earliest Tamil literature goes back to the Sangam
period. In ancient
times, the assembly or academy of most learned men of Tamil land
was called 'Sangam' and the literature produced in these assemblies is known as
the Sangam literature.
The compilation of the corpus of literature was accomplished over
a period of three to four centuries but there is a controversy
amongst scholars regarding the exact period of the Sangams.
Perhaps, the Sangam
period stretched from 600 BC- 200 AD. Many Tamil scholars mention
about the existence of three Sangams
at Madura, Kapatapuram and Northern Madura respectively. It is
believed that most of the works relating to the first two Sangams
dealt with music and dance. Unfortunately all the works of these
two Sangams are lost, except for Tolkappiyam,
which is the oldest extant grammar dating back to 500 BC. The
literature of the third Sangam
period mainly comprises of poems which are arranged in eight
anthologies called Ettuttokoi and ten idylls called Pattuppattu. Ettuttokoi consists
of Narrinai, Kuruntogai,
Ainkurunuru, Padirruppattu, Paripadal, Kalittogai, Ahanuru and Purananuru. Pattuppattu consists
of the following ten idylls by eight different authors: Tirumurugarruppadai, Porunararruppadai, Cirupanarruppadai, Pattinappalai,
Kurincippattu, Nedunalvadai, Maduraikkanci, Malaipadukadam,
Mullaippattu and Perumpanarruppadai.
The third Sangam period
also saw a collection of minor works called Padinen-kizhkkanakku
which deals mainly with moral virtues. Among them, the most
notable is Tiruvalluvar's Tirukkural
or Kural, which deals
with philosophy and wise maxims.
The Sangam literature, unlike the Rig Vedic texts, was
secular in nature and revolved around the themes of various heroes
and heroines. The Sangam literature provides very valuable
information on the social, economic and political life of the
people living in deltaic Tamil Nadu in the early Christian
post-Sangam period (200-600 AD) is notable for the composition of
five great Tamil epics -- Silappadikaram,
Manimekalai, Jivaka-cintamani, Valaiyapati and Kundalakesi.
considered to be the brightest gem of early Tamil literature.
It is an invaluable source book of ancient Tamil dance and
classical music. The
other major epics produced in Tamil include Jivakachintamani
Kundalakesi. Besides these, the Jain authors have produced five minor
works -- Yasodhara-kaviyam,
Chulamani, Perunkathai, Nagakumara-kaviyam and
600-900 AD, the Tamil literature came under the influence of Saiva
and Vaisnava saints called Nayanmars and Alvars respectively. The
Saiva saints first compiled their hymns into the Devaram.
The hymns of the Saiva saints were later collected into twelve
anthologies called Tirumurais. The Periya Puranam
or Tiruttondar Puranam,
considered as the twelfth Tirumurai,
was composed by Sekkizhar (12th century AD).
The Vaishnavaite saint Nathamuni (824-924 AD) compiled the
Vaishnava hymns into four books called Divya
Prabandham or Nalayira
Divya Prabandham. The other Alvar saints who contributed to
the Tamil religious literature include Periyalivar, Poigaialvar,
Bhutattalvar, Andal (the only woman saint among Alvars) and
Tiruvaymozhi, the third
book of Divya Prabandham,
is said to be a quintessence of the Upanishads.
Cholas were the great patrons of Tamil literature.
One of the great figures of Tamil literature, Kamban,
belonged to this period. He
was the greatest of the court poets of Kulottunga Chola III
(1178-1218 AD). He
adapted Valmiki's Ramayana
in Tamil in his Ramakatai
or Kamba Ramayanam,
which is very unique in its style and technique.
He also composed other works like Erelupadu
The other great works of this period include Ottakkuttan's Uttarakandam,
Takkayagapparani and Muvarula;
Konraivendam, Mudurai and
Nalvazhi; Jayankondan's Kalingattupparani;
Kalladanar's Kalladam, Aiyanar
and Pavananti's Nannul.
Another important poet who flourished during the Chola period was
Kuttan, who authored great works like Nalayirakkovai,
Parani, Tukkayagapparani, Sarasvatiyandadi and
noted scholars of the Chola period include Tirutakadevara the
author of Jiwana Chintamani
and Talamokti, the author of Sulamani
and Venkatamadhava who wrote a commentary on Rigveda during the
reign of Parantaka I.
modern period witnessed the impact of Islam and Christianity on
Tamil literature. Umaruppulavar (1605-1703 AD) was the earliest
among the Muslim Tamil poets.
He composed the Sirappuranam,
which is a verse narrative on the life of Prophet Muhammad.
Another work dealing with the Islamic faith was Muhaidin Puranam (1845 AD) by Mohammad Ibrahim.
Constanzio Beschi (1680-1747 AD), who adopted the pseudonym
of 'Viramamunivar', wrote a classic Tembavani, on the life of Jesus Christ.
Bharati (1882-1921 AD) was one of the greatest of Tamil
litterateurs of the modern times. He is renowned for his patriotic
and devotional songs and intense prose writings on contemporary
social affairs. His Panchali
Sabadam is an epic poem based on a single episode of the Mahabharata.
His other great works include Kalippattu,
Kuyilpattu. The other renowned Tamil poetic works of the modern times
include Meyyarivu and Padal Tirattu of V.O.Chidambaram; Malarum-malaiyum and Umarkkayyam-padalkal
of Desikavinayagam; Podumai
Vettal, Tamiizhan Idayam and Sankoli
of Kalyanasundaram; Avalum
Avanum of N.K.Ramalingam; Azhakin
Sirippu, Pandiyan Parisu, Tamizhiyakkam, Kudumbavilakku, etc
of Bharatidasan. Durai Manickam was another important modern Tamil
poet who is credited with prolific works like Aiyai,
Nurasiriyam, Koyyakkani, Ensuvai Enbatu and
other renowned poets of this period include M.L.Thangappa,
Mudiyarasan, Ezhilmutalvan, N.Kanakaraja Iyer, A.Srinivasaraghavan,
Kannadasan and Tamizhazhagan.
written by Viramamunivar in the 18th century affords the earliest
specimen in novel writing in Tamil. However, Vedanayagam Pillai (1824-1889) is credited with the
writing of the first novel in Tamil, Pirataba
Mudaliyarcharittiram in 1875. H.A.Krishna Pillai (1827-1900)
adapted John Bunyan's The
Pilgrim's Progress in Tamil in his Iratcanyayattirigam.
The other important works of this period include Bharatam of Perundevanar, Nandarcharittirak-kirttanaikal
of Gopalakrishna Bharati, Kamalambalcharittiram
of Rajam Ayyar (1896), Padmavatichaittiram
of Madhaviah, Menaka and
Balamani of Vaduvur
of A.Kuppuswamy, Mannasai and
Kariyadarisi of Shankara Ram. M.Varadarajan (1912-1974) experimented
with several new techniques in Tamil novels.
His famous works include Perra
Manam (1953), Karittundu (1953), Ahalvilakku,
Sentamarai and Mankudisai. C.N.Annadurai has two important works to his credit - Nallatambi
and Rangoon Radha (1952). Akilan
won the Jnanpith Award in 1976 for his novel Chittirappavai (1968). The
other important novelist of modern times include Anuttama,
Jayalakshmi Srinivasan, Kodainayaki Ammal, N.Parthsarthy,
C.Subramanyam, Jayakantan and Sundaram Ramaswamy. V.V.S.Aiyar,
Kalki, Pudumaippittan, B.S.Ramayya and ASP Ayyar are renowned
short story writers in Tamil.