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Deep rivers

Kannan M.
Jennifer Clare

Classical Tamil

Introducing Tiruvaḷḷuvar: the book of love

Texte intégral

1It was through reports coming from the Coromandel coast and especially from Tamil territory that the culture of India was first discovered, in the 18th c., by France and the rest of Europe. The following century was to see Sanskrit favoured, due to the influence of a romantic and Indo-European ideology, and the South with its vernacular and its Dravidian folklore, somewhat neglected. Our links, not only with the territory of Pondicherry but with that entire region of India have, however, remained indestructible. Diderot, in the Encyclopédie, places everything he knew of India under the rubric “Philosophie des Malabares”; and in our own time, the anthropologist Louis Dumont owed the essential part of his thought on Homo hierarchicus to his first ethnological field in South India, in the heart of the Tamil land.

2What is still little known in France, however, is that the Tamil language with today more than sixty million speakers is not only one of the official languages of India, that of the State of Tamil Nadu and the Territory of Pondicherry, as well as the most widely spoken language of the Indian diaspora world-wide, but is also the ancient language of a classical culture whose two brilliant flowerings, one secular, at the beginning of the Christian era, and the other, of a frankly religious lyricism, between the 7th and 9th c., precede our Chanson de Roland.

  • 1 Les Demoiselles de Mortagne, Paris, Le Divan, 1923, p. 7.

3Some samples of this ancient literature have reached a cultivated English speaking public thanks particularly to A. K. Ramanujam, himself as much poet as translator. In French, the best selection is available only in a specialised collection. As for the Tirukkuṟaḷ, its first two more moralistic parts enchanted the missionaries whilst the discovery of the third part, which is presented here, was a delight to certain literary figures towards the end of the 19th c. These literary figures were no more dishonest than the phoney gurus of today but they did stick to a tinselly sort of exoticism made up of a vocabulary and a selection of concepts. It was the language of the poet that seduced them first of all, for example the eternal and universal vision of evenings spent waiting and of endless lonely nights, and if the twilight, a masculine noun in French, had to change its gender for analogies with the abandoned wife, P.-J. Toulet was quick to suggest “hour” as the feminine French substitute “the equivocal hour […] in which hearts are felt to beat louder and more tenderly.”1

  • 2 Variétés Orientales, Paris, 1868, p. 207.

4There may be more writers today who are ready to look behind the words for the structures of language and thought. For such writers, the effectiveness of a translation is measured by the extent to which the language translated comes through it, since they seek in it, for the sake of their own alchemy, the most direct contact possible with a world of the imagination quite unfamiliar to them. That “extreme servility” with which Léon de Rosny reproaches Ariel2 is no longer an obstacle to communication and following his example we may attempt a quite literal version which allows for fidelity to French as much as to the original Tamil.

The Tirukkuṟaḷ of Tiruvaḷḷuvar: a Tamil classic

5The Book of Love (Kāmattuppāl) is the third section, the shortest but also “the most difficult and, in certain ways, the most remarkable” of a triptych, the Tirukkuṟaḷ, which since the beginning of our era has defined the Tamil art of living. The three categories (trivarga): wisdom, fortune, love, are common to the whole of India. Most often presented in their Sanskrit form: order, profit, pleasure (dharma, artha, kāma), these are the first three of the four goals of man. The ultimate goal, liberation (mokṣa), which escapes universal formulae only to end up in sectarian recipes and avoids empirical wisdom only to pour itself out in speculation, is naturally beyond the scope of rules of conduct and does not come into our tripartite breviary which thus conforms to the general tone of the most ancient Tamil literature, the humanism of which is almost unencumbered by mythology or metaphysics.

6The link between the Book of Fortune and The Book of Love is perfectly instrumental and, from its first appearance, the game of love is socialised within the absolute order, even though physical ecstasy ends with the senses and has no place in mystical vision or speculation. Detached from the quotidian, from the arbitrary and from singularity in a very Indian fashion, this poetry is thus the spontaneous domain of the universal and the natural expression of psychology and ethics, superposing however on the jargon of these techniques its own skills in action, which are concerned with the perfection of mastery. The union of hearts and bodies is not a personal matter but is at once anonymous and archetypal: he and she, the hero and the heroine. This completely structured and thoroughly explored poetic world can be approached through an adequate education, a progressive and reassuring conquest of a course whose surprises are conventional and which is concerned with a flawless effectuation. As is the case with all poetry in India, the Tirukkuṟaḷ is exemplary, its aesthetic naturally branching out into moral teachings.

7If the content of the work is eternal, its form is nevertheless specifically Tamil, just as the spirit of its subject is; it is not an index of erotica as the Sanskrit Kāmasūtra are but rather the art of living carnal love in the harmony of the inner landscape of the Tamil world of the imagination. The formal perfection of the work remains intact and defies translation. Each stanza is in fact cast in the narrow and constraining matrix, both of a couplet of seven feet (usually 4+3) where idea, formula and image give way to the exigencies of the metrics, and of initial or interior rhyme and assonance. Brief and dense, each kuṟaḷ, or short couplet, is a multi-faceted diamond; in Tamil terms, it is the dewdrop on the blade of millet which reflects the towering palm tree, the hollowed out mustard seed which encloses the seven seas, or the atom which contains the whole universe. The numerical speculation of the panegyrists packs into the stanzas of two verses of these three books, the four goals of life, the substance of five Veda (four plus the Mahabharata) and the six traditional Indian philosophical systems. We think too of Japanese haiku: here in fact we have a range of two hundred and fifty phrases, trembling in the south wind (teṉṟal) whose breath awakens the emotions of love across the Tamil lands.

8This aesthetic of brevity, at its zenith here, is no stranger to the Indian tradition which is rich in collections, both of political aphorisms and of maxims, that encapsulate the wisdom of the sages and is no less prolific in lyricism, sustaining a host of anthologies of short Sanskrit, Tamil or Prakrit poems whose content, and indeed formulae, echo our text. Many of these evoke too the epigrams of the Greek Anthology which themselves tend towards the distich ideal: according to Cyril, in the Palatine (IX, 369),

Only the distich is an epigram; after
Three verses you are writing an epic, not an epigram.

9We shall not, therefore, forget in the course of the reading that a kuṟaḷ, just as an epigram, contains in itself its complete meaning. The systematic arrangement by ten kuṟaḷ under one title is transmitted in various orders by the tradition and does not constitute an immutable sequence in “stanzas” of ten “verses”; in fact, the efforts of the medieval commentators to extract a continuous discourse would be more relevant for an epic.

10If the brief survey of the prosody of the kuṟaḷ we give in the appendix seems too much like hard work for French readers, analogies of language and style may be found in French literature. Paul Valéry, in his conscious attempt at density, to carry “Ten to the power of Twelve” has given a good many examples, amongst which the following illustrates the metric formula of the Tamil distich, the rhyme (which in Tamil will come after the first syllable of the verse) and the metric interval of the shorter second verse:

Que seriez-vous, si vous n’étiez mystère ?
Un peu de songe sur la terre...

(What would you be, if you were not mystery?
Part of a dream on the earth….)

11Even more characteristic, another example adds to the preceding formula nearly all the ingredients of an authentic Tamil kuṟaḷ: the archaistic flavour of the construction, the image associated with the idea, the gnomic formula put in as padding and so often found in India, as for instance “they say…”:

Ces gens disent qu’il faut qu’une Muse ne cause
Non plus de peine qu’une rose !

(These people say that a Muse must cause
No more sorrow than a rose.)

  • 3 pp. 317-321.

12Classical, non-sectarian and easily memorised, the Tirukkuṟaḷ does not seem to have been consigned to partial oblivion over the ages as other texts belonging to the same ancient corpus have been. It is widely cited in examples given by medieval commentators of grammatical texts and it augments as well the anthologies collected by European travellers and by missionaries. The Essais historiques sur l’Inde by M. de la Flotte (Paris 1769) gives3 some twenty citations from the “Coral de Vallouren”, “extracted from a precious manuscript brought from India by M. de Mondave [sic], a retired colonel. The text is on one page with the translation on the page facing it. This manuscript was deposited at the Bibliothèque du Roi.” (p. 317) It was indeed deposited in 1761, by Modave, and it has been lost; but there are several others versions at the National Library in Paris including that of a Latin translation of the first two books by the Jesuit Beschi.

  • 4 L’Inde Philosophique entre Bossuet et Voltaire, published by l’École française d’Extrême-Orient, P (...)
  • 5 Observations d’un Voyageur de M… [Foucher d’Obsonville], Paris, 1783, pp. 251-253.

13The text of N-J. Desvaulx, dated 1777 and made known by Sylvia Murr,4 gives nineteen citations which are fairly accurate but limited to the first twenty-four chapters. Foucher d’Obsonville in 1783 offers some ten maxims “extracted from thirteen hundred and thirty of the Poème de Tirouvallouven to which fifty seven (sic) members of the Madurai Academy were quick to accord the most honourable approbation (this literary body ceased to exist a long time ago).”5 The information is intended to be precise but the translations are pretty much inaccurate: kuṟaḷ 402 (from The Book of Fortune) becomes “To enjoy oneself in conversation with a superficial person is to make love to a woman unaccustomed to the advances of men”, whereas the original is more blunt “One who is uninstructed and wants to speak well is like one without two breasts who wants to be a woman”. The commentators hesitate between the prepubescent girl and the hermaphrodite, while their grammarian colleagues detail the varieties to determine which grammatical gender to give to the latter.

14The missionaries, appalled by such glimpses, would wait till the second half of the 19th c. to broach the Book of Love. Thanks to a pupil of Eugène Burnouf, Edouard Ariel, who lived in Pondicherry from 1844 till his death in 1854, the kuṟaḷ was presented to the readers of the Journal Asiatique from 1848 and the Book of Love, translated almost in its entirety, in the 1852 May-June edition of the same journal: a first in Europe.

  • 6 Page 35 in the edition by Robert Sabatier, Paris, Garnier, 1980. This is a reprint of the second v (...)

