Dravidian Literature: A Multifaceted Tapestry of Cultural Heritage and Linguistic Brilliance

Dravidian Literature: A Multifaceted Tapestry of Cultural Heritage and Linguistic Brilliance
Posted on 02-08-2023

Dravidian Literature: A Multifaceted Tapestry of Cultural Heritage and Linguistic Brilliance

Dravidian Literature, an eminent collection of literary works in four major Dravidian languages - Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, and Malayalam - bears a rich cultural heritage and linguistic brilliance. Among these languages, Tamil is considered the oldest and shares linguistic similarities with Sanskrit, particularly in grammar and lexical borrowing. The classical Tamil works, known as Sangam literature, hold a prominent place in the literary world. This article delves into the significant literary masterpieces across the Dravidian languages.

Tamil (Sangam) Literature

Tamil Sangam literature holds a prominent place in the history of Tamil culture. The term "Sangam" refers to a fraternity, and this literary tradition was highly esteemed among the general public. It encompasses around 2381 poems attributed to 473 known poets and a collection of works by 102 anonymous poets. These compositions were produced during a period spanning from 300 BC to 300 AD, which is commonly referred to as the Sangam period.

Social Inclusivity: The beauty of Sangam literature lies in its inclusivity, as poets from various social classes, including men and women, contributed to its richness. The gatherings that led to the creation of this literature were known as "Sangamas," organized by the Pandya kingdom, where poets, bards, and writers from all over South India converged to share their talents.

The Two Major Schools: Sangam literature can be categorized into two major schools: Aham (agam) and Puram. The Aham or "inner field" delves into abstract discussions about human aspects like love, sexual relations, and emotions. On the other hand, Puram or "outer field" focuses on human experiences concerning social life, ethics, valor, customs, and more.

Three Sangam Assemblies: Over a period of 600-700 years, three Sangam assemblies were held. The First Sangam, organized by the Pandya kingdom in Madurai, led by either Agastya or Shiva, has no surviving books except for the grammar treatise Agattiyam. The Second Sangam, also hosted by the Pandya kingdom in Kapatapuram, was initially led by Agastya and later by his disciple Tolkappiyar, who composed Tolkappiyam, a Tamil grammar textbook and an essential work in the field of linguistics. The Third Sangam, held again in Madurai under the chairmanship of Nakkirar, saw the creation of the majority of the existing Sangam literature corpus.

Ettuttokai and Other Anthologies: The extant Sangam literature is arranged in eight anthologies known as Ettuttokai, with approximately 30,000 lines of poetry. This collection includes the Patinenkil Kanakku, an older and historically significant group, and Pattupattu, which consists of ten songs.

Contributions of Thiruvalluvar and Avvaiyar: Thiruvalluvar, a revered Tamil saint, made significant contributions to Sangam literature with his renowned work "Kural," a masterpiece on ethical and moral values. Avvaiyar, another esteemed female saint, also enriched the literary tradition with her insightful compositions.

Later Tamil Texts: During the early medieval period, Tamil literature witnessed a turning point as Vaishnava Bhakti sentiments began to prevail. Devotional texts became prominent during the period from the seventh to the twelfth centuries, with the twelve Alvars, or saint poets, writing fervently about their devotion to God. Notably, Andal, a female saint, was among the Alvar saints. The Nayanars, who sang praises of Shaivism, were another influential Bhakti group.

Secular Tamil Writing: Apart from the religious and devotional texts, secular Tamil writing also flourished. Two significant poets, Periya Puranam and Kambaramayanam, earned renown for their contributions to this genre.

Malayalam Literature

Malayalam, the predominant language spoken in Kerala and its surrounding regions, has evolved into a language with a rich literary heritage. Though its origins are debated among linguists, within a span of four centuries, it developed a substantial corpus of literature that established it as an independent language.

Medieval Literary Gems: Two remarkable works from the medieval period are Kokasandisan and Bhasa Kautilya, a commentary on the Arthashastra. These texts exemplify the depth and complexity of Malayalam literature during that era.

Epic Poetry: One of the notable epic poems in Malayalam is Ramacharitam, composed by Cheeraman in the 13th century. This masterpiece holds significant cultural and literary importance.

Ezhuthachan: The Father of Malayalam Literature: Ezhuthachan, an ardent supporter of the Bhakti movement, is revered as the father of Malayalam literature. His contributions played a crucial role in shaping the language's literary identity.

