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"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C

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Home > The Tamil Heritage > Tamil Literature as a Source Material of History - Professor K.K.Pillai > Tamil Language & Literature

Tamil Literature as a Source Material of History

K. K. Pillai

Journal of Tamil Studies, April 1969

K. K. Pillai was Professor of History at the University of Madras until his recent retirement and is the author of several publications, including a Ph.D . thesis on the Suchindram temple. He is currently on special duty at the University of Madras.

I. Introduction
Quasi-historical Literature
III. Classical Literary works-their direct and indirect value for the historian
Chronological Background
The Religious Works
The Modern Epoch

I. Introduction

Historical writing was conspicuous by its absence in Tamil, as in other Indian languages, including Sanskrit. Kalhana's 'Rajatarangini ' (the Kashmir Chronicle) of the 12th century A.D. was the earliest attempt in Sanskrit ; but, though in its latter part, the work treats the historical development, in the earlier section, it is full of legends. Sir Aurel Stein, the first English translator of the 'Rajatarangini' states about it thus : " Manifest impossibilities, exaggerations and superstitious belief are reproduced without a mark of doubt or critical misgiving ".

Several writers, beginning from Alberuni, the erudite and discerning Arab observer of the 11th century, have deplored the lack of historic sense on the part of the Hindus. R. C. Majumdar, the well-known historian of India says :

" Historiography was practically unknown to the Hindus at the beginning of the nineteenth century."

In spite of the large production of literary works, history as such received scant attention through the ages. One reason for this unfortunate circumstance was the domination of religion over all fields of thought and literary activity. In respect of Tamil literature this feature appeared more predominantly after the 7th century A.D. than earlier.

Secondly, the didactic aim which motivated literary productions also vitiated an objective approach. Often, the didactic aim commingled with the religious and philosophical treatment of ideas. Finally, certain literary conventions had taken shape which regulated the pattern of literary productions. This feature was particularly noticeable in the treatment of Love or Aham in the early Tamil classics. A truly historical or objective approach was vitiated by these literary conventions.

II. Quasi-historical Literature

However, in the whole range of Tamil literature, there have appeared certain quasi-historical compositions, which, if carefully utilised, can be made to yield some historical data. Often they supplement or confirm the information gathered from, certain other sources. The most prominent among these types of semi-historical works are the Ula, Kovai, Parani, Kalambakam, Amanai, Satakam and Pillaittamil. Several of the outstanding works under these categories were produced during the 12th and 13th centuries and are of value for the history of the Imperial Cholas.

These different patterns of semi-historical works vary in their historical value ; and the particular compositions in each category, too, vary from one another in their utility for the historian. Thus the Ula, is a poem sung in praise of a king or a deity. Where its subject matter is a king, some historical data may be gathered from it. But occasionally it is difficult to discern the subject of the poem, as for instance, it is not known whether the Ekambaranathar Ula was composed in honour of the deity of Kanchi or a Sambuvaraya chieftain whose name was Ekambaranatha. Doubtless, the most celebrated of the Ulas are those of Ottakkuttan on the three successive Chola monarchs, namely, Vikrama Chola (1118-35 A.D.), Kulottunga II (1130-1150 A.D.) and Raja Raja, II (1146-73 A.D.). He was the poet laureate of the Chola court during the reigns of all these three monarchs. From the standpoint of history, no doubt, the shortcomings of court poetry are there, and the truth has to be sifted from the laudatory verses.

The Ula assumes a conventional literary form, and it describes the supposed procession(parani) of its hero, the king, who is imagined as going around the city on a stroll along with his officers, apparently in order to ascertain the condition of his subjects living in the city. In the course of this description the poet provides a glorious and often magnified account of the achievements of the king and his predecessors.

It is, however, notable that certain facts mentioned by the Ulas are confirmed by the epigraphic and other sources. For instance, the Vikrama Cholan Ula states that Rajamahendra, the son of Rajendra I, provided a serpent-couch set with precious stones for Lord Ranganatha of Srirangam. It is notable that, though the 'Koilolugu' of a later period does, not mention this specific endowment, it refers to several improvements effected by Rajamahendra in the temple of Ranganatha.

Again, the names of the feudatory chieftains and officers of Vikrama Chola, mentioned in the Vikrama Cholan Ula, are confirmed by the inscriptions of his time. It may be observed in passing that the information regarding generals like Naraloka Vira and Karunakara Tondaiman is gathered only from the Vikrama Cholan Ula and Kalingattupparani. Further the surname of 'Tyagasamudra' assumed by Vikrama Chola is mentioned both in the Vikrama Cholan Ula and in the inscriptions.

