The Life-World of the Tamils: Past and Present

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Item Code: IDK664
Author: D.P. Chattopadhyaya, Edited By R. Balasubramanian
Publisher: Project of History of Indian Science, Philosophy and Culture and Motilal Banarsidass
Language: English
Edition: 2008
ISBN: 9788187586333
Pages: 918
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 11.2" X 8.6"
Weight 2.60 kg
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Book Description

From the Jacket

The volumes of the PROJECT ON THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE, PHILOSOPHY AND CULTURE IN INDIA CIVILIZATION aim at discovering the main aspects of India's heritage and present them in an interrelated way. These volumes, in spite of their unitary look, recognize the difference between the areas of material civilization the difference between the areas of material civilization and those of ideational cultural. The project is not being executed by a single group of thinkers and writers who are methodologically uniform or ideologically identical in their commitments. In fact, contributions are made by different scholars with different ideological persuations and methodological approaches. The Project is marked by what may be called 'methodological pluralism'.

In spite of its primary historical character, this Project, both in its conceptualization and execution, has been shaped by many scholars drawn from different disciplines. It is for the first time that an endeavour of such a unique and comprehensive character has been undertaken to study critically a major world civilization like India.

This volume tries to bring out the material civilization and the spiritual culture of the life-world of the Tamils from 5th century B.C. up to 12th Century A.D. It covers the Sangam and post-Sangam thinkers and works as well as the entire devotional and mystical literature highlighting the salient features of the everyday life of the people, their philosophy and religion, the social, economic and political organization that was prevalent in those days. As the spokesman of the Tamil culture, Tiruvalluvar brought out the importance of the pursuit of wealth (artha), the cultivation of virtues (aram), and the enjoyment of life (inbam) for achieving spiritual transcendence. This is the message conveyed by the Tamil tradition to the present generation.

This volume will be of interest not only to students and scholars of philosophy, but also to social philosophers and cultural historians.

D. P. CHATTOPADHYAYA, M.A., LL.B., Ph.D. (Calcutta and London School of Economics), D. Litt. (Honoris Causa), researched, studied Law, Philosophy and History and taught at various Universities in India, Asia, Europe and USA from 1954 to 1994. Founder-Chairman of the Indian Council of Philosophical Research (1981-1990) and President-cum-Chairman of the Inian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla (1984-1991), Chattopadhyaya is currently the Project Director of the multidisciplinary 96-volume PHISPC, Chairman of the CSC and Chairman of the Indian Philosophical Congress. He is a Life Member of the Russian Academy of sciences and a Member of the International Institute of Philosophy, Paris. Among his 35 books, authored 18 and edited 17, are Individuals and Societies; Individuals and Worlds; Sri Aurobindo and Karl Marx; Anthropology and Historiography of Science; Induction, Probability and Skepticism; Interdisciplinary Studies in Science, Society, Value and Civilizational Dialogue and Philosophy of Science, Phenomenology and other essays. Besides, he has held high public offices, namely, cabinet minister and state governor.

R. BALASUBRAMANIAN, Ph. D. and D. Litt. (Madras University), Vacaspati (Honoris Causa), a specialist in Advaita, Phenomenology and Existentialism, started his career in 1950. He taught in Besant Theosophical College, Vivekananda College and Annamalai University before joining the faculty of Radhakrishnan Institute for Advanced Study in Philosophy, university of Madras, of which he was the Director for a number of years. He started Sri Aurobindo School of Easten and Western Though at Pondicherry University and was its first Chairman for five years. He spent a year at Standord University as a Fulbright & Smith-Mundt scholar for his post-doctoral studies. He was Chairman of Indian Council of Philosophical Research for a term. He is at present Visiting Professor, Sri Aurobindo School of Eastern and Western Thought and President, Afro-Asian Philosophy Association. His publications include Personalistic Existentialism of Berdyaev; The Taittiriyopanisad-bhasya-vartika of Suresvara; The Naiskarmyasiddhi; T.M.P. Mahadevan; Advaita Vedanta; Theistic Vedanta; The Enworlded Subjectivity: Its Three Worlds and Beyond.


The volumes of the Project on the History of Indian Science, Philosophy, and Culture in Indian Civilization aim at discovering the main aspects of India's heritage and present them in an interrelated way. They have always kept in mind the difference between the areas of material civilization and those of ideational culture. Keeping in view the objectives of the Project, Professor D.P. Chattopadhyaya, the Director of the Project, planned to bring out, among others, some volumes which would highlight the salient features of language, literature, and arts in the context of Indian civilization. At his suggestion, I organized two regional seminars for the purpose of bringing out a volume on the "Contributions of the Tamils to Philosophy, Religion, Culture and Science". These seminars helped me to identify the areas to be covered and the topics to be discussed in the present volume.

