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"Kollywood" redirects here. For Kathmandu cinema, see Cinema of Nepal.

Tamil cinema is Indianmotion pictures produced in the Tamil language. Based in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu,[3] the hub of the Tamil film industry is in the Kodambakkam neighbourhood of Chennai. Kollywood is a colloquial term used to describe this industry, the word being a portmanteau of Kodambakkam and Hollywood.[4][5][6]

The first Tamil silent film, Keechaka Vadham, was made by R. Nataraja Mudaliar in 1918. [7] The first talking motion picture, Kalidas, was a multilingual and was released on 31 October 1931, less than seven months after India's first talking motion picture Alam Ara.[8] By the end of the 1930s, the legislature of the State of Madras passed the Entertainment Tax Act of 1939.

Tamil cinema later had a profound effect on other filmmaking industries of India, establishing Madras (now Chennai) as a secondary hub for Hindi cinema, other South Indian film industries, as well as Sri Lankan cinema.[9][10] Over the last quarter of the 20th century, Tamil films from India established a global presence through distribution to an increasing number of overseas theatres in Singapore, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Japan, the Middle East, parts of Africa, Oceania, Europe, and North America.[11][12] The industry also inspired independent filmmaking in Tamil diaspora populations in Malaysia, Singapore, and the Western Hemisphere.[13]


Early exhibitors[edit]

In 1897, M. Edwards first screened a selection of silent short films at the Victoria Public Hall in Madras. The films all featured non-fictional subjects; they were mostly photographed records of day-to-day events. The film scholar Stephen Hughes points out that within a few years there were regular ticketed shows in a hall in Pophams Broadway, started by one Mrs. Klug, but this lasted only for a few months. Once it was demonstrated as a commercial proposition, a Western entrepreneur, Warwick Major, built the first cinema theatre, the Electric Theatre, which still stands. It was a favourite haunt of the British community in Madras. The theatre was shut down after a few years. This building is now part of a post office complex on Anna Salai (Mount Road). The Lyric Theatre was also built in the Mount Road area. This venue boasted a variety of events, including plays in English, Western classical music concerts, and ballroom dances. Silent films were also screened as an additional attraction.[14]Swamikannu Vincent, a railway draftsman from Tiruchirapalli, became a travelling exhibitor in 1905. He showed short movies in a tent in Esplanade, near the present Parry's Corner, using carbide jet-burners for projection. He bought the film projector and silent films from the Frenchman Du Pont and set up a business as film exhibitor.[15] Soon, he tied up with Path, a well-known pioneering film-producing company, and imported projectors. This helped new cinema houses to sprout across the presidency.[16] In later years, he produced talkies and also built a cinema in Coimbatore.[17]

To celebrate the event of King George V's visit in 1909, a grand exhibition was organized in Madras. Its major attraction was the screening of short films accompanied by sound. A British company imported a Crone megaphone, made up of a film projector to which a gramophone with a disc containing prerecorded sound was linked, and both were run in unison, producing picture and sound simultaneously. However, there was no synched dialogue. Raghupathy Venkiah Naidu, a successful photographer, took over the equipment after the exhibition and set up a tent cinema near the Madras High Court.[14] With this equipment, he screened the short films Pearl Fish and Raja's Casket in the Victoria Public Hall. When this proved successful, he screened the films in a tent set up in Esplanade. These tent events were the true precursors of the cinema shows. Venkiah traveled with this unit to Burma (now Myanmar) and Sri Lanka, and when he had gathered enough money, he put up a permanent cinema house in Madras—Gaiety, in 1914, the first cinema house in Madras to be built by an Indian. He soon added two more, Crown Theatre in Mint and Globe (later called Roxy) in Purasawalkam.

Swamikannu Vincent, who had built the first cinema of South India in Coimbatore, introduced the concept of "Tent Cinema" in which a tent was erected on a stretch of open land close to a town or village to screen the films. The first of its kind was established in Madras, called "Edison's Grand Cinemamegaphone". This was due to the fact that electric carbons were used for motion picture projectors.[18]

Most of the films screened then were shorts made in the United States and Britain. In 1909, an Englishman, T. H. Huffton, founded Peninsular Film Services in Madras and produced some short films for local audiences. But soon, hour-long films, which narrated dramatic stories, then known as "drama films", were imported. From 1912 onwards, feature films made in Bombay (now Mumbai) were also screened in Madras. The era of short films had ended. The arrival of drama films firmly established cinema as a popular entertainment form. More cinema houses came up in the city.

Fascinated by this new entertainment form, an automobile dealer in the Thousand Lights area of Madras, R. Nataraja Mudaliyar, decided to venture into film production. After a few days’ training in Pune with the cinematographer Stewart Smith, the official cinematographer of Lord Curzon’s 1903 Durbar, he started a film production concern in 1916.

