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A Walk Through The Chronicles Of Tamil Literary Traditions

Tamil is one of India's classical languages and is also acknowledged as one of the world's oldest languages. Forming the basis of language structures and communication, Tamil goes head to head with Sanskrit concerning its foundational value in Indian history. It is one of the only languages in India that does not find its origins in Sanskrit. A strong contender amongst the Dravidian languages, the language, Tamil, is primarily spoken in the Indian subcontinent. It is the state language of Tamil Nadu and the primarily spoken dialect in the union territory, Puducherry. However, this language is not confined to the borders of only India, it is also spoken by the residents of Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Singapore. Coming to the evolution of the Tamil language, the birth of this rich language is uncertain, however, many literary texts speak of its prominence in Indian traditions. The history of this language has been classified into three distinct periods, namely, Old Tamil, Middle Tamil, and Modern Tamil. The Tamil script is said to have taken inspiration from the written word of the Brahmi script.

Tamil Literature

With a rich history that spans over 2000 years, there’s no doubt that Tamil literature has made a significant cultural, economic and political impact on the Indian traditions of today. The most popular form of literature that was used by Tamil scholars and philosophers was poetry and it all began with Sangam literature. 

  • Sangam Literature - This period is revered by Tamilians as the "Golden Age'' of the Tamil language. This period was greatly influenced by the rulers of the time - the Cheras, Pandyas, and the Cholas. Being the oldest existing Tamil literary text that has been recorded, there is little to no physical documentation of these texts. However, from the little that has been preserved, it is found that the common themes discussed in these texts were love, war, politics, trade, and grief. The textual matter that does exist is divided into three specific categories: Pathinenkilkanakku (the 18 Greater Text series), Ettuthokai (the Eight Anthologies), Pattupattu (the Ten Idylls), and the 5 Great Epics. 

  • Post - Sangam period - This period in Tamil literature was dominated by Jain and Buddhist influences. During this time, there were many alterations made to the ethics, philosophy, and religion of Tamil traditions. This period was further categorized into three main divisions: the Didactic Age, the Devotional period, and the Narrative Epics.

  • Medieval Literature - During this time, the entire Southern region of India was under the rule of the Cholas. The rulers who belonged to this age were ardent patrons of literature and art. This period witnessed the emergence of poetry, early epics, and moral literature. Kambaramayanam and Periya Puranam are two of the most important literary classics of this era.

  • Vijayanagar and Nayak Period - This era of Tamil literature witnessed a massive political change with the Vijayanagara kings taking over the kingdom of South India. Followed by them was the ascension of the Nayak rulers. This period was filled with commentaries, philosophical texts, epics, and religious matters.

  • Modern Era - This period witnessed the revival of Tamil literature. The main aim of the literary works of this era was to communicate to the masses. The language was made simple to allow for a fluent understanding of the text. During this time, short stories and novels gained popularity in Tamil literature. 


Q1. What is the importance of Tamil literature in Indian history? 

As it is one of the oldest classical languages in India, Tamil has contributed to many of the cultural and ideological features of other languages in India. It formed a framework for the birth of other Indian languages, just like Sanskrit did. Thus, Tamil literature has also made a big impact on Indian literary texts today, whether it's their literary writing styles, or themes. 

Q2.  Who is the founder of the language Tamil?

According to Hindu legends, Lord Shiva is considered the founder of this ancient language. The personification of the language is seen in the form of Tamil Thai (Mother Tamil), which was created by Lord Shiva.