The Tamils may be justly proud of the fact that Tamil has won the status of a Classical language, the status it richly deserves and should have got long, long ago. The Central Institute of Classical Tamil (CICT), established in Chennai, has mapped out various plans including preparation of definitive editions of forty-one Classical Tamil texts and translation of these works into English and other major European languages as well as into major Indian languages and writing of a historical grammar of Tamil. Language being the autobiography of a people, our objective is to preserve and safeguard the invaluable treasure of the literary compositions in our 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 poetry, the poetry that strengthens and purifies the holiness of heart's affection and enlarges our imagination. Apart from these, reading the ancient Tamil texts such as Tolkappiyam, Ettuuokai, Pattuppattu, Tirukkural etc., provides a foundation for scholarship for the present and in this sense they do provide enlightened education.
It is heartening 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 being a repository of our glorious culture, it behoves our present and future generations to study them and to convey their message and the vision of life embodied in them to the public at large. Let me, therefore, commend the series to the enlightened beings the world over.
Muttollayiram, known for its antiquity and renown and recognized as a classic by the famous commentators of the late medieval age, Peraciriyar, Naccinarkkiniyar and Gunasagarar is now made available in its present form. Its translators P.N. Appuswami, A.V. Subramanian, P. Pandian and P. Marudanayagam have done a remarkable job in handling the Tamil language of the late Sangam Period, catching its conceptual nuances in its evolution of thought and syntax and rendering them in modern English with fidelity to thought and expression. It is none too easy to maintain, on the one hand, the structural and lexical differences between Tamil and English and present lofty poetic thoughts with utmost economy and precision. It is not always possible to translate verbally some of those metaphysical conceits which are the unique features of classical Tamil. These problems notwithstanding, the translators have tried their best not to lose the spirit of the original; in other words, they have tried, and successfully too to get as near as possible to the poet without losing his poetic grace or beauty of words and figures of speech, his poetic sensibility. The stylistic features of the original are adhered to as much as possible. It is a commonplace remark that it is poetry that is lost in translation. It is true that it is well-nigh impossible to convey the unfathomable mystery of the original composition. Be that as it may, the four translators have, in their own ways, moved the reader towards the poet.
The Introduction to this anthology of poems is in three parts, written by the three translators: P.N. Appuswami, A.V. Subramaniyan and P. Pandian. This introduction is complete and comprehensive in every way. It contains every bit of information a lay reader needs to know. The rediscovery of the poem in recent times, the different editions available to us are discussed in detail. The date of composition of the poem, speculations about its authorship followed by a critical appraisal of the work - all these are done with sufficient thoroughness. How sad that we have been able to recover only 108 stanzas of this extraordinary poetic sequence! This excellent introduction will go a long way in helping the reader towards a fuller understanding and appreciation of one of the finest classics of Tamil literature.
I am thankful to the department of translations of the Institute and the publication division for their help in bringing out this book. My special thanks are due in a large measure to .Professor K. Ramasamy for the efforts he took in coordinating the work leading to the publication of this book.
The Hon'ble Chief Minister of Tamilnadu and Respectful Chairman of the Central Institute of Classical Tamil has written the foreword to this book. His foreword lends grace to this book. I feel most happy to express my gratitude to him.
Muttollayiram is an old Tamil poem of considerable merit. It has been recognized as a literary classic by Ilampuranar, Peraciriyar, Naccinarkkiniyar and Gunasagarar, four of the famous commentators of the late middle period of Tamil. This quartet bridged with careful scholarship and sympathetic understanding, some of the great gaps in time, language and manners which lie between the ancient and the later periods of the development of Tamil. Those dedicated men, undoubtedly gifted with poetic imagination and insight, chose, however, to use their talents to interpret rather than to create, and they have, by their clear exposition of the ancient classics, made it easier for us to comprehend, in some measure, the life and thought of those far-off days. They have often used illuminating quotations from other works - some of which are not now available - in order to illustrate the points they were making.
The word Muttollayiram is a compound word. It may mean "The Triple Nine Hundred", implying that it was a composition of nine hundred versess in praise of the three kings of the ancient Tamil land, namely, Cera, Cola, and Pantiya, so famous in history, myth and legend. Or again, it may mean "The Three Nine Hundreds" suggesting that it was a poem of two thousand seven hundred lines. Scholars are not in complete agreement on this point - the pessimists preferring the latter meaning, so that they may grieve more over the loss of so much of a classic, and the majority holding that it was at best only nine hundred verses long and that we may try and be happy with what has been spared.
Apparently, the poem has not come down to us in its entirety. A little less than one eighth has survived up to our times, though the whole poem seems to have been in existence even as late as the twelfth century. It is an unfortunate fact that classics have been lost in all countries and in all languages, owing to the apathy of the public, the limited nature of their appeal and the perishable nature of the material on which they were used to be written. So it is that a fragment of the poem, a bare one hundred and ten verses, has survived. These are all that is left of them, left of nine hundred. Only one eighth has shown up, like an iceberg above water. The rest of them have been submerged in the cold sea of oblivion and neglect and lost to us for ever. These are made up of (a) forty-four verses scattered in an anthology, classified, distributed, arranged under several heads and interspersed with quite a few verses selected from other ancient works; (b) a group of sixty-five poems on the theme of the love of a maid for a man, which are found at the tail end of the anthology; and (c) one poem not included in the anthology, but quoted by Ilarnpuranar in one of his commentaries as from Muttollayiram. The three bits put together total only one hundred and ten verses. We should be grateful to the anthologist and to the commentator for thus transmitting to us this heritage of the past.
