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Necessary Introduction to Tamil Poetry

We know of 2380 ancient poems from the Ettuttokai (Eight anthologies)

and Pattuppatu (Ten Songs).
Ettuttokai (Eight Anthologies):


Pattuppatu (Ten Songs):

1. Porunarar ruppatai
2. Cirupavarruppatai
3. Perumpatiarruppatai
4. Mullaippattu
5. Maturaikkanci
6. Netunalvatai
7. Kuricippattu
8. Pattinappalai
9. Malaipatukatam
Akam and Puram
The subject matter of poetry is divided in two main categories akam
and puram. Akam deals with love between man and woman. Puram
deals with war, heroism, etc. Three quarters of the total corpus of
classical Tamil poetry may be classified as akam.

Chronology of the Ancient Tamil (akam) Poetry

Most scholars agree that the chronology of the texts of classical Tamil
poetry and poetics is as follows:
1-3 C. A.D. The earliest corpus of akam poetry (compiled in Kur, Nar
and Ak); the old layer of TP (Chapters 1, 3, 4 and 5);
4 C. A.D. Anthologization of Kur, Nar and Ak; the oldest body of the
colophons; the composition of the poems in Ain;

5 C. A.D. Composition of the poems in Kal; the new layer of TP and its
final redaction
5-6 C. A.D. Composition of IA; the main corpus of the colophons.
8 C. A.D. Nakkirars commentary on IA


The traditional account of the Cankams (Academies) and their literary

output is given in Iraiyanar Akapporul (I A), a later work, mentions all
this literature as belonging to one or the other of the three Cankams it
speaks, of. But the modern tendency is to apply the term Cankam
Anthologies only to the following in each anthology.
ETTUTTOKAI (Eight Anthologies):
Narrinai (NT),
Kuruntokai (Kur.),
Aitikurunaru (A ink.),
Pattirruppattu (PrP),
Akanandru (AN),
and Purananaru (-PN).
Kalittokai (Kalit.) and Paripatal (Pari.) though traditionally considered
part of this anthology are now considered, as seen earlier, late in
1. Porunarar ruppatai (P A),
2. Cirupavarruppatai (CPA),
3. Perumpatiarruppatai (PP A),
4. Mullaippattu (MP),
5. Maturaikkanci (MK),
6. Netunalvatai (NNV),
7. Kuria* cippattu (KP),
8. PattinaPpalai (PP),
9. Malaipatukatam (MPK).
10.Tirumurukarruppatai (TMA) listed first in the anthology in the
traditional account is now considered to be of a relatively later date.

The internal chronologies cited places ET (excepting Kalit. and Pari.)

and Pattu. (excepting TMA) as the earliest of extant Tamil poetry. But
the position of Tolkappiyam is not indicated in either list.
Tolkappiyam (Tol.) is a grammatical workso called because of its
author, Tolkappiyar (Tol), consisting of three sections. The first one
deals with Orthography, second with Morphology and the third with
Poetics; it is the third section that is vital to our study. Tol. has always
been considered the ultimate authority on Tamil literary matters and
held as the prescriptive authority for linguistic usage and fountainhead
for literary forms. The place of Tol. in this internal chronology is a much
disputed problem.
Let us first see the composition of the section on Poetics. It has nine

Akattinai Iyal (Akat.) on Mutual Love.

Purattinai Iyal (Purat.) on Military & Non-Love Themes
Kalaviyal (Kalay.) on Secret Pre-marital Love.
Karpiyal (Karp.) on Love in Wedded State.
Poruliyal (Porul.) on More aspects of Love Situations.
Meyppattiyal (Mey.) on Physical Manifestations of

Emotions and Sentiments.

7. Uvama Iyal (Uvam.) on Similes.
8. Ceyyul Iyal (Cey.) on Prosody.
9. Marapiyal (Marap.) on Li ngustic and Literary Conventions.
Vaiyapuripillai, in his study of the author and his date' shows evidence
for his contention that Tol. was a Jaina and that the entire book belongs
to period anterior to Arthasastra and Natyasastra (NS) and therefore to
about 5th c. A. D.
Tol. consists perhaps of many layers, some of which may be later day
developments. The examples he cites of later day accretions come
from the third section of the book.
Without going into the question of unitary or composite authorship, we
have now to determine whether the third section belongs to a period
before or after that of the Cankam poems.
Chelvanayakam analysed the contents of Akat., Kalov. and Karp. in
relation to the poems of the most celebrated contemporaries of the
Catikam period, Kapilar and Paranar, and found that "many examples
could be taken from these (sections of Tol.) to show that this work could

not have been written either during or before the time of Kapilar and
Paranar unless one is prepared to believe that politically and socially
there was a decline in the early period of Tamil history. If we accept the
position that the author has recorded the literary tradition of his time,
then it cannot be placed before the time of Kapilar and Paranar for
there is enough evidence in the work to show continuity and
development in tradition from the time of Kapilar and Paranar to the
days of Tor'
In Mey. Tol. has drawn from Vatsydyana's Kamasatra, which is placed
somewhere in fourth century A.D. Commenting an the manifestations
of the sentiment 'love', Marr says, "they have a general resemblance to
the symptoms of love exhibited by a girl according to ratsydyana."
On the question of the metrical forms discussed in Tol. Chelvanayakam
says this: "Akaval and Venpa, the two basic rhythms used in early Tamil
poetry are considered to be the sources of all the other metric forms
employed in Tamil poetry. Of these two basic rhythms, Akaval was
widely used in the days of Kapilar and Paranar and no other rhythm
was used except Vaaci which developed from Akaval and which was
handled to some extent by Kapilar, Paranar and their contemporaries.
Tol. gives the various intricate and rich forms of Kali and Paripatal from
which most of the metric forms of the later period developed. It would
have taken more than one or two centuries for the various forms of Kali
to develop from Venpa which did not even exist during the time of
Kapilar and Paranar."1" It is of interest to note that whereas the earliest
poems on love are in Akaval metre, Tol. says that Kali and Paripatal are
the most suitable rhythms for that theme (Akat: 53).
The section on similes has been taken along with Mey. by Marr as
indicative of being "wholly dependent on Skt. models in the respective
fields of dramatic theory and rhetoric."'
Manuel in the course of analysing the poetic conventions of early Tamil
poetry from a standpoint of literary and aesthetic criticism says this:
"Conventions become noticeable when the poems using them have
nothing elsevigour, originality, imaginative and distinctive use of
imageryto recommend them except the conventions. It is when the
creative artist has either discarded them or is unable to make a
genuinely poetic use of them that the critic takes them up. It is in this

light we should regard the Poetics of Aristotle or Porulatikaram of

Tolkappiyar. The creative age of the Carikam poetry preceded not
followed nor was contemporoneous with Tolkappiyam."
Kailasapathy sees the section on Poetics as an attempt "to classify and
harmonize the entire bardic corpus," 'and characterises it as "a bardic
grammar, an aid to the instruction of young bards."
It could therefore said that the section on poetics belongs to a later and
not earlier period than the catikam corpus.
To these arguments may be added the fact that Tol. in his grammar was
very clearly attempting to equate many of the Tamil conventions and
traditions with Skt. concepts and that such an attempt could only be
done With a mass of fully developed and organised material. Besides,
an analysis of the.. poems would reveal that such 'equations would
have been unthinkable in the earlier Tamil social milieu. An instancecould be seen in the way he.tries to relate Skt. views on the four fold
division of caste and its maintenance in Purat. 20, in which he exclaims
that victory for every individual lies in his effort to do the utmost in the
profession of his caste. In a section on primitive military heroism this
looks very far fetched. This is also seen in the way he relates the Skt.
concept of Trivarga with Aintinai (kalav: 92).
All those who object to a late date for Tol. point out to the linguistic
features taken as current in Tol. but are not found in the Cankam
songs." Meenakshisundaran himself bases his arguments for an early
date on the linguistic features."' Those do not and cannot extend, to
the third section. Such citations as we have seen to indicate, that the
argument of "later layers" too cannot explain such fundamental
features of metre and theme. This would of course raise the -problemwhether "the first two chapters were written by- one and the third by
another at a later date and that the three were put together for
convenience at a Still later period." This problem, though important in
itself, does-not-concern us, and all that is clear is that the third section
of Tol., is certainly of a later period than the earliest Cankam works.
Thus the amended internal chronology would read as follows,
1. ET (except Kalit. and Pari.) and Pattu. (except TMA),
2. Tol.,
3. Kural, Kalit., Pail. and TMA,

4. Cil.

Thematic Analysis of Cankam Anthologies

This approach (thematic analysis) even if it cannot provide us with an
exact dating, will help to group certain texts as exhibiting tendencies of
same age. Such an analysis should start with the Catikam texts
themselves. It would help us to establish its features and contrast it
with the later texts.
Each of the ET collection is itself an anthology of poems credited to
various poets. There is an overall classification of the anthology
according to the theme of the poems, whether on love situations or on
military or non-love themes. The former is called Akam (lit. interior)
and the latter Puram (lit. exterior). AN, NT, Kur. and Aink. are on akam
themes and PN and PrP are on puram themes. The poem in the
collections belong to different ages and were presumably collated later.
The basis of the collection of the akam songs was the length of the
Aitik. 3 - 6 lines.
Kur. 4 - 8
NT 9 - 12
AN 13 - 31
Puram songs do not have such a grouping. PrP is exclusively on Cera
Kings but PN contains, poems on the kings of all the three dynasties
and on chieftains and individual heroes. It is of interest to note that
tradition preserves the names of the compiler and of the patron of each
of akam anthologies and that the puram anthologies do not have such
names. On the basis of the information given about the king and the
compiler of each collection and other factors like synchronisms, efforts
have been made to place the works in the order of their collection and
this chronological order as other matters relating to dates do, varies
from scholar to scholar.
The poems in Pattu. are longer in length. Unlike the ET poems these are
individual poems sung on a particular theme; either love or praise. The
names of the poets and patrons enable us to prepare a chronological
chart of these poems too. The application of akam puram criterion,

though possible, may not be helpful to ascertain the exact nature of

the poems. PP though classified by Nac. as akam poem is really a
praise that uses a love motif. It is generally accepted that these poems
were collated much later. IA does not mention these works in its list of
Cankam works. Marr challenges the inclusion of Pattu. among Cankam
works. The only reason for considering it as a work of the Cankam
would seem to be the fact that most of the patrons of the Pattu. and
some of its poets figure in eight anthologies. It may be observed,
however, that inclusion of Pattu. among Catikam works is no more
sanctioned by tradition as embodied in IA commentary than is the
inclusion of the epics or the minor works.
The question of the admissibility of Pattu. need not deter us from using
them as evidence for social, economic and political conditions.
Accepted contemporaneity of kings and poets mentioned in ET and
Pattu. is enough argument for our use. Yet this question reveals to us
another dimension of the poetic art of the age.
Because of their importance in the historical and literary traditions of
Tamilnad, the history and linguistic characteristics of these poems have
been well studied. Even though it has been held that "no other part of
India can be said to provide such sober and realistic pictures of
contemporary life and politics as these early Tamil classics furnish, the
exact nature of these poems in terms of composition and character
was not established fully. Kailasapathy, in his Tamil Heroic Poetry, by an
application of the comparative method has shown that the poems
belong to the heroic age and that they reveal all the characteristics of
Heroic Poetry.
The term 'Heroic' implies many things. It reveals that they are oral in
composition with repetitive formulae and improvisation and
substitution; that in the treatment of theme there is a well defined
pattern; functionally such an age "fosters a whole generation which is
usually equipped by nature for war and finds its, satisfaction and
rewards in it; that its arises out of a society which is characterised by
"an economic and social upheaval marked by the accumulation of
wealth in the hands of an energetic military caste, which torn by
internecine conflicts of succession and inheritance, breaks loose from
its tribal bonds into a career of violent, self assertive individualisma

career as brief as it is brilliant, because their gains have been won by

the sword and not by any development of the productive force."
The literary and the historical background of the poems are thus fairly
clear: But a detailed internal analysis is essential to know and
understand and peculiarities of the poems and their manner of
revealing the poets' intentions.

