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The Narrinai Four Hundred (An Old and Rare Book)

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Item Code: NAM168
Author: Dr. A. Dakshinamurthy
Publisher: International Institute of Tamil Studies, Chennai
Language: Tamil Text With English Translation
Edition: 2001
Pages: 856
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5 inch x 5.5 inch
Weight 900 gm
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Book Description

Dr. A. Dakshinamurthy was born in Neduvakkottai, Mannargudi Taluk, Tiruvarur district, Tamil Nadu in 1938 as the son of Late K. Aiyasami Neduvandar and Late Rajammal Aiyasami. He had his initiation and growth in Tamil studies under Tamil luminaries like Dr. T.P. Meenakshi Sundaram and Mahavidwan S. Dhandapani Desikar. He has to his credit 30 years of collegiate service. He took his Ph. D., in literature under the able guidance of Dr. A.M. Parimanam, Head of the Department of Tamil, A. Veeraiya Vandayar Memorial Sri Pushpam College, Poondi, Tamil Nadu. He has to his credit nearly 50 research papers and scholarly book entitled ‘Tamilar Nakarikamum Panpatum’. This work is popular both among the students and teachers of the Universities of Tamil Nadu. His work entitled ‘The poems of Bharathidasan-A translation’ (1990) was recognized by the Govt. of Tamil Nadu for an award during the centenary celebration of the poet in 1991. The credit of translating into English all the 400 verses of the Akananuru for the first time goes to this author. His translation of the Abirami Anthathi by Abirami Pattar and also the translation of the sacred hymns of Saint Kulasekara Alwar appeared in the Senthamizh, renowned magazine of the Madurai Tamizh Sangam. It is noteworthy that he is also the first scholar to attempt a faithful translation of the Narrinai, another sangam anthology.

The Institute is happy to publish his English translation of the Narrinai which is a definite contribution to help the larger public of the academic all over the world have access to the wealth of Tamil literature.

The Institute wishes to place on record the encouragement and inspiration extended by Hon’ ble Minister Thiru T. Krishnan, Minister of Tamil Development and Culture towards this venture and we express our thanks also to Dr. M. Rajendran, the Director of Tamil Development, for having made the grant available.

We also wish to thank Thiru S. Ramakrishna, I.A.S. Secretary, Tamil Development-Culture and Religious Endowment Department for his undaunted support.

We also thank United Bind Graphics for printing this book neatly in time.


Tamil is one of the ancient languages of the world. Among the Dravidian languages, Tamil is unique in having a continuous history of literature at least for 2000 years. The earliest Tamil work now extant is Tolkappiyam, a treatise on Tamil phonology, morphology, syntax and poetics. The earliest that has come down to us goes by the name the Cankam literature. Based on a tradition that the pantiyan line of rulers patronised three academies one after the other in their capitals namely Tenmaturai, Kapatapuram and the modern city of Maturai. The Cankam literature is believed to have authored by poets who were attached to the third academy attached to the third academy which flourished at Maturai from 300 B.C. to 300 A.D. The poems composed by the poets were later compiled and made into nine collections. They are called the Ettuttokai (eight anthologies) and the Pattuppattu [Ten idylls) An American Tamil Scholar, G.L. Hart III rightly considers this literature as one among the finest poetry ever written.

Another scholar A.K. Ramanujan, a world-enowned translator observes as follows: “In their antiquity and in their contemporaneity, there is not much else in any Indian literature equal to these quiet and dramatic Tamil poems.--------. These poems are not just the earliest evidence of the Tamil genius. The Tamils, in all their 2000 years of literary effort, wrote nothing better.” One can find the influence of these excellent poems in the literary production of the subsequent periods.

These poems (2381) deal with two different themes namely ‘Akam’ and ‘Puram’ The former means that which is interior and deals with love in its purest form. The latter means which is exterior and deals with all else. This two fold division is peculiar to Tamil.

