Classical Indian Literature: The Southern (Tamil) Tradition

tamil love poem

Like the classical Western tradition, the classical Indian tradition has two classical languages: Sanskrit and Tamil. Most histories of classical Indian civilization, however, focus on the Sanskrit literary tradition to Tamil’s neglect.

Both traditions, I argue, are integral to our understanding of classical Indian literature. The Tamil tradition is classical not only in the sense that it is ancient (dating its earliest poetry back to the 100 BCE to 200 CE), but in that it constitutes the foundation of an entire tradition that continues without a break to the present.

Early classical Tamil literature was written in a society that recalls Italy during the Renaissance. Southern India during the turn of the Christian era was a confederation of states (the Pandya, the Cheras and the Cholas) which were continually warring and trading with one another.

The Tamil states grew wealthy from sea trade routes that connected India to the West (including the Roman Empire which sought peppers, indigo, cotton and pearls from South India) and South East Asia. Classical Tamil poetry tells the stories of wealthy merchants, warehouses bulging with goods and ships from many different countries meeting at palm lined ports along the east coast.

Classical Tamil poetry is said to have been composed in academies or assembles called the Sangam during which time the principles of poetics, rhetoric and prosody were outlined in the Tolkapiyyam, the first grammar of the Tamil language.

Classical Tamil poetry can be classed broadly into poems on the interior landscape (love, emotions) and poems on the exterior landscape (war and heroic poetry).

Landscapes and emotions are carefully interwoven in classical Tamil poetry and each poem is assigned a tinai (‘place,’ ‘region,’ ‘site’) in which the five particular landscapes or regions of the Tamil country with their accompanying seasons, flowers, waters, inhabitants, wild life and time of day correspond to the emotions of the lovers in the poems:[1]

  1. Mountains: union (clandestine); kurunji flower; midnight; winter; waterfall;
  2. Forest: expectancy; jasmine; evening; late summer; rivers;
  3. Fields: irritation; marudam; before sunrise; late spring; ponds;
  4. Seashore: separation; water lily; sunset; early summer; sea;
  5. Desert: impatience; noon; summer; dry wells or stagnant water.

In classical Tamil poetry, nature and landscape symbolize the various moods and experiences of lovers. For instance, a love poem may follow the kurinici convention where the theme is the surreptitious meeting at night of an unmarried woman and her lover in the mountains.

tamil nadu mountain.jpg

The puram poems also have their thematic situations which deal with the warfare and exploits of kings as well as ethical instruction in the form of lyrics, panegyrics and hymns. The puram poems of classical Tamil poetry tell us about the kings, chieftains, battles, political and social life of ancient Tamil kingdoms.

The secular, sensual and naturalistic tone of the early Tamil poetry makes for a refreshing change to the religious and mythological tone of much of classical Sanskrit poetry. Here are some English translations of classical Tamil poetry by A.K. Ramanujan.

 

Sources:

Ancient Indian Literature: An Anthology (Volume Three), New Delhi : Sahitya Akademi, 2000.

Encyclopedia of Indian Literature (Volume 5), New Delhi : Sahitya Akademi, 1987-1992.

The Four Hundred Songs of War and Wisdom: An Anthology of Poems from Classical Tamil (New York : Columbia University Press, 1999), Translated by George L. Hart and Hank Heifetz.

Poems of Love and War from the Eight Anthologies, and the Ten Long Poems of Classical Tamil (selected and translated by A.K. Ramanujan).

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sangam_landscape#Poetic_Attrib

Being Punjabi – Fauzia Rafique Collection at the Museum of Surrey

My stuff gets a wholesome exposure at the Museum of Surrey’s community curated exhibition titled ‘Being Punjabi: Unfolding the Surrey Story’ (October 2 – February 23). The above showcase includes the original poster released by Sanjh Publications in Lahore at the launch of Punjabi Shahmukhi edition of Skeena in 2007, a flyer that lists Lahore Press Club as the venue for Skeena’s first launch that was disallowed by the Club’s administration a day ahead of the event, the complete audio of Skeena in Punjabi recorded in my voice by Lahore Chitrkar in 2007 that has never been released, and a letter-size poster of Skeena’s 2011 English edition by Surrey Libraries.

