Kamban, perhaps, the greatest Tamil poet, belonged to the Ninth Century A.D. His sublime poetry had kept its hold on the centuries as he had given poetic articulation to those timeless problems which arise at all times and the answers to which will continue to fascinate the spirit of Man till the end to Time. He has thus been rightly acclaimed as Kavi Chakravarti or the Emperor or poesy.
A noted poet of America, Edward Leuders says, 'It is clear to me even from a cursory reading of these excerpts that the translator is working with a Poet and an epic poem of high caliber indeed. The characeteristic reach of the poet Kamban for Cosmic personification in his poetry clearly ties these high and abstract matters to very human detail.'
The author, justice S. Maharajan, a Judge of the High Court of Judicature at Madras, is a great lover of Kamban and his poetry as this monograph will bear witness.
It is clear to me even from a cursory reading of these excerpts that the translator is working with both a poet and an epic poem of high calibre indeed. The characteristic reach of the poet Kamban for cosmic personification in his poetry clearly ties these high and abstract matters to very human detail. It is the world of human experience he deals with, and it is through the exaltation of poetic song that he achieves what all the world's great poetry attempts to achieve- a marriage of the divine and timeless with the earthly and experiential.
I am impressed by the skill of the translation, which although it recognizes and laments the impossibility of fully adequate translation from the Tamil to the harsh and alien English, still reflects quality of the original. His execution into English is effective and welcome. Kamban is clearly a poet the English-speaking world will be enriched by knowing through Mr. Maharajan's careful and loving translation.
JUDGING from the fantastic popularity that Kamban enjoy in Twentieth Century Tamil Nadu, a foreigner may be tempted to guess that kamban is a contemporary poet who has sung of the absorbing problems of today. Such a guess would be eleven century A.D. His great poetry keeps its hold firmly on the centuries, because he gives poetic articulation to those timeless problems, which arise at all times and the answers to which will continue to fascinate the spirit of Man till the end of Time.
Kamban had behind him an unbroken poetic tradition of over a thousand years. He did not have the advantage, which the Tamil Poet of early, spring had. Before his arrival, the Tamil language had been handled by scores of master; while it was still malleable and responsive; the Sangam Poets of the pre-Christian era had conferred upon the language a delicate reticence and austerity. Tiruvalluvar, of the 2nd Century A.D., had given it a lucidity, precision and terseness, which forced Dr. Graul to describe his couplets as 'apples of gold in a network of silver'. The vaishnavite Saints (Alwars) and the Saivite Saints (Nayanmars) had, between the 6th Century and the 9th, given the language an extraordinary suppleness and a warm and moving song quality. It appeared as if all the potentialities of the language had been thoroughly exploited before Kamban's arrival. But, in spite of these handicaps, Kaman's genius gave to the language fresh powers of articulation and made it serve the pure perfection of
He chose the Ramayana, because the simple story of Rama, unlike the Mahabharata, was free from the complexities which would distract the reader from the liberating influence of poetry. The Tamils had known for many centuries the broad outlines of the story and enjoyed the different situations in the story through the devotional songs of the Alwars. Kamban knew that the advantage of such a familiar setting was that he could divert the entire attention of the reader from the story and focus it upon the marvels of his own creative, narrative, dramatic and lyrical genius. In fact, in the prologue to his Ramayana, he proudly declares that he has chosen the Ramayana for his theme in order that the greatness and divinity of poetry may be demonstrated. This claim he makes good with astonishing success.
In fact, with the birth of Kamba Ramayana the whole future of Tamil poetry was altered, and this masterpiece has been exercising the most profound impact upon the poetic sensibility of the Tamils during the last eleven centuries. A long series of learned men have been thrilling the masses, from the time of Kamban down to our own, with recitation from, and exposition of the Kamba Ramayana. Land grants have been made by the Tamil Kings for the maintenance of these rhapsodists and recites. Stone inscriptions in the neighboring territories of Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra show that Kamba Ramayana was being expounded to, and enjoyed even by people whose mother tongue was not Tamil. Thus Kamban became one of the most potent instruments of popular education and culture; he shaped the outlook, character and the aesthetic and religious attitudes of the people in the South; his Ramayana become part of the abiding national memory. He was acclaimed by all poets and scholars as KAVI CHAKRAVARTI or the Emperor of Poesy and he has passed into history as the most learned of Poets. Popular exponents of Kamba Ramayana hold discourses continuously for months and it is a marvel that even today mammoth crowds of twenty to forty thousand men, women and children attend these discourses and listen with rapt attention and delight to the songs of Kamban. There must be something timeless about a poet who has gripped the attention of the people for over a millennium Kamban can never become out of date, because he speaks to us and to the whole world with the Voice of Tomorrow.
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