The Central Institute of Classical Tamil (CICT), established in Chennai, has taken on the challenge of preparing the definitive editions of forty one Classical Tamil texts, translating these works into English and other major European languages, as well as into major Indian languages, and writing a historical grammar of Tamil. Language being the autobiography of a people, CICT's objective is to preserve and safeguard the invaluable treasure of the literary compositions in the Tamil 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 aspiration, its refined sensibility and its soaring imagination. Apart from these, reading the ancient Tamil texts, notably the Tolkappiyam, Ettuttokai, Pattuppattu and Tirukkural, provides a foundation for scholarship in the present and offers an opportunity to bring enlightenment from the past into our contemporary education.
I am pleased to write this Foreword to the series of publications 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 is repository of our glorious culture. I urge our present and future generations to study the great classical works and to convey their message and the vision of life embodied in them to the public at large. It is with pleasure, therefore, that I commend the series to enlightened readers the world over.
Kuruntokai is a masterpiece in the Akam literary tradition of Cankam literature. It comprises a graphic presentation of the rich variety of the personal life of the Tamils of the period, especially their emotions during the various phases of romance and love. The strength of character of the hero and his confidant, the heroine and her confidante stands out as a classic example in the literature of all ages. The natural settings and the interplay of nature with the moods of the lovers is unique to this genre of poetry which is rare to find in any other literature.
The present volume aims at bringing out these rich poetic treasures to the non-Tamil audience by means of two translations in verse and one in prose. This will go a long way in spreading the glory of the Tamil language and the Tamil community.
I record my appreciation of the work done by the Department of Translation and the Publication Unit of the Institute in bringing out this priceless volume.
The Hon'ble Minister of State for Human Resource and Vice-Chairman of the Central Institute of Classical Tamil has written the Foreword, which lends grace to this publication. The translation widens the audience to this and similar literary treasures.
I commend this edition to the literary enthusiasts across the globe.
Akam poetry is a highly pragmatic and censored piece of literature and it does not deal with the unrealistic aspects of Platonic love between man and woman. It portrays love in union and separation, love before and after marriage, love in fidelity and falsity. The love thus expressed is always in tune with the flora and fauna pertaining to each aspect of love. Each akam poem is a microcosmic view of cosmic patterns, and an individual's life finds a corresponding beat in the cosmic rhythm. Akam poetry is poetry of noumenon while puram poetry is the poetry of the phenomenon.
Akam poems are the earliest ever written dramatic monologues where the poet creates objectivity while sharing subjective feeling, thus transforming personal experience into a universal one. Though akam poetry is essentially lyrical, it never uses names of any particular individual or names of places. Tolkappiyam distinguishes akam and puram conventions in this context as follows: "In the five phases of akam, no names of persons should be mentioned. Particular names are appropriate only in puram poetry."
Hence the dramatis personae for akam poetry are idealised types like chieftains representing clans and classes and not historical persons. In the same way, akam poetry considers landscapes more important than particular places. Akam verses are thus universal, common to humanity and are well within social decorum and decency.
According to Tolkappiyam, the hero and the heroine should be well-matched in ten points such as beauty, age, rank, virtue, etc., a belief which is still prevalent in Tamil Nadu. Only such pairs are suitable to achieve the sublimity of true love with the fortitude to suffer the pangs of separation, undergo patiently the torture of anxious waiting and generate adequate magnanimity to forgive betrayal. The lover's behaviour should excel in culture and refinement.
The love theme of akam literature is classified into seven types of which the first is kaikkilai, the unrequited love and the last is per untinai, the mismatched love. Peruntinai is the type of undignified love where the relation is loveless, forced between a man and a woman mismatched in age. On the other hand, kaikkilai, the one-sided affair, is the unrequited love or desire shown on an immature girl who fails to comprehend it. These two extremes are denied of poetic status because they are base, ignoble, abnormal and undignified, suitable only for servants. "Servants and workmen are outside the five akam types of true love for they do not have the necessary strength of character" (Tolkappiyam, cattirams 25-26). Most of the verses of akam anthologies do not contain the extreme forms of love though Kalittokai abounds in both types.
Of the seven types excluding the first and the last, only the middle five are the subject of true love poetry. "When we examine the materials of a poem, only three things appear to be important: mutal (the first thing), karu (the native element), uri (the human feelings appropriately set in mutal and karu) (Tolkappiyam, cattiram 3). According to literary conventions of love poetry, the classification of the sentiments of love is based on certain conditions in accordance with different regions, particular regions, particular seasons and day and night watches.
Mutal or the temporal level denotes the geographical regions, the seasons (perumpojutu) and the day and the night watch (cirupolutu).
