Ancient and Unique Nature of Tamil – Part 3


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Unique Nature of Tamil

According to Dr.Zvelebil Tamil literature possesses at least two unique features.

  • Tamil literature in its beginnings and in its first and most vigorous bloom, is almost independent of Sanskrit and Aryan influences.
  • Tamil Literature is the only literature which is classical and modern.

Tamil is the only literary Dravidian Language whose Meta Language is Tamil. The meta Language of Tamil is always been Tamil and never Sanskrit.With conscious effort Tamil can be used without any Sanskrit origin word. This is observed by A.K.Ramanujan when he says, “In most Indian languages,the technical gobbledygook is Sanskrit;in Tamil,the gobbledygook is ultra-Tamil.”[13]

Tamil is probably the only ancient language in India which bears the reflection of life style and emotion of an entire people who lived in that period. Though its heroes were idealized and heroic as Kailasapathy observes “What is pertinent is the fact that both poems (akam,puram) are dealing with aristocratic society- a society dominated by warlike chiefs.” [14]

Kamil Zvelebil accepts this fact but also points out that these Old Tamil heroes were very close to the land, the economic basis of existence, though he probably did not do any manual work himself; he did not live in huge castles, but in villages in big houses called manai,akam,il and only occasionally in small fortress(very similar to present day village headmen, who are associated with day to day activities of the village and are not isolated from the common man).

Kailasapathy also points out that slaves, servants, errand men etc. are not entitled to be portrayed as the heroes in the poems treating the five divisions of Mutual Love. He also gives references from Tolkappiyam and works of commentators like Ilampuranar and Nachinarkiniyar[15].

Zvelebil observes that though these heroes were Idealized men and women; it wasn’t essentially life of sacerdotal or ruling nobility, of priestly class, of nuns, monks, or of elite group or groups of society. These poems have captured the basic human experience in the best possible way making it one of the truly classical piece of literature.

Zvelebil also points out the difference between Tamil literature from other literatures of India “it (Sangam literature) is very different all strata of Sanskritic literature – from the Vedic literature which is literature of sacerdotal class, from the great epics which are the literature of the ruling barons, from the classical literature which is par excellence the literature of the “man about town”, of the naagarika; it is also different from the Buddhist and Jaina texts, since these are mostly the literature of the monastic orders,of monks and nuns.However this does not mean that it is ,in its finished form, as we have it “popular” literature of folk literature.”[16]

The poets of the Sangam age include 20 women contributing 140 poems. The poets also belonged to all classes of the society- princes, chieftains, peasants, brahmins, merchants, potters, black smiths and carpenters by birth. [17]

Both Kailasapathy and Zvelebil agree on the basic fact that the early poetry of the Tamils is founded on a secular, oral bardic tradition – in sharp contrast to the Vedic poetry and comparable rather with the Greek or Welsh bardic literature. The essential philosophies of the early Tamils were also different from that of the Sanskrit, Vedic literature.(Scope this topic beyond this article, hence I am avoiding going into details.)

Dr.Zvelebil observes that the poets of Ancient Tamils to the present day writers have mastered the technique of suggestion, of allusion, of interference and wordplay, of complex use of imagery and multiple overtones [18].

To end this essay I would like to quote A.K.Ramanujan opinion on Sangam literature, “In their antiquity and in their contemporaneity, there is not much else in any Indian Literature equal to these quiet and dramatic Tamil poems. In their value and stances, they represent a mature classical poetry; passion is balanced by courtesy, transparency by ironies and nuances of design, impersonality by vivid detail, leanness of line by richness of implication. These poems are not just the earliest evidence of the Tamil genius. The Tamils, in all their 2000 years of literary effort,wrote nothing better. “[19]

Part1- Tamil origins and Ancient nature

Part 2 – Sanskrit the magic wand?

Foot Notes:

[13] Language and Modernization by A.K.Ramanujan, pg. 31
[14] Tamil Heroic Poetry by K.Kailasapathy, pg.11
[15] ibid., pg.11-12
[16] The Smile of Murugan : On Tamil Literature of South India by Kamil Zvelebil, pg. 12
[17] ibid., pg.12-13
[18] ibid., pg.22
[19] The Interior Landscape: Love Poems from a Classical Tamil Anthology by A.K.Ramanujan, pg. 115

Reference and Further Study:

