Literary Heritage of Tamils
National University of Singapore
“ Tamil is the living, vibrant and everlasting language, endowed with copious literary wealth, exalted grammatical doctrines and traditions, rich vocabulary reflecting the splendid thoughts, a reputed heritage, eternal and immortal attributes and youthful exuberance, not obliterated by the course of time and the impacts of other languages,” according to renowned linguistic scholar Dr.S.Agesthialingom. The objective of this article is to set forth the glory of the literary heritage of Tamils, who are proud of speaking this resplendent language.
The Significance of the word ‘Literature in Tamil’
The term “Tamil Literature” has a profound meaning. The word ‘Literature’
(ÉÁ¡´Õ¿£ )is a word formed by the combination of two words, namely, “ ÉÁ¡Þ” (Ilakku = target) and “É¿£” (Iyam = expressing). The meaning of this term can be explained in three ways.
1. “ÉÁ¡Þ” means ‘aim’ and ‘ideal’, while “ É¿£” means expressing, stating, and sounding. Therefore the first meaning for “Ilakkiam” is expressing the ideal . That is why Tamil grammatical authors say that the purpose of a treatise is virtue ( ÇÅ£), wealth ( ×½Ôçª) ,love/pleasure ( É¨½£) and deliverance ( ÂÖà ).
2. Like the verbs “ ´ÁõÞ” (Kalangu) and “´Á¡Þ”(Kalakku), the words
“ ÉÁõÞ” (Ilangu) and “ÉÁ¡Þ” (Ilakku) also will take the form. The words ÉÁõÞ Ilangu and ÉÁ¡Þ Ilakku respectively mean ÂÕÄõÞ (Vilangu = make sense) and ÂÕÄ¡Þ (Vilakku = elucidate). So Ilakku + Iyam ( ÉÁ¡Þ+É¿£) will mean to make the readers understood. Therefore, the works that uplifts the readers culturally are literature ( ÉÁ¡´Õ¿£). If a reader feels that he has been bettered culturally to a greater degree than before after reading a work, that work will be regarded as an eminent literature. “Literature is the cultural treasure,” says Thomas Arnold.
3. “ ÉÁ¡Þ” (Ilakku) also means elucidation .The Tholkappiam axiom “Elle Ilakkam” ( Í§ØÁ ÉÁ¡´£) is the proof for this. This can be construed that expressing or stating as the elucidation of life is literature. It is the concept of the literary critics that “ literature is a criticism or life”.
Literature is an art. “Art is for art’s sake” is the concept of one school of thought. According to another school “ art is for life’s sake”. Among these two concepts, the literary heritage of Tamils embodies the ideal “art is for life’s sake”. The Tamil tradition emphasizes that which spontanouesly sprouts out from the life and provides the ideals that refine the life is literature. Tholkappiam, while defining literary forms and contents, says that the literature is made of the metres like Asiriyam ( È¶ÕÀÕ¿£), Vanchi ( Âþ¶Õ), Venba ( ×Âý½Ô) and Kalippa ( ´ÁÕ¤½Ô) and it is made with the object of uplifting the humanity, consisting of the three objectives worthy of the man pursuit, namely, virtue, wealth and love/pleasure. (Axioms: 1362,1363)
Preservations of literary traditions
For the word “ ¾Àä” (Tradition), the Tamil Lexicon of Madras University gives thirteen meanings: åÙÅÙ¾ (Rightness); ¶Ô¨ØÅÔÀÕ¨ ×¶Ô§ÂÃ¡Þ åÙÅ (the word usage of noble people); ½ÃÙ¾ (Antiquity); Â¾Õ¶£ (lineage); ½ÔÀ£½ÀÕ¿£ (Heritage); É¿§ä (Character); ÉÁ¡´º£ ( Grammar); ¼§×ÁÔê¡´£ (Good Conduct) ; ×½çÙ¾ (Reputation); Ø¾£½Ôà (Improvement); ¼Õ¿Ô¿£ (Fairness); ÂÃÕ½Ôà (Worship); and ½çÂ£ (season). The tradition may be described as the rightness that is passed on from time immemorial from generation to generation. The grammatical treatise Nannul defines that “ the process of passing on from generation to generation the meaning of any word as explained by the seers is tradition” (388).
“The chapters, book tradition ( ãÚ¨¾Àä), language tradition ( ×¾ÔÃÕ¾Àä) common morphophonemic tradition ( ×»ÔÙ´ ¾Àä), found in the part of Phonology ( Íê¢»»Õ´ÔÀ£), vocative tradition ( ÂÕÄÕ ¾Àä) in the part of Morphology and Syntax ( ×¶Ô§Á»Õ´ÔÀ£) and conventions ( ¾À½Õ¿§) in the part of Literary Themes and Forms ( ×½ÔçÄ»Õ´ÔÀ£) of Tholkappiam, the oldest Tamil work on grammar and prosody, clearly demonstrates the essential importance given by Tholkappianar to tradition. The first chapter in Tholkappiam is book tradition and the last chapter is ‘Convention’. The very arrangement of chapters emphasizes the necessity of tradition.
