Tuesday, 11 December 2012

The Glory of Tamil Literature...Part ..2.

                           The Beauty of Kurunthogai

Let us now explore the essence of the Sangam Literature. As
mentioned in the previous chapter, Sangam Literature dates back to the
1st to 3rd centuries - 300 BC to 200 AD. to be exact.
Ettuththogai is a collection of eight different books. Of
course they were written on palm leaves as it was the only mode of
writing in ancient times. The eight books are as follows:
2. Nattrinai
3. Aganaanooru
4. Puranaanooru
5. Ainkurunooru
6. Kalitthogai
7. Pathittruppathu
8. Paripaadal
Among these Nattrinai, Kurunthogai, Iynkurunooru, Kalithogai
and Aganaanmooru are on love or " Agam "
Puranaanooru and Pathittuppathu are on kings and warfare or " Puram ".
Padipaadal deals with both agam and puram.
There are altogether 1862 Agam poems. Almost all are
included in Ahanaanooru, Kurunthogai, Nattrinai, Ainkurunooru and
kalithogai. A.K.Ramanujan has this to say of the best of the Aham
" In their antiquity and in their contemporaniety, there is
not much else in any Indian literature equal to these quiet and
dramatic Tamil poems. In their values and stances they represent a
mature classical poetry: passion is balanced by courtesy, transparency
by ironies and nuances of design, impersonality by vivid detail,
leanness of line by richness of implication. These poems are not just
the earliest evidence of Tamil genius. The Tamils in all their 2000
years of literary effort wrote nothing better ".
The " Literary Conventions of Agam poetry " of K. V..
Zvelebil ( 1986 ) describes how those conventions are intimately bound
up with nature,with a repertoire of appropriate images for each of the
Kurinji - associated with lover's union;
Palai - associated with separation;
Mullai - associated wirh patient waiting;
neythal - associated with anxious waiting; and
Marutham - associated with lover's infidelity and the
beloved's resentment.

This consists of short verses ranging from four to eight.
There are altogether 402 poems in Kurunthogai.they were written by 205
poets. These poems were compiled into Kurunthogai by a poet named
All the poems except the first which glorifies God, are on
love. It is fascinating to know from these poems as how love was
handled in a subtle and gentle way .
Most of these poems are written in a dramatic style with a
hero ( thalaivan ), heroine ( thalaivi ) and her friend ( thozhi ) as
the main characters. Love is depicted in an interesting manner with a
deep meaning in such short stanzas from four to eight lines.
Ancient Tamils saw love in two ways. Kalaviyal means love
before marriage and Katpiyal referred to love after marriage. The love
poems were on either one of the two. In those days the lover has to go
to faraway lands for trade and this resulted in separation. The pangs
of the lovers during separation are also depicted in many of these
From these Sangam songs it is clear that the ancient Tamils
honoured and encouraged love marriage and love was considered sacred
by both the lovers.
Let us have a glimpse of the love as portrayed in Kurunthogai .
Yaaum Gnaayum yaaraa giyaro?
Enthayum nunthayum emmuraik keleer?
Yaanum neeyum evvazhi ariyum?
Sembula peyalneer pola, "
Anbudai nenjam thaam kalanthave. " is a much quoted
popular poem. As the real name of the poet is not known, he is
referred as Sembulapeyaneerar, meaning the poet of red earth and
pouring rain.
Though the meaning is very simple, the thought is remakable
indeed. This is about the mingling of lovers' hearts and it means as
" Like a downpour on red earth, our hearts have mingled."
This poem has been translated by A.K.Ramanujan, who is a
scholar on Indian literature. He was a poet, scholar, author,
philologist, forklorist, translator,and playwrite.who wrote in English
and Kannada. His famous translation of the above Kurunthogai poem goes
as follows:
" What could be my mother be to yours?
What kin is your father to yours anyway?
And how did you and I meet ever?
But in love
Our hearts have mingled
Like red earth and pouring rain. "
It is news that this ancient Sangam poem from Kurunthogai
has been selected and is being exhibited in the Metro trains in
The same poem is translated by M. Sahanmugam Pillai and
David E. Ludden as follows:
" Your mother and my mother,
How are they related?
Your father and my father,
What are they to one another?
You and I,
How do we know each other?
Like the rain and red earth,
Our loving hearts are mingled as one. "
The powerful imagery in the words " red earth and pouring
rain " is so evocative, standing at once for the union in love and
also for a geographical context. Evidently it is this line that
inspired Vikram Chandra's English novel " Red Earth and Pouring Rain.

In a similar poem, a girl in love consoles her poor heart
which longs for her lover. It is written as follows:
" Nom en nenje nom en nenje
Punpulathu amarntha siri ilai nerunjik
katku in puthu malar mullpayan tha angu
iniya seitha nam kathalar
innaa seithal nom en nenje! " The meaning of this poem is as follows:
" As if the tender and beautiful Nerunji flower has turned
into a pain inflicting thorn, my lover who gave pleasure is now giving

Another famous poem tells the qualities of the lover by the
heroine ( thalaivi ) to her friend ( thozhi ) who rebukes him for
delaying the marriage. They were in love for some time already.Her
friend is worried that the lover is delaying tha marriage and talks
ill of him . She rebukes her in this way :
" Nilathinum perithe; vaaninum uyarnthandru,
Neerinum aar alavindre saaral
Karnkort kurinji pookkondu
Perunthen izhaikkum naadanodu natpe."
The meaning of this poem is as follows:
" The bees gather honey from the trees of Kurinji land.My
lover who belongs to that land is as sweet as honey. His love for me
is as high as the vast sky, wider than the land expanse and deeper
than the seas. " In this way she impresses on her friend that their
love is no ordinary love.
This poem has been translated as follows:
" Bigger than earth,certainly,
Higherr than sky
More unfathomable than waters
Is this love for this man
Of the mountain slopes
Where bees make rich honey
From the flowers of Kurinji
That has such black stalks. "
Kurunthogai abounds with poems of this nature where the
reader only overhears ahat the characters say to each other, to
themselves, or to the moon. A poem of this tradition implies, evokes,
enacts a drama in a monologue.

To be continued...

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