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Summer School in South India: Tamil Language and Culture

For the first time since the end of the Covid pandemic, the Cologne Summer School "Tamil Language and Culture" took place from March 6th to 26th, 2023 in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Under the supervision of Dr. Sven Wortmann (University of Cologne) and A. Desigan M.A. (Karuppan Agencies, Pondicherry), four participants from Germany deepened their knowledge of Tamil, took part in lectures on Indian and Tamil culture, literature, history, and regional studies, but also received training in dance, stick fighting and drumming.

The teaching took place mainly in the Central Institute of Classical Tamil (CICT) in Chennai and at the Tamil University in Thanjavur with the participation of teachers and students. Excursions took us to Hindu temples and archeological sites in Mamallapuram, Gangaikonda Cholapuram and Thanjavur as well as to the oldest Protestant church in Tranquebar.

Big thanks to Prof. Chandrasekaran (CICT) and Prof. Kurinjivendan (Tamil University) for their hospitality. We would also like to thank the "Cologne Summer Schools" project of Cologne University’s International Office, which granted students from Cologne a generous travel allowance.



Foundation of the working group Languages and Cultures of South Asia

In April 2022, the institute members Prof. Dr. Lars Göhler (private lecturer), Dr. Claudia Weber, Dr. Sven Wortmann and Renato Davalos M.A. (PhD student) founded the working group Languages and Cultures of South Asia. In research and teaching, the working group covers a wide range of topics in classical Indology and modern South Asian studies (languages, religions, philosophy, politics, manuscript studies, linguistics). It offers courses within the framework of the Studium Integrale and the extracurricular offers (currently Tamil, Indian philosophy) and ensures the maintenance and use of the institute's library.

The working group was founded after the retirement of Prof. Ulrike Niklas and the end of the South Asian and Southeast Asian studies program and, together with various partners, pursues the goal of meeting the need for South Asian expertise at the University of Cologne and establishing it permanently. Contact person for the working group Languages ​​and Cultures of South Asia is Dr. Sven Wortmann (swortman[at]



Obituary Prof. Dr. Dieter B. Kapp (15.2.1941 - 2.11.2021)

On November 2, 2021, Prof. Dr. Dieter B. Kapp passed away at the age of 80 in a Cologne hospital.

Kapp was born in Heidelberg in 1941, where he also spent his entire school and study time. After graduating from the Kurfürst-Friedrich-Gymnasium in 1960, he studied classical (Sanskrit, Pali and Prakrit) and modern (Hindi, Urdu and Tamil) Indology as well as classical philology, Indo-European studies, Egyptology, ancient Near Eastern studies and Islamic studies. In 1971 he was awarded a Dr. Phil. In the subjects of Indology, Islamic Studies and Modern Languages ​​and Literatures of India. After working as a research assistant, he completed his habilitation there in 1980.

From 1983 to 1988 Kapp held a Heisenberg research grant from the DFG. In addition, he held a visiting professorship in anthropology at the University of Munich from 1985 to 1986. In 1989 he was appointed adjunct professor at the University of Heidelberg. In 1989 he was given another visiting professorship in ethnology, this time at the Free University of Berlin. From 1990 to 2006 Kapp was a university professor and managing director of the Institute for Indology and Tamil Studies at the University of Cologne. Throughout his teaching and research activities, Kapp advocated the South Indian studies (especially Tamil), which were largely neglected by Indology until not so long ago, and for ethnographic, cultural and philological studies of Indian tribal societies, especially the Kurumba peoples in the Nilgiri region of western Tamil Nadu. Under Kapp's direction, the Tamil studies established there in 1964 by Klaus-Ludwig Janert flourished again in Cologne. Notably, Kapp also took care of the expansion of the important Tamil library of the Cologne institute.

Among Kapp's numerous publications, two thematic groups stand out in particular. On the one hand, he wrote numerous translations from the modern Hindi and Tamil literatures, including short stories and modern poetry. His translations are characterized by a high level of style and excellent readability in the target language German, which is why he knew how to make Indian literatures accessible to a wide audience. On the other hand, he made an exemplary effort to document several tribal languages ​​threatened with extinction as well as cultural content from Indian tribal cultures.

