Tamil Language, History and Literature

People and Language

The land of Tamil speech and people was in ancient times ruled by three famous lines of king, the Chera, Chola, and Pandiya. The land ruled by them was called Chera Nadu (Chera country), Chola Nadu (Chola country), and Pandiya Nadu (Pandiaya country) respectively.

The landmass covered by the present-day Kerala State in the South India formed a major part of Chera Nadu, the Central and Northern parts of present Tamil Nadu were the then Chola Nadu and the Southern part of Tamil Nadu was the Pandiya Nadu.

Tamils are of Dravidian origin. Many historians claim that the Dravidians, before the dawn of the history of the Tamils, were spread all over India. For various reason they split into small groups. Consequently, the original language also split into different languages. Tamil is found to have retained about 80 per cent of the features of the original Dravidian language.

There are three major sub-groups in the Dravidian family of language, namely, South Dravidian, Central Dravidian, and North Dravidian.

Tamil is spoken predominantly in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is spoken also in several other Indian states. In addition, Tamil speaking populations are found in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Mauritius, Fiji Islands and South Africa. Recent Tamil immigrants are found all over the world. The distribution of Tamil-speaking population found in the States of India according to the book ‘Distribution of Languages in India in States and Union Territories’, 1971.

Many of the poems in this collection seem to belong to the post-Sangham Age. It is widely accepted that among these, Thirukkural was composed before the second century CE. The Thirukkural consists of 1330 Kural, which are short verses of seven words. Thiruvalluvar is the author of this book. This book consists of three major divisions, namely, Arathuppal, Porutpal and Inbathupal.

Arathupal deals with family life and ascetic life, which are called Illaram and Turavaram respectively. Perhaps this could be somewhat equated with the Sanskrit division Dharma (virtue). Porutpal deals with the rulers and the ruled and all the other.htmlects relevant to them. Perhaps this could be equated with the Sanskrit division Artha (meaning). Inbathuppal deals with love both premarital and extramarital. This could be somewhat equated with Kama (marital love). In short, Thirukkural is a very good guide for life and an excellent literary work to enjoy. This book has been translated into many Indian and foreign languages.

The famous Tamil work Silappathikaram belongs to the later Sangam period. Saint Ilango, a Chera prince, wrote this epic. Silappathikaram is the story of a chaste woman, Kannaki. All Tamil people know the story of Kannaki. The author, Ilango, says in the prologue that the work is based on the truth that

  1. a chaste woman is worthy of worship even by great people,
  2. the Aram (Dharma) becomes the destroyer of the kings who do injustice and
  3. the fate inevitably makes one to suffer the effect of one’s own actions.

There is another epic known as Manimekalai by Sathnar, a contemporary of Saint Ilango. These two epics are known together as ’Twin Epics’.

(ii) Bhakthi or Devotional Literature Bhakthi literature deals with religious philosophy, the history of saints, etc. Most of these are devotional poems. Religious teaching entered Tamil literature for the first time in Manimekalai. Sathanar the author of this book believed in Buddhism. The philosophy of Buddha is extensively discussed in Manimekalai.

After the 7th century CE, there was an acute fight between Saivites and Jainas as well as Saivites and Buddhists. The Nayanmars, the saints of Saivism, took many pains to spread and establish their religion all over Tamil Nadu. They were, to a great extent, successful in their attempt. Saivism as well as Vaishnavism clashed with Jainism and Buddhism. Consequently Jainism and Buddhism lost their ground in Tamil Nadu. Jains, Saivites, and Vaishnavites extensively used the medium of literature for the propagation of their religions. Sivagasinthamani is the outstanding work of Jains. Kambaramayanam is the most celebrated work of the Vaishnavites. Thiruvasakam is one of the most popular Saiva Bhakthi songs. Apart from these, there are many works for various religious groups.

The late poet Subramanya Bharathi popularly known as ‘Bharathi’ started a new era in the history of poetry. He used poetry as an instrument to arouse patriotism, and was successful to a great extent. His poetry went not only to the hands of scholars but also to the hands of common people. The complete works of Bharathi were published under the title Bharathiyar Kavithaikal. Among his works Kannan Pattu, Kuyil Pattu and Panchali Sabadham are outstanding.

Another poet the late Bharathidhasan, the beloved follower of Bharathi, is the most celebrated and outstanding poet in Tamil Nadu. He followed Bharathi in making Tamil poetry very popular and in using it as the best instrument to inspire people. But he deviated from Bharathi in many aspects. Bharathi believed in God but Bharathidhasan did not. While Bharathi was preoccupied by the problems of the freedom struggle and other national interests, Bharathidhasan was particular in the development of the Tamil Nadu, Tamil language, Tamil people, and Tamil culture. Among his literary works, Pandiyan Parisu, Kudumba Vilakku, Tamil Ilakkam and Azhakin Sirippu are highly valuable.

Besides these two poets, Kannadhasan, Abddul Rahuman, Vairamuthu, Mudiyarasan, Surada, Tamizh Azhagan, K. C. S. Arunachalam, Ponnadiyan, and Mu. Metha and others enrich the field of Tamil poetry. Kannadhasan’s Attanathi Athimanthi and Mangani and Mudiyarasan’s Pungodi are excellent works. Sudhanantha Bharathi is a living poet in Tamil Nadu. Sri Aurobindo influences him. His work Bharatha Sakthi is very famous. This book won the Raja Rajan Award of 100,000 rupees.

Besides these works, there are a number of anthologies of poems published in this century. Several poems are being published in weekly and monthly magazines. Mullaicaram, Kavidhai and a few other journals give primary importance to poetry.

In this connection, mention should be made about the new or modern poetry. The modern poets, Pichaimurthi, Mani Vaidheswaran and others are interested in modern poetries. They are of the opinion that the Tamil literary field needs new experiments and new developments and they believe that their attempt may contribute something to the Tamil literature.

Deepavali is enthusiastically celebrated in both urban and rural areas of Tamil Nadu. It is believed that Deepavali is celebrated in memory of the demon Narakasuran who was killed by Lord Vishnu on the day of Deepavali. Symbolically this means god destroys evil.

Karthikai is commonly celebrated by all Tamils putting Diibam (lights) out every night throughout the Tamil month Karthikai. During this period people worship Lord Murugan also called Kartikeyan or Subramanyan son of Lord Siva.

Apart from these popular festivals, there are several other festivals such as car festivals in many villages and towns. Tamil Nadu is full of fairs and festivals in particular, car festivals.

There are also a number of folk deities who are worshipped with equal if not more fervor all over Tamil Nadu. Also the rituals and ceremonies that take place at birth, naming, ear boring, puberty, marriage and death differ from region to region, from caste to caste, and from religion to religion.

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Last Update: 05-12-2013.
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