The theme of love dealt with in Akam is not in relation to any particular or woman. It is love that is universal in its sweep. The ancient poets took care that even by suggestion the lovers are not to be identified. The Tamil tradition prohibits the mentioning of the names of the hero and the heroine. The love celebrated here is ideal and so, should remain anonymous. It is thus the cosmic element is preserved lovers who are anonymous and who yet are ubiquitous.

On this aspect, the observations of Prof. T.P. Meenakshi sundaranar are as follows:

“It is something divine or something in unison with the scheme of Nature……. the love which continues through many births. There is a communion of two lives or souls.......man’s and woman’s. As one poet puts it, like the fabulous bird with two heads but one body, the lovers have one life but two bodies. Their hearts beat in unison, their minds think alike, bodies. Their hearts beat in unison, their minds think alike, their bodies suffer and die alike at the same time. This life works for the common weal in ever expanding circles till the summum bonum is covered and realised….. Ordinary personality is transcended and therefore, that ultimate experience is not anything limited or personal. Therefore, it is not described in terms of any one individual, mentioning his personal name.”

These observations of the learned professor are presented in contemporary Idiom by A.K. Ramanujan thus:

“The dramatic persone for Akam are types, such as man and woman in love, father-mother, girl friends etc., rather than historical persons. Similarly landscapes are important than particular places. The reason for such absence of individuals is implicit in the word Akam; the interior world is archetypal, it has no names of persons and places except, now and then, in the metaphors. Love in all its variety (with important exception)…… love in separation and union, before and after marriage, in chastity and in betrayal…… is the theme of Akam.

The Akam poems are higly conventional. They are based on well-established and strict literary tradition, the knowledge of which is a basic necessity to understand and appreciate the poems. The rules related to these conventions are mentioned in the third book of the Tolkappiyam. The great grammarian divides the Tamil country into distinct geographical regions and each one of them is a world by itself. They are the pastoral, montane, riverine and littoral regions which are presided over by Lord Tirumal, Lord Murukan, Lord Indira and Varuna respectively. There is also a fifth division, the waste land, temporary in nature. These regions are called Mullai Kurinci, Marutam, Neytal and Palai. These are the name of plants peculiar to the respective regions. These are also called Tinais. These names, by extension of meaning denote the land, the love-life of the people and also that deals with it.

The sevenfold division

According to Tolkappiyar, the theme of love is sevenfold. They are 1. Kaikkilai. 2. Kurinci. 3, Mullai. 4. Marutam.5. Neytal. 6. Palai. 7. Peruntinai. Of these, Kaikkilai is unrequited love and peruntinai is mismatched love. The other five are compositly called Aintinai (the five tinais) and Anpin Aintinai (the five structured on true love.)

In this idealised drama of life, the hero and the heroine are supposed to be equal in all respects. The points of equality are tenfold according to the Tolkappiyam. Such a lad and a lass are believed to meet quite unexpectedly and fall in love with each other by the scheme of Nature or God. This coming together of lovers is known as Natural union (Iyarkaippunarcci) or Divine union (Deivappunarcci).

The love life of such ideal pair is described in five thematic divisions. They are as follows;

1. Punartal-Secret union of the lovers.

2. Pirital-Sparation and the suffering associated with it.

3. Iruttal-Patient waiting of the heroine for the return of the hero.

4. Irankal-Feeling of despair of the woman in the absence of the hero.

5. Utal-The love-quarrel between the lovers.

These five are called the Uripporul in Tamil tradition. This is the basis of Akam poetry. Though these aspects are common to all the tinais, convention links particular tinai or geographical unit. According to convention, the following is the distribution.

1. Kurinci-Mountain-Secretunion.

2. Mullai-Forest-patient waiting of the wife.

3. Marutam-Plain-Love quarrel.

4. Neytal-Coastal region-Mood of despair

5. Palai-Waste land-Separation of lovers and the suffering associated with it.

The elopement of the lovers also is part of the Palai theme. Though the lovers are together, their minds are experiencing a sort of fear that the elders may, at any moment confront them and separate them. In the poems about elopement, the grief of the mother of the girl is portrayed in a touching manner. These reasons may, to some extent justify the inclusion of this theme in Palai division.


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