According to legend, Tamilians received their grammar from the sage Agastya, who had himself learnt it from Siva. But surviving ancient theoretical texts, the most ancient Tamil one being the Tolkappiyam (first half of the millennium A.D.), tell another story: grammar in India was man-made and the outcome of a huge cumulative effort involving several languages. In the case of Tamil, this came to fruition in commentaries on the Tolkappiyam composed during the first half of the second millennium by Ilampuranar, Cenavaraiyar, Naccinarkkiniyar and others. Rightly praising their achievement, generations of teachers have given this advice: “for [grasping] Col, [read] Cenavaraiyar”. Col(“word”) here refers to the Collatikaram (“Book on Words”), which is the second of the three books of the Tolkappiyam, the first being the Eluttatikaram (“Book on Letters”) and the third the Porulatikaram (“Book on Poetics”).
The present volume is a companion to a French translation of Cenavaraiyar’s commentary; but it is also intended for independent use, as a help to the reading of similar texts, for it is part of a wider endeavour to document the development of the Tamil scholarly tradition. The most important part of the book is an analytic glossary of all technical words and phrases used by Cenavaraiyar while commenting on the Collatikaram, a task which required him both to describe the Tamil language and at the same time to explain what the author of the Tolkappiyam had revealed about Tamil. The items in the glossary fall primarily under two categories: grammatical and meta grammatical.
The approach that Jean-Luc Chevillard, a historian of linguistics, has chosen here, an approach that is new to Tamil studies, devotes as much attention to presenting meta grammatical items as to listing grammatical ones, the latter being usually the focus of descriptive and theoretical linguists, who are more interested in finding truths about language than in examining for itself that ancient and interesting human rational activity: the building of grammars. Also novel is the attention paid to the syntax of meta-grammatical statements.
According to religious narrative which seem to have become current during the second half of the first millennium AD, and which flourished during the second millennium in many versions, Tamilians received grammar from the sage Agastya (see cover photograph and the two epigraphs above), who had himself learnt Tamil grammar from Siva (see V2 on p.25), master of both Sanskrit and Tamil (as emphasized by the Tevaram). This was of course a Shaiva point of view because the Buddhists claimed instead that Agastya had learnt it from Avalokitesvara (see the preface to the Viracoliyam, a Buddhist Tamil grammar probably dating back to the 11 century).
A culminant point
However, what we can reconstruct by analysing the collection of ancient theoretical Tamil texts preserved till today, the most ancient being the Tolkappiyam, probably composed during the first half of the first millennium A.D., tells us another story, namely that grammar in Tamil Nadu (as elsewhere in India) was man-made, not god-given. Indian grammars were the outcome of an impressive collective and cumulative effort, made by the users of several languages: Sanskrit, Prakrit, Tamil, Kannada, etc. In the case of Tamil, this effort culminated in works composed during the first half of the second millennium by commentators of the Tolkappiyam such as Ilampuranar, Cenavaraiyar, Naccinarkiniyar, and others. Talking of “culmination” in this case is to adopt one of the retrospective points of view which became current in later days, when generations of teachers of Tamil grammar, looking back to a golden past, started to give to their students the advice : “for [grasping] Col, [read] Cenavaraiyar “. Col (“word”) here refers to the Collatikaram (“Book on Words”), which is the second of the three books of the Tolkappiyam, being preceded by the Eluttatikaram (“Book in Letters”) and followed by the Porulatikaram (“Book on Poetical Matters”). The advice meant that although it was accepted that Naccinarkkiniyar (and Peraciriyar) had, from a global point of view, jointly pronounced the last word on the three books of the Tolkappiyam, a first and more elementary position having earlier been stated by Ilampuranar, one had to make an exception to that hierarchy if one was primarily interested in grammar proper-in its restricted sense where it almost coincides with Sanskrit Vyakarana- and one should consider that for the second book of the Tolkappiyam the summit had been reached with Cenavaraiyar and with the commentary he had composed, called, after him, the Cenavaraiyam.
