குறிஞ்சி - தலைவன் கூற்று
Red earth and pouring rain
A poem from the Eight Anthologies collection.
Tamil literature refers to literature in the Tamil language. Tamil literature has a rich and long literary tradition spanning more than two thousand years. The oldest extant works show signs of maturity indicating an even longer period of evolution. Contributors to the Tamil literature mainly were Tamil people from Tamil Nadu, however, there have been notable contributions from European authors. The history of Tamil literature follows the history of Tamil Nadu, closely following the social and political trends of various periods. The secular nature of the early Sangam poetry gave way to works of religious and didactic nature during the Middle Ages. Jain and Buddhist authors during the medieval period and Muslim and European authors later, contributed to the growth of Tamil literature.
A revival of Tamil literature took place from the late nineteenth century, when works of religious and philosophical nature were written in a style that made it easier for the common people to enjoy. Nationalist poets began to utilize the power of poetry in influencing the masses. With growth of literacy, Tamil prose began to blossom and mature, and short stories and novels began to appear. The popularity of Tamil Cinema has also provided opportunities for modern Tamil poets to emerge.
Sangam literature refers to a body of classical Tamil literature created between the years 200 B.C.E. and 300 C.E. The period during which these poems were written is most commonly referred to as the "Sangam" age, referring to the prevalent Sangam legends claiming literary academies lasting thousands of years, giving that name to the corpus of literature. Irayanaar Agapporul dated to c. 750 C.E. first mentioned the Sangam legends. An inscription of the early tenth century C.E. mentions the achievements of the early Pandya kings of establishing a Sangam in Madurai.
Sangam literature comprises some of the oldest extant Tamil literature, and deals with love, war, governance, trade, and bereavement. Unfortunately much of the Tamil literature belonging to the Sangam period had been lost. The literature currently available from this period is perhaps just a fraction of the wealth of material produced during this golden age of Tamil civilization. The available literature from this period has been broadly divided in antiquity into three categories based roughly on chronology. These are: The Major Eighteen Anthology Series comprising the Ettuthokai (Eight Anthologies) and the Pattupattu (Ten Idylls) and the Five Great Epics. Tolkaappiyam, a commentary on grammar, phonetics, rhetoric, and poetics, is dated from this period.
Tamil legends hold that these were composed in three successive poetic assemblies (Sangam) that were held in ancient times on a now vanished continent far to the south of India. A significant amount of literature could have preceded Tolkappiyam, as grammar books are usually written after a literature has existed for a long period. Tamil tradition holds the earliest Sangam poetry to be older than twelve millennia. Modern linguistic scholarship places the poems between the first century B.C.E. and the third century C.E. The age of Sangam is established through the correlation between the evidence on foreign trade found in the poems and the writings by ancient Greek and Romans such as Periplus.
The Sangam age is considered by the Tamil people as the golden era of the Tamil language. During this period, the Tamil country was ruled by the three "crowned kings," the Cheras, Pandyas, and the Cholas. The land was at peace, with no major external threats. Asoka's conquests did not impact the Tamils and the people were able to indulge in literary pursuits. The poets had a more casual relationship with their rulers than in later times, and could openly chide them when they were perceived to depart from an acceptable standard of conduct.
The greatness of the Sangam age poetry may be ascribed not so much to its antiquity, but to the fact that their ancestors were indulging in literary pursuits and logical, systematic classifications of their society and world in a systematic manner, with few domestic precedents and little foreign influence. The fact that these classifications were documented at a very early date, in the grammatical treatise Tolkappiyam, demonstrates the organized manner in which the Tamil language has evolved. Tolkappiyam is not merely a textbook on Tamil grammar, giving the inflection and syntax of words and sentences, but also includes classification of habitats, animals, plants, and human beings. The discussion on human emotions and interactions is particularly significant. Tolkappiyam is divided into three chapters: Orthography, etymology, and subject matter (Porul). While the first two chapters of Tolkappiyam help codify the language, the last part, Porul, refers to the people and their behavior. The grammar helps to convey the literary message on human behavior and conduct, and uniquely merges the language with its people.
