When did the gods become literate? Was: Are the gods literate?

N. Ganesan naga_ganesan at HOTMAIL.COM
Wed Nov 3 16:52:31 UTC 1999

Dear Dr. Thompson,

In the tOraNa niches, sculptures of nymphs writing praNayapatrikAs are
well known. (Sivaramamurti, Art of India). Also, S. Chakravarti,
Patralekha: romance of letters in Indian art and literature, Calcutta,
1996. Likely, the letters from ancient tamil epics are missing in

Sangam texts represent that moment in time when Writing was born in
tamil. Iravatham Mahadevan gives one or two generations (25-50 years)
for the MaankuLam inscription in Tamil after Asoka.
Several centuries of oral poetry, somewhat similar to the situation
in Sanskrit, gets compiled into sangam anthologies. For the oral
nature of sangam poetry and a comparison with Greek bardic poetry,
see K. Kailasapathy, Tamil heroic poetry, OUP, 1968

Sangam texts have lovers writing "toyyil" pictograms on girl friends'
breasts. Extended later to Brahma writing fate on one's head, I guess.
aatticUDi, the first book taught to children, has "eNNum ezuttum kaN
en2at takum" (Numbers and Alphabets are like Eyes). Tevaram by 7th
century saints calls "Siva as the supreme teacher and says "eN
aan2aay! ezuttu aan2aay! ezuttin2ukku Or iyalpu aan2aay! .." ('Siva
became Numbers, and Letters; He is the true nature of those
Letters, ..).

An earlier book, tirukkuRaL, the most secular book from Old India,
starts with:

'a' is the first and source of all the letters.
  Even so is God Primordial, the first and source of all the world.
                                                            (kuRaL 1)

   ezutuGkAl kOl kANAk kaNNEpOl
   koNkaN pazi kANEn2 kaNTa iTattu

  "What She said:
   While close I don't see my lover's blemish
   Like eyes do not see the stylus while writing"
                                        (kuRaL 1285)

N. Ganesan

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