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Topics in Sangam literature

Sangam literature

Akattiyam Tholkāppiyam

Eighteen Greater Texts

Eight Anthologies

Aiṅkurunūṟu Akanāṉūṟu

Puṟanāṉūṟu Kalittokai

Kuṟuntokai Natṟiṇai

Paripāṭal Patiṟṟuppattu

Ten Idylls

Tirumurukāṟṟuppaṭai Kuṟiñcippāṭṭu

Malaipaṭukaṭām Maturaikkāñci

Mullaippāṭṭu Neṭunalvāṭai

Paṭṭiṉappālai Perumpāṇāṟṟuppaṭai

Poruṇarāṟṟuppaṭai Ciṟupāṇāṟṟuppaṭai

Eighteen Lesser Texts

Nālaṭiyār Nāṉmaṇikkaṭikai

Iṉṉā Nāṟpatu Iṉiyavai Nāṟpatu

Kār Nāṟpatu Kaḷavaḻi Nāṟpatu

Aintiṇai Aimpatu Tiṉaimoḻi Aimpatu

Tiṉaimalai Nūṟṟu
Aintinai Eḻupatu
Tirukkuṛaḷ Tirikaṭukam

Ācārakkōvai Paḻamoḻi Nāṉūṟu

Ciṟupañcamūlam Mutumoḻikkānci

Elāti Kainnilai

Related topics

Sangam Sangam landscape

Tamil history from Ancient Tamil

Sangam literature music


The Purananuru (Tamill: புறநானூறு, meaning anthology of four hundred stanzas[1]) is

a Tamil poetic work in the Eight Anthologies(Ettuthokai), one of the two divisions of the Eighteen
Greater Texts (Pathinenmelkanakku) collection. It is a treatise on kingship: what a king should be,
how he should act, how he should treat his subjects and how he should show his generosity.[2] The
Sangam Collection is classified into Eighteen Greater Texts (Patinenmelkanakku) and Eighteen
Lesser Texts (Pathinenkilkanakku) and each classification has eighteen collections, as an anthology
of Tamil literature, belonging to the Sangam period. It is dated between 1st century BCE and 5th
century CE.[3]
The Purananuru is one of the eight books in the secular anthology of Sangam literature.[4] The
secular anthology is entirely unique in Indian literature, which are nearly all religious texts during this
era.[4] The Purananuru contains 400 poems of varying lengths in the akaval meter. More than 150
poets wrote the poems.[5] It is not known when or who collected these poems into these anthologies.
The Purananuru is a source of information on the political and social history of prehistoric Tamil
Nadu. There is information on the various rulers who ruled the Tamil country before and during the
Sangam era.


 1Anthology
 2Nature of Purananuru
o 2.1Authors
o 2.2Subject matter
o 2.3Structure
o 2.4Landscapes
o 2.5Realism
 3Historical source
 4Publishing in modern times
 5Samples
 6Notes
 7References
Among the eight Sangam anthologies, Purananuru and Pathitrupathu are
concerned with life outside family - kings, wars, greatness, generosity,
ethics and philosophy.[6] While Pathitrupathu is limited to the glory
of Chera kings in 108 verses, Purananuru contains an assortment of
themes in three hundred ninety seven poems.[6] Of the original 400 poems,
two have been lost, and some poems miss several lines.[6]

Nature of Purananuru[edit]
There are 400 poems in Purananuru including the invocation poem. Poems
267 and 268 are lost and some of the poems exist only in fragment. Of the
poets who wrote these poems, there are men and women, kings and
paupers. The oldest book of annotations found so far has annotations and
commentary on the first 266 poems. The commentator Nachinarkiniyaar, of
the eleventh – twelfth century Tamil Nadu, has written a complete
commentatry on all the poems.
A majority of poems are

 praise of the king (2-85)[7][8]

