The Heritage of Tamil Literature
One of the oldest and most prestigious languages of India, nay of the whole world, Tamilnadu has a rich tradition and heritage of Tamil literature. Tamil literature is almost two thousand years old. The Tamil literature can be divided in five major time periods. These are:
1. Ancient Tamil literature: the Sangam age of Tamil literature
2. Old Tamil literature: the Post-Sangam age of Tamil literature
3. Medieval Tamil literature: the Chola period of Tamil literature
4. Later medieval Tamil literature: the Vijayanagara and Nayak period of Tamil literature
5. Modern Tamil literature: Tamil literature from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries onwards.
Indeed, Tamil literature took many maturing years even to reach the Sangam age of Tamil literature. Nevertheless, the Sangam age of Tamil literature is the most ancient recognized period of the literary tradition of that region.
The Sangam Age of Tamil literature: the Origin of the Name
The Sanskrit word 'sangam' literally means 'gathering' or 'assembly'. According to the legends and folklores of Tamilnadu, there was once a continent, now abolished, located in far south of India. This is very much similar to the ancient Greek myth of the now vanished continent Atlantis. In that extinct southern continent there was mythical ruler who had arranged three poet assemblies one after another. And those workshops cum assemblies saw the emergence of the now lost mythical literature of Tamil. Hence, the foremost recognized period of Tamil literature has been associated with that myth to acquire its present nomenclature of theSangam Age of Tamil literature [Kamil V. Zvelebil, The Smile of Murugan: on Tamil Literature of South India (1973)].
The Sangam Age of Tamil literature: the Literary Treasure
The Sangam Age of Tamil literature treasures some of the oldest gems of Tamil literature. The Sangam Age of Tamil literature covers as much as eight hundred years, from 600 B.C. to 200 C.E. Tolakappiyam, the most ancient extant work on Grammar, was composed around 500 B.C.
The Sangam Age of Tamil literature mainly discussed themes like love and separations, war and administrations, local topography, trade and commerce and the like. Unfortunately, most of the works of the Sangam Age of Tamil literature do not survive today. What has come down to the present era as the Tamil literature of the Sangam Age is only a mere portion of the original and complete body of the Tamil literature of the Sangam Age. In fact the Sangam Age of Tamil literature was supposedly the golden era of Tamil literature.
The Sangam Age of Tamil literature: Categorization
Scholars usually divide the Tamil literature of the Sangam Age into three major categories. These threefold categorization of the Tamil literature of the Sangam Age is based on the chronology of the texts. These are:
1. The Major Eighteenth Anthology: This includes the Ten Idylls and Eight Anthologies. The Ten Idylls, or Pattuppattu, consists of ten works by eight different authors, including Tirumurugarruppadai, Porunararruppadai, Cirupananarruppadai, Perumpanarruppadai, Pattinappalai, Kurincippattu, Maduraikkanci, Nedunalvadai, Malaipadukadam, and Mullaippattu. The Eight Anthologies, or Ettuttokoi, consists of Narrinai, Kuruntogai, Ainkurunuru, Padirruppattu, Paripadal, Kalittogai, Ahanuru and Purananuru.
2. The Five Great Epics: These are Silappatikaram by Ilango Adigal, Manimegalai by Seethalai Sathanar, Civaka Cintamani by Tirutakkatevar, Valayapathi by an anonymous Jain hermit, and Kundalakesi by Nagakuthanar or Nagasena.
3. The two Grammars: These are Tolkappiyam and Agattiyam.