Sangam literature for the layman

Patthupattu, a set of ten idylls, with commentaries by scholars was launched recently

Updated - July 13, 2023 02:13 am IST

Published - July 11, 2023 06:38 pm IST

The picture of  U.Ve. Swaminatha Iyer (Tamil Thatha) at Uthamanathapuram near Papanasam in Thiruvarur district.

The picture of U.Ve. Swaminatha Iyer (Tamil Thatha) at Uthamanathapuram near Papanasam in Thiruvarur district. | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

The publication of Patthuppattu, a collection of ten idylls, one of the earliest Sangam poetry collections, has been brought out by the Tamil Nadu Text Book and Education Services Corporation. With commentaries accessible even to a lay man, it harks back to the tireless journey made by the grand old man of Tamil, U.Ve. Swaminatha Iyer, in search of palm leaf manuscripts containing the ancient literary works.

En Charithiram (The Story of My Life), the autobiography of Swaminatha Iyer, gives a detailed account of his journey across Tamil Nadu, visiting the houses of Tamil scholars in Tirunelveli, Srivaikuntam, Alwarthirunagari and many other places to get a complete copy of Patthuppattu. An idyll is a short poem descriptive of some picturesque scene or incident, mainly associated with pastoral life. The poems are by various authors.

“The tears in my eyes prevented me from seeing clearly. I asked Kavirayar to look at the palm leaves one by one. The whole Patthuppattu was there, all ten poems, in due order, with their commentaries. It was a very old manuscript. I was filled with joy and great enthusiasm,” writes Swaminatha Iyer in his memoir about getting the copies in Vannarapettai in Tirunelveli.

But the joy was short-lived. When he compared the copies obtained from Vannarapettai with other copies already in his possession, a few parts of the commentaries were missing. He went to Alwarthirunagari where he could get Mullaipattu, Thirumurukattrupadai, Ainkurunooru, Pathitrupattu and Puraporul Venbamalai. He even visited the library of Dharmapuram Adheenam even though Thriuvavaduthurai Adheenam, the patron of Swaminatha Iyer, had some misunderstanding with each other. Even after he succeeded in laying his hands on the entire work, names of a few flowers mentioned in Kurinjipaatu were missing. He overcame all and the printing of Patthuppaatu was completed in June 1899 and it was the first Sangam poetry printed by him.

Even when Swamintha Iyer was in pursuit of the palm leaf manuscripts, he was discouraged by a few Tamil scholars, who wondered, “who would read books like that nowadays?” But their misgivings proved wrong. The Sangam literary works saw many editions and drew the world’s attention to the ancientness of Tamil language and literary tradition and even paved the way for securing Classical Language status during the previous DMK regime.

An arruppadai is a poem in which a bard or ministrel is recommended to go to a patron to solicit help from him. It is addressed to another seeker for favours by one who has already benefited munificently at the hands of the patron. Only one of them differs from the others, viz., Tirumurugarruppadai, which directs devotees not to a patron but to a God.

The images of flowers mentioned in the Kurinjipattu.

The images of flowers mentioned in the Kurinjipattu.

“Our edition will be a boon to students who prepare for competitive examinations, particularly those who opt for Tamil literature in UPSC examinations,” says P. Saravanan, assistant director of the Tamil Nadu Text Book and Education Services Corporation and general editor of the work.

The edition had its origin when M. Karunandhi was the Chief Minister of the state between 2006 and 2010. The works were published without commentaries. When the party came to power in 2021, T. Udayachandran, who was Secretary-I to Chief Minister M.K. Stalin sowed the seed for a new edition of all Sangam literary works with simple commentaries at an affordable price. Patthuppaatu is the first of the editions that was released by Chief Minister Stalin recently. All the ten books cost Rs 600.

Explaining the objective behind the current project, Sarvanan said though there were editions to help a reader to understand the original ideas of the authors, the attempt to come out with an edition that would be suitable for all periods.

The edition by the State Government had incorporated the strength of the commentaries of great commentators and scholars such as Natchinarkiniyar, Parimelazhagar, Swaminatha Iyer, Avvai Duraisami Pillai, Na.Mu. Venkatasami Naataar and Po.Ve. Somasundaranar and the simple and sweet rendering of modern-day commentators.

The commentators are Saravanan, who already has to his credit a detailed commentary for Thiruvasagam, A. Senthilkumaran, R. Murugan, N. Arulmurugan, K. Balaraman, S. Mahadevan and N. Harikumar, who are well-versed in ancient Tamil classics.

The edition, besides presenting the poems in original form and split to make them an easy read, has carried paraphrases and detailed commentaries. There is a good introduction to every author of the work, explanation about various themes dealt with in the works and their titles. For example, the books tell a reader what is Attrupadai since there are five Attruppadai works in the collection. An Attruppadai is a poem in which a bard is advised to go to a patron by another bard who had already benefitted from him. Of the five Attrupadai works, Tirumuruguattrupadai differs from others, as it directs devotees not to a patron but to a God.

The collection by the Tamil Nadu Government conveys the details about the food habits of ancient Tamils, how they fermented honey in bamboo vessels and consumed as liquor, their love, the religious festivals, the philanthropy of kings and other details. Drawings in every book capture the theme of the verses discussed. All the ten books also have glossaries, while the book of Kurinjipaatu has colourful pictures of all the 99 flowers with their botanical and local names. Now the commentaries in collection is being translated into Malay language.

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