Telugu literature

Telugu literature, which traces its roots back to the 11th century with the works of Nannaya, has flourished into a magnificent literary tradition. However, it reached its zenith during the Vijayanagara period, commonly known as the golden age of Telugu literature. This era witnessed the emergence of renowned poets and remarkable literary works, exemplifying the richness of the Telugu language.

The Vijayanagara Period and Literary Marvels: The Vijayanagara period was marked by a remarkable proliferation of literary masterpieces. Among the notable court poets of this era was Nachana Somanatha, who composed the highly successful work titled "Uttaraharivamsam" under the patronage of King Bukka I. Notably, even kings like Krishnadevaraya (1509-1529) displayed their poetic prowess, with his work "Amuktamalyada" standing as a testament to his literary brilliance.

The Ashtadiggajas - A Gathering of Literary Luminaries: Krishnadevaraya's court was adorned by the presence of eight erudite literary figures, known as the "ashtadiggajas." These esteemed poets contributed significantly to Telugu literature, and some of their exceptional works deserve special mention:

  1. Allasani Peddana (also known as Andhra Kavita pitamaha):

    • "Manucharitam"
  2. Nandi Thimmana:

    • "Parijathapaharanam"
  3. Tenali Ramakrishna:

    • "Panduranga Mahatmayam"
  4. Ramaraja Bhushanudu (also known as Bhattumurti):

    • "Vasucharitram"
    • "Narasabhupaliyam"
    • "Harishchandra Nalopakhyanam"
  5. Madayyagari Mallana:

    • "Rajashekharacharitra" (depicting the love and war of King Rajasekhara of the Avanti kingdom)
  6. Ayyalaraju Ramabhadrudu:

    • "Ramabhyudayam"
    • "Akalakathasara"

Kannada literature

Kannada literature boasts a rich and diverse heritage, with its roots intertwined with Jain scholars. The earliest foray into Kannada literature was marked by the influence of Jain teachings, as evident in texts like Madhava's Dharmanathapurana, dedicated to the fifteenth Tirthankara. Additionally, scholars like Uritta Vilasa also contributed with works like Dharma Parikshe, further enriching the Jain literary tradition in Kannada.

The Ratnatraya: Three Gems of Kannada Literature: Among the countless illustrious scholars, three exceptional poets, collectively known as the "Ratnatraya," stood unparalleled in their literary prowess. Pampa, Ponna, and Ranna were renowned for their exceptional contributions to Kannada literature.

Pampa: The Father of Kannada Literature: Pampa, often hailed as the "Father of Kannada," achieved great acclaim for his mastery of rasa (emotional essence) in poetic compositions. His two famous works, Adipurana and Vikramarjuna Vijaya, written in the tenth century, are celebrated literary masterpieces. Pampa's association with the Chalukya Arikesari court further elevated his status as a distinguished poet.

Ponna and Ranna: Gems of Rashtrakuta Court: Ponna, the second gem of the Ratnatraya, authored the well-known treatise "Shanti Purana." Ranna, the third gem, contributed significantly with his work "Ajitanatha Purano." Both poets were esteemed members of the Rashtrakuta king Krishna III's court.

Vijayanagara Empire's Patronage: While Kannada language was well established by the tenth century, its literature flourished with the patronage of the Vijayanagara empire. The empire's support nurtured the growth of literary talents and facilitated the creation of many significant works.

Noteworthy Poets and Their Works: Sarvajna, bestowed with the title of people's poet, penned the "tripadi," demonstrating his literary prowess. Honnamma, the first notable female poet in Kannada, crafted the famous "Hadibadeya Dharma" that highlights the duties of a devout wife.

Other Major Works in Kannada Literature: Kannada literature boasts a wide range of notable works by accomplished poets, including Harishvara's "Harishchandra Kavya" and "Somanatha Charita," Bandhuvarma's "Harivamshabhyudaya" and "Jiva Sambodhana," Rudra Bhata's "Jagannathavijaya," Andayya's "Madana Vijaya" (the first pure Kannada text without any Sanskrit influence), Kesiraja's "Shabdamanidarpana" (a grammar book), Mallikarjuna's "Suktisudharnava," Narahari's "Tarave Ramayana" (the first complete story of Rama written entirely in Kannada), and Lakshamisha's "Jaimini Bharata" (also known as Kamata-Karicutavana-Chaitra).

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