The man who truly laid the foundations of south Indian cinema was A. Narayanan. After a few years in film distribution, he set up a production company in Madras, the General Pictures Corporation, popularly known as GPC. Beginning with The Faithful Wife/Dharmapathini (1929), GPC made about 24 feature films. GPC functioned as a film school and its alumni included names such as Sundara Rao Nadkarni and Jiten Banerji. The studio of GPC was housed in the Chellapalli bungalow on Thiruvottiyur High Road in Madras. This company, which produced the most number of Tamil silent films, had branches in Colombo, Rangoon and Singapore.

The Ways of Vishnu/Vishnu Leela, which R. Prakasa made in 1932, was the last silent film produced in Madras. Unfortunately, the silent era of south Indian cinema has not been documented well. When the talkies appeared, film producers had to travel to Bombay or Calcutta to make films. Most films of this early period were celluloid versions of well-known stage plays. Company dramas were popular among the Madras audience. The legendary Otraivadai drama theatre had been built in 1872 itself in Mint. Many drama halls had come up in the city where short silent films were screened in the afternoon and plays were enacted in the night.

The scene changed in 1934 when Madras got its first sound studio. By this time, all the cinema houses in Madras had been wired for sound. Narayanan, who had been active during the silent era, founded Srinivasa Cinetone in which his wife worked as the sound recordist. Srinivasa Kalyanam (1934), directed by Narayanan, was the first sound film (talkie) produced in Madras. The second sound studio to come up in Madras was Vel Pictures, started by M. D. Rajan on Eldams Road in the Dunmore bungalow, which belonged to the Raja of Pithapuram. Before long, more sound studios came up. Thirty-six talkies were made in Madras in 1935.


The main impacts of the early cinema were the cultural influences of the country. The Tamil language was the medium in which many plays and stories were written since the ages as early as the Cholas. They were highly stylised and nature of the spectacle was one which could attract the people. Along with this, music and dance were one of the main entertainment sources.[19]

There is a strong Indian tradition of narrating mythology, history, fairy tales and so on through song and dance. Whereas Hollywood filmmakers strove to conceal the constructed nature of their work so that the realistic narrative was wholly dominant, Indian filmmakers made no attempt to conceal the fact that what was shown on the screen was a creation, an illusion, a fiction. However, they demonstrated how this creation intersected with people's day-to-day lives in complex ways.[20] By the end of the 1930s, the State of Madras legislature passed the Entertainment Tax Act 1939.


In the year 1916 a studio, the first in south India, was set up in Madras at 10 Millers Road, Kilpauk. He called it the India Film Company. Rangavadivelu, an actor from Suguna Vilasa Sabha, a theatre company then, was hired to train the actors. Thirty-five days later, the first feature film made in south India, The Extermination of Keechakan/Keechakavatham, based on an episode from the Mahabharata, was released produced and directed by R. Nataraja, who established the India Film Company Limited (The Destruction of Keechaka).[21]

Despite a century of increasing box office takings, Tamil cinema remains informal and dominated by shell companies, or one-film wonders, born and dead in a matter of months. Nevertheless, there are few exceptions like Modern Theatres, Gemini Studios, AVM and Sri Thenandal Films that survived beyond 100 productions.

Exhibitor strike 2017[edit]

In 2017, opposing the dual taxation of GST (28%) and entertainment tax (30%), Tamilnadu Theatre Owners Association announced indefinite closure of all cinemas in the state from 3rd July 2017.[22][23] The strike has been called off and the cinemas will be playing the movies starting Friday 7th July 2017.[24][25][26][27] Government has formed a committee to decide on the existence of state's 30% entertainment tax. Its reported that, per day business loss during the strike was around ₹ 20 crores.


See also: List of Tamil-language films

Annual admissions in Chennai multiplexes and single screens averaged 11 million tickets with a standard deviation of ±1 million tickets during 2011-16. The Chennai film industry produced the first nationally distributed film across India in 1948 with Chandralekha.[28] They have one of the widest overseas distribution, with large audience turnout from the Tamil diaspora alongside Hindi films. They are distributed to various parts of Asia, Africa, Western Europe, North America and Oceania.[29]

Many successful Tamil films have been remade by other film industries. It is estimated by the Manorama Yearbook 2000 (a popular almanac) that over 5,000 Tamil films were produced in the 20th century. Tamil films have also been dubbed into other languages, thus reaching a much wider audience. There has been a growing presence of English in dialogue and songs in Chennai films. It is not uncommon to see movies that feature dialogue studded with English words and phrases, or even whole sentences. Some movies are also simultaneously made in two or three languages (either using subtitles or several soundtracks). Chennai's film composers have popularised their highly unique, syncretic style of film music across the world. Quite often, Tamil movies feature Madras Tamil, a colloquial version of Tamil spoken in Chennai.