15Then in 1867, E. Lamairesse a chief engineer of the Public Works Department of Pondicherry published in Paris the first complete French “translation”. Thereafter the legend of the author as “the divine pariah”, freed from the misapprehension in which the Abbé Dubois had wrapped the vallouven, those “brahmes des parias”, was to fall prey to literary types such as Judith Gautier who made it into a favourable spell in La Conquête du paradis where the unacknowledged theft of a distich can be traced.6

  • 7 Alongside his other modern “Parnassian” authors, in a translation by Barrigue de Fontainieu which (...)

16The literary climate was ready for such borrowings. In his Variétés orientales, Léon de Rosny paid handsome posthumous homage to Ariel. Much later Guillaume Apollinaire made some use of Ariel’s manuscripts in his works for Curiosa. It was, on the other hand, the version of the Book of Love that Alphonse Lemerre published in 18897 that Félicien Champsaur dipped into for multiple discreet borrowings which are to be discovered in Le Semeur d’amour of 1902, whose preface mentions the Tamil work explicitly: a consecration that has gone unnoticed by Indologists.

17In India, in Tamil lands, in the State of Tamil Nadu, there is more legend than history concerning Tiruvaḷḷuvar, but his image adorns public places everywhere. An era has even been founded from the presumed date of his birth, thirty years before the beginning of the common era, and his birthday is the second day of the month of Tai or Curavam (mid-January): an era, a stereotyped iconography and the most published (since 1812 at least) and universally translated work from Tamil land appearing, like the Bible, in every sort of version from the most popular to the most learned. Over the last twenty years universities have dedicated chairs to him, concerned with ideological exegeses rather than with philological criticism. Moreover, despite the abundance of editions, plenty of problems remain unresolved, including the sequence of distiches within a single chapter and the systematic confrontation of the medieval commentaries of which a good ten have been counted but only half that number printed. We are in fact relying exclusively on a kind of vulgate established on the authority of Parimēlaḻakar, a 13th c. commentator who, being the most recent is the least contested even though comparison with his earlier colleagues shows that he is often at odds with them.

  • 8 Our enumeration by chapter from I to XXV corresponds to traditional enumeration 109-133.

18It is that vulgate we have translated.8 It sustains all available editions, is written up on public buildings and appears on posters, as well as on official or private invitations. The Transport Corporation of the Government of Tamil Nadu, not content with bestowing the name of Tiruvaḷḷuvar on one of its bus companies (the long distance fleets), used to stick his distiches on the back of the seats.

  • 9 Henri Martineau, Cent soixante-quatorze lettres à Stendhal (1810-1842), Paris, Le Divan, 1947, 2 v (...)
  • 10 Information Jean Deloche, EFEO, Pondicherry.

19Before narrating the legend of Tiruvaḷḷuvar we must add to its richness by inscribing in the chronicles of missing literary meetings, an encounter with Stendhal. Both authors wrote “on love” and the virtual meeting between them would have been possible through the intervention of the naturalist Victor Jacquemont. We know that Stendhal collected information from young Jacquemont9 when writing, in 1825, his final chapter, “Example of love in France amongst the rich”, from which I extract: “… she maintains strictness during the tête-à-tête. She thus increases her husband’s desire”. This matches Kuṟaḷ, last chapter, 1 and 2. Several years later, in 1829, Jacquemont was on a visit to India which lasted until his death in Bombay in 1832. The Kuṟaḷ had then been in print since 1812, but the chief engineer of the P.W.D., an old friend from college days whom he found at Pondicherry in April 1829, was not Lamairesse but probably Rabourdin,10 who was not interested in the Kuṟaḷ. This was a pity since Jacquemont would certainly have been receptive and Stendhal, who had borrowed from Raynouard the elements of an oriental Code of love from the 12th c., would not have failed to find in the text of Tiruvaḷḷuvar abundant references for his theory of crystallisation (see chap. III to V of the Book of Love) and certainly complicity with the approach of feigned strictness and its infinite charms.

20He who wrote “In love everything is a sign” remained however a stranger to the ritualism of Indian love; yet accidental meeting points between the two texts have a certain piquancy. Starting with the situation envisaged by the first chapter of the Book of Love and this brief paragraph from chapter I of Stendhal: “Out hunting, to find a beautiful fresh peasant girl who flees into the woods. Everybody knows the love founded on pleasures of this kind; however dry and unfortunate, one begins like that at sixteen”. The Tamil commentators ascribe the first episode of the Book of Love to fifteen and ten months, to celebrate the marriage of the hero when he is sixteen. From a less anecdotal point of view, the theme of twilight in the Tamil world of the imagination corresponds to the place Stendhal gives to solitude, reverie and memory in his twilights (“twilight, he adds, Ave maria in Italian”): “hours of pleasures which remain to the senses but as memories” (De l’Amour, fragment divers 66, ed. H. Martineau). Taken any further this game becomes contrived; so let us keep in mind, at least, that Tiruvaḷḷuvar has his place in the libraries of Europe amongst the classics of love.

The legendary lives of Tiruvaḷḷuvar

“This nameless book, by a nameless author”

  • 11 But already known to the 18th c. missionaries.
  • 12 The book includes a “translation” (sic) of “The Book of duties” Jacolliot attributes to Tiruvaḷḷuv (...)
  • 13 M. Raghava Iyengar gives a very high status to the Pāṇar and vaḷḷuvar during the Caṅkam age. The f (...)

21That is how Ariel introduced the Tirukkuṟaḷ to Eugène Burnouf in a letter from Pondicherry dated 18th May 1848 and published by the Journal Asiatique in its final issue of the same year. Stripped of the prefix tiru (fortunate), which is of only honorific value, the book’s title is in fact the abridged name of the strophe used: Kuṟaḷ veṇpā, and the name of the author, Tiruvaḷḷuvar, that of his profession or of his community. According to common usage the vaḷḷuvar are officiants, priests, or astrologers within a pariah caste, from which emerges the romantic figure of the “divine pariah”, a prophet inspired by Tamil wisdom, brought to us by Lamairesse11 and taken up by Louis Jacolliot (Le pariah dans l’humanité, 1876).12 But according to an earlier literary tradition the vaḷḷuvar may have been the drum beating criers of royal edicts, which would give them a more distinguished social status. Not surprisingly a Tamil Aiyaṅkār has strongly argued in favour of that hypothesis.13

22Then again, according to a legendary tradition, in print since the 19th c., the drum major may instead have been a weaver, son of Āti and Bhagavan. These two names come to us as almost the first words of the whole book; must we therefore read the invocation of that “blessed Principle”, which is what the terms mean, as the civil status and parentage of the author?

  • 14 Ariel had presented the essential in an article in the Journal Asiatique, “Tiruvaḷḷuvar charitra”, (...)
  • 15 The French translation was available as early as 1869, published by Julien Vinson in La revue ethn (...)

23This, we can’t help feeling, is rather doubtful but the legend is intended to be edifying, and is rich in very instructive episodes14 of which we particularly note that curious desire to mix the deepest layers of popular Tamil culture with quasi mythical brahminical origins. The same idea, backed by the same example, appears as well in a medieval text which violently denounces the caste system: the Akaval, attributed to Kapilar,15 the inspiration of which goes back to the origin of the Tamil middle ages with the same legendary content, and has its echoes in the Saivite classics as early as the Kallāṭam, or the Ñāṉāmirtam, dated between 9th and 11th c.

24Briefly, Tiruvaḷḷuvar’s father, Bhagavan, was descended from Sage Agastya, son of Brahma and of a pulaicci woman of Tiruvarur, a caste of meat eating fishermen. His mother, Āti, of Brahmin origin, was abandoned by her father at Viralimalai and taken in, first by a pariah and then by the master of a choultry (free shelters at stages of the route) at Melur. There the encounter took place between the “brahmin” Bhagavan, on pilgrimage to Benares and the young “pariah”, Āti. Bhagavan, furious at an intrusion that polluted the meal he was in the middle of preparing, insulted her and struck her a great blow on the head with his ladle. At the same stop on the way back he, however, falls in love with her without recognising her; the marriage is arranged and then celebrated after another pilgrimage, to Rameswaram. Then, during the ritual bath of the fifth day ceremonies, Bhagavan discovers on Āti’s scalp underneath her long hair, the scar left by his blow and, horrified, attempts to flee. Āti pursues him and secures his company, one condition being that she abandon immediately the children that will be born to her to follow her husband farther: God, who gives them a mouth can also provide their nourishment. This is how the poetess Auvvaiyār came to be born in a village of singers and musicians, and Uppai, the very popular goddess Māriammaṉ, in a village of launderers; Atikaman, prince and poet was brought up at the court of the Cōḻa king; Uruvai, the goddess Bhadrakali, in a village of distillers; the poet Kapilar in a village of Brahmins; Vaḷḷi, the future wife of the god Murukaṉ, in a village of mountain dwellers, and Tiruvaḷḷuvar himself near Mayilapur (Mylapore, an area of Madras) where he was taken in by a veḷḷāḷa, or agriculturist, couple.

  • 16 Vinson, as well as Ariel, overlooked the fact that this legend has a very popular parallel in Kera (...)

25There he grew up, married and established himself as a weaver, living on his earnings before writing, at the solicitation of the family of his protector and partner, the work which was to immortalise him.16

26The thesis of the weaver of Mylapore clashes with the favourite one of modern orthodox commentators, who take their support from weak medieval indications to attribute to Tiruvaḷḷuvar the land of the Pāṇṭiya for his birthplace and the city of Madurai as the only one worthy to have given birth to him since it stands for the highest Tamil literary tradition. What is recounted of the weaver of Mylapore, on the contrary, ties together the intercaste network that roots the Tirukkuṟaḷ in the indigenous non-brahmin community, of farmers through his adoptive parents and his wife, of artisans through his chosen profession and of merchants through the caste of his protector and the supplier of his thread, friend Elelasimha who promptly became his most devoted disciple.

