Understanding some problems in Tamil Literature through Tamil Cinema!


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I have been wanting to write this post for a long time and today I have decided to write it. This post would explain to you why we need scholars and what an ordinary guy with interest cant do.

First let me give you some sweet music.

I hope you heard all the 5 songs. Now the question name the music director for each of these songs ?

Please do not google and think about the answer instantly.

And now let me tell you none of these songs had music by Illayaraja.(1.Gangai Amaran 2. Shankar Ganesh  3.Devendiran 4.Bhagyaraj 5.T.Rajendar)

Now let me tell you what is this post about. This post is about finding the authenticity of  certain old tamil text.

When you hear the songs and you feel the songs are good and you also know the period is of 80s-90s , even when you dont know the music director your mind autmatically fills up the blank with the name you know that is the Genius Raja.

Even though you have heard all the songs of Raja multiple times and feel the songs above have some of Raja touches- still it was not composed by Raja. This is where an amateur with extraordinary interest fails. The lack of technical knowledge more often than not fools him.

If same songs are given to a scholar to analyse he would come out with proper analysis and could probably prove that musical patterns of these songs don’t match with that of Raja. In one Coffee with Anu show SPB says that Gangai Amaran was so unlucky because people thought that all his music was done by Raja. He went on to say that Gangai Amran’s orchestrations were completely different from that of Raja.

This is the same kind of problem we face with Authorship in Tamil Literature. Auvaiyar, Nakkirar, Agathiyar, Kamban,Kapilar have become the brand names used to fill up unkown authorship.

Agathiyar,Nakkirar,Auviyar names have been used for grammar, shidda medicine, astrology, didactic literature, Sangam literature,Bakthi literature.

In an age we have visual medium, internet, and various kind of archives , we still mistake some of other music directors composition for Raja’s.

The one most important factor most people dont know is that, the medium of writing the Palmyra leaves or the Oolai chuvadu last only for 300-400 years when atmost care is taken. If proper care is not taken they get destroyed within Hundred years.

So every 100-150 years people take up all the old Oolai Chuvadu and copy them into new versions and throw away the old copies.(after centuries people forgot the part to copy and just started throwing away the original manuscripts!).

In large part of world we have got manuscripts written 2000 years ago with the authors own handwriting. But unfortunately the hot temperature and Termites in India don’t allow that luxury. Nearly all manuscripts we have now are copied ones of the original. Only very few of the Tamil manuscripts are original since some of the Tamil Manuscripts were found frozen in Tibet(1000 year old manuscripts).

So while copying the manuscripts, any body can add their own lines into the original work. These are called interpolations. Nearly all Tamil works have this interpolations. Once in 1800s one French scholar who was translating Thirukural claimed he had version of Thirukkural which had more than 1330 kurals. There is also an instances where a Vaishnavite scholar has removed a chapter praising of Shiva from KambaRamayanan.

There so many such interpolations in Kamba Ramayana that some scholars sat together and did extensive research to compile a Critical edition.

When Christian Missionaries came in and wanted to print and publish some of the old manuscripts – the natives just added name of some famous poets as the authors, so that they could sell the manuscripts for higher price.

NowI come back to the place where I started when we have all the proof and yet we are attribute some non -Raja songs as his music think about the complex situations In Tamil literature. Is there any way to find the real author??

If there was any good work during the period of Kamban people attributed that work to Kamban. There are works like Sadagopar anthati attributed to Kamban. But people well versed with Kamban would say that all these other works doesn’t have the class, style and quality of Kamba Ramayanam.

Another problem with Tamil Literature(rather Indian Literature as whole) is Dating or when the original work was written. I will explain this again with a movie example.

Lets take Subramaniya Puram the movie is based in 1980s. Now by some accident the films first 15 mins and last 15 mins get erased. Now you have movie which takes place in 1980s but made in close to 2010. So say after 200 years if some one gets to see the movie(only the remaining film after the ) how would he know the movie was made in 2010? Wouldn’t the movie be mistaken for 1980 unless he has good knowledge of technology such as the cameras used, the colors used, the editing style and so on. Or at least he should have a movie from 1980 to bench mark and compare with this film. With non availability of any film from 1980s it is more likely a person who sees the movie without knowing anything about it after few hundred years believing it to  be a movie of 1980s rather than 2010.

Same is the case with remakes and movies with same titles. There might be a famous movie of same name 20 years ago and not so famous movie with same title 20 years later. Since movies are visual medium we can differentiate between two movies based on the actors. But consider the same case with literature- how can you know if the version of literature you have is the famous old version or not so famous new version?

Silapathikaram story has happened in 172 AD. But the Silapathikaram version in present form cannot be earlier than 4th century according to many scholars. So when you read Silapthikaram you are under the impression that it was written in Sangam age. But if you analyse the language and culture of Silapathikaram with Sangam literature you would surely see a vast difference.

Another problem is of Sequels.  Manimekalai is a sequel of Silapthikaram. So most people consider it as written in same time as Silapthikaram and initially believed to be part of Sangam literature. Recently I read collection of research papers on Buddhism in Tamil Nadu and most authors consider Manimekalai written as late as 10th century.

Tamil nadu government has fixed Thiruvalluvar to be born 52 years before christ, yet we have no indication from that literature to tell it was written before BC. Most scholars date Thirukkural roughly to 4-5th century AD.

So how do these scholars date a literature?