Tamil Film Distribution Territories[edit]

TerritoryMaximum Business (%)Division
NSC1006 Northern districts - Cuddalore, Kanchipuram, Tiruvallur, Tiruvannamalai, Vellore & Viluppuram
Coimbatore504 Western districts - Coimbatore, Erode, Nilgiris & Tiruppur
Chennai371 Northern district - Chennai
MR356 Southern districts - Dindigul, Madurai, Ramanathapuram, Sivaganga, Theni & Virudhunagar
TT328 Central districts - Ariyalur, Karur, Nagapattinam, Perambalur, Pudukkottai, Thanjavur, Tiruchirappalli & Tiruvarur
Salem284 Western districts - Dharmapuri, Krishnagiri, Namakkal & Salem
TK133 Southern districts - Thoothukudi, Tirunelveli & Kanyakumari
Andhra Pradesh79
Rest of India15
USA & Canada119
Rest of the World89

Rest of India[edit]

Keechaka Vadham (1918) was the first silent film made in South India.[30]Kalidas (1931) was the first Tamiltalkie film made in 1931.[31]Kalava was the first Full-length Talkie made entirely in Tamil.[32]Nandanar (1935) was the first film for American film director Ellis R. Dungan[33]Balayogini released in 1937 was considered to be first children's film of South India.[34] It is estimated by the Manorama Yearbook 2000 (a popular almanac) that over 5,000 Tamil films were produced in the 20th century. Tamil films have also been dubbed into other languages, thus reaching a much wider audience. There has been a growing presence of English in dialogue and songs in Chennai films.

In 1991, Marupakkam directed by K.S. Sethu Madhavan, became the first Tamil film to win the National Film Award for Best Feature Film, the feat was repeated by Kanchivaram in 2007.[35] Tamil films enjoy significant patronage in neighboring Indian states like Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat and New Delhi. In Kerala and Karnataka the films are directly released in Tamil but in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh they are generally dubbed into Telugu where they have a decent market.[36][37]

Rest of the World[edit]

Tamil films have enjoyed consistent popularity among populations in South East Asia. Since Chandralekha, Muthu was the second Tamil film to be dubbed into Japanese (as Mutu: Odoru Maharaja[38]) and grossed a record $1.6 million in 1998.[39] In 2010, Enthiran grossed a record $4 million in North America.

Tamil cinema has been brought to North America and exhibited by Somasundaram Gunasegaram beginning with "Roja" in 1992. Since then his eldest son, Siva Gunasegaram, has been at the forefront of bringing all South Asian cinema to New York and is responsible for the largest blockbusters of the decade.

Many Tamil-language films have premiered or have been selected as special presentations at various film festivals across the globe, such as Mani Ratnam's Kannathil Muthamittal, Vasanthabalan's Veyyil and Ameer Sultan's Paruthiveeran. Kanchivaram (2009) was selected to be premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Tamil films have been a part of films submitted by India for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language on eight occasions, next only to Hindi.[40] Mani Ratnam's Nayagan (1987) was included in Time magazine's "All-TIME" 100 best movies list.[41]


Average annual film output in Tamil film industry peaked in 1985. The Tamil film market accounts for approximately 0.1% of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the state of Tamil Nadu.[42] For the purpose of entertainment taxes, returns have to be filed by the exhibitors weekly (usually each Tuesday).[43]

The Government of Tamil Nadu made provisions for an entertainment tax exemption for Tamil films having titles in words from the Tamil language only.[44] This is in accordance with Government Order 72 passed on 22 July 2006. The first film to be released after the new Order was Unakkum Enakkum. The original title had been Something Something Unakkum Ennakkum, a half-English and a half-Tamil title.[44] In July 2011, strict norms on entertainment tax were passed which stated that films which were given a 'U' certificate by the Central Board of Film Certification alone were eligible for tax exemption and those with an 'A' certificate could not fit into this category.[45]

There are 3 major roles in the Tamil film value chain viz producer, distributor and exhibitor.[46] The distributor purchases theatrical distribution rights from the producer for exhibiting the film in a defined territory. The distributor performs enhanced functions such as:

  1. part-financing of film (in case of minimum guarantee / advance based purchase of film rights)
  2. localised marketing of film
  3. selection of exhibition halls
  4. managing the logistics of physical print distribution

There are three popular approaches to transfer of distribution rights via distribution contracts:

  1. Minimum Guarantee + Royalty – Here, the producer sells the distribution rights for a defined territory for a minimum lump sum irrespective of the box office performance of the film. Any surplus is shared between the producer and distributor, in a pre-set ratio (typically 1:2) after deducting tax, show rentals, commission, print costs and publicity costs. Effectively, the distributor becomes a financier in the eyes of the market. This is the most common channel available to high budget producers.
  2. Commission – Here, the distributor pays the producer the entire box office collection after deducting commission. So, the entire risk of box office performance of the film remains with the producer. This is the most common channel available to low budget producers. By the first decade of 21st century, about 90 per cent of the films were released on commission basis.[47]
  3. Outright Sale – Here, the producer sells all distribution and theatrical exhibition rights for a defined territory exclusively to a distributor. Effectively, the distributor becomes a producer in the eyes of the market. So, the entire risk of box office performance of the film remains with the distributor.

