The Dravidian languages spoken in southern India have an ancient literature. This literature is mostly separate from the Sanskrit tradition, but the Dravidian languages borrow many words from Sanskrit. The four languages of the group are Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam.
The early classical Tamil literature, Sangam (fraternity), was written by two groups of poets. One group wrote romantic poetry. The other group described the bravery and glory of kings and wrote about good and evil. The Sangam classics date mainly from the 300's B.C. They include eight anthologies of lyrics and ten long poems. The 473 writers include 30 women, the most famous being the poetess Avvaiyar.
Two important Tamil epics were written in the A.D. 200's. Silappadhikaram (The Story of the Anklet) by Ilango-Adigal and Manimekalai by Chatthanar provide vivid accounts of Tamil society. The story of Manimekalai gives an elaborate exposition of the doctrines of Buddhism. In the 500's, Thiruvalluvar wrote Thirukkural, a guide to a noble way of living.
Devotional religious literature was composed in Tamil from about the A.D. 600's. A group of Tamil poets called the Nayanars were devotees (followers) of the god Shiva, and another group, the Alvars, were devotees of the god Vishnu. The poetry of both groups had an intense personal quality. Both groups included female poets. Many Tamil poems praised the many sacred temples in the region. A Tamil version of the Ramayana was written by the poet Kamban between the 900's and the 1100's.
Literature in other Dravidian languages followed similar themes, being influenced by the Tamil and Sanskrit traditions. Tamil literature reflected mainly Hindu and Buddhist traditions but Kannada literature was more influenced by Jainism. Literature in the southern Indian languages originated much earlier than the regional literatures of northern India, and they continue to be important literary languages today.
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