When I was planning the structure and the areas of this volume, it occurred to me that the expression "the life-world" (Lebenswelt) used by Husserl and his followers would bring out the full significance of the entire dimension of philosophy, religion, culture, and civilization. Hence, I decided to name this volume "The Life-world of the Tamils: Past and Present". Since the period to be focused in vast beginning from 5th century B.C. down to the present day, I decided to split the volume into two parts, Part I up to 12th century A.D. and Part II, the remaining period. Even after restricting the period for the first Part, I have to be selective in the choice of thinkers and texts, a process which resulted in the omission of some texts/thinkers. For example, there is the significant omission of Tirumular. Nor could we discuss all the aspects of even one text, e.g. Tolkappiyam or Tirukkural. This has become inevitable in view of the fact that the focus of this volume is on philosophy, religion, culture, and science; and so the scope, perspective, and discussion of the topics in this volume are different from those discussed in books dealing with the history of Tamil literature, social and political history of the Tamils, and so on. The two books of the Sangam period, Tolkappiyam and Tirukkural, herald the salient features of the day-to-day life of the people, their philosophy and religion, the social, economic, and political organization that was prevalent in those days, the cultural, and spiritual achievements of the people. In short, the Sangam and the post-Sangam works as well as the entire devotional and mystical literature are concerned with the whole of life, inner as well as outer. They tell us that the outward way of life of a person must be moulded and shaped to realize the inner aspirations. They exhort us to fulfil, first of all, the basic needs of life at the bodily and sensory levels. However, instead of being satisfied with them, one should, according to them move from one level to another in the evolutionary process and aim at the realization of the spiritual life. It means that the pursuit of wealth (artha), the cultivation of virtues (aram), and the enjoyment of life (inbam) are necessary for achieving spiritual transcendence. This is the message that they convey to the modern man.

The nature of the volume is such that I required help from scholars proficient in classical Tamil and also trained in philosophy. Two reputed scholars, Professor V. Rathinasabapathy and Professor T.B. Siddalingaiah, helped me a lot as consultants. But for their guidance not only with the regard to the selection of topics, but also with the regard to the identification of scholars who could be requested to be the contributors, this volume would not have taken shape. I express my gratitude and thanks to them. When I requested Professor V.K.S.N. Raghavan, Professor S. Panneerselvam, and Dr Prema Nandakumar to be the Associate Editors for this volume, they readily agreed and helped me in all possible ways. I am indebted to all of them. This volume is what it is because of the excellent contributions of the scholars who are specialists in their areas. I take this opportunity to thank all of them once again for their help and cooperation.

I acknowledge my indebtedness to Professor D.P. Chattopadhyaya, Director of the Project, and Professor Bhuvan Chandel, Project Co-ordinator, for their support, suggestions and guidance in the preparation of the volume. I express my sincere thanks to Shri. A.K. Sen Gupta, Resident Editor and Shri S. Sreekumaran for their timely help and suggestions. To Ms. Bindu Menon who, in addition to editing some papers, gave suggestions and comments in the preparation of the final draft of the script, I am extremely thankful.

Contacting scholars and collecting reference books from them from time to time are difficult tasks. Dr. T.K. Badrinath and Mr. A. Arivazhgan, Lecturers in the Department of Philosophy, R.K.M. Vivekananda College, Chennai, helped me in this regard, for which I am thankful to them. Also, I express my thanks to Mrs. P. Selvi and Mr. C.V. Giri, Librations in the University of Madras for their professional assistance and help.

Finally, I have to thank Mrs. K.S. Jayanthi Ashok for the care and patience shown by her in the preparation of the typescript, wading through the waves of corrections coming one after another. Now, I have to make a different kind of acknowledgement. When I complete any major work, I always remember my children for their emotional and moral support, which strengthens our bond. I am, indeed, lucky.


India is usually regarded as a country, but if we bear in mind its ethnic, linguistic, religious, and cultural diversity, it may be recognized as a continent. Peoples from different parts of the world came to this place over millennia. About the origin of the Tamil people of southern India and speaking Tamil language, one of the main languages of the Dravidian family, social anthropologists and linguists are not unanimous. In different pockets or places of Northern India, the experts find traces of Old Tamil. It is conjectured that the city builders of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro in South Punjab, Sind, and Baluchistan used to speak of language which is affine to the oldest form of Tamil, sen-tamil. The word Tamil itself (tamil) used to be pronounced as damil in the early centuries of the Christian era and even earlier, in the first half of the first millennium B.C. It has been suggested by Suniti Kumar Chatterjee, among others, that in all likelihood, dramila was adopted into Sanskrit as Dramila, Dramila, and Dravida.