The Kulottunga Cholan Ula also describes the renovation of the Chidambaram temple, and describes how gopurams with seven tiers were erected, a shrine of the goddess was constructed and how 'several parts of the temple were thatched with golden sheets. It is significant that the improvements effected by this king, Kulottunga II, in the temple and city of Chidambaram are mentioned in an inscription of the 7th year of Kullottunga's reign, found at Sripurambiyam.1

The Kovai ' represents a collection of poems dealing with normal conditions in times of peace. The main theme of a Kovai centres round the conventional description of the course of love between lovers commencing from the moment of their accidental meeting. There are some works of this category which are purely religious, as for instance, the 'Tirukovai'.

Among the semi-historical Kovais, perhaps the earliest and the most notable one is the 'Pandikkovai'. But it is not available in full ; some portions of it are cited in the later Commentaries and anthologies. The historical value of this work labours under another defect, namely, that though it mentions several battles fought by the successors at Kadungon (590-620 A.D.), the central hero of the Kovai was not a single king of the time, but an imaginary hero to whom the achievements of the Pandya line are ascribed. Except, therefore, for securing confirmation of the references to battles found mentioned in the epigraphs, the 'Pandikkovai' is not of help to the student of history.

The Kulottungan Kovai whose author remains unknown, deals with Kumara Kulottunga, presumably Kulottunga III ; but its historical value is not considerable, though it throws some light on his participation in the Pandyan war of succession in the latter half of the 12th century.

The ' Tanjai Vanan Kovai ' of Poyyamoli Pulavar describes incidentally the exploits of Vanan, a general, presumably of the Pandyan king, Maravarman Kulasekhara (1268-1308 A.D.). The general's role in the Malai Nadu (Chera country) is an important theme which finds a place in the Kovai, and that enables us to identify the Pandyan king whom he served. Regarding the expedition of Maravarman Kulasekhara itself the poem provides useful information.

'Parani ' is pre-eminently a war poem ; it describes the march of soldiers, the actual military operations and the result of the battle. The most well-known of the Paranis from the historical standpoint is the 'Kalingattupparani ' of Jayankondar. It describes vividly the Kalinga expedition undertaken by Kulottunga, the Chola king (1070-1120 A.D.) and speaks of the ravages and depredations caused by the Chola army under its leader, Karunakara Tondaiman, during its progress in the Kalinga country. The Kalingattupparani provides incidentally other valuable pieces of information on the Chola history of Kulottunga's time and also on the genealogy of' the Chola line of kings.2

In passing it may he observed that the Kalingattupparani provides the information that Kadiyalur Rudran Kannanar received from Karikala a munificent gift of over a million and a half gold pieces for his composition of the Pattinappalai.

There are several other Paranis in Tamil literature ; but they are not of historical value. For instance, the Takkayagapparani of Ottakkuttar is composed on a mythological theme. Though it mentions Virarajendra's friendship with Vikramaditya VI (1076 -1127 A.D), the Western Chalukya ruler, and refers to Kulottunga II's new constructions in the temple at Chidambaram, on the whole it cannot he considered to be of great historical value.

It may be mentioned here that Ottakkuttan is known to have composed another Parani on Vikrama Chola's Kalinga war, apparently in imitation of Jayankondar's work : but it is not now available.

The Kalambakam is a quasi-historical poem which deals with a single topic. The best known composition of this category is the Nandikkalambakam by an anonymous author. The poem is believed to contain several interpolations. As it stands at present, it consists of eighty stanzas, and it describes the victories of the reign of Pallava Nandivarman III (844-66 A D ) The poem mentions the principal towns of this Tellarrerinda Nandivarman's kingdom, particularly Mahabalipuram and Mylapore.

The 'Ammanai ' is an historical ballad written in popular language because it is intended for the masses. An important poem of this class is the 'Ramappayyan Ammanai ', which dwells upon the military exploits of Ramappayyan, the general and minister of Tirumala Nayak (1623-59 A.D.) of Madurai. The historical data contained in this Ammanai are confirmed by other sources of information concerning the reign of Tirumala Nayak. Thus, the 'Ramappayyan Ammanai', though revelling in fanciful imagery at various places. is not devoid of historical value. It records not merely a conquest of the Malayalam country by the ruler of Madurai but it specifically states that the Nanchinad Raja the foremost among the Nayak vassals, was appointed to guard the forts of the Pandyan capital. Further, it adds that the king of Nanchinad cooperated with Tirumala Nayak against the Setupati of Ramanathapuram.