In the grammatical world, the tradition of Tamil Prosody( ¿Ô¤ä) had been formulated not today or yesterday. As long back as thousands of years before Tholkappiar, this tradition had been defined as is evident from the lines from the chapter on Prosody and Poetics ( ×¶²æÄÕ¿§) of Tholkappiam.:
“ ¼§ÁÕÙ¶¤ äÁÂ¯ ×¶²æª Ëì¤×½Æ
½§ÁÕ»Õ±îÅÕ ÂÞ¢âÙÀ¢»ÆØÀ” (1)
“ ¿Ô¤×½Æ ×¾ÔÃÕ½
¿Ô¤½ÅÕ äÁÂ¯” (77)
“ Âýä´° ñÂ¯ »ý×½ÔÃÕ§ ÂÙÀ¤½Õ¨,
ãÚ±×½¿¯ Í§ÙÁ Ç´¢»Â¯ ÂÃõÞ£
¿Ô¤½Õ¨ ÂÃÕ¿â Í¨¾ÆÔ¯ äÁÂ¯” (78)
While defining the Constituents of poetry, Tholkappiar has included ‘Tradition’ ( ¾Àä) as one of the thirty two components of verse. This speaks about the essentiality of tradition for a creative literature, called as verse in those days. Tholkappaim explains the tradition thus:
“ ¾ÀØ½ »Ôí£ ¼Ô±×¶Ô§ É¿ÁÔ¨
¿Ô¤ä ÂÃÕ¤ ½¥¹¨ì” (79)
Tholkappiam says that the natural words ( É¿±×¶Ô§) understood by all Tamils, words ( »ÕÀÕ×¶Ô§) understood by scholars only, words of local dialects ( ¶
»ÕÙ¶«×¶Ô§,Â¥¹ÔÀ ÂÃ¡Þ), and the Sanskrit words ( Â¹×¶Ô§) are useful for literary composition..
In this ariticle, the word ‘Heritage’ refers to literary tradition and its glory.
Antiquity of Literary Heritage of Tamils.
The literary convention of Tamils is the oldest in age. Tholkappiam is the oldest of the works that are available today. It is a grammatical treatise. If a grammatical treatise should have come out , there would have been so many literary works in existence before it. Moreover, Panamparanar, who wrote a prologue ( iÔ¿ÕÀ£) in Honour of Tholkappiam says that Tholkappiar made Tholkappiam based on both the usage and poesy, ie, the literary and spoken language. Therefore, there might have been several literature that contributed to the creation of the grammatical treatise by Tholkappiam. Further, since Tholkappiar quotes from earlier works in more than 200 axioms, it confirms that there were scores of literature before his period. He refers to them as “ Í¨½”(They say), “ Í¨¾ÆÔ¯ äÁÂ¯” (So say the poets), and “ ¿Ô¤×½Æ ×¾ÔÃÕ½ ¿Ô¤½ÅÕ äÁÂ¯” (The poets who know prosody say it prosody). Many scholars have established that the Tholkappiar’s age was prior to third century B.C. Therefore, it can firmly be asserted that the literary convention found by the Tamils dates as far back as at least 2300 years ago.
There are two kinds of literary conventions in India: Sanskrit Literary Convention and Tamil Literary Convention. Scholars are of the view that the Tamil literary convention is as ancient as the Sanskrit literary convention. According to linguistic experts like Emeneau and Burrow, even in the oldest Sanskrit work, Rig Veda, there are Tamil words. Sanskrit epic poets such as Valmiki and Vyasa have referred to Kapadapuram, the seat of Sangam. Chanakya, the author of Artha Sasthra too, had mentioned about Kapadapuram. Therefore, it is quite evident that the Tamil literary convention is as old as the Sanskrit literary convention.
Linguistic scholars also compare the Tamil literature with the literature of classical languages, such as Greek, Latin, Sanskrit and Hebrews. Dr. Winslow declares that the Tamil poetry is more deep emphatic ,precise ,active, rich, relevant and powerful than that of Greek. Dr. Agethialingom is of the opinion that the Tamil literature is worthy of regarding on par with Egyptian, Acadian, Armee, Phoenesian, Sumerian, Arabic and Chinese languages
Continuity of Literary Heritage of Tamils
The classical languages like Greek, Latin, Sanskrit and Hebrew are obsolete now. But Tamil is still now a living language current not only in literary usage but also in spoken usage. Therefore, it is the firm conclusion of the linguistic scholars that the Tamil literature is worth considering on par with the literature of the living languages such as English, German, Russian, Hindi and Italian. So, the literary heritage of Tamils is the oldest of the old and the most modern of the modern. Tamil literary heritage is the tradition that has come down in a continual unbroken succession from generation to generation. Only a few languages have such a rich tradition and Tamil is one among them.
Independent nature of Tamil literary tradition
“In Indian literary development, Tamil literature has two independent features”, according to Kamil Zvelebil. The literary tradition found by Tamils is apparently different from Aryan tradition – particularly the Sanskrit tradition. “While the literary traditions of all other Indian languages are Sanskrit oriented, only the Tamil literary tradition has an exclusive tradition of its own”, he emphasizes. He also asserts that among all the Indian languages, Tamil literary tradition alone stands out both as the oldest of the oldest languages and the most modern of the modern languages. He is also of the opinion that though Tamil is comparable with Sanskrit in classical nature, in modernism Tamil has a uniqueness.
