Kavya in South India

George Hart ghart at SOCRATES.BERKELEY.EDU
Sun Dec 30 21:40:18 UTC 2001

Prof. Tieken's book is based on several premises that I simply cannot
understand.  With regard to some of his points, no one could quibble.  For
example, Indian scholars such as Swaminathaier have long accepted that poems
in the Purananuru were not always by the people who seem to speak the poem
(as the poems by Pari's daughters, or the poem where Auvaiyar pretends to be
a dancing woman).  What does this have to do with Tieken's claim that the
poems were a later forgery?  Nor can I understand how the repetition of
words has anything to do with this.  Tieken claims that contiguous poems
have more repetition than non-contiguous poems, a claim that is demonstrably
false.  But even if it were true, how would it prove that the poems were
forgeries?  Certainly an anthologist would tend to group similar poems
together -- and that is exactly what has been done in the Purananuru and, to
an extent, I believe, in the Kuruntokai.  The repetition of niikku/niinku at
the end of the Purananuru, for example, is because each of the poems in
which it occurs has the same subject matter (a dalit drummer comes to the
king's palace in the morning, stands outside, and sings of the king in order
to receive a gift from him).  Niikku, which means to "take off," to "make go
away", is used in all the poems in the same phrase: then he (the king) took
off my (low-caste drummer's) (dirty) garment.  With regards to the
repetition of grammatical elements, I have shown (and will post on my
website when I get a chance) that there is an identical repetition in
non-contiguous poems.  With regards to style, it is quite clear that the
poems are imitations by literate people of oral poems.  This is not a
"half-hearted compromise" -- it is the substance of a considerable part of
human literature.  The poems of the Sangam texts arise from a South Indian
folk tradition that also produced the Sattasai and that was taken up (in
parts) by Sanskrit.  Of course there are similarities.  What is so strange
about that?  I remain utterly mystified by Professor Tieken's claims that
Sangam literature is Kavya -- the two are utterly and completely different.

I should be very interested to see how Prof. Tieken accounts for the myriad
morphological and other forms in Sangam literature that do not appear later,
and for the later forms that do not occur in Sangam literature. I would only
ask him to consider that in order to demonstrate his thesis, he will have to
become familiar enough with Dravidian comparative linguistics to reconstruct
the proto-Dravidian (and proto-South-Dravidian) verb system, along with its
other other morphological and syntactic features. The two most eminent
living scholars of Dravidian linguistics -- Murray Emeneau and B. H.
Krishnamurthy -- have not ventured to do this, though I once did hear a
paper on the proto-Dravidian verb by the latter, which he labeled as
extremely tentative and dubious.  Frankly, I do not believe Professor Tieken
has the background or ability to carry out this task, which will require the
labor of many scholars, many volumes and many decades of intensive work.

What concerns me most is that Prof. Tieken's thesis will be accepted by
Sanskritists, who have no easy way of judging its validity.  If you are a
Sanskritist, please look at the following poem and consider whether it has
anything in common with Sanskrit kavya.  In doing so, note that it does not
have any Sanskrit words, uses a native Tamil meter, and that, unlike any
kavya, it is a report of personal experience.  Note also that (unlike in
later times) the names are pure Dravidian and that the categorization
(tiNai, tuRai) given the poems is entirely foreign to Sanskrit.  (You might
also question whether a literature of thousands of poems of such quality and
variety could be easily forged by one person).  Later Tamil, beginning with
Tiruttakkattevar in about the 8th century and continuing with Kampan in the
12th, is obviously influenced by Sanskrit kavya -- but surely this is not
true of Sangam literature.

Purananuru 245

Though it is so immense, does my grief none the less have
its limits, since it is not fierce enough to finish with my life?
On the salty earth all overgrown with sedge, on the burning ground,
my wife has gone her way to the other world, her bed
the shining fire of the pyre whose wood yields its glow
of blazing fuel! And I am
still alive! What kind of a place is this world?

The song of Ceeramaan KooTTampalatttut Tunciya Maakkootai when his [wife]
PerunkooppeNTu had died. TiNai: potuviyal.  TuRai: kaiyaRunilai.