27The concern with presenting an even more syncretic indigenous vision is evident in other episodes of the legend which place our author in the ranks of the sages, masters of powers, the siddha or cittar. From his childhood he would have frequented the greatest, Pōkar and Tirumūlar, and he would certainly have confronted the assembly of Tamil poets who constituted the sovereign literary jury. For good measure he would be accompanied on his journey by the poetess Auvvaiyār, who was his sister, although that is forgotten here, and by Iṭaikkāṭar, a shepherd and at the same time a siddha, whose legends, always ready to entertain analogies, make of him sometimes an incarnation of Vishnu and sometimes a prototype of Tirumūlar. All three solve the riddles they are asked, not without arrogance, and then comes the supreme proof. On a bench in the middle of a pond of golden lotus sit the poets. If this magic bench has a place for the text of the Kuṟaḷ, it will be its consecration. As soon as the book is placed beside the poets, the bench shrinks down to the physical dimensions of the work, precipitating into the water the forty-nine presumptuous academicians who, bearing no grudge for their enforced immersion, sing the eulogy of the text in a series of couplets which make up The Garland of Tiruvaḷḷuvar (Tiruvaḷḷuvamālai), a collection of opinions, historically rather incompatible but united in their hyperbole.

  • 17 A sample version of the many dazzling stories of Tiruvaḷḷuvar as a siddha, reportedly told by Konk (...)

28Various sages and immortals remain to be visited before the legend allows Tiruvaḷḷuvar to take leave of this world. He has decreed that his body be dragged out of the village on a rope and thrown in the tank, but the faithful Elelasimha favours a gold coffin for his master, who comes back to life long enough to reiterate his instructions; the crows and vultures fighting over the flesh of his body have beautiful golden plumage.17

  • 18 Francois Valentijn in his Description of Ceylan, published between 1724-26, gives a list of some a (...)

29The final avatar of the weaver of Mylapore has to have belonged to European missionaries. They found Christian echoes in his book which they were quick to attribute to the teachings of Saint Thomas who, when his evangelical mission was over, is supposed to have come to Mylapore to die.18 In the 1970’s, the Tamil Catholic archbishop of Madras speculated in a brochure about Tiruvaḷḷuvar’s pre-Christian emphasis. However, like Voltaire, the true disciples of Thomas Didymus (“The Twin”) will insist on “putting their finger in”. Searches beneath the crypt of the San Thome cathedral have yielded nothing but a pre-Portuguese basilica of probably Syrian design, which suggests to us links with the ancient Christians of Kerala but in no manner attests to the extremely improbable meeting of Tiruvaḷḷuvar and the Apostle.

30He was not therefore to be catholic, except in the etymological sense of “universal”, and the Hindus are able to go on featuring him, in disputes with the Buddha dharma or the Jain faith. The latter had many presumptions in its favour but a detail in the Book of Love shows how very flimsy the arguments can be. What is the paradise of “One with (eyes of) lotus” in III, 3, and what is the reason for the parenthesis in this quote? It is because of the ambiguity of the text in which the word kaṇ (eye) may just as easily be a significant locative particle “in” or “on”? Hypotheses come flooding in. “One with the lotus eyes” is quite frequently used as a name of Vishnu; but Indra, whose paradise welcomes virile heroes and warriors with generous and beautiful apsaras, was once hidden in a lotus flower, whilst Brahma, whose paradise is the supreme reward at the end of the cycle of births, is the god on the lotus, from where he gave out the Veda. Moreover, in this choice between three Hindu paradises, the god of the Jains, his feet resting on a lotus flower, cannot be disqualified and nor can the claim of the Buddhists, who possess the lotus of the law.

31Most of the other arguments being about as decisive, it is evidently better to give back Tiruvaḷḷuvar to universal wisdom, especially because it was what he himself wanted. This after all was what he was suggesting, according to a complementary legend, when he replied to the academicians of Madurai who were questioning him about his place of birth: “You ask me: “From what town?” Listen well to the state of that town; don’t you know its history at all? That town is nothing, was nothing and, finally, being nothing, will be nullified.”

32Our knowledge of the epoch is about as substantial. The linguistic and cultural connection with the golden age of Tamil poetry called the Caṅkam (name of the academy which is its legendary and historic symbol) is beyond doubt, as much because of the many and obvious links as because of the direct references to the Kuṟaḷ from the period immediately following. This relative date does not however compel us to assign the 4th or 5th c. CE, other than by a consensus of several “reasonable” opinions. Many more extremes exist, and learned disputation has yet to resolve the matter.

  • 19 The same anecdotes with variants are found in the collection Légendes de l’Inde du Sud, cited abov (...)

33We cannot leave the legend of the author of the Book of Love without recalling those anecdotes which celebrate his wife Vācuki, as the perfect woman.19 Vaḷḷuvar tested her before a sage who was pondering over the relative superiority of asceticism and domestic life. Not only did she unhesitatingly fan the cooled down food that her husband said was still burning hot, and bring the lamp to help find his distaff in broad daylight, but, as well, leaving in mid course the bucket of water she has been drawing from the well to hurry to answer his call, she afterwards found it miraculously suspended waiting for her where she had left it. Dying, she asked her lord and master why, throughout her life, she had had to set a needle and a little water next to his food. It was, said he, to save and purify the grains of rice fallen off the leaf used for a plate. She soon afterwards died, her curiosity satisfied, demonstrating in this way that she had never in her life wasted as much as a grain of rice. It is true that another legend says that her husband wouldn’t agree to marry her until she had cooked for him the basket of sand he designated which, as a reward for her blind faith of the wife, soon afterwards turned into rice.

34One hardly knows which to admire most, the exemplary virtue of Vācuki or the liberating cheek of the contemporary sociologist C. S. Laksmi, alias Ambai, the writer, who rediscovers the Kuṟaḷ only to take up a contrary position and denounce the archetype of the heroine in Tamil literature who, in order to become a real woman, must start by believing in God. The author of the Book of Love, anyway universally masculine, gives, in the Book of Fortune, this aphorism: “Thoughtful people, ―and consequently prosperous―, are never so foolish as to be infatuated with their wives”; and this after speaking admiringly of the mother and wife and before dedicating one entire book to love!

35But the literature of the time also calls love akam, interior lyricism “because the bliss born of the union of hearts in unison is so delicate that it cannot be overtly expressed to others, and is the ceaselessly tested grace of the endless return of the soul to itself; thus the evocation of the delights or beatitudes of love is precisely that which is called interior lyricism”, says the commentator Nacciṉārkkiṉiyar, neatly glossing the first aphorism on love poetry given by the earliest Tamil grammar, the Tolkāppiyam.

A Tamil art of love

The progression of the commentators

“…but, for better or worse, it is the commentator who has the last word.”
Vladimir Nabakov, Pale Fire, [1962], Vintage, 1989, p. 29.

36The Book of Love belongs to the tradition of love lyricism in ancient Tamil literature and accordingly does not escape the structures and conventions common to the entire corpus which give the distiches their harmonics and their topical significance. This exegesis is the work of the commentators of the middle ages whose glosses both clarify and weigh down the text. These crutches are slightly irritating since we feel that the work stands on its own merits. The commentary is in actual fact, however, nothing more than a mediation between the work and the milieu of its readers and it is a naïve illusion to take as specifically Indian phenomenon something that is the norm in all rhetorical traditions, including the most contemporary.

37A special Chair at the College de France, created for Paul Valéry and later occupied by the poet Yves Bonnefoy, had been exclusively devoted to the reflection upon poetic creation which sometimes turns into auto-commentary. Semiotics has even engendered excellent novels rich in meta-language. Occidental commentaries, however, also tend to give the utmost importance to the author himself; and the “living” expositions of Baudelaire by Sartre or B.-H. Levy would hardly be conceivable in India where what counts is a quasi memorised knowledge of the work itself and of the ideological and semantic system which is the obligatory foundation. But nowadays, our own techniques of linguistic and critical studies bring us closer to the texts themselves and to their formal or meta-linguistic aspects, thus promising an honourable place for the Indian art of commentary in the future of occidental letters.

38Moreover, the commentary reassures. What could be more disturbing for the reader than the pulverising of the art of the novel by changes in story line and protagonists from chapter to chapter, as in If on a winter’s night a traveller, by Italo Calvino? Each aphorism too, and each short poem, in asserting its unique presence, tends to break the already established harmony. The technique of commentary, faced with the surprise and the seduction created by this disintegration, soothes by promptly restoring the threatened order. The readers of the Book of Love, like the listener to the love cycles of the age of courtly love or to the Arab poetic cycles, and like Stendhal’s correspondents or the readers of Tel Quel, need the reassurance of a poetic art and of a grid for the reading.

39Instead of, as in any indigenous edition, pouring out after each stanza the weight of its immediate scholium, we propose only this introductory guide, intended to give an overview of the whole and then leave to each aphorism the power of its own resonance.

40The trouble is the multiple itineraries. Insofar as allowed for by the dispersion and the allusive nature of the glosses, we are able to trace several routes. Clarity dawns once it has been understood, first that the literary theory of Tamil eroticism practically simultaneously juggles with two approaches and has two methods of exposition and, secondly, that the most often quoted commentator endeavours to reconcile the aesthetic of the Tirukkuṟaḷ with the Sanskrit tradition, under the impression that he is serving the universality of the work in the best possible way.

The two approaches

41The first approach links the message with a particular Tamil cultural context, known by the beautiful name of “interior landscape” because it attributes to five geographical regions, each with its own imagery, (population, occupations, flora, fauna etc.), five states of mind to which the environment and the imagery of each region respectively is favourable. Mountains, desert, forest, littoral and the cultivated plains, in that order, are hospitable to union, separation, patient waiting, lamentations over absence and disputes. This gives rise to a symbolism which is at once precise and subtle since it can also play on deviations from the norm.

42The second approach links the message more simply with the chronological progression of a love affair, whose stages go from the first meetings to further meetings, to separation, marriage, absence and quarrels, up to reconciliation. These steps in amorous relationships may vary in number and detail but the progression is more or less constant, and divided precisely into two broad categories: kaḷavu, which precedes marriage, and kaṟpu, concerned with conjugal life. Emotion here is thus connected with the vicissitudes of a love affair, more or less explicit or tenuous, and the accent shifts from the poetic atmosphere evoked to the dramatisation of the action suggested.

43For the authors themselves the two approaches were clearly not incompatible. They are vaguely intermingled, the two regions of the mountains and the coast having more affinities with the idyll before marriage and its potential agonies, whereas conjugal life with its nostalgia and its disappointments blossoms better in the forest or on the agricultural plains; as for the desert, so often sung by the poets, it is somewhat the zero degree of the other regions.

