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Deep rivers

Kannan M.
Jennifer Clare

Contemporary Tamil

Wandering in the Tamil Archipelago

Texte intégral

  • 1 "Resistant Reason, you will not prevent me from casting, absurdly, upon the waters drifting on the (...)

Raison rétive tu ne m'empêcheras pas de lancer absurde sur les eaux au gré des courants de ma soif
votre forme, îles difformes,
votre fin, mon défi.
Aimé Césaire, Cahier d'un retour au pays natal.1

  • 2 The most obvious, and trivial, example was offered in Pondicherry in January 1997: while a first v (...)

1To wander is to accept a certain amount of loneliness and an erratic trajectory, but it suggests too a quest for signs and vestiges which link the various elements of a landscape, on which we map them, grasping enough significance to glean a hint about survival, without forgetting that supposedly objective maps are only metaphors, often dyed in arbitrary colours by scientists. This Tamil archipelago is a sea interspersed with islands, or islets, tiny points ignorant of each other, which seem even to have forgotten where the mainland, if there is one, lies; it is a cluttered space surrounded on every side by an expanse of foreignness, its original geography altered by the erosion of time. Such is the vision today of a Tamil world where communication has become a problem2 because the utter estrangement that has always dwelt between the most traditional tenets and the most modern is laid bare, with both of them remaining isolated and anchored to deliberate behaviour rather than to confirmed certitude.

2Texts, on the other hand, belong to world and time; they can only be understood within such a continuum and can be approached only through the way the world identifies them over time. But from texts and through texts, sometimes even from faint memories of a dwindling number of texts or through travesties of texts, the "islands" are nonetheless holding on to at least some parts of the codes that still allow them to communicate, even while hardly remaining interconnected. Thanks to texts and traces of texts, we are still able to identify sites, to re-centre and de-marginalize them, to locate the mainland and detect undercurrents so we don't have to sail too blindly. Thus we struggle to retrieve texts and, ideally, all the surviving evidence around them, including the evidence that even the most authoritative alter.

  • 3 This repeated homage to Louis Robert points to a classical tradition in philology. In history, a r (...)
  • 4 For example, in the English translation of Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, Routledge and Kegan P (...)

3The metaphorical journey of the philologist is through time and rarely ventures into space. Tamils, on the other hand, read in shuttered libraries and travel by night. Nevertheless, from the definition of the four boundaries of the Tamil country as early as Tolkāppiyam, from the much quoted "interior landscape" in the Tamil Caṅkam Anthologies, from the pioneering work of Subbarayalu on The Political Geography of the Chola Country (through medieval inscriptions), from the lists of religious sites sung through Bhakti literature and sthalapurāṇas and the popular geography of many pilgrimages or folk ballads, as well as from any isogloss in a dialect study, Tamil and, more generally all regional languages, are set in space and exactly fit into a geographical frame which constitutes their cultural landscape. The implications are easily overlooked, even though a few "textualists" consider "le sens du paysage" an essential requirement of philology, as repeatedly claimed, for example, with regard to Greek epigraphy, by that master of Hellenic archaeological studies, Louis Robert.3 Landscapes, in fact, encode and transmit information and correspond to the whole domain of what the Germans call Kulturlandschaft, translated by the neologism culturescape,4 and therefore they must be treated as texts in different media. Texts and landscapes are one in the system of signification and communication which structures political practices and individual intentions. Further, Indian society is in all respects highly textualized, even ritualized, thus making every form of intertextuality all the more necessary in delineating any interpretative pattern, and in emphasizing the very specific relation of the culturescapes to history and of text to context.

4It is obvious that in the course of time the environment undergoes changes that affect its original relation to the texts which once clarified it; these texts are, however, rewritten or reinterpreted from time to time so that historians must struggle to decipher the intricate interactions between any landscape or any textual corpus and its dated readings, from the distant past to contemporary times. Reading the landscape, or reading literature, always involves measuring how, through the trials and tribulations of time, sites, monuments or textual sources are used, quoted, altered or ignored, how, in other words, everyone, with his own quirks and prejudices, and with, or more often without, a seasoning of humour, presents his version of the Great Narrative. Ours aims only at casting a swift glance round the Tamil archipelago, taking a few of its culturescapes and of its literary configurations as samples of what is at stake today for Tamil islanders.

I - Reading the Tamil culturescape

5The Tamil cultural landscape is suffused with the hidden presence of the written word and there is probably no other way to read it save through texts. The body of evidence is present from the most gorgeous temple towers to the smallest pieces of jewellery or sweets.

  • 5 See Dumarçay Temples Pallava construits. Etude iconographique par F. L'hernault, Ecole française d (...)

6To go ashore in Mahabalipuram is to land in the midst of a raging philological controversy between epigraphists. While archaeologists and art historians still clash in their impressionistic views of the chronology of the monuments, beautifully carved Pallava inscriptions allow for another clash of conflicting evidence, either palaeographical or based on minute comparisons between the various birudas of Rajasimha and other kings of the Pallava dynasty.5 The academic dispute is between the usual hotchpotch of the early stages of an architecture and the magic līlā of an artist-king. Possibly only a thorough study of Kanchipuram could set the matter right. So let us forego the Pallava as the available literature is too polemical.

  • 6 Pierre Pichard [et al.] Vingt ans après Tanjavur, Gangaikondacholapuram, Publications de l'Ecole F (...)
  • 7 Pierre Pichard, Tanjavur Brhadisvara- The Monument and the Living Presence, EFEO and IGNCA, 1996. (...)

7The great Brhadisvara temple in Tancavur is a striking example of erratic interpretations spread over ever wider and more confused areas. The architecture of the monument, the outstanding glory of Tamil Nadu, is referred to in detail6 in a series so far devoted more to monographs of isolated monuments than to sites which remain alive. Its English version,7 however, acclaims the temple as "the living presence", thereby suggesting that it embodies an ideal coalescence of all the major elements of medieval Tamil religious culture. Unfortunately, no historian is supposed to celebrate a living tradition where it has ceased to exist. He can only point out how and why it is revived or, as in this case, account for the very similar and connected historical destiny of two temples and of two ephemeral Cōḻa capital cities: Tancavur and Gangaikondacholapuram.

8The picture of Gangaikondacholapuram was sketched out, in the last issue of 1996 of the Tamil version of India Today: a small village inhabited by approximately a thousand people, eleven of them, including the Gurukkal, being employed by the temple almost without remuneration, their subsistence derived from about two kāṇi of dry land. The same vision is suggested by P. Pichard in his monograph: "destin d'une capitale: d'un désert humain au désert urbain". This desert like picture is strikingly the same as the one I saw on my first visit to the Tancavur Brhadisvara in 1963, except for the presence of the Archaeological Survey of India, today far more active in Gangaikondacholapuram. In the 1993 IGNCA Seminar on the Brhadisvara, Dr. R. Nagaswamy, while enumerating the munificence of Rajaraja's endowments to this royal temple in Tancavur, spoke about its future with dejection, under such headings as Royal neglect, Chola failure or Nayak disregard, to conclude: "Such scant respect is inexplicable."

  • 8 N. Sethuraman, "Dates of the inscriptions of the Thanjavur Brhadisvara Temple", in the 1993 IGNCA (...)

9Art historians may find it difficult to explain why the "monumentality" of a grand edifice cannot stand as a permanent guarantee of survival. But epigraphists have enough documents to demonstrate how the king, on the basis of an arbitrary decision, can summon up all his wealth and his people to erect a memorial to his own achievements and glory, and how, in doing so, he takes the risk of this ephemeral construct collapsing with him or surviving only as his cenotaph. Tancavur epigraphs bear witness to the enormous amount of wealth, talent and energy mobilized for a prestigious royal foundation, supervised, greatly to their own benefit, by the military and other dignitaries who built up Rajaraja's empire, and remaining a homage to this apex of Cōḻa culture. We should, however, clear up the confusion between this unique symbol and the historical "longue durée", as well as that between a paradigm of architecture and kingly power and the more permanently charismatic dimensions of history which, surprisingly, are lacking from that ideal vision. Two generations after the reign of Rajaraja the only inscription left on the temple walls by his grandson, Rajendra Deva, shows that it took two years for his royal order, (assigning a daily allowance of paddy to a troop of actors who were to perform a Rājarājēśvara nāṭakam during an annual festival), to reach the temple authorities.8 This, puts rather a damper on the splendour of the previous festivities.

  • 9 Ibid. "The Rajarajesvaram in Tanjavur: its Form and Meaning", p. 3. The author is considered a pro (...)
  • 10 P. Pichard shows no such intrepid triumphalism when he expresses serious doubts about the speculat (...)
  • 11 R. Nagaswamy, Keynote address to the 1993 IGNCA Seminar quoted above, p. 23.

10More generally, R. Champakalakshmi confesses: "Capitals are elusive in medieval South India...".9 This did not preclude her from writing a lengthy, rhetorical description of the pattern of the city and its planning, seen, of course, as an extension of the cosmic symbolism of the temple.10 Such imaginative descriptions depend little on historical geography but are inspired rather by preconceived readings of inscriptional material which is then interpreted for the benefit of social scientists unable to afford a critical approach, not by specialists of town planning, urban geography or history but by men of letters, with the background of a certain vision of the architectural teaching of the so-called āgama or vāstu śāstra backed up by the assumption that such normative texts function as practical reference and are reflected in the vocabulary of inscriptions. This view is largely accurate, but needs to be supported by solid philological grounds and not simply by the paralogisms of a few parallel listings of selected texts and epigraphs. The prestige of the sacred texts is the primary operator however, and it can even carry us one step further: to support the myth of the Cōḻa ideology as reconstructed, which equates temple, cosmos and territory, a local version of some Makutāgama may be going to be patched together as " the Makutāgama has been said to be the text followed in the Tancavur temple, in modern times (sic)".11

  • 12 It is this secular aspect of royal oppression that the Tamil poet Inqilab denounced in 1985, when (...)

11The moot point is that, apart from about twenty manuscripts from the South already identified, a few more, which may be similar or quite different, were spotted in the North and are supposed to account for nothing less than the Vishvanath temple in Varanasi. Nobody has so far verified what it is that these two great Saiva shrines share, nor has anyone critically examined the manuscripts. Another moot point is that there is a long, well documented and far more exciting history of the Tancavur city and territory under the Nayakas and the Marathas, (mostly in the modi manuscripts stored in the Saraswathi Mahal Library, and now under study), who are sometimes involved with the Brhadisvara. It seems that the monument later acted as a symbol, rather political than religious, as was Gangai for the Nayak, and "secularly" linked with the concept of royal power.12 While no citizen of Tancavur has ever taken the god in this temple as a family or personal deity and no one other than for the sake of tourism, inscribes it in an individual emotional religious geography, the hypothesis has been put forward, though not satisfactorily proved, by Anup Dave, that the later palace and the city within its inner ramparts might have taken their units from the temple, though keeping the temple itself separated from the city.

  • 13 Right emphasis on this twofold division was put in a Ph. D. thesis on The Royal Temple of Rajaraja (...)

12Historians should be aware that if, on the one hand, some impressive, though later deserted, edifices are primarily royal foundations, instrumental to the imperial Cōḻa power but prone to collapse along with it: Tancavur, Gangai, Daracuram, Palaiyarai...(to which might be added minor sites known as paḷḷippaṭai, dedicated as memorials or funeral monuments to the memory of dead monarchs, such as Arinjaya-isvara built by Rajaraja I in memory of Arinjaya or Adityesvara at Tondamand, erected by Parantaka I to his father’s memory) there are, on the other hand, innumerable, not necessarily less impressive, shrines, emanating, so to speak, from the sons of the soil, which remain under the direct administration of local bodies and depend upon their generosity; they were more independent of the royal power, though by no means free from its remote supervision, and were often patronised in later times by maṭam, or religious institutions.13 These are the places sung by the hymnists and crowded with pilgrims; they have been wrongly named Bhakti temples, a designation which summarily equates Bhakti and populism, as if the builder-kings had been strangers to the Bhakti movement, while there is evidence that any wise ruler has always been interested in patronising such temples which, predating him, could safely be expected to survive his rule and therefore to carry on his memory. This is confirmed by a corpus of inscriptions larger than the one devoted to the royal foundations; their study is more confusing, while the architectural and urbanistic surveys of the sites and monuments are, to say the least, inextricable. We think of Madurai, Tirupati, Cidambaram, Srirankam, Srivillipputtur, or the Tyagarajasvami at Tiruvarur, rebuilt by Cempiyaṉ Mahadevi, originating, along with the first Nāyaṉmār or even earlier, in some kind of a matricial anthill.

  • 14 Work quoted above, The city as text..., pp. 88-89.