The literature was classified into the broad categories of 'subjective' (akam) and 'objective' (puram) topics to enable poetic minds to discuss any topic, from grammar to love, within the framework of well prescribed, socially accepted conventions. Subjective topics refer to the personal or human aspect of emotions that cannot be verbalized adequately or explained fully, but can only be experienced by the individual, and include love and the sexual relationship.
Classical Tamil love poetry, recognizing that human activities cannot take place in vacuum and are constantly influenced by environmental factors, assigns the human experiences it describes, and in particular the subjective topics that those experiences relate to, as specific habitats. Every situation in the poems is described using themes in which specific flora and fauna are symbols which imply a socio-economic order, occupations and behavior patterns. Details of secondary aspects, such as the seasons, the hour, a god, and musical instruments, are just as rigidly codified. Each landscape has a sentimental connotation: Lovers' meetings, patient waiting, lovers' quarrels, separation, and the anxiously awaited return.
The inner universe associated with love is divided into seven modes, or thinai, five of which are geographical and associated with specific landscapes, and two of which are non-geographical and not associated with any specific landscape. Four of the geographical landscapes are described as being landscapes that occur naturally in the Tamil lands. These are: Kurinji (குறிஞ்சி)—mountainous regions, associated with union; mullai (முல்லை)—forests, associated with waiting; marutham (மருதம்)—agricultural lands, associated with quarreling, and neithal (நெய்தல்)—seashore, associated with pining. The fifth—paalai (பாலை), or wasteland, associated with separation—is described in the Tolkappiyam as not being a naturally existing landscape. The images associated with these landscapes—birds, beasts, flowers, gods, music, people, weather, and seasons—were used to subtly convey specific moods related to those aspects of life. From these basic associations of landscape and subject, a wide range of specific themes suitable for each landscape were derived. The commentary on the Iraiyanar Akapporul states that as a result of the association of the kurinji landscape with union, it was also associated with the fear of separation, reassurance, the hero's or heroine's discussions with their friends, their being teased or taunted by their friends, their replies to their friends, the friends' role as intermediary, the meeting of the lovers, grief and doubt, and other similar themes.
Kuruntokai, a collection of poems belonging to the Ettuthokai anthology, demonstrates an early treatment of the Sangam landscape. Such treatments are found to be much refined in the later works of Akananuru and Paripaatal. Paripaatal takes its name from the musical Paripaatal meter utilized in these poems and is the first instance of a work set to music. Akaval and kalippa were the other popular meters used by poets during the Sangam age.
|Mood||Union of lovers||Heroine expresses patient
waiting over separation
|Lovers' quarrels, wife's irritability
(husband accused of visiting a courtesan)
|Heroine expresses grief
|Elopment, Longest separation,
dangerous journey by the hero
|Flower||Kurinchi||Mullai (Jasmine)||Marutam||Water lily||Paalai|
|Landscape||Mountains||Forest, pasture||Agricultural areas, plain or valley||Seashore||Parched wasteland, Desert|
|Time||Midnight||Evening||Shortly before sunrise||Sunset||Noon|
|Season/Climate||Winter/Cool and moist||Late Summer/Cloudy||No specific season||No specific season||Summer|
|Animal||Monkey, elephant, horse, bull||Deer||Water Buffalo, freshwater fish||Crocodile, shark||Fatigued elephant, tiger, or wolf|
|Crop/Plant||Jackfruit, bamboo, venkai||Konrai||Mango||Punnai||Cactus|
|Water||Waterfall||Rivers||Pond||Well, sea||dry wells, stagnant water|
|Soil||Red and black soils with stones and pebbles||Red soil||Alluvial||Sandy, saline soil||salt affected soil|
|Occupation||Hill tribes, gathering honey||Farmer||Pastoral and agricultural occupations||Selling fish, salt, fisherfolk||Travellers, bandits|
|God||ceyyOn or Murugan||mAyOn or mAl||vEntan||kaTalOn||Ur-amm or Kotravai|
எப்பொருள் யார்யார்வாய்க் கேட்பினும் அப்பொருள்
"The mark of wisdom is to discern the truth
During the three hundred years after the Sangam age, there was an increase in the mutual interaction between Sanskrit and Tamil. A number of words and concepts in the subjects of ethics, philosophy, and religion were mutually borrowed and exchanged. Around 300 C.E., the Tamil land was under the influence of a group of people known as the Kalabhras. Kalabrahs were Buddhist, and a number of Buddhist authors flourished during this period. Jainism and Buddhism saw rapid growth. These authors, perhaps reflecting the austere nature of their faiths, created works mainly on morality and ethics. A number of Jain and Buddhist poets contributed to the creation of these didactic works, as well as works on grammar and lexicography. The collection the Minor Eighteen Anthology (Pathinenkilkanakku) was from this period. The best known of these works on ethics is the Tirukkural by Thiruvalluvar. Kural, as it is popularly known, uses the Venpa meter and is a comprehensive manual of ethics, polity, and love. It contains 1,330 distichs divided into chapters of ten distichs each: The first thirty-eight on ethics, the next seventy on polity, and the remainder on love. Other famous works of this period are Kalavali, Nalatiyar, Inna Narpathu, and Iniyavai Narpathu. Nalatiyar and Pazhamozhi Nanuru, a work of four hundred poems, each citing a proverb and illustrating it with a story, were written by Jain authors.