44It was during the medieval period, at the time of a more systematic reinterpretation of the Tamil material in terms of Sanskrit rhetoric, that the problem arose of how to superimpose the two visions.

45Paradoxically, the treatise on grammar and poetics which incarnates the sanskritization movement, the Vīracōḻiyam, remains faithful to the framework of the five regions; but many others, including Parimēlaḻakar, apropos the Book of Love, reduce Tamil eroticism to the two broad categories of the Sanskrit Kāmasūtra(s): pleasure (sambhoga) and separation (vipralambha). It was thus sufficient to integrate with the latter, which is very large, all the Tamil modalities: patient waiting (the forest), unbearable waiting (the coast), quarrels (the plains) and, implicitly, separation pure and simple (the desert). Parimēlaḻakar, having surreptitiously redistributed the Tamil regions between the two Sanskrit entries, imperturbably reconciles Tiruvaḷḷuvar with the Tamil tradition, saying that the poet had renamed the Sanskrit categories respectively kaḷavu and kaṟpu, which designate respectively, as has been seen, meetings before marriage (thus identified as pleasure), and conjugal life in which absences and quarrels become the principal attraction.

46On the authority of Parimēlaḻakar, this reading is the generally accepted one in spite of a continuing reticence concerning his excessively Sanskritic partiality. In the detail, however, the presentation is much more diverse.

Two models of exposition

47The exposition of amorous rhetoric is, in any case, classificatory and enumerative but may operate from two points of view.

48The first considers the characters and proceeds according to retorts. Conventions of a quasi dramatic type direct the relations between the two protagonists and the content of their exchanges. This goes as far as scenic indications, and we must remember in this connection that Sanskrit drama is the perfect poetic form and that in ancient Tamil, dramatic action, and no doubt music and dance too, is inseparable from poetic expression. In fact, the content of Sanskrit dramaturgy and that of the rhetoric of Tamil lyric poetry are quite closely related.

49The second viewpoint considers the situations in which the two protagonists find themselves due to the successive events of the affair according to a progression very similar to a chronological sequence.

50There too, the two procedures of the exposition are not incompatible. The first is the earliest attested to, by the Tolkāppiyam, and the second, which has the allegiance of all theoreticians after the Tolkāppiyam, seems to have extracted from it a sort of scenario whose unfolding, from then onwards, deviates no more. The colophons of the poems have, therefore, the dual task of indicating who is speaking to whom, perhaps in the presence or absence of whom, and of defining the situation and naming it according to a stereotyped nomenclature which, for the love lyric, in Tamil includes four to five hundred different possibilities.

51It is with regard to these attributions and identifications that the opinions of the commentators may diverge or clash. Most of the editions and translations of the Book of Love accompany the distiches with the colophons of Parimēlaḻakar or, at very least, distribute them according to his choice between the hero, the heroine and her companion. We have preferred to leave the reader free to choose and have retained of the commentaries only those traits essential for the understanding of the whole.

Three fundamental ideas

Dramatis personae: distiches or retorts

52If the first two books of the Kuṟaḷ are the aphorisms of the poet, the Book of Love is presented in dramatic form. It is a character who speaks, to a defined interlocutor, to the company at large, or aside. Some strophes even have the rough outline of a dialogue, in Chap. XXIV for example. This dramatic element is essential.

  • 20 In chapter VIII, distiches 2-10 are remarks of the mistress to her attendant, but who is it in VII (...)

53At least two actors may be guessed at, lover and beloved, or husband and wife. Some rare distiches clearly include, alongside the heroine, the presence of a female companion, attendant or confidante, an accomplice in any case, whom the heroine addresses in the familiar vocative. The plural “we”, comparable with the “on” of the duenna in the French dramatic tradition is thus often fictive, and it is the commentator’s gloss which determines, sometimes quite arbitrarily, whether the heroine is speaking or letting her companion speak for her.20

54The language doesn’t always allow for a definite conclusion since the plural, or honorific, of persons is epicene in Tamil so that the choice remains contextual. There is a greater diversity of characters, duly catalogued, in the earlier literature, but the Kuṟaḷ aims at economy and only the numerous allusions to rumours amongst the people of the city (an entire chapter is given over to them) suggests a crowd of retired but active supernumeraries who, whilst certainly not indifferent, remain undifferentiated: just like the inquisitive spectators on balconies always to be seen in ancient Buddhist bas-reliefs.

55An ancient tradition bases the very composition of the Book of Love, on the division of the poems between the hero and heroine: seven chapters (I-VII) are attributed to the hero, twelve (VIII-XIX) to the heroine and the last six (XX-XXV) to a mixture of the two. This thesis, represented by a poem of Mocikkīraṉār in the Garland of Tiruvaḷḷuvar, by the commentator Kāḷiṅkar and by a later anonymous poem preserved in Tancavur, is not unanimously accepted though there is almost a consensus for attributing the first four chapters to the hero (only I, 10 is considered doubtful) and the twelve chapters VII-XIX to the heroine as Kāḷiṅkar would have it (but the end of XVI, especially 8, presents a difficulty, as does the end of XIX). The remainder is even more confused since, if the last six chapters do mix the female and male remarks, the woman is obviously the main speaker in XXII and the man in XXIV; in chapters V and VI they are fairly evenly shared, and chapter VII is without doubt the best example of the confusion in the attribution of the distiches.

56The fact that this imperfect framework for the reading nevertheless functions in the great majority of cases reinforces our “dramatic” vision, extrapolated from early Tamil lyric poetry which was certainly declaimed or sung, including the short poems, in a context of theatrical action, by the poets who were the interpreters of their compositions and brought onto the scene the typed characters in the conventional situations. The very imperfections of the system also remind us, however, that the history of the text is little known and that the links between distiches in a single chapter, and more rarely their presence in a particular chapter, is not at all evident: out of the two hundred and fifty Kuṟaḷ of the Book of Love, only five are in the same position in the same chapter according to all the commentators.

Kaḷavu and kaṟpu, or the myth of the first meeting

57By edict of Parimēlaḻakar, the Book of Love is always presented in two parts, kaḷavu (I-VII) and kaṟpu (XIII-XXV): the love born of a unique and spontaneous experience demands by any means to shine forth in the light of day (VI) with the accord of all (VII), and then, consecrated by marriage, it is marked by waits, quarrels, memories and reconciliation. This is but one hypothetical schema amongst many: two other commentators, Paripperumāḷ and Maṇakkuṭavar for instance, prefer to spread the delight of the impassioned lovers over three successive types of union: 1) that which, exceptionally, reveals to them the joys of carnal embraces (I-III); 2) that which comes at the end of a separation throughout which the desire to embrace is uttered at length (IV-XXI; 3) that which comes after a quarrel and is the refined experience of the ensuing voluptuousness (XXII-XXV). In fact, quarrels, reconciliation and embraces constitute the benefits, in the terms of the text itself, for those whom passion has reunited (III, 9), and that is very much the content of the whole work: the pleasure born of union in its various modalities.

58Kaḷavu and kaṟpu, however, remain the beacons of the Tamil literary erotic landscape. Often inaccurately translated by “clandestine union” and “chastity”, they are in opposition just as the spontaneity of unsanctioned love and the domestic order or conjugal love are. The former, though the more secretive, is no less codified than the latter. All the attraction of the former depends upon the myth of the first meeting and all the charm of the latter on reconciliation after absences or quarrels.

  • 21 Iṟaiyaṉārakapporuḷ, kaḻaka veḷiyīṭu, Madras, 1953, sūtra 2, pp. 28-47. See also sūtra 32 and 60. T (...)

59We must look at the definition of kaḷavu, and also at the commentary on it, in a Tamil Art of Love dated 8th c., whose author is none other than “the Lord”, Iṟaiyaṉār, that is Siva himself: “It is when, forgetting themselves, he only sees her and she only sees him, the love union in which both are the same.”21 That experience is the first embrace, natural and spontaneous, owed to no one’s intervention nor conceived in a matrimonial arrangement: it is thus called “first”, “divine” and “passionate”. It implies an instant rapture in which the lovers, driven by the sexual instinct and favoured by fate, lose consciousness of themselves and of the rest of the world in the discovery of their identity of form, of beauty, age, family, character and affection. In its absolute purity, this episode is without preliminary: the hero out hunting and in pursuit of his prey, chances upon the heroine who is separated for a moment from her playmates; their eyes meet, bodies join and their minds are bewildered.

60When the literature takes over, it certainly multiplies auxiliary episodes around the central scene: before (three to seven) or after it (a dozen), with the soliloquies of the hero, the connivance of the heroine and the preliminaries to another stealthy meeting, by day or by night, under the eye, and with the complicity, of a friend or close companion. Naccinārkkiṉiyar, the subtlest of the medieval exegetes, has tried to retain the aesthetic quality of that first meeting free from the stratagems and the cunning tricks of the mutual approach, postponing the subtle strategy to subsequent meetings. Less astutely, others have wanted to make fate moral, calling upon merit from previous existence or looking for psychological probabilities in order to base a durable union upon a marvellous accident.

  • 22 When the nephew of Ananda Ranga Pillai, the dubash of Dupleix, and leader of the Indian population (...)

61Furthermore, by falling into each other’s arms, the couple are forgetting the essential qualities of the hero: wisdom, firmness, discrimination, resolution, and of the heroine: modesty, innocence, timidity, delicacy. Discretion is therefore maintained, entirely without hypocrisy of attempts to limit the episode to a platonic encounter: a straightforward physical contact is certainly involved, but the partners are supposed to be on the verge of nubility, and, according to literary convention, that first union may not bear fruit. He is fifteen years and ten months old and she is eleven years and ten months, and they have two months before them devoted to consecrating their union by marriage which may then be fruitful:22 two months to live perfect physical love in the manner of the lute playing, immortal Gandharva, knowing neither illness nor old age. Thus are true lovers always young, but the Art of Love, which we are paraphrasing, rather cruelly ends by saying that this is a mental construction for the exclusive use of those with the highest possible notion of true love, and its commentary makes it clear that the conduct laid down by the poets does not exist in the world naturally: “it is good, it is pleasant, it doesn’t exist”.

