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10. islAmic and Christian Contributions to Thamizh Literature

10.1. islAm (;sflamf)

10.1.1. Introduction

The contribution of Jain and Buddhist monks and scholars to the development of Thamizh has already been discussed (Chapter 4). The five great epics (_mfepRgfkapfpiygfkqf) written by these scholars continue to be the pride and joy of the Thamizh people. Thamizh language was also enriched significantly by foreigners who came into India as missionaries, traders and tourists.

As early as the 3rd century B.C. Alexander the Great from Greece invaded India but his army was too tired to move into the southern peninsular region. Nevertheless the word, yavanarkaL (yv[rfkqf) is found in PathiRRup patthu (ptibfBpfptfT) and refers to the Ionians or Greeks. The excavations in arisimEdu (`riciEmD) near Pondicherry (p<TcfEcri) also point to the yavana settlements.

Around the 9th and 10th century A.D. Persian invaders entered India from the north west region through the Kyber pass and eventually established the Kulji and Lodhi dynasties. The rule of the Moghul emperors extended to a significant part of India including the south. Though the Thamizh region was not directly under the Moghul rule at any time, the increased movement of troops, artists and scholars between the north and the south exerted direct as well as indirect influences of the islAmic traditions on the culture and language in the Thamizh region.

Even during this point in history, it is a credit to the secular attitudes of the Thamizh people that they kept an open mind and welcomed changes that would enrich their language. Probably ThiruvaLLuvar's advice that 'Regardless of which source one learns from, it is wise to learn the truth' did not fall on deaf ears. ('pfepaRqf yarfyarfvayfkfEkdfpi{mf `pfepaRqf emyfpfepaRqf ka]fp tbiv<). Thamizh people did not hesitate to borrow Arabic words which later became an integral part of the language (cpaC, clamf). The Arabic medical system, yunAni (y< [a[i) complemented the Sittha Vaitthiyam (citftAvtftiymf) already in vogue in the Thamizh region.

The islAmic influence on arts, architecture, music and dance was evident in every segment of the society. Conversely people who converted to islam continued to maintain their affinity to Thamizh traditions especially the language. As in the case of Sanskrit, scholars became proficient both in Thamizh and Arabic. On the spiritual side, some of the concepts preached by the prophet Mohammed, such as the formlessness of God, the nobility of compassion and alms giving, did appeal to everyone transcending religious boundaries. People who converted to islAm imbibed the teachings of prophet Mohammed and were famous for their philanthropy and willingness to share. The most significant feature of the islAmic impact was evident in the field of Thamizh literature which is relevant to our discussion.

At a time when the poverty stricken Thamizh pulavarkaL (p<lvrfkqf) were struggling for their very existence for want of patronage, a Thamizh philanthropist belonging to the islAmic faith, Syed KhAdhar (Acytf katrf) came to their rescue. He lived in the 17th century in the town, KAyal and was popularly known as KAyal Thurai SIthakkAthi (kaylfTAr cItkfkati). The Thamizh region was encountering a severe drought and the pulavars' life became still more miserable. SIthakkAthi was the only person who came out to support them under those difficult conditions.

The following poem by PatikkAsup pulavar (pFkfkaCpfp<lvrf) says: "When a plate of rice was as expensive as a plate of gold, SIthakkAthi was the only person who had the courage and conviction to come forward to feed them despite several oppositions".

OrftdfF Elepa[f{mf OrftdfFEl enlfLmf okfkvibfKmf
karftdf Fypwfc kaltftiEl tgfkqf kariypfEprf
~rftdf F{mftdfD varamEl `[f[ ta[tfTkfK
marftdf FyTAr malfcItkfkati vEratyE[

When SIthakkAthi died, the highest encomium was paid to him by PatikkAsup pulavar: "unless SIthakkAthi is reborn and comes back alive there is no salvation for Thamizh pulavarkaL".

