Tamil is the oldest and purest of the four
¤ Tamil- The Ancient Language
of Dravidian Speech
Ancient Indian literature is not all about the Vedas; its about
Sangam literature too. Tamil, the oldest and truest of the Dravidian
speeches, boasts of this literary tradition of more than 2,200 years,
the most remarkable body of secular poetry extant in India.
While other pre-Aryan languages were happily courting Sanskrit and
Prakrit (600 BC-600AD), Old Tamil stood firm in its corner refusing to
yield. However, the evolutionary story of the language and script are
a controversy among scholars even today.
¤ The Sangam composition
The Sangam compositions are anthologies of poems grouped into two
the Eight Collections (Ettuttokai) and the Ten Idyls (Pattu-p-pattu).
There are also few individual long narrative poems (Kavyas).
Based on two distinct themes, akam (romantic) and puram (martial),
the poems are replete with imageries of seasons, places, plants and
animals, enabling scholars to know the world of these ancient poets.
The literary output till about 500AD is simply amazing.
¤ Lay The Foundation of Bhakti Cult
By the next century, Shaiva (in praise of Shiva) and Vaishanva (in
praise of Vishnu) writers began rising from sleep, leading to a
religious renaissance. It was the turn of devotional literature to hog
the limelight. The corpus of Shaiva hymns, sung till today, were
compiled in Tirumurarais (early 11th century). The
Vaishnava saints lay the foundation of the Bhakti cult not only for
South India (500-1000AD), but for the whole of India. Their songs were
put together in the colossal Nal-ayira-p-pirapantam or the Book
of 4000 Hymns.
¤ Great Tamil Poets
Some of the great Tamil poets lived in the times of the mighty Chola
kings (10th-13th centuries), a period of
literary revival. Kampans Ramayana is the best in Tamil till
today; Ottakkuttan wrote the Uttara Kanda, the last canto of the
Ramayana; Pukazhenti popularized the Mahabharata with his simple
adaptations in Tamil, and Chayam Kontar wrote a long war poem
Kalingattu Parani, in the Sangam style. Didactic works, grammatical
treatises and lexicons were produced from time to time by Jain
¤ The Poetry
The following centuries were the age of learned commentaries on
Sangam poetry, Shaiva and Vaishnava philosophies, and literature
influenced by Sanskrit. Some of these were the esteemed Bharatham by
Villiputthurar, Thiruppuhazh (hymns) by Arunagirinathar and
translations of many Puranas.
Some brilliant stray verses of this period have been collected in
late anthologies like Kalamegham, Satthimutthapulavar and Padikkasu
Thambiran. European Christian missionaries also took to Tamil in the
16th century, and the first book was printed in 1579.
Muslim poets like Sakkari Pulavar and Umaru Pulavar brought new themes
in Tamil writings in the 18th century.
¤ Modern Tamil Literature
A modern trend in Tamil literature was begun in the 19th
century by a group of writers influenced by English, Vedanayakam
Pillai (1824-1889) being among them who wrote the first original
novels and dramas.
A literary giant of the 20th century was Subramania
Bharathi, whose poems and patriotic songs are well known. Although the
development of prose has been pretty slow, the historical romances of
C R Srinivasa Aiyangar, social novels like Padmavati and Vijaya
Marttandam of A.
s Madhavayya, Kamalambal by Rajam Iyer and S. Venkataramanis
Murugam are prominent. The short story was popularized by V V S Iyer
and Rajaji, while Sambanda Mudaliars adaptations of Shakespeares
plays contributed to Tamil drama greatly.