  • The Smile of Murugan : On Tamil Literature of South India by Kamil Zvelebil
  • Companion studies to History of Tamil History
  • Tamil Literature by Kamil Zvelebil
  • Poems of Ancient Tamil: Their Milieu and Their Sanskrit Counterparts by George L. Hart
  • Tamil Heroic Poetry by K.Kailasapathy
  • The Eight Anthologies by J.R. Marr
  • The Interior Landscape: Love Poems from a Classical Tamil Anthology by A.K.Ramanujan
  • Pattupattu: Ten Tamil Idylls by J.V. Chelliah
  • A History of South India from prehistoric times to the fall of Vijayanagar by K.A.Nilakantasastri
  • Early Tamil Epigraphy : From the Earliest Times to the Sixth Century A.D. by Iravatham Mahadevan
  • Tamil Lexicon – University of Madras

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4 thoughts on “Ancient and Unique Nature of Tamil – Part 3

  1. According to sangam society, no human is not discriminated by birth. Rather we could find that in, vedic or Sanskrit literature. This humanity behavior is entirely different with the concept of vedic nature and proves that the Tamil literature and its society is far away from the vedic or Sanskrit literature. One of the example is from the Thirukural – 972 – “பிறப்பொக்கும் எல்லா உயிர்க்கும் சிறப்பொவ்வா
    செய்தொழில் வேற்றுமை யான்.”

  2. Excellent article. i read you were saying about ponniyin selvan. Same as you that is the article which inspired me to learn much on tamizh. The imaginary scenes portrayed in the book are just awesome. One fine example would be a scene where vanthiyathevan would be caught in a ship stuck in the sea, when the cyclones approach. It contains extreme similes and truly awesome. The poems in kurunthogai are so nice to portray love. I have read these in school but only now understood its beauty. The poems on agam had inspired me to write such kind. I can post you some which i tried,
    மறம் அறியும் காய்ச்சின மாகளிரே
    என் அகம் ஏங்கும் நல்லறம் அறிவீரோ
    பலம் கொண்டு களம் கண்டு வந்தீரே
    என் மனம் நோக கண் கலங்க வைப்பீரோ

    கல்லூரும் நீரென கண் பார்க்க என்
    உள்ளூரும் வாஞ்சை தந்தீரே இன்று
    நோய் வலுத்து என் காய் இளைக்க
    வஞ்சம் செய்யவும் நெஞ்சம் கொண்டீரோ

    வங்கத்து வாய் நீர் முகர்ந்து மேகம்
    திங்கள் மூன்றும் தவறாது பொழியும்
    அங்கண் வளநாட்டு வண்மலர் நின்
    தழை கூந்தல் குடிக் கொள்ளல் அழகு

    வானிடை மேகம் கவிழ்ந்ததுவோ முத்தாய்
    நிலனிடை குளமிறங்கி நிறைந்ததுவே
    குளமதில் முலை மேல் கூம்பியது குவளை
    நின்புலனதில் கூம்பியதன் முன் நின்றது முலை

    கனி கனக்க தவழ்ந்தூரும் மென்கொடி
    பொழுது கடத்தா துண்டி உண்டிவள்
    மதுரம் தோய்ந்த மார் கந்தூகம் கனக்க
    வலைந்த இவள் இடைக்கது ஒப்போ

    மூவேளை உண்டதனால் கொங்கு கனம்
    இல்லை மது ஊரும் மலர் மொய்க்க
    வருமாம் வண்டு வழி மறந்து போனதனால்
    வலி கொண்டு வீங்கியது நெஞ்சம்

    நன்செய் மண்ணில் தழைத்த கொடி
    வண்டு உகர மலரிற் தோய்த்து தேன்
    வாஞ்சையிற் நெகிழ்ந்த பெண் நீயுண்டு
    உகர தன்னிதழிற் தோய்த்தாள் தேன்

    செவ்விதழ் தேக்கும் தேன் உட்க குவிந்த
    இதழில் உறிந்தேன் சுவைத்தேன் கலைத்தேன்
    வெண்சங்கு விளிம்பில் தலை சாய்த்தேன்
    தேன் சிறு துளி பட்டு உச்சி நரைத்தேன்

    என் இதழ்தேன் உறிந்து கலைத்தாயோ
    வெண் சங்கு விளிம்பில் உறங்கிடாதே
    என் இடையோ அம்மேல் இடைவெளியோ
    அதை தீண்டி கலவிக் காய்ச்சல் கொடு

    உன் நலிவிடை ஊறியழுத்தும் ஒரு கை
    மறு கை அம்மேல் முலையுடை ஊடாய்
    சென்று புறத்தே மதங்கொண்ட மார்பால்
    வலிகொண்ட கச்சின் வாய் கிழிக்கும்

    ஊரும் கை செழித்த கணியிற் பொக்க
    ஊடுருவும் கை கச்சின் நுனியிற் நிற்க
    வீயழுத்தற் கங்கு மலை கூரை உடைக்கும்
    நீயழுத்தற் வீங்கி முலை முன் நிற்கும்

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