Grammatical tradition for literary heritage of Tamils
Tamil has the distinction of having both the words “Ilakkiam” ( ÉÁ¡´Õ¿£=literature) and “Ilakkanam” ( ÉÁ¡´º£=grammar) from the same root word “Ilakku” ( ÉÁ¡Þ = target; ideal). “ ÉÁ¡´º£” (Grammar) means naturalness and beauty. That which contains grammar.ie, naturalness and beauty, is literature. The word “Ilakkanam” finds place in Tholkappiam itself. Though the word “Ilakkiyam” is not found in ancient works, it had been referred to by various terms such as “ Cheyyul” ( ×¶²æª = verse), “ Nool” ( ãÚ§=book), “Panuval” ( ½íÂ§=Text) and “Kanakku” ( ´º¡Þ = Composition). Dr. Tamilannal explains that “Cheyyul” ( ×¶²æª = verse) is that which has been created, ie, creative literature. “Ilakkanam” (grammar) describes the structure of the naturalness of the language, while “Ilakkiam” (literature) explains the beauty of the language. Tamil literary tradition holds that the grammar provides the principles and rules of literature, and without literature there is no grammar. Literature is mother; the grammar is daughter. Literature is the sweet mango fruit; the grammar is the delicious juice of the fruit; Literature is a big lamp; the grammar is its light; the literature is the sesame seed; the grammar is the oil extracted from it. This view was prevalent among Tamils as is evident from the following verse:
“ ÉÁ¡´Õ¿£ É¨ÅÕ ÉÁ¡´º£ É¨ØÅ
ÍªÄÕ¨ÅÔ´Õ§ Íý×ºæ£ É¨ØÅ
ÍªÄÕíª Íý×º² Íà¤½â Ø½Ô§
ÉÁ¡´Õ¿¢»ÕÆÕ¨ì£ Íà½à£ ÉÁ¡´º£”
No grammar without literature;
No oil without sesame;
Just as oil is extracted from sesame,
Grammar is extracted from literature]
Some believe that the above verse is an axiom made by Agasthiyar.
While all the grammatical treatises of the yore having Sanskrit grammatical tradition as their precursor, Tamil literary tradition alone has been functioning with the originality of its own, independent of the Sanskrit tradition. In Tholkappiam, the grammatical rules have been specified in three chapters, namely, Phonology and Morphophonemics ( Íê¢â), Morphology and Syntax ( ×¶Ô§) and Content and Form of Literature( ×½Ôçª). Other languages of the world have grammar only regarding Phonology and Morphophonemics ( Íê¢â), Morphology and Syntax ( ×¶Ô§) . . But Tamil alone has the grammar pertaining to Content and Form of Literature. The grammar regarding the Content and Form of Literature deals with subject – matter ( ½Ôà×½Ôçª), form (metre), expressions or physical manifestations of emotions ( ×¾²¤½Ôà), beauty of simile ( ËÂÙ¾ ÇÃÞ) and tradition ( ¾Àä) that are to be found in literature. This explains the concepts of literary tradition formulated by Tamils. The grammar of Content and Form of Literature enunciated by Tholkappiam, expanded into three divisions, the Content/Theme ( ×½Ôçª), Prosody ( ¿Ô¤ä) and Figure of speech ( ÇºÕ) in poetry in later years and they became part of the classification of five grammars ( Ïÿ»ÕÁ¡´º£) adding with it the grammar of letters, and the grammar of words. It must be noted here that even in this five fold grammatical classification, three are dealing with literature. Afterwards, the contents ( ×½Ôçª) itself was divided into two parts, ie, ‘Aham’ ( Ç´£ =theme of love) and ‘Puram’ ( äÅ£ = theme of heroism), to make a six fold grammatical classification. Thereafter, a grammatical division called ‘Pattiyal ( ½Ô¥Ü¿§ = Poetics) came into existence. This also is a grammar about literature. Thus, all the origin, development, and expansion of the grammatical divisions of literature reveal the richness and expanse of the literary heritage of the Tamils.
Tamils have the pride of having founded three Sangams (Academies) for the promotion of Tamil language and literature as long back as 2000 years ago. The fact that Pandya kings founded the Sangam in Madurai and promoted Tamil, has been proved by the oral traditions and folktales that are transmitted from generation to generation from time immemorial, the literary evidence, the statements of commentators and Chinnamanur copper plates. French emperor Louis XIII, founded the French Arts Academy in 1525 to promote and safeguard French language. But Tamils established three Academies – the First , the Middle and the Last Sangams – 2000 years ago to develop and protect Tamil language and literary tradition. It is believed that Tholkappiam, the oldest Tamil work now, originated during the middle Sangam period and the Anthologies Ettuthokai ( Í¥à¢×»ÔÙ´) and Pathuppattu ( ½¢â¤½Ô¥à) belonged to the last Sangam literature. It is the tradition from the days of yore to associate Tamil with Pandya Kings and Madurai. The literary lines from Sangam literature such as “ »¾Õ°¼ÕÙÁ ×½±Å»Ôõ´ç ¾À½Õ¨ ¾âÙÀ”, “ ×»¨»¾Õ°¼Ô¥à¢ »Öâ»Ö¯ ¾âÙÀ”, “ »¾Õ° ÙÂÙ¿¢ »ýº£ äÆ§” are evident to this fact. The expression “ Sangam Tamil” found in the literature of Middle and later ages, emphasizes the association of Tamil literary tradition and the Sangam.
