi ṟakīm (Indien 987, U2, f[1]r, lm)

vicumi llāyi rakumāni rrakim (Indien 465, U1, f1r, lm)

vicumi llāki ṟṟakumāṇi ṟṟakīm (Indien 529, U2, f1r, lm).

Addendum by Torsten Tschacher (June 17th, 2021)

The spelling expected from an educated Muslim is the one found in Indien 529, which is that usually found today, though with picumi rather than vicumi.

The other two spellings have minor, though fully explicable and common differences.

Indien 987 has nominative -u at the end of bismillah rather than the correct genitive in -i, obviously due to formulas like Allahu akbar, and the scribe chose to write a single in order to avoid that people would read something like *bismillahi ttrahmani ttrahim.

In Indien 465, the spelling llāyi rather than llāki, i.e. -y- for -h- rather than -k-, does occur sometimes if the following vowel is a front vowel, as it does with other Arabic velar, pharyngeal, and glottal sounds, such as , ʿ, and ʾ. The use of chinna ra (r) rather than periya ra (ṟ) here of course serves the same purpose as the use of a single in Indien 987.

Emmanuel Francis

Chargé de recherche CNRS (CEIAS-UMR 8564, EHESS-CNRS, Paris)

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  1. See https://tst.hypotheses.org/paratexts/benediction []
  2. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basmala []

OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
Emmanuel Francis (May 20, 2021). How to write the Basmala in Tamil? Texts Surrounding Texts. Retrieved July 18, 2024 from https://doi.org/10.58079/uxzj


Emmanuel Francis

Chargé de recherche CNRS (CEIAS-UMR 8564, EHESS-CNRS, Paris)

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