Second Annual Tamil Conference


Second Annual Tamil Conference
The Time of the Cholas 900-1300 CE
April 22-23, 2006

Saturday, April 22

Panel I
9:00 a.m. - 10:30 a.m.
Padmanabh Jaini

Being a King the Chola Way: Contested Models of the Dharmic Ruler in Tamil Literary Culture

Anne E. Monius
Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Taking as its point of departure recent studies of South Indian courts and kingship (Ali, Howes, Inden, etc.), this paper examines competing images of the ideal king in Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu literary works in Tamil composed during the time of the Cholas. While recent scholarship has focused almost exclusively on the social, political, and economic contexts for the production of such texts, this paper argues that the literary figure of the king provides a critical locus for inter-sectarian debates about ethics, aesthetics, and the proper articulation of religious identities.

Problems with Saiva Prosopography

Somadevah Vasudevah
Oxford University, England

The textual study of Saiva scriptures and ritual manuals has in recent years yielded significant new results. We now have a clearer understanding of the evolutionary history of the Saiva religions and the syncretic strategies of the redactors and exegetes of its scriptures.

“As it is said” : Chola-period Commentaries on Poetic and Common Language in the Tolkappiyam

Jennifer Clare
University of California, Berkeley

The earliest extant commentaries on the ancient grammar Tolkappiyam date from the Chola period, during which time many authoritative works on grammar and language were produced. The Tolkappiyam, while usually understood as a Tamil grammar for literature, also includes rules that apply to “common” usage of language. This paper looks at Chola-period commentaries on such rules in order to better understand this distinction between poetic and ordinary language in Tamil as well as to examine the function of grammatical works during the Chola period.

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

Sangam Ambivalence in the Kamparamayanam

George L. Hart
University of California, Berkeley

The Ramayanam of Kampan is a strange work. It presents a dark view of a world in which nothing is stable, even Rama, who ostensibly represents an absolute, unchanging, and unalterable reality. We find villains suddenly becoming heroes, ugly demonesses turning into women of irresistible beauty, perfect wives becoming shrewish or wicked, and landscapes whose virtue hides menace. On a larger scale, the work finds itself constantly shifting between two views of the world — that of poem, in which the predominant virtue is self-control and the ordered system of Brahmanical thought, and of maram, which is characterized by martial valor, courage, and ultimate power. These two incompatible views not only determine the structure of Kampan’s great work; they also, I would argue, reflect the political realities of his day, in which the great military and imperial power of the Cholas was leavened by the Brahmanical system that they supported. And, in a strange way that brings to mind some modern political themes, they reflect a historical reality, one in which a system from the North came to coexist with a conflicting indigenous system. Kampan had great regard for both world-views, and he knew that they could not be entirely reconciled. He used that fact to endow his work with a creative tension and a constantly shifting perspective that account for its extraordinary power and popularity.

Becoming a Chola monarch in 19th century Tanjavur: The Maratha Ruler Serfoji II and the Brihadisvara Temple

Indira Viswanathan Peterson
Mount Holyoke College, Massachusetts

This paper is an examination of the evocation of the Chola kings by the Maratha king Serfoji II (1798-1832), the titular ruler of the kingdom of Tanjavur under British supervision in the early 19th century. The Colacampu and the Brihadisvaramahatmya, two Sanskrit texts written during or just before or during Serfoji’s reign, narrate, respectively, the geneaology of the Cholas, and their connection with the Brihadisvara Siva temple in Tanjavur. Early in his reign, Serfoji undertook a pilgrimage to the major Siva temples sung by Nayanmar, and commissioned a Marathi poem (Sarabhendratirthavali) on his pilgrimage, which was described as a circumambulation of “Choladesa”. He also took major steps to shift the cultic focus of his realm from the Tyagaraja temple at Tiruvarur to the Brihadisvara temple at Tanjavur, through genealogical inscriptions, consecration of lingas, and the institution of a dance drama at the temple. In this paper I discuss the possible motivations for Serfoji’s “revival” of references to Chola monarchs (Rajaraja Chola in particular), and of Chola royal styles and sites in the colonial-early modern era.

Counting Saints & Sites Across a Reinvented Landscape: Tirumurugarruppadai and Other Oddities in the Formation of a Saiva-Chola Canon

Layne Little
Clarkson University, New York

This paper explores the incongruities and ruptures that arise in the canonization process of the Tirumurai. It explores the wider theological context that shaped both its content and structure, but places special emphasis on the awkward inclusion of a Sangam period work amongst its more homogenous body of later bhakti works. The Tirumurukarruppadai is often represented as marking the precarious beginnings of the bhakti movement. Certainly, it does seem to beautifully capture the character of a number of clearly distinct forms of devotional expression and experience. When taken together these forms show an amalgative ur-form of Tamil bhakti. But what really distinguishes the Tirumurukarruppadai from later integrated forms of Saiva devotionalism is that here the specific strands can be viewed as discrete and complete. Here there is no unified sense of community amongst worshippers, but rather the poet surveys the vast variety of communities, places and modes of worship that celebrate the God, Murugan.

