Tamil literature

From Academic Kids

Tamil literature is literature in the Tamil language which most prominently includes the contributions of the "Tamil country" (or Tamizhagam) history, a large part of which constitutes the modern state of Tamil Nadu in India and some parts of Kerala, Karnataka and Andra pradesh. Because of the antiquity of the Tamil language, Tamil literature has a rich literary tradition spanning more than 2000 years and is particularly known for its poetic nature in the form of epics, and philosophical and secular works.


Ancient Literature

Box 1: Red earth and pouring rain
Your mother had no bonds with mine
your father and mine were not kin
what ways did we take that we met, and
like red earth and pouring rain
our hearts mingled in love.
This poem (verse 40 of the Kuruntokai) is in the kurińci tiṇai. The image of "red earth and pouring rain" evokes pictures of the first monsoon rains falling on the red-earthed hills typical of the Tamil lands to mingle with the dry, parched soil forming a cool, damp clay, and of the flowers blooming in the rain. The mood created is that of lovers, clandestinely meeting in the hills, their hearts waking suddenly, unexpectedly, to each other.
A second level of meaning is created by the imagery of progression. The poem opens with the possible bonds of friendship, and then kinship, between the parents. Then, it moves to bonds formed by two people learning and getting to know each other. From these abstractions, it comes to concreteness with the picture of red earth in the rain, drawing a parallel with the lover's journey from aloneness to union.
Finally, there is the image of the kurińci flower itself. Though never mentioned in the poem, it is nonetheless present as a fundamental part of a landscape of hills. A kurińci flower only blooms once in twelve years, the period associated in Tamil tradition with the coming of a girl to sexual maturity. Unspoken, but present, in the poem through the image of the flower is a sense of a woman awakening to herself and to union.

Caṅkam literature

See also: Sangam, Tolkāppiyam, Kumarikkandam

The earliest extant Tamil literature is a collection of eight anthologies of poems (the eṭṭutokai), a collection of ten long songs (the pattupāṭṭu), and a commentary on grammar, phonetics, rhetoric and poetics (the tolkāppiyam). Tamil legends hold that these were composed in three successive poetic assemblies (caṅkam, often transliterated sangam) that were held in ancient times on a now-vanished continent far to the south of India. The tolkappiyam is traditionally attributed to the second caṅkam, while the eṭṭutokai and the pattupāṭṭu are assigned to the third caṅkam. Tamil tradition holds the earliest caṅkam poetry to be over twelve millenia old. Modern linguistic scholarship places the poems between the second century BC and the third century AD.

The Tolkāppiyam classifies the poems of the eight anthologies into two, those dealing with the "interior", or akam, and those dealing with the "exterior", or puram. Akam poetry consists of very stylistic and well structured poems dealing with various aspects of love and romance. Puram poetry is more 'bardic' or 'heroic', dealing with themes such as war, bravery, heroism, glory, virtue, customs, ethics, generosity and poverty.

The Tolkāppiyam explains that poetry deals primarily with human emotions, which are incapable of complete description by verbalisation. Classical Tamil poetry, therefore, relied on delicate lyricism and vivid, but subtle, imagery, conveyed through uḷḷurai uvamam, suggestive hidden metaphors whose meaning unfolds slowly and with introspection. The metaphors are shaped to evoke memories of a landscape - with its flowers and trees - at a particular time and in a season. The metaphors of akam and puram poems were sorted into five genres, each associated with a specific landscape or tiṇai. The images associated with these landscapes - birds, beasts, flowers, gods, music, people, weather, seasons - were used to subtly convey a mood, associated with one aspect of life (see box 1). Thus, for example, the hillside provided the kurińci tiṇai in akam poetry, associated with the early stages of love - attraction and union, clandestine meetings on hilltops - and the veṭci tiṇai in puram poetry - the early stages of war, the beginning of a struggle or hardship. The atmosphere was heightened by the fact that the poems - especially akam poems - were almost never in the voice of a poet, nor were they addressed to a reader. A character connected with the relationship or the events that are the subject of the poem speaks, and the reader is never more than an interloper, an eavesdropper who overhears a part of the conversation.

