Third Annual Berkeley Tamil Conference
April 20-22, 2007

Friday, April 20

3pm – 6pm


Conventions in Classical Tamil Literature & Tamil Culture

Discussant: Radhakrishnan, Univ. of Texas, Austin.

Saturday, April 21

Panel I
9:00 a.m. - 10:30 a.m.
Moderator: George Hart

The Aingurunuru as Bridge Text: Transitions in Style and Genre in Tamil Literary History

Martha Ann Selby
The University of Texas at Austin

Aingurunuru, literally “The Short Five Hundred” or “Five Hundred Short Poems,” is an anthology of akam or “love” poems from the fourth century C.E. The text consists of five sections, each with one hundred poems composed by a single author. The poems themselves range in length from three to six lines. Each section is devoted to one of the five tinais, or “landscapes,” of reciprocal love, a genre first described by the Tolkappiyam, the earliest extant work on Tamil phonology, grammar, and poetics. John Ralston Marr has suggested that Aingurunuru was composed by a specific “school” of poets different from those who composed puram poetry (which celebrates courtly public life and the world of the battlefield, characterizing the text’s structure as “more formal and artificial” than the other Tamil anthologies, and this is quite true: the whole text is informed by a radically different aesthetic sensibility than that which seems to be giving the verses of the other anthologies their shape. In this paper, I will examine the ramifications of this anthology’s formal “difference” for Tamil literary history.

Imagining a Tamil Community through the Performing Arts: Nagasvaram Music, Sadir Dance, and the Hereditary Artist in the Novel Tillana Mohanambal

Indira Peterson
Mount Holyoke College

Kalaimani’s (aka Kothamangalam Subbu) Tillana Mohanambal (TM) was one of the most popular Tamil novels of the 1950s, and was made into a popular film in 1968. The novel’s plot charts the course of love and artistic competition between ‘Tillana’ Mohanambal’ a devadasi dancer from Tiruvarur and nagasvaram player Sikkal Shanmugasundaram. However, Kalaimani’s principal aim was to rewrite the history of Bharata Natyam and Karnatak music, the classical performing arts of the Tamil region. In 1956-1957 at the end of more than half a century of nationalist, brahmin and Academy-dominated inventions of tradition, undertaken mainly in Madras the author contests the very idea of the classical claiming the arts as the purview of rural Tamil folk audiences and locating tradition in the artists and the arts of the hereditary performing communities linked with the temples of the Kaveri delta region. Through an analysis of the novel’s representations of the world of Sadir dance and nagasvaram music I show that Kalaimani used realism and thick description as novelistic devices to imagine a Tamil community through the arts, with the hereditary artist and his/her art as icons of an authentic Tamil culture. Kalaimani’s focus on the Isai vellalar and their art, his celebration of the Tamil folk as connoisseurs (irasikarkal) and his selection of topics for discursive elaboration place the novel in a complex position within heterogeneous lineages of projects in formation from the later 19th century onwards in Tamil cultural nationalism, identity politics and historiography. A.P. Nagarajan’s film version of TM shares Kalaimani’s vision but it also diverges from it in many ways.

Connecting Amuktamalyada with Tamil bhakti

Srinivas G. Reddy
University of California, Berkeley

The Amuktamalyada of Sri Krishnadevaraya can rightly be classified as an epic of Srivaishnavite literature. It is the Telugu version of the Andal story and is thus closely connected to the the Divyaprabandham, as well as other Srivaishanava texts from the Tamil. This paper explores how the bhakti poems of Andal herself provide fascinating precursors to the literary tropes and conventions employed by the Telugu poet-king.

10.30 – 10.45 am

Coffee Break

Panel II
10:45 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.

Moderator: Joanna Williams

Speech in the Kali Yugam:. Gender and vulgarity in Tamil political oratory

Bernard Bate
Yale University

This paper demonstrates how the gendered aesthetics of formal Tamil oratory are both violated and reproduced by a renegade – and wildly popular – speaker, Tippori Arumugam, the man who ‘speaks fire.’ In post Dravidianist political practice, women appear to embody in their speech and comportment the purest ideal of the poet politician. As the Tamil language itself was en/gendered during the democratization of Tamil society as a woman, specifically a goddess (Lakshmi 1990; Ramaswamy 1992, 1996), we see that Tamil oratory, too, is a quintessentially feminine mode of speech. Despite the fact that the vast majority of political speakers are male and that the sites of the production are male dominated, the production of oratory is at the same time the instantiation of a peculiarly feminized Tamil. Tippori Arumugam, I argue, precisely violates the feminine qualities of refined speech in the intentional violation and inversion of normative aesthetics of Dravidianist public discourse. I begin with a brief biography of Tipporiyar. I then look at a speech he made in Madurai in March 1995, a speech which, as we shall see, demonstrates a mastery of his art, especially the manipulation of the social registers or speech genres available in Tamil. In the end, vulgarity itself will come briefly under our consideration as well as the varying ‘standards’ by which any evaluative statement of Tamil speech can be made.