13The task is stupendous, but it cannot be concealed that a more positive work culture in the field of South Indian medieval history must be inculcated, as against remaining content with simple views drawn from the corpus of Tancavur inscriptions plus a few excerpts from the agamic compilations. This, later, lax attitude illustrates how archaeologists neglect the relevance of the sites around monuments and how historians and social scientists misuse the texts, treating construed models as factual evidence, panegyrists as statisticians and nostalgia as history. Though the singers of the great narrative of Tancavur are in tune and benefit from official orchestration, they must realize that there are wrong notes in their music. The fundamental illusion consists of a confusion between the landscape and its rhetoric, which latter is a reflection and a simplified version of the rhetoric of texts confined to the most elementary tropes: allegory, synecdoche or metonymy, and endless anaphorical patterns for which James S. Duncan has very conveniently laid down the recipe.14 The first narrative is the world of the gods, with its three sub-narratives, the city of the gods, the Ocean of Milk, heavenly Ganges, or anyway fertile waters, with perhaps an island, and the axis mundi, Mount Meru, or cosmic tree. The second narrative is the world of the cakravarti, also with three subnarratives, centred on control of the whole world, on control of the kingdom and on control of minor chiefdoms or cities in the vicinity; this is, in fact, the only one which really matters. All these narratives are expressed in three media or modes of representation, visual (landscape), linguistic (texts) and behavioural (ritual). The recipe is universal and invariably applies, with an amazing range of variations, all over South and South-East Asia; the particular treatment of each site depends upon the perceptiveness of the archaeologist, the thoroughness of the philologist and the mutual acumen of the perfunctory ritualist and his interviewer.

  • 15 Tancai nakariya caktik koyilkal, by K. Kulattūrān, Tamil Palkalaikkalakam, Tancavur, 1994.

14It must be added, much as it may dismay textualists and historians, that, apart from the subject matter of the traditional sthalapurāṇa literature, the Tamil land is covered with popular sites, Hindu, Christian and Muslim, marking the entire landscape with a vast number of shrines, mosques, temples and churches, along with their ongoing legends and power. Tirunallar, Nakappattinam, Velankanni, Nagur: everybody knows these; they are integrated into popular tours of the local religious geography; they may be close to being folk shrines, yet they are quite contemporary and full of positive valence and, if old, their value does not depend upon archaeological dating. Other examples are the Amman temples around Madras: Mankatu, Tiruverkatu, Melmaruvattur; Vatapalani for Murukan; and the temples of the goddess in Tancavur, with which an exclusive monograph from the Tamil University15 is crammed.

  • 16 Interestingly, the monograph on Tiruvannamalai published by the École Française d'Extrême-Orient i (...)
  • 17 "Publishing: A Survival Strategy for Academic Authors", in The Kiss of Lamourette. Reflections on (...)

15As the complexity of the historical landscape challenges the limited reach of existing monographs and attempts at synthesis, a project encompassing the archaeological and historical study, as well as the urbanistic and architectural analysis, of Kumbakonam, would appear to be a major contribution.16 But, notwithstanding the caveat of George Michell against any reshaping of the city according to the archaistic bias he branded as "neo-Chola", and despite the invitation of S. Subrahmanyam to investigate more "secular" and modern sources, the first assessments, by several different participants, indicated a leaning towards a multi-temple city, more bewitching as a model than a temple-city but no more than a fascinating metaphysical complex, rather than the intricate urban puzzle it is. Forgetting that there is no such spontaneous expression as temple-city in the local language, social scientists and architects seem to be calling for fundamental texts magically to reveal the key-concepts for a synthesis, which could be 1- technical, based on some preferably locally flavoured versions of vāstu śāstras, 2- puranic or mythological, based on various myths of origin of the kṣetra, probably connected with a North Indian counterpart, 3- sectarian or multi-sectarian, coping with a casteist or otherwise religious distribution of space. This is in tune with the recipe of R. Darnton: "History. Say it's anthropology. Anthropology. Say it's history. History and Anthropology. Use the microcosm-macrocosm device."17 But it also demonstrates the persistent, deviant influence of some sort of sacralisation of South Indian studies, which has been exorcized neither by the Marxist historians, nor by Burton Stein and his friends.

  • 18 De la maison à la ville en pays tamoul ou La diagonale interdite. Formes urbaines, pratiques et si (...)

16This is evident again in another attempt to conceptualise the architectural landscape of the Kaviri Basin. In 1993, Jacques Gaucher submitted a thesis, De la maison à la ville en pays tamoul. Formes urbaines, pratiques et significations en Inde du Sud,18 which explored through three case studies, in Bhavani, Mayiladuturai and Srirangam, both the domestic space and the dynamics of urban forms, from the traditional agrahāram houses with a muṟṟam, or inner courtyard, to the new urban typologies of the gentrified or shabby suburbia that has been emerging since 1960. His remarkably documented inventory imposes on us an urban physical organisation which, from monuments, that is, temples, to cities or houses, exhibits certainly simple, limited and recurring spatio-visual configurations: lines are straight, junctions are orthogonal, loops close up, and the diagonal is prohibited. That image, stark as it is, is pregnant with information and to decipher it implies, the author contends, much more than the cultural socialization of Tamil urban planning, and requires a ritual dimension of space which brings architecture back into the very heart of Hinduism and its literature. While fighting successfully to gain for architecture a prominent place among social sciences, Gaucher has also reintroduced philology itself into his own field, not only by paying a great deal of attention to the inhabitants and thus, as far as he was able, to their vocabulary and conceptualisations, but also by referring to all the textual sources of Hindu perception. This attitude is positive as long as it pays enough attention to the chronology of sources and to the way they have been treated later: there is an archaeology of texts as well, with many layers of interpretation and usage. When, even beyond the unyielding mechanisms and economic constraints of the constructed space, there is no heterotopia left but the vaidika forest of the ascetics, then the Hindu model artificially pervades the landscape, blurring it indiscriminately with quotes and reminiscence.

  • 19 La maison horizon, thèse de l'université de Paris Sorbonne Paris IV, submitted on 4th December 199 (...)
  • 20 Submitted as a thesis on cultural geography, under the guidance of J. R. Pitte, this study is an i (...)
  • 21 Augustin Berque noted, regarding another Asian world, "If societies adjust their environment accor (...)

17The same conclusion is arrived at after reading another, recent, thesis, by Robert Dulau19 on a particular type of traditional house in Pondicherry, less ambitious in terms of architectural data but clearly a cut above Gaucher's thesis in the prominence it gives to language and literature as the most essential keys to an understanding of a building and its inhabitants.20 As in all works quoted so far, there is a certain amount of nostalgia accompanying the lucid description of unavoidable mutations taking place every day. Once again, automatically, the pattern of transition and change upgrades these factual, contemporary descriptions into archaeological corpora. So, the key here is the language, the ordinary spoken Tamil of informants, as well as poems and extracts from short stories, slashed from the quivering flesh of the contemporary world. The work tracks the spaces of the Tamil traditional house through the different levels of tradition, from the routine Bhakti of the common man to that of the more orthodox, using the language to maintain its focus. Each step is articulated by the language and by the living presence of the deity in the house. Five glossaries, intertwined with technical descriptions and images, mark out the study: the first, habiter, carries on the typology; the second, occuper, deals with the various components of the house; the third, traverser, explores boundaries, spaces and trespass; the fourth, célébrer, emphasizes rites, intentions and ideas; the last is a brief outline of a glossary of landscape. Here again, the domestic space and the landscape are structured by a complex pattern of rites, usages and routines, paḻakkam, vaḻakkam and caṭaṅku, and, even though economic pressure and the fascination for modernity are speedily transforming housing configurations, setting adrift large chunks of the mainland and making survival a matter of hasty political decision, codes do not fully vanish from memory and new words are coined for new usages, while people reprocess old cultural features, remodel rites and reinvent traditional gestures to customize the landscape anew.21 But a certain amount of otherworldliness is at work when, without any conservative bias on the part of the architect or of the urbanist involved, texts and symbols are still recalled, to revive endangered traditions and to bring back to the Hindu mainland islands lost in the swirl of modernity.

  • 22 See Mattison Mines, Public Faces, Private Voices, Community and Individuality in South India, Univ (...)

18Inside the group, (devotees, citizens, household), social links are so densely intermingled and so roped to religious beliefs or, rather, to a half-sentimental propensity for something still vaguely sacred and not yet strictly secular, that such a fabric cannot easily dissolve. One might draw a very similar conclusion from a recent study of the Beeri Chetti, the traditional settlers of the old area of George Town in Madras.22 When all these foreign scholars deal with the Tamil archipelago, they give the impression of believing that the reality of exile slowly but inexorably takes the form of an impossible escape from, and a necessary return to, the native land. More than one islander will agree with them. This is an open question for another academic debate. Or perhaps Tamil islands are still immersed in the depths of their own amniotic waters?

  • 23 This is the subtitle of The Social Life of Things, Arjun Appadurai ed., Cambridge University Press (...)
  • 24 See Carol A. Breckenbridge, Consuming Modernity, Public Culture in Contemporary India, O.U.P., 199 (...)

19From house to household arts, the distance was bridged by the British trend which developed towards the end of the 19th century, thanks to William Morris and Ruskin, the former of whom in 1888 launched the Arts and Crafts Movement, a key notion in any concrete approach to Indian life. A century later, American "indological" anthropologists were involved with "commodities in cultural perspective"23 and they recently opened a debate on the specificity of Indian modernity in terms of comparative study, modernity being assumed to be a global experience.24 Items selected to illustrate India's public culture were listed as follows:

20Decolonization of Indian Cricket

21Administering Music on All-India Radio

22Palace Hotels, Palace Museums, and Palace on Wheels

23Dining out in Bombay

24Film Watching in Tamil Nadu

25Melodrama and the Negotiation of Morality in Mainstream Hindi Film

26Practice, Power, and Self in Indian Martial Art

27The Indian Craft Museum, New Delhi.

  • 25 Tamilakat tolil mukankal, Akilâ Niûs, Dindigul, September 1996. In terms of consumption this list (...)

28In terms of consumer India, it is of interest to contrast this list with another one, the subject matter of a brochure in Tamil, published by a regional news agency, Akila News,25 dealing with specifically local products, the socio-economic impact of which should not be underestimated in a world where handicrafts do more than just survive. Items mentioned are:

29jasmine from Madurai, known for its fragrance, exported three times weekly to Bombay, and from there by air freight to Singapore;

  • 26 "Tamiḻariṉ Tigerp pūṭṭu oḻukkaṅkaḷ," says Sundara Ramasamy, an idiom likely to puzzle the next gen (...)

30locks and safes from Dindigul, a symbol of reliability, as opposed to the gimcrack Tiger locks useful only as a metonymy for a loose Tamil ethos;26

31kaili from Erode, a dress originally patronized by Muslims, and now regular casual wear for the Hindu middle class; also exported to the Gulf;

32turmeric, a tuber from the Periyar District, for which Erode is the world market; the powder is exported to Europe and Sri Lanka;

33butter from Uttukkuli, a local delicacy from the area between Tiruppur and Erode, now an industrial production;

34cotton from Teni, in an area of black soils, a market worth five crores per week;

35ploughs from Melur; a cottage industry, even after the introduction of the tractor and the green revolution it distributes sixteen different models of ploughs all over India;

36cuṅkaṭi saris from Madurai, a "tie and dye" cotton sari, fashionable today and going back to the time of Tirumalai Nayakar, when Saurashtrian migrants settled in Madurai; handmade till recently, these are now produced as a crude form of batik by silk screen and wax printing technology;

37kolucu from Salem, small silver chains with tiny jingling bells worn by women and children, a symbol of fragile grace and family happiness that employs thirty thousand home workers;

38printing in Civakaci, five hundred crores yearly through calendars, diaries and greeting cards exported as far as the U.S.A.; a busy world, this "little Japan" of India is controlled by the Nadar community;

39pālkōvā from Srivillipputtur, a pure mixture of milk and sugar; two hundred kilos are sent to Madras every day made from the best milk in the world, of course, as this is the birthplace of Andal, the poet, and gopi of Krishna;

40pañcāmirtam from Palani, made out of bananas, sugar, dates, honey and candy, and offered to the god Murukan, though the three hundred kilos sold daily may not come from the temple itself;

41vīṇās from Tancavur, in jackfruit wood, exported in small amounts all over the world;

42brass and silver plates from Tancavur, a very formal gift for important occasions;

43bronze images from Cuvamimalai, not necessarily a religious industry but if the image is merely ornamental the craftsman will not "open" its eyes, a ritual performed only for religious icons;

44neṭṭi, very light dolls and toys from Kumpakonam, made out a kind of pith since the time of the Marathas, but known more than a millennium before, as kiṭai, in the Paripāṭal and Cilappatikāram.

  • 27 In French, see, for example, A. Corbin, Le miasme et la jonquille, Flammarion, 1982, M. Onfray, L' (...)

