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Home > Tamils - a Trans State Nation > Tamil Language & Literature > Thamizh Literature Through the Ages - Preface > 1. Introduction > 2. The Sangam (Academy) period. > 3. The Didactic Period > 4. The Era of the Thamizh Epics > 5. The Era of Devotional Period > 6. Epics of the ChOzha Period > 7. Grammar and Lexicography > 8. Philosophical Literary Period > 9. Thamizh purANangaL and Minor Poems > 10. IslAmic and Christian Contributions to Thamizh Literature > 11. Modern Period > 12. Present Situation > 13. Conclusion
Thamizh Literature Through the Ages
Dr. C.R. Krishnamurti,
[see also நீதிநெறி நூல்கள் at Project Madurai]
3. The Didactic Period (நீதிநூல் காலம்)
Following the Thamizh Sangam period, gradual changes took place in the social, political and cultural lives of Thamizhs. The fortunes of the PAndya (பான்டிய) Kings, who were the chief patrons of the academies began to wane. The supremacy of the other kings, ChOzha (சோழ) , ChEra (சேர) and Pallava (பல்லவா) , alternated from time to time with help from Kings and generals of border areas resulting in constant squabbles and fights with one another.
With the advent of Jainism and Buddhism, there were strifes among the three major religious groups each vying with the others for domination. The rulers from North India and the Deccan directly or indirectly supported the different religious factions. From the change of literary focus in subsequent years one may surmise that the Thamizh people should have realized that over indulgence in materialistic pleasures and heroism alone was not sufficient for their mental satisfaction.. The need for the tightening the moral standards of people was felt. The poets focussed on moral issues (the do's and dont's in daily life) in their compositions. This then was the prelude to the emergence of the moral era in the literary development of Thamizh.
3.2. Literary Works in the post Sangam period. ( PathineN kIz kaNakku, பதினெண் கீழ் கணக்கு)
"A group of 18 poetic works written during ~ 100 - 500 A.D. were compiled under the
heading, PathineN kIz kaNakku (பதினெண் கீழ் கணக்கு)
which constituted the bottom 18 of the anthology series. These poems differ from
those in the top series (Ettuthokai and
Pattupaattu) both in style and content. In general, the songs are relatively
short in length, meter (சீர்) as well as in
the number of lines (அடிகல்) . The lines
were set in the veNpA (வெண்பா) style as
different from the akaval
(அகவல்) style of
the top 18 series. More significant is the fact that, of the 18 in the series, only six were on akam topic
(அகம்), one on puRam
(புறம்) and the remaining 11 on moral issues
(அறம்) . The constituents of the PathineN kIz
kNakku are :
3.2.1. ThirukkuRaL (திருக்குறள்)
ThirukkuRaL (திருக்குறள்) written by ThiruvaLLuvar (திருவள்ளுவர்) is the most well known and highly regarded work in the series of PathineN kIz kaNakku. While all other Sangam works varied in their degree of popularity among Thamizh people, ThirukkuRaL proved to be the cream of Thamizh literature cherished both by the elite and the common man alike. The complete work of 1330 couplets is available. It has been described by Pope as "the perfect and most elaborate work of one master"
The couplets in ThirukkuRaL contain two lines, the first usually of four feet and the second three. As usual the date of the author and personal accounts have been, and still are, the subjects of controversy among experts in the field. Based on the fact that ThirukkuRaL is referred to in MaNi mEkalai, a later literary classic, Zvelebil (1995) has concluded that the date should be c. 500 -550 A.D.
The par excellence of ThirukkuRaL is usually attributed to four of its major unique features. The first pertains to the ability of the poet to concentrate certain profound thoughts in two short lines of the veNpA (வெண்பா) type. It is said that the poet has pierced the atom and has packed within it the seven seas of the world (அணுவைத் துளைத்து எழு கடலைப்புகுத்தி) . The second trait refers to the maxims proposed on various aspects of human endeavours ranging from righteousness through worldly pursuits to love. It is no wonder that any talk by the present day Thamizh scholars on any topic is studded with quotes from ThirukkuRaL. The third attribute of ThirukkuRaL lies in its secular and cosmopolitan view of righteousness which would be acceptable to mankind as a whole, transcending linguistic, religious and national boundaries.
At a time when the order of the day was an elaboration of the akam theme, ThirukkuRaL was not only different in its literary style but also in its emphasis on the badly needed set of moral codes for human conduct. He was a social reformist and stood firmly against prostitution. He condemned the consumption of alcohol and meat eating. The final significance of ThirukkuRaL is that it opens up with an invocation wherein the poet pays homage first to the Absolute Being and not to any particular deity or godhead and secondly to all learned people.