Nature of Akam and Puram Poetry

The significant characteristic of akam and puram division has already
been noticed. Both akam and puram poems reveal that they have been
composed within the bounds of a well established tradition. The
conventional character of the akam poems, which are the expressions
of persons in love or those associated with them, is best seen in the
tradition which has preserved the names of the poets.
Secondly the situations which the poems express are 'stock' ones; they
could easily be grouped.
Thirdly, they have been used as vehicles to express the power and
prowess of the patrons. Some of the poems have long and elaborate
descriptions that, though they are on akam theme, the aim of the poet
was only to praise the achievements of their patrons and that the
theme of love served as formula or means to serve this purpose.
Puram poems too reveal such conventions. Guiding a needy minstrel
(PN: 68-70, 138-141, 155, 180 etc.), pleading with the victorious
monarch to heed to the suffering of the vanquished (PN: 2, 3, 5 etc.)
are puram motifs.
But here an important observation has to be made. Content analyses of
the poems have been made by the commentators by applying the rules
prescribed by Tol. The influence of Tol. both on the collation and on the
explanations given by the commentators has been very great.
Meenakshisundaran who assigns. Tol. to a pre-Carikam date himself
admits that 'the theory of Poetry adjumberated in his (Tols) work
implies the very kind of anthology, based on something like the
Cankam tradition. Vaiyapuripillai holds that "the collections were all
made after the first grammatical treatises were written or at least
grammatical speculations had crystallised into conventional terms. Tol.
frequently adopts the views of earlier authors, some of whom may

have lived before some of the poets represented in the collection, and
long before the time of the compilers of the collections themselves."
Therefore, to know the true extent to which the conventions are
followed, an examination of the texts becomes obligatory.
AN has many poems which make full and conscious political use of
akam situations, as for instance, 15, 55, 57, 65, 78, 83, 105, 122, 142,
143, 145, 208, 209, 211, 216, 217, 353, 356, and 359. Kailasapathy
counts the total number of allusions to royal patrons in AN as 288. AN
also reveals a consciousness of the poetic convention in which certain
love activities are associated with certain ecological regions (216). This
feature is seen in CPA, MP and NNV. Compared with Kur. and NT the
chief feature of AN is that it has detailed description of the physical
background to the love situation. Certain references in AN fully
illustrate that Kalavu (premarital love) was more a poetic convention
than a contemporary reality (150, 158, 221). Those poems which are
classified as `Hero speaking to his heart' too shows the conventional
Kur. forms in general a contrast to AN. It contains poems of 4-8 lines;
thus direct political allusions are much less. Yet there are 27 allusions
to royal persons. There is an absence of detailed description of the
physical background. The songs become intelligible only when the
context is well defined and without that they could be obscure (Kur.:
48, 187, 230, 255).
NT, by virtue of the number of lines (9-12), falls between AN and Kur.
The songs do not give an elaborate background. It has 59 political
The size of the poems and their corresponding crispness should not be
taken as evidence for any theory of development, because we find
many of the poets finding places in two or all the collections e.g.,
Ammavanar, Orampokiyar, Kapilar, Kayamandr, Kallatanar, Kutavdyir
Kirattanar, Kovar Kila, Ciraikuti Antaiyar, Nakkannaiya, Nakkirar,
Paranar, Palai Paiya Perunkatunko, Perunkunrar Kira, Mandlandr etc.
Aink. differs from the other three anthologies. It contains five different
sections of 100 stanzas each; each of the five sections deal with the
love activity of each of the five ecological regions. Each section has ten

decades of ten poems each; each decade deals with a particular theme
or has some underlying unity like the refrain. Tradition has it that each
section was composed by different poets and the anthology was
collated later. The conventional character and treatment of the theme
is amply seen and also a trend towards a schematic organisation of the
convention is noticeable. The basic feature of the other collections, viz.,
that the poems are utterances of one character is not seen in this
anthology. Of the ten in Tolikkuraittappattu (Decade on Telling the
Companion) six are utterances of the heroine, four of the harlot. In
Pulavippattu (Decade on Love Feud) seven are of the heroine, three by
the Tali. Puoalattuppattu and Erumaippattu contain utterances of the
harlot, the lover, and the companion. The consciousness of convention
is also discernible in bringing under each Tinai (the love activity of each
region) ideas which could only be brought in by grammatical
technicalities e.g., 366, 379, 367, 369. In such decades as
Marvaruvuppattu and Puravanippattu, we could see the stanzas being
extended merely for conventional necessity. Some of the decades get
their titles from the refrainsAnnaippattu, Ammavalippattu,
Teyyoppattu. The differences between Aink. and other anthologies were
so marked that Marr was prompted to suggest that Aink. was compiled
by a school of writers different from those who figure in PN. or that it is
a work of later period. It should be observed that the way the people of
the hilly region are mentioned in Kunrakkuravaapattu, it is clear they
belong to a different social milieu.
If the argument that there is no linguistic difference between Aink. and
other anthologies is to be accepted, it should necessarily follow that
the period indicates trends towards changes in the poetic tradition.
This is strengthened by the way the akam motif is handled in PP. PP
praises Karikalan. Instead of directly doing so, the poet imagines a
situation in which a husband 'tells to his heart' that he would not leave
the cool embraces of his wife to go into the hot and cruel forest, even
for all the riches. Karikalan's benign rule is brought as a simile to the
'coolness' of the shoulders; his valour and victory over enemies to the
hot, arid forest; and the great wealth of Pukar as an index of the
amount of wealth that he could earn. Lines 1-218 describe Pukar, 218220 constitute the statement of the husband, 220-299, describe the
valour of Karikalan and 299-301 conclude the akam motif.

This reveals also the preference of the akam theme to the direct bardic
eulogy. An examination of the number of poems credited to the better

poets of the period

reveals this truth.

Kuivur Kilar
Falai Patiya Perunkattiiiko



Manickam observes that "of the two great divisions Akattinai and
Purattipai in Tamil, the former enjoyed a high position, as it offered
immense scope for 'the display of one's intellect and fancy."
If the popularity of the akam theme is indicative of its importance in
the poetic traditions, its basic characteristic viz., that it is an 'utterance'
of a character, is explained and analysed in such a manner as to make
it absolutely important for the student of ancient Tamil drama.
Referring to akam poems Meille said:
"In the presence of theatrical qualities of this sort of isolated
talks, we cannot help raising the question of the theatre. We
know through ancient commentaries that performances were
given which brought into play the triad speech, music and
dance. We can ask ourselves whether compositions of this sort
were not either preparatory exercises or imitations of the theatrical' works of which we have no trace."
Commenting on the tradition of the 'isolated or occasional verse' seen
in Cankam literature Meenakshisundaran said "these verses are all
dramatic monologues." He suggests that it was this concept of poetic
situations, which stood in the way of the development of literary
drama. He says, "It is to be noted that the dances described in the
Cankam Age or rather in CiL represent only isolated poses rather than
a connected story or event. This is probably the reason why we do not
have any drama or epic in that age at least in learned literature though
it is not possible to say anything about the folk-songs or folk-stories of

those times." Earlier in his essay on "The Theory of Poetry in

Tolkappiyam" he said:
"There is no drama in that age; there are the actors, Porunars
and the dancers; and the Cankam poems speak of Puranic or
mythological scenes painted on the walls. Their folk dramas,
however, have not developed any literary form. Dramatic
moments and verses do not add upto drama. That is why there is
not a single drama coming from any Cankam poet. It may be
that their theory of poetry stood in their way of handling the folk
dramas in a poetic way."
Varadarasan in his "Treatment of Nature in Sangam Poetry" made this
"The poems classified as akam or dealing with love in Cankam
literature constitute dramatic poetry, since they present actions
objectively in the words, through the emotional experiences, of the
interlocutors, the hero, the heroine, the lady companion and others."
These comments impose the necessity to go into the concept of akam
and puram poetry and examine whether it has anything to do with
The word akam means, "inside, house, place, agricultural tract, breast,
mind" (DED: 8); puram means, "outside, exterior, that which is foreign,
aspersion, calumny" (DED: 3554). The terms used in the
schematization of Tol. are akattinai and purattinai. He does not define
akam and tinai, but uses them singly and in compound form. He speaks
of what constitutes akattinai, who are to be treated in it, etc., but never
defines them. For a definition, we have to turn to the glossators.
Ilamptiranar (Ilam.) of c. 9th C., A.D., explained it thus:
"What constitutes the akam theme is the experience of pleasure.
Since the effect of that experience is known only to it (the
heart), he (Tol.) called it Akam. That which constitutes puram
relates to acts of bravery and of merit. Since the effects of these
could be known by others, it is called puram."
Nac. (c. 16 th C. A.D.) defines akam as follows:

"The great happiness that arises in the union of a male and

female of equal love, and realised by them after separation
(from each other) 'could only be 'felt' by them and not described.
Akam is so called because that happiness is always felt, realised,
and cherished in their hearts. Pleasures beside this, could be
expressed by all, even if they are not of equal love; these other
pleasures could also be expressed to others. Therefore, these
are called puram, those of the exterior."95
Because of the uniqueness of akam poetry, the term `Tamil' itself was
used to denote it. The commentator of IA on the question of the theme
of the work says, "It speaks of Tamil," meaning thereby that it deals
with akattinai."
But these are not true explanations; these are just cleverly formulated
prescriptive expositions. Filliozat points to the danger of accepting the
explanations given by the commentators as true meanings of the
terms. "The interpretation given by the commentaries although
adopted in modern dictionaries and even before them in Nikantus do
not always give the real significances of the words. The commentator
does not always aim at giving the precise equivalent of the sense of
the word as it must have been current at the time of the composition of
the text. He often indicates the idea evoked by the word in that
particular context where it is found, and which itself depends on the
context (not to mention the spirit of the whole poem), as much as and
sometimes more than on the primary and the ordinary meaning of the
word in question." Manuel explains this feature of the commentators as
follows. "It must be said that the commentators of Tol. had only an
imperfect understanding of the origin, nature, and function of poetic
conventions. They tried to explain their use not on artistic ground or by
reference to the theory of art underlying their use but on grounds of
reason and logic.""
Let us turn to the important modern explanations of the Tinai concept
Meenakshisundaran says this:
"Akam and puram, the interior and the exterior, are two aspects of life
like the two sides of a coin. Akam is love, the secret of life, the
fundamental inner principle. Akam poetry is the poetry of noumenon,
the poetry of inner inspiration of love, something to be felt and realised

but only to be hinted at those who have had similar experiences...

akam expresses not ' something to be dated with reference to any
particular person. It is something universal, common to all men and
thus seen and revealed in the ideal situations of a man... Puram is the
outer aspect of this life of love. Puram is the poetry of phenomenon,
the life of heroism, the life of self sacrifice, the life of munificence, the
life of glory, the life of simplicity and also the tragedy of life from birth
to death, all inspire by love. This can be described..."
Manickam, in the work mentioned, says "the fundamental human
element on which Akattinai is based is love. By `love', I mean 'sexual
It is rather comforting to see Manickam accepting in unmistakeable
terms what the commentators and Meenakshisundaran were fighting
shy of to admit and were wrapping up in ideological abstractions. In
analysing the origins of this concept Manickam comes to the conclusion
that "the motive for creating a special literature with love as its theme
by the Tamil genius was to educate both sexes in the art of love." Here
we are slipping again into another type of idealism which cannot, as we
shall soon see, be associated with the origins of poetry.
We shall, therefore, have to return to the literary corpus and determine
the features of those poems.
The important feature of akam songs is that they express the emotions
of a person in love or someone 'associated with the affair. It is the
character who 'utters'. Commentators have categorised the poems as
"utterances" kurru (DED: 1600). Tol. in Akat., Purat., Kalav., and Karp.
prescribes in detail who should utter what, when and where. Cut. 1-6 in
Porul. should be taken as an effort to categorise these, though not
These utterances are not conversations or dialogues. The dialogues
seen in Kalit. should not be taken here because Kalit. is a later
anthology. The utterances can imply a question from somebody or
could be to 'inform' 'someone of something, but the utterance of the
other person never comes into the poem, making it a dialogue. Thus
none of the earliest akam poems are dialogues or conversations.

The way these utterances are expressed is also of great importance.

Those utterances which embody a wish, or a request or an information
do not openly tell that. It is expressed in an 'inlaid simile' i.e., the
descriptions made of the ecology of the region, by association of ideas
reveal the desire of the person who makes the utterance. This feature
is called Ullurai Uvamam (lit. the in-lying simile). For example, the
desire for marriage without postponement has been expressed in the
following manner
To the companion, who is telling her that the lover (hero) after all is
only going to earn wealth for their marriage and therefore she should
consent to his departure the heroine says:
"Not that I do not agree with him. I do. Yet, I shall not, for one reason
agree with him who comes from the country where, stampeded by
elephants, venkai trees lie low enough to enable maidens of the hill to
pluck their flowers, just by standing." (Kur.: 208).
Weddings are usually held during the flowering season of the venkai
(Pterocarptis) tree. By saying that the maidens could pluck the venkai
flowers just by standing, she implies that there is every chance of some
other girl getting (married to) him, without much effort.
Ullurai is a feature seen mostly in the utterances of the heroine and her
companion when they refer to the necessity of an early marriage, to
gossip etc. Thus the utterance made to one another can be very
obscure and enigmatic. There is also an allied, form of implied speech
called Iraicci (Porul.: 35, 36).
Another important feature is that the personal names of the characters
should not be mentioned (Akat.: 54, 55). They could be referred to by
the region whence they come but never by their personal names.
Personal names are mentioned only in puram poetry (Purat.: 1).
Another feature of these verses, 'concentration' on theme with
economy of words and precision, is seen better in relation to the poetry
of later ages.
With the featured thus delineated, let us see to what extent are these
dramatic monologues; and whether they provide an insight into the
theatrical activities of the time.