Three kinds of literary traditions
The literary tradition of Tamils can be looked in three kinds: Elite tradition ( äÁÂ¯ ¾Àä) , Siddha tradition ( ¶Õ¢»¯ ¾Àä) and Folk tradition ( ×½Ôâ¾¡´ª ¾Àä).
The literature, created by elite literary scholars with characteristics like elegant style, systematic literary structure, clear ideals, interesting literary features, the dignity of preserving the exceptional tradition, consistent grammatical traditions and quotations from old literary and grammatical works, is the trend of elite literary tradition. Most of the literature now available for us, belong to the elite tradition. Sangam literature such as Ettuthokai, Pathuppattu, Pathinenkeezhkanakku classics like Tirukkural, the five great epics like Silappadhikaram, the five minor epics, the devotional literature and the prose works are also of elite tradition. Tholkappiam is the oldest grammatical treatise of elite literary tradition that is available now.
Siddhars are those who have attained the spiritual powers, the bliss and emancipation. Those who endeavour to see the God are devotees. Those who had found the God are Siddhars, according to Thevaram. Those who pursued the path of Yoga were called ‘mystics’ in English. It was Thirumoolar who created the Siddha literary tradition in Tamil (5th Century). His ‘Thirumanthiram’ is a work of both worship and philosophy. It is counted as the tenth Thirumurai ( ½¢»Ô£ »ÕçåÙÅ). In Siddha tradition, the subject matter deals – with simple principles of life, yoga and medicine. The form is verses composed of simple words. More symbolic words have been used in its technique. There are some verses that criticize religious rituals, and lyrics containing simple methods of worship and reformist perceptions. Among the Siddha verses, the poems of Bogar, Kudambai Siddhar, Pampatti Siddhar and Idaikattu Siddhar are very popular. Thayumanavar and Ramalingar also are regarded as Siddhars. Poets like Gunangudi Masthan have made many verses that can bring an understanding between Islam and Hindu religions. Dr. T.P. Meenakshisundaranar has classified the style of Siddha verses into two kinds: hard style ( Â§¼Ù¹) and soft style ( ×¾§¼Ù¹). The verses of hard style contain more of symbolic words not understandable easily and the verses of soft style are those which have the vocative words like “ Ø´Ä¤½Ô” and “ ¼ÖÄ¤½Ô”.
The folk literary tradition preceded the other two literary traditions in origin. The folk literatures are closely related to lives of the people. Being unwritten, they are capable of surviving by oral tradition. Anonymity also is associated with folk tradition. The exquisite features of the folk tradition are simpleness, tunefulness and satire, harmony and occupational experiences. Even Tholkappaim refers to the folk literary forms like proverbs ( ½Ã×¾ÔÃÕ´ª) and riddles ( ½Õ¶Õ). From birth to death, in all the essential aspects of the daily life of the common people, and in their occupational activities, folk songs have become an integral part. Lullaby ( »ÔÁÔ¥à) is the song to rock the child to sleep in a cradle. Lamentation ( Ð¤½ÔÀÕ) is crying out by women over the dead with wailing and mourning songs. Picoltah song ( Î±Å¤½Ô¹§) is the song sung by at the time of drawing water from well for irrigation with a picoltah. Transplantation song ( ¼¹é¤½Ô¹§) is the song sung while transplanting crops in agriculture. These folk songs have also made their way into the elite literature like Silappadhikaram and Thiruvachagam. Folk stories manifest the social realities and gives enjoyment too.
Literary heritage of Tholkappiam
Tholkappiar had elaborately elucidated the principles of literary traditions of Tamils in the chapter on Content and Form of Literature ( ×½ÔçÄ»Õ´ÔÀ£) after thoroughly studying the literature and grammatical treatises that were in vogue traditions as poetic usage ( äÁ×ÆÅÕ ÂÃ¡´£). He classifies the subject-matter of the literary works into two kinds: Aham ( Ç´£ =theme of love) and Puram ( äÅ£ =theme of heroism). This classification is the distinctive feature peculiar to Tamil alone. Aham deals with love, familial relationship ,etc, that are felt deep down in the innermost mind.
Puram (exterior), deals with the themes other than love and speaks about war, kings, their valour, charity death etc. This is visible to outside people. Aham talks about home; Puram speaks about the country. Even in love poems, only those poems in which the personal names that can identify the lovers are not mentioned, are Aham poems,and those love poems which are not common, are considered as Puram poems. Aham and Puram are respectively known as Ahathinai and Purathinai. Ahathinai is divided into seven kinds: Kaikkilai ( Ù´¡´ÕÙÄ = one-sided or early stage of love), Ahan Iynthinai ( Ç´¨ Ïÿ»ÕÙº = growing love) and Perunthinai ( ×½çÿ»ÕÙº = matured love). Ahan Iynthinai (five states of love) is divided into five divisions, according to their mental conditions, into five divisions: copulation ( î¹§); parting ( ½ÕÀÕ»§); remaining ( Éç¢»§); weeping ( ÉÀõ´§); and love-quarrel ( Ì¹§). These are called ‘native elements’ ( ËÀÕ¤×½Ôçª´ª). These are also known on the basis of the tract of land, as: Kurinji ( ÞÅÕþ¶Õ = Mountain); Palai ( ½ÔÙÁ = desert); Mullai ( å§ÙÁ = forest); Neydhal ( ×¼²»§ = marine); and Marutham ( ¾ç»£ = paddy-field). The tract where the incident of native element takes place is the land ( ¼ÕÁ£). The time of occurance of the event is the time ( ×½Ôêâ). The land and time are first element ( å»±×½Ôçª). The backdrop of native elements such as enviornment, food, arts, people, their occupation etc, is called as the “theme” ( ´ç¤×½Ôçª). In such a structure, the poetic statements of the dramatic personal like the hero, heroine and lady’s maid are the Aham poems. The incidents happening before the marriage are called the “secret love affair” ( ´Äé) and the events after the marriage are known as “Conjugal fidelity” ( ´±ä). The Purathinai mentioned in Tholkappiam is also divided into seven kinds: Cow-capturing ( ×Â¥¶Õ); occupying enemy’s frontiers ( ´Ôþ¶Õ); storming a fort ( ËÃÕÙ¸); defence of a fort ( ×¼Ô«¶Õ); battle ( â£Ù½); victory ( ÂÔÙ´); and praising hero’s fame ( ½Ô¹Ôý). All these refer to the events of wars waged by ancient kings. “The concepts propounded by Tholkappiar on Aham and Puram are very elaborate and distinctive and are quite peculiar to Tamil literature alone,” according to Dr. Tamilannal.