There are four popular approaches to transfer of exhibition rights via exhibition contracts:

  1. Theatre Hire – Here, the exhibitor pays the distributor the entire box office collection after deducting tax and show rentals. So, the entire risk of box office performance of the film remains with the distributor. This is the most common channel for low-budget films, casting rank newcomers, with unproven track record. In Chennai, a moderate theater with AC and DTS can fetch around ₹1 lakh as weekly rent[48]
  2. Fixed Hire – Here, the exhibitor pays the distributor a maximum lump sum irrespective of the box office performance of the film. Rental is not chargeable per show. Any surplus after deducting tax is retained by the exhibitor. Effectively, the exhibitor becomes a distributor in the eyes of the market. So, the entire risk of box office performance of the film remains with the exhibitor.
  3. Minimum Guarantee + Royalty – Here, the exhibitor pays the distributor a minimum lump sum irrespective of the box office performance of the film. Rental is not chargeable per show. Any surplus after deducting tax and show rental is shared in a pre-set ratio (1:2) between the distributor and exhibitor typically.
  4. Revenue Share – Here, the distributor shares with the exhibitor, in a pre-set ratio (typically 1:1), the entire box office collection of the film after deducting tax. Rental is not chargeable per show. So, the entire risk of box office performance of the film is shared between the exhibitor and distributor. This is the most common channel preferred by multiplex screens.


Film studios in Chennai are bound by legislation, such as the Cinematography Film Rules of 1948,[49] the Cinematography Act of 1952,[50] and the Copyright Act of 1957.[51] In Tamil Nadu, cinema ticket prices are regulated by the government. Single screen theatres may charge a maximum of ₹50, while theatres with more than three screens may charge a maximum of ₹120 per ticket.[52]

See also[edit]


