Make your own free website on Tripod.com
8. Philosophical Literary Period (ttfTv kalmf)

8.1. Introduction

The history of a language is a good reflection of the social and cultural development of the people dwelling in the area where the language is spoken. This is particularly true of Thamizh which is an ancient language. It contains a vast amount of literature and historical documentation of events. During each phase of their history, the Thamizh people were fortunate that poets and scholars with ability to see through the social fabric appeared on the scene and came up with appropriate literary works with specific messages that would change their destiny.

In the Sangam period, the poets were content to describe their society and culture as they perceived. The codification of human endeavours and literary expression of their thoughts with wide imagination were their major objectives. In the didactic and epic eras, the scholars tried to impose ethical rules on the society and attempted to raise the moral values to a higher level.

In the meantime, traditional Hindu philosophy spread throughout the whole subcontinent and became deep rooted in the society. Buddhism and Jainism were, for some reason or other, unable to establish themselves, though they were relatively free from the shortcomings of their parental religious system at the social level. The Bhakthi movement with its musical appeal did succeed significantly in swaying the people from indulging in aesthetic pleasures to establishing communion with the Supreme, referred to as Sivan (civ[f) or VishNu (vixf}).

Unfortunately, in spite of the best intentions, unforeseen problems got precipitated into the social matrix primarily due to the inherent weakness of the human mind for added power and status. The caste system, which was intended to stratify society based on one's aptitude and skill and generate specialists in different disciplines, was grossly misinterpreted to confer differential privileged status to specific classes based on their birth.

The study of Scriptures which were in Sanskrit, was restricted to some sects so that there was no opportunity, desire or even a mechanism to convey the concepts to the populace at large. The inequalities so generated got perpetuated in course of time and the class conflicts began to assume enormous proportions. The problem continues to the present day in full force ! The philosophy of VEdhic rituals was also exploited by vested interests in the quest for power and status. It was forgotten that the rituals were intended to exercise the control of passions and facilitate meditation on the Supreme by providing a concrete form to the abstract formless Divine. Sectarian conflicts due to allegiance to Sivan or VishNu only confounded the problems.

As if the internal strife within the Hindu community was not enough to create confusion, foreign religions entered into the system through invading powers and missionaries with their proselytizing goals by force, pressure or enticement. It is gratifying, however, that even those who adopted the new religions continued to contribute to the growth of Thamizh by writing literary works about their new faiths.

8.2. Sitthar PAtalkaL (citftrff padlfkqf)

8.2.1. Sitthar (citftrf)

The shortcomings of the religious and spiritual endeavors were recognized by a group of philosopher-poets, called Sitthar (citftrf) who lived during the early part of the second millennium. Their aim was to take philosophy to the people and be of service to the society. They used their expertise in a variety of fields such as medicine, astronomy, astrology and social sciences for this purpose. Their forte was not the love of literature itself but the effective use of the language for communicating with ordinary folks. Their literary format was very simple verging on folk language and the words used did not require a dictionary to understand. In some cases the poems were also shrouded in folk type music and dance, e.g. cin^thu, (cinfT), kummi, (Kmfmi,) kaNNi, (k]f]i) to make them appealing.

Notwithstanding their simple style, they were able to pack their poems with profound philosophical thoughts that would normally elude the casual reader. Posterity should be ever indebted to the Sitthars for their emphasis on the futility of rituals and other forms of worship unless the discipline of the mind is practised simultaneously and virtue is followed in daily life. They were the first group of social reformers who had the guts to openly denounce caste divisions. They certainly have not received the credit they deserve for their role in fighting the caste divisions and the problems they have perpetuated. Because of their strange names and their observance of scary practices (mnftirmf, tnftirmf, ynftirmf) an air of mysticism and awesomeness surrounded them. The word Sitthar refers to perfect people (niAbemazimanftrf) mentioned in TholkAppiam and ThirukkuraL.

niAbemazi manftrf ~A]yibf kiqnft
mAbemazi taE[ mnftirmf '[fp
(etalfkapfpiymf ecyfy<qf, 178)

niAbemazi manftrf epRAm niltfT
mAbemazi kadfF viDmf
(tiRkfKbqf 28)

