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Passages: Relationships Between Tamil and Sanskrit

Passages: Relationships Between Tamil and Sanskrit
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Item Code: NAB919
Author: Kannan M&Jennifer Clare
Publisher: French Institute of Pondicherry
Edition: 2009
ISBN: 9788184701760
Pages: 416 (14 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details: 9.7 inch X 6.8 inch
weight of the book: 735 gms
Back of the Book

This volume is the outcome independent extended and enlarged of an international conference affinities and oppositions. Relationship Between Tamil and Sanskrit held on September 12th-14th 2007 at the French Institute of Pondicherry.

The history of South Asia is in a large measure the story the story of the interaction of the Dravidina and indo-Aryan languages and their cultures. These two families have been in close contact at least since the times of the eg Veda about 1500 BCE and have borrowed so much from one another that it is often impossible to determine which is source. Fortunately the non south asian native to Indo Aryan while Caikam literature enables us to understand much of what was originally Dravidian. When we look at Indian culture and its development from this perspective we gain some idea of how the process of mutual influence and hybridization took place.

All the articles presented in this book offer testimony to the plurality multiculturalism multilingualism bilingualism which has animated the two living classical languages of India parallel streams which have gone on influencing and nourishing each other throughout the centuries. These testimonies provide some lessons and question for the present younger generation of students and scholars on both sides. For Sanskrit how long it can go on surviving by the hierarchy and hegemony on which it stands proudly ignoring the other Indian languages for Tamil it is possible conditions of Jingoistic monolingualism and superficial cosmopolitanism a final lesson may be that it is only at our won peril that we are indifferent and ignorant towards the other.


About the Editors

Kannan M. (B. 1968) is a researcher in Contemporary Tamil at the Department of Indology, French Institute of Pondicherry.

Jennifer Clare (b.1978) is a Ph.D. Student in the department of South and Southeast Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Her dissertation is on Chola period tamil Literary and grammatical commentaries and how these intellectural communities negotiated the authority of the older Cankam tradition with contemporary literary developments including those influenced by the sanskritic aesthetic tradition. She believes strongly in collaborative work between scholars for the future of Tamil studies and is currently involved in an initiative between the French Institute and University of California Berkely to facilitate international exchange between students and senior scholars from India Europe and the United States. She is also interested in the relationship between literature and augury and has just began studying Telugu.



The history of South Asia is in a large measure the story of the interaction of the Dravidian and Indo—Aryan languages and their cultures. These two families have been in close contact at least since the times of the Rg Veda about 1500 BCE-and have borrowed so much from one another that it is often impossible to determine which is source. Fortunately, the non—South—Asian Indo-European languages furnish us with a yardstick by which to measure some of the elements native to Indo-Aryan, while Cankam literature enables us to understand much of what was originally Dravidian. When we look at Indian culture and its development from this perspective, we gain some idea of how the process of mutual influence and hybridization took place.

Already in the Rg Veda, we find evidence of Dravidian influence~-lexical, syntactic and phonetic. As time goes on, the number of loan words from Dravidian steadily increases in Sanskrit, and we find more and more syntactic features that are shared. By the time of classical Sanskrit, we find hundreds of borrowed words and. basic linguistic features—compounding and the use of several particles (eva, api, iti)that are clearly of Dravidian provenance. This situation is, of course, scarcely surprising when we surmise that many Dravidian speakers must have switched to Indo-Aryan from the earliest times. Culturally, the early Indo—Aryans must have assimilated many elements from contiguous Dravidian speaking peoples though it is possible that other now extinct language families were present. The earliest Indo-Aryans took their brick making techniques from indigenous people, and their cities were modeled to an extent on the earlier great cities of the Indus Valley Culture, which may have been wholly or in part Dravidian—speaking. And certainly nothing like the varna or jati system existed in any other Indo—European—speaking area while the early Tamil poems suggest that the caste system was a feature of early South India and by extension of Dravidian cultures.