  1. ^"STATEWISE NUMBER OF SINGLE SCREENS". Film Federation of India. Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  2. ^"The Digital March Media & Entertainment in South India"(PDF). Deloitte. Archived from the original(PDF) on 23 April 2014. Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  3. ^Hiro, Dilip (2010). After Empire: The Birth of a Multipolar World. p. 248. ISBN 978-1-56858-427-0. 
  4. ^"Tamil, Telugu film industries outshine Bollywood". Business Standard. 25 January 2006. Retrieved 2012-02-19. 
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^"Metro Plus Chennai / Madras Miscellany : The pioneer'Tamil' film-maker". The Hindu. Chennai, India. 7 September 2009. Retrieved 29 June 2011. 
  8. ^Velayutham, Selvaraj. Tamil cinema: the cultural politics of India's other film industry. p. 2. 
  9. ^"THE TAMIL NADU ENTERTAINMENTS TAX ACT, 1939"(PDF). Government of Tamil Nadu. Archived from the original(PDF) on 15 October 2011. Retrieved 26 September 2011. 
  10. ^Indian Cinema: The World’s Biggest And Most Diverse Film Industry (page 5)[permanent dead link] Written by Roy Stafford
  11. ^Pillai, Sreedhar. "A gold mine around the globe". The Hindu. Retrieved 2017-03-09. 
  12. ^"Eros buys Tamil film distributor". Business Standard. Archived from the original on 3 September 2011. Retrieved 6 October 2011. 
  13. ^"SYMPOSIUM: SRI LANKA'S CULTURAL EXPERIENCE". Chennai, India: Frontline. Retrieved 26 September 2011. 
  14. ^ abFolklore, public sphere, and civil society. p. 116. 
  15. ^"Pioneers in Indian Cinema - Swamikannu Vincent". Archived from the original on 9 May 2013. Retrieved 22 February 2013. 
  16. ^Rajmohan, Joshi. Encyclopaedia of Journalism and Mass Communication: Media and mass communication. p. 68. 
  17. ^"Tamil Cinema". India Times. Archived from the original on 30 June 2015. Retrieved 29 June 2016. 
  18. ^"He brought cinema to South". The Hindu. Chennai, India. 30 April 2010. Retrieved 26 September 2011. 
  19. ^"Abhinay Deo – "All stories can be found in Mahabharata and Ramayana" – Bollywood Movie News". IndiaGlitz. Retrieved 12 May 2011. 
  20. ^"Indian Films vs Hollywood". 4 July 2008. Retrieved 12 May 2011. 
  21. ^Velayutham, Selvaraj (2008). "'India' in Tamil silent era cinema". Tamil Cinema: The Cultural Politics of India's Other Film Industry. Routledge. p. 156. ISBN 978-0-415-39680-6. 
  22. ^IANS (2017-06-30). "GST effect: Tamil Nadu theatres to shut down from July 3". The Economic Times. Retrieved 2017-07-07. 
  23. ^"Tamil Nadu theatre owners go on strike after GST, lose Rs 50 crore a day". 2017-07-04. Retrieved 2017-07-07. 
  24. ^"No local tax for now: Tamil Nadu theatres' owners call off strike". 2017-07-06. Retrieved 2017-07-07. 
  25. ^"Tamil Nadu Theatre Owners Call Off Strike Over 30% Local Body Tax". Retrieved 2017-07-07. 
  26. ^"Tamil Nadu theatre owners call off strike over double taxation". The Indian Express. 2017-07-06. Retrieved 2017-07-07. 
  27. ^Vaitheesvaran, Bharani (2017-07-06). "Tamil Nadu screens to open tomorrow with no new movies". The Economic Times. Retrieved 2017-07-07. 
  28. ^Singh, Sarina (2003). "Film Studios". India. Lonely Planet. p. 964. ISBN 978-1-74059-421-9.  
  29. ^"Film industry isn't high risk one: Kamal Haasan". Business Line. Retrieved 27 September 2011. 
  30. ^"Remembering a pioneer". The Hindu. Chennai, India. 9 May 2002. Retrieved 29 June 2011. 
  31. ^Gokulsing, K.; Wimal Dissanayake (2004). Indian popular cinema: a narrative of cultural change. Trentham Books. p. 24. ISBN 1-85856-329-1. 
  32. ^"He drew inspiration from Shakespeare". The Hindu. Chennai, India. 18 April 2008. Retrieved 30 June 2011. 
  33. ^He transcended barriers with aplomb,The Hindu 1 February 2002
  34. ^Blast From the Past – Balayogini 1937,The Hindu 10 April 2009
  35. ^Baskaran, Sundararaj Theodore (2013). The Eye Of The Serpent: An Introduction To Tamil Cinema. Westland. pp. 164–. ISBN 978-93-83260-74-4. 
  36. ^Movie Buzz (14 July 2011). "Tamil films dominate Andhra market". Sify. Retrieved 27 April 2013. 
  37. ^"A few hits and many flops". The Hindu. Chennai, India. 29 December 2006. 
  38. ^"Mutu: Odoru Maharaja"(PDF). Archived from the original(PDF) on 22 July 2011. Retrieved 12 May 2011. 
  39. ^Gautaman Bhaskaran (6 January 2002). "Rajnikanth casts spell on Japanese viewers". The Hindu. Retrieved 10 May 2007. 
  40. ^"India's Oscar failures (25 Images)". Archived from the original on 22 September 2012. Retrieved 12 May 2011. 
  41. ^Nayakan, All-Time 100 Best Films, Time, 2005
  42. ^"Superstars dominate". 28 December 2007. Archived from the original on 9 August 2010. Retrieved 12 May 2011. 
  43. ^"tnsalestax". Archived from the original on 17 July 2011. Retrieved 12 May 2011. 
  44. ^ ab"Va: Cutting of the Quarter! Why? - Tamil Movie Articles - Va-Quarter Cutting | Kallarai Manithan". Retrieved 22 February 2013. 
  45. ^"Strict norms on entertainment tax - Tamil Movie News". 27 July 2011. Retrieved 22 February 2013. 
  46. ^"Microsoft Word - Draft RHP PSTL 31.07.06.doc"(PDF). Retrieved 12 May 2011. 
  47. ^Commission basis is the dominant business model by 2016
  48. ^Weekly rent is at least 1 lakh in Chennai cinemas
  49. ^"Cinematograph film rules, 1948". Government of India. Retrieved 26 September 2011. 
  50. ^"Posters". Central Board of Film certification (CBFC). Retrieved 26 September 2011. 
  51. ^"INDIAN COPYRIGHT ACT, 1957"(PDF). Government of India. Retrieved 26 September 2011. 
  52. ^Ashok Kumar, S.R. (2 January 2007). "Cinema ticket rate revision reflects a balancing act". The Hindu. Chennai, India. Retrieved 18 January 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Arnold, Alison (2000). "Pop Music and Audio-Cassette Technology: Southern Area – Film music". The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-0-8240-4946-1. 
  • Bhaskaran, Theodore, Sundararaj (1996). Eye of The Serpent: An Introduction to Tamil Cinema. Chennai / University of Michigan: East West Books. 
  • Gokulsing, K.; Moti Gokulsing, Wimal (2004). Indian Popular Cinema: A Narrative of Cultural Change. Trentham Books. p. 132. ISBN 1-85856-329-1. 
  • Shohini Chaudhuri (2005). Contemporary World Cinema: Europe, the Middle East, East Asia and South Asia. Edinburgh University Press. p. 149. ISBN 0-7486-1799-X. 
  • Chinniah, Sathiavathi (2001). Tamil Movies Abroad: Singapore South Indian Youths and their Response to Tamil Cinema. 8. Kolam. 
  • Guy, Randor (1997). Starlight, Starbright : The Early Tamil Cinema. Chennai. OCLC 52794531. 

