Tamil literature refers to the body of written works in the Tamil language, which is primarily spoken in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and the northeastern region of Sri Lanka, as well as by Tamil diaspora communities around the world. Tamil is one of the oldest surviving classical languages and has a rich literary heritage spanning over two millennia.
Tamil literature can be broadly classified into several periods:
Sangam Literature (c. 300 BCE - 300 CE): The Sangam period is considered the golden age of Tamil literature. It is named after the assembly of poets and scholars called the Sangam, who contributed to the creation of numerous poetic works. The Sangam literature consists of two main categories: Agam (interior or subjective) and Puram (exterior or objective) poetry. These works cover a wide range of themes, including love, war, nature, and ethics. Some notable Sangam texts include the "Tolkappiyam," the earliest known Tamil grammar text, and the "Thirukkural," a classic ethical treatise attributed to the poet Thiruvalluvar.
Medieval Tamil Literature (c. 600-1200 CE): The medieval period saw the continuation and expansion of Tamil literature. Bhakti (devotional) poetry became popular during this time, with saints and poets composing hymns praising deities and expressing religious devotion. The Nayanars (devotees of Shiva) and the Alvars (devotees of Vishnu) were prominent contributors to Bhakti literature. The "Divya Prabandham" is a collection of hymns by the Alvars, and "Tevaram" and "Tiruvasagam" are devotional works by the Nayanars.
Bhakti Movement Literature (c. 1200-1800 CE): The Bhakti movement continued to influence Tamil literature during this period. The compositions of saints like Arunagirinathar, who wrote the "Thiruppugazh," and Vallalar Ramalinga Swamigal, who composed devotional poems, are significant contributions from this era.
Modern Tamil Literature (19th century onwards): Modern Tamil literature encompasses a wide range of genres, including novels, short stories, essays, and drama. During the colonial period, writers like Subramania Bharati played a crucial role in shaping the modern Tamil literary landscape. Post-independence, writers like Kalki Krishnamurthy, Jayakanthan, and Pudhumaipithan gained prominence.
Tamil literature remains a vibrant and evolving field, with contemporary authors contributing to its diversity and richness. It continues to be a vital part of Tamil culture and identity, reflecting the values, social issues, and aspirations of its people.