A. General Theory
Tolkappiyam at least in
parts is the earliest
work in Tamil. It is a book on phonology, grammar and poetics. Therefore
it implies the prior existence of Tamil literature. There is a distinction
made therein between literary language and colloquial or non-literary
language - ceyyul and valakkul1
thus implying certain literary conventions not only in grammatical forms but
also in literary form and subject matter. However, from the point of view of
vocabulary, ordinary words, literary words, dialect words and foreign words
may all come into the literary composition.2
Though Tolkappiyam, as stated may be earlier than the Cankam works, it seems
to contemplate the same kind of literature.
Akam and Puram
The most important aspect
of this literature is the distinction between what is called akam and puram
the exterior or the outer and the interior or the inner. I prefer to call
them the poetry of the phenomenon and the poetry of the noumenon. The inner
core of truth of human life is akam or Love. There is a rule that in akam
poetry no names are to be mentioned.3
Akam is therefore describing an ideal or perfect human being whether man of
women but here the poetry is not describing any type. It represents the
autobiography of the individual from the fundamental universal point of
But this gives its core of
love which may be equated with a soul which is revealed through the varying
personalities within the background necessarily of the multifarious aspects
of Nature and History which after all form the various points of view or
perspectives revealing the inner core. Each poem, as I have stated
elsewhere, is "a chink in the wall of its individuality giving the glimpse
of the whole universe. It is a beautiful dew drop reflecting the whole of
the heavens and the earth from the individual point of view, its coign of
There are various
implications of this ideal love tried to be explained in Nakkirar's
commentary on Iraiyanar Akapporul.5
There were controversies on this as time went on, especially between the
vedic scholars and the later day moralists on the one hand and the Tamil
poets believing in the old theory of Love.6
The idealized love, it has to be said, made it easier for Tirumular to
identify Love with God; "anpe sivam."
7 This led to the mystic poetry of
the Nayanmars and Alvars singing in the old Akapporul style.
The phenomenon is there
only as an exposition of the noumenon. It is only when love attains this
ideal level that it becomes akam; for, other love stories remain only puram.
As against this, puram or the poetry of the phenomenon shows the experience
of the varying individuals in this world, an experience which can be often
dated as belonging to the historical persons. This however is not to mean
that this poetry is not universal; only it raises itself to that universal
level by emphasizing the phenomenon.
Ultimately akam and puram
are as the inner palm of the hand and its back.8
Akam poetry deals with this love from the point of view of pre-marital love
or post-marital love kalavu and karpu. Puram deals with not only the various
aspects of war then practised but also with the phenomenal victory of human
life, with the greatness of men who come to be sung by poets and also with
the evanescence of life inspiring man to do great acts and make himself
eternal in the memory of men during the short span of his life.
There is one thing peculiar
about this poetry; the poems consist of dramatic monologues. Tolkappiyar
enumerates certain illustrative contexts in the various aspects of akam and
puram poetry where the charac ter could speak and reveal a dramatic moment.9
Therefore there is in that age no narrative poetry or epic but only a series
of dramatic monologues. This is one of the important aspects of the
literary theory of Tolkappiyam.
Dandin who came to live in
Tamil Nad at the end of the seventh Century realized the importance of this
literary theory about poetic anthologies and therefore spoke only of two
kinds of poetry, the poetry of anthologies and the poetry of continuous
narration or epic. As I have stated elsewhere,
"Many a gem of purest
ray serene may be hidden in the sea of experience, and many are the
hidden ways of the subtle artists, working on these valuable gems. Many
like the epic poets are great in weaving beautiful patterns,
immortalized in the pearl necklace of a queen or in the diamond diadem
of a king - the varying dispositions of the many faceted gems
satisfying the varying tastes and vanities of the rich. Some like the
Cankam poets are great in carving out glistening and living forms of
the Divine Dance [Ratna Sabhapati] or the Female Beauty, in each
individual gem, infusing and vivifying the dead stone, with their life
breath and mystical vision, making it, in short, the Absolute. How can
this Absolute be reduced to the relative in a pattern? "10
suggests in a unique way the group poetry as I have suggested elsewhere -
"Cankam poetry is
unique as group poetry par excellence. It has a personality of its own
representing the group mind and the group personality of the Cankam age.