Among the installations showcasing different items from sixteen local Punjabis, the above are some things i like and use. The item on the top left is a wall hanger i made for my son when he was younger. It uses very desi Punjabi feeta trimming from a worn out set of pillow covers my mother gave me, leftover green susi cloth from Sindh, a patch of black with red and white embroidery from an Indian skirt i bought from India Bazar in Toronto’s East end, and, it uses ceramic and glass beads from Lahore, Toronto and Vancouver.

A passage from Skeena, in English and Punjabi Gurmukhi.

‘The first Punjabis came to Canada in 1897. Today Surrey is home to over 100,000 Punjabis. This exhibit presents a selection of local Punjabi voices using written word, audio recordings, video, artifacts, art and images. Being Punjabi is the first exhibition in Canada to highlight Surrey’s Punjabi community, showcasing stories of both struggle and success. It is meant to begin a conversation.’ surrey.ca/culture-recreation

Fauzia Rafique
October 6, 2019
Photos by Hafsah Durrani

Uddari Weblog operates on the unceded Coast Salish territories of the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen, Qayqayt, Tsawwassen, Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.
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The Aryans of India

 

aryan migration

During my mid-twenties, one of my aunts told me that we (ethnic Punjabis) were descended from the Aryans of ancient India.

I first learned about these Aryans while studying Indian history during my undergraduate degree. I learned that that the Aryans had originally migrated into India from the north-west and that they first settled in the Punjab around 1500 BCE. I also learned that their religious beliefs and lifestyle were recorded around 1200 BCE in a literature known as the Vedas.

Like me, most peoples of the subcontinent (particularly northern India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) claim to be descended from the (Indo) Aryans. The term Indo-Aryan refers not only to an ethnic group (which is religiously, culturally and regionally diverse), but also to a family of languages spoken by this group, including Punjabi, Hindi/Urdu, Bengali and Gujarati.

Of course, not everyone believes that the Aryans migrated to the subcontinent from the outside. Few are more outspoken in their opposition than the Hindu Nationalist who believes that the Aryans were indigenous to India.

This is, of course, really just a political claim. To claim that the ancestral religion of Hinduism (in the Vedas) is native to India is to claim that it “belongs” to India in opposition to those Indians belonging to “foreign” religions (i.e. Muslims and Christians).

Fantasizing about purity of race and origin, however, turn deadly. We can think of Hitler’s ideas about the Aryan Race as German, the Ku Klux Klan theory of the Teutonic Race or the Japanese idea of the Yamato Race during World War II.

Over the past nearly thirty years, Hindu Nationalism has stirred up pogroms, vandalism and attacks on India’s minority groups (especially Muslims, Christians and Dalits or lower-castes). Its pogroms, including the Gujarat “riots” of 2002 against Muslims has left thousands dead and their homes and places of worship vandalized or destroyed.

Hindu Nationalism basically seeks to rationalize and politicize an emotional need: the need to belong and to know oneself. Mythology is a human institution that fulfils that need by giving us a sense of where we come from. Mythologies like those in the Vedas are Puranas, like those in the Bible or King Arthur are valuable in giving us a sense of who our ancestors might have been without needing to be factually verifiable.

To that extent, I have read the Puranas and the Mahabharata.  I am fascinated, as someone of Indian origin, about where I come from and how my ancestors thought of themselves as a people and about my origins. But my fascination is much the same as someone who reads old genealogies of the Bible or of a Han Chinese taking pride in his descent from the Yellow Emperor.

So, I will call myself Indo-Aryan, Punjabi, Sikh, British, Canadian and Buddhist. I can have a sense of where I come from in terms of mythology without proclaiming it as history for political purposes or otherwise. Living on the land of the Coast Salish People in British Columbia, I realize that they too were like the ancient Aryans in migrating across territories rather than being bound by them.