The present volume, which comes as a companion to a French translation of Cenavaraiyar’s commentary (which appeared in 1996 in the same Indological collection, and which will be referred to here as Volume 1), is at the same time intended for independent use, as a help for the reading of other ilakkanam texts. For it is also part of a wider research undertaking, the aim of which is to document the development of Ilakkanam inside the Tamil traditional scholarly tradition, from its not very well known beginnings, which are partly preserved in the Tolkappiyam, through its pre-classical age, which one can partly reconstruct by an examination of the Yapparunkala Virutti and of the Viracoliyam, until its last flourishing, during the 17th and 18th centuries, when Cuppiramaniya Titcitar (an admirer of Cenavaraiyar) composed his Pirayoka Vivekam, when Vaittiyanata Tecikar composed his Ilakkana Vilakkam and when Civananamunivar composed his “detailed commentary” (viruttiyurai) to the early 13- century Nannul.
Cenavaraiyar’s retrospective horizon
Where does Cenavaraiyar stand inside the Tamil Grammatical tradition (henceforth TGT)? As I have already mentioned, the point of view of later writers is that his work was one of the highpoints. But what was his own point of view? A way of determining one of the parameters for deciding where he stands is to examine whom he mentions and who are the predecessors he claims for himself. Another, equally important, would be ascertain whom he does not talk about, i.e. who are the earlier theoreticians whom he ignores, either because he does not know them (and has not studied them), or because he might consider them as unimportant. There seem to be four main components of what we can call (with Sylvain Auroux), Cenavaraiyar’s retrospective horizon.
• The first component consists of course in his references to the aciriyar (see p. 56), the “master” (or “teacher”), i.e. to the author of the work he is commenting on. He mentions him by name only once, in <74-4> (see p. 292), while reminding his audience that he was Aintiram nirainta Tolkappiyan, as stated in the traditional preface to the Tolkappiyam,(see Vol. 1, p. 165).
• The second component consists of his more than 50 references to the uraiyaciriyar, the “commentator”, whom later commentators refer to by a proper name: Ilampuranar.
• The third component is made up of his anonymous references to authors, some of whom he calls tollaciriyar “ancient teachers” (see p. 167), and some of whom he refers to as pirar “others”.
• The fourth component is constituted by his references to Sanskrit authors, whom he calls vatanular, deriving their designation from the expression vatanular, deriving their designation from the expression vatanul “Sanskrit literature” (literally “Northern treatises”, see p. 238).
Apart from that, the Cenavaraiyam contains several occurrences of the name Akattiyan (i.e. Agastya), but only inside examples (see p. 44) and not as the name of a quoted grammarian. However, he mentions the name of the grammar (called Akattiyam) which tradition attributes to him, and it is a remarkable fact that he quotes (in par. <204-4>) a 2-line verse (See Vol.1, p.314) which Mayilanatar, the 1st Nannul commentator, also quotes (under N332n) and explicitly attributes to the Akattiyam, whereas Cenavaraiyar is satisfied with saying “thus others have said” (enrar pirar).
Although Cenavaraiyar’s universe of discourse, which we have just been sketching, has several layers, it should be emphasized that its structure appears relatively simple when compared with the complex maze of references visible in the Yapparunkala Virutti (YV), a text (devoted to the subject of metrics) which is most probably older and is the most important source of information concerning the many lost grammatical treatises which have been produced and discarded by the TGT, because it contains several hundreds of quotations and more than one hundred proper names (of books or of authors). There, in the YV, the positions of competing school are explained and the Tolkappiyam had not yet become the sole authority, impossible to contradict, that it was later to become, at least in the eyes of its commentators. And many ancient authors are quoted, apparently as being of equal importance, several of whom will later be incorporated into a mythical list of the 12 disciples of Akattiyan, with Tolkappiyanar as the principal disciple. The world of grammarians had not yet been standardized, although the efforts for defining a classical norm were clearly underway, in a manner which remains to be studied precisely in its dynamics. This is in fact one of the ultimate goals of this particular study, and the way it tries to contribute to it lies in mapping as exhaustively as possible Cenavaraiyar’s vocabulary.
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