Similar to the Ramappayyan Ammanai , both in style and subject matter, is the ballad known as the ' Iraviikkuttippillai Por ', or 'Iravikkuttippillaip Pattu' as it is alternatively known. This ballad describes how, in the battle of Kaniyakulam, Iravikkuttippillai, the courageous commander of the Venad forces, was killed while valiantly fighting against the Nayak invaders. The ballad does not at all state that the battle ended in a victory for the Venad ruler ; in all probability, on the death of the commander, the Venad army dispersed without further fight, virtually conceding the victory for the enemy.3

Two other ballads of a similar nature are the. 'Desingarajankadai ' and the ' Khan Sahib Sandai'. The former deals with the war of Raja Jai Singh, the ruler of Jinji in the 17th century, while the latter describes, the life and achievements of Muhammad Yusuf Khan of Madurai, who had joined. the company of sepoys under Clive in 1752 and served the English during the siege of Tiruchirappalli. Appointed. commandant of the sepovs in 1755, he defeated Haidar Ali in 1757, and at the time of Lally 's siege of Madras, he played a valiant part in harassing the besiegers. Later, Yusuf Khan rebelled because he was made the servant of the Nawab of Arcot by the. English. Eventually, in 1764, he was executed by the order of the Nawab. His courage and ability have been praised by Lawrence and Hill. This ballad is of considerable value in throwing light on the personalities and events in South. India during a critical period of the English struggle in the South.

The 'Satakam ', another type of semi-historical composition of a local character, became popular in the 17th and 18th centuries. Padikkasu Palavar was the author of the 'Tondaimandala Satakam. ' which dwells on Tondaimandalam and its early history. The author of the poem enjoyed the patronage of Raghunatha Setupati (1678-1710 A.D.) and of a rich Muslim merchant, Periyatambi Marakkayar. The ' Cholamandala Satakam ' of Atmanatha Desikar was composed about 1720, and it dwells upon the glories of the Chölas. But both of these Satakams base their accounts on the then current traditions. There is little evidence of a critical approach to the sources. Nevertheless, they are of some use in providing certain details connected with the history of these regions.

The 'Pillaittamil' which describes the hero's childhood is historically the least useful among the semi-historical works, for it is pre-eminently of biographical interest. A notable example of Pillaittamil is that composed by Ottakkuttan on Kulottunga II. No doubt Ottakkuttan was a gifted poet, but this poem is not of any considerable value as a piece of historical literature.

Then there are certain chronicles which profess to provide local history with the temple of the region as its nucleus. Thus we have the Maduraittalavaralaru ' which deals with the history of the Sri Minakshi temple at Madurai. But, while it treats the later history of the institution fully, it is rather meagre in respect of the earlier period. Moreover, the dominance of the legendary lore obscures very often the historical utility of the account.

Belonging to the same category is the Koilolugu ' which provides the history of the Sri Ranganatha temple at Srirangam. From all points of view this is a more satisfactory treatment of the subject than the Madumittalavaralaru ', although here, too, legends vitiate the reliability of the account at various places.

Ananda Rangan Pillai's Diary is a unique record, which though not a high class piece of literature, is of considerable historical value regarding a short period of South Indian history. Ananda Rangan Pillai was the 'Dubash ' or interpreter and commercial agent of Dupleix. His Diary provides a full and vivid account of contemporary events from 1736 to 1760. The diary was continued for ten years more by Tiruvengadam Pillai, the nephew of Ananda Rangan Pillai. This is also of some use, though it is less vivid and incisive than that recorded by his uncle.

Ananda Rangan Pillai has provided a sound and a fairly impartial assessment of Dupleix and his activities. He shows how Dupleix had a remarkable skill in carrying out his plans. Though occasionally Ananda Rangan Pillai's personal predilections have influenced his account, on the whole, it contains the record of an acute observer of contemporary events. It throws abundant light on the Anglo French conflict in South India during a critical epoch of Indian history and on the social and economic conditions of the region. In addition, the Diary gives us some idea of the state of colloquial Tamil current in Pondicherry during that time.

III. Classical Literary works-their direct and indirect value for the historian

The early Tamil classics known as the Sangam works are remarkably helpful in the reconstruction of history. The pen-pictures provided by them are realistic for the most part, and therefore, though they do not constitute systematic history, they provide useful information on the political, social, economic and, religious conditions of the age. No doubt there are the shortcomings of court poetry in many cases, and these vitiate the data regarding the assessment of the political activities of kings. However, this limitation should not be exaggerated, for, generally the Sangam poets, unlike those of later ages, were conspicuous for their forthrightness and plain speaking. In respect of their indirect and casual references to social phenomena, their evidence is remarkably unimpeachable. Moreover, the Sangam literature was not so prominently dominated by religion, like the Tamil literature subsequent to the 7th century A.D.

In respect of political history, the Puram works, namely those classics which deal with objective phenomena, particularly with war, are of considerable historical value. Of these, it is well known that the Purananuru and Padirruppattu throw abundant light on the kingdoms and feudatories of the Sangam age, their wars and other activities. It is clear that the political power was largely in the hands of three potentates, the Chera, Chola and Pandya monarchs who ruled over their traditional dominions, although on account of the varying fortunes of war. their boundaries were subjected to frequent changes. By the side of the three Monarchs there were several chieftains who ruled over small principalities and others who were the feudatories of one or the other of the Muvendar ', the three kings. The exact number of these chieftains and feudatories is not ascertainable. In connection with the famous battle of Talayalankanam, at which the Pandyan king. Neduncheliyan secured a brilliant triumph over his adversaries, only the two other monarchs and five chieftains are mentioned. But in other contexts we hear of seven chieftains who became renowned for their liberality.