Celebration of Life Ceremony – S. Budh Singh Dhahan – Sunday June 3rd at Khalsa Diwan Society in Vancouver


It is with a heavy heart that we announce the Celebration of Life Ceremony of Sardar Budh Singh Dhahan (December 5, 1925 – April 20, 2018) scheduled to take place in Vancouver this Sunday.

Sunday June 3rd
10:00 am- 12:00 noon
Khalsa Diwan Society
The Sikh Temple
8000 Ross Street, Vancouver
(Northwest corner of South East Marine Drive and Ross Street)

Budh Singh Dhahan passed away peacefully on April 20, 2018 in Nawanshahar, Punjab, India but his vision lives on in Canada and India. A visionary bridge builder among diverse cultural and religious groups, he demonstrated his skills as an international collaborator in education and healthcare, and a prosperity and peace maker. He turned his idealism and vision into reality by mobilizing groups and communities to cooperate on initiatives that brought about lasting change.’

Uddari stands by his wife Kashmir Kaur Dhahan, and children: Harinder Kaur, Raghbir Kaur (Bachittar Singh Jawanda), Manjit Kaur (Ajit Singh Thandi), Barjinder (Barj) Singh (Rita Janet Dhahan), and Kuljinder Kaur (Gurtek Singh Shoker); his fourteen grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

View Obituary
obituaries/vancouversun
Sign the Guest Book
budh-singh-dhahan-condolences
More information
theglobeandmail.com
View in Punjabi PDF
Budh Singh Dhahan – Obituary – Indo-Canadian Times
Contact the Family
Barj S. Dhahan: bdhahan@sandhurstgroup.ca
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Thinkfest Promotes ‘gutter literature’ in Punjabi

Thinkfest 2018 chose to promote a sub-standard work on the life of Punjabi author, radio artist and arts activist Nasreen Anjum Bhatti. There was an intense demonstration of solidarity with the late author by people who were there to protest against this choice.

Nasreen Anjum Bhatti reads from her first collection of poetry ‘Neel Karayaan Neelkan’.

The aware Punjabi writers and artists have described the story as ‘yellow journalism’, ‘tabloid literature’, and, of course, ‘gutter literature’.

The text proceeds to carry out ‘character assassination of progressive Punjabi writers such as Nasreen Anjum Bhatti, Shaista Habib, Zubair Rana and Fauzia Rafique’, and it does so in a misogynistic, homophobic and degrading manner. The story is penned by Nain Sukh aka Khalid Mahmood in his book called ‘ayi buray de wa’. The so-called story is a collection of inaccuracies where there are as much as FIVE factual mistakes in FOUR lines of text- about one of the writers attacked who, incidentally, is still alive to point them out.

Uddari fully supports Naeem Sadhu, Lahore’s Feminist Collective, and other individuals and organizations that are getting together to stop this attempt to legitimize yellow journalism as literature, and to resist this onslaught of conservative patriarchal mindset that demeans and degrades women, lesbians, gay men and religious minorities.

Down with the erstwhile ‘friends’ who are promoting and supporting this abusive and filthy text, and who are insisting that it should be accepted as Punjabi literature.

Fauzia Rafique
https://gandholi.wordpress.com/
frafique@gmail.com

Also view
‘Nasreen Anjum Bhatti Ke Leeye – For Nasreen Anjum Bhatti’ a poem by Amna Buttar
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The 70th Anniversary of the Partition of India

Pakistan India

Seventy years on, there’s still hope.

On October 6, Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmad spoke on the 70th anniversary of the Partition.[1]

Ahmad’s argued that the truth about the Partition must be known before there can be any meaningful reconciliation between India and Pakistan. Only if Indians and Pakistanis confront and accept what happened in 1947, can there ever be light.

