January is Tamil Heritage Month

How is the city of Vancouver honouring Tamil people this month?

Ayla Maxwell (She/her) // Writer
Sol Yoon (She/Her) // Illustrator

Tamil Heritage month has been recognized across Canada for eight years this January. All across Vancouver, events will be taking place to celebrate and commemorate Tamil heritage. Although people from all over the world will be celebrating the New Year, it is important to also recognize the other events taking place in January.

Tamil people are a group native to Sri Lanka and Southern India, many of whom have emigrated to Canada and other parts of the world, mostly after the civil war in Sri Lanka, which began forty years ago and only ended within the last 10 years. Tamil is also a language, said to be one of the oldest in the world. A 2022 report by Statistics Canada states that there are currently 238,000 people who speak Tamil in Canada. Even after seeking safety in Canada, things have not been easy for Tamil people. Racism and prejudice is prominent in Vancouver and throughout North America. While Canada is taking a step in the right direction by honouring Tamil people in the month of January, a lot of work still needs to be done to ensure that Tamil people feel safe in their communities.

Tamil Heritage Month was officially recognized federally across Canada in 2016, although celebrations have been taking place since 2010. In B.C., it wasn’t until 2020 that this heritage month was declared. Because it is still so new, city-wide celebrations are few and far between. While celebrations will be happening privately across B.C., it is important to highlight those that are available to a more widespread audience.

It can be expected that this year, the Tamil Cultural Society of BC will hold their annual show, where Tamil people can showcase music. The style includes various kinds of drums and a Villu Paatu, which is an instrument made from a bow with hanging bells on it, and dance. The most common type of dance in Tamil celebrations is the Bharatanatyam, which is a type of classical dance that focuses on facial expressions and footwork. This show will be a great opportunity for Tamil people from all over B.C. to showcase their talents.

In addition to this, Pongal, the Hindu holiday celebrated by many Tamil people, will be taking place for four days starting on Jan. 15, 2023. Pongal, or Thai Pongal, is a harvest festival that celebrates the winter solstice. The four days of this holiday are all designated to celebrate different things. The first day, Bhogi Ponal is for decorating homes and to deep clean. The second, Surya Pongal, is to honour the sun god Surya. On the third day, called Maatu Pongal, people honour the cows and all that they provide for the community. Finally, on Kaanum Pongal, families get together to eat a big meal. A study conducted in 2011 stated that over 87 per cent of Tamil people are Hindu, however, Tamil heritage month is not affiliated with any religion.

This year, the official Tamil Heritage website is holding nominations for a celebration of “30 Under 30.” They are looking to recognize people under thirty years of age who are leading their community. Nominations can be made for people in all kinds of career paths and lifestyles, but they are looking for role models of success and leadership. Nominations are made easy through their website, but they will not stay open for long to allow them time to review all nominations.

Every year, the Tamil Heritage Month Gala takes place in Ottawa, hosted by the Ottawa Tamil Association. This event is always recorded and can be found on YouTube along with a recap published by the association. If you are not able to make it to any in-person celebrations this year, these online resources can be a great way to get in on the festivities. Many important political figures are usually in attendance and speak at this gala. Along with this, there is music, dancing, and other performances.

Tamil Heritage Month is incredibly important to celebrate this strong community. While nationally recognizing Tamil culture is a great first step, more needs to be done to appreciate this group of people and all of the hardships and successes that they have been through. This January, if you are not Tamil, it is important to take some time to learn more about this key community, whether that be attending an event, or just reading up on Tamil history. Tamil representation comes from everyone putting in work to educate themselves more about this culture, and celebrating the history behind it.

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