Contributions of Tamil Nadu to Sanskrit

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Contribution of Tamilnadu to Sanskrit
C.S. Sundaram, 1999, Contribution of Tamil Nadu to Sanskrit, Chennai, Institute of Asian Studies (pp. 397)


“INTRODUCTION…It is well-known that Tamil Nadu is known as Dravid.a in Sanskrit. In ancient times Tamil Nadu was divided into three main parts: Cera, on the West Coast, Pa_n.d.ya in the extreme south and Cor..a, on the East Coast. During this period from about the 4th cent. to the 9th cent. AD, the North Eastern portion was under Pallava rule. It is interesting to note that in his Avantisundari_katha_ refers to the Pallava areas as Dramil.a, as distinct from Cor..a (parya_kules.u dramil.a col.a pa_n.d.yes.u p.12). The West Coast attained an individuality of its own as Kerala by the 8th cent. AD and the regional language was Malayalam. In the present volume only the contribution of the Tamil speaking area, which corresponds to the present Tamil Nadu, is described.

It is a fact that Tamil Nadu is not mentioned in Vedic literature or in the ancient S’rauta and Gr.hya religious texts. Ka_tya_yana in his Va_rttika refers to the and Pa_n.d.yas. Patan~jali re3fers to the Keralas also. Kaut.ilya is quite familiar with South India. The Ra_ma_yan.a and the Maha_bha_rata contain detailed references to South India and reference is made to Dravid.a, a southern region (Sabha_parva XXXI, Verse 71). Ka_lida_sa was familiar with the customs and manners of the people of the South including Pa_n.d.ya, Kerala and Apara_nta. The Tamil San:gam works generally ascribed to the beginning of the Christian era, are full of allusions and references to the Vedic culture and to the stories of the Ra_ma_yan.a and the Maha_bha_rata. As’oka’s edicts show familiarity with South India, though Tamil Nadu was outside his empire. The second the thirteenth rock edicts of As’oka, mention the kingdoms of South India together with Ceylon. The list in the second edict includes the names of Cor..a, Pa_n.d.ya, Satiyaputtra, Keralaputt[r]a and Ta_mraparan.i (Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 1915, pp. 471-75). Hindu religion and Sanskrit culture which came to Tamil Nadu, in the early pre-Christian era, had to face the onslaught of Jainism and Buddhism. These religious systems used Pra_kr.t and Pa_li as media for the popularisation of their religion and treaties were composed in the respective languages. Thus Sanskrit did fully develop neither as a medium of instruction nor literary works produced in it. But references to this language are found in the Tolka_ppiyam and other Tamil works of the early Christian era..

It was during the time of the Pallavas, the revival of Sanskrit and Hinduism took place. The Sanskrit medium helped in the full growth of the Vedic study and growth of Sanskrit literature. Many of the Pallava inscriptions are bilingual i.e. Sanskrit and Tamil. These inscriptions adopt an elegant and ornate style while using Sanskrit. The Pallava King, Mahendra Vikrama was himself a Sanskrit scholar, which fact is proved by his dramas. The great prose writer, flourished during this period. was patronised by the Pallava king Narasimhavarman (630-68 AD). The introductory verse of the Das’akuma_racaritra is found engraved in a Pallava inscription of the 8th century at Amara_vati (Kielhorn’s List No. 1902). The Kannad poetess Vijaya_ (or Vijjika_), the queen of Candra_ditya (eldest son of Ca_lukya King Pulikesin II) refers to the opening verse of the Ka_vya_dars’a and takes objection to his referring to goddess Sarasvati_ as all white (sarva-s’ukla_) since the queen who claims to be Sarasvati_ herself is dark in complexion.

nilotpala’ya_ma_m vijjika_m ma_m aja_nata_
vr.thaiva dan.d.ina_ proktam sarvas’ukla_ sarasvati_

Buddhism flourished in Tamil Nadu with unabated vigour for several centuriesand as a result this land has produced important and valuable treatises in Sanskrit and Pa_li. Ka_n~cipuram, the great cultural centre of Tamil Nadu had long associations with Buddhism and Buddhist scholars. The most important among them was Dinna_ga, the chief exponent of the Vijn~a_nava_da school of Buddhist philosophy and was the well-known author of the Prama_n.asamuccaya and other works and also the expounder of the Apoha theory. He was born near Ka_n~ci, went to Nalanda_ and studied under Vasubandhu. He then rose to the position of one of the foremost figures in the field of Buddhism. Some other Buddhist scholars as Dharmapa_la, Bodhiruci and a few others though hailed from or born at Ka_n~ci, their activities had spread out in North Indian centres like Nalanda_ and foreign countries like China or Ceylon. The contributions of a few of these scholars have been included here.