Tholkappiar has enunciated the literary forum and classification in the chapter on prosody ( ×¶²æÄÕ¿§), poetic sentiments in the chapter on expressions, communication in the chapter on similies, and tradition in the chapter on convention
Literary Heritage of Sangam Literature
The ancient works consisting of Pathupattu and Ettuthokai are known as Sangam literature. These Sangam poems are the chapters that demonstrate the antiquity and distinguished glory of Tamils. Namakkal poet said: “Proclaim you are a Tamil and stand up keeping your head erect” ( »¾ÕÃ¨ Í¨ì ×¶Ô§Á¹Ô; »ÙÁ¼Õ¾Õ¯ÿâ ¼Õ§Á¹Ô). Authors of history of literature are of the opinion that the literature that makes the Tamils to hold their heads erect are Sangam literature. Sangam literatures are the wonderful mirror which reflect without any imagination the actual life of the Tamils lived by them two thousand years ago from now. Dr. Kamil Zuelebil lands the Ettuthokai poems as having uniqueness of its own and deep meaning expressing the facts as they were, and have been made with artistic niceties comparable to ancient Greek poems.
It was during the Sangam period that some heritages peculiar to Tamil were molded. The life systems that manifest the customs of the soil, the cultural pattern of those life styles and the creation of literature appropriate to the cultural context have came about in this period. The differences of life style that were existing inside and outside the settlements were divided into two kinds, ie, Aham (Interior) and Puram (Exterior) and later were made as literary traditions. Kurinjippattu is said to have been made by Kapilar to teach Tamil to the Aryan King, Prahadattan. Ahathinaikothu declares that Tamil is nothing but Ahathinai. Afterwards, the Commentator of Kalaviyal too describes what the kalaviyal had asserted as having “stated by Tamil”. Thiru K.Sivathambi emphasizes: “It is not only important to say that Aham tradition is Tamil tradition, but it is also important to state the Tamil never held the Sanskrit literary tradition as an example to its literary expressions”.
The Concepts of Aham and Puram enunciated by Sangam literature can be said as the significant contribution of Tamils to world literary theory. Dr. Tamilannal describes the Sangam literature as the literature of the soil ( »ÕÙº ÉÁ¡´Õ¿£). The total Sangam poems is 2381. Among them Aham poems are 1862. The number of Sangam poets is 473. Among them the number of poets who made poems on the theme of Aham is 378. Therefore, it is evident that Sangam literary tradition mostly preserved Aham . Dr. V.S.P Manickam’s literary study on “Tamil concept of love” ( »¾Õ°¡´Ô»§) establishes this fact. All the Aham poems in Sangam are of psychological in depth study. To make a Aham poem, a natural knowledge about the land and time, is essential. Dr. V.S.P Manickam emphatically states that the purpose of creating a separate literature on love by Tamil savants has to educate the young lovers of both sex the disciplined sexual life.
Dr. M. Varadarajan and Father Dr. Thaninayagam are of the firm views that the Sangam poets never described the nature as they were, and they made their poems in the backdrop of the respective native – element ( ËÀÕ¤×½Ôçª)
The “one-world” Concept of Kaniyan Poongundranar who declared “Every country is my native land and every man my kinsman” ( ¿Ôâ£ ÌØÀ ¿ÔÂç£ Ø´ÄÖ¯) and the meaningful similie, “Just as the rain water inseparably mingles with the earth, the loving hearts united inseparably” ( ×¶£äÁ¤ ×½¿§ ¼Ö¯ Ø½ÔÁ Ç¨äÙ¹ ×¼þ¶£ »Ô£ ´Áÿ»ÆØÂ), are the everlasting views that permeate into the literary world. The English works by A.K. Ramanujam and George Hart, expound the thinking power of Tamils to the whole world.
A literary form called Atruppadai ( È±ì¤½Ù¹ = a poem, the object of which is to conduct one to a superior) finds a significant place among Puram poems. Half of Pathupattu, and some poems of Purananuru and Pathitrupathu are of this kind. Artruppadai is the poem by which a poet who received charity from a philanthropist is conducting a poet suffering from poverty to a philanthropist. This literary form originated from the lofty purpose: “Let the world receive the happiness which I have received!”