Since 1974, Kapp had collected audiovisual material – in the form of tape recordings and slides – during numerous trips and field research stays in various areas of India. He laboriously transcribed the sound recordings, studied the respective language and made translations and studies of the texts. In this way, he primarily developed and preserved the languages ​​and cultural foundations of the various Kurumba peoples who are at home in the Nilgiri Mountains of southern India. He did not only endeavor to present the results of his work to a Western academic audience in the form of publications. Before his last trips to India (2014 and 2017), he took care of the digitization of the sound recordings and brought them back to the Kurumba tribes in South India in the form of audio CDs. He made it possible for a young generation there to hear the old, traditional stories straight from the mouths of their grandfathers. In at least two cases, the traditional creation myths were lost with the death of the older generation and were only returned to the tribe through Kapp's activity – a remarkable ethnographic interaction.

Dieter B. Kapp will be remembered as a tireless interdisciplinary researcher who knew how to combine Indology, ethnology, and folklore, to shed light on previously unknown cultures and literatures of India, and who also made facets of the historical and modern Indian intellectual history available to a wider audience through numerous attractive publications.



Prof. Dr. Ulrike Niklas retrospectively recieves the Classical Tamil Award 2017

The Central Institute of Classical Tamil (Chennai, India) awarded the "Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi Classical Tamil Award" retrospectively for the years 2010-2019 on September 28, 2021. Ulrike Niklas receives the award for 2017 for her outstanding research in the field of classical Tamil. The award was generated in 2009 by M. Karunanidhi, the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, through a foundation from the assets of the Karunanidhi family. It consists of a check for 10 lakh Indian rupees (approx. € 11,600), a certificate and a bronze bust of Karunanidhi.



Donations for the continuation of Tamil teaching

The SASOA institute received generous financial support in July and September 2021: The M.K. Stalin-led new DMK government of the state of Tamil Nadu allocated € 141,096.93 to the institute in July. In September the European initiative "Europe Tamilargal" contributed an additional € 25,936.76 after a fundraising campaign lasting several months. Thus, the assistant post for Tamil teaching initiated by Tamil Chair Inc. (USA) in 2019 can be continued and extended for another year - until March 2023.




Support for the institute by "Europe Tamilargal"

Inspired by “Tamil Chair Inc.” (USA), the European initiative “Europe Tamilargal” was founded to help support the Cologne Institute, which is threatened with closure in 2022. This shows once again how the international Tamil diaspora strives for academic research and teaching of their language and culture.




Prof. Ulrike Niklas receives the “K. Veeramani Award for Social Justice”


At this year’s conference on Humanism and Self-Respect, organized by the American Humanist Association and Periyar International on October 21st-22nd in Silver Spring, MD, USA, Prof. Ulrike Niklas was given the “K. Veeramani Award for Social Justice” for her life work.

The “K. Veeramani Award for Social Justice” has been instituted by the nonresident Indian (NRI) followers of Periyar E. V. Ramasami, the great social reformer of India, to honor his disciple Dr. K. Veeramani, the President of Dravidar Khazagam. This award is instituted in Dr. K. Veeramani's name to recognize his contributions in creating a mass awareness in India on social equality and respect for human dignity, and the battles he has been waging against oppressions that denies the human dignity and equality. This international award is awarded every year to an individual who has or an institution that has contributed immensely to the cause of social justice. The award recognizes a single event or a lifetime contribution that is responsible for the emancipation of a section of the society from the oppressions of social injustice.

Among the former awardees are Hon. V.P. Singh, former Prime Minister of India, Hon. Chadrajit Yadav, former Union Minister, India, Hon. B.S.A. Swamy, former Judge, Andra High Court, Hyderabad, as well as Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi, former Chief Minister, Tamilnadu, India.



Visit by the Indian Ambassador

On the 11th of July, the Honorable Indian Ambassador Mrs. Mukta Dutta Tomar and the First Secretary Mr. Rajesh Gawande visited the institute SASOA. After a guide through the building and the library, they talked with Prof. Ulrike Niklas, Dr. Claudia Weber and Sven Wortmann about the institute's history and the current situation.