62We nevertheless believe the myth of kaḷavu to be strong enough in the Tamil imagination later to arouse, in the virtue of domestic life, all the memories, desires and strategies as might bring to life those privileged moments. Tiruvaḷḷuvar thus rallies a great pan-Indian, classical tradition. Parimēlaḻakar, for whom the whole second part of the Book of Love is about separation (Skt. vipralambha), finds a striking parallel between the themes of the Kuṟaḷ and the phraseology of the Sanskrit Kāmasūtra-(s) which detail the modalities of absence: leaving for foreign lands (pravāsa chap. VIII), the unbearable nature of the absence (viraha, IX-XVIII), the desire for the other (pūrvarāga or ayoga, XIX-XXI) and mood (māna, XXII-XXV). There is unfortunately a pedantic strain in the rigour of these comparisons which need to be flexibly handled if they are not to be seen as reducing agents. This is doubtless one of the obscure reasons for the lesser popularity of this part of the Kuṟaḷ in the Tamil world today.

Five regions, five states of mind

63Yet another cutting up of these twenty-five chapters was foreseeable. Tamil poetry has elaborated a theory of love lyricism under seven headings, of which two, unrequited love and excessive love, are marginal whilst five correspond, as we have said, to five regions or landscapes, more symbolic than actual but associated nevertheless with the ecology of the Tamil land by the emblematic selection of the flowers which designate them and a series of attributes which distinguish them, aside from the time of day or the season of the year appropriate for a particular state of mind. Whatever the manner in which this system is elaborated, it was functioning during the epoch when the early anthologies were compiled, with enough power to impose this classificatory framework on them; and a number of later collections, doubtless contemporaneous with the Kuṟaḷ, are also constructed on this theme which favours the aspect of love associated with the five regions. No particular order is imposed on these regions, either by the normative texts or in practice, but the psychological correspondences do not vary: we remember that union, separation, patient waiting, lamentations over absence and, lastly, quarrels, are localised respectively in the mountains, desert, forest, littoral and cultivated plains.

  • 23 Philosophy of Tiruvaḷḷuvar, Madurai, 1969, p. 102.

64We could expect the Kuṟaḷ to follow that common rule: five chapters for each of the five regions, in the order we have just given. And, in fact, T. P. Meenakshisundaram23 cites the evidence of his master Chelvakesavaraya Mudaliar who must have possessed one manuscript of a commentary of Maṇakkuṭavar which divided the Book of Love in that way; the hypothesis was obviously seductive to him but he did not take it any further. My own copy of the edition commented on by Kāḷiṅkar and Paripperumāl had belonged to R. S. Sambasiva Sarma, himself the editor, in 1955, of a version of the Kuṟaḷ with the commentary of Maṇakkuṭavar. It contains a hand-written annotation absolutely concordant with the memory of T. P. Meenakshisundaram, but the origin of which appears to be different, since this time it was a question of two manuscripts of the classical commentary of Parimēlaḻakar in which that information is given separately, as some sort of summary of the Kuṟaḷ: a brief inventory of chapters according to their subject matter is made there in the style of a colophon. One of these manuscripts had belonged to Muttuvayirava natappulavar, of Ramnad, and the other was conserved in the dwelling of Tiruppāṟkaṭanāta Kavirāyar, of Vānarapēṭṭai, of Tirunelveli. The good faith of these witnesses is undeniable. Is it not astonishing, particularly now, at the very time when scholarly “critical” editions are proposed, that the most generally accredited tradition does not give a more important place to variants which are as significant?

65Is this reading of the Book of Love as it conforms to the Tamil interior landscape then more satisfying than the preceding ones? We would be tempted to think so, if only because it is the vision of the Kuṟaḷ most “integrated” with the Tamil literature of the Caṅkam:

  1. Kuṟiñci, songs of enjoyment - The first five chapters naturally correspond to clandestine union, kaḷavu, as Parimēlaḻakar too would have it, and to the mountain region.
  2. Pālai, songs of separation - Chapter VI tells of the pangs of impossible love without a region of its own; might it not, with a little effort, be joined to the desert and the following series on separation (VI-X)?
  3. Mullai, songs of waiting - The dream and the lamentations at dusk (XIV and XV) certainly correspond to the forest region (XI-XV) where the evening is the favoured moment of the patient wait; even the shepherd’s flute (XV, 8) is there to evoke the pastoral occupation characteristic of that region.
  4. Neytal, songs of lament - The series of the shore (XVI-XX), offers, in illustration of the anxiety of the wait, the physical deterioration (XVI) and the crying desire for the absent one (XIX): the hero is even given in (XX 7), the local term of address of the region.
  5. Marutam, songs of sulk and quarrels - Finally, the five last chapters (XXI-XXV) are, as is appropriate to the cultivated plains, the place of sulks and quarrels.

66Here therefore is a possible grid for the reading, of more precise semantic value than the others and in which, as in all analogous literature, the overlapping of themes are authorised poetic licence. We must confess to a preference but we restrain ourselves, however, from going too far, less because of the minor difficulties with real, but not inhibiting, detail, than because such a vision appears to us to be somewhat less essential for the author than the interiorisation of the field of love lyricism. Our personal feeling is that Tiruvaḷḷuvar, who overlooked none of the poetic conventions of the “interior landscape”, deliberately condensed them through an extraordinary economy of means: the diversity of themes is reduced, variations concentrate upon the essential and, in a kind of stylisation of the second degree, the regional emblems inherited from the Caṅkam take on the value here of universal archetypes.

An indian art of love?

67So, is the Book of Love finally Tamil, or universal or, more simply, Indian?

  • 24 Sens magique, Paris, Lachenal and Ritter, 1983, p. 86.

68The quest for Tamil traits is, a priori, disappointing. Among a literature whose vegetal abundance enchants the naturalist, the Kuṟaḷ is singularly dry: flowers, like the moon, are nothing but metaphors, the unfortunate rivals of the eyes of the beautiful girl (IV, 2; XVI, 1) whose face has the radiance but not the weaknesses (stain and phases) of the moon (IV, 7). The quasi abstract conventions of these images never cease to justify the formula of Malcolm de Chazal: “Love makes us see the regard in the eyes before the eyes.”24 This is the whole meaning of chapter II; chapter X, given over entirely to the suffering of eyes consumed by desire contains only one metaphor, that of the too eloquent eyes that beat the drum.

69Apart from the most ordinary Indian flora of palms, millet, lotus, common white water lily or nenuphar, the only flower really mentioned is nothing but a myth: this is the flower aṉiccam of chapter IV, in Sanskrit the “sensitive” plant, or jasmine, which a breath is enough to destroy. The slender figure of the heroine is crushed by the weight of that flower which is weightless: because of the unbearable overload of the sepals, the funeral drums alone from now will on weep for her absence. In contrast, a hard return to reality has the shape of the little bristly balls of the spines of the “herse”, as common as dog’s-tooth grass and resembling the flowers of the thistle. But the flora of Tamil Caṅkam literature, with the extroverted luxuriance of its conniving and stylised decoration, has disappeared, and with it the forest of its symbols, except in one case.

70Why do the flowers in the hair of her husband provoke such sudden anger in the heroine, in XXIV, 3. In the first place, because in decorating himself like that for the parade he is proclaiming an amorous desire which may be addressed to another or arouse a rival: the good faith of the husband who plays the lover is thus misinterpreted. But that is far from the end, for the flowers in question have been plucked from the branch of a tree, which is to say that they have come from the mountains and not from the region of the plains where we are (since the amorous theme, that of sulking, imposes that locale on us) which is the place of aquatic flowers (lotus and water lilies…). What then has the hero been doing in the mountains, region of first and furtive love? Doubtless he wanted to remind his wife of the time of their engagement and their first meeting, but she suspects him of shamelessly harbouring the obvious desire to begin it all again with another. Here, Tiruvaḷḷuvar has, for once, remembered the floral code of the Caṅkam to the point of imposing it upon his readers. But who, nowadays, other than a grammarian, is going to search the indigenous lexicons (nikaṇṭu) for the four types of flower (those of trees, bushes, creepers and water plants) and thus understand properly?

71The fauna is also quite inconspicuous. Only the first visions of the heroine suggest, as in all analogous literature, the fauna of the mountain: the peacock, the doe (the term is the most generic possible) and the elephant. Of the doe the regard of the eyes is retained, and of the elephant the redoubtable impetuosity, which will add weight to the warlike metaphors of the aggression of her beauty evoked at the first meeting (I, 6 & 7). Safety demands that the elephant wear blinkers, and, against feminine charms, there is a veil over the breasts, often assimilated in literature to the two bumps of the frontal sinuses of the elephant. The fauna of the other regions is never evoked.

72Nor is work and day to day life: the only technical terms concern portage with the complementary image of the scales held even: the beam and the yoke (IX, 3; XII, 6). Monsoon, irrigation, the freshness of water and the rain inextricably mingled with the mud of the earth: these are the everyday tropical realities, banal as some vegetal images are: the shoulders of bamboo, the mango colour of women, and their liana-like suppleness, an image that frequently serves as metonymy.

73The techniques pertaining to the body or to quotidian practices, which give to the original the most limpid allusions, are sometimes the most untranslatable: for instance, the very dietetic manner of savouring the lovers’ quarrel (XXV, 6) which echoes a chapter of the Book of Fortune on remedies, digestion and health. Medicine heals according to the principle of opposites while, in contrast to this system, (in III, 2) the desirable young woman is simultaneously the malady and the healing principle. A sneeze elicits a salutation as it does in the occident, and in Sanskrit, due to the wish for longevity (to cancel out the ill omen), but it is also a sign that someone is thinking of the person who sneezes: more than enough to trigger the suspicions of a jealous woman (XIII, 3; XXIV, 2, 7-8). Some usage and beliefs are not immediately intelligible to a foreign reader, but all over India, an eclipse is the serpent Rāhu devouring the moon (VII, 6). As for table manners, we already know from the legend of Tiruvaḷḷuvar the joy of being served by a perfect wife. The feeling of plenitude of the master of the house (in III, 7) is not easy to understand unless we imagine the hero looking forward to conjugal life and finally savouring his due; his is the satisfaction of the master of the house, who is served last, after having observed all the rules of hospitality by sharing his food with the guests of the day, mendicants, ascetics or Brahmins.

