Fifth Annual Tamil Conference

பாண்டி நாடு


Fifth Annual Tamil Conference
The Land of the Pandyas
April 25-26, 2009

Saturday, April 25
8;30 am

Opening Remarks

Raka Ray, Acting Chair, Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies and Chair, Center for South Asia Studies

PANEL 1
9 – 10:30 AM

“On the Very Idea of Maturai”

Anne Monius
Harvard University

This paper examines the changing position of Maturai in pre-modern Tamil literary culture, from the high praise of the Maturaikkanci to the conflagration of the Cilappatikaram, the stories of the ancient poetic Cankams, and the Saiva association of the city with evil Jain kings. What themes persist in literary accounts of Maturai, and what might account for its fluctuating literary fortunes

Beneath the Tamarind Tree: Performance and Memory at the Temple of Alvar Tirunakari

Archana Venkatesan
University of California, Davis

Beneath the Tamarind Tree: Performance and Memory at the Temple of Alvar Tirunakari This paper explores the major performance traditions of Alvar Tirunakari in Tirunelveli district. The temple, which continues to preserve multiple ritual-performance traditions, offers a unique opportunity to understand the ways in which performance has been used to transmit religious knowledge in South India. This paper will focus on three major traditions — Araiyar Cevai, Kavip Pattuu and Nattuvanars Pattu — that remain active at the site.

Historical Space, the King and the Lover in Akam Genres

Jennifer Clare
University of California, Berkeley

The 7th century Pantikkovai is usually understood to represent a new phase of the akam tradition – the “kovai” genre – that re-imagines the relationship between the anonymous lovers found in the earlier akam poems and the identifiable royal hero of the puram poems. What is seldom discussed is the fact that this ambiguous royal hero of the akam tradition (or “pattutaittalaivan”, as he is called in Tamil aesthetics) appears earlier in the Sangam-era Pattuppattu, a collection of ten long poems that blur the traditional akam and puram distinctions. This essay looks at the representation of two royal pattutaittalaivans, the Pandian Netunceliyan featured in the Pattuppattu, and the Pandian Netumaran in the later Pantikkovai, along with the commentaries of Naccinarkkiniyar and Nakkiranar respectively, to better understand the change in the akam genre from the Sangam to the medieval period, and the triangular relationship between the king, the lover, and the physical and historical space of the kingdom which they both inhabit.

10:30 – 10:45 AM

Coffee Break

PANEL II
10:45 AM – Noon

The Madurai Nayakas and the place of the past in early modern Pandi Nadu

Crispin Branfoot
SOAS, University of London

The material fabric of the ancient Pandyan city of Madurai seen today owes a great deal to the presence of the Nayakas who ruled over the city for two centuries until 1736. As outsiders to Pandi Nadu, their authority was initially based upon their relationship with their Vijayanagara overlords at the imperial capital in northern Karnataka. But over the course of the later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, they consolidated their rule by shifting their attention to their relationship with the communities of Pandi Nadu. One element of this renegotiation was the Madurai Nayakas’ relationship with the dynastic past of the Pandyans, the former rulers of Madurai, who had been displaced by the sultanate incursions into the Tamil country in the fourteenth century. Were the Nayakas simply the Pandyans’ successors, or were they considered to be ‘Pandyans’ themselves? How did the Nayakas relate to the surviving later Pandyan dynasty in the Tenkasi region, whose rulers were similarly patronizing temples and issuing inscriptions into the eighteenth century? In this paper I will outline the Madurai Nayakas’ relationship with the Tamil country through an examination of the construction, renovation and expansion of temples across the sacred landscape of Pandi Nadu in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries

Pandinadu as a Center of Tamil literary Production: Networks of pulavar Poets and Patrons in Tirunelveli and the Tamiravaruni Valley in the 18th century