After years of strenuous practice Sitthars are supposed to have transcended the feeling of egocentricity (~]vmlmf) which constantly influences the human mind adversely and ultimately attained a state of perfection. Unlike the ascetics, they chose to stay within the society and work for the good of the people. Though the exact number of Sitthars is not known, eighteen Sitthars who were probably the leading ones have been documented (nnfti, `ktftiyrf, YYYMlrf, p<]f]akfkIcrf, p<ltftiyrf, p> A[kfk]f]rf, ;Adkfkadrf, Epakrf, p<likfAkyIcrf, kRv>rarf, ekagfk]rf, kalagfki, `Zk]f]rf, `kpfEpyrf, pamfpadfF, EtAryrf, KtmfAp, cdfAdcitftrf)

8.2.2. Salient Features of Sitthar poems

a) Examples of the existence of 36 philosophical concepts are given in the following poem. (~[fm ttfTvmf = 24, vitftiya ttfTvmf = 7, civttfTvmf = 5)

pdfFpf pCkfkqf ;Rptfti naLq
KdfFpf pCkfkEqa ErZq _nfTq
KdfFpf pCkfkqf Kdpfpalf ecariyi{mf
pdfFpf pCEv p[vbfK vayftftEt
(tiRYMlrf tiRmnftirmf 2834)

b) The literary policy of Sitthars can be appreciated in the following verse attributed to one of the earliest Sitthars, agatthiar (`ktftiyrf).
Giving the analogy that oil always came from the seeds, he stated that literature (;lkfkiymf) always preceded grammar (;lkfk]mf).

;lkfkiymf ;[fbi ;lkfk]mf ;[fEb
'qfqi[f $kilf ']fe]y<mf ;[fEb
'qfqi[i[f eb]fe]yf 'DpfpT Epal
;lkfki ytfti[i[f ebDpfpT ;lkfk]mf.

c) Sitthars have vehemently condemned caste differences as could be seen from the following quotes:

~tikpilrf eca[f[ ~kmtfti[f ecabfpFEy
cativAk ;lflamlf cwfcripfp etkfkalmf
(ptftirkiri emyfwfwa[pf p<lmfplf, ecyf. 125)

catipf pirivi[iEl tIAy YMdfDEvamf.
(pamfpadfF ecyf. 123)

d) The following PattinatthAr's (pdfF[tftarf) words are particularly relevant in the present context. "Instead of forming various creeds saying, 'My God' and 'Your God', why can't you realize that God as omnipresent and omnipotent ?"

ugfkqf etyfv M]fed[v<mf EvBecyfT
`gfkgfkqf EvBqta ykrfmgfkQbfpvitftarf
pgfkmtayfEvB ecyfy<mf patkEr ygfKmigfKmf
'gfekgfKmayf niAbnft :ce[[fbbikilEr.
(pdfF[tftarf ecyf.30)

A more appropriate advice to the present religious conflicts prevalent in the world has never been given. The question is whether it will ever be listened to either by people in India or other parts of the world !

e) The greatest service of Sitthars to the community at large is their contribution to medical sciences. Dhanvan^thiri (t[fvnftiri) is considered to be an outstanding physician who had expertise in various branches of medicine. His proficiency in pediatrics can be appreciated from the following poem in which the symptoms of gastroenteritis in children were described:

kdfEd enwfcilf u]f]akfK k]fvIgfki vqrfnftidfdalf
tdfEd paLnf tgfkaT taE[ udmfp< mik EnaKmf
mdfEdkkfKmf palft[fA[ mrtfti[f kcpfp< Epalf naBmf
vdfEd kalfAk `ZkfEkbi vRnfTmf pbAvEtamf
f (t[fvnftiri cimidfD CRkfkmf, 91)

f) The ability of Sittha physicians to diagnose diseases by sheer physical examination of the patient without the advantage of clinical biochemistry or electrophysiological devices is indeed incredible. For example, they were able to diagnose various internal diseases of men and women merely from the quality of the pulse, a science which has now completely disappeared. This branch of clinical medicine was referred to as n^Ati Vaithiyam (naFAvtftiymf). It is unfortunate that, with the advent of electrophysiological diagnostic tools, this branch of medicine has not only become obsolete but is also looked down upon.