Such an analysis should start with the question, whether the

'situations' were considered 'dramatic or the 'utterances', `monologic'
by the poets of the age. Characterising a situation or an event or a
feature as dramatic does not make it part of drama. If we are to prove
that it was dramatic in the sense it was part of a drama, we must prove
that the utterance was conceived as something integral to an 'action'
or an enactment.
The prescriptive theory which Tol. postulates for akam poetry reveals
that it was not conceived as drama. Drama implies not just utterances
but utterances in a sequence leading to or relating to some definite
event or happening; the characters are identified by names. Even in
the most repetitive of themes and motifs there is difference in the
names of characters. In the entire akam poetry we do not have any
evidence to show that there had been involvement of named
characters leading to or relating to some action. The idea of treating
the entire love experience from premarital affair to wedded life or
describing the different activities in the premarital state itself (from
falling in love to getting married) is a feature seen in the later Kavais
and Malais. Such treatment was the result of grammatical codification.
It could sometimes be said that KP might form an example. It is no
doubt an imaginary recounting of the different 'situations' in the kalavu
theme, but it should be remembered that it is not a tabulation of the
episodes. It is in the form of an utterance of the Toll made to the Cevili
(nurse/matron). There is no episodic treatment of the different love
situations. Tog tells Cevili of the condition of the girl and what led to it.
This is in perfect harmony with other akam poems. Therefore it cannot
be held that it is dramatic in the sense they are part of one drama. It
may reveal a quality which reminds us of drama. But that is something
Kur. 31, taken as the song of Atimanti, who was searching for her
husband lost Kaviri floods, is no dialogue at all; it is a plaintive cry of a
But there is one association made of akam poetry with drama and that
is by Tol himself. In the course of defining poetic conventions of akam
and the metre to be employed in such poems, he says (Akat: 53):
nataka valakkinum ulakiyal vajakkiniim

patal canra pulaneri valakkam

kaliye paripattu ayiru parikinum
uriyatakum enmanar pulavar
"Learned men say that the poetic usage (of akam), that is based on
dramatic usage and real-life usage, belongs to the metres kali. and
Here Tol. explains how poetic usage or convention emerges. According
to him it arises out of dramatic (theatrical?) convention and events in
real life. What does the term Nataka valakkudramatic convention
mean here? I have explained it as the convention of composing (or
stringing) together all things of interest as though they had occurred in
one place. Nac. takes Nataka to mean fictitious. Vaiyapuripillai, on the
assumption that Tol. uses these terms Nataka valakku and Ulakiyal
valakku as translations of hatyadharmi (conventional practice) and
lokadharmi (realistic practice) of Bharata (NS: XIV :61-177), interprets
them as 'art and reality.10 2 Whether Tol. meant the theatrical
convention or not shall engage our attention later. What is clear here is
that poetic usagepulanen valakkuis different from both Nataka
valakku and Ulakiyal valakku. It may draw from the conventions to
drama; but it is not drama itself. Tol's definition makes it clear that
theatrical convention, day to day events and poetic conventions,
though related to each other are different things. Thus in the opinion of
Tol. akam poems are not monologues in a drama but creations of poetic
What could be said with some degree of certainty about akam poems,
may be said of puram poems too only after a full discussion of the
character of certain poem found in PN.
There are in PN certain verses which look like extracts from longer
poems .(PN: 45, 63, 74, 223, 43, 113, 236, 151). Narayanan who
collected these found that most of the pieces of the collection are
extracts from one long poem or another dealing with the following
among other topics.
1. An internecine struggle between Kopperuncolan and his sons
culminating in the king's vatakkiruttal along with his friends and
2. Another internecine'struggle between Netufikilli on one side and
Nalankilli and his brother Mavalattan' on the other.


The war which ended with the .battle of TalaiRlarikanam.

Colan Cenkanan's war. with the , C8ra king.
Pdri and his daughters and Kapilar,
Perunarkilli's war with the successful performance by him of the

7. Kumanan.
He suggested that "in those early days drama has not developed into a
distinct literary form; in Nataka-Kuttu (dramatic performances) the
speeches of the characters were extracted from narrative poems or
epics and recited by the actors, who assumed the garb of those
characters to the accompaniment of music and dance. And the poets
wrote narrative poetry probably with an eye to the dialogues being
used for such dramatic representation." He felt that the available
extracts from tonmai works are sufcient evidence of the dramatic
quality....' and as further evidence of long narrative poems which would
have been used as texts for such enactments he indicated the
possibility of the longer poems, and cited the PN poems as example.
Kailasapathy's work enables us to see the whole question in proper
perspective. He discusses the question of the existence of long
narrative poems raised by Narayanan and says that "the comments of
Per. and Nac, not only indicate the prevalence of long narrative poems
in the early period but also throw some light on the nature of such
poems, which from the context seem to have been epic -in character....
That some at least of the poems in PN might have been culled from
worU now lost has also been suggested by Vaiyapuripillai. The
suggestion of Narayanan receives additional support from the fact that
early bardic poems were in fact composed on the basis of themes."10
Now the question arises why these longer narratives were sliced into
monologic pieces. The theory of puram poetry formulated by Tol. does
not differ much from the one he prescribed for akam poetry. In
Purattinai Iyal he gives in detail the different types of military
campaigns and prescribes for each of them certain poetic themes.
Purapporul Venpamdlai (PPVM), a work of 7th C., reveals that such a
tradition existed and that there were variations to the categorisation
made by Tol. In these circumstances "it is more than probable that from
these earlier bardic corpora the Catikam scholars selected a certain
number of poems illustrating a variety of themes and arranged them in
the form of anthologies."'

Narayanan seems to be the forerunner to Else who thinks that Homeric

recitations were the model for tragedy writers. The arguments that had
.been used in Else's case are valid here too. From what source did the
actors get the tradition of assuming the garb of characters? Were these
modelled on some other performance? In the Greek case, Else argues
that it was the adoption of the Homeric recitation that gave rise to
drama. In the Tamil case, Narayanan argues that the text itself was
acted. If heroic poetry is oral how is this possible? The poet could
himself recite. He has not become a writer of plays.
If the poets had anything to do with such 'acting', tradition would have
mentioned at least something of it. We do not have any such traditions
about any of the poets mentioned in those PN songs or even of those
Tonmai authors. A break in the continuity of traditions which
characterises the history of Greek drama is not fortunately seen in the
Tamil case. In spite of the process of Sanskritization, which in itself has
only given new myths and functions to pre-Sanskritic institutions, there
are yet surviving folk traditions in Tamilnad which reveal the tradition
of narrating long epic poems to the delight of rural audiences. The art
of Villuppattu (Bow song) is a very popular one. In this a troupe of
artistes led by the chief vocalist who plays on the villu (bow) sing the
glories of a temple or a hero. "The texts of the songs are simple and
flowing and are invariably in ballad style." Anyone who has witnessed a
performance of Villuppattu would know how, in the course of narration,
the chief vocalist declaims the dialogues of the different characters of
the ballad with great theatrical force. For all that Villuppattu is not
krittu (drama). We have also the Katakalaksepam tradition in which the
performer narrates a religious story. A Classical scholar watching
katakalaksepam performances would be reminded of Plato's Ion.
Comparative studies of Heroic Poetry has brought to light many singers
of tales. Bards narrating an epic story is an art by itself and should not
be confused with drama.
Thus Narayanan's argument that some of the puram songs should be
part of a drama cannot be accepted.
The discussion of both akam and puram poems show that this
character of the poems, described as 'dramatic', arises more from the
underlying theory of poetry than from its connections with drama.

Mere rejection of the characterisation is not enough. For a fuller

understanding of the nature of the poems and thus indirectly for some
light on what Tamil drama was probably not, we should inquire into the
true nature of akam poems which seem to have provided Tol. the basis
of typologising all poetry.
Akat. cu 3 gives a content analysis of akam poetry.
Mutal karu uripporul enra miinre
nuvalwi kalai mural eirantanave
patalut payinravai natuti kalai
"When one analyses the content of the songs, [one could see that]
Mutalporul (primary matter), Karupporul (that which is germane to it)
and Uripporul (that which belongs to it) are the three [that constitute
the contents]. In composition the second is considered more important
than the first and third more important she second.,"
According to this, the three features of akam poetry, in ascending order
of importance are Mutalporul, Karupporul and Uripporul. These are
explained as follows:
Mutalporul Land (the geographical unit whether hill, pastureland,
littoral or arable land) and Time (season of the year and hour of the
day or night).
Karupporul refers to those objects of the-region that relate to the
religious, economic and social life of the region like deity, food, flora
and fauna etc.
Uripporul is that particular love activitywhich is considered as
'belonging' to that region, like 'union and copulation and conditions
that enable it as belonging to hilly district, wife patiently waiting and
conditions that enable it as belonging to pastoral area, etc.
This explanation of the components of a poem reveals that the basis of
this theory of Poetry indicates a stage when human life was determined
and controlled by nature. It does not depict a situation where human
ability has a control over Nature's forces.
There is a tendancy among Tamil scholars to treat this relationship of
Nature and Poetry as the one that could be seen in the poems of
Wordsworth and Tennyson and even Goldsmith. As Manuel observes
"those who feel the need to establish the world stature of our poets

could more effectively do it by focussing attention on the real afnities,

not between Cankam poets and Western Romantic poets, but between
the Cankam and Western poets who have written in the classical
Even a cursory glance of the history of the pre-Tol. period of Tamilnad
will show that the social conditions of the age were generally 'primitive'
in character. In that milieu Nature was not something which the
uprooted, urbanised man turns to and idealises, but one which
determined every aspect of human existence like economic pursuit,
religious belief, and social organisation. Though Tol. takes, Mutal, Karu
and Uri in an ascending order of importance it also shows that uri was
rooted in karu and the karu in mutal i.e. the emotional experience and
sex activity were rooted in the social, religious and economic
organisation of the region, which in turn was decided by the primacy of
ecology. It is no doubt true that in the period of Tol., the stage has
come when there could be a Tinai mayakkam (an activity peculiar to a
region taking place in another region) (Akat: 12). This reveals the
inevitable social development. What is important to note is that this
development was not considered that much significant to upset the
basis of the theory.
We must now see the character of poetry that could arise in such a
social condition.
Bowra in his Primitive Song has analysed the origins and development
of songs. He shows how "Primitive song, which is born from an
elemental dramatic rite is (at its original level) a communal activity." It
is largely choral in character and in that collective stage "there is no
question of song being confined to a clique or a class; for such do not
exist and the performers and the audience represent both more and
less than themselves more because they speak confidently for their
social unit; less because they merge their private, individual feelings
into a 'general mood which they share with other.
The choral song, soon develops into a solo song or song of the
individual. Bowra explains it thus,
"Choral song develops its own characteristics just because it is sung by
a company and has to be adapted to suit it its members' capacities and

requirements. The same is not true of solo song, which is hardly less
common among primitive peoples. Such songs come into existence
when someone, moved by sudden inspiration, bursts into a song, or
when an occasion, which is essentially personal, calls for an individual
interpretation. They cover a wide range and include almost any subject
which excites the emotions and calls for an outlet in musical words.,
They deal with the more intimate matters of family life, with affections
and hatreds, with casting spells and breaking them, with instructions to
children and cautionary tales, with all the accidents and incidents
which primitive man, and primitive woman meet in their daily struggle.
They too have their full share of formulaic phrases, but unlike choral
songs, they have much less formality.
This brings us to a stage close to the one postulated in Tol.'s Theory.
Bowra then proceeds to discuss sacred and secular songs. In discussing
the manner and method of the composition of secular song (for sacred
ones have to be ritually repetitive) he says this :
"Since primitive song sets to work in this way and rises from a
compelling urgency, it maintains the individual qualities of a single
occasion. Like Croce, and unlike Aristotle the song-man composes as if
poetry were concerned not with the universal but with the particular.
He lacks general ideas and even generalized experience. His concern is
to catch the unique air of a situation and to show precisely what it is.
This is to be expected in peoples whose attention seldom reaches
beyond the immediate moment or the thought of something just done
or about to be done. Though this is forced upon them by having to live
from hand to mouth, it brings compensation in their songs which. have
the freshness of something newly and vividly apprehended. Though
their range, if we view it abstractedly, is necessarily very limited, this
does not matter since what counts is the particular presentation of
particular sensations, and for this reason singers display their
originality by their unexpected angles of approach or moments of
vision ."
In this we could see the archetype of the situational character and of
the economy and precision which have become very stylized features
in early Tamil literature.