Literary heritage of Thirukkural
Thirukkural is the most outstanding contribution of the Tamils to the whole world. That is why Bharathiar declares
“ ÂªëÂ¨ »¨ÙÆ ËÁ´Õí¡Ø´ »ÿâ
ÂÔ¨ä´° ×´Ôý¹ »¾Õ°¼Ôà”
[“Tamil Nadu attained heavenly glory
By contributing Valluvam to the world”]
Thirukkural is the most widely translated classic in the world languages next to Bible and Kuran. There is no scholar in the world who have not applauded the Thirukkural, which is precise and concise containing universal values just like a mustard seed consisting in itself the seven seas. Many scholars like Rev. Thaninayagam hold Thiruvalluvar on a par with great world philosophers such as Confucious, Plato, Aristotle and Sinica. In the views of Dr. Albert Switzer, “ there hardly exists in the literature of the world a collection of maxims in which we find so much of lofty wisdom”.
Valluvar had propounded to the word numerous ethical thoughts, and political doctrines. One among them is his definition for “Virtue” ( ÇÅ£):
“ ¾Æ¢â¡´ý ¾Ô¶ÕÁÆÔ»§ ÇÙÆ¢»Å¨
ÈÞÁ ¼ÖÀ ½ÕÅ” (34)
[ A spotless mind is virtue’s sum
All else is empty noise]
Valluvan expounds that man possesses mind; and the purity of mind is the lofty virtue. If the mind becomes pure; the thoughts will become pure; if the thoughts become pure, the words will become pure; and if the words become pure, the deeds will become pure. Therefore, Valluvar asserts that the purity of thoughts, words and deeds is virtue, which transcends the time and space. All are convinced that this is the universally accepted conclusive finding.
Thiruvalluvar offers his views in his classic by dividing the two classification of Sangam literature – Aham and Puram – into three divisions: Virtue ( ÇÅ£); world ( ×½Ôçª) and conjugal love ( É¨½£). The source of this three – fold classification is contained in Tholkappiam, and Sangam classics. The later classics like Naladiyar have followed this classification itself.
Though Thirukkural originated in a period when the influence of Jainism and Buddhism were dominant, it emphasized the concept that the “life ought to be lived”. The standpoint of Thirukkural that “the life is not a burden, but rather a responsibility for the social progress”. Albert Switzer explains how this perception of Valluvar bestows on Thirukkural among all the ethical classics of the world, and thereby upon Tamil, an individuality of its own. The kural lines like “Domestic life is virtue” ( ÇÅ¨ ÍÆ¤½¥¹Ø» É§ÂÔ°¡Ù´ - 49),” what does he gain elsewhere who breads the pure householders’ path?” ( ÇÅ¢»Ô±ÅÕ¨ É§ÂÔ°¡Ù´ È±ÅÕ¨ äÅ¢»Ô±ÅÕ¨ Ø½ÔÐ²¤ ×½ìÂ×»Â¨? -46), and “ A model householder on earth is a god in heaven” ( ÙÂ¿¢âª ÂÔ°ÂÔõÞ ÂÔ°½Â¨ ÂÔíÙÅæ£ ×»²Â¢âª ÙÂ¡´¤½à£ - 50) are evident to this fact.
It was Thiruvalluvar who introduced the Kural Venba form in Tamil literary tradition.
Literary heritage of Silappadhikaram
The first epic in Tamil – Silappdhikaram – appeared 1800 years ago. The epic is also called the epic poetry ( ×»Ô¹¯¼ÕÙÁ«×¶²æª), a poem in which several connected actions are related. Bharathiar glorifies this epic as“ ×¼þÙ¶ Çªë£ ¶ÕÁ¤½»Õ´ÔÀ£ Í¨í£ ¾ºÕ¿ÔÀ£ ½Ù¹¢» »¾Õ°¼Ôà” (Tamil Nadu which is endowed with the possession of the precious garland of gems – the Silappadhikaram). Dr. Kamil Zuelebil adores Silappadhikaram as one of the outstanding world epics which stands out with its exceptional tragic story plot underscoring the humanitarianism, sublime beauty, classical features and powerful poetic style of its own.