Jainism also flourished for a long time in Tamil Nadu, but with the advent of S’aivism in the early Christian era and also Vais.n.avism, it lost its moorings in this part of India, even though it flourished in the Karnataka country for a longer time.

Ka_n~ci was a centre for Jainism also. Mahendravarman, the Pallava king himself was a strong supporter of Jainism before being converted to S’aivism as also the famous Na_yanma_r, Appar. The popular and well-known Sangams also refer to Jain monasteries as well as to a few scholars associated with the Sangams. The Dravid.a Sangha was founded at Masdura in 470 AD. The important treatise on Jain cosmology, the Lokavibha_ga was written at Tiruppa_tirippuliyu_r in Tamil Nadu.

In the Maturaikka_n~ci there is a reference to the Aman.appal.l.i:

Van.tupat.ap par..utiya tena_r tor-r-altup pu_vum pukaiyun~ ca_vakar
par..iccac cenr-a ka_lamum varun mamayamum inr-ivat.t.onriya
or..ukkamot.u nankun.arntu kal por..intanna vit.t.u va_yk karan.daip
pal puric cimili na_rri nalkuvarak

This passage gives a brief account of the Buddhists. They had the ability to see the past and the future. They carried in their hands a kun.d.ika (a pot-shaped vessel hanging from a support made of rope).

In the Ni_lakes’i there are verses in praise of Lord Arhan and worshipping the God with the 1008 names and singing his praise. There is also a reference to Bauddhappal.l.i in the Maturaikka_n~ci. Va_dira_ja, the author of Yas’odhara_carita and the Pa_rs’vana_tha_bhyudaya belonged to Simhapura in Tamil Nadu..

The S’aiva and Vais.n.ava reformers in South India, the Na_yanma_rs and A_r..va_rs, used the local language Tamil to give vent to their ardent devotion to the Lord, and for a few centuries from the 7th to 12th, their works did much to oust the Buddhist and Jain influences from the Land. Though Tamil was used as the popular medium for these religious psalms the prestige and the all India importance of Sanskrit made it necessary to resort to that language also for support.

Most of the founders of the different schools of Vedanta are from South India. Though S’ankara was born in Kerala, which was a part of ancient Tamil Nadu, (Kerala being the Sanskrit term for Cera) and we find that his disciple Sures’vara in his Nais.karmayasiddhi referring to a passage in the Upades’asa_hasri_ and ascribing it to Dravid.a. S’ankara_ca_rya, toured throughout India and established the school of Advaita philosophy. His association with Tamil Nadu, especially Ka_n~ci Ka_makot.ipi_t.ha makes him belong to this part of India. The legend about the hunter Kan.n.appa and the deity at Ka_lahasti referred to in a verse I the S’iva_nandalahari_ popularly ascribed to S’ankara_ca_rya and the reference to’is’u in the Saundaryalahari_, a stotra by S’ankara, probably referring to the Na_yanma_r Tirujn~a_nasambandha show the philosopher’s acquaintance with their legends.

There were several great philosophers about whom Tamil Nadu can be proud of. Among them mention may be made of Dramid.a_ca_rya, and Sudara Pa_n.d.ya. The last one was probably a Pa_n.d.ya ruler and his identity is discussed in the chapter on Pure literature. Ya_muna_ca_rya, Na_thamuni, Ra_ma_nuja and Veda_nta Des’ika were stalwarts in the field of Vais.n.avism. Their contributions are discussed in the relevant section.

The S’aivasiddha_nta school of Tamil Nadu is very rich both in Tamil and Sanskrit treatises. Several S’aiva_gamas as also Vais.n.va_gamas contributed much not only for the construction on temples, but also to the mode of worship, performance of festivals and other related details. Many a scholar who belonged to this field of S’aivism wrote several philosophical and religious works, and noteworthy literary works.

The Ra_ma_yan.a and the Maha_bha_rata the epics have sufficiently influenced the minds of people in Tamil Nadu. The especially the Bha_gavata is said to have been composed in Tamil Nadu. There were separate halls in the temples, endowed by royalty for delivering discourses on the Maha_bha_rata. The Pallava rulers’ support for the spread of through discourses is revealed from their inscriptions. These inscriptions also refer to the support given to Vedic scholars.

The sanctity of the holy shrines are described in the Sthalama_ha_tmyas. An account of some of the important shrines is given.

