Saturday, March 6, 2010

REVIEW: Love Stands Alone


Love Stands Alone: Selections from Tamil Sangam Poetry
Translated By M.L. Thangappa
Edited by A.R. Venkatachalapathy 
Rs 399
Pp 256

ISBN: 9780670084197

Composed at the turn of the Common Era, the ancient poems translated from classical Tamil in Love Stands Alone are breathtaking in their directness, subtle in their nuances and astonishingly contemporary in tone. The poems fall under two broad themes: akam, the interior and puram, the exterior. The akam poems are concerned with love in all its varied situations: clandestine and illicit; conjugal happiness and infidelity; separation and union. The puram poems encompass all other aspects of worldly life. They talk of wars and battlefields, the valour of warriors, the munificence of kings and chieftains, and the wisdom of bards. These timeless, marvellous poems succeed in engaging today’s readers with their acute rendering of the secular life of an ancient people.Unlike earlier translations that have relied on medieval commentaries, M.L. Thangappa’s English translation is based on an original interpretation of the classics. This is the result of a lifetime’s immersion in teaching and translating classical Tamil poetry. The introduction by A.R. Venkatachalapathy situates classical Tamil poetry in its historical and cultural setting and evaluates its contribution to world literature

Passion and wisdom  Telegraph 
Sangam literature is a body of classical Tamil literature created between 600 BC and 300 AD, although the span and the exact dates have been debated for long. It has 2,381 poems by 473 poets, some 102 of whom remain anonymous. The poems were composed by Dravidian Tamil poets from various professions and classes. They were edited and tagged with colophons only around 1,000 AD, before being collected into eight anthologies called Ettuthokai. Sangam literature fell out of collective memory soon thereafter, until it was rediscovered in the 19th century by scholars like C. W. Thamotharampillai and U. V. Swaminatha Iyer.

The appellation, “Sangam”, which was a later invention and was probably derived from “sangha” in the Jain and Buddhist era, refers to assemblies of Tamil scholars and poets. Critics, however, point out that the first comprehensive account of the Sangam legend is found in a commentary to the Iraiyanar Akapporul by Nakkîrar in the seventh or eighth century. Nakkîrar describes three Sangams, the first held at “the Madurai which was submerged by the sea”. Legend has it that while the first Sangam included some Hindu gods such as Shiv, Kuber and Murugan, the second and the third included Pandya kings. Avvaiyar, Nakkeerar and Kapilar are three great names of Sangam poetry. Some scholars like Kamil Zvelebil say that these assemblies might have been founded and patronized by the Pandya kings. Although earlier Sangam poets were known to be Jains and later ones were presumably Vaishnavs or Shaivas, Sangam literature is absolutely secular. 

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