Tamil literature

Tamil literature

Tamil literature refers to the 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. Short stories and novels began to appear. The popularity of Tamil Cinema has also provided opportunities for modern Tamil poets to emerge.

angam age

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.See Majumdar, p 193] 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 chronology. These are: the Major Eighteen Anthology Series comprising the Eight Anthologies and the 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. [See Zvelebil, pp 45-47] A significant amount of literature could have preceded "Tolkappiyam" as grammar books are usually written after the existence of literature over long periods. Tamil tradition holds the earliest "Sangam" poetry to be over twelve millennial old. Modern linguistic scholarship places the poems between the first century BC and the third century AD. [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". See Nilakanta Sastri, K.A., History of South India, p 106]

Sangam age is considered by the Tamil people as the golden era of Tamil language. This was the period when 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 on the Tamil land and the people were able to indulge in literary pursuits. The poets had a much casual relationship with their rulers than can be imagined in later times. They could chide them when they are perceived to wander from the straight and narrow. The greatness of the Sangam age poetry may be ascribed not so much to its antiquity, but due to the fact that their ancestors were indulging in literary pursuits and logical classification of the habitats and society in a systematic manner with little to draw from precedents domestically or elsewhere. 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 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 in to the broad categories of 'subjective' ("akam") and 'objective' ("puram") topics to enable the poetic minds to discuss any topic under the sun, 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. It can only be experienced by the individuals and includes love and sexual relationship.

Recognizing that human activities cannot take place in vacuum and are constantly influenced by environmental factors, human experiences, in general, and subjective topics in particular, are assigned to specific habitats. Accordingly land was classified into five genres ("thinai"): "kurinji" (mountainous regions), "mullai" (forests), "marutham" (agricultural lands), "neithal" (seashore), "paalai" (wasteland). The images associated with these landscapes – birds, beasts, flowers, gods, music, people, weather, seasons – were used to subtly convey a mood, associated with an aspect of life. "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" meter utilised in these poems. This 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.

Post-Sangam period

Didactic age

The three hundred years after the Sangam age witnessed an increase in the mutual interaction of Sanskrit and Tamil. A number of words and concepts in the subjects of ethic, philosophy and religion were mutually borrowed and exchanged. Around 300 CE, the Tamil land was under the influence of a group of people known as the Kalabhras. Kalabhras 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 in the creation of these didactic works as well as grammar and lexicography. The collection the minor eighteen anthology was of 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 chapter of ten distichs each: the first thirty-eight on ethics, the next seventy on polity and the remainder on love.See Majumdar, p 194]

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.

Hindu devotional period

After the fall of the Kalabhras around 600 CE saw a reaction from the thus far suppressed Hindus. 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 CE 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 verses 3066 have survived. Sambandar sang 4169 verses. 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"(4272 verses). Manikkavasagar, who lived around the eight century CE was a minister in the Pandya court. His "Tiruvasakam" consisting of over 600 verses 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 these 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 CE was a more prolific writer and his works constitute about a third of the Diyaprabhandam. Periyalvar and his adopted daughter Andal contributed nearly 650 hymns to the Vaishnava canon. Andal symbolised purity and love for the God and 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. This corpus was collected by Nathamuni, around 950 CE and formed the classical and vernacular basis for Sri Vaishnavism.

Narrative epics

"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 we have no information of such a brother in the numerous poems sung on the Chera king. The "Cilappatikaram" is unique in its vivid portrayal of the ancient Tamil land. This is 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 which is considered to be based on the fifth century Sanskrit work "Nyayapravesa" by Dinnag. [See KAN Sastri, A History of South India, pp 338] 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 of "Valayapathi" have been found so far.

Medieval literature

The medieval period was the period of the Imperial Cholas when the entire south India was under a single administration. 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 for 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 favourite god Siva, and these were celebrated in numerous hymns. The "Prabhanda" became the dominant form of poetry. The religious canons of Saiva and Vaishnava sects were beginning to be systematically collected and categorised. Nambi Andar Nambi, who was a contemporary of Rajaraja Chola I, collected and arranged the books on Saivism into eleven books called "Tirumurais". The hagiology of Saivism was standardised in "Periyapuranam" (also known as "Tiruttondar Puranam") by Sekkilar, who lived during the reign of Kulothunga Chola II (1133 – 1150 CE). 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 know Tamil work 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 colour 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 "Konraiventhan" 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. They 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 the puram theme, "Purapporul Venpamalai" by Aiyanaridanar.

There were biographical and political works such as Jayamkondar's "Kalingattupparani", a semi-historical account on the two invasion 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.