The couplets bear testimony to the catholic perception of the author. The vEdhAntic philosophy of the oneness of the Supreme expressed in these lines and the lack of sectarian dogmas of individual religions have appealed to righteous people in India and elsewhere. The translation of ThirukkuRaL into English by Pope in the nineteenth century is an example of its secular nature. In a world divided and torn on the basis of religion and language, the Thamizh people can be proud to have in their ancient literature a work which has the moral dictum to alleviate the social and ethical dilemmas facing the world today.
It is significant that ThirukkuRaL has been composed in pure Thamizh and the very few words introduced from Sanskrit have been made to assume a Thamizh garb (Pope). The need to compress the meter into two lines has necessitated the omission of the finite verbs. Thus the use of ellipsis (தொகை) became indispensable and characteristic of the couplets.
The highest priority given to virtue in ThirukkuRaL could be appreciated by the fact that it is the topic of discussion in the first of the three part series (அறத்துப்பால்). This priority has never been seen before in any literary work in Thamizh upto that time. The second chapter on the excellence of rain, (வான் சிறப்பு) depicts the agricultural background of the author and the dependence of rural folks on rain for their prosperity. Immediately following the greatness of the ascetics, ThiruvaLLuvar emphasizes family and personal virtues. Collectively these verses represent the didactic motivation of the author in undertaking this timely and laborious work.
In the second part on worldliness, (பொருட்பால்) the importance of learning and the duties of the state and the individual has been discussed.
The need to be able to get along well with others, even if one is highly educated, is stressed in the following couplets:
The idealism and convictions of ThiruvaLLuvar are brought to light in his placement of chastity in the chapter on worldliness, (பொருட்பால்) rather than in the section on love, (காமத்துப்பால்)
In the third chapter on love, (காமத்துப்பால்)ThiruvaLLuvar has placed the seven sections on furtive love (களவியல்) ahead of wedded love (கற்பியல்) in keeping with the traditions of the time. The following verses in the chapter on furtive love describe the recognition of the signs of love in a maiden by the hero:
The couplets in the chapter on furtive love and their placement prior to wedded love support the contention that the furtive love was a socially accepted practice. Furtive love culminates in married life in which the commitments and responsibilities of the couple towards each other and towards their families and society at large have been well defined. These verses would be particularly relevant today when genuine commitment between married couples is gradually becoming conspicuous by its absence. One also wonders at what point in history the financial and religious inputs began to creep into the matrimonial relationships in the Thamizh social fabric !
Two subtle points can be noticed whenever the akam, (அகம்) concepts are discussed : a) the phraseology for the description of human emotions is made in a very polished manner and b) ThiruvaLLuvar reiterates his warnings on unchaste behaviour at every opportunity.
Usually classical works on morality tend to lay down strict rules for implementation. Unfortunately in real life situations one is always confronted with gray areas and is lost as to what the correct course of action should be. Recognizing this dilemma, ThiruvaLLuvar has suggested exceptions wherever necessary. For example, telling a lie is not good but one can do so if it is going to be beneficial for the good of all.
Though the few couplets quoted above cannot do justice to demonstrate ThiruvaLLuvar's poetic skills or his heroic attempts to inculcate strict moral codes into the minds of all sections of society, they can at best give only a glimpse of the precision of his delivery, depth of his convictions and finally his comprehension of human psychology. If one aspect of ThirukkuRaL has to be identified for its universal recognition, it is the lack of theological or religious dogmas in the couplets.
To quote the words of Swift (radhAkrishNan, p.44), "We have enough religion to hate one other but not enough to love one another". It is amazing that ThiruvaLLuvar seemed to be aware of this maxim a thousand years back !
As many as ten scholars have written commentaries on ThirukkuRaL as stated in the following poem:
The commentary of ParimElazhakar, (பரிமேலழகர்) on ThirukkuRaL has been acclaimed to be outstanding for its interpretation of the literary niceties of the couplets and depth of perception of ThiruvaLLuvar's ideologies. Many modern interpretations of ThirukkuRal are now available including KuRaLOvium (குறளோவியம்) by Dr. M. KaruNAn^ithi (மு.கருணநிதி)
3.2.2. n^AlatiyAr (நாலடியார்)
nAlatiyAr (நாலடியார்) is another familiar work containing 400 songs in the list of pathineN kIz kaNakku (பதினெண் கீழ் கணக்கு) . As the name implies it is composed of 4 lines in each stanza and deals with moral codes and righteous behaviour. An old song praises its poetic beauty by stating that n^AlatiyAr and ThirukkuRaL are very good in expressing human thoughts just as the twigs of the banyan (ஆல்) and acacia (வேல்) trees are good in maintaining the teeth. (ஆலும் வேலும் பல்லுக்குறுதி, நாலும் இரண்டும் சொல்லுக்குறுதி) .