The volume of pure Sanskrit literature is immeasurable. Several scholars patronised by royalty wrote ka_vyas on the lives of their patrons and also dramas which were staged during the festivals in temples. Several varieties of dramas like na_t.aka, bha_n.a, prahasana, an:ka, samavaka_ra, d.ima etc. as also allegorical plays were composed. In a section on Sanskrit and Tamil some common features as well as differences in Sanskrit and Tamil treatises in various fields are pointed out.

The abundance of literature in Sanskrit and Tamil in various branches is awe-inspiring. Only a bird’s –eye-view of this rich contribution of Tamil Nadu has been presenting in the following chapters. (pp. 1-5)



The San:gam classics, the earliest available works in Tamil give us an account of the Vedic studies and patronage by kings belonging to that period. We come across references to the reciting of Vedas, at times accompanied by musical instruments, descriptions of cottages of Bra_hmins, the esteem shown to them and also the sacrifices performed by kings. These references clearly bring out the impact of Vedic religion in Tamil Nadu.

Knowledge of the Vedas, performance of sacrifices, observance of duties based upon varn.a and a_s’rama are indicated in the following verses:

eruvai mukarcci yu_pa net.untu_n.
ve_ta ve_l.vit mut.ittatu_ um (Pur-am 224: 8-9)

na_n mar-ai virittu nallicai vil.akkum
va_y mor..ip pulavi_r ke_n.min ( 9-12)

Maturaikka_n~ci refers to the singing (recitation) of the Veda_s:

ciranta vetam
vir..ucci_r yet.iya or..ukkamot.u pun.arntu (ibid., 468.8-469)

It is mentioned in the same text that the Vedas were sung in beautiful melody.

ta_tun. Tumpu po_tu muranr-a_n:ku
ko_tal ve_tam pa_t.a

ya_r..o_r marutam pan.n.a (655-58)

The reciting of the Vedas, was like the buzzing sound of the ‘tumpi’, while flying from flower to flower and was pleasant to the ears. This recitation was accompanied by ya_r.., playing the marudap-pan. This pan. Was sung in the morning and produced joy. Other references to Vedas and details on sacrifices will be given in the chapter – Sanskrit and Tamil.

The Pallavas and were great patrons of Vedic scholars and studies. They gave maximum support to Vedic scholars. The Tan.d.antottam plates refer to 108 caturvedins, 20 trivedins, 10-kramavids and 20 Here the term kramavid found in the inscriptions refers to those proficient in krama mode of the recitation of the Vedas.

The are those proficient in the six ancillary texts of the Vedas. Another inscription of the Cor..a period gives details about a College at En.n.a_yiram (Ra_jara_jacaturvediman:galam) of Ra_jendra’s time (1014-44 AD). There was provision for Vedic studies there. There were 270 brahmaca_rins or students, of whom 40 studied Vya_karan.a and the rest Vedas.

In the Kas’a_kkud.i plate of Nandivarman Pallavamalla, the following account about the Guru Jyes.t.hapa_da Somaya_jin, living at Puni, is noteworthy. He was a master of the Vedas, Veda_n:gas, Karmaka_n.d.a, Jn~a_naka_n.d.a etc. He was a Sa_mavedin and sang melodiously, the Sa_maveda (Svarasamadhurasa_maga).

The references to Pavar..iya and Vaseni in the inscriptions are Tamil terms of and Va_jasaneyi_.

A reference made by Naccin-a_kkin-iya_r in his commentary on the benedictory verse of Kal.ittokai is worth consideration.

mar-aiyavana taitti_yamum paut.iyamum
talavak_ramum ca_mave_damum a_m

The Vedic divisions given here are noteworthy. The word paud.iyamum is the same as paval.iya or Periya Tirumor..i (V.9) refers to the God as Chandoga, Paul.iya, Taitti_ya, Sa_mavediyane, Ned.uma_le.


Tamiil Nadu has produced several scholars who wrote commentaries on the Vedas and independent treatises relating to the Vedas.

Ven:kat.a Ma_dhava, son of Ven:kat.a_rya and Sundari_ belonged to the Kaus’ika gotra. He was the grandson of Ma_dhava and his maternal grandfather was Bha_vagol.a. In his commentary, R.garthadi_pika_ on the R.gvedasam.hita_, he gives an account of his nativity thus…

Another Ma_dhava, who wrote twelve anukraman.i_s for the R.gveda, also lived in the same village Gomati_ and is different from his namesake. He wrote twelve anukraman.i_s – A_khya_ta, Na_man, Nipa_ta (obscure), Pada_s, Vibhakti, Svara, Samaya, R.s.i, Chandas, Devata_, Itiha_sa and commentary.