Vijayanagar and Nayak period

The period from 1300 CE to 1650 was a period 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. 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, Thanjavur Nayaks and Gingee 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 they patronised these "mathas". Although the kings and the governors of the Vijayanagar empire spoke Telugu they encouraged the growth of Tamil literature as we find no slowing down in the literary output during this period.

There was a large output of works of philosophical and religious in nature, such as the "Sivananabodam" by Meykandar. At the end of the fourteenth century Svarupananda Desikar worte two anthologies on the philosophy os "Advaita", the "Sivaprakasapperundirattu". Arunagirinatha who lived in Tiruvannamalai in the fourteenth century wrote "Tiruppugal". Around 1,360 verses of unique lilt and set to unique metres these poems are 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 instructions. A considerable par to the religious and philosophical literature of the age took the form of "Puranas" or narrative epics. A number of these were written on the various deities of the temples in Tamil Nadu and are known as Sthala Puranas, based on legend and folklore. One of the most important of the epics was the Mahabharatam by Villiputturar. He 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 littérateur of merit and wrote "Paditrruppattanthathi". He also translated into Tamil the erotic book known as "Kokkoha" from Sanskrit.

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 work 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 philosophical nature.

The seventeenth century also saw for the first time literary works by Muslim and Christian authors. The population of Muslims and Christians were growing in Tamil Nadu with the influences of the Delhi Sultanate and the growing 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 Umarupulavar, wrote "Seerapuranam" on the life of Muhammad. [ [http://www.international.ucla.edu/southasia/article.asp?parentid=27779 The Diversity in Indian Islam] ] 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 teaching of Jesus Christ.

Modern era

During the eighteenth and the nineteenth century Tamil Nadu witnessed some of the most profound changes in the political scene. The traditional Tamil ruling clans were superseded by European colonists and their sympathisers. The 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.Fact|date=April 2008 He is more famous however for encouraging U.V.Swaminatha Iyer to go search for Tamil books that have been lost for centuries. Gopalakrishna Bharathi lived during the early nineteenth century. He wrote numerous poems and lyrics set to tune in Carnatic music. His most famous work is the "Nandan Charitam" on the life of Nandanar who having been born in a sociologically lower caste, faces and overcomes the social obstacles in achieving his dream of visiting the Chidambaram temple. This work is a revolutionary social commentary considering the period in which it was written, although Gopalakrishna Bharati expanded on the story in "Periyapuranam". Ramalinga Adigal (Vallalar) (1823-1874) wrote the devotional poem "Tiruvarutpa" is considered to be a work of great beauty and simplicity. Maraimalai Adigal (1876-1950) advocated for the purity of Tamil and wanted to clean it of words with Sanskrit influences. One of the great Tamil poets of this period was Subramanya Bharathi. His works are stimulating in their 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" (Lit.: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 the Sangam age literature in Tamil Nadu. He travelled all over the Tamil country, collecting, deciphering and publishing ancient books such as "Cilappatikaram", "Kuruntokai", etc. He published over 90 books and wrote "En caritham", an autobiography.

Tamil novel

The novel as a genre of literature 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 with 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 19th 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 humour, Rajam Iyer's novel has a spiritual and philosophical undertone. Madhaviah tells the story in a more realistic way with a searching criticism of the upper caste society, particularly the sexual exploitation of girls by older men.


The increasing demand of the literate public caused a number of journals and periodicals to be published 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". It became the first Tamil daily in 1899. This was the start of many journals to follow and many novelists began to serialise their stories in these journal. The humour magazine "Ananda Vikatan" started by S.S. Vasan in 1929 was to help create some of the greatest Tamil novelists. Kalki Krishnamurthy (1899-1954) serialised 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 too have made significant contributions to social reforms. The pioneering fortnightly ournal "Samarasam" was established in 1981 to highlight and cater to the ethnic Tamil Muslim community's issues.Another remarkable work was done in Tamil novel field by Mu.Varatharasanar. [Agal vilakku] [Karithundu] .. And last but not least Akilan the unique Tamil novelist,short story writer and a social activist is famous for his works like 'Chithirapavai' 'Vengayinmaindan' 'Pavaivilaku'.

New Media

The rise of the Internet has triggered a dramatic growth in the number of Tamil blogs and specialist portals catering to political and social issues. [ [http://www.hindu.com/2007/08/04/stories/2007080450970200.htm Tamil blogosphere] ]

ee also

* List of Tamil poets
* Tamil historical novels
* Sri Lankan Tamil Literature
* Tamil mythology




External links

* [http://www.samukam.com Samukam.com - The Tamil Social Network]
* [http://www.classicaltamil.net Classicaltamil.net - Literature & Cultural]

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