From linguistics it may perhaps be inferred that the oldest form of the word Tamil or Dravida is traceable to Dramila or Dramida. In some eastern Mediterranean areas emerged a group of tribes who described themselves Trmmili. The wandering descendants of those people seem to have reached Sind. The Lycians and Cretans of the Greek lineage who reached the areas around Sind and Baluchistan perhaps had been Dravidian-speakers. In the fourth century B.C. it is found Telugus used the term "Aravalu" to the Tamilians suggesting that the language that the concerned people used to speak was a-rava (Sanskrit word)-speechless or voiceless. Perhaps, what they meant is the mutual and partial unintelligibility of the languages they spoke.

But it is strongly suggested that the Tamilians had a fairly high background of civilization. Caldwell, a Christian Bishop, gives us in the middle of the nineteenth century a sketch of pre-Aryan civilization of the Dravidians in which a large number of Tamil words is available. It is also on this evidence that Caldwell offers the hypothesis that the language isolate known as Brahui still surviving in Baluchistan in remnant of the pre-historic migration route of the Tamils from the Eastern Mediterranean to the India mainland. According to him, the Dravidians had their kings (ko, vendar, manner) who could build strong forts (kottai, aran). In their vocabulary, one finds some very socially significant terms or expressions like pulavan (minstrels), seyyul (songs), and kondattam or tiruvila (festivals), koyil or kovil (temple), kattalai, and palakkam (laws and customs). The institutions like marriage and heavenly bodies like Mercury and Saturn and transport vehicles like canoes, boats, and ships also figure in their language. From all these, one can safely reconstruct a social formation of high order and, given the passage of time, sea-faring knowledge and skill.

The overland length and overseas breadth of Tamil and its derivative languages are amazing. The Tamil history of achievement in different areas-sea travel, city life, and commerce-seems to have developed long back. The people traded with ancient Greeks and Romans. It is attested by literary and archeological evidence. The oldest form of Dravidian language was and continues to be very rich. Different Tamil dynasties lift their lasting stamps over the different spheres of their scientific, religious, and cultural spheres. They built great temples, irrigation tanks, and roads.

In the transmission of Indian culture to South East Aia and later on in some other parts of the world, they played a very significant role. For example, the Cola developed a very notable naval power. Their role in the transplantation industry in northern and eastern Sri Lanka can be cited in this connection. The Tamils are present in different degrees in many of the southern states like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Kerala. The achievements of the trinity of Tamil rulers-the Cera, Cola and Pandiya-in different areas have been admirably brought out in this PHISPC Volume by its contributors.

The land is divided, broadly speaking, in different areas-the eastern coast and the hilly regions of north and west. The deltas of the Cauvery river are very fertile. Several rivers of the Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh flow from the west to the east. In the development of irrigation, these river-waters played a very important part in the history of southern India. Most important rivers include the Cauvery, Pennaiyar, Palar Vaigai and Tambraparani.

Agriculture is the mainstay of the concerned people's life in the areas. Though originally it was primarily a rural culture, during the last 1000 years or so, a significant urban civilization has been coming up there. Cotton grows in abundance in the are. Hinduism is the main core of the Tamil culture. The beautiful and large temples worked as the disseminating forces of Hinduism. Classical dance like Bharatanatyam and Carnatic music are aesthetically very rich and highly appreciated both in India and abroad.

Both plains and uplands are there in this area. The soils are red-loamy and sandy-loamy, both very rich in iron contents. Cotton-and silk-based textile industry is supportive of the life of millions of Tamils. Leather industry is another important area of their economic life.

After the advent of Islam in India and their gradual movement to the south, a sizeable portion of the Tamil population has become Islamic. Also, sizeable is the Christian population in that area, particularly following the coastal sea routes of both Christian and Muslim sailors. The Tamils along the eastern sea coast reached even Utkal and Banga regions during the pre-Christian era.

In the field of literature, the achievements of the Tamils are very laudatory. From epics to devotional music, this assertion is attested. Bhakti or devotional themes have received special attention among the Tamil philosophers. The supposition of Aryan-Tamil divide seems to be untenable. Sri Aurobindo, among other scholars, has highlighted this point in many of his writings. Both in languages and religions these two streams of culture have considerably intermixed. This intermixture has been enriched by the contribution of Buddhism to this culturescape. This is particularly evident in the overseas presence of Tamil influences, both in the fields of architecture and literature.