74The details of the toilet and adornment are without surprises though jewellery for the arms has an important role. Slipping from the emaciated arms of a languid female lover, it is they who have, in some way, the power to reveal, and perhaps to prevent, the departure of the loved one (XVI, 4 & 7; XX, 7). So true is this, that a poem from another anthology, the Muttoḷḷāyiram, reverses the situation: hearing the sound of the royal conches drawing near, announcing the return of the master, the bracelets decide by themselves to return to their place on the arms of the heroine. The bracelets are of shell and the same word, vaḷai, designates bracelet or conch: the poet’s conclusion is their secret and quasi genetic solidarity, a complicity dignified by that of consanguineous relationships and which he cites in the form of a proverb. This example gives the measure of the depth of the Tamil imagination from which Tiruvaḷḷuvar draws the rare symbols that he has retained. Of the scenery, already reduced to its essentials, he keeps only what is indispensable as regards costume and adornment (I, 9). From there, the essential message is passed through the silence of gesture and eyes (XX, 9-10).

75It is also transmitted by a symbolic sign which is not peculiar to Tamil lyricism but exists in Sanskrit as well. There is a sudden change in the colouring of the heroine from the simple premonition of the hero’s absence. Chapter XI is dedicated to this but it is found elsewhere as well (XVI, 8-10; XIX, 5; XX, 8) as the leitmotif of sorrow experienced physically, on a par with the thinness of the limbs, especially the arms. The altered skin tone is conventionally translated by “pallor” though, etymologically, it oscillates between green and golden yellow; these are often confused and it would be more accurate to say that in reality the complexion turns leaden or darkens. We are made aware, by the female body, of that premonitory intuition of absence. The Tamil deictic set –a-,-i-,-u-, (atu, itu, utu) which contrasts between “distant”, “near”, and “less near” (intermediary between near and distant), is applied in XI, not only to the space between here and very near, but also to the time between already (pallor) and soon (the departure of the hero) as borne out in XX, 7 & 8: the body possesses, as do the bracelets, a sensitivity which precedes knowledge. This sixth sense, a simultaneously strange and glorious coenesthaesis (II, 2), the Tamil pallor which lies in wait for the abandoned lover, seems, according to an obscure progression, to be there in the French poetry of Yves Bonnefoy:

  • 25 Poèmes, Paris, Mercure de France, 1978, p. 28. Translation by Galway Kinnell, in Yves Bonnefoy, On (...)

What paleness comes over you, underground river, what artery breaks in you, where your fall echoes?25

76We are at the antipodes of the universal, however, when we come to the singular custom to which Tiruvaḷḷuvar devotes the essential part of chapter VI: the despairing gesture which leads the hero to bestride a sort of horse made of palms in an attempt to force the heroine and her family to agree. Love, born of first meetings must, in fact, end in marriage. Public gossip, discreet or scandalous, which anticipates events (VII, 2 & 3) and which is certainly a female weapon (VII, 7 & 10) is not always enough, despite its importance which is emphasised by an entire chapter devoted to it. We note in passing, in a text where everything centres on two protagonists, this sudden amplification which is simply the obvious expression of the social dimension of marriage: the happiness of the couple is possible only with the consensus of the whole group. That is why accord must be reached by every possible means: there is already a whiff of blackmail in the scandal of public gossip, and even more in the threat of mounting the palm horse.

77But what is it really about? The Tamil term maṭal designates the leafstalk which joins the leaves of the borassus to the stem or stipe. Its shape, like an eave or a gutter, could by itself offer a comfortable seat if it were not edged on either side as it is by a row of very hard, thick spines (from which are plucked formidable cutting tools) forming two sorts of saw with great pointed teeth. This is the secret of the instrument of torture, the famous “palm branch”. To mount the maṭal is to organise, first of all, a real hullabaloo with the hero as voluntary and scandalous victim. He generally succeeds in his cause after this scene but if he has to go any further, gossip turns into an actual ordeal, of which the literary texts spare us the description. The existence of these two distinct phases is confirmed by Nacciṉārkkiṉiyar, an early commentator who attaches the first to unrequited love and the second to excessive and immoderate love, the two extreme subdivisions mentioned above, and left out by literature.

78The descriptions the early poems allow us to reconstruct are not very technical: obviously a sort of vaulting horse is made of leafstalks with sharp points, then hitched to a chariot made of other parts of the palm (stems and leaves). The horse has a collar of small bells, ornaments, and certainly garlands of common flowers “of no commercial value”, furthermore malodorous and often sticky with latex. They are found round the neck of the hero too: this is the symbol of the disdainful welcome received from his beloved in return. He himself is nude, his body covered in ash like an ascetic. He holds in his hands the portrait of his beautiful beloved, or of the couple, drawn by him and bearing his name. He takes up his position at the principal cross-roads of the town, probably astride his mount. He is supposed to stay there, indifferent to bad weather, sun or rain, but other evidence has him singing of his misfortune and there are examples of this type of song in early literature.

79The analogy of this behaviour with that of the religious ascetic, meant to attract the attention of a god, is striking: Vaishnava literature took up the theme to illustrate the violence of the soul in search of God. Profane literature (here V, 7) forbids this masquerade to women, whereas Tamil Vaishnava poetry draws on the example of the heroines of the North to give to the girl in love (the soul of the devotee) the force of character necessary to violate the taboo and mount the palm construction herself so as to attract the grace of Krishna.

  • 26 Commentary of Cokkaṉ of Kuṉṟattūr to strophe 101 of the Tañcaivāṇaṉkōvai.

80Only one 18th c. commentary on a medieval work26 is specific as to how the proof of the maṭal turns into a genuine ordeal: in the face of the scene we have just described, the people of the city wonder if the hero has really decided to bestride the maṭal. When he gives his affirmative answer, the king is informed and his officers convey his agreement. The hero must then wear a garland of bones and the flowers already described (also used to decorate one condemned to death or the corpse of a celibate); he mounts the horse which is pulled round the village by young boys, while the rough parts of the leafstalks cut his body. If blood flows he is put to death (according to other opinions he may have only to leave the village); but if he spills only sperm and not blood, he is entitled to marry his beauty with the enthusiastic agreement of the city.

  • 27 Henri-Jean Schubnel, Beautés et trésors du monde, Paris, 1982, p. 119. We thank Mireille Lobligeoi (...)

81It would be easy to expatiate at length on a behaviour trait, attenuated traces of which have been observed in the tribal world, amongst the Badaga, and as far as Borneo where women in Irian Jaya who have been left by their husbands, “proclaim their despair by letting themselves slide down a coarse trunk to flay their thighs, thus showing all the inhabitants of the village their sorrow and misfortune”.27 We shall content ourselves with noting that the Kuṟaḷ, which is absolutely not interested in the gratuitous picturesque, has devoted to this episode, not at all widespread in the early literature, a place that might be judged immoderate if not properly understood as the ultimate expression of the excessiveness of love. Tiruvaḷḷuvar has retained and immortalised the extraordinary force of the symbol.

82The Book of Love again agrees with the general views of Tamil poetry around a theme and a region of the interior landscape which it has, however, literally transmuted. In the area of the cultivated plains, the bourgeois region, which sees the temptations of the towns increasing, the theme is one of amorous quarrels. The subject is treated at length and the technical vocabulary is adequate: Tiruvaḷḷuvar handles the classic gradation from simple sulking to violent discord, passing through irritation or argument. He also knew how to provide a touch of comedy, and the distiches of chapters XXI to XXV are exchanged like retorts. All the same, one protagonist whom the corresponding literature often brings onto the scene, seems almost to have vanished: this is the courtesan.

83In the two preceding books, Tiruvaḷḷuvar banned the prostitutes who, along with gambling and alcohol, are such obstacles to domestic happiness and public fortune. Yet to ban them from the literature of love is to go against the entire Indian erotic tradition of the drama and the anthologies, in both Sanskrit and Tamil. Their role in Caṅkam literature is essential and, we may say, very honourable. The husband’s long absences are due to his serving the king in war (XIX, 8) or in diplomacy, commerce, or in fortune seeking (XV, 10). In this case the wife sighs and resigns herself (XIX), even though the literature sometimes includes curious revolts, such as poem 20 of the Kuṟuntokai, where the heroine calling on her companion as witness, cries:

Forsaking love and care, leaving us,
And going to make their fortunes, they are said to be cunning.
Let them be, my dear,
And we, let us be stupid.

84But brief absences, episodes with courtesans, the furtive return at break of day, and the propitious hour for the settling of accounts, all nourish conjugal disputes in the inexhaustible imagination of the poets.

85There is nothing like this in the Book of Love. The possible memory of the courtesan appears two or three times. The term hailing the hero in XXIV, 1 is quite blunt: a word used in the literature to refer to the courtesan is transposed to the masculine, according to a rare and effective usage, the French coinage of which, “puteau”, we have borrowed from Colette. In XXIII, 5 the ambiguity is, however, cultivated. In the first place, the hero may ironically declare himself to be flattered when treated to sulks, for it is the treatment proper for a lover of his rank; this is the reading of Parimēlaḻakar, but other commentators suggest quite another interpretation: sulks are the courtesans’ weapon and may be used to their advantage, giving them the opportunity to stand as people of a certain quality: not a very flattering comparison and one subtly threatening to the heroine. Parimēlaḻakar’s predecessors were therefore under the influence of the earlier literature where sulking is closely linked to the triangular relationship when the element of conventional dramatic tension is introduced to the couple by the courtesan.

86It appears that Tiruvaḷḷuvar has carefully preserved the salt of love (XXIII, 2) and the spice of the relationship between the couple (XXV, 8), without recourse, even by metaphor, to the ménage à trois. Real anger is therefore excluded from perfect love, yet it is only the intricacies of irritation which allow it to ripen (XXIII, 6). Chapters XVII to XXI have quite convinced us of the fragility of feminine resistance (sometimes with an extraordinary ambiguity of expression). The last chapters should at least reveal to us the resources of its strategy. The fight is between the partners, and only between those two (XXV, 3), but the fight is also nothing but a game since the vanquished will be the victor (XXV, 7). The amorous disputes of the Caṅkam are mini dramas involving several characters whereas, in the Kuṟaḷ, the comedy is interiorised (once more, we should say) and the protagonists have no other enemy but themselves: pure light hearted gallantry of the sort that Giraudoux saw as a triumph of honesty and truth. There again it is economy, or rather rigour, that is the deciding factor, but never at the expense of the savour of the expression. The work is achieved by sublimating, once again by an alchemy of interiorisation, what is most original and subtle in the literature of the Caṅkam, the best of the playful themes of its amorous dialectic.