`wfcakipf ptfta[ tcnaFkfKqf
`pfpE[ rvimti enRpfp miwfcatvat pitftwfci Eltfmmaki
vIram[f YM[fbi[iEl viyatikaE]
enwfcarkf ka}tbfK vAkAykfEkQ
EnrfAmy<qfq ttfTvtfAt niA[vayfpf parftfT
ecwfcaArpf Epalpfpa naFt[fA[tf
tibmakkf ka}tbfK vAkAykf EkEq.
ptie[]f citftrf naF casftirmf, ecyfy<qf 1)

g) Thanks to their knowledge of herbal medicine, several plants, roots and shrubs were identified for their therapeutic properties. Examples of such plant materials with pharmacological properties include the following: (`Zk]f]i, etaZk]f]i, cwfcIvi YMliAk, civnft kIzfkfkayf, enlfli).
It is gratifying to note that recently governments have recognized the uniqueness of Sittha medicine and systematic efforts are now being made to isolate and identify the active ingredients in these herbs and attack the problem in a scientific manner.

h) Besides the social commitments of the Sitthars, their overall philosophy regarding the true definition of a genuine ascetic was expressed beautifully in the following poem by PatthirakiriyAr (ptftirkiriyarf) :

EpyfEpalf tirinfT pi]mf Epal kidnfT ;dfd picfAceylflamf
nayfEpalf `Rnfti nriEpal yz[fB n[fmgfAkyArtf
tayfEpalf kRtitf tmrfEpalf `A[vrfkfKmf tazfAmecalfli
EcyfEpalf ;Rpfprf k]fGrf u]fAm wa[mfetqinftvEr.
(pdfF[tftarf, epaT 35)

Unfortunately these words were mistaken by visiting dignitaries for denoting negativism and pessimism in a fast moving world.

8.2.3. Conclusion

The style of Thamizh in Sitthar's literary work was simple but filled with profound philosophical concepts. They were opposed to the multiplicity of deities and the exploitation of caste differences by vested interests. The development of Sittha medicine is a significant contribution to society by these mystic philosopher-poets. In the context of present social climate, the major difficulty is the identification of the genuine Sitthar.

8.3. Saiva SitthAn^tham (Acvcitftanftmf)

8.3.1. Introduction

Anyone who has seriously studied the historical development of Thamizh literature since the Sangam days would appreciate that the language was used essentially for 3 purposes: a) for its sheer literary pleasure; b) for imparting moral and ethical values; and c) for propagating spiritual or philosophical concepts. While the first two objectives are rather universal and cosmopolitan in their scope, the third one tends to polarize people. From approximately the beginning of the second millennium, the Thamizh language and religious orientation of people became almost inseparable.

The fusion of the VEdhic system (Evtmrp<) with the customs and traditions of the indigenous people gave rise to the evolution of the Hindu philosophy as a religious entity as was mentioned earlier. In general, the concept of the Hindu trinity ,Piraman, Sivan and VishNu, (pirm[f, civ[f, vixf}) was adopted by most of the followers. The perpetual animosity between the Saivaites and the VaishNavaites within the Hindu faith was further confounded by another conflict which crept into the scene. The orthodoxy of the VEdhic system, the importance given to rituals and problems arising out of stratification of the society based on the caste system led to social domination of the higher over the lower castes.

The Sitthars played a significant role in emphasizing the oneness of God, the discipline of the five senses and the futility of the caste system. ThirumUlar (tiRYMlrf) , in particular, foresaw the sectarian tendencies as early as the sixth or seventh century. His concepts may therefore be considered as the forerunners of the Saiva SitthAn^tham. But the Sitthars who came later were rather vehement in their condemnation of the VEdhic tradition and openly opposed the VEdhic rituals as totally undesirable. This fact, coupled with their over indulgence in mysticism did not help their cause. The Thamizh people who have been immersed in the ecstasy of the Bakthi movement did, in fact, enjoy the temples and the rituals.

However, the problems associated with the class distinctions continued to haunt the Thamizh community. One specific area where the superiority of the higher caste was manifested overtly was the alleged premise that only those born in the higher caste can become an ascetic. Ordinary people who did not have the opportunity to learn Sanskrit were also not considered worthy of learning the Scriptures and their interpretations. These and other discriminatory practices precipitated a sense of disenchantment in the minds of many and eventually resulted in the establishment of Saiva SitthAn^tham (Acvcitftanftmf) as an alternative to VEdhAn^tham (Evtanftmf).