Tamil Wikipedia: A case study

(accepted for presentation at Wikimania 2009)


The author thanks Natkeeran, Ravishankar, Selvakumar, Karthickbala, and fellow Tamil Wikipedia editors for feedback and other inputs.


Three distinct growth phases have been identified in this case study of Tamil Wikipedia since late 2003. Several distinct characteristics of the Wikipedia and its editors are identified. Outreach efforts and sibling projects are also discused in this study. Challenges and future plans are outlined.


Tamil is a classical language spoken by more than 78 million people across the world with a rich literary tradition spanning millennia. Significant acclaimed Tamil literature has existed for over two thousand years.[1] The Tamil language Wikipedia has 18,021 articles (as of writing), a number of them of good quality. This case study attempts to characterise the Tamil Wikipedia, its editorial team, growth trends, challenges faced, and plans to take it to the next important stage.


Extant Tamil literature consists of works on poetics, philosophy, ethics, grammar, etc. Notable among the early Tamil encyclopaedias were Abidhaanakosam,[2] written by Muthuthambiyaar and published in Jaffna in 1902, and Abidhaana Chindhaamani,[3] a 1050 page work which took 42 years of determined work by Singaravelanar and published in Chennai in the year 1910. Later, a 18-volume encyclopaedia on science and a 15-volume work on humanities were published by the Thanjavur Tamil University,[4] in an intended series of 20 and 15 volumes respectively. The first comprehensive modern encyclopaedia was published from 1954 to 1968 as a 10 volume set.[5] It was a collaborative effort by scholars, philanthropists and the Government of Tamil Nadu. More recently, in 2007, a collection of 28,000 articles from the concise edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica was translated and published in Tamil by Vikatan Publishers.[6]

Tamil Wikipedia was started on September 30, 2003 by an anonymous person by posting a link to their Yahoo! Group and the text manitha maembaadu (மனித மேம்பாடு), fittingly, a phrase that means human development, on the Main Page.[7] However, for several weeks after that, the site had an all-English interface with little activity. Mayooranathan, in response to a request posted in a mailing list, completed 95% of the localisation between November 4, 2003 and November 22, 2003. He made some anonymous edits alongside. On November 12, 2003 Amala Singh from the United Kingdom wrote the first article in Tamil, but with an English title Shirin Ebadi.[8] The earliest editor who continues to edit actively, Mayooranathan, has written more than 2760 articles and has kept the project alive during an intervening period when practically nobody else was editing. Around five active editors including the author joined the project in the second half of 2004. Some occasional editors turned out to become regular editors and the Wiki started growing steadily. Bugs were reported to fix the interface, policies partially deriving from the English Wikipedia were initiated, and editors started to specialise in tasks like stub sorting, creating templates, copyediting, wikifying, translation, original writing etc. Even at this early stage, the Tamil Wikipedia had a global editorial team representing almost every continent.

After registering a period of high linear growth in several metrics on a lower base, the Tamil Wikipedia started witnessing, around April 2007, a low linear growth on a higher base in several quantitative metrics. This period, however, also showed a perceivably super-linear growth in article quality aspects like length, standard of prose, image use, inline citation usage, etc. Late 2008 to early 2009 was a period characterised by a near constant number of active and very active editors, a steady influx of new and occasional editors, a healthy, enthusiastic and continuity-preserving churn, and, above all, optimism for a promising future.


The three distinct phases noted in the History section are shown in the accompanying chart. The number of very active Wikipedians (not in chart) has also grown well. With the recent workshops and the planned events, we hope to hit a hockey-stick growth phase in the second half of 2009.

The premise behind the hope is the following: a linear growth in active editors results in a super linear growth in number of articles due to accumulative effect. Other metrics like article length etc., might improve at a greater rate. Given this, if the number of active users increases super-linearly due to the recent outreach efforts and the consequent mainstream media attention, content growth will really take on to a higher plane.