For instance, many Sikhs revere the Maharaja of Patiala, Yadavindra Singh (1914-1974) as the icon of a bygone age. Some have suggested that he even gave sanctuary to Muslims during the violence of the Partition.[2]

yada

Ahmad’s research in the The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed (which includes eye-witness accounts from Patiala including from members of the Sikh community), shows a Maharaja who planned to cleanse his kingdom of his Muslim subjects.[3]

This was a shock even for some of my better educated friends in Patiala to learn. Maybe it’s time to pierce the veil of lies and illusions both India and Pakistan have woven these past seven decades. The Partition has scarred the subcontinent. Now it’s time to heal. Seek the truth. Study extensively, inquire carefully, sift clearly, and practice earnestly.[4]

 

Notes

[1] The lecture was part of a conference presented by the South Asian Film Education Society and the South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy presented at the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University between October 5th to the 8th.

Dr. Ahmad is a now retired professor who taught Political Science at the University of Stockholm in Sweden. He was also a visiting professor at the National University of Singapore and the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)

[2] This last point is suggested by filmmaker Sara Singh in The Sky Below.

[3] Ahmad’s research has also been cited and excerpted in magazines and editorials like in the Hindustan Times, Frontline and Caravan.

[4] The words of the Chinese philosopher, Zhu Xi (1130-1200)

The 5th Gursharan Singh Memorial Lecture – Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed – Surrey Oct. 6 2017

News Release
September 20, 2017

Dr. Hari Sharma Foundation and Gursharan Singh Memorial Committee is organizing its 5th Gursharan Singh Memorial Lecture on Friday, October 6, 2017 in Surrey. This year’s lecture will be devoted to the 70th year of India’s partition and will be delivered in Punjabi by Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed.

It has been seventy years since India was partitioned and a new country Pakistan was created. Dr. Ahmed has written scholarly books about this period of our history. Among his much talked about publications are: The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed, (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2012), won the Best Non-Fiction Book Prize at the 2013 Karachi Literature Festival and the 2013 UBL-Jang Groups Best Non-Fiction Book Prize at Lahore and the Best Book on Punjab Award from Punjabi Parchar at the Vaisakhi Mela in Lahore, 2016. And , Pakistan: The Garrison State, Origins, Evolution, Consequences (1947-2011), Oxford, 2013. According to Dr. Ahmed the population of the united Punjab at the time of partition was around 34 millions. More than 30 percent of the total population had to cross the border in search of safety. “An estimated 500,000 – 800,000 lost their lives mostly because of violent raids on them. The first case of ethnic cleansing after World War II thus took place in the Punjab.”

Dr. Hari Sharma Foundation for South Asian Advancement is proud to have instituted Gursharan Singh Memorial Lecture in honor of Bha ji Gursharan Singh.

Gursharan Singh passed away on September 27, 2011, mourned widely by the people of Punjab, the progressive and cultural community in India and the South Asian community in Canada. He left the legacy of a life dedicated in the service of democratic and human rights and social justice. He served the oppressed, downtrodden, and politically persecuted people of India primarily through his great talent as a playwright, leaving an indelible mark on Punjabi writing and the practice of people’s theatre. His visits to Canada brought the South Asian community into a public space of progressive culture where the issues of systemic oppression and injustice could be staged and thought about.

Hari Sharma Foundation honors this legacy of a great artist and activist in the cause of social justice. By instituting an annual lecture on the memory of Bha ji Gursharan Singh, it is the intention of the Foundation to keep alive the space Bha ji created in our community and bring scholars and artists from global South Asian Community to engage us in the issues of social justice in South Asia and reflect on our community in Canada.

We attach a poster of the upcoming 5th Gursharan Singh Memorial Lecture to be delivered by Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed on October 6 at the SFU campus in Surrey from 6:30 to 8:30.
The place: Room # 3310, 250 – 3450 – 102 Ave. Surrey.

For more info.
Harinder Mahil – 778-995-5851
Sukhwant Hundal – 604-644-2470
Sadhu Binning – 778-773-1886

English Poster
PDF Version

Read it in Punjabi (Gurmukhi)
lPress Release
Poster

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