45This list overflows with the flavour and fragrance of popular Tamil culture. It is deeply rooted in its soil. It urges every Tamilian to emulate it with his own brand of regional marvels: jackfruit from Panrutti, halva from Tirunelveli (or Karaikkal), mats from Pattamatai, muṟukku from Manapparai, sweet peanut candy from Kovilppatti, silks from Kanchipuram and the weekly market of Pollachi. It addresses all the senses, reminding us that social anthropology today deals with fragrances and savours, with eating and drinking,27 and with colours and clothes. Such a list brings in literature too, not only because a Saint John Perse might have used it in some Anabase, but because its elements are indissolubly linked with the language and cannot be separated from its idioms and images: they are the very life and breath of the Tamil imaginary world. Here, the most authentic culturescape is evoked and eulogized through its natural and most attractive symbols. If the critical notes and apparatus of philologists do not feature these symbols their texts will remain mute and maimed. These lists are important and significant because they constitute a privileged meeting point where philologists, aware of the realia, and social anthropologists, aware of the language, may work together in depth and share their cultural field experience.

  • 28 S. Anand, Brahmans & Cricket, Lagaan’s Millenial Purana and Other Myths, Navayan Publishing, 2003.

46Reverting to the other list, that of "modern" commodities, we do not question its legitimacy. An Indian anthropologist has every right to come to France and count the entry tickets to Disneyland in Marne-la-Vallée, rather than spending his days with a series of soyeux, tapissiers, tupiniers, verriers, luthiers and other traditional craftsmen; "dining out in Bombay" is certainly an opportunity for a sensuous gastronomical rediscovery of India. What is disturbing is how downright superficial such enquiries can be. The utmost tip of the iceberg is emphasized without any real effort being made to discover what lies underwater. An article on the martial arts by a practitioner gives insight and weight, but there is no attempt, for instance, at a definition of an Indian way of playing cricket, or of what makes Indian cricket different in the same way as there is a Brazilian style of playing football. The problem of language, English versus vernacular, which is both essential and of much wider implication, is left untouched. As everyone agrees that "cricket Hindi" is poor, how is it that no regional language has ever been able to replace it, not even Marathi, the language of the homeland of Indian cricket? How is it that, in no vernacular, is the language of sports technical, so that there is no sports journal in Tamil, Champion (sic) having ceased publication, while very few of those in English have large circulations (Sports Star published by The Hindu in Madras, Sports World from Calcutta; Sports Week from Bombay is also defunct)? Such points are not even raised, though it might have been emphasized that the paradox of the indianization of cricket lies in the fact that it operates entirely through Indian English, complemented by the English of Australian radio, notwithstanding the national TV channel which has persisted in using Hindi since 1975. A somewhat deeper and more informative insight on what is at stake in Indian cricket in terms of sports, politics, caste identity and even cinema is now offered by S. Anand’s controversial and stimulating Brahmins & Cricket.28

  • 29 To translate the title of the film Ammaṉ Kōvil kiḻakkālē "East of Amman kovil", (East of Eden!) is (...)

47From "Watching Tamil films", a most essential subject in terms of contemporary culture, one gleans very few ideas not expressed about stars and popular films fifty years ago by Edgar Morin, a familiar French reference. Here, hasty generalizations turn chance meetings into quests for sources, gossip into documents, talk into reports. The native speakers seem grossly underestimated: it is as if the folks did not know that they were going to see a movie at all. Their participation in that cinema culture is more active than the author suspects; it encompasses an entire area which could have been explored through the vernacular literature of Jeyakandan, Ashokamitran, Sujata, Sundara Ramasamy, not to speak of the numerous press sources. Apart from confidential and sophisticated journals such as Utakam and Calanam, Nilal in Tamil, Deepfocus in English, and glossy magazines from Bombay, there are four or five journals in Tamil devoted entirely to cinema, aside from the ones reserved for the fan clubs. Relying almost exclusively upon interviews – though not upon the language29 – and these interviews exclusively urban at that, the author does not hesitate to expatiate upon rural areas as well. The fundamental principal of the circuit of film distribution in Tamil Nadu has been ignored. The state is divided into three areas: A, educated area: Madras city, (though Mount Road is not Saidapet), Coimbatore and Tiruchirapalli; B, mixed area: Madurai, Chengalpattu etc.; C, rural, illiterate area: Arcot (including Pondicherry), Tirunelveli, etc. This somewhat arbitrary configuration is primarily responsible for the local film culture of Tamil cinema-goers and should, therefore, always be taken into consideration before any attempt is made to comment upon their selection of entertainment. Where Pierre Bourdieu is so profusely quoted in the bibliography, more of an attempt at following his methodology might be expected, as well as a more careful enquiry into the economic process of the diffusion of culture.

  • 30 Issue dated January 8, 1997.

48Before summarily dismissing all this as a form of journalism, – an issue of the weekly Outlook30 had a cover story, "Food Mood, Eating out becomes the big urban fad", we might ask where journalism ends and research begins, and why the commonplaces of local people are considered research material from the moment they are expressed and printed in English. Though it may seem polemical, the question is not irrelevant, nor supercilious, since it too arises spontaneously from the commonsensical remarks of the literate local man, having his say in Tamil.

  • 31 Arjun Appadurai, "Global Ethnoscapes: Notes and Queries for a Transnational Anthropology", in Reca (...)

49Coming back to our allegory, we prefer to conclude that, due to the subject matter involved as well as to the approach selected, the landscape vanishes here, dissolved into the globalisation of the discourse and anyway out of focus. We can no longer speak of islands, nor even of islets: there remain only pieces of wreckage. A new word has been coined as a substitute for landscape, ethnoscape.31 This neologism is intended to describe "the changing social, territorial and cultural reproduction of group identity" in the situation of relocation which pertains to migrants, exiles, "and other moving groups and persons". Are social scientists and indologists included? Certainly they must be, if we look at them as allomorphs of tourists, which is what they are.

50A result of the stigma of diaspora, or of the macula in the eyes of the social scientists, ethnoscape is not at all static. It weakens or it strengthens. The first means the disappearance of the weakest groups, by fusion with a global system. As such, the word ethnoscape has a strong negative connotation. It applies to groups, or individuals who have lost their landscape, which is to say, their cultural territory, historical boundaries and roots in space and time. The very circumstances of its coinage indicate an assumption that this is the case for large numbers of humankind today. We may think of the Tamil diaspora, of the scanty cultural baggage of the Malbar in La Réunion, and of the Sri Lankan Tamils scattered all over the world. We may even ask if a ghetto is a landscape or an ethnoscape, or we may, on the other hand, calculate that the globalization of anthropological research causes some social scientists to suffer from long-sightedness in the face of the culturescape: they do not know how to focus on it any more; the landscape may survive, but they cannot read it. They could perhaps borrow the glasses of the philologists, except that the latter are considered short-sighted, a condition which does sometimes however improve with age.

  • 32 Details in Florence Callandre, Koylou, Représentation divine et architecture sacrée de l'hindouism (...)

51Fortunately, the word ethnoscape has one very fundamental positive connotation as well. It bespeaks a group identity which compensates for the shift. Here is a ray of hope. A revitalization is possible, a revivalism able to re-create a landscape, or at least mark the heterogeneous landscape within which it struggles with specific signs (mosque, church, temple...) which are properly "landmarks", waiting for a time when a complete landscape is restored. We know of instances of reclaiming a landscape through a return to a native land, or on a long journey towards a promised one. History provides us with outstanding illustrations. Within the Tamil boundaries, the strong Hindu revivalism at work in La Réunion has recently brought about a drastic change in the religious configuration of the island: neo-Cōḻa temples constructed from imported South Indian models are replacing the unassuming "sapèl Malbar", while the cult itself is becoming correspondingly more orthodox.32 There, an acute sense of the ethnoscape and a powerful group identity has generated pockets of a new "pure" Tamil landscape within one generation, possibly at the expense of creolization.

  • 33 See the proceedings of the conference on Maintenance of Indian Languages and Culture Abroad, held (...)

52Such a reaffirmation of identity and reclamation of legitimacy always goes through the same process, from some form of language (texts, cultural symbols, dance, music, rites) to "landmarks", then to landscape. Once more, the language is crucial. We have seen the synergy between texts and landscape at work in creating understanding and legitimacy. Deprived of its territory, the landscape obviously ceases to exist and, equally, may dissolve when deprived of its texts. Seen through an illiterate's eyes, its meaning slackens: we have already noted that a vision without proper textual background proves scattered and deficient. A most fascinating anthropological problem is how specific ethnicity can stand without a language of its own. The major preoccupation of many Indian communities abroad is how to preserve their cultural identity once they have lost their language.33 Today we see Tamil exiles from Sri Lanka struggling to build up a press and a literature of their own wherever they are, even when they do not know where they will finally settle. Paradoxically, they were forcibly globalized by the Sinhalese, and no one can foresee the consequences of this on the next generation, neither in Sri Lanka, nor in the world at large.

53There are those who do not hesitate, however, to study communities of which they know neither the language, nor the literature. Not only does a major deficiency in language blur the accurate vision of the landscape, it also seriously compromises the perception of the ethnoscape itself, to the extent that the creation of one more neologism would be appropriate: ethnoscraps, to describe such fragmentary and narrow minded studies accurately. More generally, any discipline secured in its fortress, overconfident of its own technology and overlooking other disciplines, runs the risk of becoming oblivious of the world around and of growing old while piling up ethnoscraps. This is how wandering may end in shipwreck, usually on an ideological fog bank, while, those who cannot sail can try to survive on shore, as wreckers. There, ethnoscraps remain as a prosperous subsidized cottage industry.

  • 34 We refer to Sheldon Pollock, "The Sanskrit Cosmopolis, 300-1300: Transculturation, Vernacularizati (...)

54While sailing the worlds of the Tamil archipelago we become more acutely aware that they are tiny ones, even more so in the face of the Sanskrit cosmopolis.34 Thanks to them, however, we demonstrate that in a comprehensive and, tentatively, holistic reading of the Tamil landscape – torn apart and divided today between heritage and modern consumerism – a relation to the Tamil psyche is involved, which passes in through language, and therefore through texts, written as well as oral and inherited from the past as well as newly procured. Two consequences are to be faced: all social sciences are, so to speak, subsidiary to history and this is no surprise within the Braudel tradition of French writing on history; on the other hand, there can be no exercise in history before mastery has been gained over the language, literary and otherwise.

55This does not mean that here, about to deal with Tamil literature, we want to acclaim it as supreme. We would rather consider that the world of books is only one of many modes of life, that literature exists and in other words, only through the people who are reading it. This means that we cannot dispense with a few elementary commonplaces, such as the fundamental difference between an ordinary reader and a specialist in philology or between the erudite quest of the past and a commitment towards the future. These points are a permanent source of misunderstanding and the distinctions should always be kept in mind wherever a more effective recognition of contemporary literature as such is concerned: precisely, that is what is at stake now.

II - Reading Tamil Literature

56Here, literature is understood as operating in the above continuum of space and time, and as seen from the point of view of the average user. Specialists will naturally be dissatisfied with any reference to simplistic categorizations, Caṅkam, Bhakti, contemporary; but they should as well be aware that all attempts to redefine the periodization of Tamil literature from the 12th century onwards remain elementary. They fail to take into account the comparative perspective of other Dravidian literatures, which all show evident parallel developments in a multiethnic, and multilingual world. They fail to clarify the intricate network linking together three factors, 1- the multiplication of sects and sub-sects (including dissident movements such as vīraśaiva or cittar, and Christian or Muslim trends, and even the more recent attempt at a revival of Buddhism by Ayotti Das Pantitar) 2- the flourishing of patronage and philanthropy by princes, maṭams and merchants 3- the specific literary milieus with their formal poetic conventions, internal rivalries and competitive criteria of appreciation. They fail to delineate the respective parts of Sanskrit and Tamil which coexist in many bilingual milieus, as attested to by the conflicting evidence pouring in from everywhere from commentators and grammarians, cantāṉakuravar and maṇipravāḷam authors, and so on; neither have they integrated the pervasive folk forms.

  • 35 Friedhelm Hardy, The religious culture of India, Power, Love and Wisdom, Cambridge studies in Reli (...)

57Tamil traditional scholars may be indulgent towards a modern rediscovery of the authors that we value because of a trace of dissent or of modernity in their work; they do know for sure that Aruṇakirinātar is greater than Kalamekam, even as an ācukavi; they catch the cryptic message of the six-hundred page Antāti of H. F. Hardy, winding the whole story up into a kalampakam,35 as, while reading of Court poetry about the Nāyakkar, they catch an echo of S. Bharati's Ciṉṉa Caṅkaraṉ Katai. But with such treasures to savour in the storehouses of their memory, they see our views as quite fragmentary if not frivolous.

  • 36 See Jérôme Paturot à la recherche d'une position sociale (1843), second part ch. XIV-XV (La haute (...)

58Thus are tamil scholars unfortunate. Not only is Tamil a living language, with guardians very much on the alert to preserve its cultural heritage from deteriorating, but tamil scholars find it difficult to gain acceptance with Sanskrit scholars as indologists. Indology has indeed developed its own caste system, within which it is better to deal with kāvya than with śāstras, with mimāṃsā or nyāya (preferably nava) than with vyākaraṇa, and with critical editions than with translations or history; and if God has made you a dravidologist, you must know how and when to give, in Sanskrit, your home-made version of Et ego in Arcadia vixi. Sore pressed, you will perhaps remember that it was during a very short span of time, less than one generation in fact, between 1830 and 1850, that in France, Sanskrit was simultaneously raised up as a summit of world culture, attracting to the lectures of Burnouf at the College de France Michelet, Littré and Renan, and ridiculed as camouflage and a pretence of learning, in the famous pamphlet of Louis Reybaud and in short satires by Léon Gozlan.36 These two facets of the discipline can never be forgotten as they still exist internationally.

