Early Medieval India, 750-1200: Growth of Tamil Literature

Early Medieval India, 750-1200: Growth of Tamil Literature

Tamil literature over period c.A.D. 500 – 850

  • The oldest body of works now known in the Tamil language was the literature of the Sangam Age. The next epoch in the annals of Tamil literature extends over a period of three and a half centuries (c.A.D. 500 – 850).
  • In this phase Sanskritic influence became even more marked than before:
    • Several words and concepts in the domain of ethics, religion and philosophy were freely borrowed and incorporated in Tamil.
    • The Sanskrit codes and law books were accepted as the basis of a considerable volume of didactic literature which forms a striking feature of the time.
    • Sometimes entire works in Sanskrit or allied dialects were translated or adapted into Tamil.
  • There was a preponderance of Jain writers to start with as elsewhere Jainism and Buddhism were exercising a strong influence.
  • But the rising tide of Hindu reaction soon produced a great volume of popular devotional literature in verse, which were set to music and ravished the hearts of the common folk.
  • The widespread Hindu religious revival for which many Saiva nayanars and Vaishnava alvars worked together furnished a powerful stimulus to the growth of a popular devotional literature.
    • It was of great importance alike for its volume and for its influence on the life of the people.
    • Groups of devotees headed by some prominent religious leader moved from place to place and shrine to shrine singing the hymns they composed in the course of these pilgrimages. The result was the use of simple diction and catchy tunes.
  • Among the literary productions of the period was:
    • Kural of Tiruvalluvar:
      • It was a comprehensive manual of ethics, polity and love.
      • The author was most probably a learned Jain divine and his close acquaintance with the works of Manu, Kautilya and Vatsayana is unmistakably evident from the work.
    • Kar-narpadu:
      • A love poem in which a lovelorn lady is supposed to describe the dreadful approach of the rainy season in the absence of her beloved.
    • Naladi:
      • A Jain anthology (400 verses) put together by Padumanar and arranged in forty chapters.
    • Nanmanikkadigai (100 stanzas):
      • By a Vaishnava poet, Vilambi Naganar.
      • It is a work of high literary merit and ranks next only to the Kural.
    • Asarakkovai:
      • It is a veritable Tamil smriti by a Saiva author based avowedly on Sanskrit originals.
  • In this golden age of Tamil Hinduism,  a large volume of literature than has been preserved in the canonical editions of hymns made in the tenth century by Nambi Andar Nambi for the Saiva group, and Nathamuni for the Vaishnava.
    • One of the earliest author in the group whose works have entered the Saiva canon is Karaikkal Ammai who sang the praises of the deity of Tiruvalangadu.
      • The two other poems written by her mark the beginning of Prabandha literature in Tamil.
    • The devotional songs of the Vaishnava alvars were compiled in the Natayira Divyaprabandham or Four Thousand Sacred Hymns.

The age of the imperial Cholas (c.A.D. 850 – 1200)

  • It was the golden age of Tamil culture, and it was naturally marked by the widespread practice and patronage of literature. The impulse to produce devotional religious literature which was so active in the last period (c.A.D. 500-850) continued with some force far into this (c.A.D. 850-1200).
  • The Prabandha form became dominant and the systematic treatment of Saiva-siddhanta in philosophical treatises began.
    • Great Siva temples were built anew and the hagiology of Saivism was standardized in a great purana by Sekkilar.
  • A quantum of Vaishnava devotional literature and commentaries on the canon also came into existence.
  • Jaina and Buddhist authors continued to flourish though not in such numbers as in the earlier age.
    • In general literature, the Jivakacintamani of the Jain ascetic and poet Tiruttakkadevar was composed early in the tenth century.
    • Another Jain writer of the time was Tolamoli whose Sulamani handles a Jain puranic theme in verse form and is counted among the five minor kavyas of Tamil literature.
  • The Kalingattupparani of the poet – laureate of the chola court, Jayangondar, is a war poem par excellence about the Kalingawar of Kulottunga.
  • Another poet laureate of the Chola court was Kuttan or Ottakkuttan who was the contemporary of Vikrama Chola, Kulottunga II and Rajaraja II and sang eloquent Ulas of each of them.
  • Kamban was the celebrated author of the Tamil Ramayanam or Ramavataram, who flourished in the reign of Kulottunga III.
    • This poem is the greatest epic in Tamil literature.
  • The extant arrangement of the Saiva canon into eleven books was the work of Nambi Andar Nambi who lived at the close of the tenth century.
    • His work includes six Prabandhas on Nanasambandar and one on Appar, besides Tiruttondar–tiruvandadi which gives brief account of the lives of the sixty – three saints.
    • All these and the poems he wrote in praise of Vinayaka and Chidambaram, find a place in the eleventh book of the canon.
  • The Periya-puranam of Sekkilar composed in the reign of Kulottunga II (c.A.D. 1133-50) is a landmark in the history of Tamil Saivism.
  • Vaishnava religious literature during this period was mostly composed in Sanskrit.
  • In the field of Tamil grammar, the Yapparungalam and Yapparungalakkarigai, two authoritative works on prosody, were composed by Amitasagara, a Jain ascetic of the close of the tenth century. He received patronage from contemporary Chola monarchs and granted liberal assignments of territory.
  • In lexicography the concise nigandu (lexicon) called Pingalam after its author belonged to this period.

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