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Any member of a people originally of southern India who speak the Tamil language. The Tamil have a long history of achievement; sea travel, city life, and commerce seem to have developed early among them. They traded with the ancient Greeks and Romans. They have the oldest cultivated Dravidian language and a rich literary tradition. They are mostly Hindus (the Tamil area in India is a centre of traditional Hinduism). Sri Lanka has two distinct Tamil populations, the so-called Ceylon Tamil and the Indian Tamil. Tensions between the Ceylon Tamil and the Sinhalese Buddhist majority prompted a Tamil guerrilla insurgency in the 1980s that continued into the 21st century. The Tamil number about 57 million, with 3.2 million living in Sri Lanka.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on Tamil, visit Britannica.com.