 their generosity (315-35)[7][8]
 by poets for their patrons (86-173)[7][8]
 war poems (283-314)[7][8]
 ethical and moral poems (182-95)[7][8]
 references to cattle raids (257-9, 262-3)[7][8]
 chief drinking toddy before raids (269)[7][8]
It is not known exactly how many authors wrote the poems in Purananuru.
There are 147 different names found from the colophons. However some of
these could denote the same author. For example, Mangudi Kizhaar and
Mangudi Maruthanaar could denote the same person. We don't know .
Some of the authors of the poems, such as Kapilar and Nakkirar, have also
written poems that are part of other anthologies.
Some of the names of the authors, such as Irumpitarthalaiyaar and
Kookaikozhiyaar, seem to be nicknames based on words from the poems
rather than proper names. This suggests that those who compiled this
anthology must have made up these names as the authors' names must
have been lost when these poems were collected.
Subject matter[edit]
As its name suggests, Purananuru poems deal with the puram (external or
objective) concepts of life such as war, politics, wealth, as well as aspects
of everyday living. Some of the poems are in the form of elegies in tribute
to a fallen hero. These poems exhibit outpourings of affection and
emotions. Purananuru principally revolves around three themes - the king
and his powers over the environment, power of women's purity,
namely karpu (chastity), and the system of caste, which is not too different
from the current system prevalent among Tamil society.[9]
There are also a few poems in Purananuru, which are classified
as attruppatais. Attruppatai poems read like travelogues in which poets
who were returning with gifts, received from a king, encourage other poets
to do the same by describing the glory of the king and his country. This
gives an opportunity to the poet, among other topics, to describe in great
detail the natural beauty, fertility, and resources of the territory that has to
be traversed to reach the palace of the patron.
There seems to be some definite structure to the order of the poems
in Purananuru. The poems at the beginning of the book deal with the three
major kings Chola, Chera and Pandya of ancient Tamil Nadu.[9] The
middle portion is on the lesser kings and the Velir chieftains, who were
feudatories of these three major kingdoms, with a short intervening section
(poems 182 - 195) of didactic poems. The final portion deals with the
general scenery of war and the effect of warfare.
Just as the akam (subjective) poems are classified into
seven thinais or landscapes based on the mood of the poem, the
Tamil prosodical tradition mentioned in the ancient Tamil grammatical
treatise Tolkappiyam also classifies puram (objective) poems into
seven thinais based on the subject of the poems. These are vetchi, when
the king provokes war by attacking and stealing the cattle of his
enemy; vanchi, when the king invades the enemy territory; uzhingai, when the king lays a siege of the
enemy's fortress; thumbai, when the two armies meet on a battlefield; vaakai, when the king is victorious; paataan, when the poet praises the king on
his victory; and kanchi, when the poet sings on the fragility of human life.

The Purananuru does not, however, follow this system. The colophons accompanying each poem name a total of eleven thinais. From the subject
matter of the poems they accompany, each can be said to represent the following themes:

 vetchi - the provocation of war through attack and cattle raids

 karanthai - defending against cattle raids
 vanchi - invasion of the enemy's territory
 kanchi - transcience and change, the fragility of human life, against the backdrop of war
 uzhingai- attacking the fort
 nochchi - defence of the fort or territory
 thumpai - the frenzy of battle
 vaakai - victory
 paadaan - praise of a king's heroism or generosity, asking for gifts
 pothuviyal - general heroism (mostly philosophical musings and elegies for heroes).
 kaikkilai - unrequited love
 perunthinai - unsuitable love
The last two themes are traditionally associated with akam poetry. In Purananuru, they occur in the
context of the familiar puram landscape of warfare. Thus songs 83, 84 and 85 are classified to
belong to the kaikkilai thinai, which denotes unrequited love, and describe a noblewoman's love for
King Cholan Poravai Kopperunarkilli. Similarly, songs 143 to 147 are classified
as perunthinai or perunkilai thinai, which denotes unsuitable love, and deal with King Pekan's
abandonment of his wife. Pothuviyal is described in commentaries as a general thinai used for
poems that cannot be classified in any other manner but, in the context of Purananuru, is used
almost exclusively for didactic verse and elegies or laments for dead heroes.
Tolkappiyam does not mention several of Purananuru's poetic meters and grammatical structure,
which make it at least as old as Tolkappiyam if not more. Some of the meters in Purananuru are
Archaic. Also, Tolkappiyam's oozhinai theme does not occur in Purananuru, its role being filled to
some extent by the nochchi theme, whilst other themes, described as having a particular function
in Tolkappiyam, are utilised differently by Purananuru. The thinais for 44 poems have been lost due
to the deterioration of the palm-leaf manuscripts.
The poems are further classified into thurais. A thurai denotes the locale of the poem giving the
situation under which it was written. Some of these are parisil thurai when the poet reminds the king
or patron of the reward that he promised to him, kalitrutanilai in which the hero dies with the elephant
he killed in battle, and so on. Some of the poems are too damaged in the manuscripts to determine
their thurais. It is not known whether the authors of the poems made these classifications. It is more
likely that those who collected the anthology applied these classifications. Poem 289 was not
assigned any classification, for reasons unknown.
Purananuru songs exhibit a unique realism and immediacy not frequently found in classical
literature. The nature and the subject of the poems lend us to believe that poets did not write these
poems on events that happened years prior, rather they wrote (or sang) them on impulse in situ.
Some of the poems are conversational in which the poet pleads, begs, chides or praises the king.
One such example is poem 46. The poet Kovur Kizhaar address the Chola king Killivalavan to save
the lives of the children of a defeated enemy who are about to be executed by being trampled under
an elephant. The poet says, "… O king, you belong to the heritage of kings who sliced their own
flesh to save the life of a pigeon, look at these children; they are so naïve of their plight that they
have stopped crying to look at the swinging trunk of the elephant in amusement. Have pity on
them…" The almost impressionistic picture the poem paints cannot be anything but by someone who
is witness to the events present in the poem.
The second poem by Mudinagarayar addresses the Chera king Uthayan Cheralaathan and praises
him for his feeding the armies at the Kurukshetra war. This is an obvious anachronism suggesting a
king of the early common era Tamil country had a role to play in a mythological battle of
the Mahabharata epic. Based on this one poem, there have been attempts at dating
the Purananuru poems to around 1000 BCE or older.
Historical source[edit]
See also: Tamil history from Sangam literature
Each Purananuru poem has a colophon attached to it giving the authorship and subject matter of the
poem, the name of the king or chieftain to whom the poem relates and the occasion which called
forth the eulogy are also found.
It is from these colophons and rarely from the texts of the poems themselves, that we gather the
names of many kings and chieftains and the poets and poetesses patronised by them. The task of
reducing these names to an ordered scheme in which the different generations of contemporaries
can be marked off one another has not been easy. To add to the confusions, some historians have
even denounced these colophons as later additions and untrustworthy as historical documents.
A careful study of the synchronisation between the kings, chieftains and the poets suggested by
these colophons indicates that this body of literature reflect occurrences within a period of four or
five continuous generations at the most, a period of 120 or 150 years. Any attempt at extracting a
systematic chronology and data from these poems should be aware of the casual nature of these
poems and the wide difference between the purposes of the anthologist who collected these poems
and the historian’s attempts are arriving at a continuous history.
Although there have been attempts at dating the poems of Purananuru based on the mention of the
Mahabharata war, a more reliable source for the period of these poems is based on the mentions
one finds on the foreign trade and presence of Greek and Roman merchants in the port
of Musiri (poem 343), which give us a date of between 200 BCE to 150 CE for the period of these
poems. This is further strengthened by the mention of Maurya in poem 175 and a reference
to Ramayana in poem 378.

