History of Tamil Literature:
Literature is usually said to be the autobiography of mankind; the life, thought and aspirations of the people are portrayed in the literature they produce. There seems to be a marked similarity in several important facts of life between the authors of Indus valley culture and the ancient Tamils. The worship of the Lingam, Tree worship. importance given to the bull, Mother Goddess worship - all these common features as distict from the Aryan culture lead us to believe that the people of Indus valley must have retreated southwards and settled in what is today known as Tamilnadu. Tamil is at once ancient and Modern. It has many speakers outside India. In scriptual form, Tamil is made up of 247 scripts which comprise of 12 vowels 19 consonants and 1 aytham.
Contact with Foreign Countries:
In the Bible, there is evidence of Indian trade in the mention of articles like ivory, ebony, peacock which formed part of the merchandise carried by Solomon's ship about 1000 B.C. These specifically Indian products, rice, peacock and sandal wood were know to the Greeks and Arabs by their Tamil names, rice or arisi known as oryza, peacock or thokai referred to as 'toki' in the Hebrew Bible, and sandal wood or ahil mentioned as 'ahalim' and 'almug' by the Greek author Sophocles in the 5th century B.C. There is enough evidence to prove that trade between the Tamil kings and the Mediterranean countries, Greece and Rome continued to thrive during the early Christian era.
Epic Literature of Post-Sangam Period:
As the influence of Buddhism and Jainism increased in the early Christian era, we find literature being produced in epic style. The first epic 'Silapathikaram' glorifies chastity and this work gives us a very good picture of people's customs, habits, religion and fine arts of the time. The second epic 'Manimekhalai' presents the ideal of renunciation through a heroine who embraces Buddhism. This epic deals with the philosophical doctrines of Buddhism. Both these epics are ascribed to any time between 200 A.D to 500 A.D.
The great literary works of post Sangam Period includes composition of five great Tamil Epics - Silappadikaram, Manimekalai, Civakacintamani, Valaiyapati and Kundalakesi.
Silappadikaram is all about the story of Kannagi which was written by Illango Adigal.
Manimekalai is all about the story of the daughter of Kovalan and Madhavi which was written by Seethalai Saathanar.
Civakacintamani is all about the story of the Jain hero Civakan which was written by Jain Saint Tirutakkatevar.
Valayapathi and Kundalakesi are two other narrative poems of this period written by a Jain and a Buddhist author respectively.
Literary Works During Sangam Period :
The Sangam literature provides valuable information and it clearly portrays a real, true, vivid picture of the Social, economic and political life of the people. Sangams, were established by Pandya Kings more than 3000 years ago, which consisted of learned scholars whose function was to set standards for Tamil literature and scrutinize and approve of new works produced by scholars. Tholkapiyam, the grammar book belongs to the middle or second Sangam Period.
The literature of the third Sangam period comprises the collections of eight anthologes called Ettuththogai and Ten Idylls knows as Pathuppattu.
The songs included in the Ten Idylls (Pathuppattu) are:
The Eight anthologies (Ettuththogai) collections includes:
The third sangam period also saw a collection of minor works called Padinen-kizhkkanakku which mainly deals with moral virtues. Among them, the most notable is Tiruvalluvar's Tirrukkural which deals with philosophy of life.
Devotional Literature (Bhakti Literature) and Grammar Works:
Tamil is rich in devotional literature. In this period there was a struggle between Jains and Buddhists on one hand and Saivaites and Vaishnavaites on the other and this resulted in the devotional hymns of the Nayanmars and the Alvars.
The Cholas were the great patrons of Tamil literature. One of the great figures of Tamil literature, Kamban belonged to this period. An example of the distinctiveness of Tamil in the second millenium is Kambaramayanam of the 12th Century. He was the greatest of the court poets of Kulottunga Chola III. He adapted Valmiki's Ramayana in Tamil in his Kamba Ramayanam is very unique in its own style.
Grammar books like Divakaram, Neminatham, and Nannul were written. Commentaries on Tholkappiam, collected works of the poetess Avvai, historical accounts of Chola Kings like Raja Raja Cholan Ula, Vikram Cholan Ula, Kulothunga Cholan Ula, war songs like 'Kalingathu Parani' written during this period give us some information regarding the life of the Tamils during the Chola reign.
The other great works of this period includes Pugazhendi's Nalavenba, Avvaiyar's Konraivendan, Nalvazhi, Jayankondan's Kalingattupparani, Muthurai.
Great Literary Works and Novels During Modern Period:
The modern period witnessed the impact of Islam and Christianity on Tamil literature. Umaruppulavar's long poem of 5000 verses named Sirappuranam is the narrative on the life of Prophet Muhammad is remembered by schloars of Tamil. Constanzio Beschi (1680-1747AD) wrote classic Tembavani on the life of Jesus Christ. The greatest poet of this period of all was of course Subramanya Bharati (1882-1921 AD). His patriotic songs inspired thousands of Tamilians. His best works which includes Kuyilpattu, Kannanpattu and Panchali Sapatham are still remembered by everyone.
Other great works in this period which includes Umarkkayyam padalkal of Desikavinayagam, Sankoli of Kalyanasundaram, Pandiyan parisu, Kudumbavilakku of Bharatidasan. The 20th Century has seen an explosion of talent and this is evident through the novels flourished at this period. Paramartha Guru Kathaigal was written by Viramamunivar is one of the best novel. The Tamil novel 'Iratchanyayattrigam' was adapted from John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress was written by H.A. Krishnan Pillai. The other important novelist of modern times which includes Akilan who wrote Chittirappavai, Jayakanthan, Kalki, Pudumaippittan to name a few.
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