Similar sentiments were expressed, when SIthakkAthi died, by n^amasivAyap pulavar (nmcfcivaypfp<lvrf) who said " What does it matter whether Saraswathi, Lakshmi or indeed anybody else continued to live or not?; the moment, the great SIthakkAthi died Thamizh literature died along with him".

p> maT ;Rnfet[f[ p<vimaT ;Rnfet[f[ p> tltftilf
namaT ;Rnfet[f[ namf ;Rnfet[f[ nlf navlrfkfKkf
Ekama[f `zkmrf malfcItkf katiekaAd miKnft
cIma[f ;bnftidfd EpaEt p<lAmy<mf ectftTEv

10.1.2. SIRAp purANam (cI$pfp<ra]mf)

Recognizing that the life and teachings of the prophet Mohammed were in Arabic, and the details were not easily be accessible to Thamizh people belonging to the islAmic faith, SIthakkAthi (cItkfkati) commissioned a Thamizh scholar, umaRup pulavar (umBpfp<lvrf) to write a detailed account of the biography and spiritual philosophy of the prophet. The great Thamizh epic, SIRAp purANam (cI$pfp<ra]mf) (SIRA=biography) written by umaRup pulavar is one of the highly respected Thamizh literary works. The singular beauty of SIRAp purANam is that, besides being rich in Thamizh literary style, it captures the spiritual philosophy of the prophet in an appealing manner to all readers.

It is significant to point that even in this essentially religious work, the author, umaRup pulavar could not help displaying his Thamizh background. Like his counter parts of other religions, umaRup pulavar followed the conventional Thamizh literary formats in his epic. In describing the Arabian peninsula, where the religious events took place, one cannot miss the Thamizh landscape with which the author was familiar. The other noteworthy feature of SIRAp purANam is that it is filled with deep devotional appeal befitting the Thamizh tradition. In the very first invocation poem, umaRup pulavar described the omnipresence and omnipotence of the Absolute Being in a heart rendering fashion:

tiRvi{mf tiRvayfpf epaRqi{mf epaRqayftf
etqivi{mf etqivtayfcf cibnft
mRvi{mf mRvayf `}vi{kfK `}vayf
mtitftidapf Eperaqi `A[tfTmf
epaRvi{mf epaRva vFvi{mf vFvayfpf
p> tltf T\bnftplf uyiri[f
kRvi{mf kRvayfpf epRnftvmf p<rinft
kRtftA[pf epaRnfTtlf kRtfEt.

Unfortunately SIthakkAthi died before SIRAp purANam could be completed. The project was then supported by another patron, Abdul KAsim MaraikkAyar (`pfTlf kacimfmArkfkayrf). SIRAp purANam contains 5027 songs. After umaRup pulavar's death, it was left to PanI Mohammed MaraikkAyar (p[IMkmT mArkfkayrf) to finish the project with additions referred to as Chinna SIRA (ci[f[cfcI$

10.1.3. KuNankudi MasthAn (K]gfKF msfta[f)

His given name is SulthAn Abdul KAdir (Clfta[f`pfTlfkatirf) He became an ascetic and was well known for his literary proficiency as well as for his religious equanimity. This is evident from the tributes paid to him by his peers belonging to the Hindu faith. KuNankudi n^Athar PathiRRup patthan^thAthi (K]gfKFnatrf ptibfBpfptftnftati). written by ayyAswAmi MuthaliyAr (_yacamiMtliyarf) is an example of such a tribute.

10.1.4. Another Thamizh literary work, considered to be the one of the best in the century is (enwfcilfniAbnftnpim]i by SirAjpak kavirAyar (cirajfpakfkvirayrf). This work contains 3663 kaNNikaL (k]f]ikqf) and deals with the teachings of n^abikaL n^Ayakam (npikqf naykmf).

