George Hart ghart at SOCRATES.BERKELEY.EDU
Fri Dec 7 16:17:39 UTC 2001

Perhaps some would care to look at some comments on my website:


I am slowly going through Prof. Tieken's book (Kavya in South Indoa: Old
Tamil Cankam Poetry) and considering his arguments quite seriously.  So far,
I do not find any of them compelling.  To overthrow our current thinking
about the dating of early Tamil literature, the following must be considered
and dealt with:

1. Everything about the language of the Tolkappiyam and the anthologies
points to a date of the first centuries AD (and in the case of parts of the
Tolkappiyam, even earlier).  There are not one or two forms in Sangam
literature that are not found in the later inscriptions as Prof. Tieken
suggests; there are virtually hundreds.  Even more problematic, the verb
system of the Sangam anthologies seems quite different than that of the
later material.  There is ample evidence that this is not the result of some
linguistic wizard "archaizing" the language (as happens, for example, in the
Bhagavatam) -- the verb system of the Sangam works is quite coherent.  It is
at least as different from the inscriptions as the Rig Veda verb system is
from Kalidasa.

2. There is a great deal of historical evidence that needs to be taken into
account -- not just the voluminous material contained in Sangam literature
itself (which is, as many scholars have shown, remarkably coherent), but
also the internal evidence of the Bhakti poems and their correlation with
inscriptions and artistic evidence.  It is simply not possible, in my
opinion, to neglect this material or suggest it is not reliable.

3. The style and content of the Sangam poems is quite unlike anything in
Sanskrit.  Prof. Tieken suggests that the Sangam poems use a "kavya" style
-- but, as a Tamil scholar who has read most of the 5 Sanskrit kavyas as
well as parts of Bana and other authors, I am utterly mystified by this
claim.  Perhaps those Sanskrit scholars who are interested in this may like
to read some of the poems Hank Heifetz and I have translated in Poems of War
and Wisdom (a translation of the Purananuru).  I fail to see how anyone
could see these as imitating any works I know in Sanskrit.  I address this
subject in more detail in my review for JAOS.

4. The study of Tamil and its chronology is not a new field.  It is vast,
and is represented by hundreds of serious works in Tamil.  Many of these
authors (e.g. Arunachalam) are extremely erudite and know Tamil literature
and the inscriptional evidence quite well.  None of these serious scholars
have been able to conclude that the Sangam poems are other than the 1st-3rd
century AD.  The vast amounts of evidence these scholars have adduced is not
considered by Prof. Tieken.

5. Some of the best recent work on dating old Tamil has been done by Prof.
Takahashi -- see Takanobu Takahashi, Poetry and Poetics - Literary
Conventions of Tamil Love Poetry, Ph.D. diss., Univ. of Utrecht, 1989
[Published as Tamil love poetry and poetics Publisher: Leiden : E.J. Brill,
1995. xii, 255 p.]  This work has not been consulted by Prof. Tieken -- at
least not that I have discovered so far (it is in the bibliography).

6. There are many many other issues -- for example, that of the meter of the
Sangam poems, which does not remotely resemble that of any Sanskrit work
(though I have argued that it is distantly related to the matra meters such
as Arya).  Tamil material that is later (e.g. Civakacintamani) do take some
elements (the paada structure) from Sanskrit.

I should add that Prof. Tieken's book is without an index.  This makes it
quite difficult to discover what he has to say about each subject.  I am in
the process of going through the book chapter by chapter.

George Hart

On 12/7/01 2:17 AM, "Tieken, H.J.H." <H.J.H.Tieken at LET.LEIDENUNIV.NL> wrote:

> Dear colleagues,
> In a message of some days ago mention was made of an article by B.G.L. Swamy
> about the date of the Tolkappiyam. The only other publication of that
> scholar with which I am familiar is an article on Tamil Shaiva Bhakti
> poetry. As I have tried to show in my book Kavya in South India. Old Tamil
> Cankam Poetry (Groningen: Egbert Forsten, 2001) his handling of the evidence
> concerning the -late- date of Tamil Bhakti poetry is exemplary. Francois
> Gros' characterization of Dr. B.G.L. Swamy as an iconoclast is undeserved.
> Can anyone provide me with more information about this unique scholar.
> Herman Tieken
> Instituut Kern
> University of Leiden

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list