A short sketch of Tamil Literature.
What the Tamil Language needs at present is a correct history of its literature on a sound chronological basis. The task is of a stupendous nature when the great antiquity of the Tamil tongue and the absence of historical records are taken into consideration. The only course left open for the structure of Tamil Literature is the critical search after internal evidence; Indian Archaeology is yet in its infancy and no great help can be derived from it towards the ancient literature of the Tamil land. There are also other difficulties such as are not usually met with in the literature of other nations. Herein we are to deal in some instances with the lives of yogic sages such as Agasthya, Tirumular, Idaikkadar, Auvaiyar, whose periods of existence cannot easily be determined; with the lives of saints of precocious wisdom such as Nammalvar, Tirugnanasambandhar, Meikandaar, whose careers are full of thrilling but true incidents which can puzzle even the greatest psychologists; with the lives of other saints such as Manickavachakar, Appar, Sundarar, Karaikal Ammaiyar, Umapati Sivacharyar, who by virtue of the divine grace which was incessantly showered on them performed uncommon deeds which are deemed miracles by the common mortals. In addition to these supernatural elements, Tamil Literature has for its materials the lives and writings of literary giants as Nakkirar, Tiruttakkatevar, Ilangovadigal, Sittalai Sattanar, Kambar, Pugalendi, Ottakkuttar, Kumaraguruparar, and Sivagnanamunivar.
The growth of Tamil Literature is intimately intertwined with the rise and fall of several heretic religions from remote times. The one unbreakable tie which steadily keeps pace with the development of the Tamil Literature is the Saiva creed which remains immutably fixed witnessing the growth and fall of other religions. The history of Tamil Literature is essentially religious, secular literature forming little or, no portion of it. This religious element which pervades the whole field of Tamil Literature is due to the fact that the Tamils were essentially a religious race and considered their sojourn on earth as a mere preparation for beatitude. Hence they laid down that all literary works should conduce to the welfare of mankind, in this world as well in the world to come, by conferring upon the reader Virtue, Wealth, Terrestrial Happiness and Heaven.
It is proposed to treat Tamil Literature in three parts:-
I. Ancient Literature which comes down from the remotest antiquity to the time of Tirugnanasambandhar.
II. Medieval Literature which extends from the time of Tirugnanasambandhar to the closing years of Umapati Sivacharyar, the last of the Tamil theologians.
III. Modern Literature which comes down from the death of Umapati Sivacharyar.
We are quite aware that no sufficient justice can be meted out to the treatment of the Ancient Literature, but no pains will be spared to make it as trustworthy as possible, and should unavoidably errors creep in, the readers are requested to remember that the blame rests more on the difficulty of the work undertaken.
Antiquity of Tamil Literature.
Either in point of antiquity, or in point of grammatical subtlety, or in the extension of literature, the Tamil Language is second to none of the languages on the globe. There were three ancient academies conducted for very long periods and the last of them came to an end as early as 100 A. D. If the account given by Nakkirar in his valuable commentaries on Iraiyanar Agapporul be accepted the first academy should have begun its sittings at about 9890 B.C. This date does not mark the beginning of the Tamil Literature, as the professors who presided over the academy were simply engaged in the investigation of Tamil Literature. Thus the Tamil tongue should reached a very high degree of culture even long before 10,000 years preceding the Christian era. There is irresistible evidence corroborated on all hands to the fact that there was a deluge which submerged a great part of South India which lay south of the modern Cape Comorin which was a river before the deluge. The present sanctity of the place is indeed due to its having been one of the seven sacred rivers of India. Some scholars are of opinion that the deluge referred to in the Tamil ancient classics was identical with the deluge in Noah's time mentioned in the Bible. Tolkappyam, the most ancient Tamil grammar in existence, is considered to have been composed before this flood. The author of this grammar gives the forms of the Tamil letters and thus the Tamil Language was reduced to writing long before Noah's time. The occurrence of the work tuki (a corrupted form of the Tamil தோகை) meaning a peacock in the Hebrew Language also speaks in favor of the antiquity of the Tamil tongue. Further Tamil was decidedly the Language of Southern India during the time of Rama and Arjuna.
The word 'Tamil.'
Tamil is the name of the language spoken by an ancient race of people called Tamilar. All sorts of fanciful etymologies were devised to explain the origin of this word. The Sanskritists, who would not allow any originality in other languages and claim all that is good and great for Sanskrit, suggest that the word 'Tamil' has come from the Sans. dravida. Dravida was the name by which the Aryans designated the Land of the Tamils. Dravida literally in Sanskrit means to run and bend and it fitly describes the Tamil land as it runs far south before it bends at Cape Comorin. They conceive that dravida became dramida then dlamila and then thamil. If such be the procedure of philology then any word can be derived from any other word by stupid ingenuity and philology may well receive the last word of farewell from us.
The absurdity of deriving the word Tamil from dravida will be easily manifest. A foreigner, it is usual, gives his own name to a neighbor tribe which may not be known to the tribe itself. If we ask a Tamil man about his nationality he would unhesitatingly say that he is a Tamilian and not a dravidian which perhaps may be unintelligible to many Tamil ears. A Telugu man calls Tamil as aravam. And this fact is very little known to the majority of the Tamils. The Tamils designate Telugu as Vadugu and the Telugus as Vadugars. This is not well known to the Telugu people of the north. In the ancient classics of Tamil the word Yavanar occurs and some apply it to the Greeks, and some apply to the Persians, and a famous commentator to the Mussalmans or Turks. Thus it seems to us certain that dravida the language and it has no sort of connection with the word Tamil. Tamil is decidedly a native designation given to the language and Tamilar is the name by which the race was known.
Rev. Dr. G. U. Pope considers the word Tamil as a corruption of tenmoli (தென்மொழி); though this is a good suggestion, with great deference we beg to differ from the gentleman. There is no authority for such a derivation. In several of the ancient classics the word Tamil occurs in the sense of 'sweetness' or 'juice'.
Mr. C. W. Damodaram Pillai proposes to derive the word from the Tamil root தமி (=alone or incomparable) which has received the termination ழ் and has become தமிழ். The word, therefore, literally means 'the solitary' or 'the unique or 'the incomparable.' Tamil according to his derivation signifies 'a tongue which is incomparable' or 'a language of unique celebrity'. However ingenious this derivation is, and however relishing it may be to the Tamil ears, we are not prepared to give credit to such a derivation in the absence of antique authority in support of such etymology.
S. A. TIRUMALAIKOLUNTHU PILLAY, B. A.