10.1.5. Conclusion

Scholars from the islAmic faith are held in very esteem by the Thamizh literary community. Over the centuries, scholars and poets belonging to the islmic faith had become an integral part of the Thamizh culture not only through literary contributions on topics related to their religion but also by their deep appreciation of the literary niceties of the Thamizh language per se. In recent years, the critics and commentaries by Justice M.M. ismAil (;sfmayilf) on various aspects of Kampa rAmAyaNam are illustrious examples of how love for the language can overcome religious boundaries. Let us hope that his leadership will be followed by scholars of different castes and creeds so that the Thamizh language may help build a society in which peace and harmony prevail.

10.2. Christianity

When Alexander the Great, the King of Macedonia, invaded India in 325 B.C. his ambition was to establish a vast empire and extend the Greek civilization as far east as possible. It was not his intention to spread the gospel or learn more about other cultures. With his own army revolting and wanting to go back, he could fulfill his ambition only partly.

The first European missionary to land in the Thamizh region is said to be the Franciscan Giovanni de Monte Corvino (1247-1328A.D.) who stayed in Madras for a year in 1291 A.D. St. Francis Xavier arrived on the west coast as the Papal legate in 1542 but his Thamizh knowledge was limited to the memorization of a few prayers. These and other details of early Christian missionary activities have recently been reviewed by James (1991). The Thamizh community will ever be grateful to the Christian missionaries for their outstanding contributions in the areas of health, medicine, education, social service and rural development. More pertinent to our discussion is their role in the development of Thamizh literature.

As in the case of other religious groups, their primary mandate was to popularize the Christian faith among the people. When the missionaries from foreign countries arrived in India, therefore, they faced the problem of first communicating with the local people in their native language before they could undertake evangelism. Some of the missionaries not only succeeded in their attempts to learn Thamizh but also achieved a high level of proficiency to enable them to introduce desirable changes in the linguistic style which are still in vogue. The accomplishments of the missionaries and their contribution to the growth of Thamizh literature are discussed below. For a review see MInAtchi sun^tharan (mI[adfciCnftr[f)(1974).

10.2.1. The Italian Jesuit, Rev. Robert de Nobili (enapili) (1577-1656 A.D.) arrived in India in 1605 A.D. and founded the Mathurai Mission. He chose to lead the life of a south Indian Brahmin, abstaining from meat and alcohol much to the surprise and annoyance of his own church. He learned Thamizh and Sanskrit and even changed his name to (ttfTvKR) (philosophy teacher) to justify his love for his new role. He was responsible for introducing the prose style (uArnAd) in Thamizh. He has written two books, Athma n^irNayam (~tfmnirf]ymf) and GnAnOpathEsa kANdam (waE[apEtc ka]fdmf)

10.2.2. Costanzo Giuseppe Beschi (vIrmaM[ivrf) (1680-1747 A.D.)

Beschi was an Italian Jesuit who arrived in Mathurai in 1710. A scholar in every respect, Beschi was proficient in French, Greek, Poruguese, Latin, Hebrew and Sanskrit. He was an outstanding grammarian and an intuitive lexicographer. Therefore it did not take him long before he made his mark in the field of Thamizh literature. He adopted the name, Dhairiya n^Athan = (Constantius) (Atriynat[f). According to MInAtchi (mI[adfci) (1985) Thamizh was conventionally written without word or sentence spacing and without graphic indication of santhi (cnfti). Recognizing that the lack of spacing made construction of metrical dictionaries in Thamizh impossible, Beschi was the first to introduce the European concept of dictionary where the words are alphabetically arranged. Up to this point, the n^ikaNdus (nik]fD) in Thamizh were arranged in the poetic format using the subject matter (epaRqf) as titles. His SathurakarAthi (cTrkrati) thus became the first Thamizh dictionary in the new format. Some revisions in Thamizh letters are also ascribed to Beschi. In the older Thamizh, the short (Kbilf), (') and (o) had a dot on them while the long (enFlf, (") did not have the lower line. These were changed to the present format at Beschi's suggestion. Beschi is recognized for his analysis of the differences in spoken (vzkfK) and written (literary) Thamizh formats. He had also laid down grammatical rules for the two (ecnftmizf ;lkfk]m) and (ekaDnftmizf ;lkfk]mf). His grammatical text, ThonnUl ViLakkam (eta[f{\lfviqkfkmf) is considered to be a minor TholkAppiam, probably the highest compliment in those days to a foreigner ! ThEmpAvaNi (Etmfpav]i)