Taken as a whole, it satisfies all the requirements of great poetry,
enumerated above. 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 folk song, 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
in its origin. These remind us of the
towering gopuram of Tanjore expressing the aspiring spiritual height
of the Cola age, though it is not the handiwork of any one sculptor but
the work of a group of artists, each giving expression in rock to a
vision of his own. It is therefore necessary to realize the importance
of this conception of Cankam literature as a Tokai or anthology or group
poetry which lies at the very root of the theory of Cankam poetry."
What is called vanappu
mentioned as the last of the organs of a literary composition in the list
given by Tolkappiyar contemplates some narrative poetry or literature. But
they are not as elaborately discussed as the contexts or dramatic moments of
anthologies. There, amongst these vanappus, is tol which describes an old
story. As contrasted with it is viruntu which describes a new story.
There is also the
literature composed in the ordinary dialect of the common man. There is
again the literature consisting of a commingling of verse and prose. The
other kinds do not contemplate any continuous narrative.
11 Vanappu comes at the end of the list almost either as a
concession to a latter age where narrative poetry has developed or as a
vague remembrance of a forgotten tradition of an earlier age. In any case
the cryptic explanation given for these vanappus, vaguely suggesting
narrative poetry against the elaboration of the dramatic moments of the
anthologies, seems to suggest the prevailing poetic theory of the age
related mainly to the anthologies rather than to narrative poems.
Another aspect of this
literature is the attempt by the poet to capture the poetic quintessence of
the dramatic moment in the form of living phrases and poetic metaphors and
similes which become the life of the verse. These phrases are, as it were,
the keys with which the inner treasure of poetry has to be locked. These
therefore have become the names of such verses and often the immortal names
of the poets themselves. Even when this idea is elaborated as a Netuntokai
and Pattuppattu, the dramatic and poetic compression is not forgotten.
This necessitates a great
and important place being given to suggestion. Apart from ordinary figures
of speech mainly consisting of various kinds of metaphors and similes there
is ullurai uvamam which is an implied metaphor.12
Here nature is described; and from that, one has to understand the
implications: for instance, the buffalo treading on lotus and feeding on
tiny flowers implies the extra marital relationship of the hero who leaves
the heroine to suffer thereby. That age thought it was against the culture
of the heroine and others to state this charge openly. There may be further
implications within implications, thus giving rise to various strata of
meaning, naturally to be understood only by the real critics or sahradayas.
Apart from the figures of speech, there were also other kinds of suggestions
not only of the meaning but also of emotions and ideals. iraicci is a
general name given to this suggestion.13
The whole theory of suggestion as conceived and developed by the Cankam
poets, require a detailed research.
The emphasis Tolkappiyar
lays on poetic sentiments or Rasa or what is called meyppatu should also be
understood. He speaks of eight rasas, nakai or hasya, uvakai or hanpiness
which is something more extensive than sringara; suffering or soka; vira or
heroism physical. moral, intellectual and spiritual, ilivaral or jugupsa or
a kind of shuddering at meanness; knodha or anger (bhaya or fear) and
adbhuta or wonder.14
Tolkappiyar further elaborates the various emotions which play an important
part in the various dramatic moments of Akam poetry.15
There is a separate chapter
on this rasa or meyppatu in Tolkappiyar thus showing the importance of these
poetic sentiments intended to be suggested by a description of the
appropriate time and place of the story, which are in turn made alive by a
graphic description of Nature including the plants and the animals on the
one hand, and the human society on the other and finally by that story made
clear through the behaviour and speeches of the hero and the heroine amidst
their followers and relatives. The implications of this theory of meyppatu
has also to be worked out in detail by further research.