After the fall of the Kalabhras around 600 C.E., there was a reaction from the Hindus, who had until then been suppressed. The Kalabhras were replaced by the Pandyas in the south and by the Pallavas in the north. Even with the exit of the Kalabhras, the Jain and Buddhist influence still remained in Tamil Nadu. The early Pandya and the Pallava kings were followers of these faiths. The Hindu reaction to this apparent decline of their religion was growing, and reached its peak during the later part of the seventh century. There was a widespread Hindu revival during which a huge body of Saiva and Vaishnava literature was created. Many Saiva Nayanmars and Vaishnava Alvars provided a great stimulus to the growth of popular devotional literature. Karaikkal Ammaiyar, who lived in the sixth century C.E., was the earliest of these Nayanmars. The celebrated Saiva hymnists Sundaramurthi, Thirugnana Sambanthar, and Thirunavukkarasar (also known as Appar) were of this period. Of Appar's hymns, 307 have survived. Sambandar is credited with 384 hymns. Together, these form the first six books of the Saiva canon, collected by Nambi Andar Nambi in the tenth century. Sundarar wrote Tiruttondartokai which gives the list of sixty-two Nayanmars. This was later elaborated by Sekkilar in his Periyapuranam. Manikkavasagar, who lived around the eight century C.E., was a minister in the Pandya court. His Tiruvasakam, consisting of 51 hymns, is noted for its passionate devotion.
Along with the Saiva Nayanmars, Vaishnava Alvars were also producing devotional hymns and their songs were collected later into the Four Thousand Sacred Hymns (Naalayira Divyap Prabhandham). The three earliest Alvars were Poygai, Pudam and Pey, each of whom wrote one hundred Venpas. Tirumalisai Alwar, who was a contemporary of the Pallava Mahendravarman I, wrote such works as Naanmugantiruvadiandadi. Tirumangai Alvar, who lived in the eighth century C.E., was a more prolific writer, and his works constitute about a third of the Diyaprabhandam. Periyalvar; his adopted daughter, Andal, contributed nearly 650 hymns to the Vaishnava canon. Andal symbolized purity and love for God, and she wrote her hymns addressing Vishnu as a lover. The hymn of Andal which starts with Vaaranam Aayiram ("One Thousand Elephants") tells of her dream wedding to Vishnu and is sung even today at Tamil Vaishnava weddings. Nammalvar, who lived in the ninth century, wrote Tiruvaimoli. It comprises 1,101 stanzas and is held in great esteem for its elucidation of the Upanishads.
Cilappatikaram is one of the outstanding works of general literature of this period. The authorship and exact date of the classic Cilappatikaram are not definitely known. Ilango Adigal, who is credited with this work, was reputed to be the brother of the Sangam age Chera king Senguttuvan. However, there is no information of such a brother in the numerous poems sung about the Chera king. The Cilappatikaram is unique for its vivid portrayal of the ancient Tamil land, unknown in other works of this period. Cilappatikaram and its companion epic Manimekalai are Buddhist in philosophy. Manimekalai was written by Sattanar, who was a contemporary of Ilango Adigal. Manimekalai contains a long exposition of fallacies of logic, and is considered to be based on the fifth century Sanskrit work Nyayapravesa by Dinnag. Kongu Velir, a Jain author, wrote Perunkathai based on the Sanskrit Brihat-katha. Valayapathi and Kundalakesi are the names of two other narrative poems of this period written by a Jain and a Buddhist author respectively. These works have been lost and only a few poems from Valayapathi have been found so far.
