Dating Old Tamil Cankam poetry

Tieken, H.J.H. H.J.H.Tieken at LET.LEIDENUNIV.NL
Thu Jul 31 13:28:12 UTC 2008

Dear list members,

The indology list of August 27th 2001 carried a message containing George Hart's reaction on the publication on this same list of the text on the cover of my book Kavya in South India. Hart had not yet read the book but this did not prevent him from writing a lengthy reaction, explaining why my ideas could not be right. My reaction provoked another one, etc. At that point I wrote that I would refrain from any further discussion and wait for the appearance of Hart's "official" review in JAOS. This review has appeared in 2004. Some of the members of this list might be interested to know that, after some delay, my reaction to Hart's review (and also to the one written by Eva Wilden in WZKS in 2002) has now appeared in Asiatische Studien/Études Asiatiques LXII/2 (2008) 575-605. My rejonder is titled: A Propos Three Recent Publications on the Question of the Dating of Old Tamil Cankam Poetry.

I like to quote one brief passage from it here:


The second piece of evidence [for an early date of Cankam poetry] put forward by Hart is that the names of some of the kings mentioned in Ca?kam poetry have been found in the Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions. Hart refers here to the names of three consecutive generations of kings of the Irumporai dynasty found in the Patirruppattu [a Cankam text] and in the Pugalur inscriptions of the second century. The identification of the two sets of names keeps cropping up, most recently again in Eva Wilden's review of my book (WZKS 2002). I wonder, however, if anyone has recently cared to have a good look at the two sets of names. Hart and Wilden obviously did not, for if they had, they would inevitably have come to the conclusion that the names are not similar at all. Below the two sets are give as they are presented by Mahadevan (2003):


1) Ko Atan Cel Irumporai of the inscription would correspond to Celva-k-katunko Vali-y Atan of the 7th decade of the Patirruppattu;

2) Perunkatunkon would correspond to Perun-ceral Irumporai of the 8th decade;

3) Katunkon Ilankatunko to Ilan-ceral Irumporai of the 9th decade.


Another question is what it would prove for the date of Cankam poetry if the names had been the same. For we do not date Kalidasa in the Sunga period because his Malavikagnimitra is situated in that period. In fact, the same argument applies to Hart's fourth piece of evidence [for dating Cankam poetry in the very beginning of our era], namely that the poems refer to trade with the Roman world: similar references are found in the Dasakumaracarita of the seventh-century South Indian writer Dandin.


In a message on the Indology list of December 30th 2001 Hart wrote: "[W]hat concerns him most is that Prof. Tieken's thesis will be accepted by Sanskritists, who have no way of judging its validity." I suggest to him that we leave it to others now to judge our arguments.


Herman Tieken

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