Let me take Subramaniapuram example again.Suppose after some 500 years they see this movie, a scholar would observe(if they didnt know when the movie released) The movie must not have been taken in 1980s since the photography standards have improved a lot. It has heavy influence of Spanish cinema which is very late development. The actor Sasi Kumar can also be found nearly in the same get up in film Nadodigal which is closely dates around 2010.The same can be said of other cast because all of them seem to be of the period around 2010.This film should have been released before the movie Pasanga, Mothi Vilayadu, Saroja because all these movie have mentioned Suramaniyapuram. So Lower limit of the films age is around 2009 . The movie also seems to have been a realistic movie.This wave was supposedly started by a movie Kadhal. So the upper limit can be kept as 2005.So the movie should have been released in some where between 2007-2008.


Similarly scholars looks for internal evidences such as language(as you know language MGR spoke in his movies are different from language we speak now…every few decades the language undergoes some change), culture(if someone is seen having an Ipod you know the film was made around around 2000AD) and mention of few historical personalities(if some film mentions MGR we for sure know that movie released after MGR was popular).

Some of the works which have been ascribed to Auvaiyar has urdu words in them!!! So this makes sure that it was not the work of Auviyar who got the nellikani from Adhiyaman!

It is extermely important that one who wants to gain some substantial knowledge should read works of scholars. Wikipedia and blogs like mine can only create an interest but true knowledge is gained only through reading book written by scholars.



  1. ” It is extremely important that one who wants to gain some substantial knowledge should read works of scholars. Wikipedia and blogs like mine can only create an interest but true knowledge is gained only through reading book written by scholars”!!

  2. Good point tabled. I wish you had taken examples of Valli’s songs being attributed to Kannadasan, or songs of other poets during that period or even earlier being attributed to Kannadasan. That could have given a literary analogy, rather than a parallel from music.
    Thanks for the post.

  3. Good Analogy! Sometimes, I have doubted how could some other language can penetrate into tamil in sangam period.. But, this gives answer! Original version MUST be pure tamil version… Thanks for this wonderful post.

  4. Congrats. Your article is agood one with full of analogies and useful thouhts but pls bear in mind that only real -i mean not spurious or so called- scholars in Tamil could venture into the realm of dating an ancient Tamil work. The task is overwhelming, gathering evidences -both external as well as internal is not an easy joke… and above all, time and money are needed and so is the impartiality. When all these are met, then we’ll have determined the correct date of a particular work.

    Let us hope for the best
    Meanwhile continue your good work!
    May it bear fruits!

  5. Thanks for creating awareness. It’s an excellent analogy indeed.

  6. Balaraman..this is not a quick fix solution…sanskrit/pakrit words may surely be prevalent in Sangam literature… as scholar said Tamil didnt grow in Isolation. Tamil had influences of pakrit and sanskrit…and also the vice versa. There are so many dravidian words in Rig veda.

  7. Sir,
    When I do say scholars I mean real scholars like George Hart,J R Marr, Kailasapathy,V S Rajam. And I developed my interest in Tamil reading solely Dr.Zvelebil’s books. Recent discussions in CTamil forum with scholars like VS Rajam, George Hart made me feel that the levels which can be reached by serious research scholar can never be reached by enthusiast!

  8. The ascription problem often arises because the lesser artists have imitated the genius. Without doubt, Gangai Amaran, Shankar Ganesh were all imitating Raja and met with varied succes. The same applies to classical literature. The Sangam poems were mostly literary adaptations or courtly versions of folk songs which were oral. In oral traditions individual authors do not exist. Each song develops as it travels from one mind to another getting enriched at each step. Authorship is a modern obsession unknown to the Sangam poets. And precise dating is Western fad that tries to rank literary pieces by antiquity. It is unfortunate that we use those models to assay timeless poetry!

  9. Dear Mr. Vairam,


    Nevertheless enthusiasts work at the minimum would keep his enthusiasm alive as well could spread the message thus makes way for potential scholars.

    Can you give me more details about the Tamil Manuscripts that were found frozen in Tibet (1000 year old manuscripts). Many thanks – Kumar.

  10. Great points, practical comparison and the analogies are really good. The fact of authors altering the original text is unavoidable, esp for a period of 2000 years and too much literature.

    I believe that there is no point in trying to “date” any Indian classics before say 1000 years. At best its all speculation. Paraphrasing Holmes “Without facts, we just keep spinning theories”. The truth is, imitation was (and is) considered seriously a form of flattery. Another parallel, in carnatic music, as recently as 100 years ago, we see the mudra “Tyagaraja” being used by other musicians, making us think it is by Tyagaraja himself. Several of Papanasam Sivan’s songs are very close to Tyagaraja’s melody. They considered this a tribute to the great saint, not as “copying”. This may be considered a form of plagiarism now in the West, but not so in India. “Imitating the Best” was probably considered a proper art-form. Knowingly are unknowingly we are all influenced by the best around us.

  11. ya wise words ,i agree fully with what you said ..once again all the best and wish you good luck for your efforts .take care

  12. Well written, good analogies and analysis.

    I am skeptical of linguists or experts dismissing some verses as interpolations or alterations, and sometimes even whole works as wrongly authored. In the absence of clear evidence of a different author, we must accept tradition attributions to a specific author. The Sadakopar anthaathi is a good example. Authors can and do vary dramatically in style, content, “quality” even in a single composition. Can we say that Kamban only composed Sundara Kaandam, because it is superior to the other “Kaandams” ? What if someone in the future says that Kannadasan author of “malarnthu malaraatha” & “ninaitthathellam nadanthuvittaal” could not have composed “ilanthai pazham” because it was not upto his “normal quality”? Could we dismiss some of Kalki’s mediocre short stories as not worthy of the author of Ponniyin Selvan?

  13. please tell me good tamil name for girl baby .its better starts kaa,sa,ka,ha.please sir i dont have unicode sw so i type in english

  14. Hi,
    Your analysis and in depth knowledge is amazing.keep up the good work.


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