The basic characteristics of the primitive social order which was shaped
and determined by the ecological and environmental factors is given by
Thomson as follows:
"It would be a mistake to say that the natural order was modelled on
the social order, because that implies some degree of conscious
differentiation between the two. Nature and society were one. There
was no society apart from nature and nature was only known to the
extent that it had been drawn into the orbit of social relations through
the labour of production."
This reveals to us the relationship between the social and economic
organisation in that stage of development.
This absence of differentiation between nature and society is,
according to Bowra, the explanation of another important characteristic
of the primitive song.
"Primitive man hardly ever sings of nature simply from delight in its
own sake. He does not need it as a relief from strain of urban routine,
nor does he find it a haven for battered nerves. It is always around him,
ineluctable and insistent. So, when he sings of it, there is no need for
him to make an apology or introduction, and he can go straight to
whatever point is his immediate concern. In most of his songs he implies an ulterior purpose or assumption which is so well known to him
and his audience that it is a waste of breath to state it explicity, and
yet it may provide his central point. He may well find an incidental
pleasure in the aspect of nature and pay tributes to it, but these
tributes are informed by other considerations which it suggests or
illustrates. This gives a striking depth to his songs of it. Superficially
they may do no more than portray a visible scene, but we must always
suspect that in fact they do more than this and cherish some latent
intention. This in no way interferes with their skill in evoking natural
sight; indeed just because the singer has something, purposeful in his
mind, he takes care with his word and allows his sense to work at full
This brings us straight to Ullurai' and Iraicci' mentioned in Tol. Bowra
clearly illustrates how the description of nature itself can have an
'inlaid' latent intention. In this connection it is important to note that

Tol. mentions Ulturai uvamam in Akat. and Porul. and does not discuss
them in Uvamai Iyal the section on similes. Commentators have
argued a lot about this. In the light of the above discussion it could be
said that in the opinion of Tol., and very rightly so, this manner of
handling an 'inlaid imagery' is confined only to those themes which
depict nature-ordered life and not to those which order nature.
Tol.'s classification of Ullurai quite clearly shows the similarity it bears
to what Bowra says (Porul: 229-30 and 242-44).
This leaves us in a situation in which we see Ancient Tamil poetry
having unmistakeable afnities with features seen in the early stages
in the development of poetry as an art. That is, in other words, it has
afnities with that type of poetry which could rise in the tribal stage of
social development. The similarity akam poems have with love poems
of Todas, the tribe from the Nilgiris, will demonstrate the validity of this
argument. We have already seen, that akam poetry is characterised by
the absence of personal names, the purposive obscurity in meaning,
and the occasional or situational the character of the 'utterance'. Let us
see what Emaneau says of Toda love poetry:
However, even though the external observer will find that all Toda
singing is an exercise in the enigmatic, the Todas themselves recognise
a sub-class of poems as being particularly enigmatic. These are the
love songs. The occasions of these are, in general not a matter of
public knowledge, the persons not identified even by their clan
membership and in the outcome no one but the composer, his or her
beloved, and perhaps their most intimate friends who assist in
furthering the affair, know what it is all, about. These songs are indentified by a pair of song units... as "riddling words."
The real identity of the akam poems is now slowly emerging. Those
characteristics of akam poetry which reveal its primitive character and
the similarity it has with the oral poetry of the Todas, clearly establish it
as a 'folic' idiom of the region. This view is strengthened by an
observation made by Basham. Commenting on Saptasataka of Hala, a
large-collection of self-contained stanzas of `charm and beauty in the
Arya meter,' he says,

"they are notable for their conciseness; like Amaru, their authors
were able to suggest a whole story in four short lines. This great
economy of words and masterly use of suggestion would
indicate that the verses were written for a highly educated
literary audience; but they contain simple, and natural
descriptions and references to the lives of peasants and lower
classes, which point to popular influence. The treatment of the
love affairs of the country folk reminds us of early Tamil poetry
and suggests that may have tapped a widely diffused source in
South Indian folksong.
It could, therefore, be held with reasonable certainty that the origins of
akam poetry lie in the primitive songs of ancient South India and the
evidences for the antiquity and the continuity of it are seen in Hala's
Saptasataka and Toda oral poetry.
In this connection it is relevant to note Alexander Krappe's
categorisations of folksongs. "The oldest genre is unquestionably the
love song which, as is well known is not peculiar to man but is shared
with higher animals. With the communal life well developed but natural
that certain patterns should arise which would in turn dominate this
type of, song so as to create certain very definite subtypes. The
subtypes he gives are, song of the night visit, farewell song of the lover
at dawn, pastourelle. The subdivisions he gives are applicable only to
European folksongs, yet the category of the song of night visit is an
important one in Tamil akam songs.
More remarkable is the continuity of some of the features of akam
poetry in Tamil folksongs on love theme, even today. As in akam
tradition, the folksongs on love theme do not mention names at all and
the inlaid imagery is very conspicuously seen. Kandiah, in his
Mattakkalapputtamilakam has shown how the folksongs of Batticalo in
Eastern Sri Lanka, reveal akam characteristics and how they fit into the
categorisations of love songs made by grammarians. Ullurai is clearly
noticeable in the second song Kandiah cites as an example for 'fixing
the place of meeting.'
Katappatiyil vantuninpu kalai kanaikkurnenral
etikiiuntapiiturn neiku eluntuvara mattata.

Would not the young cow come there, from wherever it was
Were the steer 'made noise' at the passage point.
It is interesting to note that even the idealistic interpretations of
Cankam poetry could not avoid noticing the similarity it has with folk
poetry. Meenakshisundaran, said this in his paper on Theory of Cankam
Poetry: "the folk songs and proverbs of an age, with their authors
unknown, form a unity as the very expression of the national
personality and the language. Cankam poetry, though too cultured to
be called folksong, consciously creates this universal personality and
that is why it has been classified as a separate group in Tamil literature
the really great national poetry, not in the sense of national popularity
but in the sense of being the voice of the nation of its origion.
Relationship to folk poetry reveals the vitality of the poetic tradition.
The popularity of this poetry with the poets of the Cankam age shows
that this was taken over as a literary genre. Such literary use of
folksong is seen in the use Manikkavacakar made of Ammanai, Calal,
and Vallaippattu and the use of Pallu and Kuram by the poets of the
16th-17th centuries.
This explanation of the origins of akam poetry raises the possibility that
akam and puram songs could have been considered two separate
poetic genres -- akam would have been based on the traditional love
motif and puram constituting the typical bardic poetry of praise. We
should recall here how akam theme had already become a poetic
convention. Both puram and akam anthologies give us enough
evidence to believe that political marriages and marriages arranged by
relatives were the order of the day (PN: 336-43; AN: 221: Kur: 351: NT:
165, 235, 375, 386, 393). The absence of any information, relating to
the compilation of puram songs but the mention of it for akam songs
may possibly indicate a consciousness of the contemporary poetic
value of akam theme.
In spite of the stylized conventions, akam poems throw much light on
the social life of the period. The most important part of such
information is the light it throws on the journey husbands made to earn
wealth. Porulvayirpirivu (Separation for earning) is an important aspect
of akam poetry (AN: 3, 21, 23, 27, 29, 43, 51, 53, 57, 59, 69, 83, 91,
93, etc.; Kur.: 6, 11, 63, 76, 94, 104, 135, 137, 173, 180, etc.; NT: 16,

24, 46, 69, 71, 86, 103, 126, 130, 148, 164, 189, 212, etc.). The
significance of this in relation to the economic history of the period has
not yet been inquired into.
Akam songs reveal that in the agrarian regions marriages were
patrilocal (Kur.: 354-379). They also reveal the role of Panars as
procurers (AN: 50, 244; Kur.: 85, 127, 359; NT: 127, 150, 167, 250 etc.).
Puram songs depict him as a respected bard.
An examination of the term akam and puram in the Cankam texts and
Tol. should enable us to learn what this concept meant to the poets of
the period.
In Tol., Col. the terms akam and puram are given as sufxes indicating
the locative case the seventh one (Col.21).
The term akam comes as a locative post-position in many places in
literature. Usages like, vitarakam, cilampakam, varaippakam are seen
in all texts (e.g., PN: 190:8,198:12; AN: 8:12, 63:12,89:4, 218:12; NT:
16:7, 134:3, 318:8; Kur. :42 :3). Usages like mellakam and nallakam
(AN: 258: 9, 353: 20, 367: 14; NT: 297:9, 398: 8; Kur. : 346: 7,. 370:5)
indicate that it denoted 'breast' too. Akam was used to denote 'heart'
too (AN: 86, 28; NT: 166: 5). The significant usages of akam and its
cognates in Cankam literature are
1. the house (e.g., AN: 66:15; MP: 44.)
2. fortified region of a countryakanatu (MP: 149.)
3. people living in fortified regionakattar (PN: 28:11; PA 220).
The term akatton is used almost as a technical term in Tol. (Purat.:
12,13) to refer to the attacked king, who stays within the fort.
The use of the term Puram and its cognates too should now be
examined. As akam, this is also used as a locative (AN: 101:8, 207:5,
306:6; PN: 158:23, 231:2, 352:7). It also means 'exterior' (PN:238:1;
NT:305:7; AN:335:11). One of the cognates Puravu, which should
literally mean "that which lies outside" is used to denote the pastoral
region and jungle (PN:328 :1, 386:12; AN:74:8, 114:3, 133:5, 134:6,
184:7, etc. ;NT: 21:9, 59:9,142:8, 246:7 etc.). If Pura is taken as the
base the semantic implication of this term Puravu is rather interesting.
The immediate question will be, to which was it the exterior? Was it the
exterior to a fortified region? The terms Puram tarutal and Puram

kiatal, meaning "looking after protecting" too are interesting (PN: 312:
1, 35:32, 122:31). Literally they mean 'giving the exterior' and
'guarding the exterior'. The term Puram without the sufx Tarutal is
also used in PN to mean `protect' (PN: 35:33, 42:10, 42:11, 377:5). Do
these imply that guarding the settlement was the main act in
safeguarding the people of a region? -In Tol.Purat. 12 and 13 the term
Puratton (one on the outside) is used to mean the attacking king.
The realisation that these poetic conventions were regularised and
schematised in Tol. tempts one to raise the question of the influence of
those usages, which denoted 'interior' and 'exterior in a physical and
geographical sense in Tol. itself. The terms used by Tol. to refer to these
traditions are Akattinai and Purattinai...The term Tinai evidently means
'code of conduct or behaviour, custom'. This is only a secondary
meaning of that term, but, the apt one here. The terms would then
mean code of conduct custom in or of akam and in or of puram
.Manickam states quite categorically, "the term akam simply means, in
my opinion, `home'." 128
He continues to say, "the birth of love gives birth to the rise of this
institution." But the very notion of 'love' giving birth to 'home' itself is
abstract. It might be suggested, therefore that the poetic concepts of
Akam, and Purarn, as dealing with love and war would have emerged
from the initial characteristic of those as activities within the
settlement and outside it. In the tribal state of social organisation this
is very much the case.
These terms with their basic meanings of a physical interior and
exterior, are indicative also of the areas of activity (division of labour)
of women and men in tribal life. In hunting and cattle raising stages
men are always outside the settlement both for economic and military
pursuits and women stay in the settlements. The Tamil evidence clearly
shows that the time the girls got out of the settlement on any
assignment was to guard the ripe fields (cultivated by the slash and
burn method) and this is the occasion when they fall in love. The
incidents that are described relating to subsequent meetings like fixing
a place for meeting, the fear of the girl's brothers, dogs barking at the
movement of the hero etc., reveal how 'interior' in the settlement were
the akam activities done. The corresponding puram (military) activity

for this region is the stealing of the cattle and keeping watch on those
who make an attempt to do it. Both these are done outside the settlement. The guarding of the settlement is done from a jungle area away
from the settlement. This area is called the Kavarkatu (Guard post
jungle). For the cattle raising stage (Mullai) the love activity ascribed is
Iruttal, which really means the woman staying in the settlement
looking after the growing agriculture and managing domestic affairs.
The men are away for cattle raising or for guarding the settlement. In
this stage and the agrarian (Marutam) one, the wife is referred to
Manaivi and Illal (she of the house).
It is, therefore, possible that the concept of akam and puram could
have arisen from the economic and social realities of tribal living.
The highly abstract meaning given by the commentators is possible
only in a highly developed intellectual and social milieu, which is not
possible in a tribal set-up. The transformation of the meaning attached
to the Greek word moira could be cited as a comparative parallel. Moira
which orginally meant "portions of wealth or divisions of labour later
came to denote man's divinely appointed lot in life. The change of
meaning and the social factors behind it have been well explained by

Kalittokai and Paripatal

Kalit. is a collection of 150 poems in the Kali metre. As already noticed
this metre is a later development. Its rhythm has been described as a
leaping onetullal by Tol. (Cey.83), The traditional view is that the
poems on each of the five finals had been sung by different poets. The
compiler Nallantuvan himself composed those on Neytal. The question
of the authorship has been much discussed and the general trend now
is not to accept the traditional view. Linguistic and literary factors
which reveal its late date have been well furnished by the different
scholars. The most important of it all is the dominance of Sanskrit in
both linguistic and cultural aspects.
A notable feature of this work is that it speaks only of the Pantiya
region. The earlier poems, though some of them deal principally with
cities do not fail to give descriptions of surrounding regions and the
people living in those regions. MPK, PP are examples of this. But in
Kalit. in spite of the fact that it has poems on the love activities of all

the 'regions' it reveals a major urban biasMullaikkali which could be

considered is the exception to this feature, has eulogies on the
Pantiyans (103, 104, 105). The treatment of the characters in Falai,
Kurilici and Neytal show that the conative aspect of the regions is more
important than the description of life in those regions. In Kuriaeikkali
the hero is one who 'owns the forest' in his dominion (48). In the case
of Neytal the hero is not from that region. Marutam is the most realistic
of all the sections. The urban centred character of the poem is very
well brought in poems like 26, 27, 30, 31, 36 etc.
The hero of Kalit. differs from his counterpart in the earlier texts. The
hero now is a warrior, king or an aristocrat of high rank (8, 12, 26, 31).
The hero described in Marutakkali has at his command an array of
retainers like the charioteer and the minstrel (69, 70, 72, 81, 85 etc.).
Descriptions of harlotry depict it as a highly developed organisation.
Kalit. 70 refers to separate houses where the harlots were
'entertained'. Poem 81 refers to Rnatipatiyam (Commander's
settlement) a settlement of harlots started by a holder of the title
The difculties Nac. has had to 'fit' many of the poems to the rules of
Tol. (3,18,120 etc.) indicate the changing methods of composition.
The most important feature of Kalit. is that many of the Kalit. songs are
in dialogue form (10,39,40,41,43,60,62,etc.). This is in direct contrast
to what we have seen in the Carikam texts. Dialogue structure of the
poem and their very metre have great importance in the study of
drama. The dialogue, the metre and the structure and content of many
of the dialogue-songs, all taken together seem to indicate a form of
dramatic entertainment peculiar to that aristocratic society. The whole
question will be dealt with in detail later; what is important to note at
this stage is that by its very chraracteristic it demands a method of
approach quite different to the one we have adopted to find out the
character of the earlier texts.
Paripatal is the other anthology. Like Kalit. this work is known by the
metre -- Paripattu. The musical character of the work is shown by the
colophons appended to the text mentioning the name of the poet and
that of the person who set it to music.