By the time of Cankam literature, which can be dated reliably to the first two centuries of the common era, the Indo—Aryan languages had started to impinge on the southern Dravidian languages. Sanskrit had been frozen by Panini and other grammarians and had acquired a large body of writings though it did not yet have any of the more sophisticated poetry and prose that began with Kalidasa and other writers under the Guptas in about the 4th century CE. Prakrit was widely spoken in the north and was extending its influence into the far south. In the Dravidian-speaking areas of the south, there existed an extremely rich folk literature that included sophisticated musical and per formative elements. This unwritten tradition was refined in Tamil Nadu and, two or three centuries after Brahmi writing was introduced by traders from the north, matured into the corpus of texts that we term Cankam literature in the first to third centuries of the common era. These earliest works of Tamil, while they contain some Prakrit and Sanskrit words (estimated at about 2%) and describe some elements that clearly come from the north (Brahmins, north-Indian deities), took their conventions, meters and content from the indigenous folk tradition of the South. At about the same time, the folk tradition of the Dravidian South combined with Indo—Aryan to produce a literary tradition in Maharashtrian Prakrit, of which the Sattasai is the most famous example. This southern Prakrit literature was so rich that its ideas and conventions were taken by such great Sanskrit poets as Kalidasa and made into an integral part of the Sanskrit tradition examples include the messenger poem, separation during the monsoon and literally hundreds of other motifs.

In the development of literary theory, there was also much cross—fertilization between the two traditions. The T0/kcippiyam, the earliest and definitive Tamil grammar/esthetic text, borrows the notion of cases and the alphabetical order from Sanskrit sources while describing the 'Tamil language in mostly indigenous terms. Its section on poetics is for the most part quite different from any Sanskrit counterpart. In Cankam literature we find a use of suggestion that exactly foreshadows the c//want that became important in Sanskrit esthetics many centuries later. And Dandin’s Kavyadarsa, the fountainhead of Sanskrit esthetics and its first great work, seems to have been directly influenced by Cankam literature and its conventions.

As time went on, Tamil was more and more influenced by northern ideas and conventions. In about the 8th century in the Civakacintamani, we see in Tamil the four-line verse form that is clearly modeled on Sanskrit poetic verse. The number of words borrowed from Sanskrit increases with each century, though such borrowings never become more than a fairly small percent of the poetic vocabulary. More important, elements of pan—Indian culture~—-Buddhist, Iain and Hindu stories, religions, ritual~—become more and more prominent in Tamil Nadu. One of the major consequences of this borrowing by the Tamil area of ideas originally native to the North was a strange sort of metamorphosis: the deities from the North were. not surprisingly, seen in terms that made sense to the Tamils and turned into the objects of emotional devotional worship. This process produced the great poems of the Alvars and Nayanmars that defined a new kind of religion that flourished in the South and was, over the centuries, exported back to the North, where it produced many of the saints and poets who defined modern Hinduism in the Indo-Aryan languages and traditions.

By the eleventh and twelfth centuries, Telugu and Kannada became productive literary languages. Because their traditions began when Sanskrit was already widely accepted as a vehicle of cosmopolitanism, they naturally looked to that language for both vocabulary and conventions. And yet, from the beginning they are radically different from anything in classical Sanskrit. Scholars of those languages often underestimate the importance of native traditions and words in the literatures they study, for the fact is that in the great Telugu and Kannada works, elements of Dravidian both predominate and determine the literary flavor of the works.

The ultimate fusion of Sanskrit and Dravidian took place in medieval Malayalam. The peculiar culture of Kerala gave enormous prestige and influence to the Nambudri Brahmins, who had both the time and the education to develop their language, which was an offshoot of old 'Tamil. These writers, who were highly educated, produced numerous works that combined not only Malayalam and Sanskrit vocabularies, but also intermixed them grammatically. One finds a Malayalam subject or object used with a Sanskrit verb, each with the proper morphological form of its respective language. This true manipravalam is not found in any other Dravidian language. When so called Tamil Manipravalam mixes Sanskrit and Tamil, it always uses Tamil grammatical forms. The manipravalam of the Nambudr is profoundly influenced the development of modern Malayalam, though that language retains its Dravidian grammar and syntax.

These are only a few of the areas that are germane to this the interaction of Dravidian and Sanskrit; there are countless others. In analyzing them, a careful attention detail is required to reveal something of complexity of what took place. The articles found in this volume all contribute significantly to our knowledge of the ties between Sanskrit and Tamil. All consider an aspect in great detail and with great care. One can only hope that they inspire scholars of Tamil, Sanskrit, Telugu, Kannada, and other Indian languages to adopt a wide-ranging view and to investigate the extraordinary richness that the hybridization of Indian languages and cultures has produced.



