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Classics in current idiom


NEGOTIATIONS WITH THE PAST — Classical Tamil in Contemporary Tamil: Edited by M. Kannan and Carlos Mena; Pub. by The French Institute of Pondicherry, 11, St. Louis Street, Pondicherry-605001 and The Tamil Chair, Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley. Rs. 600.

This anthology of articles is the outcome of a seminar held with the main objective of exploring and interpreting the ancient Tamil classics in the light of modern research carried out in the inter-related areas of history, archaeology, epigraphy, literature and arts, besides underscoring the perennial tradition of classical Tamil as transmitted in contemporary Tamil, not only through literary adaptations but also through platform orations, performing arts and mass media.

The volume opens with the critical observations and clear assessment of the papers by F. Gros, the former Director of the French Institute. In the subsequent portion, George L. Hart of the University of California ascertains that "Classical Tamil, starting from Sangam literature and culminating with Kamban, is one of the richest of all human accomplishments." He also suggests that a proper study of Sangam literature would enthuse the modern Tamil writers to derive fresh inspiration.

In archaeology

The first paper deals with the excavations, made by Shanti Pappu at the site of Attirampakkam in Tiruvallur district, throwing light on the hominid behaviour and the nature of the Palaeolithic industries of Tamil Nadu.

K. Rajan's paper focusses on the discovery of different types of memorial stones known as Nadukal, inscribed with the name and fame of the hero who lost his life found in various places of Tamil Nadu, corroborated by abundant evidence available in the Sangam classics. He has also exhaustively discussed the semantic significance of the words `mani,' `kaasu' and `Kaanam', occurring in the Sangam poems and equated them respectively with gemstones, beads and coins, as attested by the archaeological findings, which included gold, silver and copper coins of local as well as foreign origin, shedding sufficient light on the commercial contacts, prevalent between the ancient Tamils and the Western world.

In the following article, which begins with a precise and concise account of the study of epigraphy in South India, Y. Subbarayalu touches on the script and language, form and content of the Tamil inscriptions which provide rich materials for indicating the political, social and the cultural history of the Tamils.


N. Venkatesan shares his rare experience as an epigraphist. In the following article a brief survey of the Pandya inscriptions (300 B.C- 1759 A.D) has been made by N. Vedachalam. The different views on the evolution of Tamil-Brahmi script form the central theme of discussion in the subsequent paper of R. Kothandaraman.

K. Nachimuthu puts forth a forgotten truth that Sangam literature was written not only in present Tamil Nadu but also in Kerala (Cheranadu) and southern parts of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, which came under Greater Tamizhagam as understood by historical and literary evidences. He argues that Sangam literature deserves to be designated as the proto-Dravidian literature from which all the major Dravidian languages moulded their early literary works. In support of his proposition he quotes the veteran scholars Ayyappa Panicker and N.V. Krishnan Variar who traced the evolution of Malayalam literature from the Sangam classics and suggested that similar studies ought to be undertaken by Kannada and Telugu scholars to strengthen the hypothesis, though at a later period the influence of Sanskrit found in them cannot be set aside.


Indra Manuel suggests some significant tools to teach Sangam poems to a modern reader. Prema Nandakumar interestingly narrates the circumstances that led her to translate the Buddhist epic Manimekalai into English blank verse. The grammatical features of old Tamil and modern Tamil are presented by T.V. Gopala Aiyar. Raj Ganthaman projects the Purananuru as a prism, refracting the dynamics of transformation from a tribal social formation to an agrarian surplus producing society, regulated by feudal political power. V. Arasu discusses in detail the various types of interpretation of the Sangam literature and confirms that the recent archaeological studies have reinforced the historical validity of the Sangam corpus.

The concept of time factor, identified as passive and active timings, depending on the social structure, as noticed in the Sangam poems form the nucleus of V. Rajesh's article. P.R. Subramanian's article deals with Tamil lexicography, indicating the different stages of development.

R. Tirumurukan's paper on Tamil music traces its evolution through the ages. A. Mangai deals with the modern relevance of some themes and persons of ancient Tamil literature as projected in modern drama and street play. Though a single seminar cannot exhaust all the aspects of its theme, this volume will definitely stimulate scholars to take up similar studies and hence it richly deserves commendation.

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