TAMIL NATION LIBRARY: Literature
Published by V.Leiden, E. J. Brill, 1973, 378 pages.
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Prof. Dr. Kamil Vaclav Zvelebil
From the Dedication and Preface:
The great drums beat
As Asura warriors marched.
Their burning rage cut asunder
Scorched with a spark from your radiant smile
O leader of men
With leaf-edged spear
Lover of Valli the gypsy
O lord who resides on Tiruttani hills!
(Arunakiri, Tiruppukal 5.7I) Transl. S. Kokilam
"Somehow or other, Murugan, the youthful god of victorious war, is ubiquitous in
Tamil writing and culture; he is present in the earliest classical poems of Tamil as well
as in the splendid "Lay of the Anklet", in the ruby-red and sea-blue and golden
songs of Arunakiri as well as in the very recent prayers to Murugan by A. K. Ramanujan.
His wars are, of course, not only victorious, but just. He destroys evil, decay, death.
His smile is the light of life and eternal youth. "His face shoots forth myriad rays
of light, removing darkness from the world" (Tirgmurkarruppatai 91-92)." [see
also Suran Por, a poem in Tamil by
"The Dravidians, and in particular the Tamils, have contributed a great deal to
the cultural riches of the world:
Chola temple architecture,
sculpture, the dance-form known as Bharatanatyam,
so-called Carnatic system of music.
But probably the most significant contribution is
that of Tamil literature, which still remains to be
"discovered" and enjoyed by the non Tamilians and adopted as an essential and
remarkable part of universal heritage. If it is true that liberal education should
"liberate" by demonstrating the cultural values and norms foreign to us, by
revealing the relativity of our own values, then the "discovery" and enjoyment
of Tamil literature, and even its teaching (as a critical part of the teaching of Indian
literatures) should find its place in the systems of Western training and instruction in
However, frankly speaking, I do not think that anybody is
capable, at the present state of affairs, of bringing out a
sufficiently formalised, detailed and exhaustive synthesis of Tamil
literature comparable to such magnificent works as, say, Jan Rypka's
Persian Literature or Maurice Winternitz's History of Indian
Distinctive features of Tamil Literature...
".... it is clear that Tamil literature did not develop in a cultural vacuum, and
that the evolution of the Tamil culture was not achieved either in isolation, or by simple
cultural mutation. The very beginnings of Tamil literature manifest clear traces of Aryan
influence - just as the very beginnings of the Indo-Aryan literature, the Rig vedic hymns,
show traces of Dravidian influence. This, too, is today an undisputed fact.
On the other hand, there are some sharply contrasting features which are typical for Tamil
classical culture alone, for the Tamil cultural and literary tradition as opposed to the
non-Tamil tradition - and in this respect, the Tamil cultural tradition is independent,
not derived, not imitative; it is pre-Sanskritic, and from this point of view
Tamil alone stands apart when compared with all other major languages and literatures of
It is possible to express this fact briefly but precisely by saying that there exist in
India only two great specific and independent classical and historically attested cultures
- the Sanskritic culture and the Tamil culture.
Historically speaking, from the point of development of Indian literature as a single
complex, Tamil literature possesses at least two unique features.
First, as has just been pointed out, it is the only Indian literature which is, at least
in its beginnings and in its first and most vigorous bloom, almost entirely independent of
Aryan and specifically Sanskrit influences. This primary independence of Tamil literary
tradition has been, incidentally, the source of many conflicts.
Second: though being sometimes qualified as a neo-Indian literature, Tamil literature is
the only Indian literature which is both classical and modern; while it shares antiquity
with much of Sanskrit literature and is as classical, in the best sense of the word, as
e.g. the ancient Greek poetry, it continues to be vigorously living modern writing of our
days. This fact was expressed in a very happy formulation by A. K. Ramanujan in his
excellent book The Interior Landscape (1967):
'Tamil, one of the two classical languages of India, is the only language of
contemporary India which is recognizably continuous with a classical past.'..."