Indira Peterson
Mount Holyoke College

The most celebrated examples of the cirrilakkiyam (“Minor”) genres (kuravanci, pallu, nonti natakam) that arose in Tamil literature in the 18th-century (e.g., Kurralakkuravanci, Mukkutarpallu, Tiruccentur Nontinatakam) were produced in the “little kingdoms”or palaiyakkarar settlements such as Civakiri and Pancalankuricci in the Tirunelveli /Tenkaci region, and especially in the Tamiravaruni river valley, in the areas in which the later Pandiyans ruled. The distinctive features of the new genres included the use of song and a focus on folk characters and local lower caste-groups (the Kuravanci fortune-teller, the pallar agricultural laborers, and the Kallan horse –thief), temples, sites, and themes. In addition to conveying the flavor of a local Tirunvelveli /Tamiravaruni culture, these works also suggest the development in the 18th century of a network of poets who served multiple courts and patrons in the Tirunelveli and Ramanatapuram regions, rather in the manner of the itinerant poets of the Cankam era. For example, Katikaimuttup pulavar, whose chief patron was the Vadugar chief of Ettaiyapuram in eastern Tirunvelveli, wrote poems for Periyacamitturai, the Maravar zamindar of Vatakarai Palaiyappattu in Western Tirunelveli, and for the Maravar palaiyakkarars of Uttumalai and Civakiri. This paper seeks to map and critically examine the rise of literary activity and of networks of poets and patrons in Tirunelveli in the 18th century, especially along the course of the Tamiravarni river, in order to show the distinctive character of the Tirunvelveli region of Pandinadu as a center of Tamil literary production

The Use of computers for Tamil Studies and Research

Kalyanasundaram
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne

Noon -1:15 PM

Lunch Break

PANEL III
1:30 – 3 PM

Being a Pandya: Dynastic Mythos and Royal Self-Representation

Leslie Orr
Concordia University, Montreal

The kings of the Pandya dynasty belong to several chronological phases — the first being the Pandya rulers of legend and those referred to in early Tamil literature (e.g. Maturaikkanci, Cilappatikaram, Kalittokai), and the subsequent three phases being defined primarily with reference to the extant epigraphical evidence: the “First Empire” Pandyas (c. AD 600-1000), the “Second Empire” Pandyas (c. 1200-1400), and the Tirunelveli/ Tenkasi Pandyas (c. AD 1400-1750). Whether or not these kings taken together actually constitute a single dynastic family ruling for 1500 years or more, the notion of continuity is strongly expressed by the kings themselves, who, in the Tamil meykkirttis and Sanskrit prasastis that preface the records of their gifts, outline their semi-divine and royal lineages and celebrate their ancestorsí deeds. While the inscriptions (especially the copper-plate grants) dated in the reigns of the “First Empire” Pandyas have received a certain amount of scholarly attention, those of their successors have been virtually ignored. Basing myself largely on these inscriptional sources — with attention as well to such literary works as the 8th-century (?) Pantikkovai in Tamil and the 16th-century Pandyakulodaya in Sanskrit — my effort in this paper will be to examine the persistence and elaboration of Pandyan dynastic themes in the self-representation of Pandya rulers over time. As the Pandyas are the first rulers whose court poets composed Tamil meykkirttis, as well as Sanskrit prasastis, and as the Pandyas are in legend so closely tied to the evolution of Tamil literary culture, this examination will provide an opportunity to consider the “Tamilness” as well as the “Pandyaness” of these kings.

A Folk Epic Depicting the Saivite Kongu Vellalar Community: Why is Vishnu So Prominent in the Story?

Brenda Beck
Sophia Hilton Foundation of Canada

The Annanmar Katai is an oral epic once sung by bards in the Kongu region of Tamilnadu. Lord Vishnu appears 122 times in this story, Lord Shiva only 10. In this paper I will examine Vishnu’s several roles (beggar, fly, soothsayer, teasing helpmate, washer man, army leader, wild boar and hunter). Lord Vishnu is also dicing partner to the epic’s main heroes. Furthermore, I will cover several scenes of rivalry between Shiva and Vishnu and the goddessí occasional role in mediating between them (one Lord is her husband and the other her brother)

Markali, Morning Rituals, and Matrimony: In Search of a Good Husband

Gita Pai
University of California, Berkeley

First thing in the morning during the Tamil solar month of Margali (mid-December to mid-January), devotees sing Tiruppavai by the Vaishnava saint Andal and Tiruvempavai by the Shaivaite saint Manikkavasagar. Both hymns urge unmarried girls to get up early and worship Krishna and Shiva respectively. On the twenty-sixth day of Margali, the “Ennaikkaappu” (oil bath ceremony) is performed at the Meenakshi-Sundareshvara temple in Madurai, where the processional Meenakshi idol is taken to the Pudu Mandapam, a pillared hall outside the east gopuram. Here her hair is oiled and trimmed, and she is bathed and dressed. Mediating between the textual and performative observances is Tirumala Nayaka (r. 1623-1659), Madurai’s famous ruler, the pillared hall’s builder, and the festival’s founder. The purpose of this paper is to understand the Nayaka king’s role in this ritual and to explore its underlying theme both for the girls and the goddess: winning a perfect, god-like husband.