One’a Bhat.t.a D.okhale wrote Di_pika_ commentary on the R.gveda_nukraman.i_ (Sarva_nukraman.i). He is the son of Kr.s.n.abhat.t.a D.hokhale…

Bharasva_min, a resident of S’ri_ran:gam, flourished during the reign of Hoysala Vi_ra Ra_manatha (1255 AD)..He wrote the commentary on the Sa_maveda and also one on Sa_mavidha_nabra_hman.a.

On the Sa_maveda, a commentary Cha_ndasikabha_s.ya was composed by another Ma_dhava, son of Na_ra_yan.a…This Ma_dhava is probably earlier to Sa_yan.a. He appears to have commented on Pu_rva_rcika portiononly…

Vedic Su_ktas. Among several su_ktas of the R.gveda, S’atarudri_ya, Purus.asu_kta and the S’ri_sukta hold an important place. S’atarudri_ya of Ruda (adhya_ya) of Rudrapras’na is recited both in the houses and in S’iva temples. This su_kta, which is in eleven anuva_kas, extols Rudra or S’iva. The greatness of Rudra_dhya_ya is spoken thus in sculptures…

Vedic S’a_kha_s… Commentaries…

CHAPTER IV Itiha_sas












Alan:ka_ra (Poetics)
Culinary Art

mu_ve_r..ulakamum ulakinun. Manpatu
ma_yo_y nir-a vayir- parantavai yuraitte
ma_ya_ va_ymor..i ( 9-II)

So says the Sangam treatise about the Vedas. It is called as the eternal, ever lasting scripture ma_ya_ va_ymor..i. Kur-untokai, another work of the Sangam period speaks of the Vedas as
er..uta_k (Kur-untokai 156)

‘Unwritten text’ i.e. learnt only by rote (from preceptor to disciple). Such is the greatness of the Vedas as found in these works of Tamil Nadu. Those who expounded the Vedas were called as Va_ymor..ip pulavar ( 12-13). Vedas are called as s’ruti, since they are learny only ‘hearing’ i.e. by oral tradition. Moreover Vedas are eternal scriptures as per tradition. says that one of the faces of Lord Muruka protects the sacrifices of Brahmins who recite the Vedas (94-6). The three sacred fires the Ga_rhapatya, A_havani_ya and Daks.ina_gni are referred to here.

mu_nr-u vakaik kur-itta muttic celvat- por..utar-intu nuvala (181-82)

(irupir-ppa_lan are the twice born, dvijas)

Thus the prevalence of the connections with ritualistic practices are referred to in the early treatises of Tamil Nadu. The recitation of the Vedas are referred to in the Maturaikka_n~ci IIIX:

cir-anta ve_tam vilan:kap pa_t.i pal.l.iyum (468-76).

Religious and Social Conditions

The prevalence of the performance of Vedic rituals was referred to above as also in the section on the Vedas. The Kings belonging to the Sangam age were supporting Brahmins. Of these a chieftain, was a ruler of O_yma_na_t.u. During his reign, he welcomed the poets with gifts of money and made them stay at A_mu_r, a centre for Brahmins and honoured them ( II 185 ff.)

In (II. 155ff. p. 143) there is a beautiful description of a courtyard wherein stay the monkeys which take away the dust and where deer and tiger sleep, where sages who keep the sacred fires ablaze offering of sacred twigs also stay. (Perum. II. 498-500).

The author of this, Kad.iyalu_r rudrankan.n.ana_r, is a Brahmin.

In Maturaikka_n~ci, there are descriptions of these establishments: Bauddhappal.l.i, Aman.appal.l.i and Antan.anpal.l.i (II.466-88).

In (II. 299-301) there is a beautiful account of the protector of the Vedas. In the houses of these Brahmisn there are small bowers resting on poles to which are tied calves. Small shrines of deities are there which are cleansed with cow-dung. There are no cocks and dogs. But there are parrots which are trained in the Vedas and there, in such a place, live the guardians of the sacred lore, the Vedas.

In Mullaippa_t.t.u there is a reference (35-36) to the young mahouts, who have not undergone regular study but use certain phrases or words in Sanskrit whiel they guide the elephants. These elephants use the sugarcane leaves for wiping their faces instead of eating them. The mahouts use the vat.amor..i (Sanskrit)…

Sanskrit Works
Tamil Works
English Works



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