Bilingual Discourse and Cross-Cultural Fertilisation: Sanskrit and Tamil in Medieval India

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Item Code: NAK819
Author: Whitney Cox
Publisher: Institut Francais De Pondichery
Language: English
Edition: 2013
ISBN: 9788184701944
Pages: 476 (7 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 9.5 inch x 6.5 inch
Weight 830 gm
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Book Description



The first intimations. of this volume emerged in a series of conversations in the autumn of 2008 in London and Cambridge between the editors and our colleagues Eva Wilden and jean-Luc Chevillard. All four of us were interested in the intellectual and cultural history of medieval Tamilnadu, a shared interest which had been nourished by frequent meetings with each other and with like-minded teachers and friends at the Ecole francaise d'Extreme-Orient in Pondicherry. Our initial idea had been very modest: to invite several of these fellow-researchers to a workshop on the inter-translatability of technical terms between Sanskrit and Tamil. Vergiani and Cox, as specialists in the former, were initially (and, looking back, somewhat naively) concerned with the ways in which the sophisticated conceptual apparatus of the sastric traditions we study were imported into Tamil; Chevillard and Wilden, primarily Tamilists, sought to unearth the wider genealogy of linguistic ideas and literary forms they had encountered in Tamil materials.


The workshop that resulted from these early discussions and led to this volume ranged much more widely than our initial ambitions, and for that we are very glad. While the concern with the technical vocabularies of various branches of knowledge is still in evidence in a number of the essays, it is set within a range of other cultural practices. These practices center upon very broadly conceived interactions between the two languages. It is the mutuality of these interactions that is especially striking and historically significant: over and over in these essays, the poets, scholars, and other professional literati who constitute our collective focus seem to happily trespass the lexical and conceptual boundaries between domains that modern scholarship has tended to compartmentalise into one or the other linguistic code. This is in part a consequence of our chosen focus on the medieval period, during which the interactions between the two languages (and their users) are many and well documented, as opposed to the more opaque world of earlier times. It is equally the case, however, that modern scholarship has been invested in an effort often unconscious, but sometimes willful and programmatic to keep the cultural and intellectual worlds of Tamil and Sanskrit sealed off from each other. It is our collective dissatisfaction with this state of affairs that we have sought to register in these essays, and each contributor has offered a possible way forward from his or her own particular angle as our response to this impasse.


This is not to arrogantly dismiss all prior scholarship en bloc, for there are areas of research on the interactions between Sanskrit and Tamil that have been tackled with significant results in the past. Among them, the comparative study of literature and the history of the acclimatisation of northern Indian religious traditions in the Tamil country have proven especially fertile. Several of the essays in this volume notably, the contributions of Schmid and Takahashi build upon this earlier work. However, the dating of the Cankam corpus and the question of its independence from northern literatures perhaps the most frequently discussed as well as the most controversial theme in Tamil literary history is all but unaddressed here. While this was not the result of any official policy of the workshop or of this volume (i.e. "Cankam chronologists need not apply"), the opportunity to look beyond this much-contested area has provided a refreshing stimulus to ask new questions about the oldest Tamil poetic works. Indeed, several of the contributions (see Wilden, Tieken, and again Takahashi), focus upon these earliest texts.


The study of Tamil epigraphy has been largely untouched by the debates which have dominated the literary-historical field and possesses a research dynamic peculiar to itself. Some of the most innovative scholarship on Sanskrit-Tamil interactions was the product of the pioneering generation of epigraphists: such luminaries as Eugen Hultzsch, v. Venkayya, and K. A. Nilakanta Sastri made signal contributions to medieval history based on their superb control over both languages. In recent decades, however, this kind of philological and hermeneutical work has given way to what might be described as the cliometric revolution in inscriptional studies. Increasingly, historians of medieval South India have concentrated on the collection and analysis of the quantitative data furnished by inscriptional records. This scholarship, whose leading practitioners include Y. Subbarayalu of the Institut Francais de Pondichery and his frequent collaborator Norobu Karashima, has made huge advances in our understanding of the social and administrative history of the Cola period especially. While in no way hostile to these methods, the contributions of Orr, Francis, and Lubin here all ably demonstrate that there is still much scope for philological-interpretative scholarship as a means of approaching the Tamil country's remarkable inscriptional legacy.