The medieval period was the period of the Imperial Cholas, when the entirety of south India was under a single administration. During the period between the eleventh and the thirteenth centuries, during which the Chola power was at its peak, there were relatively few foreign incursions, and the life of the Tamil people was one of peace and prosperity. It also provided the opportunity for the people to interact with cultures beyond their own, as the Cholas ruled over most of the South India, Sri Lanka, and traded with the kingdoms in southeast Asia. The Cholas built numerous temples, mainly for their favorite god, Siva, and these were celebrated in countless hymns. The Prabhanda became the dominant form of poetry. The religious canons of Saiva and Vaishnava sects were beginning to be systematically collected and categorized. Nambi Andar Nambi, a contemporary of Rajaraja Chola I, collected and arranged the books on Saivism into eleven books called Tirumurais. The hagiology of Saivism was standardized in Periyapuranam (also known as Tiruttondar Puranam) by Sekkilar, who lived during the reign of Kulothunga Chola II (1133–1150 C.E.). Religious books on the Vaishnava sect were mostly composed in Sanskrit during this period. The great Vaishnava leader, Ramanuja, lived during the reigns of Athirajendra Chola and Kulothunga Chola I, and had to face religious persecution from the Cholas who belonged to the Saiva sect. One of the best-known Tamil works of this period is the Ramavatharam by Kamban, who flourished during the reign of Kulottunga III. Ramavatharam is the greatest epic in Tamil Literature, and although the author states that he followed Valmiki, his work is not a mere translation or even an adaptation of the Sanskrit epic. Kamban imports into his narration the color and landscape of his own time. A contemporary of Kamban was the famous poetess Auvaiyar who found great happiness in writing for young children. Her works, Athichoodi and Konraiventh, are even now generally read and taught in schools in Tamil Nadu. Her two other works, Mooturai and Nalvali, were written for slightly older children. All the four works are didactic in character and explain the basic wisdom that should govern mundane life.
Of the books on the Buddhist and the Jain faiths, the most noteworthy is the Jivaka-chintamani by the Jain ascetic Thirutakkadevar, composed in the tenth century. Viruttam style of poetry was used for the first time for the verses in this book. The five Tamil epics Jivaka-chintamani, Cilappatikaram, Manimekalai, Kundalakesi, and Valayapathi are collectively known as the The Five Great Epics of Tamil Literature. There were a number of books written on Tamil grammar. Yapperungalam and Yapperungalakkarigai were two works on prosody by the Jain ascetic Amirtasagara. Buddamitra wrote Virasoliyam, another work on Tamil grammar, during the reign of Virarajendra Chola. Virasoliyam attempts to find synthesis between Sanskrit and Tamil grammar. Other grammatical works of this period are Nannul by Pavanandi, Vaccanandi Malai by Neminatha, and the annotations on Purananuru, Purapporun Venbamalai by Aiyanaridanar.
There were biographical and political works such as Jayamkondar's Kalingattupparani, a semi-historical account on the two invasions of Kalinga by Kulothunga Chola I. Jayamkondar was a poet-laureate in the Chola court and his work is a fine example of the balance between fact and fiction the poets had to tread. Ottakuttan, a close contemporary of Kambar, wrote three Ulas on Vikrama Chola, Kulothunga Chola II, and Rajaraja Chola II.