No matter how many translations read, or language lessons taken, every monolingual speaker remembers the first time we became conscious that people actually communicate with each other in these "foreign" languages that have been the provenance of the abstract world of the classroom. That shocking dismantling of the originary language, and the accompanying thrill and grief over these seemingly infinite alternatives of meaning, eventually fades but the emotional impact of that moment never passes. While this statement will likely seem to some a comment born of a distinct American naivete, with all the real implications of a perspective based in a period of hegemonic leveling, this experience continues to return to me as I think about the issues surrounding language choice that inspired this conference and the accompanying volume of essays on the relationship between Tamil and Sanskrit. I trust that I am not alone in my delight (and occasional frustration) when I came to know firsthand the multiplicity of languages in South India. The facility with which many people switch between languages in one day, one conversation, one sentence (or one poem) and the different mannerisms, expressive styles, senses of humor that accompany these per formative shifts hover as disconnected shadows in the background of more academic discussions of the relationships among languages and literary cultures. This is no less true in the case of Tamil and Sanskrit, though these two languages have been wrenched apart by politics of the last 150 years, as scholars such as Sumathi Ramaswamy. V. Geetha, Irschick and Blackburn, among others, have discussed. While the story of an ancient Tamil Cankam corrupted by Brahmins and their degenerate Sanskrit no longer holds much legitimacy in Indian and Western academic circles, the privileging of pure un-Sanskritized Tamil as not only the authentic locus of South Indian civilization, but as a language and culture under siege by "foreign" Sanskrit (often Brahmin) scholars has continued to determine South Asian studies well into the 20th and 21st centuries. The number of essays published on Cankam—era literature still out numbers scholarship on later periods, and in many institutions, Sanskrit and Tamil studies remain quarantined from one another like quarreling siblings. Sanskrit is not required or encouraged at Indian universities for Tamil studies, 2 and scholarship that points to the origins of Tamil ness and Tamil identity is still privileged. The other side is no less problematic Sanskrit studies continue to generally ignore Tamil cultural contribution and further alienate Tamil scholars. The recent explosion into South Asian studies of Sheldon Pollock’s elegant theory of vernacularization, while graceful and provocative, leaves the Tamil scholar frustrated and feeds into old anxieties about the hegemony of Sanskrit, eclipsing the more nuanced (and ultimately more interesting) relationship between these two languages. The isolation of these languages by both sides has resulted in a largely monolingual approach to pre—modern literature that ignores the poverty of such a perspective and muffles the dynamic multilingualism that has defined South India since the earliest times.

Fortunately the academic paralysis which has segregated the study of these languages is beginning to relax, with a new generation of Indian and Western scholars who, while remaining cognizant of the politics that shaped their teachers learning, are interested in revisiting this area of scholarship. But how to approach this vast and relatively unexplored field? A primary reason behind the methodological confusion that often surrounds this topic is the lack of significant scholarship on what we mean when we talk about Sanskrit in a Tamil context (or vice versa). Pollock’s contribution to the field was a brilliant and thorough study of what Sanskrit meant, its function as more than just another language on the South (and Southeast) Asian landscape. His interpretation of Sanskrit as a language whose function shifted over time to eventually be associated with a particular type of political power based in trans local cultural (rather than religious or militaristic)capital introduced a new and powerful way of thinking about language and its accessories (grammars, commentaries, etc.) as vehicles of power. But how does this play out in the Tamil context? What do we mean when we talk about Sanskrit?

First, the use of the word "vata" (Northern). For Scholars unfamiliar with Tamil, this term may come as a surprise. It does not distinguish between Prakrit and Sanskrit, makes no reference to Sanskrit’s divine or perfected nature, and is stubbornly local (one commentator addresses this problem by saying that while vatacol is common to all areas, more people speak it in the North).° While the treatment of vatacol may change over the nearly two thousand years of Tamil grammatical production, this appellation remains fairly consistent.