  • 37 See for example, the thesis of Gloria Saravaya on Oral expression in Negritude writing from L. S. (...)

59In terms of behaviour and language, the phenomenological approach to Tamil, in contrast to Sanskrit, is rather evocative of what has in the West been termed "counter-literature", that is a separate universe and a production which, whatever quantative importance it may have, remains marginalized as infra- or para-literature and exotic, so to speak, in relation to the centre, an outsider before the "castle". In a world structured by values and institutions, the fracture is evident at every stage: production machinery and literary institutions and patronage; ways of transmission (Vedic pāṭhaśālā attached to temples versus Tēvāram taught on the veranda of a house, Sanskrit and Tamil universities, official competitions and awards at state and central government level); weight of tradition and hierarchy of ethic or aesthetic values. In the permanent dispute between Ancients and Moderns we may observe the same process at work, one which always favours heritage at the cost of what is in the making. In any confrontation between the two cultures, the dominating one, under siege from another, more popular and exotic, discourse, wavers between assimilation through absorption and acknowledgement only within limits which suffer no trespassing: inclusive or exclusive, the two pulsions are always complementary and therefore associated. Faced with the dominating culture, the minor one too offers two answers 1- assimilation, through imitation, appropriation or re-interpretation 2- rejection, through the claim of difference, either by exploiting objective description, or by coming forward in a rather militant and volontarist manner. Here again there is a balance between cultural integration and apartheid. Every detail of this general picture can be illustrated by Black African literatures as well as by the history of Tamil literature. Though such a parallel may sound far-fetched, some Tamil intellectuals explicitly refer to it, a fact that an objective study cannot ignore.37

  • 38 Readers of A. K. Ramanujam will certainly understand what a rich world of culture is alluded to he (...)
  • 39 Nothwithstanding A. R. Venkatachalapathy's Ph. D. thesis A Social History of Tamil Bookpublishing, (...)

60From our perspective, literature is not only the hard core of philology, it is the sole specific expression of a form of consciousness, concerned with a reflexive knowledge of culture, reached through an effort usually not required by other media. The most contemporary Tamil texts are integrated into the written expression of two millennia as its latest avatar. It is only through them that there is a reflection, introducing between Tamils and their culture the distance which characterizes any intellectual behaviour, even the most elementary, and offering opening for both aesthetic rapture and a memory. When a Tamil youngster is not lost to his family in some urban ghetto where castes and traditions wither away, reading remains, of all media and apart from family visits, pilgrimages and arranged pleasure trips, his only way to discover the world and to keep up a repository of Sanskrit and Tamil folklore and smṛti, along with the one he has from the womenfolk in his house.38 Though we know next to nothing about reading practices, or about lending libraries and circulation of books, little magazines, and more popular journals in Tamil Nadu, as the information derived from British missionary and official sources is often apologetic,39 we can see how wide the gap is between the common reader and textual scraps such as the palm-leaf manuscripts which the philologist has to decipher. What really matters here is that mediators do operate between these two, efficiently or not, assuming, or not, the transmission or the revitalization of culture.

61Rather than joining hands, two types of such mediator struggle in opposite directions. The first type lives in a closed world of celebration and eulogy where an undisturbed faith, self-sufficient and self-supporting, appropriately enjoys pleasantly fluent talks. We may quote first the panegyrists of Caṅkam literature and of its commentators, who preserve and glorify a tradition of which they are the latest and probably the last cāṉṟōr, the eminent representatives. These were the erudite traditional scholars who were responsible for the Tamil Renaissance on the eve of this century; after they had unearthed and published the ancient Caṅkam classics, they were continued, and are survived, by a handful of scholars immersed in the same culture who, in dignified and obsolescent Tamil, attempt to retain the subtle refinement of the language unaltered. N. Kandaswamy Pillai, K. V. Jagannatan, V. M. Subrahmanya Aiyyar, T. V. Gopal Iyer are such memorable figures, and we are fortunate to have come across them. A second trend of traditionalism, very close and complementary to this "textual" trend, is defined by a kind of enlightened devotional zeal. Kirupananta Variyar, a preacher and devotee of Murukan, and Kunrakkuti Atikal, a Saiva social worker monk, belong to such a group but the most captivating example amongst those of the Saiva persuasion is T. N. Ramachandran: a translator of Tamil Bhakti and doctrinal texts, he styles himself " Toṇṭaraṭippoṭi" (the dust from the feet of the devotees), claiming thereby to be the outstanding devotee of Cekkilar, the author of Periya purāṇam and the paragon of a gifted literary talent absolutely subservient to the glorification of the canonized Servants of Siva. T. N. R. is also rightly considered as an authority in the field of missionary Saivism, in the line of Arumuka Navalar and J. M. Nallacami Piḷḷai. A third way of strenghtening a tradition by deploying historical and scientific talk, examplified by I. Mahadevan and Sujata with their capacity to hold their readers spellbound, is best represented by R. Nagaswamy, cūtratāri of the great Son et Lumière pageants of Cōḻa culture in today's Tamil Nadu. Thanks to people like him, an emotional and popular dimension links the landscape with the Caṅkam heritage and the medieval Saiva faith, thus completing the picture of the main constituents of popular "classical" Tamil culture.

62Thus, panegyrists, zealous missionaries and specialists in showman-ship, all belong to the constant flow which carries on, from ancient sources to modern times, what is now considered as relevant for the understanding and survival of Tamil civilization. They are its authorities and perhaps its arbitrators; indologists must view them as partners, though with the fear that to adhere to Tamil too closely would give them little scope for critical distance and dialogue. Such fears are often proved groundless but a more real danger lies in the well entrenched position of the "traditionalists", who are unaware that their language, both in wording and content, fails to communicate to outsiders, their countrymen in fact, who find their cultural message irrelevant to present needs and aspirations and completely alien. We are back to the metaphor of isolated islands, and to wondering whether this world of pristine glory is still a lost continent or has become an island adrift.

  • 40 Mahasveta Devi, "Find the roots", Key-note address to the National Literary Conference held in Thr (...)

63This, as well as being the eternal debate between Ancients and Moderns, is also the fundamental crisis of contemporary Tamil culture and literature. There are, today, writers and thinkers eager to operate the mediation between past and present and that between the cultural heritage and the modern layman; they are taking it for granted that one should not turn towards the past in order to worship it but rather use it to face the future boldly. They know that they are embedded in a given tradition, but they also know that they are creating a new one. They feel as sharply the need to go to the sources as they do the urgency in the atmosphere, and they know that as long as "the literature is not able to cope with the change, literature will be buried by the other medias".40 For them there can be no escape from the present which, like the past, is always blasting around them. Because of their commitment to the contemporary, their literary activity, or activism, is rarely noticed by philologists who nevertheless cannot ignore the fact that language changes and that creative literature survives, thanks to its involvement with its own present vision and linguistic expression.

64Social scientists are probably worse, insofar as they treat contemporary production exclusively as information, without taking into account the specificity of literature. Regarded as mere auxiliaries to an understanding of the contemporary, modern writers, along with the common man, are asked to say things, but are never listened to when they dare to see and explain things. They are the most essential primary sources in the archives of the present and should be treated equally with the rarest manuscripts because their crucial testimony remains just as ephemeral and elusive. But, so far, pleas for the contemporary engender a fear of the barbarian hordes overflowing from inside and outside, an unwelcome plethora of minor documents and vocal witnesses. Yet all this is the essential subject matter in the debate on contemporary Indian literature, in Tamil Nadu and, more acutely, all over India and it cannot, therefore, remain ignored indefinitely.

65In terms of tradition, Tamil cultural heritage draws only two of its chapters from literature, Caṅkam and Bhakti; others are matters for specialist debate. Some areas, such as the performing arts, nationalism and the development of ethnicity are new movements currently on the rise. Literary criticism, as a modern approach to texts, radically different from the commentorial tradition which still survives, is a fundamental challenge to the entire Tamil discourse on literature. It has hardly been explored, in its slow evolution from the generations of T. K. Citamparanata Mutaliyar, M. Varatarajan and T. P. Meenakshisundaram, to the new trends from K. N. Subrahmanyam to Venkat Caminatan. The Sri Lankan trio of Kailasapathy, Civatampi and Veluppillai occupy the forefront, but the more seminal figures of C. S. Cellappa or Tarmu Civaramu, (alias Piramil, whose death in Karatikkuti near Velur, on 6th of January 1997, went unremarked) are ignored. This by itself makes a good academic topic, but when we deal with sources and time, the only relevant perspective forcibly returns us to Caṅkam and Bhakti, though this may be to fall between Scylla and Charybdis.

  • 41 Iravatham Mahadevan, "Recent Trends in Early Tamil Epigraphy: an Overview", Paper presented at the (...)

66It is the corpus of Caṅkam poems which makes Tamil literature different and gives it its unique status amongst regional languages. The popular poet and lyric writer Kannadasan, in the film Utirippūkkaḷ (Fallen flowers), coined the best formula: "Caṅkam kāṇātatu tamiḻumalla": keeping one's eyes away from Caṅkam is not truly Tamil. Here is the navel and the umbilical cord of Tamil, the source par excellence, first of all in terms of chronology, because it makes legitimate the claim of Tamil culture to antiquity: thanks to the Caṅkam, Tamil is old, older than any other living Indian literature, the oldest! The vexed question of synchronisms, to be settled before entering into the glory of absolute chronology, passes through a long bibliography and reaches its penultimate stage through the recent deciphering of a few Tamil Brāhmī inscriptions more satisfactorily than through the earlier, comparatively doubtful, synchronisms. It has, too, its mythology, the latest avatāra therein being the extrapolation by I. Mahadevan41 from script to literacy and from literacy to literature, which manages to contradict centuries of oral transmission without any scriptural evidence from Indian literary tradition.

  • 42 Contra see Herman Tieken’s latest vindication of his controversial dating, “Old Tamil Caṅkam liter (...)
  • 43 Tradition, Dissent and Ideology. Essays in honour of Romila Thapar, O.U.P. 1996. See the articles (...)

67Whereas it is now accepted that the composition and the compilation of the existing anthologies are probably grouped together within a limited time span around the first centuries of this era,42 there is, in the name of history, another mythology which stretches the corpus out over a much wider period, so as to use it as evidence in writing a history of South India from the Iron Age and Black and Red Ware, to the rock inscription of Pulankurici (5th-6th c.), which contains the first lexicographical evidence of the major administrative and social features of the medieval Cōḻa system. This attitude, an outdated, structuralist reading of postmarxist paradigms of the modes of subsistence, goes back to D. D. Kosambi and still survives in a recent volume of essays offered to Romila Thapar.43 Rajan Gurukkal's article treats the interior landscape, dear to A. K. Ramanujam, as an ecosystem and imagines a panorama of the heroic age, not on the basis of a direct reading of the poems but on his personal grouping of the thematic settings as worded in the colophons and in the grammatical treatise Puṟapporuḷ veṇpāmālai, forgetting that all these labels belong to a later date and reflect a systematized vision, much closer to the imperial, medieval Cōḻa than to clan chiefdoms from the dawn of our era, and further, that they conflict with some later commentaries on Tolkāppiyam. Even if stray remarks on the development of agrarian society and various mercantile networks are interesting, his perception of hierarchies in the making is too rigid as is his mechanist view of the strategies of containment. Because this approach completely ignores the specificity of literature and the chronology of the philological evidence quoted, it has, once again, substituted its mythology for a "new" writing of history.

68Far more in tune with literary perception is another "historical" reading of the Caṅkam corpus which is nowadays gathering momentum. It looks at this corpus as an enormous repository of symbols feeding the Tamil imaginary world at all levels. The most familiar element is, unfortunately, controversial. It has too often been repeated that the diptych akam/puṟam, which contrasts the intimate inner world with the outer social one in Caṅkam poetry, later imparted its structure to daily life and folk literature. What is there here, in fact, so particular to Tamil, when in the 5th or 6th century B.C., Sappho and Pindaros offered a very plausible Greek analogy? The myth survives and, recently, the folklore of the royal entertainments in temples, the rājōpacāra, was explained as being based on akam in its Vaishnava tradition of Śṛṅgāra Bhakti, while the Saiva tradition would follow a puṟam tradition, attached to the sacred sites and so going back to Āṟṟuppaṭai!

  • 44 In higher style, the complete story of Pari has been compiled in a 753 stanzas Pāri Kātai (with co (...)
  • 45 Narayana Rao, Velcheru, Shulman, David, Subrahmanyam, Sanjay. Symbols of Substance: Court and Stat (...)
  • 46 Kingship and political practice in colonial India, University of Cambridge Oriental Publications 5 (...)