Beschi is well remembered for his famous Christian epic, ThEmpAvaNi (Etmfpav]i) which contains 3615 poems. It deals with the life and teachings of Jesus Christ which are described in a moving manner. The high regard Beschi enjoys in the Thamizh community may be attributed to the fact that he not only became proficient in Thamizh but also captured the true spirit of the Thamizh people in all his literary works. Even in a purely religious work, ThEmpAvaNi, he had taken the trouble of ensuring that the Thamizh background of the readers was kept in mind. This becomes evident in the descriptions of the landscape and in his mastery of introducing concepts from ThirukkuRaL (tiRkfKbqf) and Kampa rAmAyaNam (kmfpramay]mf) For example, the similarities in the invocation between Kampa rAmAyaNam and ThEmpAvaNi are given below:

p> Ac Mbfbv<mf nkfkpf p<kfek[
~Ac pbfbi `AbyLbfEb[f
(kmfpramay]mf, payirmf,4 )

p>Acy<bf btA[ nkfkpf p<kfek[ uqtfAt T\]fDmf
~Acy<bfB\bf E[{mf `RgfkAt `AbyLbfEb[f.
(Etmfpav]i, payirmf, 5)

The inscriptions of the ten commandments (EvtkfkdfdAqkqf) on the rocks were described by Beschi in a moving fasion in the following two poems in ThEmpAvaNi:

mi[f[lalf nikrfpfprinfEtarf 'ZtfttftIdfF vititftiRklf
'[f[lflalf ;AbAmyqarf umkfkilflavIrf 'A[ emyffmfAm
t[f[lflalf cadfciAvyIrf, tiRnaqf ~dtftvirfkilflIrf
m[f[lfla r]miet[fB oRklf ekaqfMvf vackEm)
(tnfAttayf v]gfKmi[ffnIrf, ekaAlEya ecyfyIrf, tvirfkam
ninfAtyayf UFlflIrf, krvIrf, epayfyIrf, niAlpfpibrilf
cinfAtyayf ;rIrf, pibrfAkpf epaRAq ev#kIrf tIgfkiet[fB
'nfAtyayfnf tir]fdagfklf tIdfF Avtft "zfvitiEy)
(cI[yimamAl ka]fpdlmf, 21-22)
(krv<= vwfcA[)

Another poem in ThEmpAvaNi which is bound to move even the stone hearted is the way Beschi described the feelings of Jesus Christ viewing the cross as a comfortable bed:
Orfmrkf k[iyalf vnfttI tkbffbi
oRgfKm[f {yierlamf uvpfp
Eprfmrtf tibtftlf Ev]fDem[f bTEv
epbbfkR nlnft[kf ek[Enayf
Prfmrcf ciLAv t[kfEkarfecgf EkaEl
ekaLvEt `mqiEy '[f[a
Vrfmrtf Tyrf ta[f ;qAmyilf etadgfkicf
Ckem[tf Tyilfekaqfva[f `mfma
(T\TArpf pdlmf, 51)

Beschi's literary policy was to spread the gospel which he described in the following poem in ThEmpAvaNi:
;tftibtftvrf ;btftlfk]f plRmf `mf mAbecyf
emyftftibtftil ;vfvIrmamf '[v<qmf Etbi
`tftibtftilf `gfekaRvrrf mayfnfT~ yirrfetqinfT
epayftftibtft N\lfEpakfki emyfCRti Akkffekaqfvarf.
(p<Erakitpfpdlmf, 103)

