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Dr Radhika Jaidev

(Continuation from the previous issue)

The influence of Tamil Language and Literature

There are more than 7099 living languages (https://www.ethnologue. com/ethnoblog/gary-simons/welcome-20th-edition) existing in this world. Of these, 300 languages are said to possess literary value and of those, six languages, namely, Tamil, Sanskrit, Chinese, Greek, Latin and Hebrew, have been said to have existed for more than 3,000 years. Different sources suggest that that the Tamil language could have originated anywhere between 300 BCE

(, and 500 BCE (

More compelling evidence that the Tamil alphabet was founded some 3000 years ago has since been suggested by the discovery of the engravings on the stone slabs at Kudimiyan Malai, a village in the Pudukottai district of Tamil Nadu in South India. Thus, the roots of Tamil, a Dravidian language spoken by the Tamil people, have been documented as having existed Before Common Era (BCE) and Tamil, therefore, is regarded as one of the most ancient languages.

Tamil has also been credited with great literary value. According to several sources, the recorded history of Tamil literature can be broadly categorized into seven periods.

1. Sangam Period – 3rd Century BCE to 2nd Century CE

2. Later Sangam Period  – 2nd Century CE to 6th Century CE

3. Pallava Period – 6th Century CE to 9th Century CE

4. Chola Period – 9th Century to 12th Century CE

5. Nayak Period – 13th Century CE to 17th Century CE

6. European Period  – 17th Century CE to 19th Century CE

7. Present Period 20th Century CE onwards


Premalatha (1985) expresses that there were many Tamil literary works on dance and music in the centuries that preceded the Christian era but this can only be gleaned from references made to these works in later works in Tamil. The actual dance and music pieces of the pre-Christian era have never been retrieved either because they were not documented, or because the documentation has disintegrated, or been lost due to the passing of time and/ or the vagaries of nature.

Hence, what we know today of the rich heritage of Tamil music from the First and Second Sangam periods has largely been derived or pieced together from references made to the poetry set and sung to music, references to dance performed to music and references to the musical instruments that accompanied such performances in some of the great literary works of the Third Sangam period such as the Tolkapiyam, Ettutogai, Patthupattu and others.
The Sangam Era

The Sangam era has been variously located in history as having existed between 300 BC and 3 AD and even from 500 BC to 500 AD (Dikshitar, 1930). There is consensus, however, that the era was divided into three broad periods, namely, Mudharsangam or First/ Classical Sangam, Idaisangam or Second/ Middle Sangam and Kadaisangam or Third/ Late Sangam periods.

The first Sangam period, said to have begun in the area near Kanyakunari and extended all the way to Australia and South Africa, was called the ‘Lemuria Continent’ (Pandither, 1917, 1984). However, this area, it appears, was later submerged into the sea as a result of a deluge resulting in large scale destruction of artefacts relating to the people, culture and other aspects of that era.

Information on the second Sangam Period is scarce except for one book, ‘Irayanaar Kaviya Murai’ which is said to have been written during this period and is still available today.

The third Sangam period or the Kadai Sangam period refers to the period when Tamil literary works that are considered ancient were written.

Some of these works are available today. One such literary work is the Agasthiyam which was, presumably, written during the Third Sangam period. Although it is considered to be the very first Tamil literature text, only 32 sothras (Verses) of this text have been retrieved. As a result, the Tolkapiyam is now considered to be the first comprehensive piece of Tamil language and literature and it has been fully retrieved. The Tolkapiyam, the earliest known work in the Tamil language on grammar has been said to have been written some time in the period between the 1st and the 4th Century CE

( topic/Dravidian-languages#ref1012108).

It makes reference to aspects of grammar such as peyar or nouns and wēṟṟumai or separation and combination of noun and verb forms. The Tolkapiyam, comprises three books- the Ezhuttadikaram, the Solladikaram and the Poruladikaram. It is thus considered the earliest written authority on Tamil orthography, phonology, morphology, semantics, and prosody.

According to Professor M. Varadarajan, head of the Tamil department at the University of Madras from 1961–71 and vice-chancellor of the University of Madurai from 1971 – 1974, “there are over two hundred and fifty references in Tolkapiyam which, provide substantial evidence of the existence of many classical and grammatical works in Tamil, prior to Tolkapiyam itself. The Tolkapiyam classifies Tamil words into four categories, iyarcol, tiricol, ticaiccol, and vatacol. Iyarcol refers to the words in common use, while tiricol refers to the words used specifically in poetry”

( tamil7.html). Thus, the Tolkappiyam provides a wealth of insights

Photo Courtesy:  Mr Sivakumaran

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