The period from 1300 to 1650, was a time of constant change in the political situation of Tamil Nadu. The Tamil country was invaded by the armies of the Delhi Sultanate and defeated the Pandya kingdom. The collapse of the Delhi Sultanate triggered the rise of the Bahmani Sultans in the Deccan. The Vijayanagar empire rose from the ashes of the kingdoms of Hoysalas and Chalukyas, and eventually conquered the entire south India. The Vijayanagar kings appointed regional governors to rule various territories of their kingdom and Tamil Nadu was ruled by the Madurai Nayaks and the Thanjavur Nayaks. This period saw a large output of philosophical works, commentaries, epics, and devotional poems. A number of monasteries (mathas) were established by the various Hindu sects and these began to play a prominent role in educating the people. Numerous authors were of either the Saiva or the Vaishnava sects. The Vijayanagar kings and their Nayak governors were ardent Hindus and patronized these mathas. Although the kings and the governors of the Vijayanagar empire spoke Telugu, they encouraged the growth of Tamil literature and there was no decrease in the literary output during this period.
There was a large output of works of a philosophical and religious nature, such as the Sivananabodam by Meykandar. At the end of the fourteenth century, Svarupananda Desikar worte two anthologies on the philosophy of Advaita, the Sivaprakasapperundirattu. Arunagirinatha, who lived in Tiruvannamalai in the fourteenth century, wrote Tiruppugal. These poems consist of around 1,360 verses, with a unique lilt and set to a unique meter, on the god Muruga. Madai Tiruvengadunathar, an official in the court of the Madurai Nayak, wrote Meynanavilakkam on the Advaita Vedanta. Sivaprakasar, in the early seventeenth century, wrote a number of works on the Saiva philosophy. Notable among these is the Nanneri which deals with moral instruction. A considerable part of the religious and philosophical literature of the age took the form of Puranas, or narrative epics. A number of these, based on legend and folklore, were written on the various deities of the temples in Tamil Nadu, and are known as Sthala Puranas. One of the most important of the epics was the Mahabharatam by Villiputturar, who translated Vyasa's epic into Tamil and named it Villibharatam. Kanthapuranam, on the god Murugan, was written by Kacchiappa Sivachariyar, who lived in the fifteenth century. This work was based broadly on the Sanskrit Skandapurana. Varatungarama Pandya, a Pandya king of the period, was a litterateur of merit and wrote Paditrruppattanthathi. He also translated the erotic book known as Kokkoha from Sanskrit into Tamil.
This period also an age of many commentaries of ancient Tamil works. Adiyarkunallar wrote an annotation on Cilappatikaram. Senavaraiyar wrote a commentary on the Tolkappiyam. Then came the famous Parimelalagar, whose commentary on the Tirukural is still considered one of the best available. Other famous annotators such as Perasiriyar and Naccinarikiniyar wrote commentaries on the various works of Sangam literature. The first Tamil dictionary was attempted by Mandalapurusha, who compiled the lexicon Nigandu Cudamani. Thayumanavar, who lived in the early eighteenth century, is famous for a number of short poems of a philosophical nature.
During the seventeenth century, literary works by Muslim and Christian authors appeared for the first time. The populations of Muslims and Christians were growing in Tamil Nadu under the influences of the Delhi Sultanate and the European missionaries. Syed Khader, known in Tamil as Sithaakkathi, lived in the seventeenth century and was a great patron of all Tamil poets. He commissioned the creation of a biography on the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Omar, known in Tamil as Umaru Pulavar, wrote Seerapuranam on the life of Muhammad. Costanzo Giuseppe Beschi (1680-1746), better known as Veeramamunivar, compiled the first dictionary in Tamil. His Chathurakarathi was the first to list the Tamil words in alphabetical order. Veeramamunivar is also remembered for his Christian theological epic Thembavani on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
During the eighteenth and the nineteenth century, Tamil Nadu exoeruend daramtic political changes. The traditional Tamil ruling clans were superseded by European colonists and their sympathizers, and Tamil society underwent a deep cultural shock with the imposition of Western cultural influences. The Hindu religious establishments attempted to stem the tide of change and to safeguard the Tamil cultural values. Notable among these were the Saiva monasteries at Tiruvavaduthurai, Dharmapuram, Thiruppananthal, and Kundrakudi. Meenakshisundaram Pillai (1815-1876) was a Tamil scholar who taught Tamil at one of these monasteries. He wrote more than eighty books consisting of over 200,000 poems. He is more famous, however, for encouraging U.V. Swaminatha Iyer to go in search of Tamil books that had been lost for centuries. Gopalakrishna Bharathi, who lived during the early nineteenth century, wrote numerous poems and lyrics set to tunes in Carnatic music. His most famous work is the Nandan Charitam on the life of Nandanar, who having been born into a lower caste, faces and overcomes the social obstacles to achieve his dream of visiting the Chidambaram temple. This work was a revolutionary social commentary, considering the period in which it was written. Gopalakrishna Bharati expanded on the story in Periyapuranam. Ramalinga Adigal (Vallalar) (1823-1874) wrote the devotional poem Tiruvarutpa, considered to be a work of great beauty and simplicity. Maraimalai Adigal (1876-1950) advocated for the purity of Tamil and wanted to purge it of words with Sanskrit influences.