The didactic messages have been delivered with authority in this work. Written by Jain monks, n^AlatiyAr stressed, among other pieces of ethical behaviour, the transient nature of life and youth. Beginning from the Sangam classics, one cannot help noticing the gradual change in the shift of emphasis from purely subjective (அகம்) topics of love and romance to matters of morality and philosophy in the PathineN kIz kaNakku series.
n^AlatiyAr is unique in the employment of similes (உவமைகள்) which are meant to facilitate the teaching of moral codes using simple examples from daily life. The characteristics of the different types of similes are defined in TholkAppiam. The components of a simile are the message to be conveyed (உவமேயம்) the example (உவமானம்) and an appropriate phrase(s) between them. The whole statement is addressed to a hero who may be invoked for this purpose or to anyone at large. The poem below explains how bad deeds done by one always hover around him even in the next birth (உவமேயம்) just as a calf is capable of finding its mother even if it is let into a big herd of cows (உவமானம்).
To stress the importance of virtuous deeds before it becomes too late, the poet compares the transient nature of the body to the disappearance of dew drops on the tip of the grass.
That even uneducated people will gradually become wise if they are always in the company of learned people is explained by the analogy of how a mud pot can impart to the water inside it the nice smell of the flowers kept therein.
3.2.3. n^AnmaNik katikai (நான்மணிக்கடிகை)
This work contains 100 songs written by ViLambi n^AkanAr (விளம்பி நாகனார்), a Vaishnavaite by birth. Recognizing its clarity and literary merits for imparting moral instructions to youngsters this work is often prescribed in the school texts. The name n^An maNik katikai is derived from the fact that the words are well chosen like rare gems to describe four different ideas in each song. In the song which follows, the theme is about four different groups of people who cannot sleep well at night, namely, the thief, a person in love, the person after money and the miser looking after his money:
There are four groups of people for whom there is no such thing as their own place: the extremely good and righteous people will be welcome anywhere; extremely bad people will not be allowed to stay in any place; rich people also can go to any place and thrive. The following song conveys this idea:
3.2.4. Other works in PathineN kIz kaNaKKU
Other works in PathineN kIz kaNaKKU
innA nARpathu (இன்னா நாற்பது) is collection of 40 poems written by Kapilar (கபிலர்) describing the most undesirable things one should avoid. Included in this category are: the beauty of a wife without commitment (பந்தம் இல்லாத மனையின் வனப்பு இன்னா) ; the wealth of a miser (வண்மை இலாளர் வனப்பு இன்னா) ; life under a tyrant rule (கொடுங்கோல் மறமன்னர் கீழ் வாழ்தல் இன்னா) ; the beauty of a flower without fragrance (நாற்றம் இலாத மலரின் அழகு இன்னா) .
iniyavai nARpathu (இனியவை நாற்பது) is a similar group of 40 poems composed by BUtham SErnthanAr (பூதம் சேர்ந்தனார்) outlining the most desirable things in life: learning even at the expense of begging (பிச்சை, புக்காயினும் கற்றல் மிக இனிதே) ; the advice of learned persons (கற்றறிந்தோர் கூறும் கரும்பொருள் இனிதே); children without disease (குழவி பிணியின்றி வாழ்தல் இனிதே) ; noncovetousness of a neighbour's wife (பிறன்மனைப் பின்நோக்காப் பீடு இனிதே). Together the two works lay out in simple and succinct terms moral codes essential for daily life of the individual and for the society. The emphasis given to education and the responsibilities of each member of the society is to be noted.
thiri katukam (திரி கடுகம்), n^allAthanAr, (நல்லாதனார்) , 100 poems, SiRu pancha mUlam (சிறு பஞ்சமூலம்), MAkkAyan MANAkkan (மாக்காயன் மாணாக்கன்) 100 poems and ElAthi (ஏலாதி), KaNi mEthAviyAr, (கணிமேதாவியர்) 80 poems. The general style followed in these 3 works is to stress 3, 5 or 6 different maxims respectively in each stanza which would have good effects on human behaviour just as herbs have in various combinations on health.