  • 28 For the Prakrit, versions in English in The Prakrit Gāthāsaptaśati, by Radhagovinda Basak, The Asi (...)
  • 29 Because of the English version An Anthology of Sanskrit Court Poetry, by Daniel H. H. Ingalis, Har (...)

87The pan-Indian resonance of the Book of Love is however undeniable, and the work has its place in Indian literature (or, we might be tempted to say, in the genetic development of Indian love poetry), between the two monuments of Indian literature which are the Prakrit lyrics and the brief poems of the Sanskrit court poetry. The French reader unfortunately has no access to the former, which are very beautiful, while he is repeatedly offered translations of Bhartṛhari, Amaru and Bilhaṇa.28 The subject matter of the Prakrit anthologies goes back to the very beginning of our era while, apart from a few prestigious poets (Kālidāsa, Pāṇini, Bhāṣā…), the Sanskrit anthologies mostly appear in the second millennium of the common era; one of the most quoted, that of Vidyākara29 compiled in the 11th c., out of 275 authors, includes only ten poets earlier than the 8th c. The Tamil lyric anthologies are thus of undeniable antiquity if not originality: something that is often forgotten. Tiruvaḷḷuvar and Bhartṛhari could perhaps have met, around the year 400 of our era, a date equally conjectural for both of them. The Prakrit anthologies, powerfully and verdantly speak of the games and laughter of an India of great profundity that fascinated D. D. Kosambi, and leave an impression of freshness in contrast to the more sophisticated Tamil and Sanskrit poems, even though the essential of their literary coding was already present in the art of love of the Prakrit. This is anyway well known; for example, the second poem of Hāla’s Saptaśati proclaims Prakrit poetry as ambrosia, “How can those who are incapable of reading and understanding it not be overcome with shame when they claim to speak of love?” To read these poems is to find, in fact, that Tiruvaḷḷuvar has not invented the matter of his poem, and the Kāmasūtra not much more.

  • 30 For example, the Kokkōkam, a Tamil version of the Ratirahasya. One Kāmanūl, treatise cited by the (...)
  • 31 Suzanne Lilar, La confession anonyme, Paris, Gallimard, 1983, p. 18.

88A complete and very technical treatise on the erotic arts could indeed be put together from what Tiruvaḷḷuvar has neglected in Sanskrit literature (or in later vernacular literatures including Tamil).30 There is no serial pedantry here, nor any exhausting sequences of physical types and postures or assorted bites and scratches, and no adornment, unguents or potions; and there is nothing either about the reversed posture which seems to have fascinated Indian erotic authors. It is necessary to remember these in order to appreciate the extraordinary economy of expression of the Book of Love: only a brief mention of saliva (V, 1) or the sweat of the brow (XXV, 8), in contrast to the games of chewing betel and of merry sexual frolics complacently described elsewhere. The naked body of the Tamil heroine is never to be seen, anymore than was that of Draupati. For Tiruvaḷḷuvar the image of one drunk on palm wine is but a comparison with that of one drunk on the love born of sight and thought (I, 10; XIII, 1; XXI, 1), as in La confession anonyme by Suzanne Lilar: “For the first time, I gave its true name to the drunkenness lovers communicate to one another through their eyes alone.”31

89It is quite natural that the sensibility of Tiruvaḷḷuvar should, on the other hand, be cast in the same mould as the Indian sensibility of the rasa. It was, doubtless, to make the universality of the text he was commenting on better appreciated that Parimēlaḻakar borrowed his vocabulary from the most widespread language of India, Sanskrit, and suggested that, in conformity with the Śṛṅgāraprakāśa of Bhoja, Tiruvaḷḷuvar is treating of the rasa of love, the one encompassing all the others. In fact, though the Book of Love was not conceived as an illustration of the theory of rasa, its ordinary rhetoric is nevertheless found in it. In I, 9, the definition of the natural charm (mādhurya) of the heroine overflows with all the ingredients of the classic example to which it is linked: she is a doe-eyed beauty who needs no finery in order to please. Even without systematic research into the eighteen attitudes or gestures of the rasa of love (Śṛṅgāraceṣṭa), who could deny the possibility of labelling any particular distich with any one of their names (feint indifference, confusion) or with the names of the ten to twelve stages of love (love at first sight and the development of the attachment) or of noticing the convergence on the privileged part played by slenderness (kārśya), or shedding shyness (lajjātyāga)?

  • 32 Translation Charles Malamoud, (cf. n. 35 below).

90All Indian literatures are, from a certain point of view, formulaic variations on common scenes, the thesaurus of which is not inexhaustible, and the Book of Love does not disagree with the Sanskrit defintion of kāma given by the courtesan in the Dasakumāracarita, “A sort of contact between a man and a woman in which the mind is completely absorbed in the object of the senses (cf. III, 1). This contact gives incomparable happiness… As for its fruit, it is the supreme voluptuous pleasure which is born of mutual caresses (cf. XXV, 10).”32

91In this perspective, the pleasure of the senses can be apprehended only for itself; and the erotic lyric finds its end in itself. We are much closer to the paganism of Properce:

  • 33 “In one night anyone can become a god.” Elegies II, 15, 40; see Paul Veyne, L’élégie érotique roma (...)

Nocte una quivis vel deus esse potest33

  • 34 Yves Bonnefoy, op. cit., p. 76. Translation by Galway Kinnell, op. cit. p. 125.

92than to the mutation of the deep eroticism of the Kuṟaḷ into religious devotion, led by a slightly puritan mystique which is very misleading here. Yet the verses which speak quite naturally of the pleasures of the senses, “having lived that instant when the closest flesh turns knowledge”34 (cf. III, 10), share with the whole Indian tradition a trait essential to it: that of its being a rhetoric of memory and evocation.

  • 35 In Cuire le monde, Rite et pensée dans I’Inde ancienne, Paris, 1989, chap. XV, “By heart, Note on (...)

93Charles Malamoud has very elegantly shown35 that, in the poetry of ancient India, love is memory. Almost the whole of the Book of Love lies between the memory of a past ecstasy and the hope of a fresh ecstasy. Its central chapter (XIII) is devoted entirely to The complaint of memory; this can hardly be a simple coincidence. The exaltation of love and the embraces that fill chapters III, IV and V follow on from the experience of the first meeting, which seems, all the same, never to have had any other end in view than its own poetic celebration; and the quarrels which are the subject of the last chapters are aimed at the stimulation of desire under a coercion which constructs the future on the memory of past embraces. Must love then have its reality but in memory or dream, and desire have no other object than that which is satisfied by past, or hoped for, pleasures?

94To reread the Sanskrit text cited in the note, is to wonder if memory might not be the unrequited desire. This would be quite probable if, into this ethic of physical love which favours desire over orgasm, were to be introduced the accent of André Gide who, through the mouth of David in Bethsabée, celebrates the voluptuousness of desire over the disappointment of the reality. Here, though, desire is aroused in order to be satisfied: absence and the art of differing are nothing but adjuncts and stimulants. Furthermore, absence is never, in Tamil love poetry, the subject of morbid romanticism: it cannot be definitive, and death is never a cause of separation in this poetry, nor an elegiac theme. In the exterior, social lyricism, death has its place in general domestic life, but not in the Book of Love: the pleasures of the Gandharva know neither old age nor death, and the classic myth of Philemon and Baucis, who in their old age were turned into trees and became the symbol of conjugal love, would have to take on new dimensions in India. It is memory again which comes back, for here the sole role possible for death is that of forgetfulness, over which triumph waiting and memory. Ammūvaṉār, a poet of another Tamil anthology, Naṟṟiṇai, has the heroine say, on the theme of the desert where absence is unbearable:

My shoulders sink under the days that have fled;
From gazing into the distance along the dreary way
My eyes have lost their sight; separated from me
My confused mind is alienated;
My sorrow swells and evening has fallen.
What will become of me? Where I am,
I am not afraid of death; I am afraid that in death,
If we are reborn different,
I shall forget my lover (Naṟṟiṇai, 397).

95This is the way the Kuṟaḷ sees it (XXIV, 5): couples who are truly united never doubt that they will remain so in another life. This is a fine conviction at the end of a text which also teaches that there is no lasting love that is not seasoned by the bitterness of justified jealousies and by feigned doubts and withdrawal.

This essay originally appeared in French as an introduction to the French translation of Kāmattuppāl by Tiruvaḷḷuvar, Le Livre de l’Amour, traduit du tamoul, présenté et annoté par François Gros, Connaissance de l’Orient, UNESCO-Gallimard, Paris, 1992, chapter and verse references are to the French edition.


1 Les Demoiselles de Mortagne, Paris, Le Divan, 1923, p. 7.

2 Variétés Orientales, Paris, 1868, p. 207.

3 pp. 317-321.

4 L’Inde Philosophique entre Bossuet et Voltaire, published by l’École française d’Extrême-Orient, Paris, 1987, 2 vol. See tome I, p. 174.

5 Observations d’un Voyageur de M… [Foucher d’Obsonville], Paris, 1783, pp. 251-253.

6 Page 35 in the edition by Robert Sabatier, Paris, Garnier, 1980. This is a reprint of the second version of 1890; the original edition was issued in 1887.

7 Alongside his other modern “Parnassian” authors, in a translation by Barrigue de Fontainieu which added very little to the pioneering work of Ariel, but with a foreword by Julien Vinson.

8 Our enumeration by chapter from I to XXV corresponds to traditional enumeration 109-133.

9 Henri Martineau, Cent soixante-quatorze lettres à Stendhal (1810-1842), Paris, Le Divan, 1947, 2 vol. Especially tome I, pp. 64-164 & 260. The entire correspondence between Stendhal and Jacquemont is found in tome II of Correspondance de Stendhal, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Gallimard ed.