The flowing rhythm of the lines indicates the music, how it was sung
but the content has been the chief concern of the commentators.
According to Per. Paripatal as a literary form deals with `Enjoyment'
one of the four main objects of living (Purusartas). Per. takes this
anthology as the standard for the genre and says that it deals with
'praising the diety', 'sports in the hill', 'water sports,' etc., exactly the
ones which are dealt with in this work (Cey.121). Nac. too reiterates the
same thing by saying that this genre depicts the 'ways of the world'
with special emphasis on sexual love. It will include praise of the gods
(Akat.53). Musical character of the metre is mentioned by Per. in his
gloss on Cey.112. Paripattu is so called because it is a song that 'flows'.
This explanation confirms its flowing rhythm. Parim. in his commentary
on the first lyric refers to its musical character. All these go to show t
hat these poems were sung.
For a content analysis we should go to the text. It is held that Pari.
orginally was a collection of 70 lyrics, with 8 on Tirumal, 31 on Cevvel,
1 on Korravai (Katukiial) 26 on Vaiyai and 4 on Maturai. But the extant
lyrics are 22 in number
On Tirumal (6) 1,2,3,4,13,15.
On Cevvel (8) -- 5,8,9,14,17,18,19,21.
On Vaiyai (8) 6,7,10,11,12,16,20,22.
Two, almost full lyrics have been recovered through citations in
grammatical works. Besides these major ones there are fragmentary
quotations culled from other sources.
Of the extant poems, those on Tirumal and Cevvel are classed as on
'Praising the gods' because they are in the form of address to the gods.
The poems on Vaiyai (the river) have been termed as the ones which
speak of sexual enjoyment. Descriptions of water sports and activities
depicting sexual enjoyment are many in these poems and this might
have led the later day commentators to conclude that poems on Vaiyai
deal only with sexual enjoyment. But the poems on Vaiyai mostly end
with an invocatory address to Vaiyai. Except poem 22 which has a
defective text and 20, all other poems on Vaiyai have that invocatory
passage (6:105-6,7:846, 10:126-9, 11:137-140, 12:99-102, 16: 50-55).
This makes it probable that Vaiyai was addressed. We must now look
into the reason for bathing in Vaiyai and the ritual observances made
before and during the bath. Pari. 6:11-3 clearly states that women who

go for bathing take aviaratanai (offerings) besides the cosmetics they

need to make themselves up after the bath. Aviaratanai is explained by
Parim. as "those offerings made to Vaiyai' such as avi and fish made of
gold." Lines 84 to 86 of the 7th lyric imply that the people were
bathing, extolling the benefits they receive from Vaiyai and praying
that Vaiyai's benefits shall flow to them always. 10:80-5 mentions that
people threw snails, prawns and fish made of gold into the river and
also gave donations to people. 16:50-5 says that people had donated
things and are bathing to get benefits of the charity. The 'presents'
they give to Vaiyai are those like the fish made of gold. These make it
clear that the bathing was not just a sport but had its ritual aspects.
The prayers made and the reasons given for it at the end the bath also
reveal the cultic character of the bath. In 10:126-129 a request is
made, that Vaiyai should not cease its function of spreading gold in the
field. This implies a request for better harvest. 16:50-5 implore that
there should be more offerings and that there should always be rainfall
and that Vaiyai should never be without its freshets. These suggest
that the bathing had something to do with rain or fertility cult. It could
be said that the throwing of the fish was intended to induce 'growth' of
more fish. This would agree with the Ritual theory of Myth.
Besides the direct prayer for the continued flooding of the river, on
which depended the fertility of the surrounding area, there is also
evidence that this ritual bathing had sexual significance. 8th lyric refers
to girls who had gone to the Parankunru hill and prayed that there
should be floods in Vaiyai so that they could do what they had dreamt
of, viz., embracing their lovers. 10:45-74 describes swimming in the
river and reveals that sexual enjoyment was a predominant feature of
this bath. These could be taken as incidental to the water sports but
11th lyric refers to girls performing Tainiratal there. Earlier texts refer
to Tainiratal but do not associate it exclusively with Vaikai. Tainiratal by
its nature is a fertility cult. It could therefore be said that the songs on
Vaiyai are not poems dealing with sexual enjoyment but revealing a
cult built around Vaiyai. 11:137 indicates that there was a tradition of
singing the glories of Vaiyai. It should be noted, at this Juncture, that
river cults are not something alien to Tamil tradition. The tradition of
celebrating Kavari's Patinettam Perukku is still a living one. In places

like Mayuram, even today festivals are conducted the day the waters of
Kaveri are let through the anicut.
Associated with the Vaiyai cult is the Parankunru cult which looks more
openly sexual than the ones mentioned about Vaiyai Parankunru is
worshipped as the hill where Murukan resides. Lyric 8 refers to the
different people bathing in the pond at the hill. They include,
Kanavirrottatu kaipilaiyakatu
nanavir ceeppa nin nalipunal Vaiyai
varu punalanikena varankolvarum
karuvayiru uruka enak katampatuvarum
ceyporul vaykka ena cevi carttuvorum
aiyamar atuka ena arucciparum... (103-8).
"Those supplices who request that they could in real life have the
embraces they had with their lovers in dreams. Those who pledge in
prayer that they shall make offerings if they conceive (a child).
Those who pray that the undertakings (of their husbands) should
Those who pray that their husbands should have admirable fights."
This clearly reveals that there was a pond on the hill, formed by the
flowing stream, which had a ritual significance. Parankunru cult is
intertwined with the bathing in Vaiyai because the latter flows along
that area. In fact the verse quoted above refers to the girls who pray at
the hill that they should be blessed with the chance of embracing their
lovers in Vaiyai. 17th lyric which is on Murukan shows how close these
two cults too are.
It seems, therefore, that dismissing the songs on Vaiyai as those on
sexual enjoyment alone would not help to establish the true nature of
those songs. For Nac. (16th C.) and Parim. (13th C.) it might have been
difcult to consider fertility cults with sexual overtones as religious, but
it should not deter us from examining these poems in greater detail to
ascertain their true nature.
Taking the songs on Vaiyai as those on sexual enjoyment, efforts have
been made to fit them into the grammatical categorisations on akam
theme. The colophon to 6th lyric says that it is heroine's utterance to
Virali. If it is so, there is no need for the final exhortation to Vaiyai. It is
not the tradition in akam poems to use a dialogue form. That is a later
tradition, but it is seen in lyric 8. The colophons added to lyrics 7, 10,
11, 12, 16, do not explain or take into count the final exhortations

made. Thus the effort to make them look as typical akam poem
remains a failure.
As it stands, Pari. definitely belongs to a later age than Catikam texts.
Descriptions of Tirumal and Cevvel are evidence of the religious
syncretism that was taking place.
On linguistic grounds, Kalit. and Pari. are taken together. Descriptions
of the harlotry indicate a similarity with Kalit. Pari. too, is Maturai
based. It does not speak of the other regions. Thus these two works
could be taken as belonging to the same period.
Vaiyapurippillai takes these as 'later Caiikam works' and says that the
compilation was done by about the 8th century. At this point a flaw in
his periodisation should be pointed out. His scheme is as follows :
1. Early Catikam period -- 100-350 A.D. (ET & some of Pattu.).
2. Period of Collation -- 450-500 A.D. (Anthologising earlier poems).
3. Late Carikam period -- 600-750 A.D. (Kalit. and Pari.).
In this, he has taken 400-600 A.D. as a period without any literary
activity. It need not be so; in fact it cannot be so. Tol. which he assigns
to the second period mentions the currency of Paripeittu and Kali as
metres for akam poems. The internal linguistic evidence of these works
point only to post-Carikam date. The problem could greatly be
minimised if it could be accepted that the crystallisation of poetic
conventions as grammatical rules, and the digression in content and
deviations in form in emerging creative literature can each be the
cause and effect of the other. That could make them binary expressions
of a single social phenomenon.
It should also be mentioned that the 7th century date suggested by
Swamikkannuppillai for the composition of Pari. which Vaiyapurippillai
quotes with approval, is not accepted, and on the same data, a fourth
century date has been given to the work."' It is, therefore, possible to
argue for Kalit. and Pari. a date earlier than the one Vaiyapurippillai is
prepared to grant. But what is important to this study is that they are
post-Catikam and have common characteristics which indicate same

Taking TMA as a post-Catikam work is not objected too much. The
significance of this work lies in that it shows the syncretism of the
Skanda cult of North India with the Muruka cult of Tamilnad. In the
description of the various centres of Muruka worship, we find the fusion
of the indigenous cults with the incoming forms of worship. The dance
of the Peymakal in the battle ground in praise of the victor, a
militaristic cult to which we find references in PN (26, 62, 359, 371) and
PrP (35, 36) is brought in TMA (47-56) is an act of rejoicing of the Pey at
the victory of Murukan over the Avunar. The forms of worship and
religious practices given in the description of Tirudvinankuti (126-176)
and in that of the local hills (190-216) reveals the peculiarities in the
concepts or divinity in puranic and non-Skt. Tamilian thought. But TMA
takes them as the different manifestations of the same god.
It could be said that TMA throws light on the process of Sanskritization
that was taking place in religion in the post-Catikam period as Kalit.
and Pari. are reflecting the same process taking place within an urban
framework, especially in relation to the aristocratic society of Maturai.

This process of increasing Sanskritization and growing social
differences is seen very clearly in Tol. If Tol.'s effort had been just to
codify the poetic practices of the previous period it could have been
done without resorting to Sktic standards. But we have instances in Tol.
where an effort has been made to understand conventions in terms of
Sktic ones. The more obvious ones are as follows:
Akat. 26, which speaks of the occasions for separation from wife, says,
"Departing for learning and on missions (as messengers of kings) is for
the High people." The word used for learning is otal, the one which is
even today used, to the study of the Vedas (ream otutal). Learning as a
special discipline is something alien to the mores of the type of society
depicted in early Tamil literature. Speaking about the separation for
earning Tol. says (Akat. 30), "the aforesaid (forms of separation) are for
all the four." This is clear reference to the Caturvarna. When dealing
with the theme of victory he speaks of (Purat. 19) Brahmins first, kings
second, an order seen in the Skt. tradition.

In one instance, the application of a Sktic criterion has had no validity

at all. While defining kalavu (Kalay. 1) he says that .it has the
characteristics of the Gandharva form of marriage. The apparent
mistake is that in Skt. tradition Gandharva is a form of marriage
whereas kalavu is no marriage at all. It is only premarital love affair.
Married life, according to his own definition. starts in the Karpu stage
(Karp. 1).
Tol. also gives grammatical sanction to clear cut social divisions, which,
though certainly seen in Cankam period, were not allowed to become
fundamental principles in literary composition. In Kalay. 2 he prescribes
the type of characters for treatment in pre-marital love. He describes
them as
Otta kilavanum kilattiyum.
mikkonayinum kativaraivinre.
"Hero and heroine of equal rank. Hero of a superior rank need not be
ruled out."
Here the terms for hero and heroine, Kilavan and kilatti, are important.
Kilavan means an 'owner' and kilatti 'proprietress' (DED: 1647). When
prescribing the nature of utterances for Tog (Kalay. 23) he says that she
should check on the 'country, village, house, family, birth and
greatness' of the lover. The Cevili is expected to look into the wealth of
both the families (Karp. 24). It is also said that servants and employees
are not fit subjects for `mutual love' and that they could be treated in
situations of one sided love and excessive love (Akat. 23). Porul. 44
says that the ownerhero should not be depicted as disregarding the
auspiciousness of the hours and days (i.e., he should respect the notion
of muhurta) even during the time of his secret love.
Marainta ojukkattu oraiyum naltim turanta olukkam kilavorku
Tol.'s hero when contrasted with 'hero' depicted in KP, which in itself is
highly stylised, reveals the class character of the former. The hero in KP
is a hunter, a son of the soil (107-135).
The concept of family life given in Tol. also reveals an ethos completely
different to that found in a heroic society (Karp. 51). It says that the
"aim and function of family life should be for the kilavan and kilatti at

the close of their sex life to live in happiness with their children and
relations who perform the righteous deed and do illustrious things."
The ultimate didactic role Tol. prescribes for literature is revealed in
Porul. 24.
Arakkalivutaiyana porut payam patavarin
Valakkena valatikalum palittanru enpa.
"It is not forbidden to treat those items devoid of righteousness if they
are relevant to akam (or of interest to it) It could be taken as usage."
But Ilam.'s reading of the cuttiram is as follows,
"It is forbidden to treat those items devoid of righteousness on the
ground that they are in usage, even if they have a relevance or lend
interest to the description."'"
We should take along with these Tol.'s concept of Standard Tamil
Centamil. Vaiyapuripillai says this:
"For the first time in the history of Tamil language this term is used by
Tol. It is not found anywhere in the entire Cankam collections.'" .... It is
only the language of the upper class ordinarily imitated and spread. In
the case of Centamil also such must have been the case. Tol.'s
Cattiram defining vajakku or usage (Marap. 89) supports this view
And the cratiram referred to is
Valakku enappatuvatu uyarntor metre nikalcci avarkattakalana.
"Usage means that of the High People. Because the 'events' are always
about them."
The word nikalcci (event) is interpreted by Ijam. as events (actions) in a
literary work. Per. takes it as 'all the events in the world.' Both the
explanations reveal the class character of the usage.
These features found in the work reveal the criteria it had adopted. But
it is not only the social implications of the grammatical rules that
concern the student of drama. Tol. as we have already seen,
establishes some connections between theatrical/dramatic conventions
and poetic conventions. He refers to dramatists/ dancers in a more

distinctive manner and assigns them a social role by making them to

be mediators between couples (Karp: 27 & 28). The social role of the
artist and the clues these references provide to the nature of
performances will be discussed in detail when we deal with that
particular phase,'"
In an assessment of the exact nature of the work more attention should
be paid to Meyppattiyal the chapter on Physical Manifestations of
Sentiments. In this chapter he speaks primarily of the sentiments, the
different states of mind associated with each of these sentiments and
their relation to poetry. It is generally agreed that Tol. follows in this
chapter Bharata's Natya Sastra, the Skt. treatise on Dramaturgy.
Bharata speaks of sentiments in the context of drama only. In fact his
discussion on sentiments starts thus:
"The Eight sentiments recognised in drama are as follows .... (NS: VI:
It is therefore important to determine what use Tol. makes of them in
his work.
The outline structure of the chapter is as follows:

cu. 1-3

Enumeration of the Cuvai (feelings, sentiments).