69It remains evident that the royal power in the Tamil land is viewed according to Caṅkam patterns, where they are concerned with the definition of the royal function which links power and prodigality and power and patronage of poets. Though clad in the rags of exile and beggary, the poet strikes fear into the king because he is the instrument of his fame and glory; he can also be his confidant and counsellor and his messenger, skilled in the difficult strategy of matrimonial alliances which determine status, ensure peace and trigger war. More generous than Karna, the favourite hero of the Mahābhārata, the Tamil king Pāri, one of the seven famous, liberal donor-kings of the Anthologies, has his image sketched out, in the conventional iconography44 of first schoolbooks, in the memory of any young Tamil. He was a patron of the arts and his poet Kapilar was some kind of a minor ego to him, faithful even after his death. The king's impregnable hill stands as a paragon of autarchy relying on its own natural resources, and as an ecological paradise, a political model and an inseminating utopia. During the 20th century, etymological speculations on the name of the dynasty provided the dominating caste of Veḷḷāḷar with a chance to authenticate its modern claims through a prestigious past, a trend which can be traced to the medieval period, especially to the Periya purāṇam in the 12th century. The same codes, the same paraphernalia and symbols of royal power are to be seen, from the Caṅkam to the Nayak kingships in Tancavur and Madurai, as analyzed in Symbols of Substance,45 or to the small kingdoms of Ramnad or Sivagangai recently studied by Pamela G. Price,46 and stretched, by the author not too successfully, to a Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.

  • 47 A French translation, by Léonce Cadelis, has also been published in Pondicherry (s.d.).

70It is the same deep-rooted undercurrent of emotional idealism which inspired the film director, Akattiyan’s very successful film Kātal kōṭṭai (The Fort of Love, 1996, which ran for twenty-one weeks in Pondicherry), a story of platonic love taking place between Ooty and Jaipur drew from the beautiful tale of trust, respect and friendship which led the Cōḻa king Koperuncolan and Picirantaiyar, the poet from the Pāṇṭiya country, to meet in voluntary death. This memorable tale from the Puṟanāṉūṟu (67, 212 to 218) has been quoted before now by the most Sanskrit oriented commentator of the Kuṟaḷ, Parimēlaḻakar, when commenting on a verse dealing with friendship (Naṭpu, Kuṟaḷ 785). And a drama by the Tamil poet Bharatidasan (1891-1964), entitled Picirāntaiyār,47 has even won a national award from the Sahitya Akademi in Delhi, though published posthumously in 1967. Once again, thanks to such emotionally loaded symbols shared by all strata of Tamil culture, "islands" communicate and it must be added, too, that the Caṅkam carries through its songs the powerful image of a golden age, of a casteless society and of a world of refinement and of international recognition for Tamil, which persistently operates upon any literate or illiterate person: upon the sceptical mind of Putumaippittan as upon an impassioned polemist such as Raj Kautaman the Dalit theoretician.

71Compared to the Caṅkam corpus, the world of Bhakti is more complex. Surprisingly, its most limited vision is offered by historians who currently describe Bhakti as a movement of dissent, comprising such heterogeneous features as orthodoxy, containment and populism, a strange combination supposed to have shaped the medieval and pre-modern rural landscape of Tamil Nadu, according to models which Burton Stein and Noboru Karashima shared, revising and debating, without coming to any definite conclusion. We are confronted here with the epigraphico-archaeological configuration of South India, which speaks of monuments and administrative and financial jurisdictions, but remains utterly alienated from literature, perhaps because of difficulties in coping with its linguistic and ideological complexity. Even in terms of literature, no synthesis is truly satisfactory because of the fundamental ambiguity of the bilinguism in the Bhakti movement, which everybody acknowledges and nobody masters, except devotees who do not care to put their knowledge into historical perspective. Any study in depth would require a complete mastery of Tamil and Sanskrit, and proficiency in literature as well as in theology. While the Caṅkam confines itself and its readers within the familiar boundaries of the homeland, Bhakti takes some devotees to Kashmir and launches others toward Northen Mathura. Truly, it has also brought into existence the religious landscape of the Tamil land and has comforted believers with sacred spots within their reach, teaching them to pray in their mother tongue and, in so doing, has rendered Tamil the great service of making it a wonderful literary language in which to sing and to argue. Depending upon the readiness and capacity to face its two dimensions, local and pan-Indian, it remains more or less ambiguous.

  • 48 The vexed question of the exact brand of Saivism the Somaśambhupaddhati deals with is precisely th (...)
  • 49 See David Smith, The Dance of Siva. Religion, art and poetry in South India, Cambridge Studies in (...)

72Looking at the pan-Indian dimension of Bhakti, we enter, by the light of textual criticism, into the complex history of doctrines. Lyric poetry came first, through poets, for the enlightenment and delight of lay people. We must read the invocatory song of Kalittokai, the Paripāṭal and the Tirumurukāṟṟuppaṭai, not as the utterances of fifth columnists smuggling Sanskrit Bhakti into Tamil but as pioneers expressing for the first time in a vernacular language the feeling of personal devotion linked with temple and puranic culture. By singing Cevvēḷ, Murukaṉ, Tirumāl and Koṟṟavai, they paved the way for the Tēvāram and the songs of the Aḻvār. Simultaneously, while the core of the doctrine remained in Sanskrit, a process of tamilization was at work, through the zealous bilinguism of theologians, combining, in the case of the Saiva faith, with the corpus of Tamil śaivasiddhānta which, in turn, influenced the secondary Sanskrit compilations made in the South from readings and commentaries of variously altered and older sources.48 Probably, from the 10th or 11th century, (the earliest reasonable dating of the Tirumantiram), to the 14th, the date of the fascinating figure of Umāpati,49 a Tamil Saiva culture matured within the fold of Sanskrit, mostly for the benefit of a non-Brahmin Tamil elite; apart from poetry, Tamil, in all disciplines, from grammar and logic to theology and ritual, has been considered as a possible substitute for Sanskrit, though without ever eliminating it. A notorious example of such permanent bilinguism, from the 16th century, is Maṟaiñāṉacampantar writing the Tamil version of the Civatarumōttaram, an upāgama intended mainly to instruct the layman as to the amount of his dakṣiṇa when dealing with the clergy, but written in beautiful Tamil on the literary model of the Tēvāram, while, on the other hand, a Sanskrit version of the Periya purānam, called Upamanyu bhakta vilāsa, was composed, obviously to confer upon the Tamil poem a greater dignity and legitimacy.

73If, for theologians, it is very important to know, in a pan-Indian perspective, how far the later poetic vision of Umapati may differ from the original monism of Abhinavagupta, the mastermind of Kashmir Saivism, the local perspective of Tamil devotees is quite different. They do not usually read the difficult Tamil literary works which act as bridges between the two languages, such as the Tirumantiram or Ñāṉāmirtam, nor even the very challenging Kallāṭam. To them, Saiva Bhakti is taken for granted as a purely indigenous source of culture, both literary and religious, and its Sanskrit connection is simply ignored. The literary output of Tamil Bhakti alone, in the impressive form of Tēvāram and Periya purānam, is so great and so powerful that it fulfils both the literary and the emotional needs of readers, giving them aesthetic rapture and religious assurance. The link is so essential between the perfection of the language, the strength of the religious faith, and the pride in belonging, both to a sacred land and to a powerful, dominating non-Brahmin group that, quite naturally, in the first decades of the 20th century, there was a lot of confusion between some fractions of the Dravidian Movement and the Saiva heritage, namely among the Pillai, as in the family tradition, from Maraimalai Atikal to Nambi Aruran, or in the intellectual tradition, from Va. U. Chidambaram to A. R. Venkatachalapathy.

74The militant attitude in favour of Tamil has been in total synergy with the Saiva missionary one, probably from as early as Appar and Campantar fighting against Jaina and Buddhists heretics, and Kōcceṅkaṭcōḻa Nāyaṉār building Saiva temples all over the Cōḻa country; it is personified in modern times by Arumuka Navalar, who turned around the apologetical know-how of his Christian teachers in favour of Saivism. This resulted in an important textual renaissance which served both the Tamil language in its pristine purity and the Saiva doctrine in its Tamil expression. These texts were zealously translated into English, "ad Gentiles", in the fourteen volumes (1897-1914) of Siddhanta Deepika (The light of truth, uṇmai viḷakkam), a journal which was such an important landmark in Tamil culture that this initiative of J. M. Nallacami Pillai was even revived later as Śaiva Siddhānta, still with the same " missionary" ideology. Even today, an academic venture aiming at a complete translation of the Paṉṉiru Tirumuṟai in English and Hindi, for the benefit of North India and other parts of the non Tamil speaking world is being patronized by the Ministry for Human Resource Development and by an industrialist devotee, one Kongu Vellala from Coimbatore, with the blessings of the Head of the Perur maṭam. To catch the message, we must remember that the Pērūr purāṇam, written by Kacciappa munivar in the 18th century, is a superb literary piece, full of alamkāras, and containing a pāṭal in the form of a paḷḷu, a folk genre in which all Kailasa joins Siva in ploughing so as to enjoy with him the traditional occupations of Tamil farmers.

75It is of the utmost importance to understand that such a powerful amalgamation of language, religion, social status and culture, works so wonderfully because, in the daily life of the Tamil, Bhakti still functions quite effectively as a permanent source of individual energy. This can be perceived in the behaviour of people, in their houses and in their practices at home and outside: drawing kōlam, visiting temples, eating, or performing pūjā. What we have said of a Tamil house, temple or city, needs to be repeated if we are to catch a glimpse of what literary sources truly mean in terms of modern culture.

76It is the over-emphasis on the Saiva tradition that is the most common pitfall in the great Tamil narrative. The Vaishnava counterpart is no less significant and has also found its place within the cultural heritage, mostly thanks perhaps to music and the performing arts, while developing into a very original form combining Sanskrit and Tamil into maṇipravāḷam. The Tēvāram remains simply as poetry to be sung outside the Sanctum, but the hymns of the Aḻvār have acquired the status of revealed texts. In a very bold move, the current of ubhayavedānta gave, for the first time in India, equal importance, in terms of religious revelation, to a language other than Sanskrit. Tamils, who take this for granted, hardly credit their Vaishnava devotees with such a sweeping cultural revolution.

  • 50 First collected by S. Rajam (1904-1986), then indexed in 132 hand written volumes and finally prin (...)

77By emphasizing the socio-historical context of the two medieval schools of Vaishnavism, the "northern" and the "southern" an American scholar, Patricia Y. Mumme, helps us to make a more precise and positive assessment of the language known as maṇipravāḷam. It cannot be dismissed as mere hybrid jargon when it was, in fact, a very imaginative answer to the challenge of the cosmopolitan, intellectual milieu of Kanchipuram, where philosophical arguments with the tenets of other doctrines forced the heirs of the Tamil Aḻvār to fight, using a more prestigious and universal arsenal, borrowed from Sanskrit but, even so, made locally more accessible by means of this linguistic device. The corpus of that Vaishnava prose,50 far from being some kind of an alienated patrimony foreign to the common language inheritance, establishes itself as indisputable evidence that medieval Tamil speakers struggled to recover and reclaim some essential cultural, and not only cult, areas which were, otherwise, mostly to remain the privilege of Sanskrit literati. This prose also offers an untapped source of Tamil intellectual vocabulary, along with a treasure-house of cultural details pertaining to what can be seen as the folk culture of the period. But all that remained within a small group, while the figure of Rama was made popular by the Ramayana of Kampar, and devotion to Krishna spread out from Tamil Nadu thanks to the diffusion of the Bhāgavata purāṇā, ubiquitous in Sanskrit but obviously originating in South India. On the one hand, the maṇipravāḷam artefact and later sectarian disputes have kept away from the field anyone who was not an erudite specialist of theological controversies and, on the other hand, the corpus of the Aḻvār poems remains an outstanding and enjoyable literary monument in Tamil, as well as a primary sourcebook for later pan-Indian Vaishnava ideology, thanks to the popularity of the Bhāgavata and the diffusion in Sanskrit of the poems themselves through the great ācāryas and sectarian theologians of the South.

78On this journey through the Tamil archipelago, we have kept contemporary society in mind, even at the cost of a loss of relevance for an audience of textualists. Now, we must evoke the textuality of the contemporary scene. Clearly, a new textual world has emerged, the usual Babel of orality, folklore and dialects, but with new configurations of communication and transmission and new ideological sources. Most of the clichés on the subject are conveniently summarized in the tables of contents of the Subaltern Studies Series, which have now further branched off into as many specialized collections as publishers can afford: gender, ethnicity, peasants, Dalits, tribes, communalism, performing arts, cinema, press, pamphlets, tracts and other media. What is at stake is no longer the emergence or re-assertion of the subaltern world: it is the emergence from the "subaltern", which has itself become a mythology. We can no longer tolerate the common utterances of locals being glorified as explanation by foreign observers. The most genuine and spontaneous vernacular voices, now ready to take over, are wondering why this word, subaltern, remains stuck on what is, for them, the most essential thing. For, the history of contemporary literature written, preferably, from "inside", is awaiting recognition and emergence from the "subaltern" system within which it remains confined by historians and anthropologists who are much too inclined to look at it solely as an ancillary discipline.