10th International Conference on Tamil Studies, Chicago

From July 4th- July 7th 2019, Prof. Ulrike Niklas participated at the 10th International Conference on Tamil Studies, organised by the International Association of Tamil Research (IATR), the Federation of Tamil Sangams of North America (FeTNA) and Chicago Tamil Sangam (CTS).


Endowment of a research assistant post by “Tamil Chair Inc.“

The US American association “Tamil Chair Inc.” grants a generous endowment to SASOA Institute of Cologne University. The endowment is meant to finance a three year full assistant post for the research project “Tamil as Foreign Language (TaFL)”. The project, starting in June 2019, aims at the development and teaching of a modern Tamil-curriculum according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFRL) and represents a milestone in the history of language teaching within South Asian Studies.

The endowment was realised through the cooperation of “Tamil Chair Inc.”, represented by Dr. V. Janakiramam, Dr. S. Ilangovan and Dr. S. Sambandam (Tamil Chair Inc.) with Cologne University, represented by Vice Dean Prof. Michael Schröder und Prof. Ulrike Niklas.


Prof. Dr. Ulrike Niklas recieves Tamil Grammar Award


Every year, the government of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and the Tamil Sangam Madurai grant awards for accomplishments in the field of Tamil language and Tamil studies. This year, Prof. Dr. Ulrike Niklas from Cologne University's institute of South Asian and Southeast Asian Studies (SASOA) recieved the Tamil Grammar Award (Tamil Ilakka Viruntu), by the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.


"Periyar Self-Respect Movement"-Conference at Cologne University


From July 27th-29th 2017, the first International Conference on Periyar Self-Respect Movement, organised by the Institute of South-Asian and Southeast-Asian Studies of Cologne University and Periyar International, was held at Cologne University. About 100 participants from India, the USA, Germany, France and the UK presented and discussed papers about social justice, rationalism and gender equality in South Asia. Also, the first German edition of E.V. Ramasamy Periyar’s book “God and Man” (transl. by Dr. Claudia Weber) as well as Periyar’s short biography (transl. by Sven Wortmann) were presented to the public. The conference received considerable attention in Indian newspapers as well as in social media.

Konferenz über das Periyar Self-Respect Movement an der UzK

Vom 27.-29. Juli 2017 fand die erste internationale Konferenz über das Periyar Self-Respect Movementan der UzK statt, organsiert vom Institut für Südasien- und Südostasien-Studien der UzK und Periyar International. Über hundert Teilnehmende aus Indien, den USA, Deutschland, Frankreich und England hielten Vortäge und diskutierten über Themen wie Soziale Gerechtigkeit, Rationalismus und Gender in Südasien. In diesem Rahmen wurden die ersten deutschen Übersetzungen des Buches "God and Man" von E.V. Ramasamy "Periyar" (übersetzt von Dr. Claudia Weber) und eine Kurzbiographie über E.V. Ramasamy Periyar (übersetzt von Sven Wortmann) vorgestellt. Die Konferenz erhielt beträchtliches Medienecho in indischen Zeitungen und Social Media.

Participation at the State Conference of Dravidar Kazhakam


In March 2016, Prof. Dr. Ulrike Niklas and Sven Wortmann attended the Dravidar Kazhakam State Conference on "Eradication of Caste-Untouchability" in Trichy, Tamil Nadu. As a distinguished guest, Prof. Niklas was given the first copy of a book, published on that occasion. Sven Wortmann was honoured with a shawl by Dr. K. Veeramani. Both held a short welcome address.


Official Inauguration of SASOA KURAL CENTRE at Cologne University, Germany


As Prof. Ulrike Niklas announced in the Thirukkural International Conference (7.-9.1.2016) at Alakappa University, Karaikkudi, Tamil Nadu (India), a Thirukkural study centre will be opened on Pongal Day 2016 at the Institute of Southasian and Southeast-Asian-Studies (SASOA) of Cologne University, Germany. The centre will carry the name SASOA KURAL CENTRE. It will be dedicated to the academic study and promotion of Thirukkural and it will be open to all students of SASOA, and to everbody interested. Regular classes will be cunducted once in a fortnight. It is planned to invite international experts on Thirukkural for special one-week-courses once a year.