all towns are
one, all men our kin.
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
Dr. C.R. Krishnamurti,
The literature of a country is a reflection of its people and their culture. With the availability of literature spanning more than 2000 years, Thamizh lends itself as an ideal language to put this hypothesis to test. Going through the literature which I was fortunate enough to access, I derived great pleasure in studying the various facets of our literary past. If I had succeeded in expressing my feelings in a manner which would give an incentive for others to go through the original texts in their spare time or as part of their curriculum, I would consider my job well done. I have tried to look at the Thamizh culture and society as impartially as possible and if some personal bias did creep in occasionally it can only be ascribed to an inherent human weakness.
Secondly I do recognize that mere nostalgia of the past results in complacency while excessive criticism of the present leads to cynicism and despondency. In this regard one has to keep on open mind and be guided by ThiruvaLLuvar's advice:
Throughout this narrative I have attempted to put our achievements and failures in the context of how best we can shape the future in a better way.
Thirdly, when literature is studied in school or college as part of a formal curriculum, it is usually done under pressure of examinations and assignments. Until I studied literature for pleasure, I did not realize how much I have missed over the years. To entice the readers to appreciate the niceties of the literary formats I have followed the style of quoting the original works wherever possible. It is the experience of many that transliteration of Thamizh words and names, no matter how well it is done, does not give the same feeling as seeing the same in Thamizh scripts. Quite frequently one spends a fair amount of time trying to decipher the names and loses interest ultimately. By giving the Thamizh words next to the transliterated words I hope I have minimized the problem considerably.
Finally, going through the Thamizh literature, one is amazed at the depth and breadth of the knowledge the scholars of the past possessed. The feeling that one has just scratched the surface of what has been done already becomes inevitable. No aspect of life has been left untouched or unadorned. Any one hailing from a Thamizh cultural background can therefore be proud of their literary heritage. In this context, it is natural that those who has lived in the western world for a considerable time, get exasperated when utter ignorance or gross misrepresentation of Thamizh and\or Indian culture is expressed formally or informally. A study of our own literary past would give us the background to counter unwarranted criticisms appropriately and accept the legitimate criticisms for reflection and retrospection.
Initially my intention was to write some concluding remarks to stimulate young minds to take pride of our literary achievements and how far the Thamizh people have come since the Sangam days in their quest for literary excellence, for religious equanimity, for spiritual satisfaction, for streamlining the rights and privileges of the individual and the family and for alleviating social inequalities.
To meet these ends, the Thamizh people laid down rigid grammatical rules to govern their literature, put forward many religious hypotheses (சித்தாந்தங்கள்) which were subjected to critical review and reassessment, and, in general, used Thamizh literature for imparting moral, social and political messages. The process still continues with new inputs and insights according to changing circumstances in their cultural milieu. No doubt there are several areas where the present day Thamizh people have not stood up to the expectations of their forefathers. Even from a cursory look one cannot miss the shortcomings of our social and political systems.
Though the lessons from our literary excursions into the past are obvious, there are bound to be differences in the interpretation of literary materials. Conclusions, I believe, from the voluminous literature should be left to the individuals remembering that in every field, one would find that a holistic approach in problem solving was found to be much better than a sectarian or clannish attempt to safeguard local interests. Changes per se are inevitable in a fast moving world but if our vast literary potential could be used effectively for channeling the direction of changes along virtuous lines, it would be beneficial to the individual and the society, at large.
I do recognize that it would be futile on my part to improve upon the brevity and clarity of the messages that have come down to us through the ages. Instead of adding new messages clothed in a different language, the time has come to study the old messages carefully, ignore those which have proved to undermine our social progress and follow those which could make the lives of our children and their children better than those we have been blessed with. I have therefore quoted below selected some Thamizh stanzas, which I thought would be appropriate and relevant to our present social predicaments. I leave it to the readers to draw whatever conclusions they deem fit so that they can be proud of their glorious past, critically analyze their shortcomings and formulate new solutions to old problems.
In the past few decades several professionals living in the west have made tremendous contributions to the development of Thamizh making use of high technological innovations. The computer software for the development of Thamizh scripts has been referred to already (Chapter 1).
Electronic texts of the Thamizh classics are gradually being built through voluntary efforts to preserve them for easy access; review articles on various topics related to Thamizh literature appear on the Internet so that the comments and criticisms from those knowledgeable on specific areas are utilized to update the information. The electronic media thus serves as a forum for information retrieval from several sources. The added advantage is that the information is in both English and Thamizh enabling any one interested in Thamizh literature ready access to original texts and commentaries. A starting point for those interested in Thamizh electronic texts is : Tamil Electronic Library.
Several universities in U.S.A., U.K., Canada, The Netherlands and other countries have established linguistic departments in which Thamizh research is actively pursued by graduate students at the advanced level. The late Professor A.K. rAmAnujan (பேராசிரியர் ஏ.கே. ராமாநுஜன்) of the University of Chicago has translated many Thamizh literary classics into English, thereby bringing the beauty of Thamizh literature to the notice of western scholars.
In my opinion the recent publication of the Thamizh Lexicon by Dr. K. Zvelebil (1995) may be regarded as a milestone in information retrieval in Thamizh literature. After almost half a century of literature collection, Dr. Zvelebil has completed his phenomenal Thamizh lexicon which would be an extremely useful reference in any library. The Thamizh society would be ever grateful to this great scholar.
God grant me the serenity to accept things I cannot change,