Among the three monarchies, we have a remarkably elaborate account of the Chera kings from the extant poems of the Padirruppattu. Udiyancheral, the first Chera monarch,' is known to have been succeeded by his scn, Neduncheral Adam who was a. valiant hero. Surnamed as Imayavaramban, he is stated to have conquered the whole of India and carved the Chera emblem on the Himalayas. The appellation Imayavaramban denoted that the northern boundary of his dominion extended up to the Himalayas. This is doubtless an instance of poetic exaggeration, but it may not be too much to infer that this Chera king was an intrepid fighter who had vanquished several of his neighbours.

The Padirruppattu poems narrate the exploits of five. kings belonging to the Udiyan Cheral line. Three others of a collateral branch also are mentioned. It is not, however, easy to determine whether these, three were successors . or co-kings of the Udiyalichèral line.5 Nor has the controversy regarding the identity of the Chera capital been resolved. Evidence in support of Tiruvanchaikkalam as well as of Karuvur Vanchi is found in Tamil literature. Perhaps it is not a fantastic surmise to think that the Cheras had two capitols, Tiruyanchikkalain near the. Western coast and Karuvar in the interior, identifiable with the modern Karuvur.

A significant fact concerning Chera history is that Paranar, the author of the Decad on the celebrated Cheran Senkuttuvan has also contributed a poem (No. 369) in the Purannanuru anthology on the same monarch. This indicates the historicity of this king on the one hand and. his contemporaneity with. Paranar on the other. The Epilogue to the Vth Decad of the Padirruppattu provides the additional information that Cheran Senkuttuvan established a temple in honour of Kannagi, the paragon of chastity. It is stated that Cheran Senkuttuvan procured a stone for making the image of Kannagi after a tight with a chieftain of North India and that he had the stone bathed ceremoniously in. the Ganges before it was brought to the Chera country These events are described at greater length in a truly epic style in the Silappadikaram. Divergent views have been held as to which of these-the Epilogue to the Vth. Decad of the Padirruppattu or the Epic Silappadikiiram-which forms the original source of the association of Cheran Senkuttuvan with Kannagi.

The Epilogues of the Padirruppattu are valuable for the reconstruction of Chera history. But there is little doubt that they were composed considerably later than the poems themselves, firstly because the simple style of their language is markedly different from that of the poems, and secondly, because there are discrepancies between the Vth Decad of the Padirruppattu and its Epilogue. The Epilogue speaks of the stone brought from the north for erecting a temple for Kannagi, while this is not mentioned in the text. To explain away the discrepancy as has been done by stating that the Padigam, unlike the poem was composed after the king had returned from the north with the stone, is far-fetched. It is probable either that the Padigam incorporated certain, ideas from the Silappadikarann or vice versa. However, though the late date of the Padigam and the consequent need for using it with. caution are obvious, there is no:. justification for discarding the entire body of Padigams or Epilogues as valueless for the student of history.

As for the historical value of the Purananuru, it has to be noticed that at the end of most of the poems contained in it, we find colophons indicating the names of the poets, the Turai and the occasions for the composition of the poems. The colophons were apparently provided by the compiler of the anthology. But information as to who the compiler was, when the compilation was done and under whose Patronage it was carried out, is lacking.

Naturally, therefore, the reliability of the colophons is open to doubt. Perhaps they were based partly upon tradition and partly upon certain well-authenticated facts. Several scholars have attempted to provide a connected account of the various dynasties of the Sangam age based on these colophons and have furnished different genealogies, one at variance with the other. Some have given up the attempt, despairing of their reliability.6

But in this connection it is important to remember that the Kalittogai is stated to have been compiled by the poet, Nallanduvanar, who was himself the author of some poems in the same collection. In the case of Ainkurunaru, the compiler was one whose poems are found in certain Sangam classics themselves. Therefore, all the colophons are not of a much later date and they cannot be dismissed as untrustworthy, though it must be admitted that they do not help us in weaving a continuous account of the political history of the Sangam age. It may be added that Nachchinarkiniyar, the celebrated commentator, does not challenge the authenticity of the colophons.

