Tolkappiyam: A Masterpiece of Tamil Grammar and Poetry

Written by: Sarmatha Sivarajah

Tolkappiyam (Tamil: தொல்காப்பியம்)  is one of the earliest master pieces of Tamil literature and consists the foundation of Tamil grammar in the Tamil Language. Tolkappiyam is derived from the combination of two words Tonmai and kāppiyam. Tonmai means ancientness and Kappiam means literature. It consists of three books which are called the Ezhuttadikaram, the Solladikaram and the Poruladikaram in Tamil. Each of these books are called atikarams in Tamil and each are divided into nine chapters. The translation of Ezhuttadikaram is formation of words and combination of words likewise Solladikaram is syntax and Poruladikaram is conveying thoughts. Tolkappiyam composes of things such as  orthography, phonology, morphology, semantics, and prosody consisting of the Tamil Language and the subject matter of its literature.

Even though the exact date of this masterpiece is not certain, it’s believed to have been dated somewhere between 8000 BCE and 10th CE proving how ancient it really is. Also the author of Tolkappiyam remains a mystery. Some believe considering the amount of time it took for the final publication of the book to become available that it may have multiple authors assigned to it or it may have been the work of a systematized school of grammar. Though most authors attribute this masterpiece to an individual named Tolkappiyanaar whom some suggest came from the heterodox Jaina order. Some like Alexander Dubyanskiy, a veteran Tamil scholar from Moscow State University says “Tolkappiyam is not dependent on Sanskrit sources and a work that demanded not only vast knowledge but also a lot of thinking from its author”.

Also the most important part of this masterpiece is the introduction and the distinction of akam and puram.  The inner core of truth of human life is akam or love and puram means poetry of the phenomenon. The distinction between akam poetries from puram poetries is that in akam poetries, the rule is that no names are to be mentioned. Contrasting that puram poetries consist of the varying experiences of individuals in this world, experiences which can be dated far back as belonging to historical persons. Thus, Tolkappiyam can be considered as one of the ancient Tamil masterpieces. And as scholar Alexander Dubyanskiy suggests, Tolkappiyam is a literary and cultural monument of great importance.

Tamil Heritage Month began in 2010 and seeks to celebrate Tamil heritage, culture, and history. Throughout this month, we will be providing you with educational material and poetry such as this that seeks to help us celebrate and understand our culture, roots and heritage.

Bibliography:

Madhavan, K. (2010). Tolkappiyam is not dependent on Sanskrit sources: Tamil scholar. The Hindu. Retrieved from http://www.thehindu.com/news/states/tamil-nadu/article489121.ece

Meenakshisundaram, T. (1966). Tolkapiyar’s Literary Theory. Tamination.org (truth is a pathless land). Retrieved from http://tamilnation.co/literature/grammar/tolkappiyam.htm

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