Dravidian literature, a treasure trove of literary achievements, encapsulates the profound cultural and linguistic diversity of Southern India. This literary tradition flourishes in four major Dravidian languages:
Each language carries its own unique heritage and contributions to the rich tapestry of Indian literature. In this article, we embark on a journey through the literary landscapes of these languages, unveiling their historical significance and notable works.
Tamil (Sangam) Literature:
- The foundation of Dravidian literature rests firmly on Tamil, believed to be the oldest among the four languages. Tamil’s linguistic affinity with Sanskrit, particularly in terms of grammar and word borrowing, is a testament to its ancient roots. At the heart of Tamil literature lies the illustrious Sangam literature, which emerged during a period of immense cultural and literary growth.
- The term ‘Sangam’ signifies a fraternity, and this literature found immense popularity among the masses. It comprises approximately 2381 poems attributed to 473 poets, including a collection of works by 102 anonymous poets. The remarkable aspect of Sangam literature is its inclusivity, featuring poets from various social strata.
- The Sangam period, spanning from 300 BC to 300 AD, witnessed the composition and compilation of these literary masterpieces. Sangam literature is divided into two major schools:
- Aham/Agam: The ‘inner field’ of Sangam literature delves into abstract discussions of human aspects such as love and sexual relations.
- Puram: The ‘outer field’ explores tangible human experiences, including social life, ethics, valor, and customs.
- The nomenclature ‘Sangam’ derives from the assemblies organized by the Pandya kingdom, known as ‘Sangamas.’ These gatherings brought together poets, bards, and writers from across South India, resulting in the creation of Sangam literature.
- The corpus of Sangam literature consists of approximately 30,000 lines of poetry arranged in eight anthologies called ‘Ettuttokoi,’ further categorized into ‘Patinenkil Kanakku’ (eighteen lower collections) and ‘Pattupattu’ (the ten songs).Among the notable contributions, the revered Tamil saint Thiruvalluvar presented the ‘Kural,’ a timeless masterpiece.
- Furthermore, the Tamil literary tradition boasts two significant texts from the sixth century AD: ‘Silappadikaram’ (the story of an anklet) by Ilango Adigal and ‘Manimekalai’ (the story of Manimekalai) by Sattanar. These texts provide insights into Tamil society and the socio-political changes of their time.
- Malayalam, predominantly spoken in Kerala and its environs, is a language that evolved over several centuries. Though linguists debate its origin, Malayalam developed an extensive body of literature within four hundred years, attaining the status of an independent language.
- Key works in Malayalam literature include ‘Kokasandisan’ and ‘Bhasa Kautilya,’ a commentary on Arthashastra. The epic poem ‘Ramacharitam,’ composed by Cheeraman in the 13th century, also stands as a significant literary work.
- A pivotal figure in Malayalam literature is Ezhuthachan, often hailed as the father of Malayalam literature, whose staunch support for the Bhakti movement left an indelible mark on the literary landscape.
- Telugu literature traces its roots to Nannaya, believed to be the first Telugu poet in the 11th century. However, it reached its zenith during the Vijayanagara period, aptly referred to as the golden age of Telugu literature.
- During this era, Nachana Somanatha, a prominent court poet of King Bukka I, penned the successful work ‘Uttaraharivamsam.’ Not only court poets but also illustrious monarchs like Krishnadevaraya, who authored ‘Amuktamalyada,’ contributed to this literary renaissance. The court of Krishnadevaraya was adorned by eight learned literary figures known as ‘ashtadiggajas,’ each with their noteworthy contributions.
- Kannada literature, enriched by Jain scholars, made its initial foray into the literary world. The ‘Kavirajamarga,’ written by Nripatunga Amoghavarsha I in the tenth century, is among the earliest recorded Kannada texts. However, the true gems of Kannada literature were the ‘ratnatraya’ or ‘three gems’—Pampa, Ponna, and Ranna.
- Pampa, revered as the “Father of Kannada,” graced the literary landscape with his renowned works, ‘Adipurana’ and ‘Vikramarjuna Vijaya.’ The second gem, Ponna, authored the influential treatise ‘Shanti Purana,’ while Ranna contributed ‘Ajitanatha Purano.’ These poets were associated with the court of Rashtrakuta king Krishna III.
- The growth of Kannada literature, as a fully developed language, is closely intertwined with the patronage of the Vijayanagara empire. Sarvajna, honored as the people’s poet, left a lasting legacy with his ‘tripadi.’ An exceptional figure in Kannada literature is Honnamma, the first renowned female poet, who penned ‘Hadibadeya Dharma’ (Duty of a Devout Wife).
Dravidian literature, rooted in the antiquity of Tamil and enriched by the evolution of Malayalam, Telugu, and Kannada, is a testament to the cultural and linguistic diversity of Southern India. These literary traditions have not only preserved their respective languages but have also contributed immensely to India’s literary heritage.
FAQs about Dravidian Literature
1. What is Dravidian literature, and what languages are included in this literary tradition?
Dravidian literature refers to the literary works produced in the languages of the Dravidian family, primarily spoken in southern India and parts of Sri Lanka. The major Dravidian languages contributing to this literary tradition include Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam. Each language has its unique literary history, but they share common cultural and linguistic roots.
2. What are the key themes and characteristics of Dravidian literature?
Dravidian literature encompasses a wide range of themes, often rooted in the cultural, social, and historical context of the southern Indian subcontinent. Common themes include love, nature, devotion, and societal issues. The literature often reflects the diverse cultural practices, folklore, and religious beliefs of the region. The poetry and prose in Dravidian literature are known for their rich symbolism and vivid imagery.
3. Who are some prominent figures in Dravidian literature, and what are their notable contributions?
Dravidian literature boasts a multitude of influential figures across its various languages. For instance, in Tamil literature, ancient poets like Thiruvalluvar and Subramania Bharati have made significant contributions. In Telugu literature, poets such as Annamacharya and modern writers like Sri Sri are celebrated. Kannada literature includes the works of Pampa and Kuvempu, while Malayalam literature features contributions from writers like Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan and Vaikom Muhammad Basheer.
4. How has Dravidian literature evolved over time, from ancient to contemporary periods?
Dravidian literature has a rich historical evolution that spans several centuries. It has progressed from the ancient Sangam literature in Tamil dating back to the classical period to the medieval and modern periods marked by the works of various poets and writers. The literature has adapted to changing linguistic and cultural landscapes while maintaining its distinct regional identity. Contemporary Dravidian literature addresses contemporary issues while drawing inspiration from traditional themes.
5. Is Dravidian literature only regional or does it have a global impact?
While Dravidian literature is rooted in the southern Indian subcontinent, it has garnered attention and recognition on a global scale. Translations of major works have enabled a broader audience to appreciate the depth and diversity of Dravidian literary traditions. Additionally, academic studies and cultural exchanges have facilitated a cross-cultural appreciation of Dravidian literature. The themes and artistic expressions found in Dravidian literature contribute to the broader tapestry of world literature.
In case you still have your doubts, contact us on 9811333901.
For UPSC Prelims Resources, Click here
For Daily Updates and Study Material:
Join our Telegram Channel – Edukemy for IAS
- 1. Learn through Videos – here
- 2. Be Exam Ready by Practicing Daily MCQs – here
- 3. Daily Newsletter – Get all your Current Affairs Covered – here
- 4. Mains Answer Writing Practice – here