Starting from 32, works down to 8 as the basic ones.
4-11 Conditions and situations which give rise to
Certain other situations and feelings which do not
come within the earlier ones.
13-20The symptoms seen in the different stages of love
21-25Situations in the case of Kaikkilai and Peruntizzai.
Emotional suitability of the couple.
Qualities not in consonance with 'love.'
Description of those who could understand the finer
sensibility of emotion.









It is clear that Tol. does not treat sentiments in the way Bharata had
treated; for Tol. their relevance to akam poetry has been the only
concern. In spite of his preoccupation with the theme of poetry he
throws a valuable clue relating to dramatic activity in the very first
cattiram wherein he says,
Pannaittanriya entjanku porulum

kanniya purane nanatikenpa,

"These 32 sentiments seen the: Pannai could really be taken as 16."
Per. explains it thus:
"These thirtytwo (sentiments) are in seen in the activities of (sexual)
pleasure that the kings of the Established Monarchies and rulers of
principalities 'enjoy by seeing the dances and listening ' to songs of the
natakamakalir dancing women."
This is no doubt an important piece of information on the types of
performances. This also helps (though not solely) to take Tol. along with
Kalit. and Part. which as we have seen already describe such places of
Tol. in spite of his main concern only for akam and puram poetry
reveals that there had been other literary genres. In the chapter on
prosody Ceyyuliyal --Tol. speaks of those poems which have a limited
length and those which do not have it (Cey.163). He discusses in detail
the constituent units of poetry, the different metres -- akaral, rand,
veripa and kaliand the themes which could be sung in those metres.
Most Of the extant corpus of Catikam literature could be brought within
those. In that discussion he mentions satirical verses (Cey..124,12'5). In
the available literature we do not have many instances of -satire.. It is
of great interest to note that Per. mention_s vacaikkattu satirical
drama, as the example for satirical verses in Kali metre (Cey.126).
Today we have no trace' of that dfama" either- for Tol.'S period or for
the period of the commentators. 'Bill the obvious contrast of satire,
both invective and veiled attack, 'to the eulogistic poems of akam and
puram reveal that there could have been a . selection for purpose of
preservation. -.Thus -Tol. -reveals the significance not only of the -lost
ones but also of the preserved ones.
-More important is the names of the ,genres he gives as 'those which
have no limit of length (Cey,163). They are (Cey.166-179)

Urai Prose
Mantiram Magical utterances

f) Kurippua form which does not intend to mean what the words
in the composition denote.149 Further down, he mentions
g) Pannattithat which is sung to a tune.
Ilam. takes it as musical composition and Per. takes them as songs in
dramatic performances.
Later, when he speaks of the aesthetic qualities that could emanate
from the different metrical forms (235-242) Tol. mentions certain
literary forms for which we have no examples either from Tol.'s period
or the earlier one. Of the eight, one is Tonmai (mythical narrative) to
which we have already referred to ; another is pulan (Cey. 241), which
uses regional or local dialect. Per. cites Vilakkattar kratu, a work which
apparently has something to do with drama, as the example. But here
again we have no traces of the work.
Tol., by its revealing analyses and cryptic silences, furnishes 'much
material for a student of Ancient Tamil Drama.

No social study of pre-Cil. Tamilnad would be complete without a study
of Kural. The ethical and moralistic approach of Valluvai to the study of
man as a member of the family and the state, and to the study of the
monarchy and those that help in the preservation of its authority and
the great difference between this approach to those of the North Indian
writers on polity, from whom Valluvar is said to have drawn the raw
'material,' have all been studied by many scholars.
But the problem that faces a student, who has to use the work as a
source for the study of a social institution as drama, is one of
determining the social foundations of the work. This work written in a
metrical form called Kuralyevpa (distich), has 133 sections of ten
couplets each. The first 38 are on AramRighteous living, the next 70
on PorulPolitical Economy and the rest on KamamSexual love. The
present name of the workTirukkural does not seem to have been the
original name of the work. The original name of the work is believed to
be Muppal -- Three sections. The personal name of the author is not
known. The name Valluvar indicates only the caste or profession.

Some have taken what is said in Kural as truly reflecting the conditions
of Valluvar's time. The idealistic character of the work is implied in the
many writings on this work? Aiyangar takes the section on politics as
an ideal presentation of what an actual state really was.
Political and social theories and thoughts have by implication always a
relevance to the period of their origin. Works from Plato's Republic
onwards amply illustrate this. It is therefore essential to see the social
framework which forms the sheet-anchor of Valluvar's family and state.
But, at the outset, one should notice the literary characteristic of the
distichs. The couplets are in the forms of statements of facts with great
precision and economy of words. Each problem or topic is treated as a
thing in itself but their general interrelationship is clear.
The first Book, Arattuppal, has two divisionsIllaraviyal on family and
Turavaraviyalon Renunciation. The first section deals with the General
significance of a family and a householder, the Characteristics of a
good wife, Begetting children (with duties of both father and son),
Love, Hospitality to visitors, Pleasing speech, Gratitude, Impartiality,
Restraint in words and action, Correct conduct, Evils of adultery,
Tolerance, Evils of jealousy, Non-covetousness, Evils of back-biting,
Evils of purposeless talk, Fear of bad action, Following the norms of
society, Munificence and Glory or Fame.
The section on Asceticism deals with Being gracious, Avoidance of flesh
eating, Penance, Avoidance of bad conduct, of stealth, Truthfulness,
Avoidance of Anger, Avoidance of committing unbecoming acts
Impermanence, Renunciation, Realisation of truth, Annihilation of
desire and Fate.
Valluvar's family operates in a society based on caste and class (133,
134, 221). It is a heterogenous one with traders forming a substantial
section (118, 120). Women occupy a lower position than men (225,
226). It is one which is beset with problems like adultery. Liberality is
urged upon the rich (231).
The book on Polity is divided into the following sections.
a) on King requisite characteristics of a king;
b) on Ministers;
c) on State and its security (economic and military);

d) on Friendly Relationships;
e) on Things that should be avoided in a proper administration;
f) on Citizenship.
It is generally agreed that Valluvar takes the Saptangas of the
Arthashastra as the basis but the emphasis is on the ruler as an
individual. Some have given an idealistic interpretation for this.
Aiyangar comments, "It suited Thiruvalluvar's purpose and perhaps
served better in his immediate milieu to treat of the king and the
kingdom as it obtained in the Tamil country. It may be suggested that
this emphasis on the personality of the king was a historical necessity
at a time when Tamilnad was emerging from a heroic society in which
individual bravery and heroism were the cornerstone of political power
to a more settled structure, both in terms of society and economy. The
picture we get of the state and polity from Tol. is vastly different from
that in Kural. As Srinivas Iyengar commented "there is little in the early
Tamil odes or in the Porulatikaram to indicate that the art of
government was developed or followed any kind of political science,
theoretical or practical. And Kural provides a concise socio-political
philosophy. It is significant that in Kural we do not hear much about the
administrative organisation of the cities about which we have detailed
information in PP and MK.
The transition from heroic militarism to a more settled landowning
system could also be deduced from the principles Valluvar lays down
for Citizenship. He takes those qualities which are considered virtues in
a heroic milieu, like Honour, Pride, Glory and Munificence, and gives
them a new meaning. He discourages the situation of being a 'retainer'
(1967) and emphasises that honour lies in preserving one's dignity.
When dealing with 'shame' he again emphsaises the need to conform
to the mores of the society (1011-20). Most striking of all is the section
titled Canratimai. The term Conran in Cankam literature means a
'warrior.' But Valluvar takes Canrcajmai to mean nobility of character.
He emphasises abstinence from killing, humility, preparedness to
accept defeat even at the hands of inferiors as noble qualities (984-86).
Valluvar gives 'love, humility, beneficence, benignant grace and truth'
as the positive features of Calpu. In these we could see the strikingly
new meaning given to 'Old World' virtues.

The reasons for this transferred emphasis becomes clear in his

enunciation of 'Ploughing' agriculture as one aspect of Citizenship.
Taken along with Illaraviyal, these sections provide enough evidence to
hold that Valluvar was prescribing a social philosophy for a nation that
was passing from militaristic heroism to settled agriculture.
Valluvar's definition of state reveals this amply. He defines a Natu
(state, country) as one which has "fertile lands that never fail, capable
men and unlowly rich men" (731). This definition, by its emphasis on
the developed agrarian regions, implies that tribes do no fall within the
limits of the state. Kural 735 afrms this when it declares that a
prosperous state should be free from internal factions, strife and
external harassment.
Palkuluvum paiceyyum utpakaiyum ventalaikkum
Kolkurumpum illatu natu.
The external harassment is described as 'killing Kurumpu that harasses
the kings.' The world kurumpu is a revealing one. In PN it refers to
'petty chieftain' (PN: 239:2). 16' This word is etymologially connected
of Kurincithe hilly tract (DED: 1530) is used in Kural to mean a
marauding tribe. Even today there lives in South India, a tribe called
Kurumpar. Anaylsis of chapters 74-78 shows that Valluvar bases his
state in a well fortified area guardedly a professional army. The
economic basis of the state is wealth through agriculture and
"earning." Though the method of earning is not made clear (Chap.76) it
is evident from the reference to traders that commerce would have
been at least one form. He condemns poverty wholesale (Chap.105)
but has a place for beggars (Chap.106). He emphasises the greatness
in giving to those who beg and requests those who beg to go to
munificent people. He says that 'without beggars the world will look
like a place in which wooden dolls move to and fro' (1058).
In the third book the akam tradition is restated but with a great
difference; there is no mention of harlots at all.
It should be mentioned that for a proper understanding of the literary
character of the work, we should study it in relation to the general
Gnomic literature of the world. Chadwick's discussion of the
characteristics of Gnomic literature reveals how Kural combines quite

uniquely "gnomes of obligation" and "gnomes of observation" to offer

new solutions to the problems of the day.'"
Kural, it could be said, sought to reconcile the dying heroic tradition
with the emerging agriculture based, Sanskrit oriented, feudal society.

Cil tells the story of Kannaki, the daughter of a wealthy merchant of
Pukar, who was married to Kovalan, the son of another leading trader in
the city. After marriage, Kovalan leaves Kannaki to stay with Matavi, a
skilled artist from dancers' caste. His desire for Matavi 'knew not
leaving her.' After Matavi's performance at the Intira festival the couple
leave for the beach and there, in a mood of enjoyment, sing a duet.
Kovalan sang first. It was the 'song of the Beach Grove' in which a girl
of the littoral region speaks of her heart lost to the young man who
came her way. Matavi, in a sulky mood, just to 'rebuke' Kovalan sang
one which hinted of another lover. Kovalan mistaking her intentions
took the sentiment of the song to be real, left her immediately and
went back to Kannaki. Realising the folly of having squandered away a
whole heap of wealth, he requests Kannaki to join him to Maturai where
they could make a fresh start. Kannaki followed him. On their way to
Pantiya capital they meet a Jaina lady ascetic, Kavunti, who escorts
them to the city and on arrival there leaves them in charge of Matari, a
cowherdess. Kovalan bidding Kannaki to stay at that place and getting
from her one of her ankle bracelets goes to the city to sell it. In the city
he meets the royal goldsmith who had already misappropriated the
ankle bracelet of the queen given to him for repair. Kovalan by
requesting him for help in selling it plays into his hands; and the smith,
bidding Kovalan to wait there, goes to the palace and tells the king
(who was on his way to the queen's apartment to pacify her) that the
thief has been caught. The king, preoccupied as he was with the
thought of pleasing a sulking wife, declares "Kill him and bring it." The
killing was done. At the cowherds' colony omens of disaster occur. A
rirtual drama was performed to avert evil. In the final stages of the
dance, a women came in running with the news. Stunned Kannaki
rushes out; sees the body that was her husband. Enraged by
widowhood she storms into the palace with the other anklet in her
hand. To the king who thought that the killing of a thief had vindicated
the rule of law, she proves it was no punishment but murder, by

dashing the other anklet on the floor. The fleeing corals shocked the
king, whose wife had only ankle bracelets of pearls. The shocked king
dies and the queen followed him. The death of the guilty king and his
chaste wife did not help to calm the widow. Deprived Kannaki, in her
fury, plucked her breast and threw it, demanding the God of Fire to set
the city on flames. Duty-bound God, leaving out those who had to be
left out, burns the city and tells Kannaki that in a fortnight that day she
shall join her husband who will descend from the heavens to take her
with him. The meeting took place at a hill in the Cara kingdom. The hill
maidens who had seen the ascent and earlier had talked to Kannaki,
inform their tribe. The news reaches the Cara monarch. He wants to
build a temple for this great chaste lady. He marches northwards to
bring a piece off the rocks of the holy Himalayas washed in the divine
Ganges. The mission was accomplished. The temple was built and the
consecration ceremony was attended by many kings including
Gajabahu of sea-girt Sri Lanka.
The story is narrated in thirty 'units' which are grouped into three
kavtamsBooks. The first one, Pukarkkantam, starts with the marriage
and narrates up to the couple leaving the country. Maturaikkantam tells
the story from the entry into PaDtiya country up to the burning of the
city and the final Vaacikkantam from the sighting of the ascent to the
granting of the prayers.
ANR, the celebrated commentator of this work, opens his commentary
with the description that Cil. is
Iyalicai natakap poruttotarnilaieceyyul.
`a narrative composition combining literature, music, dance/drama.'
The work has a gloss written by another one before ANR. His name is
not known and is just referred to as Arumpatavuraiaciriyar (AP),
In this preliminary survey the general features of the work should be
The problem of the prologue has already been noted. It is generally
accepted that it must have been of a late date.