It is idle to contend that the kings and events mentioned in the Purananuru are figments of imagination. There are references to the Chola and Pandya, kings mentioned in the Purananuru in the Copper Plates of later times. For instance, the Chola kings like Perunarkilli, Karikälan and Chenganan are referred to in the stone inscriptions and Copper Plates of 11th century A.D. Again, the Pandyan, king, Palyagasalai Mudukudumi Peruvaludi, about whom several poems are found in the Purananuru collection, is mentioned in the Velvikkudi Plates of the 8th century A.D. The famous Talayalankanam battle, described in the Purananuru (Nos. 19 and 23) is mentioned in the Sinnamanur Plates of the 10th century A.D. Unless it is fantastically imagined that these epigraphic references are all teased on the literary works, the authenticity of the kings and the events associated with them is unquestionable.

More valuable, however, are the Sangam classics for the historian of the social, economic, religious and cultural conditions of the early times. It need hardly be added that it is now increasingly realised that history is not concerned only with kings and queens, wars and treaties but with the condition and progress of the people at large. In respect of social position, the Sangam works do not make a deliberate attempt at overrating the customs and manners, the institutions and the life of the people. They were the days when there was no conscious effort at glorifying one's own culture. Therefore, the penpictures and casual references provided by the poets of the Sangam age are refreshingly realistic.

The diet, dress, occupations, the institution of caste, marriage, pre-marital love, the status of women in society, the state of education and learning as well as the manner of disposal of the dead are among the many features of social life learnt from the references in the Sangam literature. The Tolkappiyam, one of the earliest works, deals with many questions of social organisation in the section on Poruladhikaram. The Ainkurunuru, Narrinai, Ahananuru and Kalittogai, and more particularly the Pattuppättu (Ten Idylls) provide a remarkable wealth of information.

The casual and indirect nature of the data furnished has the supreme merit that it was not dressed for the stage and that it was not deliberately exaggerated or underrated. However, it has a serious drawback, too. The details furnished. are not always as full and comprehensive, as one may wish. For instance, it would be interesting to know the extent to which the. caste system had taken root in the Tamil country during the age of the Sangam. Again, it is not known whether Sati was then common among all classes of people, though we hear of a few cases of Sati from the literature of the time. In fact, one serious handicap in the use of literature for re-constructing social history is that, often, deductions have to Le made from a few known examples. The limitations to the validity of such generalisations have to lie remembered, though. they should not be exaggerated.

At times conflicting deductions are possible from the inadequate and stray references, and great care has to be exercised in drawing conclusions from them. For instance, it is not easy to provide an answer to the question whether all Brahmins of the Sangam age were pure vegetarians or not. Kapilar, the author of Kurinchipattu and several poems in the Ahananuru Purananaru, Kuruntogai and Narrinai, describes himself a brahmin, but speaks of the charm of meat and drink, as if from personal experience. On the other hand, we have a description of the typical brahmin diet which was purely vegetarian, found in the Perunbanarruppadai.8 The attempt made by some modern writers .to explain away Kapilar's reference as. not applicable to himself, but to the inhabitants of the Parambu land of Pali, seems to be laboured and unconvincing.

Regarding the religious beliefs and practices we have several references in the Ettuttogai and Pattuppattu. The worship of Muruga and Korravai, Indra_ and. Varuna is adverted to in several poems. The advent of Aryan ideas and rituals is particularly found in the Paripadal and Tirumurugäruppadai.

It is in respect of the fine arts, particularly of music and drama, that the data furnished by the classics are strikingly abundant. References to the arts of music and dance practised by the Panar Viraliyar and Porunar are found in most of the Sangam works. Literary commentators of later times speak of several works on music having existed prior to the third Sangam. It is unreasonable to imagine that they are all inventions of the myth makers.

Music and dance attained a remarkably high standard of excellence in the days of Silappadikaram. The Arangerrukadai of this Epic is almost an encyclopaedia of these fine arts of the age, It reveals in particular how the professional dancers and courtesans were systematically trained in the fine arts. The custom was to provide the young girls of the class. sound training for a period of seven years beginning from the 5th year. The training was provided by a dancing master, a music master, a composer of songs and those who played on the accompanying musical instruments like the flute, yal, drum and so forth. In fact, the references to musical instruments in the Silappadikaram as well as in the earlier literary works are remarkably numerous. There were instruments made of leather, bamboo, wood and of strings derived from the veins of animals. The yarl was a stringed instrument of great popularity among the early Tamils. We do not hear of the yarl subsequent to the 11th century A.D.

The Arangerrukadai shows that the different kinds of body movement and limb movement, the poses, gestures, conformity to the time beats, the manipulation of the vocal chords and all other allied elements of the art were taught systematically. The pose of the hand, in particular, received very careful attention. The Silappadikaram speaks of thirty three patterns of the hand pose. However, this development must have been the product of a gradual process, for the Kalittogai, one of the later Sangam classics also describes thf attention devoted to the pose of the hand and to the facial expressions during the dance.

