The 160- odd poems in Love Stands Alone are often quite short though there’s enough going on in them to fill a chapter in a fat novel Keeping the voice low the tone level, they say the most heartbreaking, or urgent or joyful thing. This is way we are still listening to them our ears pricked after 2000 years Luckily for us, Thangappa translates several of the longer poems too; reading them is like watching one of those folk performances in which women dance while balancing pots on their heads. You What with yourheart in your mouth, for one false step can bring the whole thing crashing down.? But Thangappa carries it off again and again More then once I caught myself whistling.'
Composed at the turn of the Common era, the ancient poems translated from classical Tamil in Love stands Alone are breathtaking in their directness, subtle in their nuances and astonishingly contemporary in tone.
The Poems fall under two broad themes: akam, the interior, and puram, the exterior. The akam poems are concerned with love in all its varied situation: clandestine and illicit; conjugal happiness and infidelity; separation all other aspect of Worldly life. They talk of wars and the battlefield the velour of warriors, the munificence of kings and chieftains, and the wisdom of bards. These timeless marvelous poems succeed in engaging today’s readers with their acute rendering of the secular life of an ancient.
Unlike earlier translations that have relied on medieval commentaries, M.L Thangappa’s English translation is based on an original interpretation of the classical. This is the result of a lifetime immersion in teaching and translating classical Tamil poetry. The introduction by A. R Venkatachalapathy situates classical Tamil poetry in its historical and cultural setting and evaluates its contribution to world literature.
M.L Thangappa taught Tamil for over twenty five years in the various college of the Puduchery government until his retirement in 1994. He has published a number of books of poetry, and essays in Tamil and has translated from Tamil into English Sangam poetry and the songs of Ramalinga Swami gal Subramanian Bharati and Bharatidasan he was awarded the Bharatidasan Award 1991 and the Sirpi Literary Award 2007 for lifetime achievement in poetry.
Has taught history at Monomania Sundaranar University, Tirunelvli, the University of Madras and the University of Chicago Presently he is Professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies Chennai. He has published widely on the social, cultural and intellectual history of colonial Tamil Nadu both in Tamil and in English.
'Poetry cannot swerve from tradition,' declares Tholkappiyam, the defining grammatical treatise on Sangam literature. Such unequivocality about the place of tradition must seem to be at odds with, say, English poetry where, as T.S. Eliot famously observed, tradition is only occasionally invoked and usually to deplore its absence. Contrary to the censorial and probative sense in which it is often used in English, tradition permeates, defines and approves much of Tamil poetry, most especially classical Tamil poetry. The Tamil language's claim to classical status rests on the corpus of literature commonly known as Sangam literature. The over 2,000 poems which make up this corpus are breathtaking in their directness, subtle in their nuances and have an astonishing contemporary quality.
According to tradition there were three Sangams, or academies, in ancient Tamil Nadu where poets congregated to debate and authorize literary works. The first Sangam is said to have flourished south of present-day Kanyakumari, now submerged, in the ancient Pandyan city of Then-Madurai. Consisting of as many as 4,449 poets, it is said to have reigned for 4,440 years. The second Sangam, in Kapadapuram, is said to have flourished for 3,700 years with 3,700 poets. Both these Sangams, each consisting of fifty-nine core poets, are believed to have been engulfed by the sea and the works lost. The third or last Sangam, in historical Madurai, continued for 1,850 years with forty-nine core poets and another 449 contributing poets. All the surviving works are said to be from this Sangam, except Tholkappiyam said to be from the second Sangam. As the fantastic numbers would indicate there is undoubtedly more myth than fact even though one cannot discount the validity of historical memory about some massive tsunami that could have engulfed an earlier culture. As even K. Kailasapathy, a scholar not known for his sympathy towards Tamil identity politics concedes, 'it seems likely that persistent traditions about lost books might embody genuine memories'. Understandably, this myth has had a powerful hold on the Tamil cultural mind and has lived on for about a millennium and a half and has been phenomenally productive in terms of the many literary and artistic representations it has spawned.
The word 'Sangam' itself, however, does not occur in the sense of an academy in the corpus of literature known as Sang am literature, which is a useful and convenient shorthand for identification. The first occurrence of the Sangam as a Tamil academy dates from the Bhakti movement of the seventh to ninth centuries CE. This popular movement which had a far-reaching impact on the religious map of the Indian subcontinent, and gave the concept of bhakti to the religious vocabulary of the subcontinent, began its career in the Tamil country with a strident anti-Buddhist/Jain content. The medieval bhakti poets Andal and Thirugnanasambandar's references to Sanga- Tamil (Tamil of the Sangam[ s]) are undoubtedly inspired by the Buddhist and Jain Sangams established in the fifth century in the Tamil country. By the ninth century, with the convergence of language (Tamil) and religion (Saivism) the tradition of the Sangam was further embellished. The Pandyan kings, in their stylized meikeerthis or parasites, engraved on numerous stone inscriptions, began to routinely claim that their ancestors built the city of Madurai and founded the Sang am there. In the tenth-century lraiyanar Agapporul Umi, the myth is thoroughly fleshed out with the above fanciful numbers. Further, the supreme lord Siva and his son Murugan were counted among the poets of the Sangam. An elaborate mythology where Siva himself composed a poem-the celebrated Kurunthokai 40 which was challenged by the presiding poet Nakkeeran-was constructed. This story which is first alluded to in the medieval bhakti poet Thirunavukkarasar's poems gets elaborated in the various Thiruvilaiyadal Puranam versions starting from the eleventh century. The tradition of Sangam played a central role in the primacy achieved by Madurai in Tamil literary imagination and in the Saiva religious world.
The extant corpus is made of two sets of eighteen works. The pathinen melkanakku or the 'major/higher eighteen' consists of the Ettuthokai (The Eight Anthologies) and the Pathupattu (The Ten Long Poems). To this must be added the outstanding work of, among other things, linguistic analysis and scholarship, the grammar Tholkappiyam. Thirukkural has pride of place in the pathinen keelkanakku or the 'minor/lower eighteen'. It is now common to designate the first eighteen as Sangam literature proper; the other eighteen being now considered post-Sang am.
The eight anthologies consist of Ainkurunuru, Kurunthokai, Ncttrinci, Akananuru, Kalithokai, Pathittrupathu, Paripadal and Purananuru. Thirumurugattrupadai (also called Pulavar Attrupadai), Porunar Attrupadai, Sirupan Attrupadai, Perumpan Attrupadai, Mullai Petru, Madurai Kanji, Nedunalvadai, Kurinji Petru, Pattinappalai and Malaipadukadam (also called Kuthar Attrupadai) make up the Pathupattu.
The poems in this corpus total 2,38 1 composed by as many as 473 poets. For reasons elaborated below there are a number of missing poems in the Sang am corpus: two poems (1 29 and 130) are missing from Ainkurunuru, one from Nattrinai (234), twenty from Pathittrupathu (1-10 and 91-100); more than half of Paripadal is missing. And in the iconic Purananuru itself not only are two poems missing but as many as forty-three poems are available only in mutilated form. Further some colophons and authors' names are also not available.
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