  • 51 Dagmar Hellmann-Rajanayagam, "Is there a Tamil 'race'?", in The Concept of Race in South Asia, edi (...)
  • 52 See, on Dalit literature and, more generally, on how contemporary literary studies in Tamil can se (...)

79Debating as to whether there is a Tamil race,51 Dagmar Hellman-Rajanayagam echoes the bold Tamil claim for uniqueness, and concludes, tongue in cheek: "The Tamil makkaḷ always know who they are." This being the case it might be hoped that contemporary Tamil literature would appear as the subjective inscription of history in process. It has to be treated as a matter of language and socio-historical identity by those who can both understand its style and sense its place in the context, without closing themselves up in it and making of it one more set of islands. Though it is dominated by an enormous majority of passive observers, this literature reflects intensely upon itself, which phase properly constitutes its modernity even if cries for post-modernity are also to be heard in a few quarters. The main trends of this reflection reveal 1- a new literature, written in dialect and questioning the authority of so-called standard Tamil 2- a Dalit literature questioning the whole of Tamil heritage as tainted by the stigma of Brahminism and/or Saivism, and wondering too why violence, such as took place in Kīḻveṇmaṇi, does not become a landmark in history, and produces only a foreign best-seller such as the story of Viramma52 3- a Sri Lankan Tamil literature, from Eelam and abroad, questioning the commitment and involvement of Tamil literature from Tamil Nadu, itself torn between its identity as part of the Indian Union, with the calls for a pacific settlement that implies, and its ethnic ties which carry it emotionally towards radicalism and irredentism. In this scattered field of intense questioning, in the reshaping of the literary substance in search of a new system of symbols and confronted with so many alienated islets, it becomes a major issue for contemporary Tamil writers to decide whether it is still possible to speak, in other than empty words, of a common cultural Indian heritage.

80The overwhelming majority of the pacifying, and passive, voices among contemporary Tamil writers, however, superimpose on that "conflicting" vision of the contemporary a lenient escapism, which finds its way through a faithful "artistic" portrayal of landscape, preferably rural, though even the urban landscape has its soothing and seductive voices ready to transform and marginalize any self-conscious critical protest. In short, this universal escapism through the culturescapes, from the north of Coimbatore (Shanmugasuntaram) to the south of Nakarkovil (Nancil Natan), is what is generally considered as constituting Tamil contemporary literature, along with the representation of communities and occupations (for example, the occupational thrillers serialized by Balakumaran).

81The comforting feeling of peace and dispassion created by a continuously smooth flow of time is found more easily on the banks of Tamiraparani river in the Tirunelveli area, the traditional abode of śaivapiḷḷaimār, a Saiva Veḷḷāḷa community, primarily of agriculturists, (landowners not tillers), whose status seems almost to be superior to that of the local Brahmins, and is now transformed, through migration, into that of urban middle class traders and government employees. Their family life centres mostly around the temple, and their particular dialect has been, from the thirties, the language of novels and short stories by Putumaippittan, Raghunatan, Vannanilavan, Vannadasan, as well as of the poems of Vikramatityan, who laments their rapid deterioration. Not far away, in Kovilpatti, K. Raja narayanan has set up his favorite Nayakkars, of Telugu origin, who have, by now, adopted the Tamil dialect of the "Black Soil" (Karical), a powerful language shared by an entire new generation of local writers with the same flavour of regional identity. Quite different is the corpus of the writings of Janakiraman, Ku. Pa. Rajagopalan, and Kariccan Kunju ("the chick of Kariccan", his pen-name and a homage to Ku. Pa. Ra.) who, under his real name, Narayanasami, ended his working days in the Tamil Department of the French Institute in Pondicherry. It introduces us to the world of the Tancavur Tamil Brahmins, while a rarer and less discreet novel by Tanjai Prakash, Kaḷḷam (Stealing or Villainy) lifts the veil from off the palace where resides an entire Marathi family, who again are Brahmins, attached to the princely court.

82Throughout the development of this literary trend which, once again, is a major one, we can observe common religious "sectarianism" dulling into a sentimental mood, a mood with an aesthetical dimension, as well as a musical one: the means by which the Vaishnava have achieved their complete integration, melting into the Tamil cultural landscape through their Bhakti melodies, which make up for the absence of the Tamil language. This trend ends with the popular poems and lyrics of Kannadasan, a Cettiyar and probably the most secular Vaishnava, whom, thanks to the cinema, everybody quotes and memorizes. A similar irenism, combined with a sense of security, is found in the moral philosophy of two widely popular novelists, Balakumaran and Sujata. The first reconstructs the Saiva world of legends expressed in the Periya purāṇam; the second, an Aiyankar from Srirangam, never fails to quote nālayirap-pirapantam, even when writing science fiction.

  • 53 A French introduction and translation by F. Gros is available as “Une nouvelle tamoule, Jeyamôkan, (...)
  • 54 French translation as «Les vingt et un chevreaux d’Irulappa çâmi» in L’arbre nâgalinga, nouvelles (...)

83Somewhere among the pacifying or passive voices and the bitterly sensitive ones, there are a few attempts at protest or dissent, introducing into the Tamil landscape some sparkle without any clumsy ideological bias. In his memoirs, U. Ve. Swaminatha Aiyar's narrative is genuinely uncritical when he reports, as if it were the most ordinary behaviour, the fact that he never happened to share the food of his guru, a Pillai, and that he was daily invited outside the non-brahminical Saiva maṭam of Tiruvavatuturai to take his meals. But a recent short story, Bodhi,53 by a young Tamil Brahmin author, Jeyamokan, exposes the deadly internal power struggles, and the cultural decay which accounts for the irretrievable loss of cultural patrimony in the rarefied, stifling and literally poisonous atmosphere of a very similar math today: a quite ferocious, scouring vision of a world that was so idyllic in U. V. S.' day. It must be noted here that the allusive character of Tamil literature makes it fully accessible only to the initiated, as is the case in a very different context, of an amazing short story, written in dialect, by Vela Ramamurtti which shows the various reactions of a group of Tevar, a 'criminal tribe', professional cattle rustlers the police used to brand with iron rods, when one of them, who has himself become a sub-inspector of police, pays a friendly visit to his own village and puts on his uniform at their own request!54

84These random samples tend to demonstrate that contemporary Tamil literature is diversified enough to offer a wide area to professional investigation though it remains necessary to beware of its "insular" context, the mapping of which is difficult and likely to be ignored by foreign readers, if such there are. This is in sharp contrast to a few areas of cultural activity, where everything is marked out blissfully with the beacons, buoys or signposts, of bilingual instructions. In other words, we oppose pure literature, which remains mostly unexplored and scandalously unexploited, to some better clarified, academically conventional areas of investigation, which are on the way to becoming, like folklore studies, an ideal commodity within everyone's reach. This contrast is underlined to emphasize the difficulties one has to face when studying the sources of today and compiling archives for tomorrow; it also constitutes a serious warning against the distortions caused by various contraptions of diffusion and circulation. These words are the most worn out of commonplaces, as far as the contemporary is concerned: everyone links contemporary studies with consumption and therefore with new technologies of communication. Just as most students of the past conveniently forget, or are unaware, that the limitations of their reading library delineate their own, "modernists" forget how easily they fall victim to their informants and conveniently overlook the fact that the critical analysis of their sources is permanently necessary to their own safety. We give here two instances of market trends interfering drastically in candid attempts at objectivity.

85The first is the present state of folklore studies considered as an ideal commodity. Nobody seems to care anymore about what really happens in the villages, "who are the folk and where is the lore". Nothing remains anonymous: folklore is now identified with proper names, institutions, academic departments, government bodies and subsidies.

  1. Folksongs: we can immediately quote editing agencies linked with various academic bodies: Vijaya Lakshmi and Navanidha Krishnan in Madurai; Pushpavanam Kuppucami (Ph. D. professional singer and his wife Anita); K. A. Kunacekaran (Pondicherry University, School of drama); Paravai Muniyamma, from Madurai; Ramji Cassettes Company, also from Madurai and more commercial.
  2. Folktales: after the academic pioneering work done by Vanamamalai, the next important undertaking is K. Rajanarayanan's, which means comercialization and popularization.
  3. Performing arts: in Madras, kūttu means terukkūttu: Kūttuppaṭṭaṟai funded by the Ford Foundation (now mainly a school for budding cinema actors); in Kanchipuram, it means kaṭṭaikkūttu (a word found neither in tradition nor in dictionaries) then under the patronage of the M. S. Swaminathan Foundation and the Netherlands.
  4. Studies: muddled up with seminars and confined to academic departments, all more or less specialized: the folklore unit at St. Xavier's College in Tirunelveli, founded by the Ford Foundation; the Tamil University, Tancavur; the Sangeet Natak Akademi funds projects which attempt to incorporate folk elements and regional resources in dramas. Note the part played by the central government in an area which is by nature opposed to centralization.
  5. Cinema: popular cinema plays its part in adapting tunes, and even songs of folk origin. Ilayaraja, as an example, has three registers on which to operate: folk, carnatic and western.
  6. Popular writing: Sujata has made folklore decidedly a fashion through his fictional work Karai ellām ceṇpakappū; since when all mass literature has dragged behind.
  7. Urban folklore from the slums; the kāṉāppāṭṭu, funeral or marriage songs are gathered and reprocessed by middle class, Tamil speaking students in popular colleges in Madras; these songs which may be wildly popular, also play a minor part in cinema.
  8. Folk ballads: published by the Institute of Asian Studies, the Madurai Kamaraj University, etc.55
  • 56 See K. Ayyappa Paniker, "The Cemmīṉ Myth", The Literary Criterion, ed. by C. D. Narasimhaiah, Myso (...)

86While folklore has become a well established academic subject, one cannot say that the history of contemporary literature, and still less, literary criticism in Tamil are fully "institutionalized", in terms of syllabus or methodology. Many shortcomings are the result of the way information is transmitted or circulated. The interface between Tamil and English, a crossroads which no one can afford to bypass through which words and ideas continuously circulate amongst Tamil intellectuals, their readings and their readers, remains a constant source of misunderstanding and a focus of wrong perception. Twenty years ago, Ayyappa Panikkar56 contended, with some sarcasm, that the international reputation of the Malayalam novel by Thakazhi, Chemmīṉ (Shrimps) was to the credit of the editing by the translator, Narayana Menon, rather than to the author himself, because the English translation, far from being literal, was a very clever arrangement of the original, catering better to the sensitivities of an international audience.

  • 57 See the theme of a short story by Atavan, Putumaippittaṉiṉ turōkam (The betrayal of Putumaippittan (...)

87During the same period, in New Delhi, K. N. Subrahmanyam, a freelance journalist, as well as a creative writer and literary critic, was the unique, and greatly feared, interpreter and filter of modern Tamil literature from the Tamil original milieu.57 It is not possible to write a history of Tamil contemporary literature without taking note of this type of informant and filter, just as it will be impossible to disregard the part played by éminences grises, such as S. Ramakrishnan in Madras today, in the diffusion and selective vision of Tamil contemporary creative production among Anglo-American academics.

  • 58 See A. R. Venkatachalapathy, "Subramania Bharati and the Modernisation of Tamil", Review Article i (...)

88It would be intellectually dishonest to ignore the fact that the impact of a statement on such matters will be different according to whether it is expressed in English or only in Tamil. Suffice it to quote one example: S. Bharati is considered as the founder of modern Tamil language and literature, an equivalent to what Tagore represents in Bengal. It has however, become quite fashionable to question these accepted ideas, and establishment values. That is what A. R. Venkatachalapathy recently did, in both Tamil and English, apropos a linguistic evaluation of the importance of Bharati,58 attacking views expressed twelve years earlier, in Tamil, by Nuhman, in Jaffna in 1984. A. R. V. reproaches Bharati and his critic for a very elementary, linear vision of progress, for casteist prejudice in favour of the brahminical dialect and the Sanskrit language and for obliviousness to the forgotten and the downtrodden, such as women and Dalits. A western audience reading an English version of A. R. V.'s article will certainly welcome a young academic, free of traditional taboos, but it has no access to the rejoinder, which was published only in Tamil as was the original essay by Nuhman. This would remain no more than an anecdote if that rejoinder were not essential; but it is, because it clearly shows that there is at least as much "casteism" in A. R. V. as in Bharati, against whom only Vellalas, hostile, like V. O. Cidambaram Pillai and Maraimalai Atikal, to Brahmins, are quoted. And it so happens, too, that their linguistic stand in favour of "pure Tamil" was rather derogatory about the common parlance, while their social behaviour was in no way more positive towards Dalits than Bharati's attitude was. None of these elements found a place in A. R. V.'s argumentation.