IV . Chronological Background

This raises the crucial question of the chronology of the early literary works in Tamil, which is by no means a settled affair even at the present day. But it may be observed that broadly the date of the Ettuttogai and Pattuppattu is determined to have ranged from the 1st to the 3rd century A.D., the period which may be described as the Sangam age. Besides the Gajabahu-Senguttuvan synchronism, the so-called sheet anchor of early Tamilian chronology, which ascribes the events embodied in the Silappadikaram to the 2nd century A.D., the remarkable coincidence of the Tamil literary references with the data furnished by the Greek geographers of the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D., reinforced by the discovery of the Roman coins of that epoch in South India, particularly in Arikamedu, lends support to this view.

If it is taken that the Sangam age is assignable to the first three centuries of the Christian. Era, what can be said regarding the dates of the different works of the Sangam? A study of the Ettuttogai poems indicates that the verses in the Purananaru belong to different periods of time in the Sangam age. Of the others, the Kalittogai and Paripadal seem to have been later than the Ahananuru and other Sangam works. The Pattuppattu are generally later than the Ettuttogai, while the Tirumurugarruppadai is the latest of them all. This conclusion is based upon the increased evidence of Aryan mythology and the occurrence of Sanskrit words, besides the differences noticeable in the social life depicted in them.

Then comes the question whether the Tolkappiyam, the earliest extant Tamil grammar, preceded or succeeded the Sangam classics. Some have assigned to it a date subsequent to the 4th century A.D., but, every thing considered, it appears to have preceded the Sangam works. The deities mentioned M the Tolkappiyam are Varuna, Vendan, Mayon (Vishnu) and Seyon (Muruga). On the other hand, besides Muruga and Kannan (Vishnu) Siva and Baladeva also find a place in the Ettuttogai and Pattuppattu. Perhaps they are later introductions. Further, the Tolkappiyam states that the matter on Ahapporul should be composed in Paripadal and Kalippa. But, contrary to this prescription, the Sangam poets have composed most of the Aham verses of Ahapporul in Ahaval metre. Moreover, for certain rules enunciated in the Tolkappiyam, examples cannot be found in the extant Sal' gam poems. These indicate that the Ettuttogai and Pattuppattu appeared only subsequent to the Tolkappiyam. The traditional view, first stated by Iraiynar Ahapporulurai, that Tolkappiyam belonged to the Second Sangam may not be baseless.

That brings us to another controversial issue, namely, the number of Sangams. The Iraiynar Ahapporulurai and later commentaries have spoken three Sangams, but most of the modern scholars have cast it aside as a piece of incredible legend. However, the references to the encroachment of land by sea in early Tamil literature and to the shiftings of the Pandyan capitals suggest that at first the Pandyans had Ten Madurai as the capital, then Kapadapuram and last Vada Madurai, the present Madurai. Poets might well have been associated with these respective capitals and the tradition regarding the works alleged to have been lost might have been based on reality. Numerous literary classics are said to have, been lost, and although the fabulous legends connected with the Sangams are not true, certain fundamental facts like the existence of earlier Pandyan capital and the literary activities associated with them cannot be dismissed as baseless.

While Tolkappiyam seems to have belonged to the Second Sangam the common view held by Tamil scholars that the Padinenkilkanakku poems and the twin Epics, Manimekalai and Silappadikaram also belong to the Sangam age are not acceptable. The Kural, no doubt, stands on a different footing. The parallelisms of ideas contained in the Narrinai, 32 and 355, Kuruntogai, 230, Ahananuru, 184 and Kurinchippattu 206-7 to certain corresponding couplets of the Tirukkural show that the latter had appeared earlier. Above all, verse 34 of the Purananuru anthology which states : Cheydi Konrorkku Mena Aram Padirre Ayilai Kanava ' clinches the issue and indicates its earlier date.

But the other Padinenkilkanakku works mostly belong to the 5th or 6th century A.D. The reference to Peru Muttaraiyar mentioned in inscriptions of the 9th century A.D. and the occurrence of their name in Naladi suggests a late date for the latter. Though inscriptional evidence need not be the only basis, the attempt to explain it away by stating that the argument of silence in epigraphy cannot Le trumped up for suggesting a late date is not convincing. At any rate, the Muttaraiyar could not have lived in the Sangam age ; probably they belonged to a century or two prior to the reference found in epigraphy. Further, the language of the Naladi, Inna Narpadu and Iniyavai Narpadu, for example, confirm the fact that they were later than the age of the Sangam. (9)

Regarding the date of the Epics, again, divergent views persist. Scholars who swear by the old tradition consider them as Sangam works, basing their position on the Padigams in the Epics and on the Cheran Senguttuvan synchronism. But while Cheran Senguttuvan is assignable to the 2nd century A.D., the alleged authorship of the Silappadikaram to Ilango, the king's brother, seems to be an invention. The difference in style, and more important, the different social conditions like the Aryan pattern of marriage and the higher stage of fine-arts reflected in the Silappadikaram suggest a date later than 3rd century A. D. but anterior to that of the Devaram hymnists of 7th century A.D. (10) The view that they belong to the 5th or 6th century A.D. does not seem fantastic.

