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Ancient Tamil literature

COUNT-DOWN FROM SOLOMON OR THE TAMILS DOWN THE AGES THROUGH THEIR LITERATURE Volumes I and II: - Hephzibah Jesudasan; Institute of Asian Studies, 337/12/B3, Chemmanchery, Chennai- 600119. Rs. 350.

THIS WORK is the first two of a series of four volumes. It covers the period of the Sangam and post-Sangam literature. It deals with the pre-historic times when Solomon sent his ships to South India and the startling resemblance between words of ancient Tamil and Hebrew, dating back to the times of Abraham or Christ, are mentioned briefly. More than 2000 poems by 450 poets represent the Sangam age, prior to 300 A.D. One can deduce from them the dynastic line of more than four generations of Tamil kings, Chera, Chola and Pandya. They tell a realistic story of people who divided their time between love and war, of the sufferings and the anxious waiting of the lonely wife for the return of the warrior. They record the flora and fauna in the background, depict the simple pleasures of life and of the joy little children give. They reflect Jain and Buddhist influences and the beginnings of the influence of Brahminism.

Volume I begins with the historical backdrop of the Sangam period. The great works of the Sangam poets are taken up for study, explanation and commentary, the Tamil poems rendered beautifully in English. The translation is of excellent quality, without marring the meaning or the poetic beauty of the original. The verses chosen shine like diamonds on dark velvet.

The author observes that the whole of literature studied in volume I of this series would have been totally unintelligible, dark to the modern student of Tamil, if it had not been for the stupendous work of the scholars and commentators of the 12th century and after. The author's life- long devotion to Tamil is well-expressed in this work.

Years of detailed study lie behind this volume, which is a fascinating work that combines humour and scholarship. The method used in presentation is in direct contrast to the work accompanied by a running commentary.

The work-based interpretation creates an immediacy of experience, an effect strengthened by the informed style that sometimes shades off into slang and colloquialism, but which, when necessary, easily rises to lofty heights of eloquence. It transports the reader back in history, revealing all the glory and grandeur of a past era.

Volume II deals with the period 600-900 A.D. (from the seventh to the 12th centuries A.D.). In this, a panorama of the history of Tamil literature and the lifestyle of the Tamils is presented, giving details of the Bhakti literature, the ethics and epics of the medieval period. Tamil literature, during this period, reflects certain religious convulsions in Tamil Nadu, which would have shaken its society at the roots. ``In retrospect, one can view them dispassionately,'' observes the author.

The Pallavas were in the scenario, along with the Pandyas and the other Tamil kings; and the atmosphere was not quiet. Religious bickerings added to the political instability. It is against such a background that the poets of the Bhakti movement, the minor ethical writers and the authors of most of the epics of Tamil Nadu are found. This volume weaves a tapestry of religion, caste, community, court-life and womanising, in full colour.

These volumes introduce ancient Tamil literature to the English- knowing public, which had remained buried away from sight, by a forgotten language, and behind one and half millennia of time. The pride of the Tamil people in their rich heritage, and their passion for the preservation of their culture can be felt in the pages of this book.

GEORGINA PETER

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