Panel III
1:30 p.m. - 3:00 p.m. Moderator:
Joanna Williams

The Cholas Lost and Recovered: Imagining Medieval Tamilnadu without (and again with) the Cholas

Leslie Orr
Concordia University, Canada

In the usual periodization of the history of the Tamil country, the 10th to 13th centuries are fixed for posterity as the Chola era, with the 11th century representing the peak of cultural attainment and political ascendancy (including the domination of Pandyanadu) under the great rulers Rajaraja I and Rajendra I. But were we to adopt a less dynasto centric division of the chronology — considering, for example, the period of the 12th to 15th centuries as a coherent historical epoch — we might gain new perspectives on developments in medieval Tamilnadu. With reference to religion and society, this period is crucial for the emergence of institutions and practices which were to structure interactions and activities in the later pre-colonial context. New patterns of patronage, and of relationship between kings and communities, came into being, with Pandya and Hoysala rulers, and generals from the Deccan and from Delhi – among others — figuring as major players, and largely upstaging the Cholas. The Cholas were transformed from actors to icons, so that by Nayaka and Maratha times they were cast as legendary and paradigmatic Tamil rulers. In the present paper, I will use the evidence of temple inscriptions to trace the early history of this development, beginning in the 12th and 13th centuries with the contesting and waning of Chola power, and carrying into the 14th and 15th centuries with the advent of new political, social, and religious formations that drew on – and constructed — the legacy of the now-vanished Cholas.

The Persistence of Buddhism in Tamil Nadu

Vidya Dehejia
Columbia University, New York

Scattered across Tamil Nadu, at bus stops, beside Hindu temples, in make-shift shrines, are a large number of granite images of the Buddha. In addition, there is the better-known group of over 350 Buddhist bronzes from Nagapattinam. By focusing on these Chola images, this paper explores the endurance of Buddhism which appears to have survived by the strategy of adopting the popular Hindu mode of bhakti. Perhaps this accounts too for the persistence of Buddhism in Tamil Nadu all the way into the 17th century, long after it had lost its vitality in northern India.

The King’s Two Bodies: Vikramachola as a Valiant and Virtuous King

Gita V. Pai
University of California, Berkeley

Court poet Ottakkuttan wrote Vikramacolanula for his patron, Vikramachola (1118-35) prior to when the king began extensive renovations of the Nataraja Temple at Chidambaram in 1126. In this 12th century poem, the poet details the heroic and erotic qualities of the monarch who travels through his kingdom in an imaginary procession much to the delight of an adoring female audience. The purpose of this paper will be to examine notions of medieval kingship as revealed in this ula, using as inspiration Ernest H. Kantorowicz’s The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology.

Panel IV
3:15 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Moderator: Eugene Irschick

A Comparative Look at the Matal poems of Tirumankaiyalvar and Jayamkontar

Archana Venkatesan
St. Lawrence University, New York

This paper compares the use of the matal motif by two very different Tamil poets, Tirumankaiyalvar (c.9th century) and Jayamkontar (12th century). Tirumankai, one of Tamil Vaisnavism’s foremost poets, composes two matal poems (Ciriya and Periya Tirumatal) spoken through the voice of a heroine longing for Visnu. Jayamkontar, the author of the famous Kalingattuparani, follows a more traditional format, in his matal, Karanai Viluppuraiyan Matal, where a local chieftain threatens to ride the matal to prove his love. Jayamkontar’s poem clearly takes Tirumankai’s poems as a model, even ending his poem in a manner similar to that of his predecessor. This paper explores Jayamkontar’s treatment of the matal motif within the context of Chola kingship, comparing it to Tirumankai’s vision of divine kingship.

Eccentrically “Tamil”: Kerala Identity in Relation to the Cholas

John Richardson Freeman
University of Michigan, Michigan

The narrative construction of Kerala as a historically given entity with a distinctive and continuous cultural, territorial and linguistic “identity” is arguably the modern creation of scholars with a regionally vested perspective. Much of this narrative has been wrought in reaction to a perceived Tamil hegemony throughout the cultural and political history of south India. Given the Chola imperium as the high-water mark of this hegemony, Tamil scholarship in celebration of its achievements has inspired a compensatory historiography on the contemporaneous dynasty of the Cheras in Kerala. This Chera dynasty is reputedly the source of much that is historically distinctive in Kerala culture and society, despite its avowedly “Tamil” linguistic and cultural affiliation. This paper provides an overview of this Kerala scholarship on Chola Chera identity relations, its cultural claims, and evidentiary basis, and raises critical questions concerning the Chera’s “Tamilness” in relation to the Cholas based on a variety of historical, literary, linguistic, folkloric and ethnological evidence.

Contested Sites: Chola Temples in Polonnaruva, Sri Lanka

Sujatha Arundathi Meegama
University of California, Berkeley

The Chola period (1017-1070) in Sri Lankan was the first historical occupation by a South Indian kingdom, leaving their permanent mark on the island by carving inscriptions, constructing temples, and casting bronzes, primarily to their dynastic deity Shiva. Although George Spencer and W. M. K. Wijetunga have written extensively on the Cholas in Sri Lanka, their temples have received scant attention. In studies of Polonnaruva, they are discussed either in dichotomous terms, or as “foreign” impositions on a Buddhist landscape. In this paper, I will trace the historcial discourse as these Chola temples and argue for a more nuanced place for them in Sri Lankan art history.

Sunday, April 23

9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
Moderator: Lawrence Cohen

The Representations of Ghosts and Goblins in Later Chola and Early Hoysala South India

Daud Ali
The School of Oriental and African Studies, England

This paper, using both literary and visual sources from the late Chola and early Hoysala periods (twelfth and thirteenth centuries) will explore the representations of ghosts and demons (peykaL, bhutangkaL) in South India from a number of different angles. The paper will place these representations in the context of widespread beliefs about the roles of such beings in war and their invocation in certain battle rituals. At another level, the paper will explore the obvious comic dimensions of these representations—apparent in both poetry and sculpture—which seem to invoke at once the grotesque and the ridiculous. The paper will ask what wider social significance might be gleaned from such representations.

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


Discussant & Moderator
Sanjay Subrahmanyam, University of California, Los Angeles