understanding such dramatic monologues, it is necessary to be familiar with
the conventions of such poetry. For interpreting such a verse, it is
necessary, as emphasized by Tolkappiyar to know who the speaker is, to whom
it is spoken, its dramatic context in akam or puram ; the time implied
therein as a looking back or as a looking forward and the various strata of
meaning and rich suggestion because such poetry believing as it does in
compression should have recourse to an elaborate theory of suggestion and
meyppatu or rasa or poetic sentiment.16 There is also the poetic
convention about interpreting long drawn sentences, its peculiar linkages
B. Theory Implied in
Enumeration of Organs
I may pass on to quote
from my essay on the theory of poetry in Tolkappiyam,17
an organic theory of poetry where the sounds and the meanings together form
one united whole. The ceyyul iyal or the chapter on literary composition
in Tolkappiyam starts by enumerating the various constituents of a verse
as its organs where we find enumerated both the aspects of form and matter,
not only the poetic form but also the phonological and morphological form.
(1) The alphabetical
sounds or phonemes (Eluttu);
(2) their duration
(3) their knitting
together into syllables (Acai) ;
(4) the various
permutations and combinations of these syllables as feet (cir) ;
(5) the varied
integrations of these feet into lines (ati);
(6) the caesura - the
coincidence with the metrical and grammatical pause (yappu) ; (7) the
lexical tradition (marapu);
(8) the basic poetic
intonations or fundamental poetic tunes so to say (tnkku) ;
(9) the innumerable
garland-like patterns of the metrical weldings such as assonance and rhyme
(10) the import or the
purport of the verse, controlling and vivifying all these parts, so as to
make them expressive of the self same purport (Nokku);
(11) the basic verse
patterns as so many permanent and natural sound configurations of the idiom
of the language (pa);
(12) the length or
dimensions of the verses (alavu);
(13) [here comes subject
matter] the harking back to the ideal behaviour patterns of an ennobling
(14) their varying main
currents of activity (kaikol);
(15) the speaker (kurrul);
whose expression is the poem;
(16) the person to whom the
poem is spoken (ketpor);
(17) the place (kalam) and
(18) the time of the poem
(l9) the resulting effect
of purpose of the verse (payan);
(20) the sentiment or
emotion bubbling forth therein;
(21) [here comes to poetic
syntax] the elliptical construction or the yearning after completion of the
sense, at every stage of its progress (eccam) ;
(22) the context making
the meaning (munnam) ;
(23) the underlying
universality (porul) ;
(24) the ford in the poetic
current where the particularity enters into the flow of poetry or the
particularity of the poetic aspect of the verse (turai);
(25) the great linkings or
the retrospective and prospective constructions (mattu);
(26) the colour of the
rhythm of the verse (vannam); and
(27) the eight-fold
poetical facades (vanappu) or kinds of poetry of poetic composition.18
At first this may sound a
confused conglomeration but a careful analysis and understanding will reveal
the great organic theory of poetry as conceived by Tolkappiyar.
Some of the constituents
of the verse, like the letters or phonemes, their duration, the syllables,
the feet, the garland like weldings, the lines and intonations are
elaborations of our phonetic experiences, whilst the resulting sound
configurations, the rhythms, the dimensions, and the poetic tunes are
prosodic elaborations of such an experience. All these hypnotize the reader,
by their basic poetic music, and make him move and heave with the poem.
He stands enchanted and
hypnotized believing in the subject matter and becoming one with it, carried
away by the multitudinous concatenation of canorous sounds of varying
durations, modified by breaths; frictions, trills, liquids, hard and soft
explosions, enriched by oral and nasal resonances, and divided into happy
collections of significant and natural syllabic pulsations, which by their
flow, by their permutations and combinations form into various waves of
feet, which in their turn move with the poetic mood, by their very force of
movement fastening themselves into varying patterns of wreaths or eddies of
differing directions and angles of assonance and rhyme; the multifarious
dispositions of these lines, giving rise, on this poetic march to varied and
variegated poetic tunes, resulting in basic configurations of different
rhythms of many a hue and many a facade.