Second, the purpose of this cuttiram is to explain how to make a word fit for Tamil poetry only after the vatacol has dropped its identifying phonology is it deemed an acceptable Tamil word. In this early cuttiram we have an implied distinction between Sanskrit/Prakrit as independent language and Sanskrit/Prakrit as loanword that, after undergoing the appropriate phonological shift, belongs to Tamil language and is subject to the same rules as the other three types of words. While the Tolkappiyam does not assign any particular qualities to these loanwords, other than the stipulation that they follow Tamil rules, the later commentators are more concerned with clarifying the status of these loan words vis a vis their language of origin. In his commentary on this cuttiram, Cénavaraiyar objects to an earlier commentator’s statement that vatacol is a word that resembles a Tamil word, on the grounds that comparison implies two distinct entities. He says that despite the difference between the two languages (Tamil and Jriyam), because both words share the same signified object, they should be considered the same word. The anonymous commentator whom Cénavaraiyar cites is usually understood to be Ilampuranar, who claims that "Northern words (vatacol) are words similar to Aryan words (Ariya col)". Here he points out two categories of Northern words: those of Eriyam (Sanskrit) and vatacol (Sanskrit loanword in Tamil). It is interesting to note that despite his knowledge of Sanskrit, Cenavaraiyar does not refer in his commentary on this cuttiram to the standard tarsama/tadbhava classifications used to discuss Sanskrit derivations in other languages. He does go on to specify that vatacol is a special type of language in that it is common t0 all lands, while Tamil words cannot enter the Northern language.

The problem of integration into the Tamil phonetic system dominates the discussion of vatacol in the later grammar of the Nannul, which offers more detailed discussion of the phonological transformation. Beginning with the Viracoliyam and peaking in the l8th century, we see a shift in the grammatical understanding of the relationship between Tamil and Sanskrit. The Viracoliyam formalizes the relationship between the two languages, resulting in a hybrid grammar that Viracoliyam has suggested may reflect inscriptional manipravalam from that period. The three Saiva grammars, the Pirayoka Vivékcam, the Ilakkana Vilakkam, and the Vilakkam and the Ilakkanakkottu place the relationship between Tamil and Sanskrit at center stage. These grammars, which have received minimal scholarly attention over the last hundred years in part because of what is perceived as their deviance from the Tamil grammatical system, understand Tamil and Sanskrit to be two distinct languages with one grammar. Once again the tradition refuses to completely disengage these two languages, insisting instead that the study of Sanskrit is necessary for the learning of Tamil.]O In fact, the introductory verse (Cirappuppayiram) of the Ilakkagzakkottu states that this book was composed to clarify difficult Tamil grammatical rules for those Tamil scholars who have read tikjaooiyam (named after that disciple of Agastya who made the Tamil land equal to the Northern land tenpuvi vatapuviyin camrzm akki), including the commentaries of Ilampuranar, Cenavaraiyar and Naccinarkkiniyar, Tiruvalluvar, etc., and who know Sanskrit grammar. While it is not clear to me how Ilakkagzakkorru would help with understanding a Tamil grammar based on Tolkcippiyam, the author saw the two traditions as fundamentally united.

I suggest that this cursory discussion of the various linguistic functions of Sanskrit in the Tamil context provides a useful methodological map for looking at the more general relationship between these two traditions. In the multilingual literary universe of pre-modern South India, "language boundaries were porous" Hand poets composed in "pure" Tamil, Sanskrit, Tamilized Sanskrit, Sanskritized Tamil, manipravalam, as well as Prakrit and Telugu. In his study of the multilingual genre of the independent verse (tanuppata/cattu), David Shulman suggests that "(...)catu verses moved easily from one language to another. Thus we find Sanskrit versions of Telugu and Tamil catus, and vice versa. ( .... )". 12 A poet like Arunakirinatar, though celebrated for his use of Sanskrit vocabulary and meters, is also lauded as a great Tamil poet. Vedanta Desikar writes in Tamil, Sanskrit, Prakrit and manipravalam, with equal skill in all languages. This complexity of language hoice cannot be reduced to a question of influence or even competition between two distinct languages. Echoing the question raised by the Tamil grammatical tradition - when do we treat Sanskrit as a distinct language and when do we treat it as a special kind of Tamil word — David Shulman encourages us to re-examine "to what extent these linguistic entities that we think of as so neatly bounded and distinct- Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, etc. - were truly separate in the minds of those who used them". M Looking at Sanskrit and Tamil as points on a language continuum opens up possibilities for literary analysis that move away from models of power and influence, and towards language choice as a means of effective expressive quality.