V. The Religious Works

Gradually the literary source became surcharged with the religious motivation. The themes dealt with are almost exclusively religious, and therefore, the mythical and legendary element predominates in them. To that extent the value of literature as a source of history diminishes. This is true of the age of the Bhakti movement in Tamilaham which was at its height from the 7th to the 9th century A.D. Religious tolerance and goodwill prevailed among the Tamils only till about the 6th century A.D.

The Saiva Nayannaars and the Vaishnava Alvars traversed throughout the country visiting temples and pouring forth their devotional songs. This fervour was primarily provoked by the Hindu hostility towards the Jains and Buddhists. Though not directly valuable to the student of history these outpourings of the saints and devotees are of use in understanding the religious, social and cultural conditions of the people.

The hymns of the Nayanmars and Alvars were collected and arranged in canonical form in the 10th and early 11th centuries. The works of the Saiva hymnists and of the religious writers were collected in the shape of twelve Tirumurais. Begun by Nambi Andar Nambi of the 10th century A.D., the first seven books formed the Devaram, which contain the hymns of the great Nayanmars. Book VIII contains the Tiruvachakam of Manikkavachakar, while Books IX and XI contain the hymns of several minor saints. Book X consists of 3,000 verses of Tirumalar known as Tirumandiram ' which is an obscure manual of Saivism. The Tiruttondar Puranam, commonly known as the Periya Puranam is the last and twelfth book of the Tirumurais and, used with care and discernment, they help the reconstruction of the history of early Saivism and the beliefs current in that age.

On the Vaishnava side, the Vaishnava canon, Nalayira Prabandham including hymns of the Alvars, was arranged by Nathamuni.

The Periya Puranam narrates in an admirable manner the lives of the sixtythree Saiva Nayanmars. No doubt, many incredible legends find a place in it, but the author, a Chola administrator, who had access to official documents, has portrayed the social and religious conditions of his age as the background of his main theme. For example, Sekkilar's description of the brahmin village of Adanur and the slums of the pariahs living in the outskirts of Adanur may be taken as representative of the conditions of about the 12th century A.D.

Some facts of political history are also recorded incidentally. It states that Pugal Chola Nayanar was a Chola ruler, presumably of the 7th century A.D., who conquered Uraiyur. It reveals also that the Pandyan ruler during the time of Tirujnana Sambandar had married a Chola princess known as Mangayarkkarai. It is learnt that when Sundaramurti and Cheramanperumal visited Madurai they found that a Chola prince had married a Pandyan princess. Thus the matrimonial relationship between the Chola and Pandyan royal lines seem to have been common in the 7th and 8th centuries.

The stories of persecution described by Sekkilar are partly based on legends and partly on the general tendencies of the times. Some have thought that the accounts of religious persecution described by Sekkilar were reflections of his age and not of the epoch of Devaram. But this seems to be the result of misreading the conditions during the epoch of the Bhakti movement. In reality the religious hostility must have commenced earlier. However, it may be added that from the 12th century onwards the Periya Puranam has influenced the life and thought of the Saivas in no small measure.

The Nalayira Prabandham, which describes the life and activities of the Vaishnava saints, assumed a form about the 11th century A.D. Though the chronology adopted by it is fantastic, it traces the development of Vaishnavism in the Tamil country in the proper historical sequence. In passing, it may he observed that Tirumangai Alvar's works afford some historical data of value. The commentaries on the hymns of the Alvars were written later, probably in the 15th and 16th centuries, and they throw some light on the political and social conditions, though the material has to be sifted carefully from the accounts provided.

The Tiruvilayadal Puranam of Perumbarrapuliyur Nambi, probably of the 13th century, deals with the legends connected with the 64 sports of Siva. It mentions incidentally some details regarding the Pandyan rulers, but the whole account is so surcharged with mythology that it is impossible to sift historical facts from the legends. Subsequently Paranjoti dwelt on the same theme. His list of the Pandyan kings is different from that given in the Tiruvilaiyadal Puranam ; but that, too, is unreliable.

The Saiva Siddhanta school of thought and literature connected with it commenced about the' 12th century A.D. Early in the 13th century there appeared the celebrated manual of Saivism of Meykandar in his Siva Nana Bodham. On the basis of his brilliant work there grew up an extensive philosophical literature which has influenced the thought of the intellectuals among the Saivites through the succeeding centuries. The system stresses the importance of sincere devotion. It discards caste and ritual, and on the whole, the Saiva Siddhanta system is of importance in the social history of the Tamils.