Editor profiles/demographics

Nirojan, from Canada, one of the youngest editors, wrote more than two thousand articles on Tamil films, ancient tamil kings, theatre and drama
Prof. VK, the senior most editor, has so far written 188 articles in Mathematics, Astronomy and Philosophy, contributing from the US and India.

Tamil Wikipedia has had a diverse set of editors from the beginning. Editors came from various disciplines like Architecture, Biotechnology, Economics, Electronics, Information Technology, Mathematics, Music, Social Welfare etc. The editors are from various professions—engineers, scientists, academics, students, administrators, self-employed people, etc. Editors are aged between 15[9] and 85 years, with a non-uniform but remarkably not power law distribution in between. Educational qualifications and income levels too vary across the spectrum.

More information regarding the profiles of editors as well as visitors to Tamil Wikipedia will come out when the results of the UNU-MERIT survey[10] are published. Based on some available monitoring tools, it has been identified that there are approximately 60,000 page requests each day.

Distinct characteristics

  • General cordiality and assumption of good faith among regular editors
  • Quality focus from early on[11] (concern[12] about article diversity when Ganeshbot, a bot similar to Rambot of the English Wikipedia, was proposed)
  • Early emphasis on citing sources[13][14]
  • Individual editors writing full-length articles later copyedited by others
  • Specialist roles chosen by editors even when a handful of editors were actively editing
  • 'In the news' and 'Selected anniversaries' sections meticulously updated, almost on a daily basis, by a dedicated user[15]
  • Several topics, on diverse areas, are being covered for the first time in Tamil. Tamil Wikipedia editors endeavour to attain currency of knowledge, by writing articles on topics that are emerging in science, technology, politics etc. As is customary, especially in agglutinative languages, suitable terminologies are coined as needed from existing words and roots.
  • In English Wikipedia, the primary and nearly the singular motivation for editors, is to document and spread knowledge. English as a medium is incidental. However, in the case of Tamil Wikipedia, most of the editors view this as a way to spread precious knowledge in Tamil. Many editors are motivated for being able to enrich the modern Tamil corpus, by adding quality content in Tamil.


  • Low internet penetration among the majority of the population
  • Low awareness about Tamil typing tools
  • Low awareness about Tamil Wikipedia
  • Less than 2% editors female
  • Disconnect between skilled writers and internet access
  • Still not reached critical mass of tech-savvy editors who can fix interface issues


Except a small initiative to display Wikipedia badges in blogs in late 2004, and one instance of media outreach, there have not been any planned activities to bring more readers and editors to Tamil Wikipedia. But, from the beginning of 2009, three workshops[16] were organised by Wikipedians during which the participants were introduced to the Tamil Wikipedia, explained about its philosophy and usefullness, and tutored on typing in Tamil and basic editing. Half a dozen introductory talks were delivered in meetups of other groups. These have been conducted in colleges including the prestigious Indian Institute of Science,[17] workplaces,[18] and special interest clubs. These workshops and talks have shown a good impact by way of bringing new active editors from various backgrounds.

Based on the feedback from each workshop the following have been observed:

  • Tutor-learner ratio should be around 1:5 for useful practical training. Having multiple tutors handling different aspects of editing is helpful.
  • A classroom is good, a computer science lab environment is better.
  • Asking some uninitiated person from the audience to come forward and edit is a good approach--convinces others about ease of use, gives feedback to the tutors about difficulties faced by new editors.
  • If a remote editor leaves a message of appreciation at the new user's talk page as soon as they make the first trial edit, it encourages them a lot.
  • Articles to cite as examples should be picked based on audience composition.
  • Emailing all those who attended, thanking them as well as inviting them to edit, leads to more conversions.
  • In the Indian Wikipedia context, the first session after introduction should be about typing in the Indian language concerned.

Following is the agenda of a typical workshop:

  • Introductions by the host and the Tamil Wikipedia member who acted as an interface with the host
  • A short presentation on what Wikipedia is, its history, philosophies, software, etc.,
  • A tutorial on Tamil typing tools
  • Tea break
  • Tutorial on editing through someone from the audience. The newbie picks the topic and content.
  • Q & A session

Sibling projects

Other Tamil Wiki projects are Wiktionary, Wikinews, Wikisource, Wikibooks, and Wikiquotes. However, Tamil Wiktionary is the one project that has matured and grown well. Mainly seeded by an automated bot[19] adding entries from technical dictionaries, the Tamil Wiktionary reached more than 1,00,000 entries and was featured on the main Wiktionary page for sometime. It has attracted more editors since then, and, at this stage, its sustenance and future growth is guaranteed. Tamil, with a long and rich literary tradition, has numerous public domain works available. Because of this, there is ample scope for Wikisource to grow. The other Tamil Wiki projects are still in bootstrapping stage and there is also some new-found interest in starting a Wikispecies project in Tamil as well.