The ten songs are, in comparison, more rooted in realism. Half of them are of the type called ārruppaṭai, travel songs where a bard directs other bards to a fertile, bountiful land where the king is generous. The songs contain beautiful descriptions of the hills and the valleys and the fields of the land, and the people, the animals and the trees that live there. The best known are the descriptions of the dawn in malainatu in the Malaippaṭukaṭām and the Kurińcipāṭṭu, the song of the north wind in the Neṭunalvāṭai, and the description of the ancient city of Pumpuhār, "Puhār of the blossom", in the Paṭṭinapālai.

Post-Sangam Period

The post-Sangam period witnessed the growth of Buddhism and Jainism in Southern India and reflected in the literary works of this period. Thirukkural, Silapadhigaaram and Aathichoodi were some of the major works of this period. Silapadhigaaram by Ilangovadigal tells the tale of Kannagi, Kovalan and Maadhavi. Thirukkural by Thiruvalluvar consists of 1330 couplets which discuss about various aspects of life and is widely known even today. Aathichoodi, a collection of single-line quotes was written by Avaiyar, a young poetess who became prematurely old according to folklore. The first word in each saying is based on alphabetical order.

The Dark Age

Tamil literature witnessed a temporary slump due to the Kalabrah invasion around 250 AD. Being Non-Tamil speakers, Tamil literature and art was not promoted as Jainism flourished during this period. The notable literary work of this period was "Muthollayiram", a collection of poems that describe the glory of the Chola, Chera and Pandya dynasty.

Medieval literature

The Bhakti Cult

The spread of religions like Jainism and Buddhism resulted in a new religious movement called "The Bhakti Cult" which saw the revival of Shaivism and Vaishnavism. This also resulted in the creation of huge number of literary works,primarily by the Alvars and the Nayanmars, who sung the praise of Vishnu and Shiva respectively. Periya puranaam, Divya Prabhandham,Thiruppavai, Thiruvempaavai and Dhevaaram were all written during the Bhakti cult.

The Epic Period

The emergence of the Cholas around 800 AD greatly benefitted Tamil Literature. Just as Pandyas provided a strong patronage for art and literature during the Sangam and post-Sangam period, Cholas provided a strong supporting hand to arts and literature. Kambaramayanam, considered one of the best poetic work in Tamil emerged during this period. Kambaramayanam was a version of the Ramayana by the poet Kamban (Kambar). Manimegalai, Seevaga Sindhamani, Valayaapathi and Kundalakesi (along with Silapadhigaaram, they constitute The Five Great Epics of Tamil Literature) were the most significant works of this period.

The Modern Era

The nineteenth and the twentieth century witnessed works with predominantly social themes. Prathapa Mudaliar Charithram, the first novel in Tamil was written in 1857. The greatest poet of this era was Subramanya Bharathy (better known as Bharathiar), who was also a great freedom fighter. His works are particularly stimulating in their progressive themes like feminism and freedom. Inspired by Bharathy, many poets resorted to poetry as a means of reform. Bharathidasan was one such poet whose works stand out for its "poetic richness" and revolutionary messages. Kalki Krishnamurthy, one of the most renowned and respected writers took Tamil novels to a different plane through his works - Sivagamiyin Sabhadham and Ponniyin Selvan which are both based on historical themes.Some famous contemporary writers include Pudhumaipithan, Mowni, Jayakanthan, Ashoka Mitran, Thi.Janakiraman, Ambai a.k.a C.S Lakshmi, Ku.Pa.Rajagopalan, La.Sa.Ramamrutham, Sundara Ramasamy, Sujatha, Jayamohan, S.Ramakrishnan, Sivashankari, Anuradha Ramanan.

Emerging modern Tamil women poets like Salma, Malathi Maithree, Uma Maheshwari, Sugitharani, Kutti Revathi are under controversy/fame because of their writings criticized as obscene language.

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