Though the precise distinctions between the two systems would require the expertise of one more knowledgeable in religious studies than me, it would be sufficient to make some elementary comments in the context of Thamizh literary development.

VEdhAn^tham (Evtanftmf) means the end or the ultimate purpose of the VEdAs. It describes the relationship between the Atman , JIvAthmA, (jIvatfma) and the Brahman or the Absolute Being , paramAthmA, (prmatfma).

By freeing oneself from the bonds of pAsam, (pacmf) or mAyai maAy, attachment, one can understand who he or she really is. By understanding the real self, one can attain salvation, the state of eternal bliss and get freedom from the suffering of birth, death and rebirth. Knowledge of Sanskrit enables one to read the Scriptures and comprehend the complex metaphysical concepts.

Saiva SitthAn^tham (Acvcitftanftmf) maintains that by surrendering oneself,pasu, (pC) absolutely to Sivan, pathi, (pti) , the Absolute Being, the arrogance of ‘I’ness, n^An, (na[f) enathu, ('[T) can be removed. The attributes of ahankAram (`kgfkarmf) and mamakAram (mmkarmf) associated with 'I'ness can be gotten rid of little by little until one becomes a part of the Absolute Being (pathi). This process of paring oneself away from the earthly pleasures is facilitated by strict discipline of the five senses (_mfp<l[dkfkmf) and devoting one’s energy to blend with Sivan, the Absolute Being.

Thamizh ascetics and scholars maintain that SitthAn^tham can be the pathway for the realization of and blending with the eternal. rAmasAmi SAstry (1967) had summarized the advaita (`tfTAvtmf) concept of Saiva SitthAn^tham as follows: "advaita is that God and Soul are two but are not dual. The released souls do not merge in God but continue to exist as souls....The released souls are separate from God and are yet in inseparable (advaita) union with God."

8.3.2. Religious Establishments, Mutts (mdmf)

Despite the apparent similarities in the fundamental concepts of VEdhAn^tha and SitthAn^tha philosophy, followers of the two schools formed themselves into two groups mostly on a caste basis. The use of Thamizh, rather than Sanskrit, as the medium for discussion of philosophical matters appealed to the populace, their love of Thamizh adding fuel to the fire of social discrimination. Several religious establishments, mutts, (mdgfkqf) were established in the 14th century throughout the Thamizh region to foster the SitthAn^tha philosophy.

Many Kings and philanthropists provided financial support and endowments of lands for the upkeep of the mutts. The mutts served as a center of learning and as a safe place where ascetics, Thamizh scholars and poets could stay and carry on philosophical and literary transactions. The mutts were also entrusted with the administration of temples. ThiruvAvadu ThuRai (tiRvavDTAb), Dharumapuram (tRmp<rmf), ThiruvaNNAmalai (tiRv]f]amAl), ThuRaimangalam (TAbmgfklmf), KunRakkudi (K[fbkfKF) are some of the well known mutts. The contributions from the scholars from these institutions constitute a valuable addition to Thamizh literature and are discussed below.

8.3.3. Literary Contribution of Saiva SitthAn^tha scholars

8.3.3.1. Kumara Kuruparar (KmrKRprrf) (17th century A.D.)
Hailing from the Saiva VeLLALa caste, Kumara Kuruparar belonged to the Dharumapuram (tRmp<rmf) mutt and became an ascetic (Tbvi) at a very early age. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he was regarded as a very liberal minded person in his attitude towards other religious sects and languages. The following comments of Dr. U.V.SAmin^Atha iyer (u.Ev.C.) , the doyen of Thamizh literature in recent times, would support this contention: "In his literary work, Kumara Kuruparar has discussed all languages, religions and regions without prejudice. His description of the country side ranging from the PAndya Kingdom where he was born, through the ChOzha Kingdom where he studied, to the Gangetic plains of the north and kAsi (kaci) where he lived bears testimony to his cosmopolitanism. In his writing he has employed Saivaite as well as VaishNavaite jargons.