Future plans

LanguageOff count> 200 CharMean bytesLength 0.5KLength 2KSizeWordsImages
Tamil16 k16 k161981%21%74 MB3.0 M3.0 k
Bengali19 k12 k111349%11%61 MB3.1 M8.5 k
Marathi21 k6.4 k62320%5%44 MB1.8 M0.769K
Telugu42 k13 k57816%5%64 MB3.0 M2.6 k
Hindi24 k14 k112835%11%76 MB4.6 M1.4 k
Malayalam8.3 k7.8 k242578%30%58 MB2.1 M5.4 k
Kannada6.1 k5.3 k128253%14%23 MB0.965M0.211K
Tamil's rank51212233
Table showing comparison of top Indian language Wikipedias (as of Nov 2008)

Tamil and Malayalam Wikipedias top the quality metrics. Tamil Wikipedians monitor the changes regularly.

  • firming up policies and guidelines
  • media outreach
  • bringing out an offline collection of wiki articles
    • The 28,000 articles in the Tamil edition of the concise Britannica, currently being sold in the market, are of stub-quality. A collection of 5,000 selected articles from Tamil Wikipedia, published after manual perusal, will definitely have a number of takers. In fact, a collection of wildlife articles for school children and an assorted collection[20] of good articles given to scientific research students have been well-received.
  • liaising with the Indian Wikimedia Chapter being formed and other bodies
  • conducting article-writing contests, local conferences, etc.,


A case study on Tamil Wikipedia has revealed 3 distinct growth phases so far. Important characterisations of the editors as well as the Wiki itself has been made. Main problems coming in the way of its growth have been identified and future plans are outlined. Conducting similar studies on other language Wikipedias that are in a similar phase of growth could reveal commonalities as well as distinct characteristics.


  1. ↑Kamil V. Zvelebil (1992). Companion Studies to the History of Tamil Literature. BRILL Academic. பக். 12. ISBN 9004093656. "p12 - ...the most acceptable periodisation which has so far been suggested for the development of Tamil writing seems to me to be that of A Chidambaranatha Chettiar (1907–1967): 1. Sangam Literature - 200BC to AD 200; 2. Post Sangam literature - AD 200 - AD 600; 3. Early Medieval literature - AD 600 to AD 1200; 4. Later Medieval literature - AD 1200 to AD 1800; 5. Pre-Modern literature - AD 1800 to 1900..." 
  2. ↑Abidhaanakosam in the Noolaham archive
  3. ↑Author Jeyamohan on Abidhaana Chindhaamani
  4. ↑
  5. ↑Ma. Po. Sivagnanam. 1978 The history of Tamil Development after (Indian) independence. Chennai: Poongodi Publications.
  6. ↑"Karunanidhi releases Encyclopaedia Brittanica in Tamil". The Hindu. 2007-04-29. பார்த்த நாள்: 2009-05. 
  7. ↑முதற்_பக்கம்&diff=prev&oldid=5
  8. ↑The article titled in English was moved to the Tamil title, and the redirect page was subsequently deleted. It has been recently restored for the record.
  9. ↑Karthikeyan, a school student from Singapore, wrote several articles on herbs from this user account and anonymously prior to that.
  10. ↑Möller, Erik (2008-10-24). "Multilingual Wikipedia Survey Launched". Wikimedia Foundation. பார்த்த நாள் 2009-04-16.
  11. ↑Tamil Wikipedia quality monitor
  12. ↑"Wikipedia discussion prior to bot approval". பார்த்த நாள் 2009-04-16.
  13. ↑Citation guidelines
  14. ↑"Articles using "Cite journal" template". பார்த்த நாள் 2009-04-16.
  15. ↑Kanags maintains these two sections
  16. ↑Homepage for workshops
  17. ↑Details of the workshop held at the IISc
  18. ↑"Wikipedia Academy in Bangalore". My Bangalore. 2009-02-05. பார்த்த நாள்: 2009-04-25. 
  19. ↑SundarBot project page
  20. ↑Booklet given to participants of the workshop held at the Indian Institute of Science


Palm leaf manuscript from Tolkāppiyam—the earliest of extant works in Tamil, which described the grammar of written Tamil.
Data up to Jan 2009 (18,027 articles as of April 30)
827 editors have made just one edit and 4 editors have made more than 10,000 edits each. However, this curve is flattening over time. A point to be kept in mind is that many newcomers have made a significant contribution within a shorter duration than the established users.
The top-4 editors have made over 46% of the edits. One goal of the outreach programs is to make the tail long and diverse enough to make a significant contribution.

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