Of the titles of the 30 'units', 22 have names ending with the word
katai. Katai (Skt. Gatha) means a song. Of the rest, one has the ending
patal (song) and another three vari which `in general terms' means a
song. The remaining two are indicated by the name of the ritualistic
dance drama Kuravai. Thus of the names of the 'units' seem to imply
that the work was meant to be sung.
The narrative character of the poem is seen in the final venpas that
come at the end of some sections (IIIV, VI, VIII X, XVI, XX XXIII).
The one that comes at the end of Kolaikkalakkatai (XVI) is in the form
of personal exhortation. - Nac.'s citation of this work as an example of
tonmai too shows that it had basically a narrative form. AP takes
Kunrakkuravai as the utterance of the Toli to the heroine. Such efforts
to bring this work in line with akam tradition will not succeed because
of the character of the final venpas and varantarukatai in which the
poet tends to speak directly (lines 185ff.).
Before going into the details of treatment, the problem of the Kantams
has to be looked into. Each of the Kantams has an epilogue which
refers briefly to the things discussed in that 'book.' Srinivas Iyengar
remarked, " the poem as we now have it, is interspersed with a number
of prologues and epilogues apparently by later hands than those of the
author. He also showed that whereas the poem itself does not mention
the name of the Pantiyan who made the fatal error of judgement, the
epilogue identifies him as 'A riyapataikatanta Netuficeliyan.
The epilogue to Pukarkkontam in summarising what has been told
earlier does not refer at all to the story; instead it speaks of the
descriptions given in the text of the areas and of the dances. The
eleven dances mentioned in Katalatukatai are taken as parativirutti in
the epilogue. If the term is to be taken as those dances associated with
parati (and there is no other meaning possible, especially in view of the
use of the term in NS and in Cil. itself VI:39,45) it would be incorect,
because these are dances like alliam, tuti, and kotai which do not have
anything to do with Parati. As it stands now Pukarkkantam ends with
Natukankotai (song on seeing the CountryKannaki and Kovalan
seeing the country outside the capital) and Maturaikkontam starts with
Katukankatai (Canto on the seeing of the forest). In Natukankatai we
see them arriving at Uraiyur, a part of the Cola country. If the work had

been conceived as kantams, there would have been some indication of

it within the text. Instead, in Keitukankatai we see the poet opening the
section with the description at the Uraiyor monastery itself and this
chapter is taken as the first in the second book. This does not seem to
fit into the general aesthetic character of the work.
We find the same abrupt end and an incorrect description of events
mentioned earlier in the epilogue to the second kantarn. It ends with
Katturaikatai in which the guardian-deity of Maturai speaks to Kari
Kiaki. Vancikkantam opens with Kunrakkuravai which describes the
dance of the hill maidens on seeing the ascent of Kannaki. Here too,
there is no indication in the text that the author had intended to treat it
as a separate book. In the second epilogue Vettuvavari and Aycciyar
kuravai are described as exhibiting features of Arabhati and Satvati
vrittis. Arabhati vritti is defined by Bharata thus: "the style which
includes mostly the qualities of a bold person, such as speaking many
words, deception, bragging and falsehood is called Energetic Style. The
style in which there is a representation of model work, falling down,
jumping, crossing over, piercing, deed of magic and conjuration and
varied ways fighting is called Energetic" (NS: XXII: 55 - 6). This is far
removed from the primitive dramatic ritual in which the hunters make
offerings to Korravai praying for more game. Satvati vritti is explained
by Bharata as follows:
"The style which is endowed with the quality of the spirit, the Nyeiyas,
(proper) metres andlhas exuberance of joy and suppression of the state
of the sorrow is called Grand. Related to plays expressing the spirit
(Sattva) the Grand style is known to consist of representation by words
and gestures.
It is to contain the sentiments such as Heroic, the Marvellous and the
Furious, and to a small extent the Pathetic and the Furious, and to a
small extent the Pathetic and the Erotic; and the characters in it should
be mostly majestic and defying one another" (NS: XXII: 38, 39, 40)
These have nothing in common with Aycciyar kuravai which again is a
ritual. For Bharata, the vrittis (styles) were styles in performances.
None of these two is performance in that sense. The epilogue to the
third book does not mention a word about the Pattini cult which is the
theme of that section. The epilogue to the entire work maintains the

attempt made in the prologue to establish contact with Mani. In view of

these discrepancies it may be suggested that the kantam division was
done at a later time (perhaps along with the compostion of the
prologue and the epilogue) and the smaller units were the ones made
by the author.
The technique of treatment is that the narrative form is adopted for
major part of the work and at thematically important points the action
unfolds as something taking place by its own volition. At the end of
such important episodes, the narrative tone is brought in again. Thus
we find both the poet and the characters moving about. Kovalan
speaks out as a character in Manaiarampatuttakatai. Then until,
Kanalvari, it is a case of description and narration. In Kanalvari the
characters speak (really sing) as in a play. The situation demands it.
In the 'narration there is a distinct style. The background is described in
minute detail and the necessary data are given with thoroughness. The
eventthe actions of the charactersitself is told in a few lines.
Aratikerrukatai is a good example. Lines 1-159 describe things which
are not essential to the development of the plot. The story of Kovalan
buying the garland, going to Matavi's place, and getting infatuated with
her are all told in 6 lines (170-75). Antimalaicirappucceykatai is another
example. It gives two contrasting scenesone of happiness and the
other of sorrow and a few lines mention the mental state of the
characters. The eventual mention of the action or the state of the
characters after detailed description of the background gives a new
dimension to the action or the mental state and the whole thing is
placed in full emotional perspective. Ilankb's treatment of the subject
often reminds one of the shooting script of an able film director who, by
exploiting sight more than sound, by the use of montages and :
background contrasts, succeeds ultimately in getting a more telling
effect for the dialogues. Description of Kovalan's return to Kannaki, of
their last meal together at Matari's and of Kannaki's outburst at the
court reveal the poetic genius of llanko.
The artistry with which prose and verse is alternated is another feature
of the work. In those places where the action is unfolding by itselfas
in the case of the duet and the danceshe resorts to prose for
description. In this connection, mention should be made of the opening

prose passage. As it stands, it is a highly dramatic introduction to the

work. But Tamiloli argues, with sufcient reasons, that it should come
between Katturaikatai and Kunrakkuravai.
But it should be observed that the description of the background is
very often a conscious effort to give as much of the details as possible
about the event described. The descriptions of Matavi's dance,
Acciyarkuravai, and the wedding of Kovalan and Kannaki are examples.
In the descriptions of the dances conscious effort has been made to
give all the technical details (II, XVII); this is of immense importance to
the study of drama.
Another characteristic of the work is the concern to describe both high
society and 'folk' and 'tribal' societies in equal detail. The descriptions
given of the city of Pukdr, of the hunters and of the cattle keepers
reveal this.
The extreme mastery of craftsmanship seen in the handling of the
poem raises the important question whether Cii., the earliest narrative
poem extant, is really the first too. We have already seen the possiblity
of earlier epics.1" Without taking such a possibility into consideration,
Meenakshisundaran has argued that Cii. is a logical development from
the occasional and situational Cankam poems.'" He sees in CiL the
culmination of a feature that starts in the Cmikam period itself; the
beginnings of change seen in such longer poems like MK. He shows the
episodic and 'utterance' character of the sections and argues that the
appellation Natakakkappiyam (dramatic epic) was given because
drama and epic are blended well. As an interpretation based entirely on
the available literatures this is quite convincing and appealing. But
ruling out entirely the possibility of any heroic epic, has to be
considered a bit hasty.
A feature so dominant in this work and much less conspicuous in
Cankam literature is the element of the supernatural. "Throughout Cii.
we are always hovering on the brink of magic, so that the sudden
transformation of the pure and patient Kannaki into a destroying
goddess seems quite in the picture. Auspicious drums, suspicious flags,
carved symbols of auspicious things; auspicious number the 100 of
KalaPicus which Kovalan paid for the dancer's garland, and the 1008
kings bearing goldpots on their heads, filled with cool and holy water

fragrant with floating pollen of flowers taken from Kaveri, where it joins
the sea; the miraculous lake in which hunchbacks and cripples, lepers,
the deaf, the dumb were cured of their infirmitiesthese are only a few
of the magic phenomena which were woven into the social fabric of the
city.171 Resorting to myths and legends to explain social divisions and
groupings, the effective use of dreams as forebodings of evil and doom,
the haste with which the people of both high and low society are made
to turn to oracles and rituals to avert impending disasters and above all
the elaborate efforts that go into the consecration of the temple for a
chaste wife leaves one often unsure of the areas of illusion and reality.
Any assessment of the true nature of this epic should take into
consideration all these factors. Equally important is to consider the
historical continuity for no work of art can rise in a vacuum.
Let us recapitulate the position in the history of Tamil literature at the
time Cil. arose. The 'heroic' activities were all over and new traditions
have begun. The past had become outdated enough to lend itself for
grammatical categorisations. Kalit. and Pari. reveal a class selectivity in
theme. Kural attempts to synthesise the old with new but only within
the developed region. In it, we see the form and function of literature
changing. All these indicate the decline of the heroic age and the
beginnings of a new age.
It is relevant at this stage to know what exactly happens to literary
traditions at the decline of Heroic Poetry. Bowra provides the answer.
"In the first and most important place we must note that changes come
when the individual, ceases to be the single central subject of interest
and is replaced by something else, by an interest in lyrical moments or
in chivalrous dreams or in a national destiny or in purely literary effects
of charm and humour. In other words, what happens is that what has
for long held simple and easy to value is abandoned for other claims
which appeal to other elements in the human heart. Narrative
continues to supply the body of poetry, but is no longer centred on the
doings and excellence of individual men. There are many ways of
assessing human action, and admiration for great achievements is only
one of them. It is equally possible to enjoy their oddity or their moral
worth. Whatever the reason may be once the attention to the

individual and his prowess loses its strength, a new kind of poetry
What Bowra adumberates as generalizations based on the study of
heroic poetry in general terms, seems valid, in Tamilnad too. We see a
marked change of emphasis in literature. The hero is no more an
individual. He represents a 'type.' He is individual only in an abstract
sense. Representation in one character the sum total of the virtues of a
changed society has been approved by the grammarian. We also know
that the literary form itself was changing.
Bowra also shows the specific changes that take place in the form and
content of literature. In the literature he has examined he sees four
possible ways of literary metamorphosis; and he does not rule out
other forms of change. The first form is where the "poet has begun to
apply to his oral art the standards of the written word." He cites the
example of Gjerj Fishta, who by his poetry inspired the Albanian
people." The second form of change is when heroic poetry 'passes into
what is conveniently called romance. This change usually takes place in
a cultivated aristocratic society. The third form of change occurs when
the functions of the heroic poetry are taken over by the ballad.'" He
describes the fourth kind thus :
"A fourth kind of transformation comes when heroic poetry passes into
conscious literary narrative. This happens mainly in countries where
heroic song reached the dimensions of epic and is undoubtedly
hastened by the use of writing. The new poets take advantage of
writing to compose on paper, and this means that their work has a
different quality from that imposed by oral consideration.
He does not exclude other forms of change.'' 8
We have already noticed features in Cil. which indicate a conscious
literary effort. In spite of the titles of the sections which give the
impression of singing to an audience, the descriptions in Cantos II, III,
IV and VI - reveal a conscious literary effort, especially the one in
Manaiarampatuttakatai. Thus, as Chidambaranathan Chettiar says,
"Ilanko was mainly a literary epic poet. He wrote for readers rather
than for hearers.