He is a prolific writer. Thirteen literary works given below could be ascribed to Kumara Kuruparar according to (u.Ev.C.). They are listed below:

Kan^thar KaliveNpA (knftrfkliev]fpa) , MInAtchi ammai PiLLait thamizh (mI[adfci`mfAm piqfAqtftmizf), Mathuraik kalampakam (mTArkfklmfpkmf) , n^Ithi n^eRi viLakkam (nItienbi viqkfkmf) , ThiruvArUr n^An MaNi MAlai (tiRvaYRrfna[fm]imaAl) , Mutthuk KumAraswAmi PiLLait thamizh (MtfTkfKmarcami piqfAqtftmizf) , Chithambara MummaNik kOvai (citmfprMmfm]ikfEkaAv) , Chithambarac cheyyut kOvai (citmfprcfecyfy<dfEkaAv) , PandAra mummaNik kOvai (p]fdarMmfm]ikfEkaAv , KAsik kalampakam (kacikfklmfpkmf, SakalaklAvalli mAlai (cklklavlflimaAl) , Kailaik kalampakam (AkAlkfklmfpkmf) , kAsitthundi vin^ayakar pathikam (kacitfT]fFvinaykrfptikmf).

His major accomplishments were the establishment of a branch of Dharumapuram mutt in KAsi (kaci) and his lectures to north Indian scholars on Saiva SitthAn^tham and Kampa rAmAyaNam. Though he had written poems on Vin^Ayakar (vinaykrf) , MInatchi (mI[adfci) and SOmasun^tharar (EcamCnftrrf) , he had a special devotion to Murugan (MRk[f) from his childhood so that he transcribed all Sivan's godly qualities to Murugan. (mAbMFvilf ni[fb niAbeclfv[f, `biv<qf `biAv `biy<mf `vRmf`bivriy pirmmf).

8.3.3.2. Salient Features of Kumara Kuruparar's literary works

a) His ability to employ all the yAppu format (yapfp<) in his poems is indicative of his literary genius. A partial list of yAppu used by him is as follows: veNpA (ev]fpa, 189) , Asiriya viruttham (~ciriyviRtftmf, 298) , kalitthuRai (klitfTAb, 96) , AsiriyappA (~ciriypfpa, 41) and kalippA (klipfpa, 38).

b) Kumara Kuruparar is good at drawing similes from every day life to convey some moral principle. He compares the transient nature of youth to a bubble, wealth to the rolling waves, the body to letters written on water. Then he poses the question 'why can't one realize this and devote oneself to Sivan, the Lord'.

nIrilf Kmizi ;qAm niAbeclfvmf
nIrilf cRdfDmf enDnftiArkqf - nIrilf
'ZtftaKmf yakfAk nmrgfkaqf '[fE[
vZtftatT 'mfpira[f m[fB

c) Despite his liberalism, Kumara Kuruparar adheres strictly to the conventional literary formats pertaining to akat thiNai (`ktftiA]) and puRat thiNai (p<btftiA]). In Mutthuk kumAraswAmi PiLLait thamizh (MtfTkfKmarcamipiqfAqtftmizf) he refers to Murugan as the patron of the kuRinji (Kbiwfci) countryside: (t]fe][f Kbiwfcitf tvnftAl uqipfpv[f).

In his descriptions of the historical sacred places (tlp<ra]mf) such as Thillai (tilfAl) , and Dharumapuram (tRmp<rmf) which are predominantly agricultural in their landscape, he refers to marutham (mRtmf) as follows: (mRtmfvIbf biRnfT epRvqmf CrkfKmf tRAmymfpti).

d) The figures of speeches he employed contribute beauty to his poems. Successive rhyming words (vzieyTAk) e.g. (;ArtfTtf tiArtfT NArtfT) and successive opposites in the same line e.g. (ev]fp<yLmf kRmfp<yLmf) and cibfbmf plmfk]fD EprmfpltfAtcf ecyfyatvEr) are abundant in his works adding grace and a smooth flow to the poems.

e) His love and regard for Thamizh literature are expressed with emotion in the following verse. He says that creative ideas by the poet stay forever unlike the body created by Piraman (pirm[f) , which gets destroyed in course of time.

kAlmkqf vazkfAk MktftT '[i{mf
mlrv[f v]fdmiEzarfkfK ovfva[f - mlrv[fecyf
evbfBdmfp<mayfv[Epalf maya p<kzfeka]fD
mbfbivrf ecyfy<mf udmfp<
(ovfva[f= opfpakmadfda[f, mlrv[f = pirm[f)

TO CHAPTER 8b


BACK TO MARABU HOME PAGE