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Updated: June 21, 2012 16:58 IST

The science of grammar

Se. Ganesalingan
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Tolkappiyam Kattum Vaazhkkai. Author: Professor N, Subbu Reddiar.
Tolkappiyam Kattum Vaazhkkai. Author: Professor N, Subbu Reddiar.

This book is a collection of articles published in 1963. The fifth edition, it deals with the subject, ‘Life projected in the Tolkappiyam’, as introduced by Prof. A. Srinivasa Raghavan in English. He talks about the book of grammar that deals with phonetics, dialectal variations and mechanics of early Tamils. A preface by Dr. M. Varadharajan (Mu.Va.) follows where he writes that it is also the grammar of the life of Tamils as reflected in the early Tamil literature and hence useful to scholars, students and critics as well.

The author, himself a teacher, gives details in his introduction. In the first chapter, he describes how the Tolkappiyam consists of 1610 verses and is divided into three sections -- Letters (phonetics) - 483 verses, Words (morphology) - 463 verses and Matter - 664 verses.

Form and content

In the section on Matter, the author discusses literary compositions and conventions to be observed in handling both form and content of literature.

Students generally dislike Tamil grammar which is regulated by rules laid down by the great grammarian. The author has wisely selected the third section in his writings, Porutpaal, matter or wealth of Tamils, especially of mutual love, premarital love, dramaturgy, simile, art of composition, tradition and literary usage.

Over the centuries, there have been commentators and scholars who have interpreted the Tolkappiyam. The author states that he has followed the interpretation of the 6 century scholar Nachinarkiniyan.

The book comprises 34 chapters. The author has drawn extensively from Sangam literature to elucidate the interpretations.

There is still a conflict over the period when the Tolkappiyam originated among scholars -- was is B.C. or A.D.? According to Iravatham Mahadevan, who has studied Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions dated between 2nd century B.C. and 3rd century A.D., they are abundantly available in Tamil Nadu. These Brahmi letters gave way to Vattezhuthu by 3rd century A.D., which is developed and refined to the current usage indicated in the edition of the Tolkappiyam in the relevant sections. Further scientific studies may indicate that literacy during that period may have been less than one per cent and life expectancy, less than 25.

The rigid grammar of the Tolkappiyam preserved by pundits for centuries was made easier in verse by poet Bharati and in prose by Thiru. Vi.Ka and Mu.Va. in the last century.

Tolkappiyam Kaattum Vaazhkkai

Dr. N. Subbu Reddiar

Palaniappa Bros., Konar Maaligai, 25, Peters Road, Chennai 600 014;

Price Rs.210

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