Works which precede Cil., like Kural and Tol. indicate, that writing has
already become the standard medium of literary creation.
Important is the tradition recorded in the prologue which says that the
work was written to show to the world that "Righteousness shall take
the form of death to those who fail in their kingly duties, praiseworthy
chaste women shall be honoured by the great and the result of past
actions (Karma) shall emerge and take its toll" (Prologue 55-7). This
larger purpose of didacticism fits in with the general tone of the period.
One should also not fail to see an appeal to a unity of all the Tamil
states. The work describes the three kingdoms, extolls the greatness of
the kings and credits one from each dynasty with an all-Indian
achievement. But it is not the heroism of the individual: that is
emphasised; the emphasis is on the dynasty as a whole. The nonheroic character of the work is evident in that it chooses to portray the
fallibility of the monarch.
The important difference between Cil. and Carikam literature and Kural
is that Cil. chooses to record faithfully both high and low traditions.
Heroic poetry b- its very nature is not the expression of popular living.
In Kural we have seen how the Kurumpu has been treated. But in Cil.
we find the traditions of the hunters and the cattle-keepers recorded
with the same care as the Intira festival. Whereas in other works we
find conscious and unconscious effort to limit the area of activity to the
developed region, in Cil. conscious effort is made to go beyond it. Not
only are the three capitals described but also are the places that lie in
between the kingdoms. The poet creates a thematic relevance to these
politically unimporttant areas.
It becomes clear therefore that Ilanko had consciously widened the
literary canvas from the hero to the people. His choice of characters
illustrates this. It could be argued that if he were to treat the Pattini cult
there was no choice but Kovalan and Kari Daki. But the more important
question is, why this cult at all? Answers can vary and they have, from
those that quote the cited portion from the prologue to that he was a
democratic poet. It could also be argued that if Ilanko's aim was to
establish the unity of the common tradition, it is best done not by
taking kings but by taking the only mobile class of the daythe
merchants. Political history of post-Catikam period reveals that in spite

of political fragmentation there was flourishing trade. Buddhadatta's

description of Kaverippattinam in Abhidhammavatara reveals that
Ilaiiko's description was not. fiction.
Attempts to place Cil. in a social and political context have been made.
Meenakshisundaran has argued that it is an epic of the common man.
Varadarasan thinks that Ilanko could have been urged by pan-Tamilian
sentiments. They have not given the reasons for change from the
Catikam tradition to this unrevealed aim. The former has, of course,
traced the development of the literary genre. He has not shown the
political and social background that led to that change. There is also
the historical difculty in accepting the concept of the age of the
common man as a valid political concept for the period of Danko. His
concern for the descriptions of all classes of people of the regions could
be taken as evidence for consciousness of Tamilnad rather than for
anything else. The historical significance of this literary change could
be seen clearly only when we know the details of the political and
social conditions of the period.
A survey of Cil., however brief, should not leave out the problem raised
by Srinivas Iyengar. His opinion was that CiL is a double poem, each
poem by a different author, Books I and II being splendid romantic
poems and Book III being a legend about a mythical hero's
ex.ploits.182 He was led to this conclusion by the artistic unity of the
first two books and by the emphasis in the final book on Pattini cult and
the exploits of the king who built the temple for Kannaki. No doubt
there is a changing tone in the third book. But before ascribing it to
another author, we should make an effort to know the governing
literary concept of the day the social ethos of the period and the
probable 'use' the inartistic section would have had for that age. We
also should be hesitant to apply critical standards without
understanding the history of these concepts themselves. After all,
Aristotle's concept of good tragedy would make Aeschylus not a first
rate tragedian. It should be noted here that a linguistic study of the
work has not found any linguistic variations between the first two
books .and the third.'"
Srinivas Iyengar also tells that to "use it (Cil.) as a source of history
would be like using Shakespeare as an authority on the geography of

Bohemia or the Midsummer Nights Dream as a historical poem."'" Such

a misadventure could arise only when one is not sure who Shakespeare
was or what his Midsummer Nights Dream meant to him and to his
audiences. We seek to know why and how it was written before we test
the validity of what is found there and this brief analysis reveals that
poems of such form and matter could arise at the decline of a heroic
phase. The additional factor in the case of Ci/. is that the author seems
to be rather conscious of his aimthus the tendency to look as much
'popular' as possible.
The foregoing analysis of the texts, though starting from an
arrangement based on linguistic study, shows that the placing is
consistent with the general laws of social and literary development and
that they could be grouped as follows, on the basis of similarity of
underlying features.

ET and Pattu. (Except Kalit., Pari. and TMA),

Tol., Kural, Kalit. and Pari. and TMA,

It should be reiterated that such a placing was first suggested by

Vaiyapuripillai and as V. I. Subramoniam says "abundant proofs are now
available to confirm his serialisation but not his dates."'

Non-Literary Sources
A survey of the sources for a social history of the period under
discussion should not fail to mention the other sources available; and
those come from epigraphy, archaeology, numismatics and and 'nonTamil' writings. Of these the non:Tamil writings, both Indian and foreign,
have been studied well and utilised.18 In recent years remarkable
advance has been made in the fields of epigraphy and archaeology to
such an extent that much reliance could be placed upon them for the
study of Catikam period.
In 1966 Subrahmanian thought that epigraphy 'does not yield much
material for a study of the history of the Catikam age;. for we have no
contemporary local epigraphical evidence to corroborate the
information obtained from other sources.187 He dismissed the Brahmi

Inscriptions as 'not helpful for any of our purposes.' Sastri himself in

the same year thought that 'the brief records... still continue to be
But Iravatham Mahadevan by his study188 Tamil-Brahmi Inscriptions of
the Sangam Age has made a major contribution towards the
understanding of these inscription which, inspite of the dismissal by
Subrahmanian, have been a topic of discussion among distinguished
Dravidologists since 1919.
After a detailed study which included an examination of the read ones
and bringing to light some more, Mahadevan, gives a chronology of the
Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions.
Bhattiprolu casket Inscriptions and the orthographically related group
of Tamil-Brahmi Inscriptions of Mankulam etc., -- 2-1 century B.C.
Arikamedu grafti and the related group of Tamil-Brahmi Inscriptions at
Anaimalai etc., -- 1-2 century A.D.
C6ra Inscriptions at Pukalur and Later Inscriptions from Ariccalur etc.,
-- 3-4 century A.D.
Transitional Tamil-Brahmi (proto- Vatteitatit Inscriptions at Pillaiyarpatti
and Tirunathamanram. -- 5-6 century A.D.
The importance of these inscriptions cannot be overrated. These "are
the most ancient and authentic records of the Tamils now available to
us." These provide concrete evidence for the historicity of some of the
Cankam kings.'" We are also able to obtain much information on the
political, social 'and economic conditions of the time which, besides
confirming the available literary evidences throws more light on
matters like territorial division, commerce and religion.
The linguistic character of these inscriptions has led to some argument
over the transmission of Catikam literature. The rather unpolished

character of the language of the inscriptions and its admixture with

Prakrit led Chatterjee to think that the Catikam works as they stand are
redactions of about 600 A.D. Pillai argued that the language of the
inscriptions cannot be taken to represent the contemporary language
and that it is clearly unhistorical to post-date the classics on these
"strange records. Zvelabil said that "these records are not truly
representative of the main trend of development, of either the literary
or the common colloquial Tamil of that period, but reflect a hybridised
jargon of Buddhist and/or Jaina monks....
Meenakshisundaran said, "this language of the Brahmi inscriptions is
not different from the language which Tolkappiyar portrays ....
Mahadevan says that the extreme views (of Zvelabil and Chatterjee)
were 'based on misunderstanding of the nature of the inscriptions.'
According to him 'linguistic analysis shows they emerge in simple
intelligible Tamil not very different in its matrix ... from the Tamil of the
Cankam period."
Whatever the intricacies relating to the linguistic analyses may be, this
also proves that the one important feature of heroic poetry viz., its
characteristic of being oral in composition and in early transmission,
cannot be too easily dismissed in the Tamil case. This provides an
external check to what Kailasapathy proves from internal evidence.
As for the development of writing, Mahadevan has this to say: "The
assumption that several centuries must elapse for the full development
of a written language is not necessarily correct. The religious and
cultural ferment generated in the Tamil Country by the Buddhist and
the Jaina creeds and the enormous and perhaps, sudden, increase in
prosperity on account of Indo-Roman trade must have triggered off a
rapid development of the written language around the turn of the
Christian era."
Writing is a by-product of commercial development which in turn is an
activity in advanced communities.
The reading offered by Nagaswamy and improved by Panneerselvam
for the legend on the reverse side of a bilingual silver coin issued by
Vasista Sri Satakarni of 2nd C. A.D. reveals that Tamil was used by the

Satavdhana kings. Panneerselvam, observes that "the strangeness of

the syntactic pattern available in many of the early Brahmi inscriptions
formed in Tamilnad is now explained by this coin where an attempt has
been made to transcribe the Prakrit forms literally into Tamil."201 This
identification is of some importance because it shows that "Tamil has
enjoyed the position of an ofcial language in the court of the
Satakarnis who are Andhra kings."22
Archaeology in relation to Catikam Age and Early History has meant for
some the need to mention only the Arikamedu excavations.'" But
prehistoric archaeology has been the concern of many scholars; but
most of the contributions lay scattered in journals and periodicals.a 0 `
Recent works on Tamilian history have not emphasised the significance
of prehistoric archaeology in Tamil historical studies. The work of
Bridget- and Raymond Allchin, The Birth of Indian Civilisation, brings'
together all the material and presents them in relation to well-known
landmarks in Indian history. This contribution enables the student of
Tamil to see the literary evidence in a better light.
The needs of this study will adequately be served if the periods and
their features discussed in detail there are briefly summarised.
1. Early, Middle, Late Stone Ages SITES IN TAMILNAD

Atirampakkam near Madras (Early Stone Age);

Gudiyam cave (Early, Middle and Late Stone Age tools);
Teri sites (Middle and Late Stone Age), in the coasts of Tinnevely,
South of Madras.

It is stated that during the Early Stone Age man does not seem to have
lived regularly in caves anywhere in the subcontinent. But from Middle
Stone Age to Late Stone Age there appears to have been a process of
continuous development rather than of sudden change (p. 78) and they
cite Gudiyam cave and the Teri sites as evidence.
Of the Teri sites, which 'are unlike anything found in Late Stone Age
industries elsewhere in the subcontinent,' they say, "that the sanddunes provide a sheltered camping place within reach of the sea and of
lagoons and estuaries suitable for fishing and bowling. Fishing
communities on the coasts of India still live in situations of this kind,
building their huts among sand-dunes which are far from stable, in

order to be near their fishing grounds. As in the case of the Bombay

sites, there seems little doubt that this is the industry of a Late Stone
Age fishing community" (p.94).
Their general conclusion is that "the Late Stone Age or Mesolithic
industries of India must be associated with people much like the
modern tribal groups... In more remote regions they live primarily by
hunting and gathering, only sometimes augmenting this by trade with
more advanced communities or by going out to work for them"(p. 95).
2. Neolithic Chalcolithic Age
Paiyampalli, Gaurimedu, Mangalam.
For a proper understanding of this Age, the 17 sites in the KarnatakaAndhra region are equally important (see map, p. 176). This Age is
taken to have three dateable phases.


- 1800 B.C.


- 1500 B.C.


- 1050 B.C.


"The Southern Neolithic culture is associated from the beginning with

people possessing herds of cattle (Bos Indicus), sheep and goats, and
developing in course of time a stone-blade industry.
In his earlier work, Neolithic Cattle-Keepers of South India, Allchin
established that the culture of this age is surving in the cattle cults of
many groups including the Tamilians.2D5 He relates the pastoral life of
this age to a discription seen fn PA (147-196).2e
3. Iron Age
The megalithic burial complex, referred to by Allchins as Iron Age
Graves, are a feature of this period. It covered entire South India and a
major portion of Sri Lanka.

Allchins believe that iron must have been introduced into South India at
a fairly early date (c.1000 B.C.). They sum up the culture of the Iron
Age thus :
"The cultural implications of so great a duration of South Indian Iron
Age have still to be investigated. The thinness of the occupation levels
in the settlements so far excavated is perplexing and leads one to
expect that the period saw a steady increase in population and hence a
need to extend the area under cultivation. In the earlier
phaseagriculture was probably of the shifting kind and it may be that
there were few permanent settlements. The horse-furniture, if it could
be assigned to graves early in the series, might indicate that the first
users of iron in South India were at least in part nomadic. Certainly the
excavated settlements do not give much indication of any major
change in the way of life accompanying the arrival of iron. One is left
with a remarkable conservatism among the population of South India
throughout the period. There can be little doubt that many of the traits
already established in Neolithic period persisted right through the Iron
Age."' 7
While discussing the pottery found in the Iron Age sites in Tamilnad
they made this very important observation.
"At all these sites, a period coinciding with Roman trade and producing
a predominantly red pottery is preceded by one in which the
characteristic pottery is black-and-red similar to that of the frames. It is
of obvious interest to discover how this sequence relates to the
introduction to such elements as writing and to the flowering of the
early South Indian civilisation which finds its echoes in the poetry of
the Cankam period" (p.222).
This discusion reveals the importance of the continuity of traditions
seen in modern Indian tribal and folk cultures. This "survival within
different social layers of many forms that allow the reconstruction of

totally diverse earlier stages" is, as Kosambi said, a "tremendous

advantage that was not utilised till recently by the historian" of India.