The Garland of the Sacred Shade: Classical Tamil among the Kerala Folk

Richardson Freeman

I consider here a remarkable Kerala text of the 12th or 13th century, which bridges in multiple ways between the languages and cultures of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. At once a ritual liturgy for local, low-caste exorcists to use in a high Sri Vaishnava temple of Kerala, The Garland of the Sacred Shade is also self-consciously a work of high literary aspiration that explicitly transplants the classical Tamil tradition into the Kerala milieu. This is a uniquely important text, as both a lens into the actual ritual practices that mediated between regional cultures and various social strata on both sides of the Ghats, and as a literary artifact that captures a crucial moment of inter-regional linguistic and cultural hybridity.

“Pulavars and Potentates in Nineteenth-century South India: Structures of Literary Patronage at the Zamindars’ Courts”

Sascha Ebeling
University of Chicago

The present paper (which is based on a chapter of a forthcoming monograph entitled The Transformation of Tamil Literature During the Nineteenth Century) addresses the systems of literary production of nineteenth-century Tamil pulavars under the patronage at the courts of zamindars and native ‘kings’. The discussion focuses on the nature of the texts produced in a late pre-modern ‘courtly’ environment, the patrons and their motives, the audiences. I examine the specific function of literature in such an environment and, in particular, the role that texts played in the zamindars’ ritualized remembrance of former glory.

Noon -1.30.

Lunch Break

Panel III

1:30 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.

Moderator: Eugene Irschick

For love of country in Bharati’s “India”

Sumathi Ramaswamy
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

This paper considers the many professions of love for and devotion to “India” that appeared in the patriotic newspaper Intiyaa edited by Subramania Bharati (1882-1921) between May 1906 and April 1910. These professions appeared in prose, poems and pictures, and were among the earliest patriotic statements—verbal and visual—in the Tamil language and in the Tamil country. I am particularly interested in considering the relationship between the visual patriotism made manifest in the cartoons and pictures that appeared in Intiya, and Bharati’s praise of India as it found expression in his prose and poetry. I consider the relationship between the visual and verbal in order to explore the promise—as well as the limits—of a pictorial history of patriotism in its emergent phase in Tamil India.

Ezhu Nilam: Proverb, Treatise, Song: Historicizing Literary Genre in Tamil

Jennifer Clare
University of California, Berkeley.

The Tamil grammatical tradition is unique in its inclusion of literary theory alongside “grammatical” rules on phonology and morphology. The oldest text on poetics is the third book of the ancient grammar Tolkappiyam, the Porulatikaram, which describes the poetic system of tinai (landscape) that informs the classical akam and puram poems. While much of the Porulatikaram deals with akam and puram poetics, the text also includes classification of literary genres that extend beyond these two well-known categories, genres such as riddle, treatise, and proverb. These genres, minimally and often ambiguously defined in the Tolkappiyam, take on new significance in the medieval commentaries, which must reconcile these established categories with the new genres that had developed since the time of the Tolkappiyam. This paper looks at these two moments of theorizing literary genre to historicise Tamil concepts of the literary as well as to understand the commentarial challenge of preserving the past while acknowledging literary development and change.

Divining with Pearls: Performance and Poetry in the Ritual Performance Traditions (Araiyar Cevai) at the Antal Temple in Srivilliputtur

Archana Venkatesan
Lawrence University

This paper analyzes the muttukkuri or divination with pearls performed by the araiyar, at the conclusion of each of the three major festivals at Antal’s temple and unique to the Srivilliputtur araiyar tradition. Here the araiyar (reciter) takes on the role of the gypsy fortune-teller to divine the fate of Antal’s love for Visnu. In doing so he liberally interweaves verses from Antal’s poems with those of the other Alvars to articulate the nature of the bhakti heroine of whom Antal is the exemplar. In this paper I apply the traditional Srivaisnava understanding of commentary as anubhava granta (text of experience) to the muttukkuri araiyar cevai at Srivilliputtur to explore the local theology of Antal in conceptualizing her as both mortal devotee and immortal goddess.

