The Tamils may be justly proud of the fact that Tamil has won the status of a Classical language, the status it richly deserves and should have got long, long ago. The Central Institute of Classical Tamil (CICT), established in Chennai, has mapped out various plans including preparation of definitive editions of forty – one Classical Tamil text and translation of these works into English and other major European languages as well as into major Indian languages, and writing of a historical grammar of Tamil. Language being the autobiography of a people, our objective is to preserve and safeguard the invaluable treasure of the literary compositions in our language. If only we could delve into our past and recover the riches and wealth of the mighty treasure trove of Classical Tamil poetry, we will be amply rewarded by its lofty poetry, the poetry that strengthens and purifies the holiness of heart's affection and enlarges out imagination. Apart from these, reading the ancient Tamil texts such as Tolkappiyam, Ettuttokai, Pattuppattu and Tirukkural provides a foundation for scholarship for the present and in this sense provides enlightened education.
It is heartening to write this foreword to the series of publication being brought out by CICT, which I am sure, will do full justice to the masterpieces in Tamil without compromising on the quality of production. The Cankam corpus being a repository of our glorious culture, it behoves our present and future generations to study them and to convey their message and the vision of life embodied in them to public at large. Let me, therefore, commend the series to the enlightened beings the world over.
The work on hand is part of a unique project being executed by the Central Institute of Classical Tamil, wherein each of the classical Tamil poetical work is published as a composite text that embodies the original Tamil text, its transliteration in the Roman script and three translations of it in English, one in prose and two in verse.
The obvious purpose of this composite text is twofold: It will introduce to the English-speaking non-Tamils an amazingly rich component of Tamil literature produced in South India over a span of centuries beginning much before the dawn of the Christian era. Secondly, it will cater to the needs of advanced study and research – the prose translation helping to comprehend the Ideas and their complex organization contained in each of these poems, and the verse translations providing a critical feel of the poetry of this sprawling classical poetic oeuvre. An extended academic utility of these volumes is related to the sphere of documentation, in that the important translations of each of these works which have been done at different places and different points of time are sought to be collected and published in single volumes so as to preserve them for posterity and make them accessible to the readers across the world without much difficulty. These volumes, many of them at least, may also help the reader see the interpretative possibilities the Tamil texts of antique past lend themselves to translated as they have been by experts deeply learned in the classical literary traditions in Tamil.
In the making of the composite text of Narrinai on hand, the Central Institute of Classical Tamil has, inevitably and necessarily, incurred debts from several sources, which include the following:
The Saiva Siddhanta Publishing works Ltd , for the source language text, Narrinai Nanuru, edited with commentary and notes by Pinnattur Narayanacami Aiyar and P.V Comacuntaram; Dr. V. Murugan, the editor of this volume, for his translation in prose done specifically for this volume the Department of Tamil Development – Culture, Government of Tamil Nadu and A.V. Subramanian, the publisher and translator respectively of Narrinai: An Anthology of Amour; the International Institute of Tamil Studies and Dr. A. Dakshinamurthy for the verse translation titled The Narrinai Four Hundred.
We have also included selected verses in translation (indicated in the Introductions) from P. N. Appuswamy's Tamil Verse in Translation (International Institute of Tamil Studies), George L. Hart's Poets of Tamil Anthologies: Ancient poems of love and War (Princeton University Press), A. K. Ramanujan's poems of Love and War: From the Eight Anthologies and Ten Long Poems of Classical Tamil (Oxford University Press) and David Buck and K. Paramasivam's A Gift of Tamil. We record out obligations to all these illustrious translators and publishers.
Mr P. Sudhakarna has done an excellent job of typesetting and pagemaking, and Ms i. Josephine has single – handedly typed and formatted this huge volume, and they have a compulsive claim to our appreciation and gratitude.
I am thankful to the department of translation of the Institute and the publications division for their help in bringing out this volume. My special thanks are due in a large measure to professor K. Ramasamy for the efforts he took in coordinating the work leading to the publication of this attractive volume.
And I feel most happy to record my gratitude to Dr. Kalaignar M.Karunanidhi, the Hon'ble Chief Minister of Tamilnadu and the Chairman of our Institute, for his graceful foreword to this book.
Cankam Literature in Tamil
The Cankam era (meaning 'the age of the literary academies') in the history of Tamil literature spans over a period of about 600 years from the third century BC to the third century AD. Like the Age of Pericles in ancient Greece and the Elizabethan Age in English the Cankam Age is a golden epoch in its breadth and depth of literary creativity and scholarship witnessing as it did a proliferating body of creative literature, besides Tolkappiyam, an outstanding work of linguistics and literary theory.
While Tolkappiyam written by Tolkappiyar has 1602 nurpas (Codified metrical statements) on linguistics and poetics, the other two poetic corpuses comprise 2, 381 verses running into 26,350 lines composed by 473 poets (Manickam 1 ff.) given the fact that these poems had remained uncollected over a considerable length of time, and that they, when collected, were subjected to a process of selection, the actual number of poems produced during the Cankam period must have been much larger. Again, the fact that Tolkappiyar consciously and repeatedly makes references to his indebtedness to his indebtedness to earlier traditions and scholars points to the existence before him of not only linguistic treatises but also works of literature. Xavier S. Thani Nayagam, who has made a penetrating study of nature in classical Tamil poetry in comparison with the treatment of nature in Greek, Latin, Sanskrit and English literatures, writes: "The content of Tolkappiyam is such that, judging by the time taken to suppose that at least three to four centuries of a flourishing literary culture have preceded the date of its composition" (Journal of Tamil studies Sept. 1972:62), which" even by the most rigid canons," cannot be fixed later than the third century before Christ" (Landscape and Poetry 2-3).
Classical Genres in Tamil
A theoretician of profound scholarship, Tolkappiyar speaks about two basic classes of writing:
That do not infringe the norms of tradition,
Fall into two classes:
Original or primary works
And secondary works or adaptations.
By definition, these two classes are
Primary of original works
Are those compositions
By men of sage wisdom With consummate faculties
Who stand beyond
The effect of deeds good or evil.
Secondary works or adaptations
Derive from or depend on the primary works*.
While the secondary works are works of analysis, interpretation and translation (1589), the primary or the creative works of the Cenkam age consist to two broad genres, Viz. Akam and puram, even though there are references in Tolkappiyam to several literary kind such as gnomic poetry, narrative poetry, satire, riddle, proverb, etc.
As regards Akam and Puram, the former deals with the inner realm of human consciousness, specifically, the sexual love between a man and a woman, while Puram Concerns itself with the exterior, namely the non-Akam aspects of life, the most conspicuous of which is martial heroism, the lesser ones being statecraft worldly morality bardic life, humanism, liberality, divinity, etc. Between Akam and Puram, Akam seems to have been the privileged theme of poetic practice by the Tamil bards of the day. For out of the 2381 verses of the extant Cankam corpus composed by 473 poets, 1862 verses composed by 378 poets belong to the Akam genre. The pervasive appeal of this genre to the poetic practitioners can also be seen from the fact that the name 'Tamil' itself has been used synonymously with Akam poetry in works like Kurincippattu, Paripatal, Iraiyanar, Kalaviyal and Tirukkovaiyar.
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