If you like eating steaming hot rice Idlis with Sambhar and the good heaven’s curd rice (not to forget varieties of Dosas with sumptuous coconut chutneys), you would certainly like visiting the cradle of Dravidian culture and life which is Indian state of Tamilnadu. It is here you will smell the sweet fragrance of Jasmine (Bela or Motia) everywhere from temples to hair decorations of women from all ages.

Tamilnadu is bounded on north by Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, on west by Kerala, on east by the Bay of Bengal and on south by the Indian Ocean. Its capital is in Chennai (formerly Madras). Tamilnadu is home to 6,24,05,679 people (Indian Census 2001) of various ethnicities. First thing you will notice and hear when you arrive in Tamilnadu is Tamil language.

Tamil is a classical language belonging to Dravidian language family and is spoken predominantly in India’s Tamilnadu, Union Teritory of Puducherry (Pondycherry) as well as in neighbouring Southern Indian states. It is also spoken by sizeable populations in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Canada, Fiji, Mauritius, USA, Canada etc. According to the 16th Edition of Ethnologue total number of Tamil language speakers in the world is 65,675,200.

To a visitor coming first time to Tamilnadu, knowing  a little bit of Tamil comes handy where even in a mega city like Chennai, Tamil  (தமிழ்) is the only language one hears while on roads, malls and markets sometimes with smattering of English words. Tamil’s Southern dialect spoken around Madurai is the literary standard and the Eastern dialect is the colloquial standard (Zvelebil 1998). It is written using Tamil Script which is believed to be a descendent of Brahmi Script.

Here I present some Survival Phrases in Tamil language for those wishing to know how to move about in Tamilnadu with confidence. These Survival Phrases in Tamil are based on the book “Colloquial Tamil” by R.E. Asher and E. Annamalai; Published by Routledge, 2002, London.


English Tamil in Roman Hindi in Roman
Hello vaNakkam Namaskaar
How are you? epDi irukkiinga? aap kaise (m)/ kaisi (f) hain?
I am fine nallaa irukken
Thank you Nandri Dhanyavaad
What is your name? Onga peeru enna? aapkaa naam kyaa hai?
My name is Bob en peeru bob mera naam bob hai
Are you Ashok? niinga ashok-aa? kyaa aap ashok hain?
I  am from Agra ennaku aagraa main aagra se hun
Where is the bus station? bas steshan enge bas steshan kahan hai
Please come Vaanga Aaiye
Please go Poonga Jaaiye
Give it to me enakku kuDu mujhe dijiye
Are you coming to Chennai Muffasil Bus Terminus? Chennai Muffasil Bus Terminus varriyaa? Chennai Muffasil Bus Terminus jaaenge?
Where are you going? enge pooriinga? aap kahaan jaa rahe hain?
I will give 100 rupees nuuru kuDukkireen sau rupae dungaa (m) / dungi(f)
Is there a room? ruum irukkaa? Ruum hai ?
Do you have Idli? iDlii irukkaa? iDlii hai?
Give me the bill billu kuDunga bil le aaiye
I want X enakku X veeNum mujhe X cahiye
What is this? idu enna? yah kyaa hai?
I want to reserve a ticket to Delhi? dillikki oru tikkat reserve paNNanum main dilli tak ek tikat reserve karnaa chahtaa hun
Where is Annanagar? annanagar enge irukku? annanagr kahaan hai?
How much for this? idhu yevalavu? Iska kyaa daam hai?
I don’t want it ennaku idhu vendaam mujhe nahi cahiye
Water taNNi paanii
Brother tambi (Younger Brother)annan (Elder Brother) Bhai
Coconut teenga Naariyal
One oNNu ek
Two reNDu do
Three muuNu tiin
Four naalu caar
Five anju paanc
Six aaru chah
Seven elu saat
Eight ettu aaTh
Nine ombaDu nau
Ten pattu das
Twenty Iruvadu biis
Thirty muppadu tiis
Forty nappadu caalis
Fifty ambadu pacaas
Sixty aruvadu saaTh
Seventy eluvadu sattar
Eighty embadu assii
Ninety toNNuru nabbey
Hundred nuuru Sau

Abhishek Avtans

chennai street 2009