Love themes are very meager in ThEmpAvaNi which may be ascribed to the fact that the author himself was an ascetic. To appeal to the Thamizh community he had also changed some biblical names to the Thamizh equivalents, e.g. Joseph (vq[f), John (kRA]y[f), Isaac (nKl[f). The title of VIra mAmunivar (vIrmaM[ivrf) was conferred on him by the Thamizh scholars in recognition of his literary achievement. He has translated ThirukkuraL into Latin. His other works include: Thiruk KAvalUrk kalampakam (tiRkfkavL\rfkfklmfpkmf) and KitthEri ammAL ammAnai (kitfEtri `mfmaqf`mfmaA[). The literary works in the prose style are: ParamArttha Kuruvin kathai (prmarftftKRvi[fkAt) VEdhiyar ozhukkam (EvtiyrfoZkfkmf), Ganak kaNNAdi (wa[kfk]f]aF), VEda ViLakkam (Evtviqkfkmf) and BEtha maRutthal (EptmBtftlf).

10.2.3. Caldwell (kalfDevlf) (1814-1891) was a English missionary with proficiency in a number of Dravidian languages. He had written a book in English comparing the similarities and differences between the Dravidian group of languages. He is noted for his analysis of the etymological derivation of words used in different Dravidian languages. His Thamizh literary works include GnAnak kOil (wa[kfEkayilf) and n^aRkaruNait thiyAnamAlai (nbfkRA]tftiya[maAl).

10.2.4. George Uglow Pope (ji.y<. Epapf) (1820-1908)

Pope, an English missionary, is one of the most popular scholars in the Thamizh region and his work is very familiar even to the present generation. His translation of several Thamizh works into English earned him an ever lasting place in the hearts of the Thamizh community. ThirukkuRaL (tiRkfKbqf), ThiruvAchakam (tiRvackmf), n^AlatiyAr (nalFyarf) and sections of PuRa n^AnURu (p<bna{\B) and PuRap PoruL veNpA (p<bpfepaRqfev]fpa) are some of the literary works which are now available in English. He was a living example of ThiruvaLLuvar's ideal of a great man: (ecybfkriy ecyfvrf epriyarf, cibiyrf ecybfkriy ecyfklatarf). His genuine love for the Thamizh language would be exemplified by his ultimate desire that his epitaph should read, (ORtmizf ma]v[f) (A Thamizh Student).

10.2.5. Other Thamizh Scholars

Besides the missionaries from foreign countries, many Thamizh persons belonging to the Christian faith have also exploited the richness of their language to spread the gospel in an effective manner. The literary endeavours of three such individuals are discussed below: VEtha n^Ayaka SAsthiriyAr (Evtnayk casftiriyarf) (1774-1864)

He had the unique advantage of literary proficiency in Thamizh as well as the association with western theological experts. His literary policy as mentioned in his own words was to sing His glory and nothing else:
prapr[f `lflat padfdbiya[f 'mf
praprA[ `[fbipf padfDArya[f
prapr[f t[fA[Ey eka]fdaF nitmf
padfDpf paDva[f wa[pfep]fE]
(casftirkf Kmfmi 433)

In all his poems he employed a very simple folk style coupled with an appealing music. In the following poem he said " When You and the scriptures are there, when I have my mouth to sing and my mind at Your disposal, when I have the love of all Your devotees, when You are there to look after me like a mother, why should I suffer?".
nIyiRkfk Evt enbiyiRkfk enwfcMb
vayiRkfk ni[fpttftilf vnftiRkfk ev[fm[Mmf
EpayiRkfk ni[fp<tlfv[f p<]f]iy[a r[fpiRkfk
tayiRkfk EcyfkfKtf tvipfEp[f praprE[