In one sense we may say that we are beholden to the commentators, even more than we are to the anthologists, for their services to us. While the anthologists have merely collected the poems which would otherwise have been lost, the commentators have explained what might not have been understood and could therefore have remained a profitless collection. These learned commentators lived about six hundred years ago and formed the middle span of the bridge linking us with the anthologists of the past. But for their help, and the remarkable clarity of their writing, at least some of the poems composed some centuries earlier than their collection and written in the antique language of that earlier period, and dealing with the manner of life and modes of thought prevalent then, would have puzzled us a great deal.
The anthology which has helped to preserve some of the verses of Muttollayiram is Purattirattu. Muttollayiram is, according to the old commentators, a literary composition which belongs to the category of what the ancient grammarian Tolkappiyar called viruntu by which he meant "fresh poetic composition in a new style". Such works often bore characteristic titles. Some titles were linked with the name of the protagonists, e.g. Civaka cinuimani, Manimekalai. Some were indicative of the subject matter, e.g. Cilappatikaram (The Lay of the Anklet). Some were related to the theme, e.g. Takatar- Yattirai (The Expedition against Takatur) and Muppiil (one of the names of Tirukkural, as it deals with the three earthly human objectives, namely, aram (dharma), porul (artha), and inpam (kama). Some titles denoted the size or quality, e.g. Perun-katai (The Great Story, the story which deals with the romance of Udayana and Vasavadatta); and Kuruntokai (an anthology of short poems). Some were named after the metrical or prosodic mode adopted in the work, e.g. Kali-t-tokai and Paripatal. Some gave a clue to the number of verses contained therein, e.g. Patirru-p-pattu (The Ten Tens). Some had fancy titles e.g. Narrinai (The Good Theme, which was no more than an anthology of love poems). Some were named from a combination of one or more of these, e.g. Akananaru, Purananaru, Ainkurunaru, Civaka cinuimani. Some of the Sangam classics were also named after the total number of works forming a set, e.g. Ettu-t-tokai (Eight Anthologies) and Pattu-p-pattu (Ten Long Poems).
Till nearly seventy years ago, Muttollayiram was, even to Tamil scholars, no more than the name of an old poem which some of the commentators on Tolkappiyam had mentioned. The complete work seems to have survived down to the times of commentators since they refer to it and also quote from it. Peraciriyar, commenting on catra 239 of Tolkdppiyam (in the section on prosody), says that Muttollayiram is an example of a poetic composition in a new style and form. It was, therefore, a new poem consisting of several verses and written by a single author and was not an anthology or collection of poems written by several authors some time earlier as the Sangam poems were. Naccinarkkiniyar, another famous commentator, dealing with cutra 118 of Tolkappiyam (in the section on prosody) says that verses of four lines predominate in Muttollayiram. The suggestion seems to be that it contained some verses of more than four lines, perhaps of five or six. Peraciriyar confirms this inference when he states that the maximum number of lines in any verse of Muttollayiram is six. Whatever it be, all the verses of Muttollayiram which have come down to us contain only four lines and no more.
We do not know what the order was in which the author had set the verses in his poem-whether, for example, he had followed any classifications based on the themes of the verses, or had arranged them under the heads of the kings they dealt with, or had merely strung them as he made them, and in a more or less haphazard way.
. In the 109 poems selectively included in Purattirattu, love poems form the majority in the ratio of 65 to 44 and the commentator Peraciriyar states that they formedthe major portion of the complete work as well. However, none of the manuscripts of Purattirauu now in existence contains any love poem and the sixty-five love poems we have now in the book are found only in the manuscripts entitled Purattirattu-c-curukkam (a condensation of Purattirattuv. A condensation cannot contain poems not in the original. We have, therefore, to conclude that the portion of the original Purattirauu which contained the love poems was also lost.
We do not know the name of the author of Muttollayiram, for none of the commentators mentions it. There is no internal evidence in the poems which have come down to us to tell us his name, or about the region in which he lived and wrote, or about any of his contemporaries. Many kings of the three royal lines are mentioned, and some cities too; but they are referred to in such general terms that no particular king of any clan is definitely indicated. The poet does not anywhere declare his loyalty to the king of any particular region, or to any specified city. So we do not know in which part of the Tamil country the poet lived, though perhaps it may be claimed that there are some indirect references of his loyalty to the Cola kings.
Hazarding, on insufficient material, a tentative determination of the date of the poem, one may perhaps say that it may have been composed at any time between the fifth and the thirteenth centuries, and probably somewhere about the middle of these two limits. The period in which the famous commentators Ilampuranar, Naccinarkkiniyar, Peraciriyar and Gunasagarar, flourished should have been some centuries after Muttollayiram was composed.
All that we know with some degree of dependability about the poem is that its author was most probably a devotee of the gods Siva and Muruga. This is an inference drawn by the manner in which he refers to them in three of the verses among those now available, namely verses 1,1464 and 1465 of Purattirattu, being numbers 1, 34 and 35 in this translation. The ideas expressed in some of the verses of Muttollayiram and in some of the poems of the Vaishnavite and Saivite hymnists are similar. These similarities, however, cannot be depended upon to settle any claims of priority in date. It is very difficult to say who echoes whom, or whose is the original voice and whose is the echoing one, unless we can be sure of the definite priority of one to the other through other sources of information. And again, both could be echoes of still prior voices. Further, poets of different periods and localities, expressing themselves in different languages, without any kind of links or contacts, resemble each other in sentiment and expression more often than we expect.
The style of the poem considered as a whole is somewhat antique, yet slightly different from the poems of the Sangam period. We notice in it a lightly larger proportion of Sanskrit worlds than in the very early works. Some of the grammatical forms seem to indicate that the poems may, perhaps, have been composed before the period of the hymnists. But none of these can be regarded as conclusive evidences to fix the date of its composition with any certainty.
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