In Thiri katukam the herb combination compared is a mixture of sukku (சுக்கு), miLaku (மிளகு, and thippili (திப்பிலி) . The moral in the following poem is that ignorance gives rise to friendliness with illiterates, abuse of the wife and the arrival of undesirble friends:
The 3 attributes of a chaste wife are that she is a good friend because of her hospitality, she is a good mother because of her devotion to the household and she is a good wife for bearing good children. The poem is as follows:
In siRu pancha mUlam (சிறு பஞ்சமூலம்) the 5 beneficial herbs chosen to represent good things are kandan katthiri (கணடங் கத்திரி) , siRuvzhu thuNai (சிறுவமுதுணை), siRumalli (சிறுமல்லி), perumalli (பெருமல்லி), and n^erunji (நெருஞ்சி) . The five good maxims referred to in the following poem are: the greatness of forgiveness, the meanness of revenge, preparedness against enemies, avoidance of beggary and living affluently with grace.
Another set of unfortunate things which are referred to are: trees which flower but do not bear fruits, uneducated people who never get wise with age, seeds which do not germinate even with proper care and fools who never learn.
The following are as good as nectar: a chaste girl, the humility of the learned, friendly neighbouring countries, benevolent kings under whose reign there are timely rains and loyal assistants.
ElAthi (ஏலாதி), is the third work in which the efficacy of certain herbs to the body is used as an analogy to emphasize the beneficial effects of the maxims in the poems to human welfare. The herbal mix referred to in ElAthi is made up of Elam (ஏலம்) , ilavankap pattai (இலவங்கப்பட்டை) , nAgakEsaram (நாககேசரம்) , miLaku (மிளகு) , thippili (தீப்பிலி), and sukku (சுக்கு) . The following is addressed to a maiden (மகடுமுன்னிலை) to state that fame, wealth, integrity in words, boldness, education and philanthropy add beauty to those who follow scriptures.
AchArak kOvai (ஆசாரக்கோவை) is another member in the series dealing with moral instructions written by PeruvAyin MuLLiyAr (பெருவாயின் முள்ளியார்) , 100 songs. Unlike the first three in the series, AchArak kOvai is more Sanskritized and is reckoned to be written later than the others. The instructions contained are more in the nature of personal rituals than codes of ethics. The following poem states that only those who first bathe, wash their feet and hands and finish their rituals before eating are supposed to have eaten their food while others are considered to have gulped their food like demons.
pazhamozhi nAnURu (பழமொழி நானூறு) was written by a Jain, MunRuRai araiyanAr (முன்றுறை அரையனார்) , 400 songs. One of the most characteristic features of Thamizh culture is the use of proverbs (old sayings) both in spoken and in written Thamizh either to illustrate a point or justify an action so that it falls in line with traditional patterns. Composed in the veNpA style (வெண்பா) , the song is addressed to a man (ஆடுஉமுன்னிலை) or a woman (மகடுஉமுன்னிலை) . By putting a girl in a prison one cannot control her unchaste mind just as one will not able to straighten a dog's tail . This thought is captured in the following Pazhamozhi poem which ends in the proverb that the dog's tail cannot be straightened:
muthumozhik kAnchi (முதுமொழிக்காஞ்சி) is noted for its simple style and forceful message of moral rules. It was written by Mathuraik kUdalAr KizAr (மதுரைக்கூடலார் கிழார்) , 100 songs in groups of 10 poems in each section. All the poems start with the same line but the 10 lines in each section will contain a significant phrase of the moral emphasized. For example, in the following poem, the excellence (சிறந்தன்று) of righteous behaviour and chastity will be found in the second and third lines:
The remaining works in the PathineN kIz kaNakku deal with the akam (அகம்) topics following the tradition of the Sangam period. The only exception is kaLavzhi nARpathu (களவழி நாற்பது) which covers puRam (புறம்) topics.
From the foregoing it could be seen how the trends in Thamizh literature have changed from descriptions of subjective and objective emotions in the Sangam period to the emphasis on moral codes of ethics aimed at improving the life of the individual and the society. In almost all the works of the post Sangam period the importance of education and chastity has been stressed. Whether this trend was deliberately taken by the poets upon themselves to improve the moral standards of people in a positive action or this represents the influence of the strict discipline of the newly emerging religions (Jainism and Buddhism) is not known.