I am sure this scholarly book enriched by the contributions from different areas will be received well by the readers in India and abroad.



It is as difficult to fix the date of the Sangam works as it is difficult to fix the date of the Vedas in spite of prolonged and persistent research by Oriental scholars. The dates are pushed backward and forward without any finality. There is always a basic difference of opinion between traditionalists on the one hand, and modem research scholars on the other. Consider, for example, how the date of Sankara has been a problematic engaging the attention of not only tradition-oriented scholars, but also modem scholars who depend upon historical and literary evidence. The same is the case with regard to the date of Manikkavacagar. While some scholars hold the view that Manikkavacagar must be assigned to a period prior to Tirujnanasambandhar, there are others who think that he lived after Tirujnanasambandhar. Attempts have been made to fix the date of the Sangam period mainly through epigraphical, archaeological, and literary sources. Of these, in the present context, the literary sources seem to provide good evidence for fixing the date of the Sangam period. Even though we can take into consideration the foreign literary sources, for the sake of convenience I shall consider only the Tamil literary sources.

The literary works which were written during the rule of the Pandiyan kings constitute the Sangam literature. It is easier to speak of the upper and the lower limits of the Sangam period than to speak about the exact dates of the period. As in the case of the Vedic literature, here also we have extreme views-those who hold the view that the Sangam literature cannot be earlier than the eighth or the ninth century A.D. and those who maintain that it must be assigned to the fifth century B.C. It may be noted in this connection that the reputed historians of South India such as K.A. Nilakanta Sastri, V.R. Ramachandra Dikshitar, S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar, and others hold the view that the Sangam period spans about one thousand years from 500 B.C. to A.D. 500. It is not necessary in the present context to go into the details about the dates of the individual works which are grouped under the Sangam literature. It is generally agreed that the works which constitute the "Eight Anthologies" (Ettut-togai), the Ten Idylls (Pattup-pattu), and the "Eighteen Minor Works" (Padinen- kilk-kanakku), and the two epics, Silappadhikaram and Manimekalai, belong to the Sangam period. The Tolkappiyam is the earliest among all these works. Also, it is the earliest grammatical work extant in Tamil. The date assigned to this work ranges between the fifth century B.C. and the fourth century A.D. It is ascribed to the Second Sangam. What, then, is the date of the Second Sangam? Some scholars are of the view that, since there is a reference to the Aindiram, a grammatical work earlier than that of Panini, who has been assigned to c. sixth century B.C., the author of the Tolkappiyam must be assigned to a period earlier than the sixth century B.C. It is not necessary to go into the details about the controversies regarding the date of the Tolkappiyam. Suffice it to say that the Tolkappiyam belonged to a period slightly earlier than that of the Third Sangam.

The earliest reference to the Sangam period occurs in the commentary on the lraiyanar Ahapporul. According to this author, there were three Sangams or literary academies. It is stated that the First Sangam which consisted of celebrities including Agastya lasted for about 4400 years under the patronage of the Pandiyan kings. The Second Sangam is said to have lasted 3700 years. Tradition holds that the important grammatical works which were associated with it were the Agattiyam, Tolkoppiyam, Mapuranam, and so on. The Third Sangam is said to have lasted for 1850 years. According to tradition, Nakkirar was a prominent member of the Third Sangam. In addition to the commentary on the Iraiyanar Ahapporul, the Tiruvilaiyadal-puranam composed by Paranjoti Munivar contains references to the Tamil Sangams. It is difficult to fix the date of this Tiruvilaiyadal-purdnam, which is different from its namesake indited by Perumparrappuliyur Nambi. There are differences between the details narrated by Nambi and Paranjoti Munivar. Both historians and Tamil scholars are of the view that the details given about the Tamil Sangams are legendary. It is difficult to say whether there existed three Sangams or only one. Even if the shifting of the Pandiyan capital from the South Madurai to the North Madurai is accepted, there are difficulties in accepting the view that there existed three Sangams.