89Not only is the typical "subalternist" deconstruction of Bharati by A. R. V., ideologically based as it is upon the rather simplistic equation, inherited from Foucault and Edward Saïd, between language and power, anachronistic, since nobody talked of Dalits in Tamil before 1988, but it must also be contrasted with the situation of Tamils in Sri Lanka, where the Brahmins are a small and poor minority while the Veḷḷāḷas are the dominating group. There was no open conflict with the Dalits, because of the Communist Party, which imposed an ideology more progressive than communalist. Because it is a lesson in pluralism, and in sociolinguistics, and because it is a very relevant criticism of the ambiguities in the attitude of the Dravidian Movement towards outcaste peoples, Nuhman's answer goes far beyond the attack launched against him, but it is not likely to have any echo, and the debate will remain clumsy as long as there are international journals to report it exclusively in English.

As we conclude, we note that there are a few questions yet to be answered:

  1. Philology today is almost always apologetic, on the defensive, as it were, and hence is often vainglorious and contemptuous of others. Leaving aside Indian studies, I quote, for the sake of its balanced and lucid views, the inaugural lecture of my colleague Jean-Pierre Rothschild, member of the Institut de recherche sur l'histoire des textes (IRHT) on taking the new chair of "Langue et littérature hébraïques dans l'Occident médiéval et moderne", at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, on 20th November 1996: “Philology is not a self contained science but rather a practice aimed at the intelligence of ancient texts which stand at the meeting point of a group of scientific disciplines. Philology in itself is, in the etymological sense of the word, trivial, and wretched, for philology, when it applies itself to those two tasks which are at its centre, namely the editing of texts and the commenting on them, labours under the continuous limitation of two insufficiencies which are the lack of technique in relation to the mass of knowledge and of methodologies with which they are working without hope of mastering: codicology, history of books, palaeography, history of grammatical theories, historical grammar, linguistic theory, rhetoric, history of doctrines, and history in general, amongst other subjects and, secondly, a weakness in their ancillary position, for a poetry editor is not usually an inspired critic, much less a poet and, an editor of philosophical texts is not a philosopher nor even a philosophy professor.[…] In any case, when the text, philosophical, literary or whichever it is, which has been what is called "procured" by the philologist, arrives on the desk, a work is begun which is his ultimate goal but in which he has no place. The philologist then is the cook who has prepared the dishes for a banquet to be served to people more important than he is. This cannot be without effect on his own work since a critical edition or a commentary is not an object in itself but an object for someone made by someone else under the auspices of an institution of some kind, in relation, but not necessarily in response to, a certain demand..."59
  2. A perspective of such lucidity on the function of philology is something we should always remember in the face of the over bold expression of certitudes by some textualists. It is welcome because it is an invitation to a dialogue with history. Such a dialogue can only begin, however, when history recovers itself and refuses to be diluted in a confused mass of "social sciences", which tend to exploit and mimic it without providing a more satisfactory synthesis or a more rigorous method with regard to its fundamental exigencies. These, just as philological rigour, are proved on the terrain, where the meeting, in a given cultural area, of history and philology is not simply a not yet outdated formula by which to define chairs in the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes. It responds to that fundamental aspiration of research where the philologist ceases to be obsessed by the integrity of his text in favour of insuring optimum conditions for its intelligibility and diffusion, and where the historian ceases to compensate for his cultural estrangement by a debate which, though certainly global, is topically inadequate. It is perhaps that dialogue, so much desired and so little practised, that might be fit to bear in the Indian sphere the name of indology.60
  3. In this hypothesis, Indian studies other than in Sanskrit constitute ideally the best example, for these spatio-temporal configurations are more immediately perceptible in them. The scientific treatment of the most contemporary material has every chance of producing results that would be conducive to extrapolation without favouring gratuitous speculation. This is the reason why the phenomeno-logical, sensitive approach to these modern and contemporary literatures must be emphasized and set as an example throughout our research activities.
  4. This is also why it is necessary to have the methodological tools to fulfil an ambition with a limited but essential target. It is specially necessary for anyone engaged in a study using bibliographical techniques to be inspired eventually by the spirit which animates the research of a Roger Chartier or a Robert Darnton, that is, where knowledge of the worlds of books and of other carriers of messages is not separated from that of modes of life. Methods of circulation of documents, readers and/or listeners, their reading practices and other techniques of knowledge are to be at last seriously approached, as much through the most sophisticated ways of cataloguing manuscripts and digitalizing images, as through the plodding exploration of the most confidential contemporary films, videos, magazines and brochures.
  • 61 See the commitment of the University of Chicago for making the Roja Mutthia Library in Madras the (...)

90We are therefore brought, in conclusion, to proclaim once more the necessity of adequate information, more systematically collected.61 This is the price for an atlas of the Tamil archipelago, but its old navigation charts and logs must not in the meantime be thrown into the sea.

91This article originally appeared in English in Kannan M., Carlos Mena (eds.), Negotiations with the past: Classical Tamil in Contemporary Tamil, IFP, Tamil Chair, UC at Berkeley, Pondicherry, 2006. It has not been updated.


1 "Resistant Reason, you will not prevent me from casting, absurdly, upon the waters drifting on the tides of my thirst, your form, deformed islands, your end, my defiance." Aimé Césaire, Notebook of a Return to My Native Land, Translated by Mireille Rosello with Annie Pritchard, Bloodaxe Books, Newcastle, 1995.

2 The most obvious, and trivial, example was offered in Pondicherry in January 1997: while a first version of this text was being delivered at the colloquium on ‘Sources and Time’ to a small international audience debating the future of indological texts, another small and equally exclusive group were celebrating the third centenary of Dupleix. These two islands could not meet, separated as they were in terms of space by the ocean of a local population, which is the great majority and has no concern for either of them. The former may consider the world of scholarship as its mainland while the latter locates its continent a few thousand miles to the west. But nonetheless, some French symbols, common to both, are to be interpreted in both contexts, which, as well share some meanings and a longing for radical differences.
Another example is proposed by the impact of British cinema: while it remained an imported artefact till the early fifties in Australia for example, it immediately blossomed in Madras into a Tamil industry, thanks to mythological silent films, but later developed into a very isolated and specifically Tamil island, due to the introduction of sound, music, and then songs and dialogue. See S. Theodore Baskaran, The Eye of the Serpent, An introduction to Tamil Cinema, Madras, 1996.

3 This repeated homage to Louis Robert points to a classical tradition in philology. In history, a reference to Braudel here would appear a superfluity. Indian studies do not figure much in the avant-garde. Readers in search of scholastic references may go back to Y. F. Tuan, Topophilia: A Study of Environmental Perception, Attitudes, and Values, Prentice-Hall, 1974 or enjoy reading Simon Schama Landscape and Memory, Harper Collins, London, 1995, or, dealing with South Asia, James S. Duncan, The city as text: the politics of landscape interpretation in the Kandyan kingdom, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1990, a case study of wider scope with a relevant general bibliography. French specialists of cultural geography seem to have their own references and classics, from Françoise Choay and Pierre Sansot to Felix Guattari, and of course the many studies of Augustin Berque on Japan (for example Du geste à la cité, Formes urbaines et lien social au Japon, Paris, 1993).

4 For example, in the English translation of Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1984, p. 94: "Culturescapes bear the imprint of history as expression and of historical continuity as form. They dynamically integrate these elements in ways similar to artistic production."

5 See Dumarçay Temples Pallava construits. Etude iconographique par F. L'hernault, Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient, Mémoires Archéologiques, Paris 1975; R. Nagaswamy, " New light on Māmallapuram", The Archaelogical Society of South India, Silver jubilee Volume, Madras, 1962, pp. 1-50; contra, Gift Sironmoney and M. Lock Wood, "Studies in Makāpalipuram monuments – A Review", 1975, reproduced in Indological essays, Commemorative Volume II for Gift Sironmoney, Madras, 1992, pp. 203-212, with bibliography; more recent, Michael Lockwood et al. Pallava Art, Madras, 2001.

6 Pierre Pichard [et al.] Vingt ans après Tanjavur, Gangaikondacholapuram, Publications de l'Ecole Française d'Extrême-Orient, Collection des Mémoires Archéologiques, Paris, 1994, 2 vol. Also Darasuram. Epigraphical Study. Etude architecturale. Etude iconographique, [by P. R. Srinivasan, J. Dumarçay and F. L'Hernault respectively], ibid., 1987.

7 Pierre Pichard, Tanjavur Brhadisvara- The Monument and the Living Presence, EFEO and IGNCA, 1996. See also Brhadisvara The Monument and the Living Tradition, Seminar 12th to 15th October, 1993, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi. The shift from "living tradition" to "living presence" is linguistic evidence of how revivalism makes its own way nowadays.

8 N. Sethuraman, "Dates of the inscriptions of the Thanjavur Brhadisvara Temple", in the 1993 IGNCA Seminar quoted above, p. 7.

9 Ibid. "The Rajarajesvaram in Tanjavur: its Form and Meaning", p. 3. The author is considered a prominent authority on South Indian medieval history and urbanism, mostly on the basis of an important article published in 1979 on the site of Kumpakonam. See Brajadula Chattopadhyaya, " Urban Centres in Early Medieval India: An Overview" in S. Bhattacharyya and Romila Thapar, eds., Situating Indian History, O.U.P., 1986, reprinted in his The making of early medieval India, O.U.P., 1994 (available as Oxford India Paperback, 1997), ch. 7.

10 P. Pichard shows no such intrepid triumphalism when he expresses serious doubts about the speculations of L. Thyagarajan on a tentative reinterpretation of the site of Gangai as a capital city, from a handful of inscriptions. In the state of the art, the cautious scepticism of P. Pichard is the only scientific attitude to be adopted in the face of such "urbanisme fragmenté". See work quoted. above note 5.

11 R. Nagaswamy, Keynote address to the 1993 IGNCA Seminar quoted above, p. 23.

12 It is this secular aspect of royal oppression that the Tamil poet Inqilab denounced in 1985, when he sang the thousand anniversary of Rajaraja in a poem of protest against the corvée and the devadāsi system.

13 Right emphasis on this twofold division was put in a Ph. D. thesis on The Royal Temple of Rajaraja. An Instrument of Imperial Cola Power, submitted to Madras University long ago by a student of Pr. K. V. Raman, Dr. Geeta Vasudevan, and finally published in 2003 by Abhinav Publishers, New Delhi. She gives the useful example of Kanchipuram where we may contrast the Kailasanatha, alias Rajasimhesvara, erected by the king under his own name and considered as the stone temple par excellence (tirukkaṟṟaḷi) as long as the Pallava dynasty endured, when it turned into a purely archaeological monument, with the Varadarajasvami or the Vaikunta Perumal, which maintains intact the presence of Tirumankai Aḻvār through the ages.

14 Work quoted above, The city as text..., pp. 88-89.

15 Tancai nakariya caktik koyilkal, by K. Kulattūrān, Tamil Palkalaikkalakam, Tancavur, 1994.

16 Interestingly, the monograph on Tiruvannamalai published by the École Française d'Extrême-Orient is a multidisciplinary endeavour in social sciences only as far as modern times are concerned, since the two volumes of inscriptions remain an independent work by P. R. Srinivasan.

17 "Publishing: A Survival Strategy for Academic Authors", in The Kiss of Lamourette. Reflections on Cultural History, W. W. Norton, New York, 1990, p. 97.

18 De la maison à la ville en pays tamoul ou La diagonale interdite. Formes urbaines, pratiques et significations en Inde du Sud, thèse de l'Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris, 1993, under the direction of Denys Lombard; vol. I Text; Vol. II 165 drawings, 22 photographic plates. As a matter of fact it stands as the unique corpus on that area. Finally published by EFEO in 2007 (Mémoires archéologiques 23).

19 La maison horizon, thèse de l'université de Paris Sorbonne Paris IV, submitted on 4th December 1996, later published under the title Habiter en pays tamoul, Paris, L’Harmattan 1999.

20 Submitted as a thesis on cultural geography, under the guidance of J. R. Pitte, this study is an important contribution to the reinstating of geography among Humanities, where it was born and from where it should never depart.

21 Augustin Berque noted, regarding another Asian world, "If societies adjust their environment according to the way they interpret and represent it, reciprocally, they interpret it according to the way they adjust it to their needs." As a consequence, the same texts may indeed bear different readings.

22 See Mattison Mines, Public Faces, Private Voices, Community and Individuality in South India, University of California Press, 1994.

23 This is the subtitle of The Social Life of Things, Arjun Appadurai ed., Cambridge University Press, 1986.

24 See Carol A. Breckenbridge, Consuming Modernity, Public Culture in Contemporary India, O.U.P., 1996 and Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large, Culltural Dimensions of Globalization, O.U.P., 1997.

25 Tamilakat tolil mukankal, Akilâ Niûs, Dindigul, September 1996. In terms of consumption this list is priced at forty rupees as against four hundred and fifty for its English counterpart.

26 "Tamiḻariṉ Tigerp pūṭṭu oḻukkaṅkaḷ," says Sundara Ramasamy, an idiom likely to puzzle the next generation of philologists.

