Two Book Reviews

The Circle of Six Seasons: A Selection from Old Tamil, Prakrit and Sanskrit Poetry, Martha Ann Selby, Penguin India:
MARTHA ANN SELBY'S translation of the classical Indian seasonal poetry into English... Selected from old Tamil, Prakrit and Sanskrit, the most ancient literary languages of India, this anthology contains 188 poems ... the outcome of a research project sponsored by the American Institute of Indian Studies, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Office of the Vice-President and Dean of Graduate Studies, the University of Texas, Austin...

The Sanskrit selections are mainly from the Rtusamhara and the Sarngadharapaddhati. And from the Gathasaptasati and the Vajjalagga, the Prakrit poems. The Kuruntokai and the Ainkurunuru are the sources for the Tamil. Beginning with poems from the first century, the anthology spans a period of 14 centuries. The scheme the translator has chosen for organising them is that of the Rtusamhara in which seasons are put in an order beginning with summer and ending with spring...

... though the poems are classified on seasonal basis, they give space (landscapes) the semiotic density that tacks them down to time. For instance, take these Kuruntokai lines on autumn:
He is from that place
where a round stone,
black and pitted,
lies in the green place,
resembling an elephant
washed clean of its dust
in a downpour.
He's made me sick, friend,
and my eyes,
once beautiful as lilies,
now brim only with pallor." ...(more)

Early Tamil Epigraphy: From the Earliest Times to the Sixth Century A.D., Iravatham Mahadevan, Cre-A, Chennai and the Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, Harvard University:
Tamil is one of the oldest languages with the longest literary and spoken continuity in India. And yet, what puzzled the earlier scholars was, in spite of the literary antiquity of this language, the inscriptions discovered in the Tamil region, were in two different scripts, one in Tamil belonging to the period of the Pallavas i.e. Seventh Century A.D. and the other in Va.t.te.luttu at the time of the P-a.ndyas in Eighth Century A.D. Much more intriguing was the total absence of written records in Tamil before the Seventh Century A.D. Did this mean that Tamil had only an oral tradition before this period? Considering the historical data of such an eminent past found in the Sanga works P-uran-a-n-u-ru and Pa.t.tirrupattu, brought to light by the untiring efforts of the greatest among the Tamil scholars of the last century, Dr. U.Ve Swaminatha Iyer, can one hold the view that the idea of `recording', in whatever form, had never occurred to the Tamil?

This nagging doubt was soon set at nought by the discovery of the As´okan edicts in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu around the turn of the 20th Century....(more)

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