In order to convey the Biblical messages to the ordinary people, SAsthiriyAr followed the example of PAmpAtti Sitthar (pamfpadfFcitftrf). The Sitthar's poem and SAsthiriyAr's poem describing the Biblical anecdote pertaining to the serpent are given below:
natrfMF EmliRkfKmf nakpfpamfEp
ncfCpf ApAy AvtftiRkfKmf nlfl pamfEp
patlitftilf KFp<Kmf Epekaqf pamfEp
paFpf paF ni[fBviAq yaD pamfEp
(pamfpadfFcitftrf padlf)

kavati Etadfdtftilf vnft pamfp< - `T
kqfqpf pamfp< ~kat ekaqfqipf pamfp<
"vaAq "yftfTkf ekDtft pamfp< - ul
ekgfKmf tiriy<et[f $DpamfEp

He had been aptly described as (kibisfTv;Acpfpavlrf) by the Christian community based on his tremendous capacity to use the three major attributes of the Thamizh language (;ylf, ;Ac, nadkmf) for reaching to the people. John Samuel (1978) had reviewed the literary contributions of VEtha n^Ayaka SAsthiriyAr. KrishNap PiLLai, H.A. (kiRxf]pfpiqfAq)

A staunch VaishNavaite till age 30, KrishNap PiLLai embraced Christianity and was baptized in 1858. He was a contemporary of isaip pulavar Vethan^Ayaka SAsthiriyAr Evtnaykcasftiriyarf) Mutthamizh Vitthakar MAyUram VEthan^Ayakam PiLLai (Mtftmizf vitftkrf may>rmf Evtnaykmf piqfAq) MahA VidwAn MInAtchi Sun^tharam PiLLai (mkavitfTva[f mI[adfci Cnftrmf piqfAq) and RAo BahadUr Sun^tharam PiLLai (ravf pkT\rf Cnftrmf piqfAq) with all of whom he had personal friendships. Born with a natural gift for music, KrishNap PiLLai had followed the traditional Thamizh literary format in his writings on the spiritual aspects of Christianity.

Like the great authors of his time, KrishNap PiLLai had spelled out his literary policy (epaR]fAm) very clearly at the outset. The uniqueness of KrishNap PiLLai lies in the fact that, though he did not hesitate to borrow the style of ChinthAmaNi’s sweetness or the musically sounding versification of Kampa rAmAyaNam and Periya PurANam, he deviated from the convention of employing love themes and descriptions in his works. He proved that, in a literary work devoted to spiritual discussion there was no need for introducing romantic love between man and woman.
His literary works include the following: ( Epabfbitf tiR `kvlf, ;rdfc]iy yatftirikmf, ;rdfc]iy mE[akrmf). His religious equanimity is illustrated by the following lines from (;rdfc]iy yatftirikmf) :
;RtAlkf ekaqfqiy<bfb evBmfep[ EvK marfkfkmf
oRtAlya{gf ka]a T]gfkiEya[f
(;rdfc]iy yatftirikmf, emyfy<]rfcfcipf pdlmf 5)

Similar sentiments were expressed by him in his work in prose titled ;rdfc]iy cmynirf]ymf).

i) Literary Policy.

In his invocation he says “ Instead of wasting my time in frivolous pursuits, I will write spiritual poems resembling rubies from the snake and avoid discussions on sensual pleasures cibfbi[fpmf). My writings will be a remedy from the All Preserving Almighty (~tfTm rXA] vzgfKEmarfmRnfT). . This may come as a surprise to those who are led to believe that explicit display of love themes is the sole indicator of a progressive society.

evbfB Enrpf Epakfkayfp<klf viE[atMm[fB
pbfb ravidmf epatinft ecpfep[kf kvip<A[nfT
cibfbi[f ptftbmf tiRtftiy kaAty<m[fB
mbfbi tatfTm rXA] vzgfKEmarf mRnftaKmf
(;rdfc]iy yatftirikmf, cibpfp<pf payirmf 14)