The problems and possibilities of epigraphical study stimulate a critical appraisal of another model with which many 01 the essays here are in dialogue. The model of cosmopolitan and vernacular literary interaction proposed by the Sanskritist Sheldon Pollock, as summarised in his magnum opus of 2006, The Language of the Gods in the World of Men, has supplied an argumentative framework that has become more often than not implicit in the recent comparative work on Tamil and Sanskrit, and this volume is noexception. This is most clearly in evidence in Francis' contribution, which offers a meticulously documented correction of Pollock's characterisation of the epigraphical practices recorded in the Pallava kingdom. More generally, however, the basic fabric of Pollock's historical model, in which the superimposition of cosmopolitan Sanskrit catalyses the literarisation of a vernacular speech-form, which only gradually attains equal dignity with the language of the cosmopolis in the literary and political arena, fails rather dramatically to adequately account for the long shared history of Sanskrit and Tamil. Moreover, as Freeman's essay suggests, this basically dyadic theory leaves significant areas of linguistic life in the subcontinent unaccounted for, notably in the case of the emic theorisation of what would later come to be called "Malayalam", where the emergent theory had to locate itself with regard to two trans regional languages possessed of classical heritages, Sanskrit and Tamil. The problematic place of Tamil within his model is something, it need be said, that Pollock himself readily admits; and it would be a mistake to claim (as has been done in semi-scholarly forums on the Internet, for instance) that this simply invalidates his broad-minded attempt at historical and social-theoretical synthesis. Instead, as we can see throughout these essays, the degree to which historical reality exceeds the ideal-typical limits of any theorisation is not something that should preclude such attempts: it is only through empirical testing that any theory can be refined and improved.


The workshop from which these essays derive was made possible thanks to a Conference Support Grant of the British Academy a scheme that sadly has since been discontinued. We met over a beautiful spring week. end in May 2009 in Wolfson College, Cambridge, which provided a superb venue for our discussions: our thanks are due to the College staff for their assistance and support. In addition to the contributors, a number of other scholars participated in the workshop as presenters, discussants, and chairs: we would especially like to mention K. Nachimuthu, V.S. Raj am, David Shulman, B.D. Chattopadhyaya, Daud Ali, Dominic Goodall, Eivind Kahrs, Rosalind Q'Hanlon, AR. Venkatachalapathy, David Washbrook, Sudeshna Guha, and Jennifer Clare for their contributions. The conference would not have been nearly so great a success without the help of Giovanni Ciotti and Mishka Sinha. We are very grateful to Valerie Gillet for initially encouraging us to submit the volume to the Collection Indologie series, and for all of her help in seeing it through to publication. Also in Pondicherry, we would like to thank Prerana Patel and Anurupa Naik for their quick and efficient assistance in the volume's production. An additional special note of thanks is due to Isaac Murchie (Berkeley) who kindly solved some troubling technical problems on very short notice. Finally, we would like to record our gratitude to all of our co-contributors, not only for their superb essays, but also for their patience in awaiting this volume's appearance.




Dominic Goodall

With this range of articles, this book addresses several of the different ways in which Sanskrit and Tamilliterary cultures are related to one another. There may be persons who naively suppose that to identify Sanskrit as the acrolect or hierolect for much of South and South-East Asia is already to have mapped out the main contours of this vast multi-lingual literary area. We hope that this selection of essays will help to demonstrate that such a simple view needs to be very considerably nuanced. A very little reflection makes clear that the nature of linguistic and literary contacts with Sanskrit differed hugely in different places and at different times. The presence, for instance, of Dravidian and Munda loan-words already in pre-classical Sanskrit, though contested on points of detail,' is widely accepted, and is evidence of very different relations with Sanskrit from those attested to for languages such as Khmer, Javanese and Cham, from which no loans into Sanskrit have been suggested. Evidence of non-Sanskrit literary activity in Dravidian-language-speaking areas also survives from earlier than elsewhere, and it is by no means unambiguously clear that such literature was produced in reaction to the catalyst of contact with Indo-Aryan models: the degree to which the oldest surviving Tamil poetry influenced or was influenced by poetry in Prakrit and Sanskrit is still a subject of debate.


This volume does not concentrate on the hotly contested prehistorical relations between Indo-Aryan and Dravidian that can be dimly discerned behind details of phonology, syntax or morphology in the Vedic corpus or in tiny onomastic inscriptions in Southern Brahmi, but rather on the relations between "classical" Sanskrit and (mainly) literary Tamil over the course of the first thousand years for which plentiful literary material in both languages survives. The use of the expression "prehistorical" here to describe what we exclude might seem to suggest that our chosen period is, by contrast, one of firm facts that map out a clear framework of political and social history against which to lay observations about linguistic and literary history. This is of course far from being the case. While the abundance of early medieval Sanskrit and Tamil literature obviates the need for some sorts of speculation, nonetheless, all manner of details, not only regarding dating, are unknown and unknowable. Many texts seem to have been transmitted down to us across the centuries with bewilderingly little indisputably contemporary information that might anchor and contextualise them.