Another important source of information about the Sangam period is the collection of works called Padinen-kilk-kanakku. While the works included under the "Merkanakku" are in the Ahaval, Kalippa, and Paripadal metres, the works comprising Kilk-kanakku are in Venba metre, and they deal with Aram, Porul, and Inbam. It may be mentioned in this connection that the Tirukkural is one of the works included in this category. Scholars are of the view that the Tirukkural, in spite of being a didactic work like others, stands as a class by itself. It is assigned to a period earlier than most of the compositions of the Third Sangam. Out of the eighteen works of this category, twelve works are didactic in nature; five works deal with the subject matter of love (Aham), and one work with war (Puram). It may be noted that there are eighteen works-the Eight Anthologies and the Ten Idylls-in the collection of writings called Merkanakku just as there are eighteen works in Kilk-kanakku, All these works give a vivid picture of the social and individual dimensions of the life of the people during the Sangam period. Consider, for example, the scope of the subject matter dealt with in the Tolkappiyam. It is as much a work on grammar as on social life. After discussing the nature and function of letters (eluttu) and words (sol) in the first two Books, Tolkappiyar gives an analysis of the life of the people in the third Book called Poruladhikaram.

Since language is essentially a social phenomenon, Tolkappiyar makes a transition from language to the life-world probing the different aspects of human life-individual, social, religious, and political. What is true of the Tolkappiyam is equally true of the Tirukkural, because there are many points of similarity between them. Both the works are concerned with the naive and natural world, i.e. with the reality of the day-to-day world, and also with the ultimate reality which transcends the limitations of space and time. Both of them are concerned with the whole of life, inner as well as outer. The outward life of a person must be moulded and shaped to fulfil the inner aspirations. According to the Sangam tradition, every human being must lead a meaningful and purposive life, and this will be possible only if one tries to progress from the physical to the mental and spiritual levels. The basic needs of life have to be fulfilled at the bodily and sensory levels. Instead of being satisfied with them, one should move from one level to another in the evolutionary process and aim at the realization of the spiritual life. It means that the pursuit of wealth (artha), the cultivation of virtues (aram), and enjoyment of life (inbam) are necessary for achieving spiritual transcendence.



  Table of Transliteration xii
  Preface xiii
  Foreword xv
  D.P. Chattopadhyaya  
  Editors xvii
  Associate Editors xix
  Contributors xxi
  General Introduction xv
  D.P. Chattopadhyaya  
  Introduction xxxv
  R. Balasubramanian  
1 The Vedic Traditions in the Sangam Age 3
  T.V. Gopala Iyer  
2 Socio-religious Ideas of the Tolkappiyam 23
  RM. Sundaram  
3 Religious Thoughts of the Sangam Classics 38
  A. Pandurangan  
4 The Sangam Classics on Kingship and Society 84
  A. Pandurangan  
5 From Language to the Life-world: Perspectives of the Tolkappiyam 139
  V. Rathinasabapathy  
6 Women in the Sangam Age 174
  Prema Nandakumar  
7 The Didactic Poems of the Post-Sangam Tamil Classics 211
  P.S. Somasundaram  
8 The Socio-cultural and Philosophical Dimensions in the Silappadhikaram 231
  S. Ravindranathan  
9 Normative Patterns, Narrative Transformations: The Silappadhikaram Experience 245
  Prema Nandakumar  
10 Socio-philosophical Perspectives in the Manimekalai 269
  S.N. Kandaswamy  
11 Jainism in the Silappadhikaram and the Perungadai 314
  V. Asokkumaran  
12 Buddhism in Tamil Nadu 348
  S.N. Kandaswamy  
13 Understanding the Tradition of the Tirumurais 383
  V. Rathinasabapathy  
14 The Hagiology of the Periya-puranam 415
  R. Gopalakrishnan  
15 Spiritualscape of the Saiva Mystic-saints 454
  R. Balasubramanian  
16 The Srivaisnava Agamas and the Indigenous Tradition of South India 487
  K. K. A. Venkatachari  
17 Philosophy, Religion, and Mysticism of the Alvars 522
  R. Balasubramanian and V.K.S.N. Raghavan  
18 The Puranas in Tamil 563
  Prema Nandakumar  
19 The Transregional Contributions of the Tamil Siddhas 589
  T.N. Ganapathy  
20 Village Administration in the Ancient and Medieval Periods in Tamil Nadu 627
  K. V. Raman and Chithra Madhavan  
21 Centres of Learning During Ancient and Medieval Periods in Tamil Nadu 640
  Chithra Madhavan  
22 Administrative, Economic, and Social Dimensions of the Early Tamils
(Based on Sanskrit Inscriptions)
  Chithra Madhavan  
23 Trade, Commerce, and Crafts of the Early Medieval Tamils (End of the Sanskrit Inscriptions) 664
  P. Shanmugam  
24 The Tirukkural: The Cultural Paradigm and Critique of the Life-world of the Tamils 731
  S. Panneerselvam  
25 Sthapatya Veda and Traditional Building Architecture 777
  V. Ganapati Sthapati  
  Index 834

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