3 pm – 3.15pm

Coffee Break

Panel IV
3:15 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Moderator: Vijaya Nagarajan

Building Bridges: Hanuman, Manimekalai, and Dance in Cambodia

Vasudha Narayanan
University of Florida, Gainsville.

What does one expect when one builds or crosses bridges? I try to answer this question by looking at Khmer dance which has been reinvented several times in the recent past in Cambodia and particularly by looking at the story of Hanuman and Sovann Macha (“the golden fish” or “mermaid.”). This story is a staple in all Khmer dance repertoires and tells the story of how Hanuman and the monkeys built the bridge to Lanka. When they see the rocks disappearing, they investigate and find that Sovann Macha is innocently sabotaging their enterprise. The dance speaks of the sparkling courtship of Hanuman and the golden mermaid and their eventual partnership in love and in building the bridge.My paper uses this story as a heuristic device in understanding initially the role of Hanuman in Khmer culture and then Khmer dance as a whole. In this context I look at other stories of Hanuman in Khmer popular culture and also other items in the modern Cambodian classical dance repertoire. Cambodian dance performances also include stories from the Manimekalai and other classics. What baggage does one carry when one builds bridges and tries to cross them? Does one keep spinning wheels in the act of explanation even as the other shore recedes, or, can one one make multiple crossings with friends from “the other side?” The case of studying Cambodia raises some of these questions–we recognize Manimkelai and Hanuman, but Mr and Mrs Hanuman as well as the sea goddess Mani-mekhala have new lives and new identities on other shores.

Ethics of Man versus Ethics of Woman: Reading with, against and between the Lines of Valluvar’s Ethical Treatise

Harshita Mruthinti
Emory University

A literal examination of Valluvar’s Kural depicts the text as an ethical treatise that prescribes correct moral behavior specific for the male subject. However, reading against the grain of Valluvar’s final Book of Love complicates this seemingly male-centered perspective by revealing instances of a subversive female discourse that may posit an ethics of woman within the sphere of love. In addition, examining between the lines of Valluvar’s treatise through the lens of akam poetry, suggests an aesthetically-based and dual-gendered ethical code that appeals to the experiences of both the male and female subject, and ultimately transgresses the boundaries of gender itself.

Feeding Pilgrims in the Tamil Country: Continuity and Change in Religious Feeding Grants in Tamil Inscriptions.

Michael Linderman
Univ. of Pennsylvania

In a letter to the British resident in Tanjore in 1801, Raja Serfoji II (1799-1832) wrote that by his estimate 40,000 pilgrims from all over India passed through his kingdom annually on their way to Rameswaram. The following year he built his own pilgrim rest house, the monumental Muktambal Chathram with this circulation in mind. The practice of donating land and money for feeding Brahmins, sannyasis and pilgrims either on or nearby the premises of a temple had roots in Buddhist patronage and the temple culture of the classical period. Architecture kept pace with the practice producing simple salai and mandapa that facilitated such feeding. This paper will survey the practice in the south through evidence from select Tamil inscriptions spanning the centuries from the late Pallava period to that of the British Raj. I aim to show that despite of its modest beginnings the cathram (Skt. sattra) or araccalai had become a major site for multiple royal, social and economic representations in the colonial period

Sunday, April 22

Panel V
9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.

Moderator: E. Annamalai,

The River of Tamil Grammar: Bridging its Banks (tentative title)

From the time of Iraiyanar, it is acknowledged that the Tamil literary tradition has changed course and one seeks to build a bridge between the ages. There is no such acceptance of breach in the Tamil grammatical tradition. There is no universal acceptance of change in the language itself. The views on this range from claiming that the changes are superficial or corrupt and illegitimate to claiming that the grammar described by Tolkpappiyam, or even Nannul, and the grammar of the modern Tamil, even the written Tamil, are two different entities with some overlap, which is less interesting than the difference. This paper makes an argument that there is continuity in Tamil grammar without disallowing innovations. It demonstrates that some innovations are reviving dormant features of the language in the past, some are extension of old features for new functions and some are developments unrelated to the past. This argument supports an image of Tamil grammar as a flowing river, whose banks are crisscrossed with bridges. This paper will also merely point out disconnects in grammar in the second sense of the word, viz., grammatical treatise, that are attributable to ideological changes. The need to bridge is in the ideology of grammar.

10:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.

Moderator: Lawrence Cohen