One certainty can be advanced that, although obvious, is perhaps worth spelling out. For much of the history of Sanskrit literature, the authors who composed works in Sanskrit did so in a learned language that was not their own. The languages in which their first thoughts were formed would have been different in every part of the vast territory into which Sanskritic influences reached. For many of those areas there is now scant surviving testimony of literary activity in languages other than Sanskrit for several centuries into the Common Era. But the Dravidian-speaking South is well known to be an exception in this regard, notably because of the survival of a corpus of remarkable evocative poetry, the so-called "Cankam" (Sangam) works, in old Tamil, and of a tradition of grammar and poetics. This means that we can be certain that Southern authors who wrote in Sanskrit must consciously have chosen to write in Sanskrit and, conversely, many authors who wrote in Tamil must also consciously have chosen Tamil over Sanskrit. Indeed, the ideas expounded by Tamil grammarians and commentators often make reference to or reveal awareness of Sanskrit sastra as is demonstrated in different ways by almost all of the contributions to this volume. One should not therefore imagine this choice as being always or typically one between a high, rule-bound and literary language and a free, living vernacular both languages had higher and lower registers, after all -, but often a choice between two high literary idioms. For certain authors, the commentators of Vaisnava devotional poetry, for instance, the choice might even have been akin to a choice between two linguistic registers, each with its own flavours and strengths, both giving expression to overlapping regions of the same thought-world.


Sanskrit and the other languages of India are, in other words, so closely intertwined that their interrelationships cannot be reduced to anyone simple model of Sanskrit hegemony, still less seen only in terms of a Brahmin conspiracy to abase and subjugate others, a vision influenced by the wounds of a painful social warfare whose divisions are, by some Tamil-speakers, perceived to be rooted in or inseparably associated with the division between Sanskrit and Dravidian languages. When those wounds one day heal or soften, we will be able to leave behind the totemism that leads to the arid and meaningless debates about the relative superiority or anteriority of one or other language, about wildly implausible etymologies deriving the words of one language from another, or about impossible dating propositions that are based only upon a sort of nationalist pride.' Worst of all, this totemism encourages what appears to be a growing failure really to study their literatures and keep their memory alive.' I say "worst of all" not only because this tendency will doubtless foster more of the same intellectual autism or deafness, but also because the extraordinarily rich literature of India is what makes up the bulk of the memories of its past, and to be without memory is to be without identity.


The mutual imbrication we have described above means that although we often find ourselves speaking of the origin of an idiom or a concept or a nexus of ideas in one linguistic sphere and its subsequent passage into another, sometimes this simple model seems questionable or inadequate. When ideas change shape and expression as they evolve in a conversation between two speakers, can we always be aware of who contributes exactly what? Several articles in this book illustrate this difficulty in differing degrees, perhaps most obviously those of Charlotte Schmid and Leslie Orr, who, speaking of the lexis of those who composed medieval inscriptions, begins her final paragraph with this observation: "It is difficult to know what our medieval accountants thought about Sanskrit or to know whether they even thought it was Sanskrit".


This is not the first volume of essays devoted primarily to exploring this territory. A recent predecessor was published from the French Institute of Pondicherry entitled Passages: Relationships between Tamil and Sanskrit.' That collection lightens our task of introduction here, for it begins with no less than three pieces of prolegomena (pp. v-xxxvi) a preface, an introduction and a foreword -, followed by a section with the happy title "Stepping Stones", in which are reprinted four landmark articles from recent decades that treat the interrelationship between Sanskrit and Tamil.' These materials generously provide context for a further seventeen fresh contributions ranging across a period of about twenty centuries. Our subject in this volume can therefore be regarded as having been rather thoroughly introduced. Given the breadth of the theme, however, there need be no fear of overlaps and redundancy, and only two contributors are shared.









Literary audience and religious community



"The contribution of Tamil literature to the Krsna figure of the Sanskrit texts: the case of kanru in Cilappatikaram 17



"Is clearing or plowing equal to killing? Tamil culture and the spread of Jainism in Tamilnadu" by Takanobu Takahashi



"Early Tamil poetics between Natyasastra and Ragamalo"



Regulating language: grammars and literary theories



"The ten stages of passion (dasa kamavasthal;.) and the eight types of marriage (astavivaha) in the Tolkappiyam"



"From source-criticism to intellectual history in the poetics of the medieval Tamil country"



"The adoption of Bhartrhari' s classification of the grammatical object in Cenavaraiyar's commentary on the Tolkappiyam"



"Caught in translation: Ideologies of literary language in the Lilatilakam



"Enumeration techniques in Tamil metrical treatises (Studies in Tamil Metrics - 3)"



Written in stone? Shifting registers of inscriptional discourse



Words for Worship: Tamil and Sanskrit in medieval temple inscriptions"



"Praising the king in Tamil during the Pallava period"



Legal Diglossia: Modeling discursive practices in premodern Indic law"









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