Most of the world’s first epics were made with the king or the God as the hero. The earliest Sanskrit epic Ramayanam has Rama, the incarnation of God, Thirumal (Vishnu) as its hero. The ancient epic of the Greeks, Homers Iliad and the oldest epic in Latin, Virgil’s Aenid too are having the Kings as their heroes. But, poet Ilango, the author of Silappadhikaram, deviates from this age – old tradition and made his great epic with a common man- an ordinary citizen – as the hero. Therefore multilingual scholar Dr. T.P. Meenakshisundaranar applaudes Silappadhikaram as the “citizens epic” ( ÞÜ¾¡´ª ´Ô¤½Õ¿£). This can also be called as the first epic that immortalizes the womanhood, as it extols the glory of Kannagi. The work emphasized three fundamental ethics to the world: (1) Divine justice will bring death to the king who fails in his political duties ( ÇÀ¶Õ¿§ ½ÕÙÃ¢Ø»Ô¯¡Þ ÇÅõî±ÅÔÞ£); (2) Noble men will extol noble women of chastity ( ËÙÀ¶Ô§ ½¢»ÕÆÕÙ¿ Ë¿¯ÿØ»Ô¯ Î¢âÂ¯); and (3) A deed done by a soul in a former birth will reappear so that the soul will experience joys and sufferings which are the fruits of action ( Ì°ÂÕÙÆ Ëì¢â Âÿâ Ì¥à£). This epic enunciates the concept of virtue ( ´±ä) which Tamils adore. Tholkappiam declares: “Modesty is better than life; but the virtue is even more better than modesty “( Ë¿ÕÀÕí£ ¶ÕÅÿ»¨ì ¼ÔØº; ¼ÔºÕí£ ×¶¿Õ¯»Ö¯¡´Ô¥¶Õ ´±ä« ¶ÕÅÿ»¨ì. Silappadhikaram got its name from the anklet ( ¶ÕÁ£ä), which is vital for the theme of the plot. The later epics which followed Silappahdikaram, namely, Manimekalai, Chinthamani, Valayapathi, Kundalakesi and Choolamani also here named after ornaments. It must be mentioned here that the worship of Kannagi, the heroine of Silappadhikaram, is being widely observed as the worship of Goddess of Chastity ( ½¢»ÕÆÕ¢ ×»²Â ÂÃÕ½Ôà) in Sri Lanka.
Literary Heritage of Devotional Literature
The devotional songs sung on Gods by Nayanmars and Azhwars during the Pallava period (A.D. 600-800) are called devotional literature. These are musical hymns made by devotees of Lords. The hymns of Saiva saints enlogizing Siva are called Saiva Canonical literature ( »ÕçåÙÅ´ª) 12 in numbers. The four thousand mystic poems or hymns made by twelve Azhvars chanting the praise of Lord Vishnu had been anthologized as “Nalayira Divya Prabandham” ( ¼ÔÁÔ¿ÕÀ¢ »Õ¬¿¤ ½ÕÀ½ÿ»£). While emphasizing that these hymns are the peculiar features of Tamil language, Rev. Thaninayagam asserts that if English is the franca of commerce, if French is the language of diplomacy, if Italian is the medium of love, if German is the language of philosophy and if the Latin is the language of jurisprudence, Tamil is the language of devotion! Dr. G.U. Pope had faithfully translated Thiruvachagam into English. Scholars say that no other language has so much devotional songs as Tamil.
The devotion of Tamils is not a mere flood of emotions nor dry meaningless philosophy. It is not also a blind faith. We must realize that it is a combination of emotion, intellect (philosophy) and faith. Dr. Norman Cutler of Chicago University, U.S.A., in his doctoral thesis has elaborately established the distinctiveness of the devotional literature of Tamils.
Nayanmars and Azhvars worshipped the Lord, who remains invisible as the fire in the wood, ghee in the milk and the flaming light in the gem, by placing Him in the familial relationships such as mother, father, friend, master, teacher, husband and lover. Bharathiar also followed this relationship and praised Lord Kannan (Krishna) as the Servant and lady love. This relationship is regarded as the exclusive characteristics of Tamils devotional literature. This tradition is said to have been introduced in Islam and Christianity too.
In the medieval period of Indian history, the devotional aspect is the most essential element. This movement originated on the banks of Kaveri and Thambarabarani as hymns of Nayanmars and Azhvars, flowed all over India through Ramanujar and nurtured and enriched the life of the country. The Veera Saiva saints, who hailed from Karnataka and Telugu country, adored the Periyapurana legends as the history of Saivism spread them in their countries and delighted their respective people. The national festival that was celebrated in Thailand was named as “Thiruppa Thiruvemba” ( »Õç¤½Ô ¢ÀÕ×Â£½Ô). This refers to Thiruppavai and Thiruvembavai of Tamils. Saivism and Vaishnavism, which were at loggerheads in Tamil Nadu, united together when they went abroad and intertwined with Buddhism (T.P.M)
The devotional literary tradition of Tamils created Meykandar’s Saiva Siddhantha doctrine and Ramanujar’s Vishistadvaidha philosophy. Dr.G.U.Pope described Saiva Siddhantha as the choicest product of Dravidian intellect..
Literary Heritage of Kambaramayanam
Kambaramayanam, made by Kamban in 12th Century, was an adaptation of Valmiki Ramayanam. However, it contains more than 10,000 poems, which demonstrate the poetic exuberance of Kamban. Tamil scholars extol Kamban as the Emperor of Poets ( ´ÂÕ«¶¡´ÀÂ¯¢»Õ ´£½¨). Bharathiar lauds Tamil Nadu as the glorious land in which Kamban was born ( ´£½¨ ½ÕÅÿ» »¾Õ°¼Ôà). V.V.S. Iyer commends that Kambaramayanam excels in great epic features even its original source Valmiki Ramayanam and also the great classics of the world such as Homer’s Iliad, Virgil’s Aenid and Milton’s Paradise Last. No other work in Tamil can surpass Kambar’s Kambaramayanam in poetic qualities. George Hart had illuatrated the literary excellence of Kamban by translating into English the Aranya Kandam from Kambaramayanam.