27 In French, see, for example, A. Corbin, Le miasme et la jonquille, Flammarion, 1982, M. Onfray, L'art de jouir, Grasset 1991, and the studies of Jean-Paul Aron or Jean-Louis Flandrin on eating and drinking behaviour or in Italian, the work of Piero Camporesi.

28 S. Anand, Brahmans & Cricket, Lagaan’s Millenial Purana and Other Myths, Navayan Publishing, 2003.

29 To translate the title of the film Ammaṉ Kōvil kiḻakkālē "East of Amman kovil", (East of Eden!) is not only wrong, it ignores the fact that this title is a quotation from a folksong taken from another current film: "Ammankovil is in the East/ Our field is in the West/ Our village in the middle." (Ammaṉ kōvil kiḻakkālē/ Namma vayal mekkālē/ Namma vūru naṭuvālē).

30 Issue dated January 8, 1997.

31 Arjun Appadurai, "Global Ethnoscapes: Notes and Queries for a Transnational Anthropology", in Recapturing Anthropology, ed. by Richard G. Fox, pp. 191-210, Santa Fe School of American Research Press, 1991. Quotes from pp. 191-192.

32 Details in Florence Callandre, Koylou, Représentation divine et architecture sacrée de l'hindouisme réunionnais, thèse d'anthropologie de la quotidienneté et du monde actuel, (université de La Réunion, 1995), published in 1998, Université de La Réunion. See also Christian Barat, Nargoulan: culture et rites malbar à La Réunion, Saint-Denis, 1989; Jean Benoist, Hindouismes créoles, Mascareignes, Antilles, Paris, 1998 and Au visiteur lumineux, Des îles créoles aux sociétés plurielles, Mélanges offerts à Jean Benoist, Guadeloupe, 2000.

33 See the proceedings of the conference on Maintenance of Indian Languages and Culture Abroad, held by the Central Institute of Indian Languages in Mysore on January 5-9 1994.

34 We refer to Sheldon Pollock, "The Sanskrit Cosmopolis, 300-1300: Transculturation, Vernacularization, and the Question of Ideology", in Jan, E. M. Houben (editor) Ideology and Status of Sanskrit, Brill, Leiden, 1996, pp. 197-247.

35 Friedhelm Hardy, The religious culture of India, Power, Love and Wisdom, Cambridge studies in Religious Traditions 4, Cambridge University Press, 1995.

36 See Jérôme Paturot à la recherche d'une position sociale (1843), second part ch. XIV-XV (La haute science, Les voyages officiels) and Léon Gozlan's stories Echec à l'éléphant and Le feu, Histoire de quatre savants. In Fortunio, ch. VIII, (1837), Théophile Gautier, whose daughter Judith would later write fiction set in India, also ridiculed the professor of ‘indoustani’ at the Collège de France: « M. C *** n’avait jamais su d’autre langue que la langue eskuara, ou patois basque, qu’il enseignait à un Allemand naïf, seul élève de son cours. », "who never knew any language but Eskuara, the Basque patois which he taught to a naive German, the only pupil in his class".

37 See for example, the thesis of Gloria Saravaya on Oral expression in Negritude writing from L. S. Senghor to A. Césaire, where the study of Black literature is a way to express her own Indian "dimension". See her two books, Langage et poésie dans l'oeuvre poétique de L. S. Senghor, Paris, 1989, and Le thème du retour dans le Cahier d'un retour au pays natal (Aimé Césaire), Paris, 1996.

38 Readers of A. K. Ramanujam will certainly understand what a rich world of culture is alluded to here.

39 Nothwithstanding A. R. Venkatachalapathy's Ph. D. thesis A Social History of Tamil Bookpublishing, c.1850-1938. J.N.U. New Delhi, 1994, which calls for further studies on middle class culture, popular publishing etc., but should free itself from the commonplace, inherited from Foucault, that language is power. More insight is to be gained from Sita Anantha Raman, Getting Girls to Schools; Social reform in the Tamil districts 1870-1930, Calcutta, 1996, based on original Indian material, contemporary journals, oral accounts and interviews.

40 Mahasveta Devi, "Find the roots", Key-note address to the National Literary Conference held in Thrissur by the Kerala Sahitya Akademi, in November 1995; in Poetic Vision Family Ethnicity Writer's Freedom, ed. by K. L. Mohana Varma, Kerala Sahitya Akademi, Trichur, 1996, p. 31.

41 Iravatham Mahadevan, "Recent Trends in Early Tamil Epigraphy: an Overview", Paper presented at the eighth International conference-Seminar on Tamil Studies, Thanjavur, 1995; "From Orality to Literacy: The Case of the Tamil Society", in Studies in History 11, 2, n. s. 1995, pp. 173-188; see also the revised edition of his Corpus of Tamil-Brāhmī Inscriptions, International Institute of Asian Studies, Madras, 1997 and, last, his magnum opus, Early Tamil Epigraphy From the Earliest Times to the Sixth Century A.D., Chennai, India and Harvard University, U.S.A., 2003.

42 Contra see Herman Tieken’s latest vindication of his controversial dating, “Old Tamil Caṅkam literature and the so-called Caṅkam period” in The Indian Economic and Social History Review, 40, 3 (2003).

43 Tradition, Dissent and Ideology. Essays in honour of Romila Thapar, O.U.P. 1996. See the articles of Rajan Gurukkal, "Toward a new discourse: discursive processes in Early South India" and of R. Champakalakshmi, " From Devotion and Dissent to Dominance: The Bhakti of the Tamil Alvar and Nayanmar".

44 In higher style, the complete story of Pari has been compiled in a 753 stanzas Pāri Kātai (with commentary) by Ra. Irakavaiyankar, and published in 1937 by the University of Annamalai. The dedication to the Pro-chancellor, Raja Sir Annamalai Cettiyar, puts the author and his patron firmly in the tradition of the great vaḷḷal (liberal donors) of the Caṅkam age. In 1999, S. Vilvaratnam, a Tamil poet from Jaffna wrote his own modern vision of Pari’s daughters pathetic exile in his poem ‘nilaviṉ etiroli’, reflecting today situation in Sri Lanka. See the translations of this poem in Kannan M., Carlos Mena (eds.), Negotiations with the past: Classical Tamil in Contemporary Tamil, IFP, Tamil Chair, UC at Berkeley, Pondicherry, 2006.

45 Narayana Rao, Velcheru, Shulman, David, Subrahmanyam, Sanjay. Symbols of Substance: Court and State in Nayaka Period Tamil Nadu. O.U.P. Delhi, 1992.

46 Kingship and political practice in colonial India, University of Cambridge Oriental Publications 51, Cambridge University Press, 1996. The book focuses on the two little kingdoms of Ramnad and Sivagangai under British colonial rule in the nineteenth century, with special emphasis on the religious symbols and practices (honour, largess in monarchical politics), which were inherited from 17th century Maravar country, and are assumed to inform, even today, popular expectation of political leadership. For an example of literary continuity through folk poetry see the references to the 17th century folk poem, Ramayyan Ammanai, pp. 19-25.

47 A French translation, by Léonce Cadelis, has also been published in Pondicherry (s.d.).

48 The vexed question of the exact brand of Saivism the Somaśambhupaddhati deals with is precisely that it is, so to speak, wrapped up in several layers of later Tamil inspired commentaries, exegesis, or textual alterations; it may therefore be necessary to peel off those outer skins in order to reach the core, a more orthodox, more northern Saivism. It is easy to imagine how delicate this intervention by historicism and textual criticism has to be when the text is still implicitly considered by its users as an unquestionable authority.

49 See David Smith, The Dance of Siva. Religion, art and poetry in South India, Cambridge Studies in religious traditions 7, Cambridge University Press, 1996; centred on a single text of Umāpati, the book does not really clarify his history but gives interesting samples of his work, chosen with a literary bias.

50 First collected by S. Rajam (1904-1986), then indexed in 132 hand written volumes and finally printed in three volumes by the Santi Sadhana Trust (Chennai, 2001) but yet to be extended to the neglected Jaina commentaries and to the occasional Saiva glosses scattered in innumerable minor Saiva texts still in manuscript form.

51 Dagmar Hellmann-Rajanayagam, "Is there a Tamil 'race'?", in The Concept of Race in South Asia, edited by Peter Robb, O.U.P. Delhi, 1995, p. 145.

52 See, on Dalit literature and, more generally, on how contemporary literary studies in Tamil can serve literature and contribute to history, Kannan M. et F. Gros, "Les dalit tamouls en quête d'une littérature", in Bulletin de l'Ecole Française d'Extrême-Orient, 83, 1996, pp. 125-153 (see the article on Dalit literature in this vol.) and the review by F. Gros of Viramma, Josiane et Jean-Luc Racine, Une vie paria, Le rire des asservis, Pays tamoul, Inde du Sud, Paris 1994, ibid., pp. 385-389.

53 A French introduction and translation by F. Gros is available as “Une nouvelle tamoule, Jeyamôkan, L’arbre de la connaissance” in the Felicitation volume offered to Jacques Dumarçay, Paris, Les Indes savants, 2006. See the article in this volume.

54 French translation as «Les vingt et un chevreaux d’Irulappa çâmi» in L’arbre nâgalinga, nouvelles d’Inde du Sud, selected and translated from Tamil by François Gros and Kannan, M., Editions de l’aube, 2002. See also the brief survey of the Tamil short stories in this book.

55 See the bibliographical note by Ulrike Niklas, "Autour des katai, note bibliographique sur le folklore tamoul" in Traditions orales dans le monde indien, Oral Traditions in South Asia, ed. C. Champion, Collection Puruṣārtha, No 18, Editions de l'EHESS, Paris, 1996, pp. 427-432.

56 See K. Ayyappa Paniker, "The Cemmīṉ Myth", The Literary Criterion, ed. by C. D. Narasimhaiah, Mysore 1976, vol. XII, Nos. 2-3, (Special Number on Indian Writing in English) pp. 75-86.

57 See the theme of a short story by Atavan, Putumaippittaṉiṉ turōkam (The betrayal of Putumaippittan), 1979.

58 See A. R. Venkatachalapathy, "Subramania Bharati and the Modernisation of Tamil", Review Article in South Indian Studies, 1 January-June 1996, pp. 136-143 with bibliography. The Tamil version appeared in Kālaccuvaṭu 13, March 1996, pp. 65-69. The reply of M. A. Nuhman is published in Kālaccuvaṭu 15, dated September 1996, pp. 29-33. See also A. R. Venkatachalapathy," Coining words: Language and Politics in Late colonial Tamil Nadu" in South Asia Bulletin, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, vol. XV, No 2 (1995), pp. 120-129.

59 "La philologie n'est pas une science une, mais une pratique, visant à l'intelligence des anciens textes, qui se situe au carrefour d'un ensemble de disciplines scientifiques. La philologie, en cela, est, au sens étymologique du mot, triviale; triviale et malheureuse: car le philologue, quand il se livre aux deux tâches qui sont au centre de sa vocation: l'édition des textes et le commentaire de ceux-ci, y mesure sans cesse ses deux insuffisances: insuffisance de sa propre technique, par rapport à l'ensemble de ces savoirs et de ces méthodologies qu'il met en œuvre sans jamais pouvoir espérer les dominer entièrement: codicologie, histoire du livre, paléographie, histoire des théories grammaticales, grammaire historique, théorie linguistique, rhétorique, histoire des doctrines, histoire générale, et d'autres encore; et insuffisance de sa position ancillaire; car l'éditeur des poètes n'est pas le critique inspiré; encore moins est-il un poète lui-même; l'éditeur de textes philosophiques n'est pas le philosophe, ni même le professeur de philosophie [...] Mais enfin, lorsque le texte, philosophique, littéraire ou quel qu'il soit," procuré", comme on dit, par le philologue, est arrivé sur la table, commence seulement un travail qui est la cause finale du sien, et auquel il n'a point de part. Il est le cuisinier qui a préparé les plats, mais le festin est pour d'autres, plus importants que lui. Cela n'est d'ailleurs pas sans incidence sur son propre travail, car une édition critique ou un commentaire ne sont pas un objet en soi, mais un objet pour quelqu'un et fabriqué par quelqu'un en un certain lieu institutionnel en fonction de (je ne dis pas nécessairement: pour répondre directement à) une certaine demande..." Conférence d’ouverture de M. Jean-Pierre Rothschild, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris, A la Sorbonne, 1998, pp. 15-16.

60 "Indology will be understood as the study of the history, languages, literature, philosophy, science, religion, music, art or culture of the Indian sub-continent through the medium of one or more oriental languages, ancient or modern." Wolfson College, Oxford, Stipendiary Junior Resaerch Fellowship 1997 in Indology.

61 See the commitment of the University of Chicago for making the Roja Mutthia Library in Madras the most important "subaltern" library in South India, and the now internationally acknowledged efforts of the programme of Contemporary Tamil Culture at the Pondicherry French Institute to build the archives of the present time.

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