The period extending roughly from the 12th century to 14th century A.D. is the epoch of the famous Commentaries on the literary works. Nakkirar's Commentary on. Iraiyanar Ahapporul was perhaps the earliest of the series, but its exact date is not determinable. The commentators of Tolkappiyam, like Ilampuranar, Senavaraiyar and Nachchinarkiniyar and the commentators of Silappadikaram like Arumpada Uraiyasiriyar and Adiyarklunallar and above all, the celebrated Parimelalagar, the commentator of Tirukkural and Paripadal are all learned writers. Though they adopted the traditional pattern of commenting on early works, they throw abundant light on the social, religious, literary and cultural institutions of the Tamils ; however, they cannot be considered as systematic works on social history. Among these commentaries, those of Adiyarkkunallar and Nachchinarkiniyar seem to be of the greatest value for the student of the social and cultural institutions of the early Tamils.

From the 16th century onward there appeared numerous Sthalapuranas, many of which were translations from Sanskrit Sthalamahatmyas. The 18th century was par excellence the age of Sthalapuranas. However, they are anything but history, though they are of use for local history of modern times.

VI. The Modern Epoch

Prose writing in Tamil assumed an importance during the age of the Commentaries, and it increased in popularity in the 18th century. In the 19th century and the recent times, fiction in the shape of novels and short stories has appeared, and in some measure, it reflects the social conditions, habits and customs of the people. Very recently some effort at writing history in Tamil has received some encouragement, and it is likely to have a bright future, provided objectivity does not yield to sentimental chauvinism.

There is one source of importance which remains to be fully exploited. This is the vast body of manuscript material found in public bodies like Mathas and Churches as well as in the hands of private individuals. They pertain to a variety of subjects. Some are literary compositions, some are medical manuals while a few throw light on political, social and economic conditions.

Col. Mackenzie, who was the Surveyor General of the East India Company in the early 19th century, took a great interest in the collection of manuscripts in the different languages of South India. It was at his instance that the 'Karnataka Savistara Charitam ' and 'Kongu Desa Rajakkal ' were written, but their historical value is not much, since many of the manuscripts on which the accounts were based are surcharged with legends. But doubtless, some historical facts can be gleaned from them.

There are, on the other hand, certain records like the Mudaliyar Manuscripts' gathered from the Periyavittu Mudaliyar's house at Alagiyapandipuram (Kanyakumari Dist.) which yield very useful data in respect of political, administrative, social and economic history of Nachinad. More or less similar manuscripts available in various places of Tamil Nadu are of value, and have to be exploited with thoroughness and discrimination.


1 Annual Report of Epigraphy, 1927, II, 24. Some structures in the Chidambaram temple are attributed to Vikrama Chola, too. Apparently, both the kings devoted their attention to the improvement of this temple.

2 The Chola genealogy provided by the Vikraman Chelan Ula ' and the 'Kalingattup-parani ' tally in fundamentals with that found in the Kanyakumari inscription of Virarajendra.

3 Contra : T. K. Velu Pillai : The Travancore State Manual. Vol. II. pp. 191-2.

4 Udiyafi Cheral is stated to have fed the armies of the Mahabharata battle at Kurukshetra. This is a clear instance of mythical fabrication. Some Pandya and Chola kings are also given the same honour in other Sangam poems. However, the attempt made by some to distinguish Udiyan Cheral from Perunchorru Cheral is not convincing.

5 The deductions drawn by K. G. Sesha Aiyar in his Ma Kings of the Sangam Period ', by Auvvai Durasami Pillai in his ' Pandai Nalaich Chen. Mannargal ' (Tamil) and by A. Chidambaranar in his Cherar Varalaru ' (Tamil) are not free from doubts.

6 P. T. S. Iyengar : History of the Tamils, p. 417. He concludes that the colophons " are an inextricable tangle of fact and fiction, of tradition and guess, and therefore, useless for the purpose of constructing genealogical lists of kings ". He adds, however. that notes on the life of a few kings can be recovered from these poems.

7 Pulatturai Murriya Kudalur Mar, the compiler of the Ainkurunuru, was the author of poems 166, 167 and 214 of the Kuruntogai and poem 229 of the Purananuru.

8 Perumbanarruppadai : 306 ff.

9 The suggestion that the Muttaraiyar, who are described as opulent, were identical with the Kalabhras, who, defeating the Chera, Chola and Pandyan kings acquired their wealth and position might well be true. If so, the date of Naladi and of several of the Kilkanakku works may be sometime between 4th and 7th century A.D.

10 Indra and Indra Vila are mentioned in the Sangam works, but they assume a greater prominence in the Epics. Reference to 'Indiran Chirappu', 'Indira Kodanai ' and 'Indra Vil ' occur only in the Epics but neither in the Sangam works nor in the Devarams.

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