10 Information Jean Deloche, EFEO, Pondicherry.

11 But already known to the 18th c. missionaries.

12 The book includes a “translation” (sic) of “The Book of duties” Jacolliot attributes to Tiruvaḷḷuvar. This is a literary forgery denounced by Julien Vinson, the first professor of Tamil at the Ecole nationale des Langues orientales vivantes, in Paris, justifiably irritated by the many “fantasies” of that populariser. Most unfortunately, it is still included as a reference in the very learned Companion Studies to the History of Tamil Literature which Kamil K. Zvelebil has published in the series of Handbuch der Orientalistik, E. J. Brill, Leiden, 1992.

13 M. Raghava Iyengar gives a very high status to the Pāṇar and vaḷḷuvar during the Caṅkam age. The first were the ancient bards skilled in music, poetry and dancing and as such honoured by kings and Brahmins. The second played their drums only on very special occasions: the king’s birthday, his marriage and the declaration of war. Otherwise, they were “privileged to fill the highest offices of the state.” He proposes a glorious etymology: Vaḷḷuvaṉ is the Sanskrit title Vallabha, as evidenced by inscriptions in which some Pāṇṭiya kings are titled “Sri Vaḷḷuvaṉ/r” (Ep. Rep. 368 of 1894, Ep. Rep. 46 of 1907); a chieftain of the Cēra army, Nancil-porunan, sung in Puṟam 137 to 140 and 380 is also called as “Vaḷḷuvaṉ” by the colophons. The change of –bh- into -v- and of –a- into -u- in intervocalic inner position are common, and a fluctuation exists between Skt. and Tam. for the two varieties of l in Tam.; cf. valli “creeper” and Vaḷḷi, spouse of god Murukaṉ or Skt. vallura (“flesh”) and Tam. “vaḷḷuvam”. “Some new light on the author of the kuṟaḷ”, in K. V. Rangaswami Aiyengar Commemortion Volume, [Madras], 1940, pp. 403-407.

14 Ariel had presented the essential in an article in the Journal Asiatique, “Tiruvaḷḷuvar charitra”, January 1847 (pp. 5-49); Julien Vinson offered a complete translation in 1864 in volume 9 of the Revue orientale et américaine (no. 49, pp. 93-136). Read too his foreword to the translation of the Book of Love by G. Barrigue de Fontainieu, Paris, 1889, pp. I-XIX.

15 The French translation was available as early as 1869, published by Julien Vinson in La revue ethnographique, vol. XI Paris.

16 Vinson, as well as Ariel, overlooked the fact that this legend has a very popular parallel in Kerala in the story of the sage Vararuci whom fate has condemned to marry a pariah woman whom he does marry, genuinely believing that he is allying himself with the daughter of a Brahmin, and whom he also recognises by a scar. She too abandons, not seven but eleven, children, amongst whom are Tiruvaḷḷuvar and Kāraikkālammaiyār, two eminent Tamil literary figures, as well as various characters very popular in Kerala folklore. A French version is to be found in Légendes de l’Inde du Sud, collected in Kerala by Reade Wood, Gallimard, 1985, pp. 21-53.

17 A sample version of the many dazzling stories of Tiruvaḷḷuvar as a siddha, reportedly told by Konkana Maharshi, is found in Nrusimha Srinivas Marepalli, Sadguru Poornananda, A Biography, Srisailam Dam East, 2007, pp. 147-151. For a historico-anthropological perspective on the legend of Tiruvaḷḷuvar see Stuart Blackburn, “Corruption and Redemption: The Legend of vaḷḷuvar and Tamil Literary History”, in Modern Asian Studies 34, 2 (2000) Cambridge Univ. Press, pp. 449-482. This well documented essay shows how literary history may be different from, and something more than, history of literature, even if ultimately the literary work itself is lost sight of in the “field” of literary historiography. In fact, such fundamental works, which are both literary and popular, should not be separated from their widespread legends and we are periodically reminded of their links, from the 19th c. seminal works of Charles E. Gover and E. J. Robinson, to S. Blackburn and to Uma Chakravarti who hints at a “mythicization of the process by which brahmana penetration into the Tamil region and its interaction with a pre-brahmanic culture are recorded”, by putting together the account of Avvaiyār and Tiruvaḷḷuvar’s lives from Robinson’s Tamil wisdom and the information compiled by J. M. Somasundaram Pillai, in his two books, A History of Tamil Literature (1967) and Two thousand years of Tamil Literature (1969). See Uma Chakravarti, Every Lives, Every Histories: Beyond the Kings and Brahmanas of ‘Ancient’ India, Tulika Books, 2006, pp. 275-291.

18 Francois Valentijn in his Description of Ceylan, published between 1724-26, gives a list of some ancient Tamil literary works where the kuṟaḷ is described as “one of their best prayer books, composed in clear and concise verses by Tiruwalluwer. Those who can read and understand him can understand the most difficult poets. This writer according to the writings of Seneca, lived over 1500 years ago at Mailapore or San Thome” (Description of Ceylan, translated and edited by Sinnapah Arasaratnam, The Haklyut Society, London, 1978, Intr. p. 51). Apparently, the meeting with Saint Thomas was far from being established at that time, and we note the doubtful, still unverifiable, Latin reference to Seneca.

19 The same anecdotes with variants are found in the collection Légendes de l’Inde du Sud, cited above, where they illustrate the purity of the wife of Pakanar, the pariah basket weaver, in the eyes of his brother, the Brahmin Agnihotri, two of the eleven sons abandoned by Vararuci and his pariah wife (op. cit., pp. 49-53).

20 In chapter VIII, distiches 2-10 are remarks of the mistress to her attendant, but who is it in VIII, I? Is the heroine here boldly addressing her lord? Parimēlaḻakar doubts that and puts the verses rather in the mouth of the companion, speaking to the master in place of (and on behalf of) the heroine. Kāḷiṅkar chooses a variant reading, “his return” instead of “your (sing.) return”, which allows that stanza, in common with the chapter’s nine others, to be addressed by the mistress to her attendant; this was the point of view too of the first commentator on the Tolkāppiyam, Iḷampūraṇar.

21 Iṟaiyaṉārakapporuḷ, kaḻaka veḷiyīṭu, Madras, 1953, sūtra 2, pp. 28-47. See also sūtra 32 and 60. The translation of sūtra 2 by David C. Buck and K. Paramasivan, The Study of Stolen Love, Scholar Press, Atlanta, Georgia 1997, p. 27 runs: “That, when he and she see alone, is the accord on both sides of the union of love.”

22 When the nephew of Ananda Ranga Pillai, the dubash of Dupleix, and leader of the Indian population in Pondicherry, married his son, the boy was fourteen years old and the girl ten; this happened on 8th July 1791 in French India and the festivities went on for a week, eclipsing the revolutionary commemoration of 14th July.

23 Philosophy of Tiruvaḷḷuvar, Madurai, 1969, p. 102.

24 Sens magique, Paris, Lachenal and Ritter, 1983, p. 86.

25 Poèmes, Paris, Mercure de France, 1978, p. 28. Translation by Galway Kinnell, in Yves Bonnefoy, On the Motion and immobility of Douve, Bloodaxe Books, 1992, p. 51.

26 Commentary of Cokkaṉ of Kuṉṟattūr to strophe 101 of the Tañcaivāṇaṉkōvai.

27 Henri-Jean Schubnel, Beautés et trésors du monde, Paris, 1982, p. 119. We thank Mireille Lobligeois for this ethnographic reference.

28 For the Prakrit, versions in English in The Prakrit Gāthāsaptaśati, by Radhagovinda Basak, The Asiatic society, Calcutta, 1971; the Gāthākośa of Hāla, trans. M. V. Patwardhan, Delhi, 1988; Jayavallabha’s Vajjalaggaṃ, trad. M. V. Patwardhan, Ahmedabad, 1969; The Absent Traveller, Prakrit Love Poetry from the Gāthāsaptaśati of Sātavāhana Hāla, selected and translated by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, New Delhi, 1991. And for French translations from Sanskrit, the Poèmes d’un voleur d’amour attributed to Bilhaṇa were translated in the 19th c. by H. Fauche, republished in the Coffret du Bibliophile by the brothers Briffaut (with the Anthologie érotique d’Amarou, translated by Chézy under the pen name A.-L. Apudy, and with the stanzas of Bhartṛhari), translated again by Ariel in their Southern recension in the Journal asiatique of June 1848, by Jean Grenier under the pen name of Joseph Grimaldi in the Cahiers du Sud, in 1945 (reissued in Editions Calligrammes at Quimper in 1983) and finally in the UNESCO-Gallimard collection in 1988 in the version of Amina Okada.

29 Because of the English version An Anthology of Sanskrit Court Poetry, by Daniel H. H. Ingalis, Harvard Oriental Series 44, 1965.

30 For example, the Kokkōkam, a Tamil version of the Ratirahasya. One Kāmanūl, treatise cited by the commentator of Cintāmaṇi (st. 2700), is lost. We could also cite, in Hindi, the Rasikapriyā, by Keśavadāsa, probably written at Orrcha during the reign of Akbar or Jahangir (UNESCO collection of Representative Works, Indian Series, New Delhi, 1972).

31 Suzanne Lilar, La confession anonyme, Paris, Gallimard, 1983, p. 18.

32 Translation Charles Malamoud, (cf. n. 35 below).

33 “In one night anyone can become a god.” Elegies II, 15, 40; see Paul Veyne, L’élégie érotique romaine, Paris, Ed. du Seuil, 1983, p. 173.

34 Yves Bonnefoy, op. cit., p. 76. Translation by Galway Kinnell, op. cit. p. 125.

35 In Cuire le monde, Rite et pensée dans I’Inde ancienne, Paris, 1989, chap. XV, “By heart, Note on the game of love and of memory in the poetry of ancient India”. The stanzas of Bilhaṇa are a good example but the best is stanza XX, 84 of Naiṣadhacarita, which he translates “I began with the mouth and, kiss by kiss, I came to the navel. But that part of you where you did not let me put my lips, let memory kiss it, more fortunate than I!”

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