One of the great Tamil poets of this period was Subramanya Bharathi. His works are stimulating, with progressive themes like freedom and feminism. Bharathy introduced a new poetic style into the somewhat rigid style of Tamil poetry writing, which had followed the rules set down in the Tolkaappiyam. His puthukkavithai (“new poetry”) broke the rules and gave poets the freedom to express themselves. He also wrote Tamil prose in the form of commentaries, editorials, short stories, and novels. Some of these were published in the Tamil daily Swadesamitran and in his Tamil weekly India. Inspired by Bharathi, many poets resorted to poetry as a means of reform. Bharathidasan was one such poet. U.V. Swaminatha Iyer was instrumental in the revival of interest in Sangam-age literature in Tamil Nadu. He traveled all over Tamil country, collecting, deciphering, and publishing ancient books such as Cilappatikaram and Kuruntokai. He published over ninety books and wrote En caritham, an autobiography.
The novel as a literary genre arrived in Tamil in the third quarter of nineteenth century, more than a century after it became popular with English writers. Its emergence was perhaps facilitated by the growing population of Tamils with a Western education and exposure to popular English fiction. Mayuram Vedanayagam Pillai wrote the first Tamil novel, Prathapa Mudaliar Charithram, in 1879. This was a romance incorporating an assortment of fables, folk tales, and even Greek and Roman stories, written with the entertainment of the reader as the principal motive. It was followed by Kamalambal Charitram, by B.R. Rajam Iyer in 1893, and Padmavathi Charitram by A. Madhaviah, in 1898. These two portray the life of Brahmins in nineteenth century rural Tamil Nadu, capturing their customs and habits, beliefs, and rituals. Although it was primarily a powerful narration of the common man's life in a realistic style, spiced with natural humor, Rajam Iyer's novel has a spiritual and philosophical undertone. Madhaviah tells his story in a more realistic way, with a searching criticism of upper caste society, particularly the sexual exploitation of girls by older men.
The increasing demands of the literate public led to the publication of a number of journals and periodicals, and these in turn provided a platform for authors to publish their work. Rajavritti Bodhini and Dina Varthamani, in 1855, and Salem Pagadala Narasimhalu Naidu's fornightlies, Salem Desabhimini in 1878, and Coimbatore Kalanidhi in 1880, were the earliest Tamil journals. In 1882, G. Subramaniya Iyer started the newspaper, Swadesamitran, which became the first Tamil daily in 1899. This was the first of many journals, and many novelists began to serialize their stories in these papers. The humor magazine Ananda Vikatan, started by S.S. Vasan in 1929, was started to help create some of the greatest Tamil novelists. Kalki Krishnamurthy (1899-1954) serialized his short stories and novels in Ananda Vikatan and eventually started his own weekly, Kalki, for which he wrote the immortal novels, Parthiban Kanavu, Sivagamiyin sabadham, and the popular Ponniyin Selvan. Pudhumaipithan (1906-1948) was a great writer of short stories and provided the inspiration for a number of authors who followed him. The 'new poetry or pudukkavithai pioneered by Bharathi in his prose-poetry was further developed by the literary periodicals, Manikkodi and Ezhuttu (edited by Si Su Chellappa). Poets such as Mu Metha contributed to these periodicals. Tamil Christian poets also added to the body of Tamil literature. Tamil Muslim poets like Pavalar Inqulab and Rokkiah made significant contributions to social reforms. The pioneering fortnightly journal, Samarasam, was established in 1981, to highlight and cater to the ethnic Tamil Muslim community's issues.
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