Karu or the natural level comprises the deities worshipped in the regions concerned, foodstuff, flora, fauna, profession of the people of the region and also scenes from life.
Uri or the emotional level depicts the mood or the emotional make-up which the poem deals with. It is a particular episode in a man's life, psychologically and idealistically ascribed to a particular region.
All these three levels are explicitly represented in the organised form of aintinai or the five aspects. These five aspects of love are blended with five different geographical regions where the events in the poem take place. To convey the emotional content or the uripporul, the poem makes use of the temporal (mutal) and natural (karu) levels.
The five geographical regions, the mountains (kurinci), the forests (mullai), the fields (marutam), the sea coast (neytal) and the desert (palai) are symbolic expressions of the five aspects of love skilfully brought out through nature imagery. The flora and the fauna of the particular region become synonyms to that aspect of love which the region depicts. The Porulatikaram of Tolkappiyam clearly states that the aspect of love is of vital importance, more vital than the animals, flowers, plants, etc. They are used to enhance the aspect of love of a region. There is even an allowance for the intermingling of the fauna and the flora of two regions in one poem but the two aspects of love should never be intermingled.
There are four kinds of 'places' and each presided over by a deity and named after a flower or tree characteristic of the region.
Kurinci, a unique mountain flower that blooms once in twelve years, refers to the mountain region guarded by Murukan, the god of war, youth and beauty. The subject is usually lover's union-punartal. This may take place while the heroine guards the millet crop from the birds during the daytime, or at night when she slips out of the house evading her suspicious mother. The mountain region is associated with clandestine love, and the lovers who are destined to meet, unite to proceed towards marriage. The major hurdles in the union of the lovers are the anxieties of their meeting and the difficulties in their union. Hence even when the poems depict the lovers in separation, these poems belong to this region only and all the poems that describe union come under this section, be it premarital romance or postmarital union after love quarrel.
Mullai, a variety of strongly scented jasmine, stands for the forests guarded by Mayon, the dark-coloured God of herdsmen. The aspect of love portrayed here is iruttal-waiting patiently. The heroine waits for her lover to return from a journey or to come for regular meetings; sometimes she even anxiously awaits the proposal of marriage. The season of the forest region is rainy season, the season of fertility in the forest meadows. It is the season before which the lover had promised to return. Many of the poems that deal with this aspect of love can easily be identified through the reference to the advent of the rainy season. It is important to remember that forest region can refer to any period of waiting. At the arrival of the season, the woman exhibits her feeling through her description of relation with the season. She will even pretend not to accept the arrival of rain as reality because if she accepts it to be true, she should also accept that her lover had been false. These poems fathom the depth of her faith in him, and connote the intensity of her hope in his punctuality. She never expresses her agony of anticipation through words. As the hot rainless summer dries up the land, separation has eaten up her vitality, and the setting of the rainy season symbolises his return. The time is usually evening.
Marutam is a tree with red flowers growing near banks of rivers, a pastoral region guarded by Ventan, a rain god. The love aspect that is portrayed in this lowland region is utal or love quarrelling. After marriage and usually after the birth of a child, the hero leaves his wife and begins to live with courtesans. This phase of marital love is portrayed in all the poems of this region, the imagery showing the love triangle, and the intrigues that result through the lover's breach of faith. Scenes in this region bring out the hero's relation with the concubine, her reactions to the charges of his wife, the wife's quarrels with him, her refusal to accept him and finally her allowing him back into the house, etc. The place is a riverine tract with rich towns and cities supported by paddy farming. The time is day.
Neytal is a water flower that grows on the sandy seashore protected by the wind god. The aspect of love described in this region of seashore is extreme sadness - irankal, The subject is often separation during which the unmarried heroine believes that her man has forsaken her. Occasionally, poems of neytal describe the journey of the hero along the beach in his chariot. The seashore imagery stands for a very specific mood of sadness whenever it occurs in the course of love. It symbolises sadness due to loneliness and the rhythmic relentless waves, the sand dunes, and other nature imagery of this region are appropriate in giving an account of the unfathomable agony suffered by her.
Palai, the wasteland or wilderness, is the fifth region and palai has no specific location for it is said that any mountain or forest may be parched to a wasteland due to the heat of the summer. The aspect of love is separation or pirital. This can occur after the lover takes up a long journey through the dangerous wasteland or as the lovers leave their parents and elope into wilderness. Occasionally the hero who undertakes the journey for business purposes is married. Most of the poems describe a wilderness that is dry and has few trees. Such wastelands are the usual haunts of wayside robbers. Travel through these deserts is always dangerous, and that is the reason for the anxiety, desperation and restlessness of the lady who is left behind. The time, is midday, and the season is summer.
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