Here arises what Eliot has
called the auditory imagination. The other organs of the verse like the
meaning made clear by the context, the elaborate ramifications by allusions
and suggestions glowing into life, by sweet remembrances as described at
length by Prof. Richards, the lexical traditions of words and their
significance, the elliptical construction or the yearning for the predicate
after every pause in the continuous flow of the sense making the whole a
continuity, and the retrospective and prospective constructions as looking
backward and forward to bring about a well known organized unity, are but
ordinary grammatical themes. There are the various ways in which the
reader's understanding of a poem and his usual grasp of the meaning are
utilized for swaying his mind hither and thither, his mind, thereby heaving
up with the crest of the poetic wave and ebbing away with its trough, and
his hypnotized intellect, reasoning with the music and meaning of the poem,
and thereby, becoming one with the theme.
The remaining constituents
of the verse are its speaker, the persons addressed, the time and place, the
effect, the sentiment, the generality, the particularity and the
universality of the poem, the last head reminding us of Jung's "archetypes
and the unconscious racial and individual memories". These are all that one
is accustomed to to consider under the head of meaning and subject matter.
These form the poetic theme in its concrete and specific reality, vivified
by its glowing emotion, appealing to every heart by its universality or
archetype, becoming of momentous value, as the expression of a fundamental
mode of intrinsically ennobling human behaviour; its value carrying with
itself the imprimatur of personal experience.
The value of a work of art,
as Read suggests, consists not merely in the progressive organization of
impulses for freedom and fullness of life according to Richards, but also of
the open recognition of amoral sanction which is, in the old phraseology,
revealed to the artist. The eight-fold facades and the import of the parts
are attempts at telescoping these various strata of poetry, viz. the sound,
the music, the significance, its sweep and development, the emotion and the
final experience. Everything, thus, appears to be of great importance in the
final make up of the poetic personality of the verse, reflecting the
personality of the poet.
1.Tolkappiyar, Tholkappiyam, The South India Saiva Siddhanta Works
Publishing Society, Madras, 1943, Sutra 510, 880.
2. Ibid., 880.
3. Ibid., 1000.
4 T. P. Meenakshisundaram, The theory of poetry in Tolkappiyam,
collected papers, Annamalainagar, 1961, p. 63.
5 Iraiyanar, Iraiyanar Akapporul Urai, Pavanthar Wazhakam, Madras, 1939,
6 S.Rajam (ed.) Pariparal, Murray & Co., Madras, 1957, verse 9:12.
7 Tirumular, Tirumantirarn; Tiruppanantal Sri Kasi Mutt, Tiruppanantal,
1956, verse 270.
8 Naccinakkiniyar, Commentary on Tolkappiyam - Porttlatikaram,
Pavanthar Kazhakam, Madras, sutra 59.
9 Tolkapiyar, Tolkappiyam, Sutras 982-988m 1004-1006, 1009, 1013, 1014,
1018, 1021, 1022, 1025, 1027, 1031, 1036-1037. The South India Saiva
Siddhanta Works Publishing Society, Madras, 1943.
10 T. P. Meenakshisundaram, The theory of poetry in Tolkappiyam,
collected papers, Annamalinagar, 1961, p. 63
11 Tolkapiyar, Tolkappiyam, sutras 1259, 1493, 1495. The South India
Saiva Siddhanta Works Publishing Society, Madras, 1943.
12 Ibid., 992-994, 1244.
13 Ibid., 1175-1177.
14 Ibid., 1197.
15 Ibid., 1207-1214.
16 lbid., 1441 etc., 1445 etc., 1452 etc., 1457 etc., 1460, 1462 etc.
17 T. P. Meenakshisundaram, The theory of poetry in Tolkappiyam,
collected papers, Annamalainagar, 1961, pp. 55, 563.
18 Tolkapiyar, Tolkappiyam, sutra 1259, The South India Saiva Siddhanta
Works Publishing Society, Madras, 194