Tolkaappiyam & Tolkaappiyan2 (Re: "kaapya-" vs. "kaapeya-" (Re: Actual use of gotra (=vr.ddha) and yuvan

Jean-Luc Chevillard jean-luc.chevillard at UNIV-PARIS-DIDEROT.FR
Tue Apr 14 15:14:29 UTC 2009

Dear Jan,

thanks for you stimulating and thoughtful feedback:

Commenting only on your "remarque liminaire" [SEE BELOW],
I wish to provide more detail on the situation.

Occurences of the word /kāppiyam/, where it is an adaptation to Tamil of 
the Sanskrit word /kāvya/ are met with in Tamil. Nobody denies that.

An obvious example is the expression /aim-peruṅ-kāppiyam/ ("the five big 
kāppiyam") which certainly emulates the Sanskrit list(s) of 5 /mahākāvya/-s

That expression is for instance seen inside the commentary by 
Mayilainātar (13th cent.) to Naṉṉūl 387, inside the enumeration:
"aimperuṅkāppiyam, eṇperuttokai, pattuppāṭṭu, patiṉeṇkīḻkkaṇakku"
which lists, after the 5 big K., the 8 anthologies, the 10 songs and the 
18 minor works.

The earliest attestation of /kāppiyam/ (= /kāvya/) in Tamil literature 
might be inside the Maṇimēkalai (19:80).

Occurrences of the word /kāppiyaṉ/, which is the adaptation to Tamil of 
the Sanskrit /kāpya/, which belongs to the gotra-related vocabulary and 
which is derived from /kapi/ (as per the discussion which has just taken 
place) are also found.

For the recent discussion, see 

For an instance (and its interpretation), see the page 172, and the 
entry /kāppiyan/ inside the
/Tamiḻk Kalveṭṭuc Collakarāti/ [Glossary of Tamil Inscriptions], 
compiled by Professor Y. Subbarayalu
[2 volumes, Santhi Sadhana Trust, Chennai, 2002]

In that glossary, Professor Subbarayalu explains /kāppiyan/ as /kāppiya 
kōttirattaic cērntavaṉ/ ("one who belongs to the gotra /kāppiya/") and 
gives as an illustration an inscription dated 941, which is precisely 
the one mentionned by S. Palaniappan in the discussion, and which I have 
reproduced in the following post:


The problems starts when one wants to explain the name of the 
grammatical work called /tolkāppiyam/.

The traditional view, expressed in all commentaries is that the name of 
the book /tolkāppiyam/ is derived from the name of its author 
/tolkāppiyaṉ/ (honorific: /tolkāppiyaṉār/ ).

As a matter of fact, what also happens is that commentaries often 
contain a section that explains how books are named and that that 
derivation is given as one among several examples (just like the grammar 
/Akattiyam/ is said to derive its name from its author /Akattiyaṉ(ār)/).

On top of that explanation, the name /tolkāppiyaṉ/ (honorific: 
/tolkāppiyaṉār/ ) is explained as "born in the /kāppiyak kuṭi/" (See 
Madras Tamil Lexicon, p. 2098), where /kuṭi/ is the Tamil equivalent of 

One point which remains to be explained is why the component /tol/ is 
added and this was one of my reasons for trying to understand the inner 
workings of the opposition /vṛddha/ vs. /yuvan/. And I am aware that my 
explanation is tentative.
[Subsidiary question: what does the "pal" component mean inside the name 
"pal-kāppiyaṉ" (another grammarian)?]

As for the "alternative theory", it is found for instance in the section 
written by Pierre Meile inside L'Inde Classique (1953, Tome II, § 1904) 
where he mentions
"le traité didactique intitulé le « Vieux Poème », /Tolkāppiyam/" and 
where he sends the reader to the paragraph §1539.

Inside the /Lexicon of Tamil Literature/ (1995), Kamil Zvelebil writes 
(on pages 705-706):

The name /tol-kāppiyam/ prob. means "ancient composition" (i.e. DEDR 
3516 old, ancient + /kāppiyam/ < Skt. /kāvya-). This etymology is not 
waterproof, and other interpretations were suggested [...] The author's 
name, Tolkāppiyaṉ/ Tolkāppiyar/ Tolkāppiyaṉār is evidently derived from 
the name of the book, although different interpretation is possible: 
"the ancient (/tol/) scion of the Kāvyas', i.e. members of the /gotra/ 
of Kavi (cf. /kāppiyakkuṭi/ in --> /Cilappatikāram/ XXX.83 /kāppiya-t 
tolkuṭi/, ancient Brahmin family of Kāvya /gotra/ in Tōrūr [...]


Although I admire the work of the late Professor Zvelebil, I would have 
presented the data in the opposite order.

I suppose the explanation to the confusion is that, as soon as the word 
/kāppiyam/, (adaptation of /kāvya/) became current, it became impossible 
not to think of it while referring to somebody who had the /kāppiyaṉ/ 
(derived from gotra "kapi") component in his name. The semantic 
attraction produced a kind of "popular etymology".

Best wishes

-- Jean-Luc Chevillard

Jan E.M. Houben a écrit :
> Dear Jean-Luc,
> As for kaappia in Tol-kaappian/-n2 it would still be worthwhile to mention
> the alternative theory, viz. that it derives from kaavya so that the
> grammar's name would become "old kaavya".
> [...]

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