Publishing in modern times[edit]

A palm leaf manuscript with ancient Tamil text

U. V. Swaminatha Iyer (1855-1942 CE) resurrected the first three epics and Sangam literature from
the appalling neglect and wanton destruction of centuries.[10] He reprinted the literature present in the
palm leaf form to paper books.[11] Ramaswami Mudaliar, a Tamil scholar, first gave him the palm
leaves of Civaka Cintamani to study.[10] Being the first time, Swaminatha Iyer had to face many
difficulties in terms of interpreting, finding the missing leaves, textual errors and unfamiliar
terms.[10] He went on tiring journeys to remote villages in search of the missing manuscripts. After
years of toil, he published Civaka Cintamani in book form in 1887 CE, followed by Silappatikaram in
1892 CE and Purananuru in 1894 CE.[10][12] Along with the text, he added abundant commentary and
explanatory notes of terms, textual variations and approaches to explaining the context.[10]

யாதும் ஊரே; யாவரும் ரேளிே்; The Sages To us all towns are one, all men our kin,
தீதும் நன் றும் பிறே் தே வாோ; Life's good comes not from others' gifts, nor ill,
Man's pains and pain's relief are from within,
ரநாதலும் தணிதலும் அவற் ரறாேன் ன;
Death's no new thing, nor do our blossoms thrill
சாதலும் புதுவது அன் ரற; வாழ் தல் When joyous life seems like a luscious draught.
இனிது என மகிழ் ந்தன் றும் இலரம; When grieved, we patient suffer; for, we deem
முனிவின் , This much-praised life of ours a fragile raft
இன் னாது என் றலும் இலரம; Borne down the waters of some mountain stream
That o'er huge boulders roaring seeks the plain
'மின் னனாடு Tho' storms with lightning's flash from darkened
வானம் தண் துளி தலல இ, ஆனாது skies.
Descend, the raft goes on as fates ordain.
ேல் ன ாருது இேங் கும் மல் லல் ர ே்
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !
யாற் று We marvel not at the greatness of the great;
நீ ே் வழி ் டூஉம் புலண ர ால் , ஆே் Still less despise we men of low estate.
Kaniyan Pungundranar, Purananuru, 192
முலற வழி ் டூஉம் ' என் து திறரவாே் (Translated by G.U.Pope, 1906)
ோட்சியின் னதளிந் தனம் ஆேலின் ,
ன ேிரயாலே வியத்தலும் இலரம;
சிறிரயாலே இேழ் தல் அதனினும்
ேணியன் பூங் குன் றன் , புறநானூறு, 192

இனி நிலனந்து இேே்ேம் ஆகின் று: The Instability of Youth "I muse of YOUTH! the
திணி மணல் tender sadness still
returns! In sport I moulded shapes of river sand,
னசய் வுறு ாலவே்குே் னோய் பூத்
plucked flowers to wreathe around the mimic forms:
லதஇ, in the cool tank I bathed, hand linked in hand,
தண் ேயம் ஆடும் மேளினோடு லே with little maidens, dancing as they danced!
பிலணந்து, A band of innocents, we knew no guile.
தழுவுவழித் தழீஇ, தூங் குவழித் தூங் கி, I plunged beneath th' o'erspreading myrtle's shade,
மலற எனல் அறியா மாயம் இல் where trees that wafted fragrance lined the shore;
ஆயனமாடு then I climbed the branch that overhung the stream
while those upon the bank stood wondering;
உயே் சிலன மருதத் துலற உறத்
I threw the waters round, and headlong plunged
தாழ் ந்து, dived deep beneath the stream, and rose,
நீ ே் நணி ் டி ரோடு ஏறி, சீே் மிே, my hands filled with the sand that lay beneath!
ேலேயவே் மருள, திலேஅேம் பிதிே, Such was my youth unlesson'd. 'Tis too sad!
னநடு நீ ே்ே் குட்டத்துத் துடுனமன ் Those days of youth, ah! whither have they fled?
ாய் ந்து, I now with trembling hands, grasping my staff,
panting for breath, gasp few and feeble words.
குளித்து மணல் னோண்ட ேல் லா
And I am worn and OLD!"
அளிரதாதாரன! யாண்டு உண்டு Thodithalai Vizhuthandinar, Purananuru, 243
(Translated by G. U. Pope, 190
னோல் ரலா
னதாடித் தலல விழுத் தண்டு ஊன் றி,
நடுே்குற் று,
இரும் இலட மிலடந் த சில னசால்
ன ரு மூதாளரேம் ஆகிய எமே்ரே?
னதாடித்தலல விழுத்தண்டினாே்,
புறநானூறு, 243