3 – 3:15 PM

Coffee Break

PANEL IV
3:15 – 5 PM

In the Name of an Absent Patron-King Textual and Choreographic Analysis of the Svarajati “Eto Paramukamakuray”

Hari Krishnan
Wesleyan University

The svarajati is an extremely complex genre of South Indian court dance. Like the more popular varnam, it alternates between poetic interpretation (abhinaya) and phrases of abstract rhythmic dance, but the svarajati is longer and more complicated in its musical structure. The svarajati eto paramukamaakuraay in the raga Khamas was transcribed from a hereditary manuscript by Hari Krishnan’s teacher, K.P. Kitappa Pillai (1913-1999) in the year 1997, and published by the Madras Music Academy, in a book of rare compositions of the famous “Thanjavur Quartet” and their descendents. The central hero (nayaka) of this svarajati in the Tamil language is the local Raja of Ramnad, Bhaskara Setupati (1868-1903), one of the last rulers of the Ramnad kingdom in the nineteenth century. In the svarajati, he emerges as a munificent patron of the arts, in the typical style of devadasi courtly compositions. Ironically, Bhaskara Setupati was among the elites responsible for the alienation of dance and music from the courtly rituals at Ramnad, and by extension, for the early disenfranchisement of devadasi dancers from the entire Madurai region. In her study of Ramnad, Pamela Price notes that Bhaskara Setupati was the ideal gentleman-zamindar, who sought to “attract a new kind of attention and admiration of public life.” From his diaries and public statements in the press, it is clear that he had much disdain for devadasi dance, even as he continued to applaud Brahmin musicians. Integrating lecture and live performance, this presentation provides an analysis of the svarajati, interrogating its use of the trope of the royal patron/nayaka. The historicization of the piece highlights the dramatic irony of the “deceitful” Nayaka, Bhaskara Setupati, and foregrounds issues of modernity, reform, kingship, the decline of the visibility of devadasi dance in the late nineteenth century.

Bhogar’s Journey to the Tomb of Textuality

Layne Little
University of California, Berkeley

The sudden flood of printed Tamil texts in the latter half of the nineteenth century stimulated the production of new Tamil Siddha works as wellóparticularly in the Palani and Madurai regions. It also inspired these authors to reflect on the nature of textuality itself. Many of the later verses that comprise Bhogarís 7000 were written in this era. Included among these verses is the largest narrative sequence in the 7000 in which Bhogar crosses the twenty-one peaks of Mt. Meru and visits the “Tomb of the Texts.” During this journey he reflects on the nature of secrecy, its transmission, and the ultimate import of Hindu textual tradition.

Sunday. April 26

PANEL V
9 AM

Imagined Cities

Lakshmi Holmstrom
Writer, Critic and Translator

This paper will be a study of the City as it is imagined in modern Tamil fiction. It will begin with a brief examination of the ways in which the Pandyan royal city Madurai is imagined in Cilappatikaram, in contrast to the Chola port-city of Pukar, exploring notions of ur, nakaram, and pattinam, and their place within or outside the tinai scheme of the five landscapes. The main focus will be on Pudumaippittan’s treatment of Madurai, in opposition to Chennai on the one hand, and Tirunelveli on the other. I will end with a consideration of the poet Cheran’s ideas of a possible sixth tinai (‘DiasporiCity’) and a seventh tinai, the world-wide ‘virtual’ city of the internet, an idea that the short story writer Ambai has also explored.

10 AM -1 PM

Round Table Discussion

Discussants and Moderators

  • E. Annamalai, Yale University
  • Leslie Orr, Concordia University