Kamban eulogizes the people more than the kings. He shows the victory of humanism ( ¾Ôí¹£). He even deviates from tradition by suggesting that the people are the life of the country. He boldly says that a king can be regarded as a King only if he is a great ruler. The main theme of his epic is that the virtue will win and the sin will be vanquished. He made several significant changes in his epic deviating from the original source, to suit the culture of Tamils and to enhance the splendour of the epic. He thus showed a new literary tradition in making a secondary classic ( ÂÃÕãÚ§)
Kamabaramayanam not only became popular in Kerala and Karnataka, but spread in North India too through Tulasi Dasar who traveled length and breadth of the country. Kambar has described in his epic that Rama and Seetha had fallen in love even before their marriage according to Tamil tradition and later married publicly after Rama broke the bow proving his valour. The same episode finds place in Tulasi Das’ Ramayanam too. Prof. Singaravelu has established the influence of Kambaramayanam had its impact in the South East Asian countries also.
Literary Heritage of Minor Literature
Several kinds of minor classics ( ¶Õ±ÅÕÁ¡´Õ¿õ´ª=½ÕÀ½ÿ»õ´ª) such as Kovai ( Ø´ÔÙÂ), Ula ( ËÁÔ), Andhathi ( Çÿ»Ô»Õ), Kalambagam ( ´Á£½´£), Thoothu ( âÚâ), Bharani ( ½ÀºÕ), Madal ( ¾¹§), Thiruppali Ezhuchi ( »Õç¤½ªÄÕ Íê«¶Õ), and Malai ( ¾ÔÙÁ) were made in increasing numbers by Tamil poets in course of time. Andhadhi is a literary work of hundred verses in which the last word, phrase or line of the preceding verse forms the opening of the succeeding. A poem celebrating the 10 different stages of a king or God in the infancy and childhood is known as Pillaithamizh ( ½ÕªÙÄ¢»¾Õ°). A genre of literature in which the women of seven age groups of the town are said to fall in love with hero – the King or God – when he goes in procession along the streets with his troupes is called the Ula (ËÁÔ). A type of literature about the heroism of a King or hero has won a great battle killing 1000 elephants is known as Bharani ( ½ÀºÕ). A genre of poems in which one, especially a woman in love sends a message to her love is called Thoothu ( âÚâ). A poem figuratively describing a disappointed lover riding on palmyrah stem to demonstrate his love to the people of the town is called “Madal” ( ¾¹§). The song sung in temples for waking up the deity is “Thiruppalli Ezhuchi” ( »Õç¤½ªÄÕ Íê«¶Õ). A collection of poems, commonly amorous, is called “Kovai” ( Ø´ÔÙÂ). A poem of several parts sung on one subject is known as “Malai” ( ¾ÔÙÁ). A kind of poem composed of various metres and contents is called “Kalampagam” ( ´Á£½´£). In later years Kuravanchi – a poem in which a kurava woman is represented as describing to a maiden the future course of her love by reading her palm – and Pallu – a poetical work having peasants or tenant farmers as characters – appeared as minor classics, having the people of the lowest rung of the society as the characters are outstanding in the minor literary classics.
The literary heritage of Tamils, which prevailed from Venkatam in North to Kuamri in South, spread its wings as far as Himalaya in North India. It had also reached the South East Asian countries in the East. In the West, it set its foot into the countries of Europe, America, Canada and South Africa and spread in Australia too. Set us endeavour to make Tamil literary tradition flourish in other countries also as it has taken deep roots in Singapore and Malaysia. Let us also make concerted efforts with unity to make Tamil prosper on international arena.
Ç´¢»Õ¿ÁÕõ´£ ¶, “ »¾Õ° ÉÁ¡´Õ¿õ´ª ×¶¬ÂÕ¿§ ÉÁ¡´Õ¿õ´ØÄ”, ¶Õ»£½À£, ¾ºÕÂÔ¶´¯ ãÚÁ´£, 2000.
»¾ÕÃýº§, “ ×»Ô§´Ô¤½Õ¿¯” ,¶Ô´Õ¢»Õ¿ Ç¡´Ô×»¾Õ, äâ»Õ§ÁÕ, 1998.
¾ÖÆÔ¥¶Õ ßÿ»ÀÆÔ¯, ×».×½Ô, “ ËÁ´ ¼Ô´ÀÕ´¢»Õ§ »¾ÕÃÀÕ¨ ½õÞ”, ¾âÙÀ, ¶¯ØÂÔ»¿ ÉÁ¡´Õ¿¤ ½ýÙº, 1982.
¾ÔºÕ¡´¾ Â.ß½. “ »¾Õ°¡´Ô»§”, ×¶¨ÙÆ, ½ÔÀÕ ¼ÕÙÁ¿£, 1962.
ÂÀ»Ô¶ÆÔ¯ å. “ ÉÁ¡´Õ¿¾Àä”, ×¶¨ÙÆ, ½ÔÀÕ ¼ÕÙÁ¿£, 1997.
ÇÃ´¤½Ô ÉÀÔ£ Ø¾Ô´¨ (½»Õ), “ »Õç¡ÞÅª »¾Õ°¤½ý½Ô¥à¡ Ù´Ø¿à” ¶Õ´ÔØ´Ô, ËÁ´¢»¾Õ° ×¾ÔÃÕ ÇÅ¡´¥¹ÙÄ, 2000.
Kamil Zuelebil, “The Smile of Murugan on Tamil Lietarture of South India, Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1973
Kamil Zuelebil, “ A history of Indian Literature: Tamil Literature”, Wiesbaden Gtto, Harrossowitz, 1974