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sanskrit-tamil.history of ancient tamil litreature

From: Chakravarthy,P (
Date: Tue Jan 06 1998 - 02:09:47 PST


Dear Shri Venkatesh Elayavalli,
You wrote,
    "I would appreciate if Smt Vasudha Narayana or other learned members
of the list familiar with the Sangam and PreSangam era works to give a
background on history of Ancient Tamil literature."

       Before I come to that I request you and the other members to read
the following written on Thirumal by a poet of the Sangham period,

".......In fire you are the heat
	In flowers the fragrance,
        Among stones you are the diamond

In words you are truth
            Among virtues you are love(compassion?)
In a warriors wrath you are the strength
             In the vedas you are the secret
of the elements you are the first
              In the scorching sun you are the light
In the moonlight you are the softness

Everything ,you are everything
the sense ,the substance, of everything

by KaTuvan ILaveyinaNAR ,in the PaRiPaTal - song 3, Lines 63 - 68.

     Sangam literature

The first sangam(or gathering of Gods, kings, bards and sages to compose
works of literature) lasted for 4440 years in then Madurai.The second
for 3700 years in Kapatapuram.Works produced in both these were lost in
the great flood, except for the grammatical work of TholkaPPiyam of the
2nd sangam.

The works of the third sangam (1850 years,vada Madurai),is  what is all
we have of the sangam literature and can be dated to 100BC - AD250.

All the works of the 3rd sangam are poems (2381 in number)of varying
lines(3-800).Some poets(some were women too like Auvayar) we know by
their names others by epithets(Eg.Kakkaipadiniyar-one who sang of the
crow),and others are anonymous.

The poems depending on their line structure are grouped into
collections,the Ettuthokai and the Pathup-p-pattu.Some of the 15 groups
include the PRRAnanooRu,AinkuRunooRu,KurrunThoKai etc.,

The subject of the poems(Porul) deal with EITHER aKHam(Love) or
PuRam(heroism).Unlike the latter ,no names of people(eg.kings) are
mentioned in the former.
The akam poems are set in the Thinai or landscapes which was according
to some presumably how dravidian society was organised before the caste
system solidified i.e., on the basis of the area of
residence.Accordingly there were 
5 thinais each with their one social structure and mode of life.

1.Kurrinji-mountains,inhabited by the kuravars worshipping Murugan.

2.mullai-forest/pasture - ETayar - Mayon/Thirumal (vishnu)

3.maRutham-fields - Uzhuvar - Indra

4.Neital-seacoast - fishermen/traders - varunan

5.Palai-wasteland - highwaymen(AARali-k-KaLvar) - KoRRavai(Kali)

(for a complete list seeZvelebil,K)

each tinai has a particular connection with each stage of love e.g.. (1)
with secret meetings and poems of that stage were based on that tinai
through similes etc.,

Though disputed, works like the Paripatal and KaLLiThokai seem to be of
a later period(5-7 AD?) than say, the Purrananooru.This is because of
references to stories /events of the Puranas & epics ,greater reference
to God esp. Vishnu ,Shiva and Murugan which was not true earlier though
passing references were rarely made and the use of Sanskrit words like
Maithunam and kamalam.Bhakthi to God was a popular theme for these poems
rather than love and heroism.

 Words of wisdom AD450- 550
This period was followed by works of wisdom and teaching like the Thiruk
Kural and the Naladiyar believed by many to have written by
Buddhist/jain monks.

 5-6th Cent. the AinpeRunKappiyams including the Sillapadikaram and the
Manimekalai and Seevakacintamani were the similes unlike in the Sangam
age were exaggerated and fantastic.They deal primarily with
Jain/Buddhist themes and one goes into great depths in exposing the
superiority of the Jain doctrine vis--vis the hindu doctrine.

 The Vaishnavaite and Shivaite bakhthi movement probably to also
counteract the growing spread of Jainism and Buddhism especially among
the kings of the region.

I hope this was helpfull.Much of it is what I remember from my lectures
in college where Tamil was my second language.The facts correspond to-

1.A.k Ramanujan,"Poems of Love and War"NY:Colombia University Press,1985

2.Zvelebil,Kamil,"The Smile of Murugan",Leiden:EJBrill and Co,1973.