However, emphasizing this broader literary language register also runs the risk of creating a new monolingualism, one that obscures the distinct role played by both language traditions. Throughout the history of contact between Tamil and Sanskrit, we see clear examples of Tamil adaptation of Sanskrit ideas and modes of analysis. Today’s struggle between treating Tamil as a classical language, worthy of preservation and a modern language capable of new expression is not new; the Tamil tradition has always had to struggle with this balance between new and old, past and present. The choice of Sanskrit modes of expression provides a way for Tamils to do something new within their own "classical" tradition, whether this means accessing the power and prestige of a pan—Indian Sanskrit universe, or reconciling the authority of the Tamil past with contemporary literary and aesthetic developments. Sanskrit is often understood in the poetic and popular imagination as an ancient, original language (atipasai atipatai), worthy of emulation and respect. Its appeal also comes from offering "something truly new and productive", as Anne Monius argues in her work on the adaptation of the Sanskrit Javtadarsa into the Tamil tradition. These multiple functions of Sanskrit, within Tamil/adjacent to Tamil, old authority/innovative model provide a starting point for the question surrounding the relationship between Sanskrit and Tamil.

But first, this volume begins with four foundational works of scholarship on Sanskrit and Tamil, essays that privilege the multilingual, setting the stage for the questions of language choice that now concern us. We thought it appropriate to make these available again to scholars, and to revisit them in this new context. In the first essay, Jean Filliozat gives an overview of the relationship between Sanskrit and Tamil clearing up both those misconceptions which came out of prejudices held by early Indologists leading to the privileging of Sanskrit throughout the 19th and part of the 20th century and the resulting misconceptions about the antiquity of Tamil that arose as a reaction. Tracing the history of Tamil/Sanskrit contact through literary and inscriptional sources he points out that the earliest contact with Northern ideas (Brahminical and Buddhist) cam not through Sanskrit but through Prakrit and that only after Sanskrit became the language of administrative rule during the Pallava period did its impact on Tamil culture increase. After emphasizing the distinct nature of both languages and literary traditions he reminds us that this autonomy should not obscure the deep fruitful and permanent relations shared by these two languages. His essay paved the way for a study of another but also that this exchange did not happen consistently but varied depending on period and or genre.




Acknowledgements iii
George L. Hart………………… v
Kannan M……………………... ix
Jennifer Clare…………………… xxiii
Stepping Stones  
Tamil and Sanskrit in South India  
Jean Filliozat…………………… 1
Akapporul and Sanskrit Muktaka poetry  
Siegfried Lienhard…………….. 11
The Relation between Tamil and Classical Sanskrit Literature  
George L. Hart…………………. 19
Brhatkatha Studies the Tamil version of the Brhatkatha  
Donald Nelson…………………. 59
Earliest contacts between Indo-Aryan and old Tamil an epigraphic perspective  
Iravatham Mahadevan…………. 77
Tamil and Sanskrit in the Medieval epigraphical context  
Leslie C. Orr…………………… 97
Sanskrit in Tamil Inscriptions  
Y. Subbarayalu 115
From Sanskritization to nativization the role of Sanskrit in the cultural formation of Kerala  
M.R. Raghava Varier………….. 125
The Said and the Unsaid Therigatha and Manimekalai  
R. Vijayalakshmy…………….. 133
Bhoja’s Srngaraprakasa and the Kuravai Poems in the Kalittokai  
Herman Tieken……………….. 145
Sanskrit and Tamil in the service of Saivism  
T. Ganesan……………………. 163
Karaikkal Ammaiyar bridging the Cankam and Saiva worlds  
Elaine Craddock………………. 171
Upamanyu Bhakta Vialsam  
R. Nagaswamy………………… 197
Purana/Puranam modes of narrative temporality in Sanskrit and tamil  
Anne E. Monius……………….. 217
The Tale of the righteous king: king manu in Ramalinga Atikal (1823-1874)  
Srilata Raman…………………...  
Veda Bhasa Marai Moli the Indian helix  
Prema Nandakumar…………….. 251
Double the pleasure reading Nammalvar’s Tiruviruttam  
Archana Venkatesan………….. . 267
Sanskrit in a Tamil imaginary Sandesakavya and the Hamsasandesa of Venkatanatha  
Steven P. Hopkins…………….. 281
Tamil versions of the Mahabharata a study of reception  
A.A. Manavalan......................... 313
Mapping Madras in Sarvadevavilasa urban space, patronage and power in a nineteenth century Sanskrit text  
Indira Viswanthan Peterson…….. 333
Tamil Sanskrit and an other reworking the Sanskrit Tamil dyad  
V. Geetha………………………..  
Note on Contributions …………. 373

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