Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Professor K. Sivaraman
Professor P. Younger
Professors L. Greenspan & R. Radhakrishnan
This thesis is an analytic study of specific patterns of religious thought in early south India as found in the earliest extant literary texts in Tamil, one of the classical languages of India and one of the oldest living languages of the world. Commonly known in the Tamil tradition as the cankam literature, this corpus of poetry is generally assigned to the early centuries of the Common Era, and is thought of as constituting the classical heritage of Tamil culture. There has not been a major attempt to investigate the importance of this remarkable body of literature to the development of religious thought in south India, a region which is widely acknowledged as the birthplace of a number of religious movements including the great devotional movement of the early medieval times, called the bhakti religion.
The reluctance on the part of historians of Indian religious thought to take up the study of classical Tamil texts was partly due to a perception that the classical Tamil texts were essentially 'secular', and, therefore, of not much interest to a historian of religious thought. I had, therefore, to begin the thesis with a historiographical critique showing how limited and limiting that perception was and suggesting that, whatever unique features that classical Tamil texts may have, they are not unyielding to the queries of a student of religion.
In addition to other types of poems, there are a few explicitly religious poems which are regarded by tradition as part of the classical corpus. Taking my initial cues from those poems, I have isolated three central themes in the literature, namely space, hero, and gift around which the religious thought of the culture can be discerned. By a careful and selective analysis of the so-called "secular', poems in the corpus, and through an analysis of sections of the major grammatical treatise of the classical period, I have shown that the thought underlying these three themes was integral to classical Tamil culture.
The thesis has in the end a dual purpose. Its stated purpose is to assess the importance of the period of the classical Tamil texts in religious history, but it also indirectly demonstrates the need for a fresh approach to the study of early Tamil literature.
Subbiah, Ganapathy, "Patterns in Religious thought in early south India: A Study of Classical Tamil Texts" (1988). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 2067.