George Hart

On 12/18/01 8:02 AM, "Tieken, H.J.H." <H.J.H.Tieken at LET.LEIDENUNIV.NL>

> Up to now, Hart's remarks concerning my book Kavya in South India. Old Tamil
> Cankam Poetry (Gonda Indological Studies X), Groningen 2001 have been
> general. Actually, they had been written before he had seen, let alone read
> my book. However, a few days ago Hart was more specific, addressing in some
> detail my paragraph on the arrangement of the poems in the anthologies.
> Before reacting on Hart's comments I would first like to provide some brief
> context to the discussion.
>  In the first part of my book I have argued that the villagers who are
> made to speak in the so-called love poems (Akam) are not, as has been
> assumed by Hart and others, the authors of the poems but characters in the
> poems. The authors of the poems do not belong to the village but have to be
> sought in a cosmopolitan milieu found in the city. I have done the same for
> the historical poems (Puram). The poor, starving bards who in the poems are
> wandering from one patron to the other, trying to make a living by their
> poetry, are not the authors of the poems but, again, personae in the poems.
>  In both the love poems and the historical poems we are dealing with
> stock-characters represented in fictional situations. As far as the
> historical poems are concerned, they had not been composed by the bards
> featuring in them but by later authors who were trying to bring back to life
> an earlier bardic poetry.
>  In the introduction I have noted that I had been somewhat embarrassed at
> having to prove the fictional nature of scenes of Cankam poetry, but the
> idea that in, for instance, Puram we are dealing with actual,
> "tape-recorded" conversations by historical persons is fairly wide-spread in
> Tamil studies. Another idea current in Tamil studies is that the Cankam
> poems are extempore, on the spot compositions. The poems do indeed contain
> some characteristics which are otherwise typical of such poetry. However,
> anyone familiar with Cankam poetry will agree that the poems cannot have
> been composed on the spot. In this connection I have mentioned the length of
> the sentences and the resultant complex style of the poems, which is a far
> cry from the simple adding style of epic poetry. These facts had already
> been noted by Hart in his 1975 book, but, as I have tried to show, his
> conclusions are a half-hearted compromise between regarding the poems as
> oral or written compositions.
>  As far as I know, nobody has tried to make clear by whom, in what way,
> and to what purpose the poems have been memorized and passed on to be put in
> anthologies only centuries later. And this brings me to the compilation of
> the anthologies.
>  In the majority of the anthologies the poems seem to have been put
> together more or less at random. Content does not seem to play any role at
> all. However, instead we find that each poem echoes certain words from the
> preceding poems. As an example I have quoted Kuruntokai 344 (the
> presentation below may not be as clear as the one on p. 96 of my book as it
> may well be the case that the tab positions are lost in the transmission):
> 336                                             pirinticinole
> 337                                                     mulai   nirai
> 338 annal eru           punkanmalai
> 339
> 340     katalar                                 peyar
> 341                                     katalar
> 342             tan     punkan
> 343 annal eru
> 344 annal eru   tan     punkanmalai     katalar peyarum mulai   nirai
>                                               pirintu
> The echoes are not restricted to lexemes. Occasionally, they involve
> suffixes, as in aku-mati (Kur. 18) and inai-mati (19) and in un-iiyar (27),
> tal-ii (29), mar-iiya (30) and kul-iiya and tal-iiya (31); particles, as in
> kuruk-um (25) and katuvan-um (26); and similar phrases, as in varutalum
> varuuam (88) and nuvaralum nuvalpa (89). Also some rare instances involving
> synonyms have been noted, as in aruntu (26) and un (27).
>  According to the current interpretation, the Tamil anthologies contain
> merely a selection from a boundless reservoir of floating, orally
> transmitted poems. However, the type of concatenation met with in, for
> instance, the Kuruntokai introduces a complication. For, while it may be
> relatively easy in the case of 344 to find in the vast corpus of existing
> poems another one containing the words annal and eru, to find one which in
> addition also contained the word punkan(malai) must have been much more
> difficult. In addition to that, the poem should not have been shorter than 4
> lines or longer than 8.
>  My conclusion was, and is, that the idea that the compiler selected the
> poems from a reservoir of existing poems has to be abandoned. Instead, I
> suggested that the poems were composed for the first time at the moment of
> their inclusion in the anthology, if only because it might after all have
> been easier, starting from words in the preceding poems, to compose a new
> poem that to search one's memory for one.
>  This conclusion has been extended to include all eight Cankam
> anthologies. I take this opportunity to point to the Kalittokai and in
> particular to the inclusion of the kuravai poems in this collection. As I
> have suggested, the Kalittokai poems are Tamil counterparts of the lasyas
> and catuspadis of the Sanskrit Kavya tradition. The kuravai poems are
> hallisaka scenes transplanted to Tamilnadu. How did these hallisakas, which
> belong to the category of festival songs, find a place in a collection of
> lasyas and catuspadis? As I have tried to show on p. 185 ff., this can be
> explained with reference to a misunderstanding in the poetical tradition of
> Sanskrit, which misunderstanding is attested for the first time only in the
> ninth century, namely in Abhinavagupta's commmentary on the Natyasastra.
> This same misunderstanding is also found in Bhoja's Srngaraprakasa (tenth or
> eleventh century).
>  Hart now argues that the chance of identical words occurring in the poems
> is so great that it is actually impossible to find a poem which does not
> have one or more words in common with any other poems. In this connection I
> would like to note the following. If we turn to the scheme given above, the
> word annal occurs only 6 times in the 400 poems of Kuruntokai, the word eru
> altogether 9 times, punkan 7 times, and peyar (noun and verb) 25 times. And,
> as I have noted in footnote 15 on p. 98, also in the Purananuru "common"
> words appear typically in clusters of poems. Take the verb nikku/ninku:
> 150-153-154, 247-249-250, 392-393-397-398-400 or the verb pay:
> 23-24-25-30-31, etc.
>  Whatever the value of the statistics put forward by Hart, the prediction
> which he abstracted from it does not appear to come true.
> All the points adduced by Hart in his earlier comment (the one written
> before he had read my book) are of course directly or indirectly addressed
> in my book. A point I have treated only briefly is the language of the
> poems. According to Hart and others the Cankam texts abound in archaic
> forms. I am, however, dealing with the language of Cankam poetry in an
> article, which is soon to be offered for publication. What I would like to
> mention here is that, while the Cankam texts are indeed full of curious
> forms, what is unique is not necessarily old. Often the need to prove this
> was not even felt by scholars as the occurrence of the forms in question in
> Cankam poetry was believed to take care of that. To claim, as Hart does,
> that the forms are "demonstrably much more archaic" (than the ninth or tenth
> century) is premature.
> Finally, I hope that this reaction of mine will not provoke a similar kind
> of discussion as we have recently witnessed in connection with Axel
> Michaels' book on the subject of the pandit. As far as I am concerned, this
> is my last reaction before the publication of the complete version of Hart's
> review of my book in JAOS.
> Herman Tieken
> Instituut Kern
> Universiteit te Leiden

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